As the music world becomes more singles-driven, bands that once wrote their own music are now enlisting experienced outside co-writers to craft a radio hit. "American Idol" judge and songwriting powerhouse Kara DioGuardi is credited on more than 100 albums and has either written or co-written hits for Paula Abdul, Kelly Clarkson, Christina Aguilera, Cobra Starship and many more. Here, DioGuardi offers advice on why and how to hire a songwriter, and what it takes to make a collaboration a success.
1. Appreciate what a pro brings to the process
You need to understand that a skilled professional songwriter can accelerate your success as an already talented musician. These people are writing every single day, so their craft is really sharp, and it's the best songwriters who consistently get on the radio. There's a lot of craft that goes into achieving a hit song-at the beginning of your career, you're usually more inspiration than craft, and you get great when those intersect. A skilled songwriter can get you to that intersection.
2. Choose a Writer the Way You Choose Your Records
If you love a record and something moves you, look at who wrote it. If you love it on that record, maybe it's something you want to explore for yourself-in some different version-and that person is a good resource for it. If you're in a rut, maybe you need to do something shocking to get out of it. Co-writing should be a great game of tennis. You want to be in the room with people who are better than you, always, so you learn. This may lead to unlikely collaborations, which can be the best. When I worked with Cobra Starship, they were a cool indie band and I was like a cheesy pop songwriter. In the beginning, [frontman Gabe Saporta] couldn't get his head around it. And he was almost making fun of me, and I was like, "OK, man. Yeah, you want to bring it on? Check this out." And we wrote "Good Girls Go Bad" [which reached No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100].
3. Come Prepared
Working with a songwriter takes you outside of your safety zone. But they may approach songwriting in a different way than you do, and it may open you up. I always tell the people I'm working with to come with a title, come with an idea, come with an experience-and I don't mean a contrived title or a contrived experience. I mean something that's affected you, something that you want to write about, something that's universal that I can also relate to-like love lost or being in love or a friend hurting you, things that we can bond over. Because the best songs come from a place of truth. Come with something to say-if you're an artist, you should always have something to say. If you're relying on your co-writer to do that for you, then you're going to run into problems, because it's never going to fit properly.
4. Be open and honest
While working with a songwriter, allow the creative process to evolve. Being snobby or pretentious is the antithesis of creativity. You're in the room with somebody. Make the best of it. You're both human beings. You've both been through things. Try and develop a bond based on that. Be open, be honest. The more you come willing to give, the more you'll get out of it. Be vulnerable and generous. If at the end of the day the song has become more concrete, and you don't feel it fits you, then that's fine. But you never know. Some of the best songs that artists perform year after year are ones they hated.
5. Recognize Warning Signs
Here's how you know that a collaboration isn't working or needs to be re-evaluated: when you're bored, when you're not feeling it, when you start to go on your computer instead of being in the song. A great song should make you stop everything that you're doing. You should be so into it that you just can't imagine doing anything else for that moment. You wouldn't even dream of picking up the phone.
-Interview by Evie Nagy