Sometimes it can be a shock when you get a coveted cut, and then when you hear the record, the artist has taken it to a place you didn’t envision your beloved composition residing. I experienced this phenomenon many years ago, when my song “ Rosetta” became a huge hit as done by Georgie Fame and Alan Price, but I was resentful at the time about how it was interpreted….well, I was a young lad at the time, and didn’t know any better, but after forty-odd years of royalties I’ve got over that .
During that same period, while I was working in the publishing division of R.S.O. ( The Robert Stigwood Organization), whose flagship act was The Bee Gees, I came to realize that the parental concern one can feel for one’s song can kick in, no matter the elevated level of the composers.
One day we received a 45 acetate in the mail from Hi! Records in Memphis. In those days it was a courtesy to send singles to the publisher before a single was issued, so when we spun it, and heard Al Green’s monumental version of what was already a monumental song “ How Can You Mend A Broken Heart”, my boss John Davies and I were over the moon.
John wanted the guys to hear it ASAP, and after a few phone calls established that the three of them were at Maurice’s house, so I was dispatched by taxi to Hampstead with the acetate. Being only an errand boy in this situation, I kept the cab ticking over in the driveway, and delivered the vinyl. I was reasonably friendly with Maurice, and he being a warm and hospitable fellow, offered me a drink and asked me to listen with them. I’d already heard it twice, so number three, on Maurice’s state of the art sound system was sublime to me, but when it finished the reaction of the brothers was pretty muted.
At that time Al Green wasn’t a huge artist in the U.K., mainly known to soul music fans, and his sparse, intense reading was quite a departure from the Bee Gees orchestrated version…I finished my drink and took the taxi back into the city, where I reported to John that the fellows had seemed underwhelmed by what they’d heard. “ Oh. They’ll come around to it “ he replied, which of course they did, but it can phase a composer when other hands and minds get hold of one of your babies.
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.
ART FOR ART’S SAKE … MONEY FOR GOD’S SAKE!
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!