The Art of Co-writing

I don’t know what it is about this time of year, but I always seem to write a lot of songs in the fall. This year is no exception, especially since I’m cowriting full-time now. Cowriting really is something that you have to learn how to do; when I first came to town, I was floundering my way through cowriting sessions and then writing with much more clarity and quality on my own, but now I really seem to be hitting my stride when I’m sharing the experience with a collaborator or two. I think it’s about developing the confidence to express your thoughts when they come to you, no matter how stupid they might sound. If you spend your time self-editing or being self-conscious, you’ll end up staring at the wall in silence all day, which won’t help either one of you. One of my cowriters named Michael Dulaney likes to call it “turning poop into poetry” – you throw out some poop, and then just putting it out there in the room might inspire your cowriter to turn it into poetry, or at least start them in a direction that may not have occurred to either of you before.

I had five writing appointments this week, and wrote five songs with seven different cowriters – and I’m excited about every one of them. A couple of them are uptempo, positive songs, which my publisher will be happy to have added to the catalog. (There’s a newsletter-style publication on Music Row called a “pitch sheet” which is basically a list of the artists who are scheduled to record in the near future and a few details about what type of songs they are looking for – and 99% of them are always looking for “uptempo, positive” songs, so those are always in great demand.)

I wrote with Rachel Proctor this week, (you may know her from her RCA single “Me and Emily”). It was our first experience writing together, and we spent most of the day pouring our hearts out and sharing stories about past relationships and the heartaches we’ve been through. It didn’t seem like we were working…but we were. Towards the end of the day, we wrote a complete song in about 1 1/2 hours which incorporated a lot of the conversation we’d had.  (A note of caution: if you’re going to date a songwriter, you’d better behave, or there’s a good chance that what you did will be broadcast nationwide during drive-time.)*

I also wrote with one of my best friends Mary Sue Englund – and she told me the story of the moment when she and her husband fell in love – and then we made that moment into a song. It was a very inspired day, and I found myself sitting at the piano, which I had never done with a cowriter before (usually I write on guitar). We had the distinct feeling that the sky was raining scraps of lyric and melody down on us, and we were just arranging them in a way that fit.

Finally, yesterday I wrote with two other very close friends, Tania Hancheroff and Tia Sillers. Tia was a cowriter of “I Hope You Dance”, and a writer that I admire very much. She brought a great title idea, and I found myself sitting at the piano to write for the second time this week. We were all on the same wavelength right from the start, and wrote a beautiful ballad about the bittersweet feeling of running into an old lover. Writing is such therapy! When we played the last chord of the song at the end of the day, we were all in tears.

There are times when I feel like the melody, the lyric, the pattern of a song is predetermined, and I’m just trying to find the piece that comes next. Sometimes I’ll try one, hoping that it works, and there will be something missing, something a little “off” about it…and then I’ll tweak it a bit, or try something else, and BAM, it’s like the feeling you get when a jigsaw puzzle falls into place. You just know that it’s right.

Well, I have a demo session next week to record these new songs, and then they’ll be out of my hands. It’s a bit like sending your kids off into the world, hoping that they’ll make some friends out there who believe in them, and that maybe in some small way they’ll change the world for the better. They may end up in a dusty corner somewhere, or they may be heard by millions of people. You never know!

(* A note from the future:  the song Rachel and I wrote was called “Remember That”.  It was recorded by Jessica Simpson and went on to debut as the most downloaded song on the #1 most downloaded CD on iTunes.)

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