If you are serious about writing songs you need to get this book “Opening The Closed Door” by Bronson Herrmuth.
I am so impressed with the wealth of knowledge in this book that I feel compelled to share this to help you songwriters. Bronson helps in plain talk to give you the ability to understand the inside struggles of being a professional songwriter in Nashville. This wonderful book covers all the day to day subjects that professional songwriters face in the cut throat world of creating and selling commercially viable songs in Nashville. From his personal experience of walking from studio to studio on Music Row to being a producer himself years later the tips and direction you will need. This is a valuable road map for any songwriter to keep in their arsenal of tools to be a successful songwriter.
This excerpt from is from the book “Opening The Closed Door” by Bronson Herrmuth on Co-writing songs.
On The Subject Of Co-writing
If you look at the current issue of Billboard magazine and check out the radio play list charts closely, you
will quickly notice that the vast majority of the songs you see charted there were co-written by two, three or
more writers. There are many reasons for this, including the old saying “two heads are better than one” being
high up on the list. I have co-written with songwriters who write 10-15 songs a week on a regular basis, while
co-writing with a half dozen (or more) different songwriters. They write with one songwriting partner in the
morning, another one in the afternoon and a different one in the evening on a daily basis. They will actually go
on the road with famous artists and write with them while they are on tour. It is normal for these writers to
write hundreds of songs in any given year with most of those songs being co-written.
My first co-writing session was inspired by a trip to Nashville in 1983 and a meeting with a publisher who
had expressed interest in publishing one of my songs, but only if it was rewritten. He loved the melody but
was not sold on the lyrics, so he left it up to me. Rewrite and get a publishing contract, no rewrite, a pass. I
went back home and tried several times to rewrite my song, but I just couldn’t do it. I really did like it just the
way it was and I couldn’t come up with anything that I felt made it a better song. I was fortunate to know a
very successful songwriter named Johnny McCollum, who lived in my hometown in Iowa. I called him and
explained the situation, and he graciously agreed to cowrite with me. (Thank you, Johnny)
I was still very apprehensive about the thought of changing what I had written in any way and Johnny
realized this immediately. He gave me a wonderful lesson on how to cowrite that day and over the next few
days, as our co-writing relationship and friendship progressed. We both agreed to leave my song just like it was
and actually wrote a whole new song. We just rearranged the chord structure, using the same chords that the
publisher had shown an interest in. A different melody and brand new words, but in the same key, style, and
tempo of my other song. The publisher loved it and his company did end up publishing that song, and still
does. I have gone on to write many songs with Johnny, and one of our songs was recorded and released by the
group Mason Dixon in 1985. That song was called “Christmas Memories,” and was actually a 3-way write with
hit songwriter Dan Mitchell. Johnny and I wrote the lyrics and Dan wrote the music and sang the demo.
Another of our co-writes entitled “Outlaw On The Run” was recorded and released by Michael Mason in 1996
on his CD, Say You’re Gonna Stay.
Here are some of my thoughts on the subject of co-writing:
When you write with other songwriters, you open up the door to your finished songs being heard and pitched
by more people. Your co-writer(s) and anyone working with them will now be pushing your finished cowrite,
too. It enables your song to be heard by a lot more people when you cowrite, which of course increases your
odds for success. This really comes into play if you are fortunate enough to write with already established
successful songwriters who have publishing deals or just lots more connections in the business than you do.
When you write with other songwriters you have someone you can bounce ideas back and forth with. You get
stumped and they get inspired, which in turn helps you stay motivated. Your cowriter(s) can also give you
ideas and help you think about things from a different perspective than your own. This aspect really comes into
play if you write with someone of the opposite sex. As I am sure anyone reading this article can relate to the
premise that men and women tend to come at the same subject from completely different viewpoints.
I know songwriters who get very motivated creatively by knowing they have a co-writing session coming up.
They find the meeting of the minds very inspiring and use this inspiration to fuel their solo writing. Cowriting
keeps them focused and pushes them to keep writing, it gives them a reason to write. When you agree
to cowrite with someone, it is very important to always have something new to contribute to the relationship.
If you don’t, chances are your cowriter won’t want to keep writing with you.
