10 Tips for Co-writing

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Thanks to Matthew Reed & Becki Ryan for sharing these tips with The Worship Community!

1. Be Prepared

There are many steps to be prepared for a co-write. Bringing an idea is definitely one of them, but I believe the best asset you can bring to a co-write is hours of writing on your own. Yes, you can practice writing. There are tons of exercises out there and simply writing a certain number of songs per week will help bring a regiment to your skill.

I heard Tony Wood say one time, “I don’t write when I am inspired, I write to be inspired.” More importantly, a lifestyle of prayer and being in the Word will help prepare you with ideas and inspiration to draw from.

2. Know Your Co-writers Work

A way to have a successful co-write is to know your writing partners style and strengths, and learn to play off of these. I am mainly a melody and general idea guy, I work well with strong lyricists.  However, sometimes you are paired with people who have the same strengths as you do.  This is where you are able to practice “being flexible” and stretching your skillet.

In addition, hearing your co-writer’s other songs will help give you an idea of what they could use from your idea pile or what you could use to your benefit. Knowing each other’s genre and sub-genera is definitely key, so you are prepared going in.

3. Talk Splits

Talk about the “split” beforehand (Split – means ownership of the song). Most co-writes that just start with a simple idea for a chorus or verse end with a 50/50 split. Actually, 95% of my co-writes end in this way. It’s good to get that conversation over in the beginning, but don’t let it kill your vibe.

It’s usually understood that the song is going to be a 50/50 split without even talking about it.  If you are unsure make sure you speak up to avoid any miscommunication. It’s best in a two person co-writing session to follow the rule to never write for more or less than 50%. If you are bringing a song to the table that is very close to completion, you may want to ask for help in return for a smaller percentage. Although, being generous is always better in the long run.

4. Give Parameters

It’s great to give some kind of parameters to the type of song you want to complete the day of your co-write. I mostly write in the worship genre, so it’s usually the speed and feel of the song that is up for discussion. Do you wanna write a ballad, medium tempo or upbeat song? I usually try to discuss with the person what the “end goal” of the song will be upfront so we are on the same page.

Also, if you are writing for worship, you may want to discuss if the song is supposed to be congregational or for personal use. The “parameters” are not to hold you back but are there to help propel you forward in the same direction.

5. Bring an Idea

It’s best if someone brings an idea to the table to really get a cowrite going. If you are writing with a more seasoned writer than yourself, it’s almost expected for you to bring 2 or 3 ideas for the cowrite to choose from. Starting from scratch can be done, it’s just really hard especially for the first couple of writes together as you are first getting to know each other.

6. Be Flexible

One of the most important aspects of co-writing is to be flexible and always encourage your co-writer. Sometimes ideas are brought to the table that you may not agree with, try to step back and see the “big” picture. You can always revisit later.  Allowing space for your co-writer may allow them to hear their original idea in a different light.

7. Avoid “No”

Try to avoid the word “no” as much as possible. It’s better to keep throwing out ideas until there is a definite “yes” in the room. If they don’t respond to an idea, they probably don’t like it. Silence is usually an indicator or request that you haven’t hit the mark yet. Sometimes I hear an idea and it sounds just okay, after I sit with it for a second, it comes to life. Other times it doesn’t.

If an idea isn’t working, it’s best to move on asap.  Be willing to leave your idea and move on for the good of that song.  If you really believe in an idea but your co-writer doesn’t… save the idea for another write.  Be willing to move on.

8. Be the Encourager

The easiest way to mess up a co-write is by shooting down an idea with a quick tongue. Keeping a positive environment can help encourage a future co-write even if the current co-write isn’t what you were hoping for.  A day makes a big difference in co-writing.

Make sure you encourage and give affirmation wherever and whenever you can. There are going to be a lot of bad ideas from both you and your co-write. : ) Keep the environment open and friendly. It takes time to go through the bad ideas to get to the good ones!  Remember not every one of your OWN ideas is the best!  We all have “bad” songs in our catalogs.

9. Be Bold

Don’t be afraid of having a bad idea. You never know what idea is gonna stick or spark the next idea. There definitely needs to be that element of trust there. If you have an idea, even if it’s not a “winner,” throw it out there as it will help to keep the momentum going and may help spark the greatest idea for the song.

10. Be Yourself

Relax and be yourself, staying true to who you are.

Matthew Reed is a songwriter and worship leader based in Nashville, TN. While not on the road or recording, he spends most of his time writing and producing songs for the local church with some of Nashville’s great songwriters and artists. His debut EP, Come and Drink, was produced by Michael Rossback (Paul Baloche, Gungor, Jared Anderson) and features the church anthem “Crash This Place.” http://bit.ly/comeanddrink …Follow him on Twitter @mattreed, join him at Facebook.com/matthewreedmusic

Becki Ryan is a songwriter, worship leader and session musician who lives in Nashville, TN, with her husband and two small children.  Her passion for unity among worship leaders has opened doors around the world.  She is heavily involved with Adoration Ministries, a Non-profit that sends worship leaders onto the mission field.  Currently she is one of the worship leaders at her home church Journey in Franklin TN, as well as Life Fellowship in Charlotte NC.  She will be releasing a new worship EP this fall 2012… Follow her on Twitter @beckiryanmusic  join her at Facebook.com/beckiryan or Facebook.com/adorationministries