Complementary Skills. In a good collaboration each person should bring to the table skills that complement each other. In the Elton John-Bernie Taupin duo, Bernie wrote lyrics and Elton wrote music to them. This works great but there are not always clean-cut job descriptions such as these. Lennon and McCartney were both equally talented in words and music. So, their collaboration would be entirely different. The one thing that does not work is if you have 2 people in the room who are strong just lyrics or just music. No one can say which co-writer will be right for you, so it requires some trial and error.
Open Respectful Communication. In order for creativity to flourish each writing must feel safe to express his/her ideas without fear of judgement. Respect your co-writer enough to listen to their ideas, if you don’t respect where they are coming from the collaboration will never work. And vice-versa, your co-writer must be respectful of you. Many times, to get to good stuff in a song, we must throw out silly or stupid ideas and clear them out of the way. Find a co-writer you can be stupid with and good things will happen!
Professionalism. Always look for someone who is a real pro. They show up on time, ready to work, and brings good ideas to the table; whether it’s a guitar riff or a title, they should be prepared.
Chemistry. Chemistry helps in any relationship but is not necessary to a great collaboration. I have written some pretty big songs with both people I clicked with on a personal level and people that I probably would never hang out and drink a beer with. But we both were respectful, professional, and shared a love of good music. So, don’t discount a possible collaboration just because you don’t feel a strong personal connection is there, you may lose out on some really great songs.
I once heard a Hall of Fame songwriter say that finding that perfect co-writer is like kissing a lot of frogs to find your prince! So, keep trying new situations, stay open and you will find that perfect co-writer!