The Dangers of Cowriting

Man vs Row


Recently, I wrote about the advantages of cowriting <READ IT HERE>. I’m a big fan of cowriting. As a lyricist, I need a great melody writer to have a prayer of getting my songs cut. However, there are a few potential downsides to cowriting. I want to point these out so you can be aware of them- and avoid them!

1. Getting lazy.

The great thing about cowriting is that you can lean on your cowriter to bring in great ideas and hooks, help you overcome creative roadblocks, and catch mistakes in your songs. The downside is that you might use your cowriter as an excuse to get lazy. “I don’t need to prep- Joe always has good ideas…” “I’ve worked on this 2nd verse for a whole 5 minutes… I’ll just take it in to Kelly…” You always want to strive to become a better songwriter.

Don’t use your cowriter’s strength as an excuse to become a weaker songwriter.

2. Getting too social.

One of the great things about cowriting is that you get to spend a few hours with people you enjoy.  A danger of cowriting is that you get to spend a few hours with people you enjoy.  It’s easy to let the “how ya been” turn into “where’d the last 3 hours go” as you chit-chat your whole writing session away.  It’s good to open up and share your life with a close cowriter (it can lead to great, honest songs), but you shouldn’t use to avoid getting down to work.  It’s easy to change the subject away from your song when you hit a creative roadblock.  And it’s fine to step away for a minute or two.  But you have to get back to work.

Don’t use too much visiting as a way to hide from the work.

3. Mis-writing ideas.

Sadly, it’s inevitable that you’ll lose a good idea or two (or more) to a bad or mismatched cowrite. It happens to all of us. Maybe you took your country-rap idea to a hillbilly cowriter, and it just didn’t turn out like you hoped. But you don’t want to risk insulting your cowriter over it, so you just put it away and hope they don’t want to spend money on a demo. Or maybe it’s a “first date” or “blind date” cowrite, and you throw out your best idea to someone who is both underskilled and overconfident. Next thing you know, your idea is hijacked and totally messed up. It’s not the end of the world, though it can sometimes feel that way.  You’ll survive- you’ll have more ideas and more songs.  But it is frustrating.

Sometimes the price of cowriting is wasting a great idea.

4. Writing vanilla by committee.

Cowriting can be great for polishing a song till it shines. And sometimes a cowriter can encourage you to take risks that you normally wouldn’t. But sometimes a cowrite can end up knocking off all the rough edges that made your idea cool in the first place. Sometimes “songwriting by committee” can leave you with a very middle-of-the-road, safe, vanilla, blah song. You might end up with a song that’s well-crafted, but heartless.

Two-heads-instead-of-one can sometimes leave your song without a heart.

In spite of these dangers, I believe cowriting can be hugely beneficial. (Read “The Advantages Of Cowriting” here.) I know cowriting’s been a big blessing for me. But knowing these dangers can help you avoid or deal with them. And knowing is half the battle. (Extra points if you can name that reference.)

What about you? Any other cowriting dangers that we should add to this list?  Or cowriting horror stories?  Leave them in the comments!

Pro songwriters know they have to face and overcome disappointments like frustrating cowrites now and then.  And if YOU want to become a pro, you need to think like a pro, too. In my FREE e-book, “THINK LIKE A PRO SONGWRITER,” I not only reveal several of the mindsets which separate the pro songwriter from the amateur, but also…

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To get your FREE, INSTANT download of “THINK LIKE A PRO SONGWRITER,” just click on the image below, or CLICK HERE!

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God Bless and Enjoy the Journey,


Brent Baxter is a hit songwriter with cuts by Alan Jackson, Randy Travis, Lady Antebellum, Joe Nichols, Gord Bamford, Ruthie Collins, Ray Stevens, and more. He’s written a top 5 hit in the US and a #1 in Canada… so far.

