This article originally appeared on Soundfly.
Take a journey with me. Imagine this all too familiar scenario: You’re sitting at a table, looking at the empty chair across from you. Your coffee’s piping hot. You take another swig to ensure that you are properly caffeinated before you meet your friend.
Your friend. Can you call them a friend yet? Is that moving too fast? Your bassist set the two of you up today, so it’s kind of like you’re friends. You’re friends of friends. That counts, right?
You mentally kick yourself for the awkward inner dialog. If anything weird like that comes out of your mouth during this, then there’s definitely no chance you’ll be meeting again. Your mind continues to wander in anxious anticipation. What if they don’t like anything you have to say? What if you have nothing in common? Or what if…
Your train of though is abruptly derailed by a gentle knock on the door. Half a second later, it opens and your co-writer steps in. “Sorry I’m late!” she says. “It took me ages to find parking. It’s so nice to meet you! Thanks for writing with me today.”
This is what a typical first co-write can feel like. A lot like a first date. A whole bunch of awkward small talk followed by some vulnerable conversation, sprinkled with bad lines, bad jokes, and hopefully, a second date. Writers who don’t know each other at all find themselves confined to tiny rooms, spilling secrets and pouring out their hearts to each other, all in the name of the song.
Even if you prefer co-writing over writing solo, it can be exhausting. Especially if you’ve ever had a bad co-write. Awkward silences that are hours long. Terrible ideas. Bad smells. Big personalities. Being stuck in a co-write that’s going nowhere feels a bit like Chinese water torture.
But the opposite is wonderful.
Being in co-write with one of your favorite people in the world can be amazing. They energize you. Inspire you. The good times roll. The great lines keep coming. Time flies faster than you realize and before you know it, you have a killer song. Usually, co-writers like this are few and far between.
If you’ve had a string of mediocre (or agonizing) co-writes, it can feel like you’ve hit a wall. Maybe you haven’t found that magical friend who gets you just yet. Somewhere, in the millions of songwriters in the world, your co-writing circle exists. Do not give up the search. Get to them quicker by keeping these things in mind:
1. Co-write often (seriously, don’t stop)
It’s a numbers game, people. Write with anyone and everyone. This is going to help you in a number of ways.
Writing with a lot of different people means you’re narrowing down your search for your favorite co-writers. That one’s pretty straightforward. Just like dating, you learn what you like and don’t like in a co-writer. You become keen to habits and personalities that you can deal with, and what the deal-breakers are. You learn who you want to schedule the next co-write with, and whose number you want to lose.
One of the biggest reasons to write with a bunch of different people is that you expand your network of friends and contacts. You give yourself opportunities to make good impressions on lots of people. You never know who might recommend you to write with a mutual friend, or sing on a demo, or play a gig, or even meet with a publisher.
Write with so many people that you can walk into any event and know at least one other person there!
2. Write with artists who may be new to songwriting
If you’re having trouble finding other songwriters in your area to write with, start asking artists. There are many, many artists out there who are interested in songwriting, but have never written a song before. Or, they may be living room poets, writing every day in journals and diaries but never setting their words to music.
Approach your favorite singers and performers in your area and ask them if they’d be interested in sitting down and trying to write something for them. By writing with artists, you’ve increased your search radius for finding your favorite co-writers. And an added bonus: when you write with artists, your songs have a much higher likelihood of getting cut by that artist.
3. Write with people who are your complete opposite
One of my favorite co-writers is a man who’s my dad’s age, who listens to folk from the ’70s, has a kid, and is from California. I’m a 20-something Southern girl who’s listened to Top 40 pop all my life. We couldn’t be farther apart in some areas, but we write really well together because we found out our personalities just click. And I never would have found out he’s one of my favorite co-writers unless I wrote with him in the first place.
This isn’t high school. There isn’t a caste system between freshmen and seniors. Try writing with people who you’d never expect to run in the same circles with. People who are your opposite. People who have different influences and histories from you.
Someone who is unlike you in many ways will have a whole new set of thoughts and principles and creative ideas to throw into the mix — the kind of stuff you never would have thought of.
4. Know your genre and your strengths
When you know what you do really well, you can communicate that to potential co-writers before you even get into the writing room. (And be sure to communicate constructively about their strengths and weaknesses.) For example, if you’re an accomplished guitarist, let your potential co-writer know your strength lies in melodies and interesting musical elements. You’ll find yourself pairing up with writers who are great at lyrics.
Same goes for your genre. If you are passionate about country music, let others know. That way, if your potential co-writer absolutely can’t stand anything with twang, you’ll realize right off the bat that it’s probably better you keep your friendship out of the writing room.
5. Friends are always more fun to write with
Yup, it’s true. It’s always a heck of a lot more fun to write with friends than with strangers. While you can’t completely avoid writing with strangers, you’ll find that the more songwriter friends you make, the more you’ll want to write with them simply because you’re friends.
Chances are, your best, most favorite co-writers in the world are going to be your closest friends. There’s no rule in any music industry that says your co-writers can’t be your friends. In fact, the opposite is true! Everyone prefers working with friends than jerks or people they don’t know.
Look to the group of friends you have already and see if anyone is game to write. If it doesn’t work out, no hard feelings. You can still be friends!
Have more great tips for finding co-writers that click? Share them in the comments below! And if you need more help getting started songwriting, be sure to check Soundfly’s course, “The New Songwriter’s Workshop.”
Sarah Spencer is a singer and songwriter working, living, and playing in Nashville, Tennessee. By day, she is the lead web designer at boutique creative agency for musicians and industry professionals. When she’s not focusing on the web, Sarah spends her evenings writing songs and playing writer’s rounds around town. With a unique combination of experience & skills, she takes to the internet to blog on topics ranging from the music industry and country music, to songwriting and creativity. Her humble labor of love, SongFancy.com, serves as a resource for tools and inspiration about the craft and business of songwriting.