The Songwriter’s Code

by Marty Dodson
May 10, 2022

The Songwriter’s Code

From the Brill Building in New York, to Music Row in Nashville, songwriters have been operating under this “code” for many years. If you hope to join the professional ranks, you MUST learn the code and go by it. If you are just wanting to co-write in general, it’s good to know how it works. Not knowing can cause LOTS of problems.

Here’s what you are agreeing to when you co-write:

1) I will put my best work into the song we create. I’m going to give you 100% while we are working on our song.

2) I agree to work on our song until we are both happy with it.

3) I won’t take any of the work we did and take it to another co-writer without asking you. Our works is “ours” and I will check with you before involving anyone else.

4) To the best of my ability, I will work to get our song recorded. I will pitch it myself, use all of my connections, or hire a song-plugger if I’m able to do so. I will work to give our song every chance to succeed.

5) If we write a song that both of us are excited about and want to demo, I will pay my portion of the demo costs (within reason).

Up-Front Communication Is Key

If you are not willing or able to do any of those 6 things, you need to communicate that with your co-writer upfront. In most co-writing situations, there’s no point in co-writing if one partner is not able to pay for their part of a demo. Why write a great song if you can’t get a pitchable recording of it? The demo doesn’t have to cost $800, but you should be willing to pay for some sort of pitchable demo – even if it’s a $150 guitar vocal demo that you split 2 ways.

Songwriter Code

Communication is the key. Talk to your co-writers upfront about the way they like to work, how they handle demos, and what they do with songs after they are demoed. And share with them your feelings on all of these issues. That’s how you avoid problems and misunderstandings.

Additional Comments: If one of you is excited about a song and wants to demo it, and the other is not, I suggest a compromise. Maybe doing a simple guitar/vocal demo to keep the cost down. I’ve also made a deal that I would pay for the whole demo and the co-writer would pay me back for half if it got cut. I’ve done that when I REALLY believed in the song.

With a little time and open communication you will be able to master the art of co-writing.

Write on! MD

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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