Co-Writing: How To Be A Great Collaborator And How To Attract One

You are not an island.

At its best, music is a collaborative art. We can’t create in a vacuum. Plus, the vast majority of the songs on the charts right now are all co-writes. Everyone has their strengths. Everyone has those few things they do that really click. Where you don’t always shine, a collaborator will help to brighten and polish your work. Take a break from your island, and let’s take a look at how to bring our best selves to a co-writing session. 

Practice Practice Practice

Practicing is a necessary piece to ensure you bring your A-game to a collaboration. Make sure you are practicing on a regular basis. 

Instrument Practice

Establish your regular, hopefully daily, practice so you can feel comfortable improvising and making changes during a co-writing session. 

Vocab: To “Woodshed,” more commonly known as “shedding” refers to the old past-time of seeking privacy out in the woodshed to practice. Nowadays we’ll use it in a sentence like, “That solo is amazing, I gotta go shed that for real” (meaning: I really want to learn the ins and outs of every note he’s playing and practice until I really have it), or “Sorry I can’t hang out, I’m shedding for a gig tomorrow.” When your collaborator asks you to change chords, voicings, or keys, you’ll want to be able to do so with inspired ease. 

Pro-tip: Yes, you can still be a pro songwriter without being a brilliant jazz player or perfect sight reader. To improve your ability to co-write, just pick up a practicing regimen today. ASAP. Shedding can only help!

Another pro-tip: Yes, your voice in an instrument! Even if you conceive of yourself as a non-singer, incorporating practicing singing into your daily regimen can greatly impact your ability to craft melodies in your songwriting. 

Another pro-tip: Yes, your voice in an instrument! Even if you conceive of yourself as a non-singer, incorporating practicing singing into your daily regimen can greatly impact your ability to craft melodies in your songwriting. 

Your Song Arsenal

Write often on your own. Make it as much of a ritual as you can. To be super prepared for a co-writing session, write often enough that at all times you have the following in your song arsenal:

  • At least 3 new yet unfinished ideas to bring to the table. Perhaps a stand-alone chorus, a set of lyrics, or a melody. Maybe even just a song title!
  • At least 2-3 essentially finished songs but could use re-writing. If you haven’t reached the point of satisfaction with these songs, that is a good thing. Let your collaborator help pull the song into its ideal form.
  • Your most recently finished song or songs. Ask for some small notes. Maybe there is an out of place rhyme that could use a tweak that you accidentally missed!

Bringing lots of options to the table will give your collaborator confidence in you, and a fun experience choosing their favorites out of your arsenal. Plus, by their choices, you can assess their aesthetic. It’s an amazing way to get to know someone.

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How to Attract Great Collaborators

This is a three-fold endeavor that helps bring the right people to you. 

  1. Your existing circle of friends and peers
  2. Social Media
  3. Going to shows as an audience member

Look Right Under Your Nose

Sometimes, the perfect person to write a song with is closer than you think. 

Perhaps it was the music director or singer-songwriter on that gig last month, or your buddy who you know enjoys music, but you’ve never played together. Maybe it’s your friend or family member who is a poet but isn’t a musician! They could probably create some amazing lyrics for you to set to music. Make sure the person you choose is someone you enjoy spending time with so far. On a personal level, the vibe has to be right. 

Pro-tip: When asking someone to have a co-writing session for the first time, keep it casual. You’re not asking this person to be in a band with you, just to get in a room and see what happens creatively. 

Social Media

Social media is a great way to connect to the musicians in your area. 

First, put up content. Post videos of you at your best, even if they’re made simply with your phone. Try to keep them short and sweet. Post your location. Try to post something every day or every other day. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just an update on something you’re writing or practicing. Think of it as keeping a record.

Pro-tip: When posting music on social media, make sure that if you came across it as a stranger, you’d be impressed and drawn in. Use some hashtags: #music #songwriting #vocals #guitar #tastylicks … whatever is relevant and fun. Also, hashtag your city/location. On Instagram posts, click on the location that appears under your name on each post. This will lead you to every post by people who tagged themselves at that location.

Browse and See Who Else Near You is Playing/Writing Music

Connect by following them and liking a few posts. Maybe they’ll follow you back. Comment on their posts as they churn them out. This is a great way to be seen by other musicians who follow them. Perhaps down the line (or right away!) you can send them a message about a co-write! 

