SongTown Songwriting Mailbag: Questions About Co-Writing Etiquette

by Marty Dodson
Mar 27, 2017

A SongTownian writes: If I don’t like the way a song turns out with a co-writer, am I free to take the idea and write it with someone else?

Mailbox Marty responds: Not really. Generally, once you write an idea with someone, you are in it for good with them. It’s considered very bad form to take your idea and write it with someone else. And it would probably destroy your relationship with writer #1. The better approach would be to see if you can get your co-writer to agree to bring in someone else to help you fix it or make better. The three of you could sit down and hopefully get it where it needs to be. I have had one instance where a co-writer called and asked if I minded if he took the title and wrote it with someone else. I didn’t think we nailed the song and he agreed not to use any of my lines, so I told him I was fine with that and that I appreciated his approach. If I had not agreed, he wouldn’t have done it. You don’t want to be known as “that guy” who takes his (or her) idea to ten different people until they get a version they like. Plus, if that’s the best idea you are EVER going to come up with, you are in deep trouble anyway!

SongTownian #2 writes: How much of a co-written song can I ‘tweak” without permission from the other writer(s)?

Mailbox Marty responds: The answer would be zero. You shouldn’t change anything in a co-written song unless you contact all of the other writers to get their approval. That’s just a respect thing. How would you like your name going out as a co-writer on a song that you thought was horrible? Your changes might strike your co-writer as really bad or even objectionable. You need to get everyone on board before you change any lyric, melody, production – let’s just say ANYTHING. Never forget that, if you and I write a song, it’s OUR song – not yours.


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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