Writing songs – alone or better in a team?

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Many songwriters usually work alone. At the same time, however, very successful songs have been written by songwriting teams in the past. What this is all about and how best to work in teams is covered Allihoopa.com in this article.

What you learn in this article:

  • What to consider when songwriting in teams.
  • What the approach can be as a songwriter working alone.

Songwriting in teams

Depending on talent and preference, songwriters often work in teams where one person writes only the music and another writes the lyrics. So if you thought Elton John wrote “Your Song” for the love of his life, you’re wrong. At least with the lyrics, because they were penned by Bernie Taupin, who also wrote many of Elton John’s other lyrics.

But the song-writing doesn’t always have to be so strictly divided. Sometimes both partners can collaborate on the lyrics or the melody. Writing songs in teams also has the advantage that two people can network and two people can share the failures. There is always someone there to cushion the inevitable disappointments that are necessary to become successful. And you always have someone to give you feedback. Something that is all too often missing as a lonely songwriter.

Lennon/ McCartney (“She loves you”, “Yesterday” and almost all the other Beatles hits), Bacharach/ Sager (“That’s what friends are for”, “On my own”), Jagger/ Richards (“Angie”, (“I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” – and most of the Rolling Stones’ other hits), Webber/ Rice (“Jesus Christ Superstar”, “Evita”, “The Wizard of Oz”) – many of the most successful songs were written by duos.

And especially if your English is not good enough to produce real lyric masterpieces, it might be worth considering teaming up with a native speaker (if you want to write in a foreign language).

How do I find a partner?

There are many ways. For example, you can place classified ads in music magazines, writing down your talents and desires and sharing what you are looking for. An example could be:

Young songwriter (composer) from Munich is looking for a partner with good lyric writing skills to collaborate on English pop songs.

Make sure you make it clear who you are (“young songwriter”), where you are from (if you want to physically write songs with the other person) and what you are looking for (“lyricwriter to collaborate on pop songs”).

Another option is to ask at music schools and ask around at music conservatories and music academies.

It is also worthwhile to work with individual members of bands and music producers. Of course, you will be more likely to succeed if you choose those who are at a similar career stage to you. The successful producer or the hot chart band will probably be less likely to want to work with an (as yet) unknown songwriter without a proven track record. But with (still) unknown producers and artists you can grow together and maybe even land your first hit. A big advantage for the band is that with a professional songwriter they have far greater chances of commercial success and for you, of course, that your songs will definitely be played before and maybe even released on an album.

How do we write songs as a team?

Now the question is how you will work together. Some of the best songwriting teams worked exclusively and exclusively with a single partner (and only switched when one of them died). Others have primarily one particular partner, but both occasionally “cheated” and wrote songs with other songwriters. Still others write in different styles with different songwriters each time. And then there are those who write without a songwriting partner.

Depending on your preferences, you can decide which approach you prefer. But of course you can’t do this alone, because the other songwriter also has preferences and ideas, and of course these have to be taken into account just as much as yours. So let’s say that after a few years the other songwriter assumes you are a “non-alien” team and you suddenly start working with a third songwriter, your original partner might be afraid that you no longer want to work with them. It’s a bit like a relationship or marriage. You can do anything as long as both partners know about it and are happy with it.

Defining songwriting goals

Another important point regarding collaboration is whether you have the same goals and objectives. If your songwriting partner only wants to write a ditty now and then as a hobby, but you want to see your songs at the top of the charts, you will either have to compromise or go separate ways.

For professional songwriters, frequent meetings with the respective partner are part of everyday life. There you can present your ideas, melodies and fragments to the other person and coordinate the joint work. Nowadays, of course, this is also possible via Skype and other software that allows you to communicate with other people via video and audio. So long distances are no longer a big problem these days.

The seriousness with which you approach the matter is also embedded in the alignment of goals and ideas. Showing up on time for meetings and actually working seriously on new ideas is of course the main thing. If you notice that your partner only comes up with second-rate tunes or draft lyrics that they probably wrote on the bus 5 minutes before your meeting, it might be time to change partners.

Things to consider

If two artists work together, you will find more than enough friction points to avoid in order to maintain the productive collaboration you have with your songwriting partner.

First of all, two people always mean two opinions. So you should make sure you have good communication with your songwriting partner. If there is something that bothers you, formulate it. Gently and carefully. But it’s better to give the other person a chance to change than to keep it all bottled up and one day explode with seething anger in your stomach, possibly destroying your relationship.

But what if opinions differ about the music? You might think your melody or lyrics are groundbreaking, but your songwriting partner thinks they’re terrible. Or vice versa, the songwriting partner comes up with a melody or lyrics that you find useless. How do you act in such a situation?

There are different approaches. First of all, you shouldn’t criticise for no reason. So a simple “I don’t like that” is an unsatisfactory criticism. So you should agree with your songwriting partner right from the start that criticism must also be justified. Of course, this applies to both sides. With this approach, the rejection is justified and in the end, a subsequent discussion and usually the more dominant, assertive partner decides on the outcome, which could, however, get on the nerves of the less dominant partner in the long run and thus perhaps completely destroy the relationship right away.

Discussing the songs to save time

Another method is therefore that both have to agree to everything. This method is relatively simple: if one songwriting partner doesn’t like a line of the other’s lyrics or the melody line of the other at a certain point, they say so and the matter is off the table. Without further discussion. But that can also lead to frustration. But at least with this approach you don’t spend hours discussing when those hours could be better spent finding new ideas that please both of you.

