Co-Writing with Established Songwriters

I was having lunch recently with a new writer just signed to his first major publishing deal. He told me that his publisher had been setting up co-writing appointments for him with established writers, and that he had some questions on how to approach writing on such a different level. I thought addressing his two biggest questions here might be useful to writers in similar situations.

1. "Why does my publisher set me up to write with some established writers and not others?"

A good publisher has four functions: administrator, banker, promoter, and nurturer. While wearing his nurturer hat, the publisher may target three or four hit writers as co-writers, but may be reluctant to follow through on that writer's request to work with some other major writers. It's not that the publisher isn't being thorough, or that his faith in his new writer is half-hearted. It's actually a matter of balance. A publisher signs a writer for his strengths (lyrics, music, assembly) and works to develop that writer in areas where he or she may fall a little short of the mark. Using his knowledge of the writers community, the publisher puts the new writer together with someone whose strengths are complementary. It's pointless, and frustrating, for two great lyricists to sit in a room together trying to find a great melody; likewise, it is equally pointless for two great melody writers to sit waiting for pearls of wisdom to drop from each other's lips. No one benefits.

2. "Why am I almost always expected to be the one to provide the hook (title) and a large portion of the song when I co-write with established writers?"

Bear in mind that co-writing requires an understanding of each others' approach to writing. The established writer knows almost nothing about his or her new co-writer; whereas the novice generally is very aware of the experienced writer's form (lyrical and melodic), language, and approach to the hook from radio, video, records, etc. The only way for the established writer to find out about the new co-writer is to walk with him or her through the thought processes which got him from point A to point B.

Remember that successful collaboration doesn't mean that you necessarily have to be best friends. The only important thing is the quality of the song, and if the partnership doesn't work, don't worry. There are 800 #1 songwriters in Nashville. Keep trying, there is room for 801.