The Dirt: Co-writing etiquette

The Dirt: Co-writing etiquette


It can get lonely writing by yourself. And if you're stuck on an idea, you might want to ~collaborate~.

Co-writing songs is becoming more common in the Australian music industry every year. Plenty of young artists find themselves wondering about the process. With  triple j Unearthed sending one artist to the 50 Songs in 5 Days songwriting camp, it's going to help if you know what to do when you get into a writing session.

How do you find people to co-write with? Who gets to record the song? Do you need a studio or can you use a lounge room? What skills do you need to co-write with another artist?

Nat Tencic chats with Montaigne, Styalz Fuego and Kota Banks about the best practice in the writing room.


DO: Get yourself a publisher (if you can)

How do you find people to work with? For a lot of artists, your publisher is the one who networks for you and gets you in the room with other writers.

RELATED: what's a publisher? Find out here on The Dirt.

"My publisher BMG usually finds people," Montaigne says. "If I don't know them, my publisher will find me people to write with." 

Kota Banks says she's found her preferred co-writers, but it was a process of trial and error facilitated by her publisher.

"It Mushroom Music hooked a lot of stuff up at the beginning of my career when I didn't know people," she says.

"Part of the reason you sign a publishing deal is to make it easier for you so they can hookup sessions because they're kind of like the hub and they know all the people and if you want to work with a particular artist or you have a song for a particular artist you send it to your contact at the publisher and then they forward it on."

"I think it's really important to work with a lot of people just to see who vibe with so you get more experience so that you feel confident to be able to go into any situation," Kota adds.


DO: Hit up people you want to work with

"I did a co-write with [Laura Jean and Andy Bull] last week and that's just because we know each other and we just messaged each other and went 'hey, let's write!'" Montaigne says.

Likewise, Stylaz says there's no harm in just cold emailing someone you're keen to work with.

"I would just scour the internet, just listening to everything online and I found this rap group called Battle Town and I just liked what they were doing so it was as easy  as is reaching out and just hoping that they replied," Stylaz says.


DO: Come in with an open heart and mind

Songwriting is very personal and emotional. You're going to need to put a lot of yourself out there to make something great.

"Socially I think having an open a heart is really important because songwriting is a very social and intimate thing," Montaigne says.

And Kota says an open mind is just as important.

"The writing process always works best when everyone is open-minded, when there's a great chemistry when there's this creative energy in the room that allows everyone to bounce off each other," she says.


DON'T: Make assumptions about what an artist wants

"I think a lot of producers will get in the room especially with artists they don't know too well, they'll kind of just go on autopilot and pull out the trap drums or do whatever they do," Stylaz says. That's a big no-no. 

"Ask the artist may be first to see what their sound is, what they like, what they want, where they would go, what kind of music is like completely out for them."


DON'T: be all business

"It's my pet hate when you go in into a session and the producer is not doing anything the whole time and it feels like such a job, or like they're constantly just being like 'yo, we gotta write a hit!'" Kota says. It can kill creativity if you're only focussed on the end result.


DON'T: Make your collaborators feel uncomfortable

"You should never make the other person feel uncomfortable because limitations are the enemy of creativity," Kota says. 
"You should always and empower the other person because that's how you're going to get the best result out of them."


DON'T: Be afraid to fail

As with all things, not everything will go right the first time.

"Be really ready to fail because there's going to be failure but from that you're going to grow and learn and your future songwriting sessions are going to be a little more successful and some of them won't, but that's just the way it is and you just gotta continue," Montaigne says.


DO: Ask for your share of the publishing split

For songwriting camps like 50 Songs in 5 Days, the amount of royalties you get from a song is split evenly.

"However many number of people are in that session that's how many times it gets split," Montaigne, who's done a few of these camps before, says.

"Say there are four people in a session, everyone gets 25 per cent of the song."

When you're not at an APRA AMCOS supported camp or session, it's up to you to work it out with your co-writers, their managers and publishers. In the indie world, it's done pretty diplomatically.

"Someone will say 'Hey this is what happened, this is how I feel the song should be split, what say you?' and that person will hit back with their opinion on what they provided for the track. You have to justify the percentage that you ask for," Montaigne says.