Fish's Songwriters Blog(s)

The Co-writers Creed 

Songwriters; here's a part of a blog I posted recently to Rust Belt Songwriters, Collaborators & Original Music Venues for those who ask about dabbling in co-writing sessions. It's just one amateurs opinion to another but hopefully helpful to those who are interested. Here go…
So, I’ve had folks ask me what to expect at a co-writers session of large groups. I guess it’s best to first decide the definition of ‘large-group’ which is certainly in the eye of the beholder. To me a large group is simply any amount of collaborators beyond your normal comfort zone. I write best with groups from two to four people. Anything beyond that is me going out on a limb. Many other songwriters that I’ve talked to rarely write with anyone else so to them it’s fair to say that even a duo is big group.

Whatever your personal experience is with sharing the work of writing a song, I think we can agree that it’s always a risk, it’s often high reward and the craft should be approached differently than when writing alone.

I’ve written quite a few songs in groups of 8 or more people. The most I’ve ever been involved with is 14 writers in one session. We did TWO songs that way and it was indeed mayhem, but I still perform one of them regularly so it was all worth it. Plus I learn a lot in a short period of time in such situations. Every songwriter has something to teach the next, imo.

I do have some personal rules of thumb that I subject myself to whenever I enter in to a songwriting session, though, whether it’s with one friend or a room full of strangers. I hope this helps in some way;
Fish’s Co-writers Creed:
1. Bring something to the table – Come with a few starter ideas, a hook, riff or even general concept. It may not even be used but it’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.
2. Never pitch an idea that you are deeply attached to or that you know where the final destination should go. NEVER. You will be disappointed every time in a large group. The joy of co-writing is the surprise at the end of the session. Don’t treat it otherwise or you’ll be an anchor while everyone else is sailing to the next idea. Save the personal ideas for writing alone or with someone you trust very much to follow your concept to a specific result.
3. Always pitch cool ideas that you are unattached to. It’s great for you and the team. You finally get to use that line you never knew what to do with and the song ends up better for it. Everyone wins.
4. Follow the song. Even if it goes directions you didn’t foresee. I often have two thoughts go thru my head when I’m in a challenging session. First I grouchily think to myself “I would NEVER have done THAT…” but then I get my sensibilities back and excitedly think to myself “Hey, I would have NEVER have done THAT!”. Because that’s the whole point of collaboration. It’s to write the song you wouldn’t write alone.
5. DO be prepared to have good ideas shot down or overlooked. It’s just the nature of things. It doesn’t mean your ideas weren’t great. It just means this wasn’t the song for them. Jot them down for your next sessions. There. You just cultivated 6 new ideas in 2 hours time. You’re welcome!
6. DO be prepared to be shocked at how some ideas that you think are bad may grow on you. Give it a chance if the group is excited about it. If not, make your best respectful appeal and be ready to accept the fate of the song after. You didn’t have a song when you walked in, right? So, you have nothing to lose if this one doesn’t go your way.
7. Work hard and efficiently. Don’t get caught up in the minutia. Edit after as a group or trust the lead-writer to take care of tense, arrangement and punctuation later. It stumps creativity to dwell on the non-creative components. ‘Write fast, edit slow’ is my mantra (or write drunk, edit sober). The average Nashville-style co-writers session is 2 hours. SOMEtimes up to four. But there is post-writing communication days later for edits, upgraded lines and finalizing. Usually by email, phone, skype or even text.
8. DON’T speak over people just to be heard. Be courteous. Enjoy the many personalities in the room rather than compare with them. Never compete with your own teammates. That’s dumb, fruitless and stressful. Treat people good. They are the best part of collaboration, oftentimes. If something doesn’t land, don’t take it personal. You’re name is on the song either way. The goal is always just to have a great song. Whether you’d contributed one line or twenty. Achieve that goal.
10. Have fun. I freakin’ LOVE writing with other songwriters. I even usually enjoy even the BAD sessions, so I’m a real addict. Ha ha!
11. Play the odds. The larger the group the simpler the concept should be, imo. If I have 10 people in the room I’m probably gonna try to write a 3 chord song rather than the next prog-opus. And I’ll be striving for a subject matter that is relatable for the room. If I’m one on one I’d most likely get more intricate. Simple songs are great. So are complex ones. But choose your battles.
12. Be prepared to walk out with a song you’d never write alone. THAT part is guaranteed. Enjoy your labor and those who work with you. Everyone in that room loves communicating thru song so there’s already a common denominator to share. Remember to follow up and stay in touch with your collaborators.
Be well and make great songs!,
Fish Fisher

