Co-Writing Workshop – Presented at NSAI Charlotte by Sarah & Timothy Williams

Co-Writing Workshop – Presented at NSAI Charlotte 04.14.2015

By Sarah and Timothy Williams

Average number of songwriters on No. 1 Billboard country hits in 1961 was 1.12; in 2009, there were 2.53 writers per No. 1 country song. This week, all 10 of the Billboard top 10 country songs had 3 Co-Writers….

Co-Writing – What is it?

  1. More than one person writing a song together
  2. Creative collaboration AND a business partnership
  3. What is NOT co-writing
    1. classes/critiques/mentoring sessions, especially if paid for
    2. Minor tweaks or licks when recording
    3. If use beats/tracks, writer could be considered joint author
    4. Work done without someone’s knowledge or consent
  4. It is NOT a replacement for writing by yourself
    1. Need to maintain skills
    2. There are personal songs
  1. Why do it?
    1. Supplement your weaknesses
      1. Lyrics v Melody, Chorus v Verse, Write v Perform
    2. Get unstuck, keep it fresh
    3. Try a new genre/style/approach/topic/instrument
    4. Learn how others write, get better at your craft
    5. Accountability (like meeting your friend to exercise)
    6. Increase your chances for a cut
      1. Multiply your contacts and multiply your chances
      2. Shared resources and expenses for demos, etc
      3. Write with an artist and they are more likely to record it

(Janis Ian article on Co-Writing: http://www.janisian.com/reading/cowriting.php)

 

  1. How to do it?
    1. Finding CoWriters –
      1. Sources – NSAI, songwriting symposiums, open mics, online sites (www.songramp.com), mentors, publishers, PRO reps
      2. Writing Up – means writing with a more experienced professional songwriter – wait to be asked but make yourself available & give them a reason (have something they want)
      3. Homework – listen to a co-writer’s musical style, consider personality, to make sure good fit
    2. Ways to Collaborate
      1. Online – makes whole world available to you
        1. Share lyrics/melodies via email
          1. Way to ease into co-writing, less intimate/intimidating
        2. Skype, Facetime – almost as good as in person, can have multiple people in different locations on the same session, can be good for follow up to edit after meet in person
      2. In Person – the best!
  2. What to do?
    1. Getting Ready – before session
      1. Research your cowriter if writing with Artist or “writing up”
      2. Go in with multiple ideas (melody, topic, title/hook)
        1. Nothing too far along or that you are already too tied to, want spontaneity
        2. But don’t bombard with too many ideas
    2. Time
      1. schedule enough time (3+ hours ideal, but ok to grab opportunities when they present themselves)
      2. arrive on time and prepared to work
      3. don’t try to start too quickly – get comfortable, get to know each other or catch up
      4. focus – turn off your cell phone, remove distractions,
    3. Getting started
      1. ask questions
        1. Anything you want/need to write/talk about? Any goals for this session? Why did you want to co-write?
        2. If Artist, anything need for next album?
      2. You gotta start somewhere…
        1. Your song plus co-writer’s ideas
        2. Co-writer’s song plus your ideas
        3. Starting with a topic, hook, riff that one of you brings
        4. Completely from scratch
        5. if stuck, try an object writing exercise (freewriting on topic/object 8-10 mins) and compare, pull lines from both
    4. Be interactive – but silence is ok too – give each other space/time to work on an idea, but don’t go too far without sharing – Communicate!!
    5. ******Make a safe place for you and your Cowriter to create******
      1. Acknowledge that it is ok if you don’t end up with anything
      2. Agree that you both are allowed to have stupid ideas
      3. Don’t judge – your co-writer or yourself! We all have bad days…
      4. Be open and flexible – let the song lead you
      5. Never say no (“we can beat that”, “yes, and…”)
    6. Take a break! Lunch, etc can get things flowing again
    7. If everyone can’t agree on the line, it doesn’t make it into the song
      1. Ideal, but what if you passionately disagree?
        1. Accept with caveat that if better line found later will change
        2. Take a break and come back to it later, one of you may change your mind
        3. If a problematic line ends up in the song, you will most likely get feedback (from mentors, publishers, etc) about that line, at which point your co-writer will likely be quick to agree to replace it
      2. Value your relationship more than the one line
      3. Remember, if you can’t sell it to your co-writer, how will you sell it to millions of people?
    8. Write down or record all of your ideas – you may want to go back to something later depending on where the song goes
      1. Leave voice memo on your phone running
      2. If writing on computer, don’t delete lyrics during session – copy them and edit so you still have original as you go along
    9. Try to finish a draft of the song
      1. even if you know it will need editing later
      2. give everyone a recording and lyrics (physical takeaway)
    10. Decide on next steps
      1. If you didn’t finish a song
        1. Schedule next meeting to edit/finish
        2. Consider bringing in another writer?
      2. If you did finish,
        1. Demo?
        2. Pitch?
        3. Verify Ok to play out (esp if write with artist)
    11. What if it just didn’t work out?
      1. “Taking back” ideas
        1. earlier the better (during the session, before a song is written)
        2. don’t give it if you might regret it
        3. if really not working for either one of you – acknowledge and clearly let them know you intend to try idea with someone else so everyone understands
      2. Not a failure or waste of time
        1. Not everyone will be good match
        2. Still learn things
      3. Remember you don’t have to co-write with that person again
    12. The common thread is that it’s all about respecting your cowriter!!!
  3. Taking Care of Business
    1. Splits – songwriting share (and publishing share)
      1. General Nashville rule – equal splits if in the room
        1. do not specify lyrics/music, do not count words
        2. Even if contribute a lot more this time, remember it will even out in the end
      2. Sign a splitsheet (sample attached)
      3. Decide who will register song with PRO (using splitsheet info), copyright office
    2. Copyright of Co-written Songs
      1. Remember talking about the “musical work” (not the “sound recording”, which is a separate copyright).
      2. Exists from the time the work is created in fixed form (eg the lyrics are written and the music recorded – does not have to be released)
      3. Authors (co-writers) of a joint work (the song) are co-owners of the copyright in that work unless written agreement to the contrary (eg work for hire, agreement stating that no intent to merge music and lyrics) – otherwise music & lyrics are considered “inseparable and interdependent”
      4. The U.S. Copyright Office considers each copyright owner of a joint work to have an equal right to register and enforce the copyright, so unless you have a written agreement to the contrary, each Co-Writer has the right to commercially exploit 100% of the copyright (non-exclusively), provided that the other Co-Writers get an equal share of the proceeds.
        1. So if you want the legal right to control the usage of a co-written song, you need a separate agreement in writing stating that fact
        2. But no one can grant exclusive rights or give away your publishing rights without your consent
      5. Copyright lasts for 70 years after last surviving author’s death, so you can increase your chances of the longest copyright by co-writing with someone young 😉
      6. Always give credit to all of your co-writers so they get properly paid – otherwise you may be found liable for their lost proceeds
      7. Understand that even if start with a co-written song and write entirely new lyric or melody with a new writer, the original co-writer is still a co-owner of the copyright. If third party adds something to create derivative work, they only get interest in that derivative work. Original copyright ownership interest cannot be reduced without consent.
    3. Can enter into a collaboration agreement and also include:
      1. All writers share expenses in proportion to ownership; but no money spent without consent of the others
      2. Writers will notify one another of any change in address/contact info (so no missed opportunities down the road if need consent to do something with song)
      3. No agreement made regarding use of the song without consent of all writers (decide if must be in writing, including email)
      4. No changes made to the song without consent of all writers
      5. If a writer becomes dissatisfied prior to publishing or release of the song, may withdraw contribution freely provided no further claims on any subsequent collaborations on the song
      6. If a dispute over the collaboration agreement, will submit to arbitration
  4. What are your co-writing experiences, good and bad, and what did you learn?
  5. Let’s do it! (Cowriting Exercise)

