While there is no shortage of successful songwriters who prefer to work alone, the caliber of music that’s been created by collaboration suggests that two heads are better than one when it comes to songwriting.
In June, Rolling Stone.com posted the results of a readers poll for the Ten Best Songwriting Duos Ever. A quick look at the top five proves two things:
1. Paul McCartney/John Lennon (the Beatles)
2. Keith Richards/Mick Jagger (Rolling Stones)
3. Elton John/Bernie Taupin (Elton John)
4. Joe Strummer/Mick Jones (the Clash)
5. Johnny Marr/Morrissey (the Smiths)
Indie darling Liz Phair put this theory to task and caused a stir when she elected to write songs for her 2003 self-titled album with Top 40 production team The Matrix. Phair, who enjoyed a faithful following and critical praise from previously released material, told Filter magazine: “I wanted to get on the radio really badly. And I don’t write those kinds of songs. I write stuff that’s quirky or more personal. So collaborating was a way to get some people who kind of know what they’re doing with chord structures, plus they’re all so talented and really great people.”
Famed songwriter Dianne Warren told John Braheny about the professional advantages a young songwriter has in working with others: “When you write with someone else, you get their whole network of contacts and people they deal with. You have a double shot of getting some major stuff happening.”
Traditionally, songwriters have found success by sitting down together with a piano and/or guitar to develop melodies and lyrics. While this method of collaboration is the most obvious, it isn’t always the easiest. If you don’t have someone living relatively nearby you’re faced with the task of traveling to meet musicians for writing sessions. Facing this dilemma, some artists have looked for other ways to create songs together.
A few years ago, the indie-electro duo The Postal Service “wrote and recorded the better part of their debut album, Give Up (Sub Pop), with no budget and while living 1,000 miles apart,” according to MTV.com. Band members Ben Gibbard (Death Cab For Cutie) and Jimmy Tamborello (Dntel) overcame the distance between them by sending music back and forth through the mail, with Jimmy handling most of the music and Ben responding with lyrics and melody. The Gold-certified success of their album means the pair will repeat the songwriting formula for a follow-up release, this time exchanging song ideas over the Internet.
No surprise, the Internet has become a good source for finding people interested in collaborating on lyrics and music. In 1998, NME reported how legendary artist David Bowie recorded a song using lyrics “written by
A Google search reveals a number of sites dedicated to encouraging and connecting songwriters, such as MusesMuse, Songwriters101 and SongWriterForums. Going one step further, musicians have taken to YouTube to share ideas and invite collaborations. Once such posting by “chuckadile” includes a full backing track—complete with lead and rhythm guitars, drums and bass—with an invitation for viewers to come up with the lyrics and melody.
With thousands of people turning to sites like Echoboost.com to share their music, you might just find somebody online right now with the same taste in music who’s looking to collaborate with someone you.