I once had a song idea I absolutely loved, but just couldn’t finish. I knew where I wanted it to go. I had a chorus and a bridge, but I couldn’t come close to finishing a verse.
One day I sat down at the piano and showed a friend the chorus. I sang through all I had then just stopped. I explained what I was trying to say and my frustration of not being able to say it. Immediately and effortlessly, he gave me four words and it all clicked. That night I went home and finished the song. My friend launched the song to a place I was trying to reach…but I just couldn’t on my own.
Co-writing is something I have grown to love and appreciate more and more as a songwriter. Co-writing can birth beautiful ideas like nothing you could have written by yourself. Learning how to co-write can be incredibly useful, especially in the church and in worship music. Now, almost everything I write is done via co-writing. It’s so beautiful to sit down with someone you trust and put every lyric and melody on the table – open for change.
But co-writing can also take a wrong turn, and be very negative if not done in a healthy way. I have been in songwriting sessions that were absolutely horrible.
How can you ensure your co-writing experience will be a healthy one?
When writing worship songs for your church, it can be so beneficial for the song, the church, and you to have a partner for the journey to the song. Your co-writer can be a mirror, through which ideas, theology, and melody form a great union.
I have a few simple rules for whenever I write a song with someone.
1. Respect your co-writer.
Be honest, kind, affirming, and open. Don’t sugar coat when turning down an idea. If you have a hard time respecting them musically, maybe you shouldn’t write with them.
2. Let go of your ego.
Always be open to other ideas. Don’t try to be political about what makes the cut for an idea. Take the best ideas that come and don’t get greedy for ideas or song ownership.
3. Learn the dance.
Learn when to take the lead. Learn when to follow. Go with the narrative or shape of the song.
The one unbreakable rule of couples’ dancing is that the partners must move interdependently, as a unit. Co-writing follows the same principle. You are creating together. Dancing.
4. Know when to hold ‘em, and know when to fold ‘em.
Learn how to quickly pass on one of your ideas. If you love an idea but it doesn’t fit, save it for another song. I’ve had so many hooks I loved, that didn’t make the cut for one song, appear in another song later down the road.
5. Find partners with whom you have chemistry.
It’s very difficult to write with someone when your theology and musicality don’t get along well. This doesn’t mean you can’t be different. I’ve written many songs with people who have different theology and/or musicality, but we knew the shape of the song and we fit well together. Find a person, or persons, who you work well with and show them your songs.
Co-writing can be an amazing experience. I encourage you to try it and keep trying. It might seem awkward at first. But when you get it right, the song becomes much bigger than you; much bigger than both of you, and becomes something special.