Posted On: Jan. 20, 2021
6 Tips On Collaborative Songwriting In Various Genres
A great song can be life-changing. But how can you increase your chances of creating one? How do you write songs in more than one genre?
Whether it’s Kpop, country, EDM, acoustic folk or progressive r&b, multi-genre international hit songwriter and Juno-award recipient Laurell Barker unpacks the basics of improving the collaborative process in songwriting sessions.
1.DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Knowing who you are writing with - especially if it’s an artist - can help a song unfold much more efficiently. Before you arrive, listen to their past releases and note the personal style, vocal characteristics (range/delivery/phrasing), and lyrical content. Check out your producer’s and co-writer’s past work too - that way you won’t ask them to create something that isn’t in their “toolbox.” When writing for a label brief, google any songs or artists mentioned in the brief. The homework continues in the room. Ask your artist and co-writers to share examples of the direction they feel they are going in and discuss new music they are excited about.
What I do* I take time to see how everyone’s day is going and follow where the answers lead. That first hour of ice-breaking conversation in a session with new people can uncover surprisingly humorous, awkward, or emotional topics which can give personal insight into the artist and often inspire a song concept.
2.CHECK YOUR REFERENCES
It can be very difficult to “switch hats” stylistically when songwriting, but with the help of references, you can throw yourself into new grooves and phrasing more easily. For example, when writing with a country artist, make sure you are well-versed in what is currently on the country charts. Take note of production trends, vocal phrasing, rhythmic deliveries, lyrics, and song structure. See if you can find a common thread between songs in one genre. For example, lately Kpop mixes modes/keys/feels and changes second verse structure entirely, while current UK dance pop trends feature a wave of 90’s beats and busy, soulful vocals. Of course this is never set in stone, so always take note of what makes each one sound unique too as that will sharpen your “hit radar,” but it’s important to know what is getting airplay so you can capture something that feels current and authentic to what is happening in that genre.
What I do* If we decide in the room that we are going to write an 80’s inspired banger, I’m immediately checking out the biggest hits from the 80’s and singing along to get myself into that particular kind of phrasing. (The amount of times I’m writing a song while still singing another one in my head is countless lol.)
3. BE YOUR OWN A&R
Trends aside, we still need to write a song that stand out. Being your own A&R is how you can push your session into a possibly more unique direction. It’s kind of like cooking. Mix up influences just like ingredients and ask the room what it would sound like if you combined a song like that with a song like this. You may all be happily surprised with the result or laugh at how terrible it sounds. Either way, it won’t be stuck inside a box, so go ahead and experiment with all those style flavours.
What I do* Keep it honest. As I try different things in the room, I often ask myself if I can really hear my song on the same playlist as other hits in the same genre. I also ask myself what kind of twist in the song (can be production approach, lyrics, trying different vocal tones etc!) that will help it stand out.
4.PLAY TO STRENGTHS
Expanding on point #1, figure out the strengths of each person in the room and lean on them. No one needs to carry the whole session. If there is a great singer, explore their range and delivery when tracking vocals, aiming for a performance that fits the emotion of the song. If you have a great beat maker/edm producer who isn’t super strong at vocal tracking/mixing, consider producing the final vocal with a vocal producer after the session. If someone in the room is fab at melodies, let them take a few passes singing over the same section to give lots of great options. Give lyric writers the silence and space they sometimes need to say things just right.
What I do* Sometimes I remind myself that being a great songwriter means fanning someone else’s flame in the room.
5. BRING YOUR GOOD VIBES
You have the chance to set the tone to the entire session when you walk in a room, so make it count. Keeping the vibe positive allows creativity to flow! Be a YES person. There are no bad ideas, so our language with each other is key to keeping things safe for everyone. When responding to other’s ideas, start with “sure!” or “let’s try it out”. If you aren’t happy with something, language like “I think we can top this part” and “let’s take a few minutes to see what else comes out” is so much more supportive than “this sucks” or “this isn’t any good”. Always come prepared with concepts and hook starts, but always be ready for your plans to be thrown out the door for the song to make it’s own way into the room. Trust the emotions of a song more than anything else. If you feel something, others will too.
What I do* To prep for sessions I remind myself we are vessels, and songs don’t come from us, they come through us, so the more open-minded I am, the better.
6. BUILD YOUR NETWORK
If you are an emerging artist or aspiring songwriter, getting in the room with more experienced writers can seriously up the quality of your work. Build your network by attending conferences, hitting people up on social media, and asking your music associations (like various provincial music industry associations and SOCAN) for suggestions on who to work with locally. Don’t just think about what you can get from stronger writers, explore the idea of bringing them opportunity so they have a compelling reason for a writer to work with you. For example writers will be more motivated to write with you if you are looking for a single or have a budget to pay a small writing fee, which is more common than you think.
What I do* I am constantly hitting people up online even though I have a strong network. I am always paying attention to who keeps popping up on my radar consistently and make a point of checking out their work and letting them know I’m a fan. Of course some people will never reply but it’s amazing how many do.