In my career of writing over 1100 songs, most of which were co written, I’ve discovered what I believe are the 5 types of songwriters. Think of them kind of like a personality type. There are no good or bad types! Both have pros and cons, and whether or not a write will work out well or not all depends on the room and the combination. There is a magic chemistry that has to click to glue these together in any co-write. You might see these types and identify strongly with one, or maybe you feel like you have a little bit of each. It really depends on the day, but 99% of the time, people are going to, at their core, identify with one more than the others.
1 – The DRIVER.
The alpha type
Drivers are the ones who, on their healthy days, are seen as a solid force guiding the whole songwriting process, and ultimately deciding whether or not an idea makes it.
On their unhealthy days, drivers could be seen as a bulldozer – trying to strong arm their ideas over everyone else’s in the room. It doesn’t matter what everyone else’s ideas are, if it isn’t theirs, it’s probably not going to play.
In my opinion, if a co-write has a producer, artist, and top-liner, it is best if the artist is the driver. I have been in scenarios where the artist isn’t the driver and it can be awkward. Ultimately they are the one who is going to hopefully cut the song, so shouldn’t it follow their vision?
Now, I’ve also been in scenarios where the artist isn’t necessarily the driver, and they are deferring to one of the other writers in the room to drive. If an artist has a vision but doesn’t quite know how to complete it, this can work as well. It all depends on the chemistry of the room.
If you think you might relate to this songwriting type, the driver, then I have a couple ideas to hopefully help you avoid some big mistakes I’ve seen from other drivers:
First, learn to be a listener. Where drivers go wrong, is they essentially sit in a room with other writers and they write 100% of the song, not listening to what anyone else has to say. I’ve seen this happen so many times, and it is painful to watch.
Secondly, learn to be self-aware and aware of those around you. Do you need you to be the alpha that day? Or do the other writers need you to just be there as a strong guiding guardrail for the session?
As a collaborator, you will win in scenarios where there isn’t another driver in the room. You’ll know it when you bump up against this. There cannot be two alphas vying for power. You will win if there are others willing to defer to you and trust your judgement.
The Driver oftentimes can go on to become the producer, because they thrive in an environment where they are calling the shots.
If you are into the enneagram, the types 1, 3, and 8, often become drivers in a songwriting session.
So that’s number one, the DRIVER.
2 – The BOUNCER.
The idea fountain
The Bouncer is the guy or girl in a room who is an idea fountain. They spew out ideas left and right, not so much filter. These are the ones who embrace the “dare to suck” mentality to a t. And yes, there are a lot of the ideas that do suck! But they don’t worry so much about this. They know it’s part of the process and that they are in the room to be a burst of creative energy and inspiration for others to grab bits and pieces of. On their healthy days, they are a great complement to their other co-writers because there will never be a case of sitting and waiting in silence until someone throws out an idea. They create much needed momentum, and often make the sessions fun. On their unhealthy days, they are unfocused. They throw out so many random ideas left and right that there is no North Star to the song. They can operate very well when there are other good sounding boards in the room to help field the ideas and bounce back the ones that don’t work so well.
If you think you are a bouncer, then one way for you to lean into your strengths would be to prepare. One way to prepare is to be intentional about what materials you’re inputting. What are you reading? What are you watching? What are you listening to? You may not realize it, but what you are inputting comes out in your art.
A bouncer on their unhealthy days can spew out so many ideas that they don’t listen to what anyone else has to say. Avoid getting lost in your own little creative world and remember you are a part of a co-writing process with other collaborators.
As a collaborator, you will win in scenarios where there is a clear objective – having someone else in the room, who is the clear set of guardrails for the process. They can have great success in co-writes, but can also write songs 100% on their own – just don’t expect all of them to be amazing.
The Bouncer takes on many roles in the industry – they can make great producers, great co-writers, and sometimes, even great A&R execs.
On the enneagram, 2’s, 6’s and 7’s, are oftentimes bouncers.
3 – The THINKER.
The quality patrol
The thinker is the one who doesn’t always say as much, but when they do, it is often great. They can do this because they are internally analyzing and pre-editing all of their ideas under so much scrutiny that they have a hard time committing to one or another. The thinker is often seen as the moody broody one. They are often slow to finish songs, slow to commit to ideas, and at times, harder to collaborate with. Now, remember, none of these songwriting types are good or bad, but are all subject to context. I have a great appreciation for the Thinkers out there because they have such a rich internal dialogue and sense of conviction that ideas must be great.
On their healthy days, thinkers are great at quality control. They think through all angles of a lyric. They think through whether a song will connect with the fans. They think through different types of music. Many artists fall under this category. And this is a good thing – because artists have to be very clear on what their brand is and what the type of songs they want to be associated with.
On their unhealthy days, thinkers can make it hard to get anything going, let alone finished. These are the ones that oftentimes experience the multi-day songwriting sessions where it takes a long time to land the plane. This in and of itself isn’t a bad thing, but it may limit the pool of collaborators who are willing to work with you. Not everyone is willing to dedicate several days to working with a thinker to finish one song.
A few pieces of advice to the thinkers out there:
First, designate creative days, and days to do the refining. Put them on your calendar as such. Know that on the creative days, you can be free to let loose a little bit and just chase the inspiration in the room, not thinking so much about if every idea is 100% great or not. Just “move fast and break things”, to quote Mark Zuckerberg. Then on the refining days, take those initial ideas, and then put them under your meticulous scrutiny, making sure every word, every melody, every chord, every production choice, is intentional and amazing.
