THE WIZARD OF US
Updated: Oct 16, 2020
Use your brain, have courage, and share the ideas on your heart!
I am a firm believer that we are greater than the sum of our creative parts. Having another person to bounce ideas off can make ALL the difference to songwriting. It also makes you accountable, and often pushes you to expand your first simple ideas into something bigger and grander. Between you it becomes better than both of you.
I’ve been in many collaborative songwriting sessions, from just two of us up to five people. Things get trickier the more involved, and there is a real danger of songwriting by committee - which in my experience leads to a collectively agreed song, but often a confused song - simply because it has too many ideas in it.
Personally if I am working with an artist, I think just the two of you works best. Any more can start to overwhelm the artist as they are literally outnumbered!
It’s very important to understand your role in the collaboration and what skills you are bringing and what the others are bringing. If you are a 100% lyricist then you have to depend on others to come up with melodies, chords etc. Two pure lyricists working together will naturally over focus on the words, possibly creating something too wordy and unsingable. If I work with a pure lyricist I will be very aware that what we produce may well have to change when it gets to melody construction. As such I never see a pure lyric as a finished piece of work until it has a melody associated with it.
Although I do write melodies, I especially enjoy working with singers as I’ve found they naturally know how to make great melodies. It's in their DNA. It helps to get to a more finished and singable lyric working directly with singers and artists.
Always try to work with others who have skills you don’t, and extending that, I encourage you to work with people who you might think you have nothing in common with. That forces you to collaborate, listen and depend on other’s inputs to make a truly collaborative song. If you can find a collaborative partner who finds what you do harder to do, and vice versa, then that really helps both parties work to their strong suits.
There is no such thing as a wrong collaboration combination (unless as people you just don’t get on) but I think some work better, more efficiently and more importantly more creatively than others.
A question that people outside of the songwriting scene always ask is:
My answer is both!
This is the point of a collaboration - different approaches and work methods. Someone can work on a rough melody while you are still writing the words. Having a rough melody can really help form the feeling of the song, which in turn helps shape the lyric to fit that form.
If the subject you are writing about is particularly tricky or detailed, then maybe starting with the lyric works best, as it’s going to be important to get the content right. You can edit the words later to fit a melody.
An alternative to both is to start with a beat or drum pattern. That might give the song a certain feel before either a melody or words are created.
Taking some real examples from real collaborations, this was how they were constructed:
Strawberry Scars - We wanted a Crowded House vibe, so guitar chords came first.
PTLY - We used beats and a vocal hook from our conversation.
Pink Strat - This started from an image and a story so lyrics drove that, but because of the title you know its a guitar driven Stratocaster sound needed.
Say You’ll Believe - The words first because of personal content.
Today I help singers and songwriters explore their own potential. I encourage them to see new ways to view their creative ideas, working alongside to transform them into fully finished songs they are proud of.
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