In the co-writing session between Allister and myself, I had an epiphany.
The thing that I do when I when I write by myself is that I let myself “edit” much too soon.
Allister allowed me the space to blurt out any crap that came to mind about the topic at hand. Because I knew that Allister was on the receiving end and I trusted him to understand that these were very “raw” thoughts, I had no reservations about letting it all out. I had full confidence that if I dropped a golden nugget, Allister would pick it up and save it. I didn’t have to listen to what was coming out of my mouth. A strange, new, degree of freedom.
It became obvious that this was a hugely efficient way to work on a song.
The secret to writing a song is to have *way* too much material. “Blurting it all out” is a an easy way to get too much material, but you have to “record” this material somehow. In cowriting, you only need to trust that the person on the other side of the table is listening, and not laughing at the crap that’s coming out of your mouth / brain. And, while listening, being inspired by some of it and not-so-much by the rest.
Allister and I used a long (several hour) initial Skype session and two shorter follow-ups. Allister has more skill at melody than I do. After our first session, we were both on the same page as to where the song was going, and Allister managed to find and fill out the final melody.
My experience this week suggests that people could co-write in slo-mo using email, if they follow a simple rule.
My theory is: when your cowrite partner sends you an idea, don’t open it until you are ready to devote some moments to it. When you first open it, read it / listen to it only once, then immediately write a reply email that contains only your very-first reactions. No editing. Just blurt it out, no matter how stupid. And then expect the same at the other end – immediate reaction after the first encounter.
Mimic what happens in face-to-face sessions. Blurt out any stupid idea that comes to your head. Become conscious of, and paint, the scenes dancing within your head as vividly as you can. If you “don’t get” what your partner is thinking, interrogate them, get them to blurt it out.
Follow up later with revisions, but, it’s the free-run brainstorming that makes co-writes so powerful.
<late addition> I got to try the above idea out on Scott MacKay late in the week. We did an email co-write at the last minute. I think it went superbly.
This was my most inspiring songwriting experience, since Orville Heyn forced me to finish my first whole song, in a night-course at Humber College in ’99.
Thank you, Allister.
Thank you Scott.
Thank you, Christopher.