We get a lot of questions about co-writing etiquette so we thought we would take some time to address this. So, how does it work? When is the right time to ask? How do you ask? If you are an up and coming writer, how do you go about navigating the messy world of cowriting?
We often joke that cowriting is a lot like dating. That awkward moment where you see a writer play, or run into them at a coffee shop, or see them out at a bar and think to yourself "should I ask them to write?" So who should ask who? Do you sit around waiting and hoping that your song will wind up in the right place, that someone will see you play, that the perfect moment will arise? Sometimes it does and sometimes that writer you were pining for a write with comes your way and offers up the "Hey, we should write sometime" phrase and you cooly play it off like it's no big deal.
But, what if it doesn't happen that way? Well, the best advise is to build relationships. If you see a great writer out somewhere go up and say hello, but hold off on asking them to write. Build that relationship. Let it happen naturally overtime. The chances of a cowrite happening with someone you don't know that hasn't been set up by a publisher is pretty unlikely. But the chances of a cowrite forming out of a friendship is way more realistic.
Say you are an unsigned writer, can you write with a signed writer? Well, it depends. If the writer has control of their calendar they may be able to set something up but their publisher could have issues with them writing with an unsigned writer. This would vary publisher by publisher. Some publishers want to sign single song contracts with unsigned writers who write with their writers. Some publishers just won't allow it. Other publishers will trust their writers and know that if their writer wants to do it there is good reason. If a writer tells you they can't writer with you because they are unsigned, don't be offended. It might be a policy their publisher has. This is another good opportunity to just keep building those relationships.
So what happens after you get the write? What happens when you show up in the room? What if they are a veteran writer and you are the new kid? Do you offer up an idea? Do you sit back and watch them work? Every writing room is a learning experience. Always practice those "think like a writer" skills by listening and observing. Word to the wise, if you are getting in the room with a writer that has more experience than you, don't come in and ask them what they want to write. This is your chance to really shine and show them what you can do, so bring ideas. Be prepared. But, also remember what Jeffrey says, "the song is always in the room." So trust that too!
What if you have a write set up and then someone you've been dying to write with you reaches out to schedule a write for the same day? Depends on who the original write is with. Is it a friend that you write with all the time? Is it someone you are getting with for the first time? It could be really offensive to a writer to cancel them for something that you are deeming better than they are. If there is good reason, of if you know the writer and think they would understand then you might want to see if you can reschedule. If the offer to write from the person you have been dying to get with has an expiration date and you know you can't get it again then it might be wise to take it, just be careful not to burn any bridges. Remember, it's all about building those relationships.
What if someone wants to write wit you, but you don't want to write with them? Try and put yourself back in time when you were hoping someone would write with you. Maybe the write could be your way of keeping that positive karma rolling. Maybe it's not a write you need to do and you just need to let them know I can't do that right now, I have my group I've been writing with lately and I haven't had time to expand it but lets revisit this later. How ever you let them down, do it gently, you never know who is gonna be the next big thing and again, you don't want to burn any bridges. You can also consider that every writing room is an opportunity to learn something. Sometimes you are the mentor, sometimes you are being mentored. All of those experiences are important and valid on your songwriting journey.
We hope this helps answer some pressing questions about co-writing!