Sometimes you can put two hit songwriters in a room together and nothing happens. Sometimes you can put two pretty good songwriters in a room together and magic happens. Occasionally, for reasons unknown, you can put a songwriter in a room with a potted plant or a Border Collie and that writer will come up with a better song than he or she would have alone.If It Ain't Broke …
When the right time, place, and people all come together, the result may be a great song. If your collaboration with a newbie is yielding great results every time, stop worrying about what should be happening and keep writing great songs. If your co-writer only contributes a few lines to each song, but they are the perfect lines needed to complete the song, stop whining and keep writing great songs. Remember, 50 percent of a million dollars is more than 100 percent of nothing. Your goals are to write great songs and make a living. If it works, go with it.
Even with your favorite co-writers, you may hit a dry spell or slump now and again. Instead of giving up, try adding something different to your process or taking a little break. Don't worry; odds are that things will return to normal or even get better.
Sometimes co-writers just don't click, and it may be for reasons totally unrelated to how well you like each other or how good a writer you both are. Don't be alarmed when this happens. It often takes several sessions to begin building a rapport with a new co-writer. If, after several nonproductive sessions with someone, you feel like there's a problem, schedule a “no-write” session to talk about process and get to know each other better. If you get to the point that you feel like both parties are just wasting time, suggest some time off and try again later.Where Is This Relationship Going?
Make sure that you and your potential co-writer have compatible goals. The last thing you want is to find out that your co-writer is only interested in composing Portuguese disco music, when you've committed your life to the pursuit of the perfect heavy metal polka. Likewise, if your ultimate goal is to be a hit writer, but your co-writer sees songwriting as a hobby and wants to write ten-minute campfire songs, there may be problems.
That being said, as long as you have some writing goals in common, you might learn more from someone with a different set of musical experiences than from someone who writes the exact same kinds of songs as you. Before you write with someone, discuss your writing goals and influences and trade songs so that you can each get an idea of how the other writes. Remember that fluency in different styles helps to ensure a long career as a songwriter. If a co-writer is a potential source of information in this regard, count that as a plus and learn all you can.
Gilbert and Sullivan, arguably the most successful writing team of the nineteenth century, had very different personalities, lifestyles, goals, and approaches to writing. Still, because of mutual respect, commitment to quality, and a great — if inexplicable — writing chemistry, they overcame these differences and enjoyed a long reign at the top.
In addition to differences of personalities, goals, and musical styles, you may find that you have a different writing process than someone else. Some songwriters pace, some sit quietly, and some prefer to lie on the floor, gazing at the ceiling. Compulsive snackers, pencil tappers, hummers, strummers, whistlers, and weepers are all to be found amongst your would-be co-writers. What if you chain smoke during writing sessions, but your potential pen pal has psychic asthma and starts making little wheezing and coughing noises before you even get one lit? Is your co-writer a day person? A vegan? A compulsive nose picker? It all makes a difference. Things that wouldn't bother you at most times might drive you right up the wall when you're trying to create. Most songwriters are as defensive of the idiosyncrasies in their processes as they are offended by those of others. Know in advance what you and your co-writer can deal with and what you can't.
Ultimately, what matters are the songs you come up with. It might be worth getting up a little early or going outside to smoke if the resulting songs are good enough. If you can't find an environment that suits you both, try passing songs back and forth and working separately. With a little communication and compromise on both sides, these things can usually be ironed out.I Want a Divorce!
Sometimes it just doesn't work. A co-writer rubs you the wrong way or you don't write well together. You can't devote an infinite amount of sessions to working things out. In most cases, people you don't like aren't that fond of you either and will be more than happy to call it quits with no hard feelings. If you just plain don't like someone, odds are that you won't write great songs with that person. Even if you do get some results, you'll dread each session as it approaches and probably leave feeling depressed and drained.
If you question a co-writer's ethics or have trust issues, terminate the relationship. Be polite and discreet and try not to burn bridges or alienate anyone, just get out and stay out. Your songs and your reputation could be at stake.
If you like someone, but you just don't write well together, save the friendship and move on. Songwriting is supposed to feel good. If it doesn't, you're doing it wrong. Most songwriters prefer to work with people they know, like, and trust. That way, the worst thing that happens in a session is that you spend some time with a friend, doing something that you both enjoy.