10 Ways To Become A Better Collaborator
Collaboration in songwriting is full of nuances, pitfalls, and possibilities. Like any partnership, it is an alignment of strengths, a balance of chemistry, and a vision of common goals and shared passion that drives it. When I discuss collaboration with the songwriters I am mentoring, I not only get across that they should collaborate, but I talk a lot about how to be a good collaborator. Some of this just takes the reps, but here are a few things I’ve found that can help you be more successful when it comes to making the most out of your co-writes.
1. Come prepared with multiple ideas to bring to the table. Not only will it show your collaborator that you are a deep resource of creativity, but it will serve your session well if you have several ideas to fall back on when you get stuck on one. Bouncing around a few ideas before deciding which one to jump on can also be a good way of finding the right song for the right day.
2. Be a good listener. The concept of collaboration is to get the most out of the combination of more than one person’s thoughts on a song idea. It should be a dance and have rhythm, and feel more like a creative conversation with a goal; to take an idea from concept to lyric and melody. Communicate your way through the experience together until something magic starts to happen. That’s why we are here.
3. Find the right collaborators. This can be trial and error, but like any relationship, whether personal or professional, we’ve got to find the chemistry that works. Be willing to move on from collaborators that don’t seem to align well with your style, your work ethic, or your core values. Embracing the differences in our back grounds can be a great way to write a song with depth, but if the chemistry just doesn't groove, we may not be a great match as co-writers. Find your crew.
4. Be good about following up. Sometimes we leave a session not with a finished work but with a promising start to a song. We may have a verse and a chorus and some ideas on direction for the 2nd verse and possibly a bridge. Book that follow up session right away. Get the calendars out before you leave the room. Otherwise, time may go by and good things may slip through the cracks. Sending messages to your co-writers between sessions can also be a way of keeping the idea going, and also showing your professionalism, excitement about the song, and the focus to finish.
5. Reflect. Be willing to share your past and your stories relevant to the idea you are collaborating on, the good and the bad, to stir up thoughts and emotions that may lead to a great line, a great sentiment, and sometimes a musical mood that becomes the canvas for the song to appear on. Don’t hold back. Sometimes the best, most relatable songs are found in those places.
6. Do your research. If it is a first time co-write, know what he or she does and has done musically. Get a feel for their strengths and style before you write together so you can intuitively collaborate, keeping space open for their strengths, while knowing when to lean on yours.
7. Stay off your phone.
8. Be on time. Collaboration is a lot like a date. Everything sends a message. Show up ready to write.
9. Be inspired. Enthusiasm is often the spark that can drive the creative process. That energy will fill the session and keep us leaning into the song as the idea starts to show its possibilities.
10. Finish. Just as songs are not really songs until they are done, collaborative relationships are not really collaborative relationships until you have finished a work and moved onto the next. Those finished songs create momentum. They give us a work to evaluate and see what is coming out of your collaborative chemistry. They also give you something real and valuable to build upon, and something to be excited about being a part of. The discipline of finishing moves our music forward.