When Your Co-Write Goes Wrong

iDoCoach Blog

iDoCoach Blog


The Day

If you write long enough it's gonna happen. Happened to me more times than I can remember. Happened to every writer I know. Happens to writers I'm coaching. Happening right now on Music Row.

Your publisher or a friend sets you up on a “blind date” to co-write. Everybody has high hopes. You're prepared, maybe you've even been able to hear some other songs this new friend has written, and you're excited, (nervous even) but this is what you do.

9:00 AM

So you get your stories out of the way, what one of my buddies always called having your "pissing contest", where you each let the other know what you've written in the past. 

Down to it. One of you throws out an idea and...nothing. The other tries a riff/groove/potential title and...still nothing. Lunch is starting to look like a good idea. This is when you hope your partner has a great sense of humor and that you haven't lost yours.  After all, in the words of John Hiatt, "what's the worst that can happen, they put me in songwriter jail?"

11:30 AM

Hopefully your new co-writer is a good hang!

1:00 PM

You're more comfortable with each other, back to work and...nothing. It dawns on both of you that this isn't going anywhere.

4:00 PM

You give it your best, wrap it up, maybe blame it on an off day, and agree to try again. (But chances are you won't--because you'd rather set yourself on fire than go through that again). 

2:00 AM Questions

How can you avoid this next time? It helps to spend time with your co-writer before your session if possible. Coffee, drink, meal; anything to get a sense of chemistry. It also helps to work with someone who doesn't do what you do. I've had a few sessions over the years where a publisher thought I'd love working with a particular writer--only to find out we basically do the same thing. The co-writes that have been magic for me have always been with someone with a different approach and we end up complimenting each other. We come up with some magic that neither one of us could have done on our own. It will happen. You may just have to suffer though speed date hell to find the love of your life.

In the end I think you need the mentality that Mariano Rivera had. You’re gonna lose one once in awhile, but you have to put it out of your mind and pitch tomorrow. Don't let it shake your confidence.

The Next Time

One question that comes up often with my clients is can I write that idea with someone else? You've been saving a great title and it just didn't happen with your co-writer. It's a tough one, but no. You just have to chalk it up to experience, find more great ideas, book more co-writes, and one of these sessions will be pure magic. It really does even out. If you stay open and give your best every time, you'll have more great days than bad ones. Promise.

Mark Cawley

Nashville, Tennessee


Photo: Shutter stock

Good quote in Rolling Stone this week from Craig Wiseman on co-writing in Nashville.

Heres a video blog from the iDoCoach archives on co-writing.

Hope you'll sign up to follow future blogs at 


P.S. My old friend Shelly Peiken has a book coming out soon called "Serial Songwriter" Check out her website and especially her blogs, great stuff!

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About Mark Cawley

Mark Cawley's songs have appeared on more than 15 million records. Over a career based in LA, London, and Nashville his songs have been recorded by an incredibly diverse range of artists. From Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Wynonna, Diana Ross and Chaka Kahn to The Spice Girls, Tom Scott, Kathy Mattea, Paul Carrack, Will Downing and Pop Idol winners in the UK. He has had #1 records in the UK and throughout Europe as well as cuts in Country, Jazz & R & B. His groundbreaking website Song Journey created with Hall of Fame writer Kye Fleming was the first to mentor writers from around the world one-on-one online. He is currently writing and publishing as well as helping writers and artists worldwide with a one-on-one co-active coaching service, iDoCoach. In addition he is a judge for this years UK Songwriting Contest, a contributing writer to the US Songwriting Competition , a popular songwriting blogger and from time to time, conducts his own workshops.