How-to Guide on Co-writing
If you have an open mind and a good ear, co-writing can birth an amazing new world for your songwriting. For instance, we monitored a class where a well-known writer shared an almost-finished song with which he wasn’t satisfied. Gary Chapman popped up and suggested a one-word lyric change that instantly created a new image, a major hook and brought an “Oh, yeah!” from the class. That’s your one-shot dream collaboration.
Ongoing co-writing, however, is an art in itself and not everybody can handle it. There are basic requirements for a successful partnership:
Number one! Get your spirits straight. Call for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Does his/her idea make the song work better? Always keep that goal in mind.
Play nice, kids. A little tact smoothes the way.
A Thick Skin
Understand that a suggested change is not a personal insult to your talent.
Remember: what may be hard on the ego can be good for the song. And that’s the point: finding what’s best for the song.
First, you must agree on what you want the song to do. Do you want it to bring people into worship? Celebration? Repentance? This decision sets the emotion and “feel” of your song. Be sure all collaborators are on the same page here because it determines how you handle everything else. Take a rocking, up-tempo feel, for instance. To make it singable, you must keep the intervals from jumping all over the place and make sure your big emotional words aren’t crammed into short notes where their impact is lost.
Determine your feel; find your hook line; go for the rest of the music next. It’s usually best to fit the words to the tune. Pre-written lyrics can trap the melody writer into a ta-dum ta-dum pattern that is limiting and old-timey. But do whatever works for you.
Lyrically, always look for something fresh; here’s where two (or three) heads can be better than one. Example: Lenny LeBlanc’s lines, “Crucified; laid behind a stone,” and “Like a rose trampled on the ground” followed by the twist on co-writer Paul Baloche’s verse and title phrase “Above All.” This lyric paints a brand new picture and strikes an emotional spiritual chord.
This kind of freshness and creative imagery takes work from everyone involved, but the congregation will thank you for your efforts and sing your songs with joy.
Carol Owens and her husband Jimmy co-wrote God Songs: How to Write and Select Songs for the Church with Paul Baloche.