Write the song that's in the room 

Songwriter story: My buddy John Condrone just reminded me that we co-wrote this song together 1 year ago. Some of y'all met him in January when he put on a songwriters workshop at Ye Olde Durty Bird. Interesting dude. John has been a pro-wrestler for decades ("Johnny Meadows") is an award winning hit songwriter from Nashville and Knoxville and is one of my partners in crime when I need someone to cause a ruckus with now & then (there are rumors of laws in Tennessee about us n...ot being allowed within 100' of each other in some towns) so we totally expected to write a hard-hitting loud obnoxious Country song one morning when we met in the fireplace room of the The Historic Gatlinburg Inn to squeeze in 1 more song session that weekend. 2 hours later we were baffled & surprised at how we wrote this beautiful Pop-Country tune instead. A great lesson in the necessity to "write the song that's in the room".

Songwriter story: Do you have too many songs in your song? 

1 Amateur 2 Another


Recently I was in Lafayette Georgia co-writing a new song with my buddy Robby Hopkins. We wanted to write something we could maybe sell to radio and/ or both perform at our own shows. That's 3 different target purposes for one song (tough order) but we're confident writers & comfortable with each other so went for it. We got a great one done in about 3 hours and called it "Memory Lane".

As usual we realized over a few days of letting it ferment that it was "95% done" but needed some cleaning up and edits. We thought it would take a couple texts or a phone call to wrap it up.

2 months later (!!!) we were STILL in the pits of wrestling this song to completion and it kept changing and feeling LESS done than before when the problem (and thus the solution) suddenly became apparent. We were writing TWO different songs into one.

See, the song started with a concept from Robby that had all these great descriptive lines about a small town the protagonist grew up in (The pothole the County cant seem to fix, all the stoplights have been shot out, getting wild at the small town bar, dead man's curve, etc) & I loved it BUT I then wanted to make it more connective to an emotion so we evolved it to be about a man specifically hurting because his girl left him behind after they BOTH grew up in the town as young lovers. He's describing these great details asking her how can she not miss this? It's a please come back song, but where he's enticing her with their roots as much as their love.

However at some point we had too many great lines. So we kept over-editing trying to cherry pick one and sacrificing the other each time and then going back to re-write and tweak. It was circular thinking.

We called each other up and agreed to dissect out the lines that were either more about the town than the emotion and/ or the edgy lines (less ready for radio) and put them into a new, second song. As soon as we did the entire process was fast and easy for 'Memory Lane'. Finished it in no time.

Then 2 weeks later we had another done called 'Stompin' Grounds' which is more Outlaw Country and troublesome (MY kind of thing!) so we can cause a ruckus together and sing about things less commercial. Not to say it aint sellable but it would take an edgier artist and if not it fits BOTH our individual styles anyhows so we're happy. Two great songs for the attempt at one? I'll take that deal.

The lessons here are:

1. The song aint done 'til it's done - Thank God me and Robby didn't get lazy and let the first draft be less than it can be just because it felt done at first

2. Always post edit or at least double check together if you can't beat a couple lines or something. It's a team effort.

3. Stick to the subject - Sometimes we have too much to say so we feel stumped or 'writer-blocked'. It may just be that we are trying to cram $10 of gum into a $5 mouth. Don't be afraid to discern which lines or concepts are great for THIS song at the moment and log the other ideas away for the song they are best for in the future.

Thoughts? Similar experiences? We'd love to hear it on here.

Happy writing,