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The Hard Co-Write

collaboration cowriting songwriting songwriting education songwriting for music educators working together Feb 13, 2024

Co-writing can be a really fun and engaging way to expand skills, get to know more people and expand your collaborative network, but it can also be really hard. Especially when you get into a situation when you feel you're not being heard. I find this happens a lot more frequently when co-writes are mixed gender and I had an experience like this myself not too long ago so I figured I would share a little about what happened and how I dealt with it in the moment and afterwards in the hopes that I might help someone by sharing.

A few years ago, I met someone in a professional space and we hit it off - we had similar backgrounds, interests (both songwriters and vocalists), and we were both in NYC and about the same age. I've struggled a bit to find people to co-write with in NYC and so I was really excited when he asked if I'd be interested to co-write. I said I would love to and we set a date. We had really conflicting schedules, so we decided to work via Zoom. 

Side note - this wasn't my first professional co-write; I'd done many before and they'd all turned out pretty well - maybe not the best songs I've ever written, but the experiences had been really pleasant and positive.

On the day of the write, I'd set aside four hours (what I've discovered is about the right amount of time), gotten set up with water and coffee, logged into Zoom a few minutes early and had my notebook and a google drive doc pulled up (really great for virtual co-writes, btw). The session started out well enough - we talked about what was going on with our lives and started kicking around ideas for lyrics and grooves and things and it felt pretty natural. And then we got to actually writing lyrics and chords.

When we started actually writing, I don't think I've ever felt quite"put down" in a musical situation in a long time. Everything I suggested was met with a solid 'no' or 'not like that...let's do this' or 'nope...that's not what I'm thinking' or 'no, that's not the way I was thinking of going' - literally zero acknowledgement that I had anything worthy to say. And honestly, if I didn't have 25 years of musical experience as a musician in NYC, and a PhD and all the accolades and songs that I have created and am proud on to stand on and lift me up, I probably would have just caved right there and thought that I was just nothing - not enough - not even worthy of even being in the room. 

But that wasn't the case. I DO have all those things. And I realized really quickly that this wasn't going to be a space where I would be seen or heard and that no matter if I had the greatest idea in the just wouldn't matter. In that moment, I had some choices: 1) push back and make the person aware that they were behaving poorly and see if that might shift things, 2) end the session early and just never write with the person again, or 3) eat it and keep going for the rest of the time knowing that all my ideas would be shot down. I didn't care enough about this situation to try and work on what was happening, so option 1 didn't appeal to me and option 3 didn't really seem like an option. So, I found a way to end the session early stating I had forgotten something I needed to do and that I was really sorry but we'll have to finish this another time. It was a good choice for me and needless to say, we never finished the song. 

I'm sharing this story not because it was a proud moment of my career, but because it happens. And nobody talks about it or how to deal with it. And it happens most often when there is a power dynamic - or perceived power dynamic between two people. And that could be gender, age or experience - or any combination of things. Hopefully, people will recognize that everyone in the room has a voice and something to offer - but if not, it's important to know how to disengage.

First, find the fastest and most efficient way to leave the situation. If you're in a classroom setting, this would be a good time to speak to an authority figure and ask them to mediate the situation, but if you're on your own, you do not have to stay in the room and feel less than you are. Just find a way to get out. If you're a teacher and see this happening, talk to the students, find out what's going on - usually it's happening because one of the two people is feeling insecure and they're lashing out because of it - so what happens if you can help them see that they're both scared and that they might be able to create something really cool if they work together? 

Generally, co-writes are wonderful experiences (most of mine have been) but when they're not, just see it for what it is and move on. You will find your people and it will be wonderful!