Collaboration is one of the most rewarding and productive activities a composer can engage in. It is also one of the most challenging. Co-writing will stretch you in ways you can’t even imagine in advance.
Take a look at the Billboard Singles charts and you’ll notice that the vast majority of hit songs were written by 2 or more writers. Why? Because many composers have found that the collaborative whole is much greater than the sum of the parts of solo writing. We are all human, with strengths that we can capitalize on, as well as weaknesses that we can complement with the strengths of others.
Many artists find that writing alone year after year is limiting. The multifaceted approach can produce flashes of brilliance, but solo writers often find themselves stuck in a rut.
If you feel the need to merge with other talents, first look at yourself as a songwriter from an objective point of view. Imagine your next co-author date as a potluck—what will you bring to the party?
o Are you passionate, enthusiastic, hard-working and fun?
o Are you willing to dedicate time, energy, money and your heart to the noble cause of making good music?
o Do you have unique talents and powerful things to say in your songs?
o Are you willing to give and listen to constructive feedback?
o Are you familiar with the ground rules and terminology of your chosen field?
and more important:
o Have you generated a body of work that shows your strengths as a writer?
BE LIKE A MAGNET
How can you attract quality co-writers? First of all, let’s face it, most talented and successful writers aren’t looking to bail you out. However, many will want to collaborate if it looks like they will gain something of value from the partnership. So your job is to create material that other writers think will contribute to your success.
And keep in mind that most people want to work with partners who have reached a comparable level of development. I can’t wait for Serena Williams to ask me out to play tennis, or for Tiger Woods to challenge me to a round of golf, until I work on my game some more. Why should the composition be any different?
May your goal be to become a collaborator magnet. This means putting your contributions in the best possible shape before you walk in the door.
You will inevitably be judged by the actual goods you bring to the table. And if you are honest, you will admit that you are weighing your potential collaborators in the same way. This is how it should be. Look with an objective eye at your body of work thus far.
o Carefully written lyrics, presented in the form of an identifiable song?
o Better versions of instrumental tracks, melodies, hooks and/or riffs?
o Lists of possible titles?
o Any possible “song starts”?
o Any finished songs professionally demoed?
These are the “business cards” that you will introduce to other songwriters and artists. You want to rigorously hone them so you can display them proudly, confident in their worth, without apologizing, embarrassing, or excusing yourself for their shortcomings. Isn’t that the standard of quality you would expect in return?
You “pay your fair share” by polishing your talents, your diamonds, until they shine. Eventually, if you take your own gifts seriously, word will spread that you have something valuable to offer. This process is sometimes called “eating your way up the musical food chain.” It doesn’t happen overnight. There are no “quick fixes”, as in any serious field of activity.
“YOU GOT TO KISSA LOTTA FROGS”
Participation is the key. Join, play, take risks… basically, you have to put your talent, your heart and your soul on the line! Nobody knocks on your door out of the blue, begging you to co-write. You have to make a concerted and consistent effort to create writing relationships from scratch.
In fact, I’ve found that collaborating is a lot like…dating!
o Some collaborations are adventures: good for some songs, but not long term.
o Some are nightmares: you want to run screaming in the opposite direction.
o Some are unrequited: you feel the urge, but your partner doesn’t.
o And, luckily, some are magical: you stay with them for a long time, maybe even forever.
And yes, it can be heartbreaking. But I guarantee you will feel completely alive! There is never a dull moment in this quest, because you and your co-writer aspire to the great calling of creating great works of art together.
You just have to keep writing, rewriting and publishing it, trusting that you will eventually attract like-minded souls. So where exactly are these like-minded souls hiding?
A few days of research can bring you a wealth of opportunities. Here are a few ways that have produced results for me, and I’ve collaborated with at least a hundred other writers since 1983:
o Take a songwriting class.
o Find a teacher, or better yet, a mentor.
o Start a local songwriting support group.
o Hire or form a band, even if it is only for a limited number of performances.
o Join a performing rights organization (ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC in the US)
o Check out programs offered by trade music organizations like The Songwriters Hall of Fame, The Recording Academy, Women In Music, Nashville Songwriters Association, etc.)
o Join the various songwriting communities online, just Google it! Myspace.com offers a whole new realm of possibilities.
o Check local publications and listings for exhibits, classifieds, and open mics.
o Search the Internet for artists in your line of music.
o Go to local music stores and check their bulletin boards, or put up your own sign.
o Post a free ad on Craigslist.com.
o Read or subscribe to publications about the music business.
You are only limited by your imagination and your level of commitment.
In short, there is no such thing as a free lunch, but there is a delicious feast available if you are willing to put your own talents to use. How’s that for a mixed metaphor?
Finally, I suggest that people fearlessly delve into their deepest selves when writing songs. Listeners can always tell when you’re being sincere and real.
In one word:
o Write your truth, and write A LOT.
o Dare to write horrible songs in search of brilliant ones.
o Create a support team that will hold you to higher standards.
o Build on your strengths and complement your weaknesses as a writer, musician, singer, and engineer.
o Read the books, do the exercises, subscribe to the publications… know your field!
o Participate in the hilt, building relationships with a variety of potential partners.
Together, let’s raise the bar for songs in the world, to bring back the good old days of music!
Copyright 2006 Alex Forbes