If you were to try to find one song currently in the Billboard Top 100 that isn’t co-written by at least two people, it would be a challenge. Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello’s ‘Señorita’ (written by 8 different songwriters , including Charli XCX), Billie Eilish’s ‘Bad Guy’ (co-written with her brother, Finneas ), and Taylor Swift’s ‘ME!’ (co-written with New Zealand producer Joel Little ) are all current Top 100 hits that are a result of co-writing.
Co-writing an essential exercise you need to practice if you want to become a professional songwriter. Even if you’re a solo artist who writes your own songs, it’s a great idea to co-write often to see how you collaborate with others. Co-writing is one of the best ways to look at a song from another writer’s perspective and learn how to fit your lyrical and musical ideas with someone else’s.
Sharing your deepest personal thoughts and feelings with another songwriter (who sometimes may be a complete stranger) might not sound like everyone’s cup of tea – but after exercising your co-writing muscle, your writing can only get better. It may seem intimidating, especially if you’ve spent a long time writing on your own, but there are so many different (and easy) ways to approach co-writing.
With this guide, you can find the approach that’s right for you and take these ideas with you to your next co-writing session!
1. Pull your unfinished songs out of the vault!
Remember that killer melodic hook you wrote three months ago that you could not for the life of you come up with lyrics for? Your next co-writing session is a great time to go back into your voice memo archives and revive it!
Unfinished songs are great materials to bring to writing sessions to start getting the creative flow going. Your writing partner may be the perfect person to write the lyrics you need for your melody, or vice-versa. A great co-writer can give new life to your song ideas in ways you never would have thought of on your own.
It can be vulnerable to share song ideas that you have shelved, but take a chance and share them with your writing partner! Chances are that even though you think your idea isn’t good enough, someone else will see it in a completely different light. One of your archived ideas might become one of your best songs with the help of a great co-writer. Never throw anything away!
2. Share stories about what’s on your mind or what’s going on in your life right now.
I’ve had many co-writing experiences in which the actual songwriting doesn’t start until an hour into the session. If you’re going to be writing a song with someone and sharing your deepest inner thoughts and feelings, it’s a good idea to get to know them first. Sit down with your writing partner and talk about what you’re currently experiencing in life. Not only will you and your co-writer be able to get to know each other more – you will find experiences that you can both relate to, and that can be the foundation for your song’s theme.
Whether you’re experiencing a breakup, an existential crisis, or starting a new chapter in life, you may find that your writing partner is currently going through or has already gone through the same thing. This is where your unique perspectives come in – although you both have gone through similar experiences, both of you have your own individual contexts that you can lend to the song. By opening up yourself and your song up to other viewpoints, you can write a song that has more depth and will be more relatable to a larger audience.
3. Write a “topline” over an already existing instrumental track.
Toplining, AKA writing to a pre-existing track or “beat,” is a great way to branch out your co-writing network and start collaborating with producers who are also songwriters. Thanks to all the accessible music production software and technology available to us, there are a plethora of producers out there who can make their own tracks, even if they’re only working out of their bedroom. Many of these producers are always looking for songwriters to write lyrics and melodies over their tracks – which is where you come in!
If you already know some producers, try reaching out to them and see if they have any tracks they want topline written over. This is a really fun co-writing exercise and also a challenge because your foundation is someone else’s idea, not your own. But the great thing is you don’t have to worry about chord progressions or form! You can focus your time and energy all on melodies and lyrics. Give yourself some time to listen to the track and analyze its chord structure, form and dynamics – from there, let your ideas run free!
4. Write with a specific artist (other than yourself) in mind.
If you’re feeling stuck trying to write for your specific style as an artist, try putting yourself in the scenario of writing for a completely different artist. This could be your co-writer (if they have a different style than you), or even a currently famous artist! Some of the most successful songwriters and artists in the industry ( Charli XCX , Bebe Rexha , and Julia Michaels – just to name a few) got their start writing songs for other people. This is an extremely valuable skill to develop because it allows one to adapt to multiple genres and audiences.
For example, if your style has always been acoustic folk, try writing for an electronic pop artist like Selena Gomez or Ellie Goulding. It is a really fun and freeing experience to think outside the box and push yourself to write in genres that you’ve never gotten to explore. You and your writing partner can see what it’s like to be a part of a writing team for another artist. You will approach the song in a completely new way and work together to fit another artist’s style while still maintaining your unique artistic flair.
If you and your co-writer end up writing a song that doesn’t fit for either of you as artists, add it to your catalog! Just because it doesn’t fit your style doesn’t mean that it won’t be perfect for someone else. Make sure you have a solid rough demo that is ready to present if you need to ( you can easily get a professionally mastered demo with eMastered ). The time may come when someone asks you for a demo to pitch to another artist, and you want to be prepared!
5. Co-write remotely.
If you and your co-writer both have busy schedules, it may be difficult to schedule a sufficient chunk of time to get together in person and write. Don’t let yourself use this as an excuse not to co-write! Fortunately, with the capabilities of today’s technology, you don’t necessarily have to be in the same room as your writing partner to write together.
Try sending over a voice memo of a song idea to your co-writer and ask them to send you back some elements to add. Assign yourselves roles for the song – maybe one does lyrics and another does melodies, or one does the verses and another does the chorus. If you get stuck, try adding another co-writer and see what they can bring to the table. There are so many options for co-writing, even if you’re not together in person!
Co-writing might seem new and scary, but it’s a very necessary step to becoming a well-rounded songwriter. Use these exercises to ease yourself into the process. Reach out to friends who are songwriters or reach out to local songwriters who you admire and see if they’d like to write with you! Collaboration can help your songwriting reach new levels, so get out there and schedule your next co-writing session!