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.
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.)
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.
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 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.