By Kat Goldman
Co-Writing To Crickets
I was going through a dry spell, when my manager, Ron, gave me a call from New York City:
“So, how’s the writing going ?” he asked me.
“Oh, well… you know!” I said, “Genius takes time !”
After that, Ron very graciously set up a co-writing session with a producer he knew in Manhattan.
I met him at his office in a high rise on the thirtieth floor. There were framed gold records of famous female artists all over his walls… Not intimidating at all !
The producer went over to his upright piano and played a line of something he’d come up with. Then I went over to the piano and played a line of something I’d come up with.
And then ? Nothing.
A whole hour went by…
You could hear crickets ! At one point, I began to twiddle my thumbs and whistle. I started whistling some melody that I didn’t recognize at first, until I started humming it. Then I started singing it:
“FAME! I wanna’ live forever…i wanna’ learn how to fly (HIGH!)…doo-doo-doo-doo, doo-doo doo do…
I love that song,” I said, tapping a pencil against my leg and nodding my head. “ Doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-do…RememBUH… RememBUH… RememBUH…”
Then we just sat there looking at each other, smiling uncomfortably, and parted with a warm handshake. The meeting was a total flop. I figured I was a failure at co-writing, and I haven’t tried it since.
It’s just that it felt so unnatural !
I mean can you imagine walking into a room with a complete stranger and starting to write a deep, intimate song together? You might as well get naked and launch into some contact improvisation/authentic movement dance, where you’re touching each other’s faces and staring into each other’s eyes- right after you’ve just met!
Why not just let a total stranger into your therapy session and let him listen to your innermost confessions?
Thing is, writing a song, for me, is so personal. It usually happens when I’m
going through something very intense and I need to speak about it from the heart. It would feel strange
to share the rights to those confessions with someone I didn’t really know.
What I mean by “share the rights to those confessions,” is that you have to decide on how to split the percentage of what you contributed to the song. But what if the other person only contributed one line, and wanted 50% of the split? You can see how these situations can get really ugly.
Not only that, what happens if you don’t like what your partner writes ? What if they write something really bad and really cheesy ? I mean, how do you tell them you don’t like what they’ve written ?
Would you just lie to them, to be polite, and say something like, “Oh yeah! That was- like, really deep, man, and I think we should use it !” when that’s not the way you feel at all ?
What happens if you do tell the truth, and you say something like: “You know what, man ?
That idea really sucks and I hate it !”
Then your co-writer would say, “Well, you know what? I think your face really sucks !
And what kind of a haircut is that anyways?”
Then you’ve made each other become so irate, that you end up swinging your guitars at each other, smashing them to the ground, and kicking each other in the shins:
“Don’t you know I’ve had three hits in Nashville ?” One would yell.
“You call those hits?” The other would yell back.
A friend of mine also thinks there’s something inauthentic about co-writing. He says he’s not going to prostitute himself by sitting with three guys at a table, and have to come up with a song for your publishing company. He says you can’t be like a factory when you’re a songwriter, churning out songs just to get a cut on someone’s album.
I know what he means. Songs have to come from a real place.
I guess some people are just skilled in writing for commercial reasons. They’re good at it. But if you’re an artist who’s willing to share the truth about your own, lived experiences- maybe you’d want to go down that road alone.
Then again, some of the best songs come from co-writes. My two favorites are Lennon and McCartney- despite quibbles over who did what- and Elton John and Bernie Taupin. Talk about some glorious collaborations ! (How did they do it ? Did they toss a coin ? Did they hold a séance first ? Did they take some magic mushrooms before they got started ?)
I say go for it. At least give it a try. Co-writing seems to give you cred these days. And if you’re really having a bad time, just slip out the door for a “bathroom break” and never come back.