Songwriting

Co-Writing Songs: Understanding The Roles In The Room

by Clay Mills
Jul 30, 2015

“Understanding your role in the writing room on any given day is key to a songwriter’s success.”

16 time #1 songwriter Jon Nite gave this advice in a recent SongTown on Songwriting podcast episode. And I agree. 1000%! All successful co-writing begins with learning the roles in the room.

As I start writing each day, I’m trying to figure out exactly who I need to be in the room that day in order to come out with the best song we can possibly write.

The extent to which I play my role best is usually directly proportional to the quality of the song we create. Here are roles I might play on any given day:

1) The idea guy.

Some days we are digging deep for ideas and having trouble finding an idea that everyone loves. So, I open up the idea database and really dig for a great idea.

2) The editor.

Some days, my co-writer is on fire and is just spitting out stuff left and right. On these days, I try to hit “record” quickly and to write down the best of the best that they are throwing out. Then, my job is to help discover and piece together all of the best stuff. Sometimes on these days, I do very little actual writing. But, I’m serving the song by editing and pasting together what is coming out in the room.

3) The lyric guy.

Most days, this is me. I’m the one people are leaning on for lyric. So, I try to bring my “A” game and produce lyrics that make our song awesome.

4) The melody guy.

Other days, my co-writer is a lyricist only, so I’m driving the melody train. This one is hardest for me, but comes easy to many people. I try to find melodies that are interesting and unique so that our song sounds great to the ear.

5) The instrumentalist or track guy.

If my co-writer doesn’t play an instrument, then it falls on me to come up with something cool on the guitar to keep us moving along. Or chaps, my co-writer is great at building tracks, then I will step back and add lyric and melody. Sometimes I’m writing with a whole band and that becomes a whole balancing act of musicians and singers. But writing with a band can also be some of the most fun you’ll ever have as a co-writer.

6) The mediator.

Sometimes, in a three way co-write, I’m the mediator. When my two co-writers can’t agree, I try to find middle ground and work out a peace agreement. This one doesn’t happen often, but it does happen more than you might imagine.

7) The challenger.

Sometimes my co-writers want to settle for something that’s not awesome. So, I’m the one who challenges us to dig deeper, to keep working and to make sure we knock the song out of the park. Learning to play those 7 roles well will make you a better co-writer. In your next co-write, step back every now and then to see if you are playing the right role, or if you need to change roles to serve the song better.

Remember, “The song is king”. Do whatever it takes to make it great! Write on!

MD

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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