Cowriting etiquette for songwriters

Songwriting can be a solitary act, a most intimate conversation with oneself  – the permission to be vulnerable and unapologetically real. Wouldn´t you agree that the most authentic songs stem from these private moments searching our souls?

But songwriting – like any other artform – can also be a community project. Cowriting is the go to technique among hit writers in Nashville, London and LA. Various combined artistic souls coming together to create some magic. The key here is to honor each other´s process and ideas and ensure a safe surrounding that allows everyone to be vulnerable and authentic. Bad habits, like people-pleasing or masking one´s weaknesses aren´t allowed in. For a lot of songwriters this does not come easy at first. But once you find people you feel safe with, the most beautiful projects may come to fruitition!

To help you prepare for a cowriting session, the following cowriting etiquette rules might be useful:

1) Talk business first

This might seem rather rude…but agreeing on how to split the copyright in your songs before writing makes total sense. It´s like quickly going through the rules of the game, before the fun part can begin. You might for example agree that all parties share in equal pieces in the song, regardless of how much they actually contribute. Every minor idea might be of value or spark new ideas.

Some people also count words when writing lyrics and share according to how much they contributed. It is up to you and your cowriter(s) to agree on that, but it is never a good idea to have this conversation after the song is done.

Another advantage of discussing the splits beforehand, is that you can also make sure that your cowriter(s) is/are registered with a PRO owning their own publishing company. This is essential if you want to pitch the song to industry professionals and it is mandatory when pitching for sync. The songs need to be registered properly in order for you to ever make money off them.

By the way, we are now offering half hour one on one coaching and consultation for indie songwriters. Want to learn more about how to properly fill in a split sheet or what to know before releasing your music, then contact us here:

Coaching Session

2) Get lose and get personal

Small talk is an entry strategy to losen things up when meeting someone over a work project, but unlike in any other “business”, where people play a certain “role” and maintain their professional mask throughout the entire relationship, in songwriting, we want to get personal really quickly. The key lies in creating a safe atmosphere and to agree on keeping things confidential. What happens in the songwriting room, stays in  the songwriting room, so to say! Before getting to it, chat a bit about yourself and ask your cowriter about themselves as well! Find common grounds. Find out if your personalities match or at least match for certain goals. You might even find you have similar or contrasting takes on every day situations which might lead to first song ideas. No matter how deep your conversation gets in the first 15 to 20 minutes, allow for it to happen!

3) Bring general ideas, but nothing too concrete

Coming prepared is always a good idea. Bring several topic ideas or songtitles that might spark an idea or even a chord progression that you think might be inspiring. This is not about making choices and writing a song YOU want to write. Your cowriter might also lay some general ideas on the table and you might like their ideas better. Or you might find that you have similar ideas, but different approaches that could bring a certain twist to the song. Whether or not you end up using any of your ideas, bring them just in case.

It´s always better to start with something, than starting from scratch. Make sure though to not bring anything specific. Do not bring in melodies or a set of lyrics, that already existed before the session. Remember, this is a group project and you want to have enough room to allow both parties to contribute in equal parts.

(Note: If you are a lyric only writer or only do melodies and you work with someone who helps you with the rest, that is another game. You may well present various lyrical or melodic ideas in this case, so that the other person can start adding their magic. Think: John Lennon and Paul McCartney in earlier days).

4)  Honor every idea

Be super careful with dismissing ideas too quickly. Things need to resonate, that´s for sure. But instead of saying “nah”, or “not really” to your cowriter´s ideas, write them all down. Sometimes one idea leads to another or you might find ways to turn them into interesting bits and pieces. You shouldnt jump on any idea just for the sake of pleasing your cowriter, but do not make them feel like their ideas arent worthy. Tell them, that yes…why not safe the idea, but also keep searching until you both feel a spark.

5) Be honest, but kind

Just like you want to stay away from dismissing ideas too quickly, you also want to stay away from haning on to ideas that you do not like at all. If such an idea came from your songwriter, it is easy to people please and just say nothing. That won´t help the song though! Remember that it is all about serving the song´s purpose. Instead of just saying you do not like an idea, be honest, but kind. Tell your cowriter that you think you´ll find a better alternative…tell them why you do not like the idea. They might see your point and not feel hurt on a personal level. Being professional means being honest, but kind. You are partners working towards the same goal, so you want to make sure you´re on the same page as often as possible. If your cowriter still disagrees, then the only option left is to agree that you disagree and give it a break. Sometimes taking a break and coming back to it later, gives people a fresh perspective.


Do you have further tips to share with our community?
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