A Songwriting Cycle and the Benefits of Cooperation

Edric Haleen, one of the participants in the first SpinTunes songwriting contest, decided to create a project to tide people over during the wait between SpinTunes 1 and SpinTunes 2. A number of participants from SpinTunes 1 and other past songwriting contests he’d done were invited to collaborate on A Songwriting Cycle, in which each participant created a challenge, and challenges were distributed randomly among all the participants. In this way, an album’s worth of songs would be created, with a complete cycle of challenges given and received among the songwriters. Non-competitive, just for fun.

After SpinTunes 1, I wrote here about both songwriter-generated challenges as well as the possibility of non-competitive songwriting collectives. So I was glad when Edric came up with this songwriting cycle idea!

I’m really pleased with how my song, Do It (Duet), came out. You can check out the song, lyrics and story behind it. And I really enjoyed participating, cooperatively, with all the other songwriters in this cycle.

Contests like SpinTunes are great. The tight timeframes, competition and eliminations can be energizing. We get the excitement of challenges, the camaraderie of being involved with a number of other artists up for playing the same game together, and the motivation of working on a deadline. In SpinTunes, apparently unlike some other such contests, writers were also encouraged to share songs with each other before deadline, to get feedback to improve the songs, as long as it was done discreetly enough to preserve the drama of the songs’ public debut.

In this songwriting cycle, all of the above were present as well, except for the competition and eliminations. The timeframe was still tight enough to be exciting, but was much looser than for typical challenge-based contests, giving us more time to get the work done as we wished. With competition gone, everyone could root each other on even more unreservedly than in a contest. With only one “round,” eliminations weren’t relevant, though in spirit, we actually had the opposite of eliminations. In a competition with eliminations, participants benefit from better chances of winning when others are eliminated by judges or by their own failure to meet a deadline. In the cycle, there was mutual interest in ensuring that everyone would come through, lest the circle end up incomplete. This added a completely novel, cooperative kind of energy to the deadline.

The cycle also offered some things that contests typically don’t or even can’t. We had the opportunity to create challenges ourselves. When it came to writing, there was no concern whatsoever over being scored or ranked much less eliminated. Everyone could write more purely for the sake of pleasure and creativity. There were no losers — not in an “it’s an honor just to be nominated” kind of way, but genuinely, no losers, only winners, win-win all around.

I’m really glad I participated in SpinTunes 1 and am only staying out of SpinTunes 2 because of time constraints. I’d hope to have the time for SpinTunes 3 when it rolls around. At the same time, I’m generally more and more drawn to cooperation and intrinsic rewards as opposed to competition and external rewards, not only for myself but also in terms of what seems to need to be promoted in the world. When a cooperative endeavor like this songwriting cycle can offer so much of what a contest offers plus so much more, I could see, at least for myself, generally preferring the cooperative approach — and seeking ways to engage in it on an ongoing basis.

If there were a monthly non-competitive songwriting endeavor, whether a cycle or otherwise, participants could end up with a dozen songs annually, the same as if participating in three four-round challenge-based contests a year, but with all the added benefits I just mentioned as well — plus the regularity of output as opposed to just a few intense peak periods during the year. An album’s worth of material (or more) would be produced across songwriters every month, and an album’s worth of material for each songwriter each year. I can easily envision a really great community (and website!) growing out of doing this sort of thing regularly. And those who had the time could do both contests and cooperative activities, absolutely no need to choose to do only one and not the other.

With my upcoming time constraints, I wouldn’t be able to do any challenge-based songwriting for probably the next few months anyway, though who knows, a single song monthly could be doable even when I have a lot of other things going on. Either way, I hope that this songwriting cycle may come back around. After all, the whole point of cycles is that they repeat, right? And maybe the door will be opened up for other cooperative collective songwriting efforts as well. How cool would that be? Very cool, I think. Food for thought, anyway.

3 comments for “A Songwriting Cycle and the Benefits of Cooperation

  1. October 3, 2010 at 9:42 pm

    Hi Mark! You hit multiple nails on the head in your post, thank you for saying many things so eloquently that were perhaps only buzzing in the back of my mind or a bit deeper under the surface. I too hope there are more of these, I definitely felt a sense of freedom and excitement that was different and enjoyable!

  2. October 4, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    Heather, thanks for reading, and so glad you feel that way!

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