Don’t Be This Co-Writer: Mistakes Every Songwriter Should Avoid When Co-writing

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Early on in my songwriting career I had enough bad/weird co-writing experiences that I acquired vast database of material to draw from for co-writing no-nos. So here is my list of things NOT TO DO in a co-write…

1. Write down ideas that your co-writers throw out so you can use them later.

When you throw out ideas in a co-write, you are not giving your co-writer license to use those ideas later.  Just discuss the ideas thrown out, pick one and write it.  Take care NOT to use titles that your co-writer throws out later on.  If they throw out an idea you also have written down in your idea log, tell them up front to avoid the appearance that you wrote their idea without them later on.

2. Show up drunk, hungover, dead tired or other-wise impaired.

If you are aren’t ready to work, cancel.  Cancelling is more respectful of your co-writer’s time than showing up and wasting their time. Major co-writing no-no!

3. Come in with nothing.

If you don’t have any ideas, don’t come.  Showing up with nothing is the songwriting equivalent of asking for a handout.  You’re showing up hoping your co-writer is going to have something brilliant to give you as a gift since you aren’t prepared to contribute.  Always come into a co-write ready to rock.  Some days, we are “on” more than others, but you should never walk in a room and declare “I’ve got nothing today.”  I’ve had this happen multiple times.  It’s not a good start to the day!

4. Continually say “I think we can beat this” without actually trying to offer options that beat what you have.

I had a co-writer once that said “I think we can beat this” for about three hours and never once offered up a line as a possible option.  I suggested that he “beat it” – as in LEAVE.  If you can’t beat the line, be cautious about using that phrase.  I try to wait until I have an option to throw out before I suggest that the line we have is no good.

5. Announce AFTER you write that you can’t pay for a demo.

If you are trying to write commercially, the whole point of the exercise is to write and record something that you can pitch to artists.  It doesn’t do anyone any good to write a great song that will never get recorded because you can’t get a demo of it to pitch.  And it’s not fair to your co-writers to expect them to pay your part of the bill.  If you are in a tough spot, just be up front with co-writers BEFORE the write and tell them where you are at.  If you work out something in advance, everyone will be happier.

6. Talk bad about your co-writers. Maybe this should be at the top of the list for co-writing no-nos! 

If a co-writer of mine is talking trash about other writers when they write with me, I assume that they are probably trashing me to other co-writers.  Co-writers are your business partners.  It hurts YOU to talk bad about a co-writer.  It elevates your stock to brag on co-writers and build them up.  If you don’t think a co-writer is very good, stop writing with them, but don’t talk bad about them.

Avoid these 6 co-writing no-nos and you’ll be a better co-writer. Also if you’re interested in becoming a better collaborator, check out the book The Songwriter’s Guide To Mastering Cowriting.

Write on!

Marty Dodson - pro songwriter/instructor - SongTown

Marty Dodson is a multi-hit songwriter, co-founder of SongTown, and co-author of  Song Building: Mastering Lyric Writing

3 thoughts on “Don’t Be This Co-Writer: Mistakes Every Songwriter Should Avoid When Co-writing

  1. Speaking of “badmouthing,” back in the 1990s, when I made several trips to Nashville, I couldn’t help noticing that every time we went into a “sit-down” restaurant (and often at other places), I would see at least one person who was somehow involved in the industry, and often a table-full of them. More than once I had to shush younger wannabes at my table who were disappointed at how things were going and kept bringing up a long list of folks who must have it out for them, or were too dumb to recognize their talent or some such. You NEVER knew whose coworkers or closest friends or siblings were sitting at the next table. For being such a big city, Nashville can be a very small town in some ways. Moral: Don’t badmouth ANYBODY, ever.

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