A 20 year veteran record executive from Warner Chappell Music once said that the formula to writing hit songs was 200 words in four minutes. It doesn’t sound that hard, but how is it that even when knowing the ‘formula’, only few reach the point of song writing dominance?
There are numerous song writers all over the world churning out songs at a rate akin to battery hens in a factory and yet, only few break through and are released into the free-range freedom that is the mainstream market. Those who breakthrough could just have been born with the gift or perhaps they just reached the 10,000 hour mark of their craft earlier than others – Sia is one artist who springs to mind.
The phenomenon could also be a Tin Pan Alley, Brill Building – or more recently perhaps Stock, Aitken and Waterman – breeding ground type effect, where immersion in the right place at the right time with certain members of the creative collective enables some to gain the edge.
From another era think Bacharach and David, Gerry Goffin and Carol King, James Taylor, Barry White, Isaac Hayes and many others who started as song writers and subsequently became artists in their own right.
The song writers who have gained more than that ‘edge’, have arguably shaped the history of music. As soon as one writer did something slightly different – think Lennon and McCartney, Brian Wilson, Eminem or Adele – a whole host of others went clucking after them. Bruno Mars and the aforementioned Sia are two very high profile modern artists who became respected song writers and wrote for other artists, namely Rihanna, Adam Levine and Flo Rida, before they experienced success as solo performers.
These songwriters are the reason the record labels had a department called A&R or ‘artist and repertoire’, because the labels already had people there ready to create and/or develop new artists. The songwriters are arguably the ones who really are making the music. Without the song, what do we have?
But then, the process is very symbiotic - without the artist, where is the song writer’s voice? The role of the songwriter is essential to the music industry but it poses the question – what came first, the chicken or the egg?
Author: G. McDonald for Jamhouse Creative
© Jamhouse 2014