Writing with a new co-writer for the very first time can be SO. NERVE WRACKING.
Finding great co-writers is basically dating.
You ask a lot of people to write with you, and one by one you get in the writing room, try it out, see if it feels right, and go through a lot of awkward moments. It’s silent. There are bad lines. You face a lot of rejection. You dish out a lot of rejection.
Eventually you find your group of writers that you click with. These are the people that you love, that you can call your close friends, that you can always sit down and write something great with.
Trust me, it does happen! After 3 years of writing with a ton of people, I feel like I’ve finally found a great group of co-writers that I keep coming back to because I love writing with them.
After lots of awkward first writes, I’ve found out that sometimes, just hearing someone say the exact right thing at the beginning of the write can really break the ice:
1. “What brought you to songwriting?”
Let’s face it, we can’t go on a first date/first co-write without some small talk!
But this is an important question. The answer itself will let you know about their history with writing. If they’ve been writing all their lives, or if they’re just starting, then you’ll know how you need to set your own pace during the co-write.
It also lets you know how passionate they are about this whole writing thing. Personally, I only want to write with people who love to write. If someone is just “meh” about it, or if they’re just writing because their label told them to, then it’s not fun for me.
2. “Where are you from?”
Again, small talk. But I LOVE hearing where people are from! Especially in Nashville, where everyone is from somewhere else.
I have family spread out all over the states, and I’m a transplant myself. Learning about where someone is from will inform your write. You might also find out you have something in common. Asking someone where they’re from opens the door to their upbringing, their family, their past experiences – all of which makes for great material for a great song!
3. “What are you really excited about writing these days?”
Sometimes, your co-writer will be really stoked about something they’re into at the moment.
Maybe they’re writing pop/country/hip-hop songs. Maybe they’re writing about a problem they’re working through in their lives. Maybe they’re really inspired by something they just heard on the radio and want to try it.
If you yourself are not particularly jazzed about anything at the moment, it’s always good to see if your co-writer is. Then, you can ride that enthusiasm through the write and come up with something way better.
4. “Did you want to write for anything specific?”
This seems similar to the question above, but it’s a bit different.
This question will help you figure out if your new co-writer has a particular project in mind that they’re writing for.
I recently had a write with a friend who was looking for an upbeat single for her next release. The kind of summer song that would go to radio. I’d have never known that’s what she needed unless we talked it out first. We could have written a ballad, then found out later that she had been writing ballads with other writers all week.
Some people will tell you what they need right off the bat. But if they don’t do both of yourselves a favor and ask.
5. If they’ve got no ideas, start with some of yours: “I’ve got some hooks to throw out there if you want to hear them.”
Of course, you already know to come prepared to a co-write. But not everyone else knows this.
It’s polite to ask your co-writer if they have any ideas they have saved for your write. Sometimes people save ideas for certain co-writers. But if they have nothing in mind, then don’t be afraid to jump right in and be the first person to start throwing out ideas! It’ll probably be the hardest part of your write. But the sooner you jump in, the sooner you can get rolling and writing a hit. It will make you and your cowriter feel so much more comfortable if you take the plunge.
6. Share your bad ideas, too.
Yup. The stinkers. The clunkers. The lines you know will never work. The silly ones. The offensive ones, if you think your cowriter has that kind of sense of humor.
Sometimes all you can think or are bad lines that just don’t work. But it keeps awkward silences from ringing in your ears forever. It might even make your cowriter laugh. Even if you come up with nothing at the end of the write, at least you know you were actively contributing.
7. “There’s no pressure to finish a song on the first write.”
Someone said this to me once and it was AWESOME. I was new to co-writing, and super nervous about everything. I thought: What if we didn’t have a song at the end of the write? We only had three hours? What if we spend the whole time looking for ideas and never sing a single note?!
My co-writer started off with this sagely bit of wisdom: “You know, I tell all my cowriters, ‘there’s no pressure to finish a song on our first write.’ We’re here to get to know each other, and whatever we come up with will be great.” I cannot tell you how relieved I was to hear that!
Co-writing should be fun when you find the right people. If it’s not fun, then you haven’t found your co-writing team yet. Keep searching, keep writing. Another thing about first time co-writes: It gets easier every time.