Another thing I’d say to the thinkers is to remember that you may need more days of writing 100% by yourself than some of the other songwriting types. These days can be a great exercise for you and allow you to really take the time needed to dive in and explore at your own pace what can make your next song great.
As a collaborator, you will win in scenarios where you are with people who are willing to slow down a bit and go at your pace, not rushing your process.
The Thinker makes a great artist, and many times, that’s where they will land, because others feel like they have something big to say.
If you’re into the enneagram, you might be a 1, 4, or 5 if you are the Thinker.
That’s number 3, the THINKER..
4 – The EDITOR.
I call them the scientists, the analysts, the tweakers, the experimenters. They are the ones who are very interested in trying all different angles to see which combinations generate the best possible result for the song. They aren’t always going to be the ones generating the ideas, but they are great at taking other ideas in their infancy, identifying the gold, and making them great by making any necessary changes. The editor is an extremely valuable part of the songwriting process for quality control. Much like Marc Randolph, co-founder of Netflix, the editor believes that there is no such thing as “good ideas”. That there are only “bad ideas” at the start and in the editing and refining process is where ideas go from bad to good to great.
On their healthy days, editors are a huge asset to the co-writing room. They listen well, take the bits and pieces they believe in, and figure out ways to make them better. They add immense value by elevating the quality of the song in the crafting process. They believe the mantra, “great songs aren’t written, they’re re-written.”
On their unhealthy days, they can kill an idea in its infancy. They can squash a song before it’s grown any legs and can even make it to the editing process. There is a part in the process that it’s too early to be overly critical.
If you think you might be an editor, the best thing you can do is to, like the thinker, designate create days and refining days. Also, make sure you put yourself in rooms with people who have a clear vision. You will work very well with The Bouncer type.
As a collaborator, you will win in scenarios where you have a deadline. Editors can often edit the life out of a song if left with infinite time and endless options. They work well with clear guardrails and deadlines. They thrive much better in a co-writing scenario than writing songs 100% on their own.
Editors often make great producers.
For enneagramers, if you’re an editor, you might be a 1, 3, 5 or even an 8.
That’s number 4, the EDITOR.
5 – The TASTEMAKER.
This is the person in the room that isn’t necessarily throwing out tons of ideas, but is simply saying “yes” or “no”. They are great guardrails and filters for everyone else’s ideas. The tastemaker has an uncanny ability of knowing if something is intrinsically great and relevant. While the other types may feel like they are guessing, somehow, the tastemakers just know, and others trust their taste. They are the writer that brings the “cool” or the “vibe” to a room. They always have their ear to the ground and know who the hot up-and-coming, hip artist is – that oftentimes, will be huge a few months later. They help a room immensely by steering a song away from being “cheesy” or “bubblegummy”. They help others achieve a kind of commerciality that still has artistic credibility.
On their healthy days, they show up as an amazing filter for all of the ideas in the room. They are great listeners, and they are great friends. They are an amazing hang and keep the vibe and the energy of the room all positive.
On their unhealthy days, they are disconnected and not adding much at all to the room. These days, they will probably not get invited back to a lot of co-writes. They can also at times be “too cool for their own good”. Make sure if you are a tastemaker, that you aren’t just listening to indie, up and coming music, but also to big commercial songs that are working on a massive level too, just to balance your tastes out.
As a collaborator, you will win in scenarios where there is a clear direction or target. You can be a great chameleon and work in many different contexts and scenarios.
Tastemakers often go on to become A&R executives at labels because of their uncanny ability to have good taste, that lots of people connect and relate to.
Enneagram types 2, 6, 7, and 9 often consider themselves tastemakers.
So, who are you? Which one of these 5 do you most identify with?
One trick, if you don’t know yet is to poll a few of your songwriting friends and ask them which one of these they think you are.
As you continue to write songs with other, you’ll figure out which you are. Ultimately, this can be of great insight to a music publisher or A&R rep when they are deciding how to set up a co-write that will be a win for everyone involved.
For me, I identify most with the Bouncer. There are days I can show up as the editor when needed, but I love being in rooms where I can generate lots of ideas and see which ones stick and which ones don’t! I don’t get offended easily if people don’t love all of my ideas. I embrace the “Dare to suck” mentality. I love writing songs 100% on my own, but thrive in co-writing rooms with other writers and artists.
Comment below with which one you think you are!
This was so on target. I feel I could ID with 3 of 5 of these but probably need to cowrite more to really know. Enjoyed this Mucho!
Very interesting! I could not pick one for myself. I would have to say I see a little of each in myself. I am a strong personality but I also work well with others and am not easily offended. I can edit or write on my own if need be; or not. I prefer to work with others most of the time.
This was great! I think I’m a combination of the thinker, editor and tastemaker. I’ll have to ask co-writer’s input.
I guess the driver but I’m learning to listen to others
Very insightful! I’m pretty sure I relate to a Thinker
Thank you for this, it was tremendously insightful in helping me grow as a songwriter. I learned I’m 70% The Bouncer, with 10% Driver, Editor, and Tastemaker thrown in. This will help me correct negatives I might bring to cowriting.