6 Things To Look For In A Co-Writer
Co-writing appears to be the current preferred method of writing in the Christian music industry. Rarely are songs being released anymore just with a single writer’s name on it. On some songs I’ve seen 5-7 people listed as writers! The benefits of co-writing are immense as iron sharpens iron through the process. This article, however, isn’t intending to convince you to co-write, but rather teach you what to look for when you finally agree with the vast majority of folks that co-writing is the way to go.
Generally speaking you will write with many different people over the course of your co-writing career and eventually come to learn what you do and don’t like in co-writers. I have done a decent amount of co-writing with a large variety of folks and learned a lot of things…most of those things the hard way. So I feel I can share with you this shortlist of things that I feel are the basic ingredients for a fruitful co-writing relationship. I tried to be concise with this but it’s a little lengthy…hang with me.
What the heck does friendship have to do with songwriting? To me, this is the genesis of developing a long-term, healthy co-writing relationship with someone. In my relatively short experience writing songs I have seen it time and time again that genuine friendships lead to better songs. Writing with virtual strangers can lead to good songs, but in most cases it does not. I would argue that throwing two songwriters in a room together to duke it out without knowing each other in hopes of creating inspiration is not the best method.
For me personally, I don’t want to even talk about trying to song write until we are friends. Genuine songs come out of genuine relationship…genuine relationship with Christ first, and then genuine relationship with one another.
This is a difficult thing to establish in a new co-writer relationship, and almost hinges on the establishment of some sort of friendship first. Being honest with one another is almost as important as the song ideas themselves. Honesty with any person, regardless of songwriting, is challenging to navigate. It must be done with grace and love, especially in the beginning.
Oftentimes in songwriting we are spilling our guts out to each other and in turn become vulnerable. How do you let someone share his or her heart with you and then turn around and say that you aren’t on board with the idea? It’s near impossible! Trust me…I do it all the time and it never gets easier. The difference is when you know you are writing with someone who is open to receive your honesty and give you his or hers in return. When you find that…hold on to it…because it’s rare. Without honesty neither of you will come to the completion of the song in love with it. Complete honesty is a necessity…no way around it.
For you and your co-writing partners to write heart-felt songs, you must get down to matters of the heart. That requires that you and your co-writer be open enough to dive into issues that “hit home”. Maybe that means revealing struggles with each other. Maybe that means sharing where you are in an area in your walk with God. Openness will shine through in the end. Authenticity is attractive to everyone. People will connect with the intrinsic nature of what you are writing. Co-writers have a responsibility to the song and each other to be open and authentic if they have any hopes of creating a piece of art that has those characteristics.
So maybe I’m from The South and this is “southern”, but mutual respect goes a long way! You must absolutely respect the person you are writing with, from a talent level to a spiritual level.
If you feel like they are beneath you or above you, the power dynamic of the relationship will be off-kilter. You will feel that your opinions either weigh less or more than the other person, which is not a good recipe for a solid co-writing relationship. You must feel that the ground is level so that the “fight” can be fair.
Respect also boils down to little things like being engaged throughout the co-write, bringing fresh ideas to the table, having input and feedback, etc. Those “nuts and bolts” type things show that you respect the song you’ve started and that you respect your co-writer and their time involved. It’s safe to say that people like to feel respected, especially in the creative arts world…when you find mutual respect, hang on to it.
Side note on respect as it pertains to approaching writers to write with: Do not reach for writers that you don’t know. Relationship comes first. For example, I’m not going to walk up to Chris Tomlin (who I don’t know), put him on the spot, and ask him to write with me. We aren’t in relationship and he would have no idea if I could even play a G chord or not. To me, that is disrespectful…and tacky. Even if I did have a chance to write with him to begin with, in all likelihood I just ruined it out of disrespect. Make sense? Some people need to read that again. I tell you out of love! God will guide you into the right relationships…do not try to run ahead of His plan for your life.
It is paramount to seek out people who are SIMILAR to you stylistically, but not necessarily a CLONE.
You want to push back and forth on things to sharpen the song, but you don’t want to write with someone who is exactly “you”. To me it’s actually a red flag if someone never pushes back because they either are too similar to me, or we haven’t established a truly honest and open relationship. On the flipside, you don’t want to write with people who are complete opposites either because you will likely have great struggles settling in on things. I’ve been on both extremes and rarely do they yield good results. Finding a group of co-writers who are similar, not an opposite, nor a clone, will serve you and your songwriting career very well.
This seems to go without saying but when you look back on the first couple of songs you’ve written with a new co-writer, ask yourself “are they solid”? Do you like what the relationship has brought out of your writing? Do you genuinely like the songs? Should I continue pursuing this songwriting relationship?
I talked with a buddy of mine who is getting into co-writing and he was saying he was enjoying co-writing with another person. I asked him to show me the songs he’s been working on. He came back “well, they’re alright, not some of my best songs.” What the heck? Then the co-writing isn’t good! Don’t confuse enjoying the process with good results.
At the end of the day good co-writing relationships aren’t a magical formula of things to do, and say (or not say), it’s about connecting with people and loving people as God commands. It boils down to trusting God’s timing to give you the right relationships. While you are “waiting”, God is working on your behalf, and shaping things in you necessary for the next step. Keep your head down and stay focused on what’s right in front of you…stop reaching for things that you aren’t ready for yet. Just keep writing and loving on the people that God has placed in your life!
Thanks for hanging in there!
Sean is a full-time producer and songwriter in Lawrenceville, GA.
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