Songwriting collaborations from decades ago used to result in songs that managed to last the test of time. Along the way, however, it seems ego might have gone to the forefront, especially when there’s much higher stakes in the money potential of a hit song. That’s made collaborations perhaps a tad more challenging now, even if you still see up to three or four names attached to hit songs on today’s charts. With mobile communication being so convenient, those collabs might be considered an easier process without sitting in one room together where arguments can easily be tempted.
Perhaps one of the most challenging songwriting collaborations of all is when you have a husband and wife team-up. Arguably, one of the greatest working today is Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez who wrote the score for Disney’s “Frozen.” USA Today profiled them in November of 2013 where they talk about their working relationship and how they manage to be so productive.
They may be the greatest examples to follow today in finding the right road to a workable collaboration. But should there be a general protocol on managing songwriting collaborations while bringing out the best possible creative ideas?
Bringing Out the Niceties
The Lopez team above says that being nice through the most trying times helps keep their partnership going without bitter feuding. Regardless, is that realistic when a songwriting team has their backs up against a wall? The best collaborations are really those who know one another well so that any arguments are constructive niceties rather than being personal attacks. When you already have a close relationship, you understand the psychological makeup of your creative partners. This can invariably lead to working almost telepathically and knowing what the other is thinking before it’s even written down.
You have to think that the golden songwriting teams of yesteryear worked this way. There’s quotes from the Gershwin Brothers that they almost communicated telepathically, which makes a strong case for blood relations writing a song together.
Should the Lyrics or the Music Come First?
Any collaboration should answer this question from the beginning so there isn’t any conflict on how the integral song parts go together. Typically, one does the lyrics and the other the music, though there could be little contributions of both from each collaborator. Decide if each one is allowed to do that so there isn’t a collision on trying to outdo the role of the other person. Avoid trying to override the other collaborator’s work, and instead find a way to integrate your own suggestions into what they’ve already written.
For many collaborators, writing the lyrics first helps the person writing the music form visualizations in order to find the proper melody and harmony. In other cases, the music might incite the lyricist to come up with proper meter and poetry. A good objective is to let each person contribute a portion of both music and lyrics to make the collab more fair and square.
Creating Discussions That Lead to Ideas
Creating a song out of thin air can’t happen without good ideas spinning around in everyone’s heads. That’s why one of the best procedures for collaborations is to just sit and talk about what’s going with each other or the world at large. Most of the best songs came from autobiographical elements as little pieces of each writer’s hearts. Taking a worldview and combining it with personal issues can create something powerful that gets all of you creating instantaneously. This might even lead to a song on the spot.
If you spend any time in studios with major artists writing new material, these types of brainstorms are becoming more common to quicken the creative pace. In the age of Skype and other mobile devices, this kind of approach might still be workable. Yet, doing it in a locked room puts you in the proverbial creative cage where face-to-face contact fosters more powerful ideas that might resemble primal scream therapy before it’s all over.
It’s all part of the lessons of songwriting collaborations so you can show the public that every quality song is the extraction and integration of complex people.