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So, You Want To Collaborate? The Key to Success For Songwriters

Collaboration is one of the most rewarding and productive activities a songwriter can engage in. It is also one of the most challenging activities. Writing together stretches you in ways you can’t imagine.

Take a look at the Billboard Singles chart and you’ll notice that the vast majority of hits were written by 2 or more writers. Why? Because many songwriters have discovered that the collaborative whole is much greater than the sum of the solo writing parts. We are all human, we can benefit from strong suits and complement our weaknesses with others’ strengths.

Many artists find that writing alone limits them year after year. A jack-of-all-trades approach can lead to flashes of brilliance, but solo writers often find themselves stuck in a rut.

If you feel compelled to team up with other talents, first look at yourself objectively as a songwriter. Imagine your next co-writer meeting as a hell of a machine – what will you bring to the party?

o Are you passionate, enthusiastic, hardworking and fun?

o Are you willing to dedicate your time, energy, money and heart to the worthy cause of great music?

o Do you have unique talents and a powerful message in your songs?

o Are you willing to give and listen to constructive feedback?

o Do you know the basic rules and terminology of your chosen field?

and most importantly:

o Have you created work that demonstrates your strong suit as a writer?

BE A MAGNET

How can you attract quality fellow writers? First, let’s face it, most successful, talented writers don’t want to pull you up by the bootstraps. However, many people are willing to work together if they appear to be getting something of value from the partnership. Therefore, it is your job to create material that other writers believe will contribute to their success.

And remember that most people want to work with partners who have reached a similar level of development. I can’t expect Serena Williams to invite me to play tennis or Tiger Woods to challenge me to a round of golf until I work on my game a little more. Why should songwriting be any different?

Make it your goal to become a collaboration magnet. This means getting your contributions in the best possible shape before you walk in the door.

Inevitably, you will be judged by the goods on the table. And if you’re honest, you’ll admit that you consider your potential coworkers the same way. It is as it should be. Look objectively at your work so far.

Do you have:

o Nicely typed lyrics, put into an identifiable song form?

o Best versions of instrumental tracks, melodies, hooks and/or riffs?

o List of possible addresses?

o Some possible “song starts?”

o Any finished songs professionally demoed?

You will present these “calling cards” to other songwriters and performers. You want to polish them strictly so that you can show them off with pride and safety—no apologizing, cringing, or making excuses for their shortcomings. Is this not the level of quality you expect in return?

You “pay the dues” by polishing your talents and diamonds. Finally, taking your own giveaways seriously will spread the word that you have something valuable to offer. This process is sometimes referred to as “eating your way up the musical food chain.” It doesn’t happen overnight. There are no “quick fixes”, as in any serious field.

“YA GOTTA LITTLE LOTTA FROGS”

Participation is the key. Join, play, risk… you basically have to put your talent, heart and soul on the line! No one is knocking on your door and begging you to write together. You need to make a concerted, consistent effort to build your written relationships from scratch.

What’s more, I’ve noticed that working together is a lot like… dating!

o Some collaborations are fleeting: good for a few tunes, but not long-term.

o Some people are nightmares: you want to run screaming in the opposite direction.

o Some people are unrequited: you feel the urge, but your partner doesn’t.

o And luckily, some of them are magical: you stick with them for a long time, maybe forever.

And yes, it can be heartbreaking. But I guarantee that you will feel completely alive! There is never a dull moment in this quest as you and your co-writer seek the calling to create great art together.

You just have to keep writing, rewriting and publishing, trusting that eventually you will attract like-minded souls. So where exactly are these like-minded souls hiding?

A few days of research can give you tons of options. Here are some avenues that have worked for me and worked with at least a hundred other writers since 1983:

o Take a songwriting class.

o Find a teacher, or even better, a mentor.

o Create a local songwriter support group.

o Hire or start a band, even if it’s only for a limited number of concerts.

o Join a performing rights organization (ASCAP, BMI or SESAC in the US)

(See programs offered by music business organizations such as The Songwriters Hall of Fame, The Recording Academy, Women In Music, Nashville Songwriters Association, etc.)

o Join various online songwriting communities – just search on Google! Myspace.com offers a whole new realm of possibilities.

o Check local publications and listings for storefronts, classified ads, and open mics.

o Search the Internet for artists that match your style of music.

o Go to your local music store and look at their notice boards or put up your own sign.

o Post a free ad on Craigslist.com.

o Read or subscribe to music business publications.

The only limit is your imagination and commitment.

In summary: there is no such thing as a free lunch, but there is a delicious feast if you are willing to tap into the well of your own talent. How’s that for a mixed metaphor?

Finally, I suggest that people fearlessly delve into their deeper selves when writing songs. Listeners can always tell when you are honest and sincere.

In a nutshell:

o Write your truth and write A LOT.

o Dare to write outrageous songs in search of brilliant songs.

o Create a support team that meets higher standards.

o Develop your strengths and complement your weaknesses as a writer, player, singer and engineer.

o Read books, do exercises, subscribe to publications… know your field!

o Participate throughout and establish relationships with a wide variety of possible partners.

Let’s raise the standard of songs in the world together, so that these are the good old days of music again!

Copyright 2006 Alex Forbes

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