Early in my songwriting journey, I barely eked out a living working temp jobs. My idea of financial planning was figuring out who might lend me the money to pay my rent for my rundown room on the fringes of Hollywood. Paying to hire musicians, a recording studio, and engineer to record my demos was out of the question. But without demos of my songs, I would be unable to catch the ear of a publisher or other music industry professional.
So back then, I sought cowriters who had a home recording studio where I would be able to record free demos of the songs we wrote. I sang and played guitar. If my cowriter owned recording equipment—and could also program drums and play keyboards—he or she was my ideal collaborator.
During a recent chat with someone with whom I’ve written, the conversation evolved to a discussion of the best and worst cowriting sessions we’ve had. We have each written with considerably more than a hundred different writers, including superstar recording artists and GRAMMY-winning songwriters, and we had some stories to tell.
We brought up the often-used analogy that putting two accomplished songwriters together is not like breeding thoroughbreds. It does not necessarily result in an offspring that is a champion.
We concurred that some of our most disappointing collaborations were with writers who had written some of our favorite songs—writers whose work we were in awe of. In many of these instances we went in with the highest of expectations and left with a song that was “good,” but not “WOW!” Maybe nerves and intimidation got the best of us, or maybe that inexplicable chemistry missed the memo and failed to show up.
During some of my tenure as a staff writer, my publisher kept my appointment book, choosing collaborators who he felt would be a good fit. His definition of “a good fit” was not only someone who he thought might be a good match creatively, but also someone with a team who would contribute to getting our songs pitched and recorded.
Of course, we need to write with people who can contribute elements that are not our forte. For example, someone who is primarily a lyricist needs to work with someone who can contribute melodies and chords. I have written successful songs solo, but many of my best songs were the result of my contributing the topline—the vocal melody and lyrics. I’m a mediocre guitarist at best, and I’ve found that when I am not tasked with thinking about chord changes or grooves, some of my strongest melodies and lyrics emerge.
We need to identify our own strengths and weaknesses and seek collaborators whose skills and talents complement ours. But ultimately, the perfect collaborator is the one whose presence stimulates our muses to create work that would not come out of us on our own, or if anyone else were in the room. I have found this only a handful of times and it is as precious as gold—gold records. The ideal cowriters are the ones who bring out the best in us, and those are not necessarily the writers with the most impressive track records.
There is no magic formula for finding that elusive chemistry, other than writing with many collaborators and keeping an open mind. As the saying goes, sometimes you have to kiss a lot of frogs…
Jason Blume is the author of 6 Steps to Songwriting Success, This Business of Songwriting, and Inside Songwriting (Billboard Books). His latest book, Happy Tails—Life Lessons from Rescued Cats and Kittens (SPS/Blue Mountain Arts) combines his love of photography and cats. Jason’s songs are on Grammy-nominated albums and have sold more than 50,000,000 copies. A guest lecturer at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (co-founded by Sir Paul McCartney) and at the Berklee School of Music, he has been interviewed as a songwriting expert for CNN, NPR, the BBC, Rolling Stone, and the New York Times. To receive a free video, “3 Things You MUST Do for Success” and weekly tips to enhance creativity click on https://tinyurl.com/yckat6fc. Join Songwriting With Jason Blume on Facebook for free events and song critiques. For information about his workshops, recorded lessons, webinars, additional articles, and more, visit www.jasonblume.com.