Man vs Row

9 thoughts on “The Dangers of Cowriting”

  1. I very seldom co-write and when I do it’s with only one writer. However, I know a lot of writers who mostly co-write, so I hear a lot of stories. Recently a friend of mine who is both a very talented singer and writer shared a couple of bad experiences with me. She has been a performing artist for over 20 years and writes with several established Nashville pro writers on a regular basis. Her headaches however have come with writing with newer writers who aren’t established pros. She had one very young writer who wouldn’t accept any of her advice on tying their lyrics tighter to the hook. He wouldn’t budge. She felt that he didn’t respect her opinion. Granted she had never shared her background with him because she was letting her existing songs (which are outstanding) speak for themselves. He was very arrogant with her. She will never write with this person again. Her other pet peeve is she’s had co-writers who weren’t established pros trying to write like pros. Pros are normally much faster on constructing a great song than non-pros are. Non-pros really need to take their time in writing a great song. She’s had several of these unestablished writers try to blow through writing a song in one 2 hour co-writing session via skype. She knew they should be taking much more time on the song because it really wasn’t where it needed to be in terms of quality. She won’t write with those individuals again.

  2. I had heard about a situation similar to Jeff’s friend but it was the reciprocal. There was this young writer & he was under the tutelage of this veteran that had some modest success under his belt. Well, to make a long story short…they had written(actually the veteran ended up writing it) a song together, brought in the studio guys & recorded it. He thought the final product was great. What I had heard was that they ended up with a ” 4. Writing vanilla by committee. ” Supposedly it was slick, well crafted, but blah. Fellow players told the rookie they thought the demo was far superior ( not because of the production or the playing on it ) because the spark & the passion that was there initially…was lost. Obviously one can always learn from someone who has had years of experience & really good songs to show for their effort…but on the other hand…one should always trust their instinct…if something is jumping out at you saying this isn’t working…then it probably isn’t.

  3. I ended up in a co-writing conference setting where the partner was picked for you. DISASTER!!! I got stuck with MR-one-chord song, with lyrics about his relations who were in prison.

  4. I’m a bit of an introvert so all my worst experiences have come from being paired with crazy high energy charismatic writers who blast though a whole song by themselves. I’ve done a few sessions where I was basically a spectator and couldn’t get a word in because of my soft spoken personality. So for me personally it’s been all about personality clashes. For an introvert like myself that can be a nightmare haha.

  5. Most of my songs I have written solo. I take them to my songwriters NSAI chapter and get comments and then adopt those that I agree with, which works pretty well. I have done a few co-writes, and here is my question. A co-write is like a marriage – each person has an equal vote on what goes into the song or comes out which can lead to stale mate or a tie. Sometimes this can lead to a lot of pull and tug and compromise that I think can lead to “vanilla” songs too. One thing I have tried a few times that seems to work fairly well is to establish up front that whoever brings the hook/title or the first draft of a song to the co-write, gets the veto power and decides what to keep in the song. Yes that puts the cowriter who did not bring forward the hook at a disadvantage but then if he/she brings the next hook idea forward the roles are reversed. It seems to prevent butting heads over every detail. Of course veto power does not mean there is no discussion and persuasion going on if one writer feels strongly on a lyric or melody. But eventually somebody or in best situations both agree on what to keep. The only problem is that sometimes this boils down to which co-writer has the dominant personality and pushes hardest for his/her ideas while the other placates just to keep the peace and move on. For me personally, if a co-writer brings me in on his/her hook or song idea, I consider it their song and I am there to help improve it – not make it my song. If it ends up being 90% their lyrics and 10% mine, no problem – it is still a co-write and any royalty or financial return is still 50/50. So what are your thoughts Brent?

  6. I’ve had good and bad co-writing sessions. Co- writing reminds me of marriage. It can be great and the other person completes your partnership or you feel like your the one doing all the laundry, dishes, yard work,etc.If your doing all the work,why not get all the credit . Bottom line is its hard work either way.

  7. GI Joe – how many points do I get 🙂 Thanks for the article! Not only does it help learn how to deal with cowrites that go this way, but it helps me not to be one of them!

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