Hey everyone, Eli here. Something that's been on my mind a lot lately in regards to songwriting, and especially co-writing, is song starter ideas. And a step beyond that, song concept development. More specifically, how these things affect the outcome of a session, and ultimately the success of a song at the end of the day.
I'll give you an example of what I mean. A song idea is "I want to write a break-up song, super sassy about this guy who cheated on me, and how I just wanna go and destroy his shit because I'm mad at him." Cool, that's great. You have an idea of what you want to write about. But that's not a song concept. A song concept is "I've got this title, 'Before He Cheats', as in 'Maybe next time he'll think before he cheats' for the set-up line. I just want to get the idea across of how mad I am at this guy for cheating on me. I don't really have much else in terms of development, but maybe y'all could help me flesh this one out." The latter gives us a really clear destination (with a set-up line and title), the former gives us a starting point, and not much else. Most songwriters, especially new writers, come into sessions with ideas, not concepts. And sometimes we come in with neither.
We've all been there. Sit down in a co-writing session, get some small talk out the way for a few minutes, then someone says, "So what do we want to write about today?". It's usually met with some response like "Oh, I'm good with whatever", or "I'm pretty easy", etc. We all do it sometimes (myself included, more than I'd like to admit), and it seems pretty innocuous, even benign. But I'd like to argue that this exchange is one of the worst ways to start a session, even more so if you're an artist working with a songwriter or two to develop material for your project.
You might be thinking, "What's so bad about that?". A few things. One, it's letting your co-writers know that you didn't come prepared to the session. You just showed up, void of taking responsibility for the outcome that day. Two, it puts undue pressure on your co-writers, as you're just waiting for the other people in the room to provide a great song concept (that you might not even like). And three, and this is big if you're an artist, it shows whoever you're working with that you really don't have an idea of what type of artist you want to be, stylistically, thematically, or otherwise.
I'm sorry if this sounds a bit harsh. It is. It's a hard lesson that I'm trying to learn every day, and it's something I need to be better at myself. And as someone who works with a lot of relatively new artists (and having been a new songwriter and artist myself), I see this all the time. And in my experience, it's the main catalyst that leads to the creation of a song that no one will ever hear. Or that people will hear and not connect with.
If you're reading this, I'm challenging you to push yourself to be better. Study what it is about your favourite songs that make them your favourite. Find new ways to dig deep on inspiration for your song titles and concepts (I personally like to pull up movie quotes online, and form something from there). If you're trying to be a songwriter for other artists, this kind of preparation will impress the hell out of your co-writers. If you're trying to be an artist, come in with "So I've got this title/concept, what do you think?" and you will get you better results 99% of the time.
And I understand, not all of us are lyricists. That's ok, and that's why we co-write in the first place. I also understand that everyone needs to start somewhere, and that co-writing is a tricky and oftentimes scary undertaking. But you're here because you want to grow, be a better collaborator, and ultimately build a career in this crazy industry called music. Hopefully we can give you some help along the way.
-Eli (and Rich) at Cuttable