The Creative Process, Part 2
Collaborating in the 2020’s
These days, when new country acts need material, they start start with a producer, who cuts a track. No melody. No words. Just the track. Someone else, usually a person who hops on the band bus, writes the “top lines”, which consist of the melody and words. Then, it seems, everyone within seventy miles of that bus is suddenly a co-writer. The guy who writes the words and music often receives a small percentage of the actual writing royalties.
But the justification is, he got a record. That record will get him more writing gigs.
This is not something I condone, but it’s the way it is. Deal with it, get yourself on that bus or go to medical school.
If you look at the writing credits on hip hop and rap songs, there are even more writers listed there. I guess y’have to keep your posse happy.
Again, I never condone this. But it happens. I wouldn’t do it. But It happens.
When collaborating, there aren’t just two of you in the room. There’s a third energy present.
Writer A suggests a melody line, writer B tweaks it a little, and they settle on melody C. It’s not a contest to see who writes the most. It’s always best to do what’s best for the song, not somebody’s ego.
Some writing teams insist their credits be listed as music by A, lyric by B. Some are arrogant enough to write music by A, lyric by A and B. Some other writers count words and notes, determining their “fair” share according to how much they actually contributed. (Nobody writes with them twice). But truthfully, when you respect each other, as you should when creating something as a team, your credit ideally reads music and lyrics by A & B. Profits? 50/50.
Sometimes the whole tune comes first. Sometimes a chorus melody pops up, and the verse and bridge tunes/rhythm come later. I always like to have the title first and know which line will be the title line. Then I know where my story is going.
No matter how you like to write on your own or with other people, every collaboration is different. Be open to that. Even if your new writing partner is throwing out junk, let it roll. You wouldn’t be in a room together if each of you didn’t have a track record that brought you there. So be patient, hang in, and be surprised what arrives from your collective imagination.
I’ve collaborated with people who arrive at an office building at ten a.m., work until 12:30, go to lunch and finish an entire song before quitting time. I wrote that way in Nashville with Rory Burke and Charlie Black. And all of the songs we wrote that week were recorded. I even got three of them in a movie called “Violet”, that won an Oscar.
Like most creative people in L.A., I’ve tried collaborating with my share of flakes.
My publisher at Chappell wanted me to help one of his singer/songwriters who was stuck. Fine. I could unstick anyone. So I drove fifty miles from Santa Monica to Calabasas, in the rain, to meet Gino Vinelli.
We worked for several hours in his music room. He didn’t like any of my ideas, but he wanted me to come back the next day to keep trying. He had an album due, but no songs.
The next day, when I got to his home, in more rain, he said he didn’t need me anymore. He wrote a great song by himself right after I left. Although he used my title, he didn’t feel I was entitled to any writing credit because I had left before he finished the song.
My publisher was embarrassed but never said anything to Gino. Gino was a star, and nobody reprimands a star.