Songwriting group etiquette, ground rules & ethos

For group meetings, it is good to agree some ground rules so that songwriters can feel confident to experiment, and share ideas, questions and their material in meetings. It is also useful to have values that can inspire our songwriting and our work together. Here are 15 principles to bear in mind:

  1. Maintain group confidentiality.

What we share about ourselves and work, and what we learn about each other stays in the room, and is not discussed with people who did not come to the meeting.

  1. Cultivate an open mind.

Be open to learning from everyone – from those less experienced and knowledgeable, as well those who are more more advanced. Teaching someone else, or helping them, will improve our own knowledge and skill, and help make the other person’s world a little bit better.

  1. Treat learning as a lifelong pursuit.

Commit to constant development of our skills and knowledge, learning from and with others, and learning from our own setbacks (and successes!) There’s alwaysmore to learn.

  1. Learn what has worked for other songwriters, even though there are no rules of songwriting.

There are no foolproof recipes or rules for songwriting. There are lots of techniques and elements of craft knowledge that can make us better writers – releasing creativity and raising the quality of our work. It’s good to learn to use these tools, and to have a very good reason if we choose not to. It’s great to break new ground in our writing, and also to learn what wisdom there is in tried and tested methods.

  1. Learn through mistakes, and through all

There’s no such thing as a mistake in this group – only new data and more information. And there’s also no such thing as a stupid question – only an idea that needs more unpacking and explanation.

  1. Listen to all advice, even if it is not specifically directed to us.

When the focus is on another participant, their questions or their songwriting material, pay close attention. We can treat it as a personal teaching for us, and reflect on how we can use the ideas emerging, even if we think that, for us, this is familiar territory.

  1. Respect all songwriters, even if we don’t always agree with them or like their work.

We don’t need to agree with each other. We do need to be respectful towards each other at all times. It is an effective principle to aim to make sure that nobody loses face.

  1. Comment on the song, not our fellow songwriter.

When discussing a participant’s songwriting material, talk about the material, not the person.

  1. Respect listeners.

We don’t have to agree with what listeners say about our music or lyrics, and we don’t have to please those who hear our songs (taste is personal, after all), but, pragmatically, we have to look closely at our songs if people don’t want to listen to them a second time. Songwriting is also about communicating, and making a connection with listeners!

  1. Reach for excellence.

True craftsmanship means committing to shaping every aspect of a song to the highest possible quality, which often means many re-writes, and developing a song over sometimes a very long time

  1. Write for the sake of writing.

We write because it is meaningful to do so, whether or not our songs become commercially successful or popular. There has to be an artistic, expressive, communicative purpose beyond fame or profit.

  1. Be authentic.

Avoid writing in platitudes or generalisations. Say something ‘true’ in a song (emotionally, psychologically). Find your own voice (musically and lyrically).

  1. Don’t take song critiques personally.

When your material is being discussed in the group, don’t take it personally. The conversation is not about you. It is about your material and ideas. Actually, it’s not even about that. It’s about what’s going on in your listeners’ and readers’ minds, so it tells you mostly about them. We don’t have to agree or take someone else’s advice – but we might learn something useful by ‘eavesdropping’ on the conversation stimulated by the group’s study of our work.

  1. Refer any group ‘issues’ to the convenor or facilitator of the group first, outside session time.

If you have concerns about the group for any reason, please make every effort to take this up with convenor or facilitator, between sessions, rather than raising it publicly during sessions.

  1. Aim to address personal issues with group members directly first, outside session time.

If you have concerns about a specific member, try first to talk with them between meetings. If the concern is not resolved between you by doing this, please talk to the convenor or facilitator about it.