In the end, both names are above the song and both have to stand up for it. In this respect, it should also be important that both are satisfied with it. As far as criticism is concerned, one should always keep in mind that criticising too harshly can quickly lead to a defensive attitude on the part of the criticised. Depending on the character, this can then lead to the other person being offended or even go so far as to become counterproductive from now on and tend to reject actually good ideas that come from the criticiser on principle. As a form of “revenge” – so to speak. Therefore, always wrap criticism in a lot of cotton wool and be very diplomatic and benevolent. Demand the same from your songwriting partner and you will have a long, healthy partnership.

Working as an individual

However, many songwriters start out working as individuals. This has some advantages and disadvantages, of course. First, of course, you are the all-important personality. This creative freedom is something beautiful. No one (except the person marking your exams) will criticise your work or bring their views or musical ideas into your works. You can always write your songs, let them be more “pure” and reflect yourself more in them than when you write songs in a team. On the other hand, you don’t have a well-founded second opinion before you submit your songs.

In addition, you are not dependent on another songwriter. If, for example, the other songwriter doesn’t take his or her job as seriously as you do and only delivers lyrics or melodies irregularly (or only in mediocre quality), you can avoid these problems as a songwriter working alone. You are only responsible to yourself. Whether this drives you to do more – or is an excuse to actually do less – varies from person to person.

One advantage that is often forgotten is the monetary aspect: as a sole songwriter, you logically receive twice as much royalty. Only your name is above the songs. You alone carry the success and are naturally more respected and rewarded accordingly. The procedure for writing a song alone is usually as follows …

Title idea and concept

Most non-professional songwriters just start songwriting – without a concept or title idea. Yet the song title is one of the most important aspects of a song.

When asked why so many songwriters don’t even get a response to their demos, many music publishers reply that there is simply nothing special about the songs at all. Just imagine how many songs a music publisher receives that have titles like “Ohne Dich”, “Endless Love”, “Forever you” and so on.

Which song do you think has a better chance of success? One with the title “Don’t make my brown eyes blue” (a play on the word “blue”, which means both “blue” and “sad” in English) or one with the title “Love”?

A good title in itself creates a mood or an introduction to a story. It is not general, but special and reveals the complete concept of the song. Take song titles like: “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” (John/Rice) or “I Want to Hold Your Hand” (Lennon/McCartney). With both songs, you immediately know how the lyrical I feels. However, a song called “Without You” could be about someone who can’t live “without you”, who feels much better “without you”, who is “without you” because you died, who is “without you” because he faked an illness so that you go to the opera performance alone and he can watch his favourite team play football instead.

Titles like “Eleanor Rigby” (Lennon/ McCartney), “Angie” (Jagger/ Richards) or “Mrs Robinson” (Simon/ Garfunkel) are also unique. Once you have heard them, you know the person they are about.

That doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t work with more general titles, but mostly this is more the case when it comes to singer/songwriters, i.e. people who write their songs directly and therefore don’t have to slip through the many “quality filters” of music publishers and music producers. And those who pay attention to a good title have, in principle, already done a good bit of work.

Stephen Sondheim even goes so far as to work out the characters of his songs on paper beforehand. So he knows what hobbies his characters have, where they work, what they do on weekends and what cars they drive.

Finding the hookline to the title

Now it’s about finding the hookline to the title. A hookline is the melody that sticks in your ear. To make it clear, here are a few titles of which you will certainly be able to sing the hookline immediately if you know the songs: (It’s fun to stay at the) Y.M.C.A., Billie Jean (is not my lover), Celebrate (good times, come on!), And nothing else matters, New York New York.

So it’s all about this easy-to-remember melodic fragment that will later be welded to your title and that should immediately jump into everyone’s head when they read your song title.

Of course, there is no universal formula for finding a good hookline. If it were that simple, everyone would write hits and hits would no longer be hits. Nevertheless, there are tips and tricks you can use to create good hookline melodies.

Finishing the lyrics for the first part

Having found the title, song concept and hookline for the track, many songwriters would now tend to compose the rest of the melody. However, depending on the situation, it may be worthwhile at this point to finish the lyrics for the verse and chorus first. So write the lyrics for the first verse and the chorus first and then get back to the instrument to create the melody as well.

Repeat the first part with fake lyrics

Once you have finished the first verse and the chorus, repeat this first combination a second time (e.g. with “fake lyrics” – words that just sound good) and check if it fits or if some variety is needed.

If variety is necessary, create a pre-chorus or a bridge. But again, first just lyrics and then melody.

Rework and perfect

Now that you have a good song, it’s time to perfect it. Revise your “fake lyrics” into good lyrics and make sure that the second (and possibly third) verse does the song good and doesn’t just look loveless and rushed. Also rework the song’s weaknesses (e.g. the transitions between verse, pre-chorus, chorus and bridge) and so on.

Of course, this is only an exemplary guide to action and is by no means obligatory. Try it out a few times to see if it works for you, and if not, develop your own strategy. The world of songwriting is free and what matters is what comes out in the end.

Summary

When working in a team, as with any kind of collaboration, it is important to find someone with whom you can get good results and that the rules of the game are set and followed by both parties. We have also seen in this unit an approach to writing a song. Of course, this is by no means binding, nor is it the only way. For example, the famous “Kung Fu Fighting” with its “Uh”‘s and “Ah”‘s was cobbled together in a studio break and recorded in 10 minutes of studio time, which did not stop it from selling over 11 million records. So the most important thing is to find your own approach and see what works best for you.