Welcome to part one of our 3 part mini-series on cowriting! In this article, we’ll talk about exactly who cowriting is for, why it’s awesome, and what to expect before you dive into your first cowrite. In the coming articles, we’ll discuss how to find cowriters (especially if you don’t live in a music-rich location), and how to navigate your first cowrite.
So let’s dive in to part one!
What is cowriting?
Cowriting is when two or more songwriters get together and work on writing the same song together. It happens all over the world, in every single genre. Sometimes songwriting can be sitting together in the same room, sometimes they work with each other remotely, and other times the song gains cowriters over time as different writers help polish it up.
How many cowriters can be on one song?
In the country world, you’ll see anywhere from 1 to 2 to about 4 songwriters on many songs, with 3 writers being the usual. Country writers are usually writing together in the same room at the same time. They’ll have a mix of strengths, and all usually come with guitars or keyboards and lyrical ideas to suggest. In Nashville, the standard way to assign credit for a song is to split it evenly amongst cowriters. If you were in the room that day – you get a credit!
In the pop world, you’ll often see 4, 5, 6, even 13 different writes on a single song. A pop song often gains cowriters along the way. Sometimes, a sample of another song is used and the original writers negotiate a writing credit. Sometimes, the artist that performs the song may be in the booth recording it and decide that a small lyrical change would suit them better. They may change it, then gain a small percentage of the writer credit. The pop way to assign credits is typically by counting the lines each person contributed, and assigning each writer’s credit as a percentage of that song (these are called “splits”).
Sometimes, a lot of the writers listed on a song may not have been in the room when the original idea was being written, but they’ve asked for a cowriting credit instead of a fee for another service. For example, the producer may build out the track, suggest some melodic or lyrical edits to tighten up the song, and gain a cowriter credit in place of his fee.
Side note: Is giving people cowriting credits on songs they didn’t write right? Eh. Depends on the project and who you ask. There are, however, people who have no business asking for a writing credit, but who will ask anyway just to see what they can get away with.
The benefits of cowriting
Cowriting can be an incredibly powerful skill for every writer to master. Cowriting opens doors, grows your skills, and overall makes you a better person. Bold statement, I know. But let’s look at why cowriting it so awesome for songwriters:
1. You’ll write different and often better songs than you could on your own
If you’ve been solo writing for some time, you’re most likely going to be all up in your own head. You’re going to be writing the way you write, the way only you can write. You can certainly grow and change and try new things in your solo writing pursuits, but there’s nothing quite like a great cowriter to make your songs sound different than anything you could have written on your own.
As you cowrite more and more with different people, you’ll find the cowriters who’s strengths pick up where yours leave off. That is an excellent formula for some great songs!
2. Cowriting teaches you humility
And in SO many wonderful, uncomfortable ways! Songwriting can be vulnerable. It can be intimate. Beginning writers can often hold their songs and ideas close to the hearts, and so making changes to a song in progress can be difficult. Cowriting teaches you real quick how to suggest a “bad idea,” have it turned down, and move on. Cowriting sharpens your sense of what is a good idea and what’s a not so good idea. And it teaches you how to deal with rejection.
That being said, a cowriter should never be a jerk – no one likes a jerk. But a good cowriter will know how to politely move the other writers past ideas that just aren’t doing it. And it’s up to you to not be too precious about your ideas!
3. Cowriters can become close friends that understand this whole songwriting thing
There are no friends quite like songwriter friends. Especially if you’re a performing songwriter or an artist, having other songwriter friends that know what life on the stage is like is an absolute blessing. Writing songs isn’t something that non-songwriters really understand. And that’s ok, the songwriting/music world is like none other. So you may find that a lot of your current friends or family who aren’t songwriters don’t really get what you’re doing. That’s ok, it’s wonderful to have friends from all walks of life – but it’s great to have songwriter friends who understand what you’re all about.
4. You can lean on your cowriters when you need to
Some days, you’ll be on fire. You’ll be in a cowrite, throwing out amazing ideas into the room and y’all finish up the song in record time, and it will be amazing. Other times, you’ll be stuck. Idea-less. Silent, tired, frustrated, your well completely dry. Those are times you can rely on your cowriters to help you out and kick start that creative fire again.
Even if you’ve been writing alone a lot lately and you’re kind of burned out on your own songs, scheduling in a cowrite can be a breath of fresh are to reinvigorate you.
Side note: Never come to the cowrite with out any ideas to contribute. That’s just lazy! But if you’re in an “off season,” your cowriter will understand and I guarantee, they’ve been there before!