This article was written by Cliff Goldmacher for BMI on June 28, 2011.
Looking back over 20 years to my first songwriting efforts, I remember my creative process as so personal and fragile that I was dead certain I would never open it up to another songwriter. This would have seemed like co-painting or more like co-dating — just not going to happen. However, two things did happen. One, I moved to Nashville, Tennessee, the co-writing capital of the world, and, two, I wrote a lot more songs, which stopped me from thinking of each of my song children as untouchable and precious. Ultimately, I simply wanted to create more and better songs, and co-writing became a big part of the process. Over the years, I’ve experienced (sometimes the hard way) a few of the big “do’s” and “don’t’s” of co-writing.
Discuss percentages in advance. After writing close to a thousand songs, my assumption is that all my “from-scratch” collaborations are even splits. This means 50/50 if there are two of us, 33/33/33 if there are three of us, etc. I consider it bad karma (and, frankly, exhausting) to count words or try and figure out who created what when the song is done and then try to adjust percentages. Just know that some days you’ll contribute more and some days your co-writer(s) will and that it all evens out in the end. If the song is brought to you mostly (or even partially) finished, then be clear on what the split will be in advance so there isn’t a misunderstanding later on. It’s simply better to deal with this stuff up front and then get on to the process of making music. Also, it’s considered bad form when discussing your collaborations later to state that you “really wrote most of it” or any variation thereof. The bottom line is that without your collaborator the song wouldn’t be the song that it is, no matter what was directly or indirectly contributed.
For more Do’s and Don’t’s, read the entire article here.