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Dave Carlock - A Day In The Life
COLLABORATION ETIQUETTE FOR NEWBIE SONGWRITERS
Originally Posted: 10-18-2013 8:20 PM
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I've met a lot of people who fancy the idea of being a songwriter. They tell me that they believe that an idea they came up with in the shower, or that time their car broke down is a smash hit waiting to happen. Could it happen? Well, in most cases not a chance. Mainly because they have an undeveloped idea and little to no experience writing songs. So what to do?

Hits are elusive, but developing their idea with an experienced songwriter could at least give their idea a shot at seeing the light of day. Plus, if they can get someone to help them, a newbie stands to benefit a lot from working with someone who knows the ropes. So how do you start moving forward?

Firstly, you have to know an experienced songwriter. But what would make them want to work with a newbie like you? First and foremost, they'll want to know if you they write a reasonably good, finished song on your own. If no, most will pass, and if they don't pass, begin counting your blessings. Songwriters don't like to collaborate with someone that isn't equally skilled because working with newbies can be difficult. When a newbie collaborates with someone experienced they may find themselves in the middle of an exercise in humility and compromise—traits many newbies lack—and no experienced songwriter wants to be in the awkward position of trying to talk a first-timer out of a bad idea.

Is There An Etiquette? If a newbie is fortunate enough to find an experienced collaborator to learn and grow from, here's a few things they need to know to keep from blowing their opportunity, and to really improve their game:

1) After a writing session, don't rewrite the song in the absence of your collaborator and inform them that the song has been changed. This is a major faux pas. If one writer strongly wants a change, another writing session may be called. Changes like lyric revisions may even be done by phone. Unilaterally changing things later because your friends / lovers / relatives tell you your song was better before working with a collaborator is a cardinal sin. As soon as you collaborate, it isn't just your song anymore—it's jointly owned and should be respected as such. On the topic of unapproved songwriting input, more is definitely not merrier.

2) The writing session can't be undone if you don't like what you do together. Once collaborated on, a song is changed forever. Only an inflexible amateur doesn't respect their collaborators, and other experienced writers won't write with you if they catch wind of it. Privately cherry picking your collaborator's ideas and making changes on your own is a no-no. I've seen amateurs remove their collaborator's work altogether and start again with someone else—that's a REAL no-no. No one wants to put their name on a song that isn't what they approved at the end of the writing session, and legally, if you ever had success, you'd have a challenge if you tried to exorcise them from a collaborative work. As soon as you begin collaborating on a song with someone, you need to commit to them. There is no such thing as a song so amazing that it “changes everything”. What “changes everything” is team, plain and simple. Without a team on your side, great songs die on the vine, and with team, someone like Nicky Minaj has hit records. Remember that the first member of your team is your collaborator and respect them.

3) If you're too precious about having your initial ideas changed, you shouldn't be collaborating with anyone. I see this resistance with some regularity from amateur musicians who have no experience making records. Some people are so used to hearing their idea a certain way, they believe it's a PIECE OF SOLID GOLD. Some amateurs I've met are so fixed on their ideas, as lackluster as they may be, it's as if their lyrics were written in stone tablets carried down Moses' mountain! An experienced collaborator won't put up with that inflexibility, so don't embarrass yourself and lose your opportunity. If an experienced collaborator doesn't think your ideas are SOLID GOLD, I promise you, they aren't. Nothing is too precious that it can't be changed.

4) If a songwriter wants success, they have to know who they're writing for. Are you writing for yourself, as the artist who will promote and perform the songs? If so, you may get more latitude from an experienced collaborator in regard to what your songs end up as, mainly because you bear the responsibility of any potential failure. However, an experienced collaborator may not even want to be involved in that type of project, unless you're signed and backed by a label or at least can guarantee a release with high-quality production. It's a fine line.

If you want song placements and aren't the artist, you need to focus your intention on making commercially-viable songs so someone else will want to sing them! An experienced collaborator worth their salt will insist on this. Any successful, signed artist looking for outside songs wants HITS. Period. They could write their own lackluster songs, they don't need any from you!

5) Know your intended audience. Hitting “every demographic” is an impossibility, just ask any marketing professional. If you're unfocused, you'll miss every demographic. And really, if you aren't willing to focus up your songwriting for success, why would anyone want to collaborate with you anyway?

6) Listen carefully to what you don't want to hear. It's the only way you can grow in a collaborative effort. Listen to your experienced collaborator. They're likely to make the changes that turn crappy songs into hit potential. Writing great songs is work. Unfortunately, making “HITS” take more work than just moving the “S” from the beginning of the word to the end!

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Dave Carlock
DAVE CARLOCK -
A DAY IN THE LIFE
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