April 13, 2014 | Nick Payne

Songs and co-writing

Great albums hang together. What takes an album from being a bunch of songs to a unified story?

Working out songs, order and friends to co-write with. #countrymusic #songwriting #americana

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Often the starting point for recording an album is sitting down and writing a list of all the songs you’ve got. Really great albums have an internal consistency to them - a story that unites all the songs together. But, how do you go from a list, to a story?

Very early on in this process I found myself trying to do just that. I had a list of songs and a big question mark saying, “what makes these songs similar”. Furthermore, I had a bunch of songs that I wanted to rock out on with a full band and a bunch of songs that echoed traditional folk influences and that wanted a traditional line up to play them. I wondered if it was even possible for these songs to be together or if I should choose between them and cast some aside.

Finding a theme

After writing a lot of lists an idea began to emerge. And the idea was this…

  • The album will have two halves (or sides if it ever gets pressed to vinyl).
  • Side A will be songs set in the present and played with a full band (drums, electric guitars, oh my!).
  • Side B will be songs set in the past and played with a tradition band (all acoustic).
  • Each song on a side will be paired with another song on the other side which will have the same topic.
  • Each side will follow the same order of topic.

It feels good having established a theme. It provides a rule to measure each song against - will this song build upon the theme or will it detract? If necessary I must discard a song that doesn’t fit and let it’s time be for later.


A significant challenge in putting together an album of twelve songs is to create variety within them. A really exciting way I am going to address this is by co-writing with some friends to fill out the remain songs I need. This allows some other influences to enter the work and to enhance it with something I couldn’t give it by myself.

A surprising advantage that has come out of working out the theme and an order early, is where I am short a song it is very clear what that song should be about and what mood it needs to have.

This gives me an incredible advantage going into a co-writing session to be able to say, “let’s write a song about blah in the mood of blah”.

Already I’ve finished a song about goodbyes with Katie Brianna and I’ve started a song of salvation with Megan Cooper. In the next week I’m hoping to start on a song about revenge with Karl Broadie and a song about death with Lachlan Bryan. That leaves a song about freedom to co-write with… suggestions please!

Road Testing and Demoing

In order to hone these new songs I’ll be road-testing them at Karl Broadie’s Bunker Songwriter Sessions on Tuesday nights at Coogee Diggers.

I’ll also be recording and videoing demos of some of these songs to help shape the arrangement and emotion of the songs. First cab of the rank is My Darling that Katie and I wrote a fortnight ago. Your feedback is appreciated!


Check out my co-writers

Katie Brianna –
Megan Cooper –
Karl Broadie – and also Inside Songwriting
Lachlan Bryan –

Also check out…

The Bunker Songwriter Sessions every Tuesday night from 7pm at Coogee Diggers here in Sydney.