When you write with other songwriters, you can explore musical styles or genres that you would never
approach yourself. It is very cool to listen to a song you wrote in a musical style you would never have been
able to create writing alone. As a professional songwriter, your value is determined by the size and commercial
strength of your personal song catalog, so the more great songs you have the better. Having songs you have
written in many different styles and tempos can again increase your odds of having success as a songwriter. If
an artist is looking for a blues song, you have one. Or a rock song, or a waltz, or a two-step or a big ballad,
you have one. You get the idea. Your odds for success go way up the more songs you have.
All of us are limited as songwriters by our ability to play our instrument, or our ability to sing, our range, our
musically knowledge and training. When you write with other songwriters, you can open up incredible paths
for your music that you would never explore alone. I know a very successful songwriter that wrote for 10 years,
writing with his guitar and writing alone, with no success. His publisher introduced him to a piano player who
was also a better singer than he was, and they started co-writing together. Hit after hit soon followed, and he
attributes it to his being able to focus on the lyrics and not having to create the music, too. And of course, his
cowriter’s ability to play piano and sing so well.
Preparation for a co-writing session is very important, as is punctuality. Don’t be late and show up prepared.
Have several of your in progress or unfinished song ideas ready and with you to bring to the table as a starting
point. When co-writing, you start by bouncing your ideas back and forth with your co-writer, and then you
both agree on the song you want to work on. Be prepared also to change what you have written. It does you no
good to write with someone if you intend to ignore their ideas and input. It can take some getting used to when
someone starts rewriting your “baby,” but keep an open mind and be ready for it because it will happen.
Probably a lot when you first start out, especially if you are writing with someone with more experience at
songwriting and co-writing than you have.
Co-writing is a great way to learn how to write songs professionally if you are a new songwriter. Writing with
more experienced songwriters teaches you quickly some of the do’s and don’ts that exist in the world of pro
songwriting. For my first gig on Music Row in Nashville, I was fortunate to be put right in the middle of a
staff of five very good songwriters, all of whom had previous commercial success with their songs. By cowriting
with them one by one, I learned a lot about songwriting quickly, the first thing being most pro
songwriters do not like to write with new songwriters. Pretty much the only way they will do it is if you can
show them you have really good song ideas, that you can write and that you are willing to defer to their
expertise when necessary.
Sometimes co-writing doesn’t work. You just don’t relate to the person you are attempting to write with and
nothing you can say or do will change that. If you find yourself in this situation, my advice is that you should
gracefully and politely find a way to call it a day, even if you just started. Co-writing tends to be a very
intimate relationship and for it to work, there has to be communication. If you don’t like your cowriter
personally, it is not easy to write with them and pretty much defeats the purpose of co-writing together. If you
cowrite with very many people, this will happen to you, so don’t be surprised when it does. Just find a way to
make a quick exit and don’t pursue the relationship again.
Never hesitate to discuss writer share percentages with a cowriter. Have a clear-cut agreement when you cowrite
with someone relating to how you are going to divide the rights to the song you are writing together. Industry
standard is if you sit down with someone to create something brand new, no matter who had the original song
idea, the split would be 50/50. If there are three writers, you split three ways, four writers, four ways, and so
on. Depending on the situation and the amount of contribution by each cowriter to the song, the split might be
60/40 or 40/20/40 or 90/10. Whatever you decide with your cowriter(s) that the percentages of writer share
should be, you have to discuss and agree on this before you start writing together. The same thing applies to
the publishing percentage shares of your co-written song, if you don’t have a publisher.
Be sure and bring a pad or two of paper and plenty of pencils or pens to any co-writing session. Have the song
ideas you are bringing typed out and have several copies of each idea with you. Never forget to show respect to
your cowriter(s). If you don’t have respect for what they have to say, don’t write with them. Listen to their
ideas with an open mind. If you don’t like the direction your song is taking as you work on it with your
cowriter, tell them so and maybe even move on to another song and leave that one the way it is.
Communication is essential, so say what’s on your mind. Bring plenty of ideas and be ready to switch gears
often, with a good attitude.
It can be a lot of fun and very productive when you find the right co-writing partners. Successfully cowriting
with someone is a very rewarding experience and usually leads to long lasting creative and personal
relationships. Just like the one I have with my long time amigo and writing partner, Johnny McCollum. Cowriting,
I recommend it highly.