Prior to the pandemic only a small percentage of my songwriting students engaged in long-distance, online collaborations. But when COVID-19 arrived it brought most in-person co-writing sessions to a screeching halt. Instead of writers meeting at one of their homes or publishers’ offices, they met in Zoom rooms or used FaceTime or other similar online conferencing technologies. Most songwriters quickly adjusted to the new normal. Now that so many people are vaccinated and there are fewer restrictions, some writers are choosing to continue writing over the internet. Let’s look at the pros and cons of in-person co-writing sessions versus online.
- The intimacy that can occur when we sit in a room together and open our hearts can have a profound effect on our writing. When the chemistry is right something inexplicable happens. Ideally, the energy sparks a creative flow that can only happen face to face in that space.
- Some of my best song ideas have come to me while I was driving to a writing session. Adrenaline pumping, as I got closer to my destination, melodies and lyrics started flowing. For me, switching on my computer doesn’t have the same effect.
- Stopping to get a cup of coffee or going out to lunch together can lead to conversation that sparks titles, lines of lyrics, and song concepts. BC Jean tells the story of a life-changing conversation that occurred during a writing session lunch break with co-writer Toby Gad. Passing a pizzeria in Times Square, Jean quipped, “If I were a boy I could eat that pizza,” meaning she would not need to worry about her diet. When Gad asked her what else she might do if she were a boy, a smash hit for Beyoncé and Reba was reportedly written in fifteen minutes. Check out BC Jean’s emotion-packed performance of her mega-hit “If I Were a Boy.”
- Some writers feel there are fewer distractions when they write in an office, a recording studio, or a designated writers’ room. A cat that walks across the computer keyboard, an unexpected knock at the door, a barking dog, and countless other distractions can put the brakes on the creative flow.
- The obvious advantage to co-writing over the internet is that it eliminates the necessity for writers to be in the same location. Writers in different cities can create songs together without incurring the costs of transportation and lodging.
- We can expand our network of collaborators and write in real time with writers and recording artists located anywhere in the world; writers who might contribute fresh perspectives to our songs and additional opportunities for placements.
- When writing over a computer from the comfort of their homes some writers feel more relaxed and more creative. They feel less pressured to produce a hit in an allotted amount of time.
- With most video conferencing platforms, the entire session can be recorded and reviewed later. This ensures that no melody or a lyric gem is forgotten. While theoretically a complete, in-person writing session can be recorded, it is rarely done.
- If it has been discussed in advance and works for all involved, writing from home can be beneficial for those dealing with childcare issues.
Of course, the option to write via the internet has existed for many years. But prior to the pandemic relatively few songs were written that way. One negative aspect to writing this way is the possibility of technical difficulties, such as one of the participants losing his or her internet connection. But for most people this is not a common occurrence.
Topliners and Track Producers
Prior to the pandemic, Topliners, who write melody and lyrics to existing backing musical tracks, and track producers, writers who create and produce backing tracks, routinely collaborated without being in the same room. When writing this way, in many instances the track producer emails the topliner an MP3 of a track or provides access to it via a file sharing service. In most cases these tracks include almost all the instrumentation that will be heard in the finished recording; the only things missing are the melodies and lyrics the vocalist will sing. The topliner is tasked with providing these elements.
While there are exceptions, topliners and track producers often work alone on their respective contributions. When the melody and lyric are ready to present, the topliner adds them to the existing track and sends the recording to the track producer. They might make some revisions in real time, but the bulk of the work is often done apart. While some topliners and track producers work together in the same room, countless pop, R & B, hip-hop, and dance hits have been created long-distance. The arrival of COVID-19 required no change for writers using this approach to creating songs.
Writing Nashville Style
The typical Nashville style of co-writing brings two or more writers with guitars or a keyboard into a room where they create a song from scratch. Those accustomed to writing in this manner had to make the biggest adjustment when collaborations went online.
While some country songs have been written by starting with an existing musical track, this is not the typical process for that genre. When a country song is written to a backing track, the creators tend to be in the same room at the same time. In many instances, writers of other styles of music also write this way.
In some cases, writing in person will be the best option, while in other instances it will be more effective to connect via an internet connection. Now that both ways of writing are available, stay open to finding what works best for you.
Jason Blume is the author of 6 Steps to Songwriting Success, This Business of Songwriting, and Inside Songwriting (Billboard Books). His songs are on Grammy-nominated albums and have sold more than 50,000,000 copies. He has been a guest lecturer at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (co-founded by Sir Paul McCartney) and at the Berklee School of Music, and has been interviewed as a songwriting expert for CNN, NPR, the BBC and the New York Times. For information about his workshops and webinars, and to read additional articles and more, visit www.jasonblume.com.