Write Better Songs By Accounting For Your Cowriter’s Writing Style

Man vs. PRO

About an hour into the cowrite, I knew I’d made a mistake.  This song was gonna be good, but it probably wasn’t going to be great.  And it was my fault.  I shouldn’t have brought this idea to this guy on this day.

Guess I should give you some back story.  “This guy” was not some 2nd rate hack songwriter who was destroying my wonderful song idea.  Actually, this guy, (let’s call him “Chris”) had written multiple #1 hits and a ton of album cuts.  In fact, he and I had already written several songs together.

So, since Chris is so good, why was it a mistake to bring this certain idea to him?  Because Chris is not a “grinder,” and I knew this idea still needed some grinding.  The idea wasn’t completely clear in my mind.  It needed to be fleshed out and explored more.  But Chris wasn’t the guy for this.  You see, Chris is a successful writer, a great writer, and a very FAST writer.  I’ve never had a cowrite with him stretch over two sessions.  Heck, I’ve rarely had them stretch past lunch!

I’m not as fast as Chris, at least not until I really have the idea clearly focused in my mind.  You see, I’m not really ever “off to the races” until I have a good idea of what the racetrack looks like.  Chris isn’t one to really dig and explore to mine the very best stuff out of a concept or title.  And, hey, it’s worked out for him- he has a lot of gold and platinums on the wall.

But for ME to get my best work with Chris, I need to bring in a very clear idea, concept and direction.  Maybe even a full scratch lyric.  I call it “pre-writing,” and it’s kinda like getting a head start on the cowrite.  Chris loves it since he can just focus on melody (his strength) and I don’t slow him down too much.  Since I know the idea clearly, I can make lyrical adjustments quickly and with confidence.  When I do my prep, I have a better experience- and the song ends up being a lot tighter, too.

Prewriting Head Start

So that was my mistake on this particular day.  I suggested an idea that wasn’t ready- not for this particular cowriter, at least.

The lesson in this, for me anyway, is to account for your cowriter’s strengths and writing style when bringing in song ideas.

For example, I have another cowriter, “Dave,” who is much more of a grinder.  I’m comfortable bringing in vague or uncertain ideas because I know Dave will work until the song sparkles.  Dave even grinds on ideas that I feel are really fleshed out already – just to make sure we write it as well as we can.  And I love that.  Because I don’t need good songs.  I need great songs.

Writing average songs won’t change my life. (And they probably won’t change yours, either.)

0 Average Songs

Chris and Dave are both hit songwriters, and I have a ton of respect for each of them.  Each of us just has our own way of working.  And I can work well with either one of those guys- as long as I respect each of their writing styles.

I could really frustrate Chris by constantly hitting the brakes and making him grind out an idea.  Likewise, I could really frustrate Dave by slamming the gas and flying through a song he isn’t sure is the best it can be.  But, instead, I want to respect each of their styles, and adjust accordingly.  Sometimes this means I do more “pre-writing.”  Sometimes not.  But either way, when I respect my cowriters’ writing styles, I get better songs.

Cowriters Style

And maybe there’s a lesson in there for you.  If you’re not getting the results you’d like with one of your cowriters, maybe you just need to adjust your songwriting process if possible.  A few adjustments might just save your cowriting relationship- and save a lot of your song ideas!

What about you?  I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.  Do you have any stories about adjusting or NOT adjusting to your cowriter’s writing style?  How’d it work out? Please leave a comment!

Also, if you think this post might be helpful for your songwriting friends, please share it through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, email, however you want.  I want to help as many songwriters as possible!

If you want to become a songwriting pro (in how you think, write songs or do business), then a great place to start is RIGHT HERE.  I want to help you on your songwriting journey.  I’ve been in the music business for years, and I’m here to help you get the cuts – and avoid the bruises.  CLICK HERE TO START HERE.

God Bless and Enjoy the Journey,

Brent

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.

SWP 4

6 thoughts on “Write Better Songs By Accounting For Your Cowriter’s Writing Style”

  1. First of all the methods you teach in your course for prep work before writing a song are huge.

    Just doing that will put most writers into another league.

    I do a huge variety of different co-writes from playing and writing all the music and the majority of the lyrics myself with an artist to working with melody guys who take my lyric ideas and do most of the playing and singing.

    So being prepared in the right way for the right person is huge for me.

    I had one experience with an artist and a pro songwriter I’ll never forget.

