From the Desk

From The Desk … Co-Writing

09 - merseyDESK
Illustration by Stirling Snow


There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to co-writing and it’s not for everyone. The old Tin Pan Alley model was generally a demarcated division of labor … composer and lyricist plied their specialties as separate but equal entities, and this model continued up to and including the great Brill Building writing teams of the ‘60s. The rise of Lennon & McCartney blurred those lines in a big way, as one could not say with absolute certainty who’d contributed what, especially on that stunning run of early singles.

It’s no secret that co-writing is a big deal in Nashville, but it’s a discipline that should be approached with care, especially if one is booking appointments with random writers with whom one doesn’t have a back-history .

Like any team endeavor, the personalities, chemistry and skill sets that the parties bring to the table inevitably predicate the outcome.

It’s usually a good idea to check that ego at the door, for starters:

  • Two (or more) writers are not always going to click
  • If it ain’t happening, don’t waste precious time trying to force it.

Signs it ain’t happening:

  • Co-writer falls asleep during session
  • Co-writer scribbles obsessively in notebook for an hour, but doesn’t share the fruits of said scribbling
  • Co-writer breaks guitar string and deems that reason enough to curtail session
  • Co-writer leaves cell phone on and takes multiple calls during session (one may draw a pass if incipient childbirth is a factor)
  • Voices are raised (but not in song) and discussion becomes heated…bail!
  • Co-writer presents idea with the words “This one’s almost done” … finish it yourself then!

Be very aware of your strengths, and use them to complement your working partner. If the other party is mainly a melody and chords person, then the lyrical aspect of one’s own skill set should be emphasized; leave room for that other person’s strengths to shine through.

When all parties bring a complete skill set to the table – strong musicality and a full grasp of lyric writing – then the balancing act can become more complex, but the results can be more rewarding.

Remember, it’s not a contest, so avoid trying to score points by getting your way with a line or a musical phrase just because of your skills at browbeating … writers who have mutual respect are more likely to see the other person’s point of view. I’m not saying one shouldn’t fight for a line or phrase one really believes in, but if one feels strongly enough to go to the mat for it, one should be able to clearly and persuasively explain why one feels that way.


In situations where multiple writer’s are involved, it can save misunderstandings and the possibility of future unpleasantness if the nature of the ownership and publishing split is discussed up front. Certain specialists (Title guys, storyline guys) may not work on the body of a song, but will expect their piece, and their idea of what that piece should be worth may vary significantly from yours. Waiting until the song has been cut may change how the various parties view the value of their contribution. If one or more of the parties has representation with a major publisher, there’s always the possibility of that intruding (i.e., three co-writers, one of whom is self-published, but with an administration deal, one who’s signed to a major publisher, and one who is self-published, but has no admin deal). The latter will usually have less leverage, and may find it more profitable to give up a piece of his publishing to one of the corporate entities, in order to take advantage of the larger reach the big boys have in the marketplace.

NEVER, EVER sign away any part of your writer share.

Hope this helps …

Some Great Co-Writing Teams.Check these folks out to see how it’s done!
Jerry Goffin & Carole King John Lennon & Paul McCartney
Neil Sedaka & Howard Greenfield Mick Jagger & Keith Richards
Barry Mann & Cynthia Weill Roger Greenaway & Roger Cook
Dan Penn & Spooner Oldham Bjorn Ulvaeus & Benny Anderssen
Isaac Hayes & David Porter Benny Gallagher & Graham Lyle
Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff The Brothers Gibb
Holland, Dozier and Holland Jack Bruce & Pete Brown
Burt Bacharach & Hal David Rod Argent & Chris White
Nick Ashford & Valerie Simpson Tony Hatch & Jackie Brent
Felice & Boudleaux Bryant Glenn Difford & Chris Tilbrook
Bob Crewe & Bob Gaudio Elton John & Bernie Taupin
Dennis Morgan & Kye Fleming Tim Rice & Andrew Lloyd Webber
John Marascalco & Leo Price Neil Tennant & Chris Lowe
 Buddy Holly & Jerry ( J.I.) Allison Nicky Chinn & Mike Chapman
Kevin Godley & Lol Creme

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s