Solo hit songwriters have become an endangered species or
Too many songwriters spoil the song
(Too many cooks spoil the broth) Article on Many Writers for One Song Forum thread about which singers use writer camps
Remember when there used to be numerous solo hit songwriters like
Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Carly Simon, Carole King, Stevie Wonder,
Billy Joel, Sting, Paul McCartney etc.?
And remember when there usually would be no more than 2 songwriters
on a hit single which would be written by such teams as Leiber and Stoller, Goffin and King, Bacharach and David, Lennon and McCartney and Jagger and Richards?
And the absolute most number of writers on a hit single would be 3,
such as the team of Holland, Dozier, and Holland who wrote the
majority of the Motown hits?
Well, you'd best remember all of them while you still can because the
solo hit songwriter species will soon be extinct.
The link at the top of this page is an article about how Music Week magazine
compared the top 100 singles of 2016 to the top 100 singles of a decade earler.
What they found was that in 2016 the average number of writers on a hit single
was 4.53 and a decade earlier it had only been 3.52. That is an enormous
increase of around 30% in only one year. And back in the 60s and 70s the average number of writers on a hit single was probably less than 2.
Also, in 2016 there were only 4 of the top 100 songs that had one writer, as compared to 14 songs with one writer a decade earlier. And i'm sure the number of songs with one writer, during any single year in the 60s and 70s, was probably 2 or maybe even 3 times as many.
The article goes on to talk a little about 'writer camps'. The second link is to a thread on a forum in which people speculate about which female singers have writer camps, and you can see, by reading that thread, that many music fans do not think very highly of those writer camps. It's a case of too many cooks spoil the broth.
However that article fails to mention a very important cause of why there is such
a significant increase in credited writers over the years: It is due to the fact that, in recent years, people who have not written a single note of melody and not a single word of the
lyric have been getting songwriter credits as a result of their contribution
to the musical arrangement. In other words, people who, in the past, would have
only been credited as a musician or a producer are now receiving
songwriting credits and, of course, songwriting royalties
This is particularly true in hip-hop with the person who creates only the beat
receiving a songwriter credit.
So why is this a bad trend? Well, first of all there is the old proverb: Too many cooks spoil the broth. The songwriter who first has that creative moment of comin up with a melody or lyric has had an artistic vision, and when other collaboraters
try to develop that vision they often degrade what the original songwriter felt
in the moment of the song's origin.
This is analagous to what happens when a film studio decides to improve a script by bringing in a series of screenwriters
until a screenplay has changed so much from the original first draft that it has lost
the essence of what had mad it so interesting in the first place.
This is also a bad trend for us songwriters. I don't know about you folks, but i find it lowers the value of what a songwriting credit represents when people who have
not written a single note of melody and not a single word of the lyric receive a
songwriting credit. Also, let's say that some singer decides to record a song
you wrote all by yourself and a producer or musician receives a songwriter
credit. That means you will get less than 100% of the songwriter's royalties.
This is also a bad trend because when there are many songwriters, writing
the songs on an album, instead of one or two, the album loses a sense of
For example, Burt Bacharach and Hal David would often write all the songs
on a Dionne Warwick album. This gave Dionne's albums a unified vision.
Nowadays with the numerous songwriters on a single album, you no longer
get that sense of a unified vision.
Somehow, that Barry Manilow song, I Write The Songs would just not mean
as much to people if the title had been We Write The Songs.
Similarly, would Killing Me Softly With His Song have meant as much to
people if it had been titled Killing Me Softly With Their Song?
Or would Elton and Bernie Taupin's Your Song had the same poignancy if
instead of the lyrics being 'My gift is my song and this one's for you', it
had instead been 'Our gift is our song and this one's for you'? The personal touch
is no longer communicated when you go from the one to the many.
Don't get me wrong, i am not putting down songwriting coolaboration
in general. The musical world was very much enriched by those songs
on the early Beatles albums that John and Paul co-wrote or the songs
written by Jagger and Richards or Bernie Taupin and Elton John or
Robert Hunter and The Grateful Dead.
I just think that this trend of having a greater number of songwriters writing each
song is just one more factor in the decline in The Gentle Arte of Songwriting
and Musicke that has occurred over the course of the last half century and
it devalues the significance of what a songwriter actually does.
And it is also a bad trend when a singer like Adele, who has collaborated on
most of the songs she has sung, is referrred to as a singer-songwrier.
For the final part of this message i want to focus on the singers, who have not
made any contributions to a song's melody or lyric who, nevertheless,
receive a songwriting credit.
I have read that this practice of a singer receiving a totally undeserved
songwriting credit dates back to the early 1900s. It has been well documented
that Elvis Presley received songwriting credits on many of the songs he sang,
despite his never having made any contributions to the songs' melodies
or lyrics. Basically, either Elvis or his manager would blackmail a songwriter
by saying something like 'Look, if you want to be the songwriter of an Elvis
song, you are going to have to give Elvis a songwriting credit and give up half of
your songwriting royalties.'
I have a feeling that this sort of thing was not done as much in the 60s and 70s
as a result of so many solo artists writing their own songs, and even bands
writing their own songs.
But it looks like this sleazy practice began to become pervasive again after
the end of the 90s when the music industry took a huge nose dive. Over the course of only a decade or so the American music business was only raking in around 1/3 of what it had previously taken in a decade before.
As a result of this, musical artists who had been making millions of dollars in
artist royalties a decade before were now not selling enough records for the record companies to make a profit, and so those artists who were only selling a million or so
albums were not getting a single penny in artist royalties.
However, with songwriter royalties, unlike artist royalties, you start receiving
those songwriting royalties even if you only sell a small number of albums.
So, that is why singers were starting to blackmail songwriters into giving up
half their royalties. The singers were motivated purely by financial greed.
But let us not entirely place the blame for this on the people who are getting
undeserved songwriting credits. It is just as much the fault of the
indiscriminating public which relentlessly buys poorly written songs as long
as those songs have a good singer and a good beat.
And the way things look don't expect the state of top 40 to get a whole
lot better, it's bound to get a whole lot worse.
On that cheerful note, i will take my leave.