The exercise reiterated for me why co-writing is such an important skill to learn and practice, so much so that when fact checking for this blog, I noted that Berklee College of Music is now offering a senior level course in Collaborative Songwriting. Of course, a many great songs have been written as collaborations between two or more songwriters. In musical theatre, collaboration was the rule, with lyricist and composer working in separate domains, yet with a combined output that contributed some of the most popular songs of the mid-twentieth century from The Sound of Music to Oklahoma. Perhaps the premium example of collaboration where artistic success translated into commercial reward was that of John Lennon and Paul McCartney whose individual efforts subsequent to the Beatles' collapse aptly illustrated that the sum is greater than the parts.
Back home, the 2017 APRA Silver Scroll Award for Songwriting went to a three-way collaboration between Ella Yelich-O'Connor, Joel Little and Jack Antonoff for their song, Green Light. Furthermore, of the eleven #1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100, six were collaborations, including the #1 song of 2017, Shape of You. Let's just say collaborative songwriting is seriously trending!
Whether you're a track and topline writer or prefer the immediacy of hands on instruments real time in the band practice room, there are some tangible benefits to co-writing. Firstly, it can stimulate you. You can wind up interfacing with songwriters you may not know very well, if at all, and create music you never would have written on your own. Secondly, it makes you aware of what you have to offer. Sure, you'll have strengths you may already know about but co-writing can often reveal new aspects of your own creativity you haven't uncovered. Thirdly, you can learn a thing or two from other writers, be it a go-to technique or a more general problem solving approach you can put to good use.
Working collectively can really nail a song's intention too, giving you a good reality check on a song's ability to capture a audience. And from a personal style perspective, you have to be present, leave your ego at the door, yet know when to speak up and put your nose to the grindstone to make the fledgling song its best.
The good news is that the joys of technology are so helpful that you can work collaboratively with folks everywhere - in different towns or different countries, in real time or overnight- all useful for shaking up your songwriting. And co-writing can be socially supportive, bringing new creative compadres into your network. You know, like fun, as singer-songwriter Jason Mraz describes his co-writing experience with Raining Jane.
Because they’ve been a band for about 15 years, they have this awesome ability to create foundations of music... Everyone brings a different instrument to a circle and we start jamming. Maybe somebody has a progression in mind, or maybe we just collide until we find something we like. Once that bed is happening, the four of them start rocking out like a band, and oohing and aahing, putting backing vocals on sections to create a beautiful wave of music that I then begin to improvise on, surf all over, and start telling my stories....
When we all agree that we like where something is going, we stop and everybody goes off and does free writing. They pass them all to me and I go through them and I decide what feels good to sing, what works with the story. It’s a ton of fun. Lastly, it’s great to collaborate because you have to show up. If I’m collaborating with only myself and my guitar, it’s easy to put it off, and then I am tired and I don’t give myself the best experience. But when I create a date with Raining Jane, we say we are going to start at one o’clock, we start at one o’clock, we jam it, and it gets things done.
Talk more soon
ps bookings are now open for both the Akaroa Songwriters Clinic ( 1-3 June @ Queens Birthday Weekend) and the Wanaka Songwriters Clinic ( 19-21 October @ Labour Weekend).
Hi, I'm Charlotte Yates and I can help you get better at writing songs.