Songwriting Etiquette 101

by Marty Dodson
Feb 15, 2017

Since we have a lot of new members, I wanted to share some etiquette questions that are asked frequently. These are not only SongTown etiquette guidelines, but are usually practiced by pro writers in any genre:

1) “Extra” titles thrown out in a co-write are not yours to take and write with someone else (unless you threw out the idea). If I throw out 5 titles and we write one, the other 4 are mine to write in other co-writes. In fact, it’s best not to write down titles your co-writer throws out. The only one you are entitled to is the one you write that day. Even though you can’t copyright a title, it’s bad practice to take someone else’s title.

2) In the forums on SongTown, or anywhere you encounter someone else’s song, don’t take their title and re-write it. Again, not cool. If you think you could write it better, ask that writer if they would be willing to write it with you. Don’t be a bottom feeder and just take it. Ideas are hard to come by. Don’t take them.

3) It’s not cool to “take back” a title. If my co-writers and I write my amazing title called “Booger In Paradise”, and I decide later that week that we really didn’t write it well, I shouldn’t just go write the title with someone else. That is called a “derivative work” and you really need the original co-writer’s permission to do that. The BEST thing to do would be to go back to your original co-writers and work with them until you get it right. We call it being respectful where I’m from.

4) If someone gives you a track to write to and you start working with it, but decide that it’s not inspiring you, just communicate that with them. However, do NOT go and write a song with that feel and chord progression and claim that it was “inspired” by the track. If there’s a question, do the honest thing and include the track person as a co-writer even if they just “inspired” what you wound up with. Inspiration has value. And preserving a relationship is worth more than getting a little more share of the song.

5) Don’t be quick to accuse someone of stealing your title. We are all looking for song ideas in the same places. I have even told lots of you websites that I look for titles on often. If I find a great quote online and write it, I can’t accuse you of stealing “MY” idea. It’s not “MY” idea if I got it from a quote. You might have read the same quote. That happened to me not long ago with a Frankie Ballard song. A song he came out with had exactly the same hook and setup as a song of mine. He didn’t steal if from me, he just saw it in the same place I did. Bad luck on my part, but no crime involved. We are all looking for ideas actively and we are going to write LOTS of the same ones. Don’t worry about that. Just write them better than anyone else does.

Following those simple guidelines will keep your co-writing relationships intact and will help you sleep at night. Always communicate with your co-writers and always be honest. Greed won’t get you anywhere.

Write on! ~Marty

Marty Dodson

Marty Dodson

Marty Dodson is a multi #1 songwriter, co-founder of SongTown, and co-author of  The Songwriter’s Guide To Mastering Cowriting and Song Building: Mastering Lyric Writing


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