As a longtime professional songwriter, what was once an occasional long-distance co-writing tool has turned into an everyday affair. In these days of social distancing, co-writing on Zoom has become the standard for dozens of creators around the world. As a result, several SongTown members asked me to share my device setup and tips to make the session go smoother. So here…
1. Get your equipment to work together to get the best sound possible.
I like to keep my Zoom setup small and efficient, but with the best possible sound. I am using Apogee MIC Plus. It’s a USB microphone that plugs directly into your Apple laptop. It has a pre-built microphone with zero latency; It also has a headphone jack at the bottom of the microphone. It truly is a world class setup all in a small mic body.
For a cheaper alternative, Blue-Yeti works with a lot of people on a tight budget.
2. Make sure the zoom settings are optimized…
After you sign up for a free Zoom account, set your Zoom audio preference to “Original Audio” (very important!) Next, you’ll need to make sure you select the Apogee MIC (or other microphone) as the specific input. Finally, I found it helpful to leave the “Automatically adjust microphone level” box unchecked. This prevents the Zooms compressor from kicking in.
3. Get your Google Doc ready for co-writing on Zoom.
Now, that you have set up your sound system, it is best to use Google Docs for co-writing. Before the session begins, I send out an invitation to my fellow writers to share the document I’m creating. If you have never used a Google Doc before, you will find it very useful. During a co-writing session, my fellow writers and I like to have one side of our computer screens filled with the friendly faces of everyone in the session; The other side shows a Google Doc. While writing, whenever one of us writes a lyric in the document, everyone else can see the words appear in real time. We are literally all on the same page!
Note: Google Docs is free but requires you to have a gmail email address or Google account. You can easily sign up for a gmail or Google account and only use it for co-writing if you so choose. It will make your co-writing on Zoom.com a more rewarding experience.
Now for some tips to keep your writing co-flow flowing…
4. It is important to assign roles at the beginning of the joint writing.
The songwriter probably does most of the typing in a Google Doc so everyone doesn’t get stuck on each other’s keyboards. If one of the co-authors is a great guitarist or keyboard player, they probably do most of the chord playing during the session. You found the idea…
5. Go one at a time.
When you first start co-typing on Zoom, you’ll notice a bit of a lag between computers in different locations. It can make it impossible for everyone to sing and play at the same time. This may seem like a hindrance, but as several of our SongTown members discovered at our recent ST writing retreat, it can be a huge plus.
It forces everyone to go one by one. And everyone should listen to each other before responding. You will begin to discover that this makes you a better listener and that better listeners make better participants. Which usually leads to better songs while co-writing on Zoom!
6. Choose a specific author.
It gets really messy to have 2 or 3 people trying to write lyric lines at the same time on a google doc. The best approach is to designate one person to be the songwriter. When everyone agrees on a line, the transcriber writes it into the document. If you are the type who likes to write down your thoughts as part of the writing process, I suggest you open a special document on your computer and write away. Then you can just put up your best lines to the group and you won’t be distracted by your free writing writing about others who don’t work the same way.
7. Be aware of the atmosphere you create on the Internet.
Your lovable pet Fido barking nonstop in the background will not be as lovable to your book as he is to you. Likewise, it may also not be wise to write in a basement with a noisy washing machine. (Unless you write to its own beat. Ha!) You get on target, and always avoid any unnecessary distractions in your writing environment.
8. Make your track man a co-host.
If you have a guy or girl a track in the session, make it a co-host to zoom in so they can “share audio” on the screen sharing options page. This will allow the track they are playing on their computer to send computer audio (stereo or mono) to remote attendees, providing a more professional sound.
9. Always record an action tape when co-writing when zoomed in/out.
The great thing about the Google Doc is that at the end of the session, all participants have a copy of the lyric. And since it’s a shared document, you can also use it later for any corrections you might want to make. (Always discuss changes with your co-authors first!) But, you’ll need to record the music. iPhone recording often works roughly if you’re typing on guitar or keyboard. We call these simple recordings Action tapes.
If your writing participation includes a tracker in the session, he/she must email a copy of the track to everyone after the session ends. This way everyone has a record of what was created that day. A paper trail is e-mailed from the date of creation.
10. Get your co-writer info!
Google Docs is a great place for everyone in the session to enter their writer’s information. That is, post info/splits, PRO info, email addresses, IPI#, etc. If your song is released, it is imperative that you have all this information. And getting it in session is much easier than trying to track people down a year later.
So that wraps up with my quick quest to help you get your best songs out of your songwriting zoom sessions. We hope you are all well.
write on! ~ cm