The 10 Co-Writing Commandments For Songwriters (Revised for 2023)

by Clay Mills
Sep 11, 2023

Co-writing: The art of sharing your heartfelt ideas with another person and trusting the two of you will create songwriting magic.

Co-writing songs can be tremendously rewarding and often frustrating. But there are some guidelines to make this experience more often than not a great one. If Moses came down from the mountain with a tablet for his top co-writing commandments perhaps these would be chiseled in the stone!

1- You shalt put nothing else before the song.

The Song Is King. Leave your ego at the door. Let the song develop as it wants to develop and not as you are determined to force it.

2- Honor Thy Co-writer. 

Respect your co-writers. Songs are always split evenly among writers. If you don’t respect your co-writer then don’t write with them.


Always Practice Proper Co-writing Etiquette!

3- Thou shalt not steal. 

Don’t be this co-writer! If someone is throwing out ideas, you shouldn’t go write them with someone else. Sharing ideas with someone is sacred and you should respect someone else’s ideas.

4- Thou shalt not take the words of a song lightly.

Words have the power to heal, to wound, to make us laugh or cry. Remember and choose you words purposely.

The 10 Co-Writing Commandments For Songwriters - SongTown

5- Remember the sabbath day and rest.

Its easy to work hard and want something badly, but its often when you take an afternoon off and go for a walk with a friend that the right idea floods your mind.

6- You shall not bear false witness against your co-writer.

When you have completed a song, what happened in the room stays there. Don’t go out and brag on yourself and say that your co-writer didn’t write a note of the song. Remember we all have a purpose for being in that room and its a 50/50 equation. There is a reason why this is one of the top co-writing commandments. I’ve see it destroy promising songwriting careers.

7- Though Shalt not covet thy neighbors song.

Always focus on you own writing and continue to grow your own talents. Remember you have your own gifts that are unique to you. Don’t listen to the radio and think “I can write better than that garbage” or “I need to write more like Taylor Swift”. Believe in yourself.

8- You Shalt not kill the creativity energy in the writing room.

Listen as much as you talk. If you find one person dominating the talking, you probably aren’t going to get a great song. If you are a talker, monitor yourself. Be sure you are giving your co-writer space. If you are quiet, be sure you are speaking up. If you are a slow co-writer, communicate that. It takes everyone working together and sharing ideas to make a great song. You can read pro tips on co-writing in the Songwriter’s Guide To Mastering Co-writing.

9- Thou Shalt not commit idea adultery.

Perhaps the biggest rule of co-writing etiquette is that you can’t take back an idea without permission. If you a work on an idea with someone and you later decide that you don’t like what the two of you came up with, you cant take that song and jump into a new writing relationship with it. You need to call your co-writer and talk about it first. The fact that they helped shape what you wound up with means you need their permission before you re-write it with someone else.

10- Do unto your co-writer as you would have them do unto you.

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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