So much of the ultimate success of any creative/innovative endeavor is about having the patience and persistence to try again when early efforts don’t deliver expected results. Nowhere is that more true than in the collaborative process. Being a great collaborator is anything but a given. As always, I’ll use myself as the case in point.
Let go of your control
When I moved to Nashville in the early 90s, I had already been songwriting and performing for about five years by myself. What that meant was that I had an established – albeit not totally polished – approach to my music and songwriting process. However, I kept hearing again and again that co-writing was the way to go and, curious about the process, I began to dabble in a few co-writes. Unfortunately for my collaborators at the time, I was much too attached to my way of doing things and that left little room for true collaboration. I like to describe my first few co-writes as “writing songs near people.” Not good.
Play to your strengths
It wasn’t until I co-wrote with a songwriter who was strong-willed enough to convince me to listen to his ideas, that I began to understand what true collaboration was about. My melodic sensibilities are much like my singing voice…fine. My melodies were fine. In other words, they weren’t that great. However, this particular co-writer was a gifted melody writer and the more we worked together the better my songs became. It took me a while to understand that while writing lyrics came easily to me, my songs only came alive when I paired my lyrics with great melodies. Once I realized this about myself, I was able to find collaborators who were great melody writers and the overall quality of my songs increased dramatically.
The other part of co-writing that took me a little while to get comfortable with was being willing to suggest seemingly ridiculous ideas on the road to what would ultimately be a well-written song. Learning to step away from my careful – often too careful – and methodical process of songwriting and into the world of messy, quirky, unfinished and downright weird ideas was when my songs began to shine. Being willing to appear foolish in front of my songwriting peers, while difficult at first, has become easier and yielded amazing results.
Having built my entire career on songwriting collaboration, it’s easy for me to see now how valuable collaboration can be. But it wasn’t always that way. Opening up my creative process to another person was a slow and bumpy journey but one that, ultimately, has been worth every awkward, frustrating moment. Collaboration isn’t guaranteed to be seamless but by giving yourself permission to make mistakes and let go, you’ll get to the good stuff.
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