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July, 2014

Co-writing Gone Bad

by Webmaster

"Music can name the unnamable and communicate the unknowable." — Leonard Bernstein

"With the right music, you either forget everything or you remember everything." — unknown

"Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness." — Maya Angelou

"Music acts like a magic key, to which the most tightly closed heart opens." — Maria von Trapp

"Night and gin and music—the right setting for peeling off the thin clinging layers of bullshit and finding one's way down closer to the essential self." — John D. MacDonald

There's something intangible and undefinable in music, in a song. It can't be seen, or heard, or touched, or quantified. It is more than the lyrics, more than the melody, more than the chords, more than the arrangement and production. It is the sum which is greater than the parts.

I have had phenomenal experience with co-writing. Something magic happens when two people take a hook, a line or some partially (and even badly written) lyrics, and work together to make a song that is better than either one could have done alone. One writer inspires another, then they collaborate to reach heights. They trust each other enough to question what they have, regardless of whose idea, and to answer each other's questions. "If we change this word, is that meaning redundant with this other word?" "Does that change weaken or strengthen the line? The verse? The song?"

Sometimes when you’re working with one other person, it’s such a magical thing. You’re editing each other and you’re trying to create that one spark." — Chris Hillman

I've also had experiences where the result was less than stellar.

Usually I get the idea and write some lyrics, then look for someone who wants to write music for my lyrics. This usually, but not always, results in lyric changes. I'm okay with that, as long as the changes are an improvement and the music enhances the lyrics. Prosody.

"Aristotle's may have been the first statement of Prosody: appropriate relationship between elements, whatever they may be: melody and words, chords and message, rhyme scheme and emotion...." — Pat Pattison

I find that I can feel where the melody needs to go up or down, when the song needs to speed up or slow down, how chord changes need to go to minor and back to major or create tension and resolve, when the production needs to be full and busy or be sparse with space to relax. I've been complemented by musicians I respect, who are also well respected by many others.

"To co-write, you need to be willing to be vulnerable with each other. You need to be stupid with each other." — Chuck Cannon

That's why it is so frustrating to work with a co-writer who does not understand prosody, who does not respect my opinions, who does not take my suggestions about rewriting. I am currently in various stages of co-writing a over a half-dozen songs with 6 co-writers. We don't always agree on everything, and sometimes I have to curb my ego and look at what's best for the song. Usually, time away from the song allows us to find a place where we can agree on what the song needs.

A co-writer who takes a song out as-is, in spite of requests for changes, to get feedback to reinforce his position does not understand collaboration and is disrespectful of his co-writer and of the co-writing process.

This is not the same as taking a song out for feedback to see what works and what needs to be fixed. I'm fully in favor of doing that. You bring the to-do list back to the co-writer to get the co-writer's take on it and you tackle the changes as needed. It's a back and forth discussion.

"We all have our own interpersonal styles, strengths and weaknesses, but there is no law that says you need to be conciliatory or the "nice guy" when cowriting. If your partner suggests an idea you don't absolutely love, say 'no.'" —Ed Skibbe Ed Slibbe: Bands, Singers, Songwriters / Composers, Solo Performers, Sidemen, Instrumentalists, Performers, Entertainers, Musicians, Cowboy Poets

Today I had to say, "No." The changes my co-writer made to the song structure don't work. The music (tempo, rhythm, chords and melody) doesn't work. Yesterday a friend told me, "Be kind to him and be blunt. Anything else is leading him on."

I gave myself a week to warm up to the song as is and literally found listening to it this morning painful. I would not perform or record that song. I didn't want to hurt his feelings but I don't want to keep trying to guide someone to a place he doesn't want to go. I have to respect my time and my creative spirit.

"Songwriting is Hell on Earth. If it isn't, then you're doing it wrong." — Jimmy Webb

I've co-written. Other people have performed and recorded my songs, and changed words and arrangements. Up till now, I've been able to say, "No one has ever hurt one of my 'babies'." I can't say that anymore.

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We played there and rocked! We were great! Not as great as we would have been if we'd had our regular drummer. And bass player. But we still rocked!

And they didn't call us back for another gig. Why?

I guess I forgot to get them the promo material and info they wanted ahead of time. Hey, I was busy working and rehearsing and playing other gigs.

Well, yeah, not too many of our fans were there, but it was a long way for our fans to go. The club is supposed to have their regulars there. They'll become our fans.

OK. So the folks who were there didn't get into our music. They just haven't come on board yet. They will, if we play there enough.

Alright. They told us to turn down the volume. Three times. But that's the way we play. The management is just a bunch of old fogeys who don't like music.

Oh, right. There was a lot of hassle with the date. We had it booked then had to change it because we got a better gig. But it only happened twice.

So we were late. It was no big deal. We have day jobs and had to load up and race down there and traffic was really bad and we got lost once. You see, it really wasn't our fault we were late.

Do you believe they wouldn't feed us? Or give us more than 1 drink per set? Do they think we can live on air? It takes energy to perform like we do. And we came there straight from work, so how do they expect us to play on an empty stomach. It wouldn't have cost them anything to feed us.

And they expected us to keep our breaks to 15 minutes. How can we go out and buy food and eat it in only 15 minutes?

And back to the regulars. They expected us to take requests. We don't do requests. We have set lists. We like to do our originals, not those old songs that everyone's heard forever.

So we spent our breaks in the green room. No point in going out and talking to those losers. Plus we had to teach the bass player the chords for some of our songs.

We set out a tip jar and mentioned it between every song, but we didn't get tips. So we told the manager that we needed to get more money than we agreed to because there were no tips. And, I wasn't yelling. I just project my voice really well.

We kinda left a mess on the stage and in the green room when they wouldn't cough up more money. We're not going to play for peanuts then clean the place for them. It's okay. They've got people there who get paid to clean up.

I just don't understand why they didn't call us back for another gig. We rocked!

Any questions?

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