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From the Muse

Kissing Frogs

Finding the write collaborator.

I’ve never found the John to my Paul, the Bernie to my Elton, the Carole to my Gerry. There were times I wished I had (found a steady, life-long writing partner, that is) so I could keep coming back to the same safe place over and over again and not have to date around or kiss frogs to find a prince. But that’s not the way it happened for me.

Mind you, I’m sure I have been the frog on occasion. Sadly, it just goes with the territory. We’re not all good together. Just because Billy and Dan wrote a song I love doesn’t mean that I can write a hit with Billy, or Dan, for that matter. And neither of them will necessarily write a smash with somebody I wrote one with. Chemistry between two creators is a random and mysterious thing.

Although I never had that one steady go-to, I have had many outstanding partners over the years, and with each one I discovered something different about my own creativity. So maybe in retrospect variety has been a blessing.

How does one find their Mr. or Ms. Write? We can’t swipe left on a co-writing App. (Then again, I wouldn’t be surprised if we could. Nonetheless, I’m going to assume for the sake of this blog that we can’t.) In order to know if a one-on-one will be fruitful and prosperous, we simply have to get in the room with a suitor and have a go at it. Who knows? At the end of the day we might find the experience mutually productive and satisfying.

If you’re like me and particularly enjoy writing solo, you may want to consider switching it up now and then. After all, having another perspective opens the mind, pushes the boundaries, gets one out of one’s comfort zone. Besides, it’s nice to have company once in awhile. In the wise words of Bob Merrill, people who need people are the luckiest people in the world. 🙂

Two women smiling.

Man and woman looking at each other smiling and talking.

Me with two of my favorite collaborators: Eve Nelson (top) and Phil Thornalley (bottom).

From my experience, here are some tell-tale signs that I may have found a match. He or she:

… texts me that they’re running ten minutes late to our first session, which makes me feel better since it’s likely I’m running ten minutes late as well.

… believes in me from the minute they open the door. I can feel it. This is most beneficial for my self-confidence. That doesn’t guarantee I’ll be on my A-Game. But it helps.

… allows time for pregame conversation when a title or concept is likely to spring forth organically so we never have to resort to that dreaded question: What should we write about?

I’ve also learned that a good collaborator:

… inspires me

… is inspired by me

… has a good sense of humor. Laughter is so important to any relationship!

… is easy to get along with. I have to enjoy my co-writer’s company immensely on a personal level.

… is comfortable flying their freak flag — which in turn encourages me to do the same.

… doesn’t necessarily have the same strengths as me, which is a good thing. Too much salad and not enough dressing makes for a dull salad.

… remembers the snacks!

… makes me feel like I’m the only one they want to be working with that day, and that the two of us together are magical, in sync. We’re not even thinking that much: It’s just flowing. He’s finishing my lines, I’m finishing his. She’s taking my good idea and making it better by substituting a minor chord instead of a major, or by adding a 7th or an extra measure. Or by being brave enough to suggest cutting out half of the second verse! (How dare she? But maybe she’s right. Less really is often more.)

In sum, a good collaborator is anything but a frog. I can’t wait for our next session. Our next song. And each time we get together to write, I’m excited, motivated, eager.

So experiment. Try writing with anyone who seems like a good possible collaborator. Kiss as many frogs as you can. You’ll be better for it.

I know I am.

Photographs courtesy of the author.

 

You can read a new From the Muse blog on the second Monday of every month. Check out Shelly’s other postings.



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shelly Peiken
Shelly Peiken has been a behind-the-scenes force in the music business for more than two decades. She is best known for penning female-empowerment anthems such as Christina Aguilera’s Number One hit “What a Girl Wants” and Meredith Brooks’ “Bitch.” Her book “Confessions of a Serial Songwriter,” a memoir that chronicles her journey from a young girl falling under the spell of magical songs to writing hits of her own, earned her a second GRAMMY nomination for Best Spoken Word Album. (You can find her music at http://hyperurl.co/shellypeikenmusic) Shelly is a fierce advocate of creators’ rights with her grassroots organization, SONA (Songwriters of North America). She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, daughter and two cats.

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