by Clay Mills
Jan 2, 2022
As a long time professional songwriter, what used to be an occasional tool for co-writing long-distance, has turned into an everyday affair. In these days of social distancing, co-writing on Zoom has become the norm for scores of creatives around the world. And as a result, many SongTown members have asked me to share my equipment set-up and tips for making the session go smoother. So here goes…
1. Get your gear act together for the best sound possible.
I like to keep my Zoom set-up as small and efficient, but with the best audio possible. I use an Apogee MIC Plus. It’s a USB mic that plugs directly into my Apple laptop. It has a built-in mic pre-amp with zero-latency; and even has a headphone jack right on the bottom of the mic. It truly is a world class set-up all in the body of a small microphone.
For a cheaper alternative, the Blue-Yeti works for a lot of people on a budget.
2. Make sure your zoom settings are optimized…
After you sign up for a free Zoom account, set your audio preferences in zoom to “original sound” (Very Important!) Next, you’ll want to make sure you select the Apogee MIC (or other mic) as the designated input. And finally, I’ve found it helpful to leave the “Automatically adjust microphone level” box unchecked. This keep Zooms compressor from kicking in.
3. Get your Google Doc ready for co-writing on Zoom.
Now, that you have your audio system set-up it’s a great idea to use a Google Docs on your co-write. Before the session begins, I send an invite to my co-writers to share the Doc I create. If you have never used a Google Doc, you will find it extremely helpful. During the co-writing session, my co-writers and I like to have one side of our computer screens filled with the friendly faces of everyone on the session; and the other side displaying the Google Doc. As we are writing, whenever one of us types a lyric into the doc, everyone else can see the words appear in real-time. We are literally all on the same page!
Note: Google Docs is free but requires you to have either a gmail email address or a Google Account. You can easily sign-up for a gmail or Google account and use it only for co-writing if you choose. It will make your co-writing on Zoom.com experience more fruitful.
Now for some tips to keep the co-write flowing…
4. It’s important to designate roles at the beginning of the co-write.
Perhaps the lyricist does most of the typing into the Google Doc so everyone is not tripping over each other’s keyboards. If one of the co-writers is a great guitar player or keyboard player, then perhaps they do most of the chord playing during the session. You get the idea…
5. Going one at a time.
When you first start co-writing on Zoom, you will notice a bit of lag-time between the computers in different locations. It can make it pretty impossible for everyone to sing and play at the same time. This might seem like a hinderance, but as many of our SongTown members found out at a recent ST Writing Retreat, it can be a big plus.
It forces everyone to go one-at-a-time. And everyone else must listen to each other before responding. You’ll start to discover this makes you a better listener and better listeners make better co-writers. Which usually leads to better songs while co-writing on Zoom!
6. Pick a designated scribe.
It gets really chaotic to have 2 or 3 people trying to type lyric lines at the same time on a google doc. The best approach is to designate one person as the song scribe. When everyone agrees on a line, the scribe types it into the doc. If you are the type of writer that likes to type your thoughts out as part of your writing process, I suggest you open up private doc on your computer and type away. Then you can throw out only your best lines to the group and your free thought typing won’t distract others that don’t work the same way.
7. Be aware of the online atmosphere you are creating.
Your beloved pet Fido barking non-stop in the background is not going to be as endearing to your co-writers as he is to you. Likewise, writing in your basement with a noisy laundry machine tumbling away is probably not wise either. (Unless you write to the rhythm of it. Ha!) You get the point, always avoid any unnecessary distractions in your writing environment.
8. Make your track guy a co-host.
If you have a track guy or girl on the session, make them a zoom co-host so they can “share sound” on the screen sharing options page. This will allow the track they are playing on their computer to send the computer’s audio (in stereo or mono) to the remote attendees, providing a more professional sound.
9. Always record a work-tape when co-writing on zoom.
The great thing about the Google Doc is at the end of the session, all participants have a copy of the lyric. And since it’s a shared doc, you can also use it later for any corrections you may want to make. (Alway discuss changes with your co-writers first!) But, you will need a recording of the music. A rough iPhone recording will often work if you are writing on a guitar or keyboard. We call these simple recordings worktapes.
If your co-write includes a track guy on the session, then he/she should email everyone a copy of the track after the session has ended. This way everyone has a record of what has been created that day. And an email paper trail of the Date Of Creation.
10. Get your co-writer’s info!
Google Docs are a great place for everyone on the session to enter their writer information. Meaning, publishing info/splits, PRO info, email addresses, IPI#’s, etc. If your song gets released, it is a must that you have all of this info. And it’s much easier to get it at the session than trying to track down folks a year later.
So this concludes my quick start to help you get your best songs out of your songwriting zoom sessions. May you all be well.
Write on! ~CM
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