Songwriting tips: The introverted songwriter’s guide to co-writing
We get five practical nuggets of advice for the less outgoing of songwriters out there, from SongwriterLink’s founder Lisa Occhino
Creative people are more likely to be introverted – specifically, “socially poised introverts,” according to Quiet author Susan Cain – yet there are virtually no songs on the charts today that are written by just one person. So what are introverted songwriters like us to do when collaboration plays such an important role in our music careers, but solitude is known to be a crucial and underrated ingredient for creativity? It may take a little trial and error, but it’s not hard to learn how to set yourself up for co-writing success…
1. Seek out specific qualities in your co-writers
In order to have a successful co-write as an introvert, there are certain criteria you’re going to want to look for in your collaborators. Try to find co-writers who complement your strengths as an introverted songwriter, in terms of both musicianship and personality, and who respect the time you need to work solo.
That’s not to say you should automatically discount co-writing with an extrovert. You may find that you actually enjoy working with a songwriter who thinks out loud, because it’ll give you time to listen, take everything in, and provide meaningful contributions to the co-write.
Alternatively, if you’re working with another introvert, you may both prefer to do a lot of your creative work individually, and then come together to discuss your ideas. In fact, research shows that brainstorming alone is far more productive, so it’s actually smarter to let your creativity flow in private before and in between sessions. Then, you can switch your brain to ‘editor mode’ when you meet up with your co-writer to do all the fine-tuning that benefits from a second pair of ears.
2. Don’t work with too many co-writers on one song
According to Susan Cain, “Introverts feel most alive and energized when they’re in environments that are less stimulating – not less intellectually stimulating, but less stuff going on.” Applying that to co-writing, you’ll likely work best in a quiet space with just one other co-writer to focus your attention on. Too many writers in the room may be distracting and draining for an introverted songwriter, resulting in frustration with your creative output.
3. Do as much prep work as you can before the co-write
If you’re working with a new co-writer for the first time, you’ll feel more confident and prepared if you do some research beforehand. Get to know your co-writer’s style, and try to get a sense of his or her strengths and weaknesses so you can figure out what you’ll need to bring to the table when you start writing together.
The fear of the blank page is often the hardest part for introverted songwriters. Add the pressure of someone else in the room when we’re trying to come up with a brilliant lyric or melodic idea, and we’re prone to freezing up entirely. I always like coming into a co-write with a lyric or hook to work off of so that I’m not put on the spot to come up with something from scratch at the beginning of the session.
Oftentimes, I’ll even email back and forth with my co-writer beforehand to get ideas going and hone in on what kind of song we want to write. That way, we both know exactly what the game plan is going into the first co-write, which will jumpstart the session and allow it to run much more smoothly.
4. Play to your introvert strengths
As an introverted songwriter, you’re naturally a great listener. This is helpful not only in terms of absorbing the world around you for songwriting inspiration, but also in co-writes, especially when you’re writing with an artist.
“Introverts think more, are less reckless, and focus on what really matters – relationships and meaningful work,” Cain explains. Let your introvert strengths shine by listening to the story the artist is trying to express through song, and helping him or her tell it in a thoughtful, compelling way.
Even if you’re not writing with an artist, it can help to have a particular artist in mind when you’re co-writing a song to shape the sound, direction, and story.
5. Try online songwriting collaboration
While I have nothing against in-person collaborations, I’ve come to realise in the last couple of years that I actually favour online songwriting collaboration. It takes a lot of the pressure off, and it feels like the best of both worlds to me. As I explain in this blog post about the benefits of online songwriting collaboration, “You have the benefit of bouncing ideas off of someone else and sparking each other’s creativity, but for those of us who feel like songwriting is a very personal process, it allows us to still do a lot of the creative work in solitude.”
Lately, my typical process is that I’ll find a co-writer on SongwriterLink, send some ideas back and forth over email, do a Skype session, and then share a Google Drive folder with a doc where we both make edits and upload ideas on our own time. Then, we come back together for another session or two to refine the song and make final edits.
Remember, there’s no right or wrong way to collaborate. Try a bunch of different methods and see what feels best to you and produces the best results.
Lisa Occhino is the founder of SongwriterLink, a free songwriting collaboration website that matches you up with exactly the kind of co-writers you’re looking for. She’s also a pianist, award-winning songwriter, and graduate of Berklee College of Music. She lives in New York City.