09 May How To Be A Great Co-Writer
In all honesty, I’m not a very good songwriter. This is not false humility or a plea for approval through self-deprecation. I’m really not all that great when I write by myself… I’ve written a few songs on my own, but none of them are standouts. However, I do feel I have much to contribute when working together with a group of songwriters. I have been fortunate to have a hand in co-writing several songs that I am very proud to have my name on. When people ask me about my songwriting abilities, my reply is usually simple… “I’m not a very good writer, but I’m a pretty good co-writer.”
A quick glance at CCLI’s Top 25 Songs being sung in churches (as of the writing of this blog) reveals the benefits of co-writing. Of the Top 25, all but four have more than one writer listed and every song in the Top 10 has more than one writer. That means 84% of the Top 25 and 100% of the Top 10 songs being sung in our churches are co-writes. Furthermore, eleven of these songs have three or more writers.
Obviously, not all of us are going to be writing songs that will be in the CCLI’s Top 25. But, whether you are writing songs for a small church congregation, or for the masses, there are major benefits to co-writing.
Benefits of Co-Writing
We > Me
There is a synergy that comes with writing as a group. The sum of each member’s contribution and ability somehow adds up to something greater than anyone in the group imagined. If you’ve ever co-written, you’ve probably experienced this synergy. One team member may be good at lyrics, while another specializes at creating great melodies, and another team member has an amazing feel for keeping the song unique.
You Grow as a Writer
I have learned so much from the writers I’ve worked with. Jon Owens’ passion about the context for which we were writing the song “Many Waters,” and Lane Oliver’s “no compromise” attitude when working out the bridge of “Giants Fall” (we went through probably fifteen versions before we were happy with it) are just two examples that come to mind. Co-writing is a great opportunity to team up with people who are better than you and can challenge you to grow.
Co-Writing is Relational
There is a really cool bond that happens when you write a song with someone. Whether it’s someone from your church, or someone you just met. One of my favorite things about being part of Every Nation Music is that I get to connect and write music with people from all around the world. The relationships that are forged through writing a song go deep, and I’m privileged to have written with many people who I admire and appreciate greatly!
For some, writing with others can be intimidating, stretching, and even frustrating. But if you will focus on becoming the best co-wirter you can be, you will find the process more enjoyable and begin to write better songs. Here are a few tips to become an great co-writer.
Tips to Become a Great Co-Writer
Be on time. Bring something to write with, record with, and an instrument (if you play). Bring a few song start ideas. When you come to a writing session prepared, it shows the other writers that you are serious about your craft, responsible, and trustworthy. Furthermore, when you’re willing to invite the group into a song you’ve already started, it shows that you are more interested in writing a great song than receiving all the credit. This encourages other writers to do the same.
Start the session with a goal in mind. This is particularly important when writing in a group of three or more. If every writer has a different idea of what topic, style, feel, tempo, etc. the group should be writing, the session will be a waste of everyone’s time. Take a few minutes to establish some parameters and an overall goal, then get creative together.
I know this may come as a shock, but creative people sometimes have a hard time sharing their ideas if they don’t feel safe. If you want to draw out the best from your co-writers, you have to create a safe environment. Ask your co-writers for their ideas first. Don’t be rude if their idea is not all that great. Don’t be married to your ideas and don’t take things personally if one of your ideas gets rejected. If everyone writing feels safe to share their ideas, you will end up with a better song, as well as a better co-writing experience.
I once heard Mia Fieldes say (in her deep Aussie accent), “Dare to Suck!” Although there are probably more appropriate ways to say it, she’s right. If you keep your ideas to yourself out of fear of them being rejected, you’ll end up with a song that is less than what it could have been. Be sure to speak up when you have an idea that will benefit the songwriting process, even if you’re unsure it will be accepted. Even if the group doesn’t use your idea, it may lead to something even greater. And therein lies the beauty of co-writing. One person’s moment of bravery to share an underdeveloped idea can lead to something incredible.
When the team shows up prepared, establishes a goal, and shares ideas freely with kindness and humility; not only does everyone have a great experience, but the songs they write can be truly amazing.
What other tips have you found to be helpful with co-wiritng? Share your wisdom in the comment section!