(We created this outline based on many sources – other workshops, observations from professional songwriters, articles, and personal experience – and it is presented simply as a means of facilitating a conversation and sharing what we have learned thus far…none of it is intended as authority or legal advice. We welcome your comments and suggestions.  ~ Sarah & Timothy)

Song Writing / Publishing Split Sheet

Date Song Created:  ____________________

SONG TITLE: __________________________________________________________

Writer #1 Name & Address: _______________________________________________

_______________________________   Phone:_____________ Email:
_______________

3rd Party Publisher if Applicable: _____________________________________________

Writer Publishing %: ____ Pub Company Publishing %: ____

Affiliation: ASCAP   BMI    SESAC   None (Circle one)

% Ownership: ______    Writer Signature:  ____________________________________

Social Security # ___________________ Birthdate ____________

Writer #2 Name & Address: _______________________________________________

_______________________________   Phone:_____________ Email:
_______________

3rd Party Publisher if Applicable: _____________________________________________

Writer Publishing %: ____ Pub Company Publishing %: ____

Affiliation: ASCAP   BMI    SESAC   None (Circle one)

% Ownership: ______    Writer Signature:  ____________________________________

Social Security # ___________________ Birthdate ____________

Writer #3 Name & Address: _______________________________________________

_______________________________   Phone:_____________ Email:
_______________

3rd Party Publisher if Applicable: _____________________________________________

Writer Publishing %: ____ Pub Company Publishing %: ____

Affiliation: ASCAP   BMI    SESAC   None (Circle one)

% Ownership: ______    Writer Signature:  ____________________________________

Social Security # ___________________ Birthdate ____________

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