In Real Life

Go to shows. Keep up with the venues in your city and get to the best looking shows of local artists as often as possible. Networking is not dead in the music industry. 

After watching the show, approach the artist or band, say you enjoyed it, and introduce yourself. See what you can do about booking shows around town for yourself, perhaps with a band. That way, you’ll be able to mention that you’re playing, and when. In their eyes, it’ll immediately frame you as a legitimate musician.

Every city and town has a music scene. Plug in and get involved!

Get to Work

When you sit down to write with someone new, make sure you have a good idea of their work up to this point. Ask them to send you their most recent sketches. Ask if you can send yours. Going into the session having heard their stuff, and maybe even learning it yourself, will save a lot of time. 

Release Expectations

Take all the pressure off this one session. If it clicks, there will be more.

When writing and brainstorming with your collaborator, feed into their energy. If you’re used to writing alone, you may have the urge to retreat to your island and step away for a second. Instead, stay present. Breathe, find the courage to have a bad idea and move on. This will give your partner permission to do the same. Vulnerability builds trust. 

Sometimes songwriting can feel like a search in the dark. It’s discouragingly potent when you’re both drawing a blank. When (not if, but when) you reach this point, see if you can adjust your method. Step away from your instrument and go to pen and paper. Or visa versa. Take a walk or have a meal. 

When you come back, make sure you both know your goal. For example, “we are going to finish this chorus,” or “we just need that one magic phrase.” Then, approach your writing like a hunt, instead of an aimless wander. Wrap it up before either of you feel burnt out. Hopefully, you’ll schedule your next session right then and there. 

Kate Ferber is a songwriter, singer, keyboardist, and music director based in Los Angeles and New York. A graduate of New York University Music Theater program, Kate is available for session work through Supreme Tracks, a premier online recording studio.

RebeccaCo-Writing: How To Be A Great Collaborator And How To Attract One


Join the conversation
  • Mark Oldman - August 7, 2019 reply

    A year and a half ago, I collaborated with a fellow musician on a song and got it partially completed (music mostly done, lyrics incomplete). Then I had to step away from music for a long while due to health reasons. I recently had a visit from him, and he informed me that he had completed the song with other musicians and recorded it. I was (in my head) appalled, as I had almost been finished with lyrics for the song when my health crisis happened, and frankly, I felt the vision for the song was my own. He had brought me a CD of the song, and I finally worked my courage up (and my level of betrayal down) to listen to it. It was not good. I won’t elaborate. My question is this: when you and one other person are working on a song, how do you know what part of that song is yours? Clearly my assumptions made an ass out of me in this case. But I felt we had a partnership in our songwriting, and he did not feel the same. I feel that if he even had emailed me and asked me if he could continue work on the song, it would have been the polite thing to do. What is the protocol for this kind of situation?

  • Ed Cox - August 7, 2019 reply

    Great common sense reminders… thank you for the read

  • fred - August 7, 2019 reply

    Less exclamation marks would help this article not sound like it was aimed at twelve year olds.

  • JoAnn Braheny - August 8, 2019 reply

    Kate Ferber, very good article, but I can’t believe you left out a MAJOR resource: ‘songwriters organizations.’ Music Connection magazine (online and in print) has a listing of them. Also easy to find online, like West Coast Songwriters Assn.,, Songwriters Network, SongsAlive, Nashville Songwriters Assn. International, Georgia Music Industry Assn., Arizona Songwriters Assn., etc., etc. There are plenty more…

  • Kayode Olusola - August 8, 2019 reply

    Thanks, this was certainly just for me.

  • REINALDO INAGA - August 8, 2019 reply

    Thank you Kate Ferber for such wise advice. These have been very useful to me when I am preparing to create and / or compose some of my musical themes. Greetings from Venezuela. REINALDO INAGA, Latin rhythm composer in Spanish

  • Jerry - August 8, 2019 reply

    The reason most for the songs on the charts nowadays are co-writes is the artist that records your song want’s to be “cut in” on the proceeds of something they cut. Pretty standard jip nowadays!

  • F Gordon Kennedy - April 14, 2020 reply

    Sorry, couldn’t resist –
    1. ‘I don’t practice, because it inhibits my creativity!’
    2. “Hey, Man! Is this payin’ gig?’
    3. ‘I don’t need sixteen guys named ‘Zoot’ over to record my stuff!’

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