    The pro was incredibly fast once he had something to work with and we got too great songs out of the session but it was an amazing struggle getting to the best song ideas.

    In fact the session was such a nightmare it’s some kind of miracle that we got 2 great songs out of it. It’s a very long painful story that’s bordering on the bizarre.

    At one point we went through over 400 of my song hooks to find something the artist liked. And that was the most fun part of the writing session…it was downhill from there!

    The next time I wrote with this same pro I had two very tightly formed really strong song ideas and a couple of pages of notes on each.

    That was a REALLY fast session. We wrote the core of two songs and went to lunch before noon.

    I had also worked out this pro really hated rewriting so I did that myself over the next few days.

    One of those songs is a monster for the Australian market so tuning in to what worked best with that co-write has the potential to pay huge dividends.

  2. Probably one of the most vital considerations one can make before a co-write. Fantastic points brother, and well stated to boot!

    I’d add that when you are gonna be writing with someone the first time, it doesn’t hurt to find out all you can about this very subject BEFORE the session, so you have an indication of how the new writer likes to work. Could be that you have some mutual co-writers that could offer some insights.
    One caveat to doing this would be, to keep in mind what you know about the person who’s giving you the “inside info” too. Just because the “new co-writer” that you will be writing with came across a certain way with one person, doesn’t always equate to how things will go with you.

    Arm yourself with knowledge, but go with the flow, and write the song in the room that day.
    Every combination of personalities, skill sets, strengths, and attitudes results in a different outcome. The more you’re able to “ride the vibe” between you and the person you’re writing with, the better the odds of writing something that both of you are excited about.

    Again, really profound insights you laid on us today Brent… Blessed to have been on the receiving end of this post for sure…😎😉

    Todd

  3. LOVE the article and comments but have a question. You all have relationships with co-writers so you can choose who’s best for what. But how does a ‘newby’ get a decent co-writer to even look at their lyrics? I have a vault of lyrics I’ve tested in writing groups & I’m constantly told I have ‘the gift’-but have NO idea what to do with them. I normally get a general melody as I get the lyrics (during the night) but my limit is scratching out the chords.
    Ironically, I’m a super confident public speaker and I write my own material- but when it comes to music, I’m a TOTAL introvert! Don’t TELL!

    1. Hey Shell,

      I’d suggest you start writing with whoever you can regardless of their level of skill.

      Co-writing involves some unique skills that you don’t get any other way so even if you’re not writing with someone who has great songwriting skill you’re going to develop those co-writing skills that will set you up to write more effectively when you do get a co-write with someone who has more skill.

      Also songwriters tend to rise together building their skills together so the beginning songwriter today is the hit writer 10 years from now.

    2. Shell,

      My recommendation would be to do exactly what we do in Nashville, and everywhere else really, and that is find people who are strong in the areas in which you struggle.
      I don’t mean that to sound like a snide reply at all, so please don’t read it that way.
      I think that it’s such a simple answer, that it feels like there has to be more to it than that, but it’s really not any more complicated than that. You mentioned that you had gotten some encouraging feedback on your lyrics, and that tells me that you must be aware of, or know other songwriters who were at these functions where you received your critiques.
      If that is the case, you’re sitting on the proverbial pot of gold as far as finding people to collaborate with!😉

      There are so many great writers whose gifts differ, with some being melodic geniuses, while others can come up with hook after hook, and turn a phrase like nobody’s business. The really cool thing is, regardless of which one you happen to be, you’re equally valuable to the other.

      I think you’ll probably have more options than you can realistically work with, and I would encourage you to take that leap of faith, and dive in.
      You are especially blessed in that you describe yourself as a super confident speaker, whereas most people would have to conquer that trepidation as well.

      I will share this with you in closing. I have learned something of great value, from even the worst co-writer I’ve ever had. And what someone writes by themselves, or with another writer, is no indication of what you might accomplish with them.

      If you feel comfortable with them, and they are hungry, write with them! It’s an investment that will always pay dividends, even if they are not exactly what you’d expect them to be.

      All the best,

      Todd

    3. Hi, Shell! I tend to agree with Andrew. In the beginning, it’s hard to be picky. Just get with who you can get with (like those who say you have “the gift” in your writing group… if they’re songwriters, too), and bring your best work to each cowrite. Then at least you have some completed songs with which to “lure” other cowriters into your circle. Hope that helps!

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