Interesting title for what you are about to read… We are taught very basic skills from birth:
- Say please and thank you
- Mind your manners, be polite
- Always be on time
- Respect your elders
- Encourage your friends
These life skills and guiding principals, along with many others I am sure, are instilled in us as children. However somewhere between childhood and “know-it-all adulthood” people forget the simple graces of social interaction and begin to think that these rules don’t apply and that they can do it better.
Building off of these principals I want to suggest some best practices when it comes to songwriting; more specifically – when we as songwriters venture into the scary world of co-writing. The act of two or more people, coming together to create art in and of itself intimidating. Creativity is inherently personal and can be interpreted many different ways. You can imagine the sensitivity that one must use when writing with anyone from strangers to old friends. A setting of honesty, respect and trust must be fostered for this level of intimacy to work correctly. Here is a trio of basic principals that we can use in life and in co-writing to successfully guard the hearts and minds of those we interact with.
1. Be On Time – Creative people at times can tend to struggle with the finer points of organization, time management and professionalism. Although there are many facets to professionalism, first and foremost is to respect the person you are about to meet with and guard their time. Reverse the scenario – what if you have to be at a meeting with a publisher and you booked yourself pretty tightly that day and your co-writer arrives forty five minutes late. You wouldn’t want a person to be late and waste your time, so do not waste theirs. If you are going to be late, don’t avoid confrontation – call. Sometimes you even over-book in the first place and need to reschedule, do not wait until the day of if at all possible to change plans; you never know what that person could have turned down to meet with you. You need to give them a chance to regain their time. Obviously life happens and that is when the other person needs to be understanding. But, for the most part, communicate and be on time.
2. Be humble – Whether you are writing with hit songwriters like Skip Ewing or Hillary Lindsey or your appointment is with a new writer in town… be humble. Creativity and songwriting is an art and we all tend to get very attached to our work. When you agree to co-write you are agreeing to have your soul ripped open and examined with a fine tooth comb. If that is too hard for you then you might want to stick to writing alone. No ones ideas are so great that there can not be a few things that could be adjusted to create a tighter song. You have to be on both sides of this issue, be careful with your words when you constructively criticize the song ideas of someone else and take down your pride when someone else is ready to examine yours.
3. Be flexible – When you come to a co-writing session, do not have your teeth so far into your idea that you aren’t open to the synergy of the co-writing experience. Ideas change, perspectives shift and sometimes there is a stronger, deeper song out there. The mental chatter that goes back and forth between songwriters is healthy. It is this process of massaging the song that encourages the good ideas rise to the top and the bad ideas, well, they just get forgotten (or written on another day). If you are dead set on an idea, write it down and save it for later. Don’t let that ruin the flow of creative session.
To go full circle with the title, work what your mama gave ya – remember the basic social skills that have gotten you through life. They apply to all circumstances and situations we come face to face with on any given day, musical or not. When you get a chance, find someone who instilled these values in you and thank them for their time. They have enabled you to be a co-writer… they need to be thanked!