Updated: Dec 14, 2019
#AskAmanda – What do I do when my cowriter quits in the middle of writing a song?
Most people who write songs with other people experience at some point the pain of working on a song with a cowriter only to have him or her quit before the song is finished.
This can be both frustrating and saddening, and can bring up lots of other insecurity and interpersonal issues as well.
Why do they quit? Could be any number of things: lack of interest in the song, lack of discipline, or dislike for writing with you in general.
This stirs up the fragile and volatile songwriter ego, and can be especially annoying if you really like the song and want to finish it.
From a legal [disclaimer: author is not an attorney and this is not legal advice] perspective, in lieu of a written contract stating otherwise, when you write a song with someone, you assume equal ownership and responsibility for that composition and the copyright.
Do you have the right to finish the song by yourself? Absolutely.
Do you have the right to bring in another cowriter? If you want to bring in another writer, you have a couple of options.
First try talking to your MIA cowriter. Tell him or her your honest concerns and see what he or she says.
If the original cowriter wants to finish the song, make him or her commit to a deadline – say a month or so.
Make the agreement that if he or she doesn’t meet the deadline, then you can either finish the song alone or bring in an additional cowriter.
If he or she doesn’t agree, you can still finish the song and then present it to the original cowriter.
At that point, he or she can either: 1) thank you for finishing the tune and keep writer shares in tact, or 2) tell you to take his or her name off the song (being ashamed of it).
If you do bring in another cowriter, the shares of the song will become thirds instead of halves, and that will reduce everyone’s shares. However 1/3 of a finished song is worth more than ½ of an unfinished song.
If your original cowriter protests, see if you can get to the bottom of his or her objection. Does he hate the song that much? Why? What can be done to fix it in his opinion?
As a pro writer myself, there are times when I was a new writer where my cowriter and I didn’t finish tunes. Now, with time and experience, there is virtually no time when I sit down to write with someone and don’t finish at least a rough draft in a couple hours.
(I can teach you how to write your songs in 2 hours or less using my proprietary Write Brain Method™, too.)
So perhaps the issue with unfinished songs is mainly about inexperience.
Inexperience is frustrating in itself, and especially when dealing with songwriting collaboration.
New writers are usually either notoriously nonchalant about their work, or the opposite – overly uptight.
They have yet to experience the hard knocks and frequent rejection that comes with the songwriter trade, and as a result, likely harbor unrealistic expectations.
He or she may be unwilling (or unable) to finish the song, but he probably doesn’t want to take his name off either… just in case you bust out with a big hit.
One way to soothe this assumption is to create a new composition – a derivative work of sorts – with your new cowriter.
This way your original, unfinished song can be called “Our Song (version 1)” and retain a 50/50 cowriting split shared with your original cowriter.
The new one can be called “Our Song (version 2)” and will include the new cowriter(s) as well as your original cowriter.
Sometimes writers think that having a hit writer’s name on a song will help it win favor in pitch sessions.
While the contribution of the hit writer might help your song’s quality, in the case of an unfinished song, the hit writer may have pulled out because of recognizing some flaw in the song that you don’t recognize as a newbie.
In that case, you’ll pick up subtle hints from the pro that he or she isn’t really into what you’re writing.
You may love it, thinking it’s the best thing you’ve ever written, and the pro may be not so thrilled.
Cowriting is a combining process.
Imagine the hit writer is hot – like a pot of boiling water.
You, the newer writer, are not exactly cold water – but you’re maybe lukewarm.
What happens when you pour boiling water into room temperature water? Does it still boil? Not for long.
That’s what it’s like for a pro to write with a newer writer. No matter how hot the pro is, if he or she actually collaborates with you and allows you to express your ideas (that is not railroading you) then the result is bound to be “less hot” than what the pro writer could come up with if he or she were writing with another boiling hot pro writer.
That’s not to make you feel bad (or angry or insulted) but just to give you some perspective of what’s happening using this scientific analogy.
So – the moral to the story?
Finish your songs – by all means. Finishing is a skill, and it takes lots of practice.
But don’t pressure cowriters, especially hit writers, into working with you. If your cowriter loses interest half way through the song, let him or her go.
Finish the song yourself or with a buddy for the exercise, and then present the finished product to your original cowriter for approval.
If that rekindles his or her interest, all the better.
If it doesn’t, seek his or her blessing to proceed.
A finished song is one thing.
A damaged relationship is quite another.
In some cases even though you technically have the right to do as you want with the tune as long as you compensate your cowriter for his or her shares, it’s sometimes better to just drop it – the song and the cowriter.
You’ll eventually write so many songs you won’t even remember most of them, and this one unfinished tune will just be another stepping stone in your long journey to professional songwriter-dom.
Questions? War stories? Share them below in the comments.
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