4 Keys to Co-Writing Songs With A Band

by Clay Mills
Mar 14, 2024

Someone asked me the other day, “What is your secret to co-writing with a band?” Over the years I’ve been blessed to co-write songs with great bands like Lady A and Little Big Town. As a songwriter, it can be tricky to sit down with three or four other people in one room and make magic happen. Is there a secret to it? I don’t know about that, but I have developed a few techniques that help me. Shhhhh…don’t tell anyone!

1. Do Your Homework

Whenever possible, I like to listen to the band’s material a few days ahead of time–very casually so as not to mimic what they already do or limit myself to their past material. I listen just enough to get a feel or vibe for who they are. This isn’t always an option with a new band that hasn’t recorded a CD yet, but you can ask management if demos are available.

2. Who’s On First?

At the beginning of the session, ask who sings lead vocals, backgrounds, and who plays what instruments. You might work with the guitarist to come up with a cool riff for the song. Lady A’s Dave Haywood is a great musician. He took a guitar idea/riff I shared with him and made it five times cooler. If the band has a guy and girl lead singer, consider writing a duet. Not a lot of duets are written and this increases your odds of getting on the CD. Bottom line: assess the band’s strengths and work with them.

3. Keep Things Fun. The best tip for co-writing with a band!

I have shared my best co-writing memories with the band Little Big Town. Every time I see them we still laugh about some of the ridiculous funny songs (not fit for print!) we wrote years ago. Whenever we got stuck writing a line I would break out into some ridiculous lyric and they would chime in. Eventually when we made our way back around to the song we were working on, the missing line would fall into place. A sense of humor keeps positive creative energy flowing in the room.

4. Keep Things Moving With A Great Idea

This might be the biggest key. Artists are extremely busy and juggling a million balls in the air. If things start dragging, they lose interest, which is the last thing you want! The best way to keep a good pace is by bringing a great idea to the table–a great title at the least. Often I try to outline a chorus melody and lyric ahead of time. It’s normal for the artist to want to change up what you bring, but this way you’ll insure a solid starting point and avoid five people sitting around staring into space thinking this co-write might be a waste of time.

These are some of the techniques I use for co-writing with a band. When you are prepared for the experience, it can truly be a blast writing with a group. If you’d like to hear the song I came up with Lady A and was blessed to have them record on one of their platinum albums, check out the video below!
Write on! ~CM


Clay Mills

Clay Mills

Clay Mills is a 16-time ASCAP hit songwriter, producer, and performer. He is the co-founder of SongTown and has 2 Grammy nominations for “Beautiful Mess” by Diamond Rio and “Heaven Heartache” by Trisha Yearwood. Clay is also the co-author of Mastering Melody Writing and The Songwriter’s Guide To Mastering Co-writing.


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