The 10 Co-Writing Commandments For Songwriters (Revised for 2021)



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

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

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.

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. 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.

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 is co-founder of SongTown and a 16-time ASCAP hit songwriter. He has 2 Grammy nominations and is the co-author of  The Songwriter’s Guide To Mastering Co-writing. 

22 thoughts on “The 10 Co-Writing Commandments For Songwriters (Revised for 2021)

  1. Clay,

    Got up about 4 am. Found you on the internet. Just love your positive energy you are putting out to the songwriting community. My wife, son and I are on the farm I grew up on in Texas. We are moving to Franklin, TN from Los Angeles, but wanted to spend 6 weeks working on some projects here before making the move. Hope to meet you face to face someday. My brother Butch and I wrote The Legend of Guan Di. It was not a hit but it was used as the theme song for the movie My Name Is Bruce.

    1. Hey Bruce, good to meet you. Hope your move goes well and hope to see you around SongTown!

      Cheers, Clay

  2. Sounds like Great Advice . I worked for years with the same co-writer we were also good friends. We each has strengths . Mine was lyrics and melody . His was chordal harmony and arrangement . . We both left our ego at the door and could be critical to the point of humour wit each others suggestions. No offence was ever taken . We both ended up contributing to the song even by helping the other Eleuthera their town strengths . We listed to each other and debated , noting off limits. He would pick through my lyrics , maybe come up with a better word or line . I would fine a better chord change of colour. In the End the song was better than the two of us and it was magical. It seemed like some of the songs wrote themselves. Unfortunately we do not write together any more due to geography and priorities in life . I have never been able to find that kind of writing relationship since. I truly miss it.

  3. Clay,

    Thanks for writing this article.

    Having had a situation in which #6 applies in spades, I came to the conclusion that there are some songwriters I’d rather have as friends, than co-writers! But it took a painful experience to learn that.

  4. I love biblical referencing that leads to serving songs! I remember Eric Falbrook of ASCAP with Diane Warren (Keynote Speaker) in an interview at an annual EXPO, sometime before 2010…
    He asked her, “How do you know when a song is finished?” to which she responded without hesitation… “the song tells you!” I AM that I AM a believer!

    …and I’ve been blessed & privileged to serve Durango Songwriters throughout every year since 2008… & auditioning my song-craft is at the top of my list of passion sharing pleasures, especially when asked to share song moments with total strangers @ Starbucks, Costco,, Home Depot, TJ’s, Whole Foods, The Gas Pump… or from my tailgate in any parking lot, etc…

    ***If one would care to collab, I’m available for a start-up discussion @ 209-981-6505… CA… See you at the TOP!

  5. #8, that is the toughest one for me. All the others primarily deal with ethics and morals but #8. I have been in co-writing situations where I could not get a word in edge wise and others where the crickets have contributed more than my co-writer. I guess it is finding the right co-writer that is the trick and that can be and often is more challenging than writing the song it’s self.

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