With the backlash towards Damon Albarn this week from what he said about Taylor Swift and co-writing, there has been a really interesting discussion on what exactly constitutes as “real” songwriting. While there’s no question that Taylor Swift definitely writes her own songs, many musicians and music lovers have weighed in on the increasing trend of seeing a few writers credited on a song—sometimes even ten writers.
This practice of crediting multiple people who may not have written much of a song is a modern one. With the complication of streaming taking precedence over sales per song, there is a lot less money to go around to the people who are working on the song, but aren’t strictly writers. As a credited songwriter, you will get a percentage of the royalties from the use of the song, wherever the song happens to make money. Ross Golan and other top songwriters in the industry are calling for the end of this practice of allowing people to demand publishing for songs they did not write.
That being said, co-writing is 100% a legitimate form of songwriting, when done fairly. When writers and/or producers in the room are writing together, everyone contributing lyrics and melodies and ideas, this is a collaborative form of writing that creates a song. Here are just a few reasons why.
1. It’s not about who does what
There’s a reason why there is so much emphasis on the co-writing session rather than counting who wrote each line, each chord, each melody. Writing goes beyond the writing itself; one person could contribute an idea from their own life, but then another person could make sense of it and write the actual line. The lyric likely wouldn’t have been written without both people thinking it through with each other. It’s not about who does what in a song, but how the ideas as a whole come together.
2. What doesn’t get to the final draft is also writing
If you’ve co-written, you know that many ideas that you might throw into the mix just don’t work. I find this is the most common when trying to find the right word to rhyme; we often might just say words that don’t fit at all, either to lighten the mood or to get rid of the words we don’t want. What doesn’t work also narrows down what does work, which is an important part of crafting the song.
3. Producers are important to the song
Many songwriters are writing with producers in the room, and for good reason. In certain genres, one could argue that producers are the new instrumentalists, the ones responsible for harmonic and rhythmic changes. They may or may not contribute to the actual lyrics, but they are probably discussing what the song is about and their perspective on the matter. They will also be working on the emotion and feel, which is a huge part of songwriting.
4. We have good days, we have bad days
Many co-writers write multiple songs together. Certain writers form “dream teams” where they feel their styles and ideas mesh well. But if people are writing together regularly, someone will probably have good days where they contribute to the song much more than the other writers in the room. Conversely, writers have bad days when they can’t get anything out. Like I said in the first point: it’s not about who does what in a song, but how people work together.
5. Co-writing is instant feedback
Part of why co-writing is so great is because it is literally instant feedback. Having even just one other writer in the room to ask, “Does this make sense?” or “Does that sound stupid/weird?” is invaluable. Another writer could be so excited about the idea, which really picks up the mood in the room, even when you (inevitably) get stuck.
Don’t be afraid of trying out co-writing with multiple people until you find writers you like to write with. It is definitely a real form of writing that not only keeps you accountable, but allows you to grow and gain confidence in your skills and strengths.