Songwriting partnerships should not exclude the demonstration of healthy egos.
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Every once in a while, the notion of several musicians collaborating on the writing of one song becomes a noticeably public topic of conversation. An amusing graphic surfaced recently, comparing the number of collaborators involved in the creation of Beck’s Grammy award-winning album “Morning Phase” — 1 –, to the creation of Beyonce’s self-titled album — dozens.
The graphic was meant to support the simple and debatable notion that the fewer musicians involved in the making of music, the more deserving it is of any accolades it receives.
I tend to agree, though not necessarily all of the time.
I am a believer in good songwriting collaborations if those collaborators had a reason to hitch their horses to the same wagon. As a composer of music, if you find another writer who shares some of your own basic philosophies of why you write music in the first place, and can fill voids you have in your songwriting technique, you’ve got the makings of a powerfully effective collaboration.
But I find myself rolling my eyes at the scenario where 5 or 6 or more musicians, all sitting in a studio, attempt to hammer out a new tune for some high-profile singer to present to the world. I don’t like those kinds of collaborations, at least most of the time. And I dislike them mainly because the music usually lacks an initial vision, and the lack of vision comes from a skewed underlying philosophy behind music.
Any one songwriter’s philosophy is usually hard to define, but it’s something you sense. Bob Dylan, for example, may be quite interested in the money he makes from music, but you don’t get the sense that it’s the main underlying philosophy. He’s usually trying to get a message out there.
It’s too simplistic, I believe, to suggest that having 9 musicians getting a writing credit on a song (Beyoncé’s “Drunk in Love”) automatically means that it lacks vision. In fact, it may simply be the way a lot of music is being written today:
“We just kinda had a party. It was so great, because it wasn’t about any ego, we weren’t trying to make a hit record […] we were just having fun…and I think you can hear that in the record.”
And it’s also a reflection of how songwriting credits are doled out these days. It seems that anyone in the room while a song is being put together gets a writing credit. And to be truthful, it may be unfair to suggest that having 9 songwriters in the credits automatically means that the song lacks an initial vision, or isn’t supported by a sophisticated philosophy.
Having said that, I question whether the best music anyone can write will come from musicians who “…just kinda had a party.” I still believe that today’s best music is being written by one or two songwriters, who practice the art of songwriting, and who do so with a disciplined, positively critical mind.
And regarding Beyoncé’s statement that “…it wasn’t about any ego,” I actually want ego when I listen to music. I want to hear ego loud and clear, and so should you. Ego is only ever bad when it’s overbearing and loud for no good reason. A healthy ego does not arrogantly silence other voices in the room.
And maybe that’s the best part of healthy songwriting collaborations: two egos in a room, confident to acknowledge each other’s talents, and producing music that’s really worth listening to.
Whether you’re part of a songwriting team, or hammering out your tunes all by yourself, the question is: Does your music start with a vision (a message), and does the end product honour that initial vision?
That’s what good songwriting has always been. If you can get that with a team of 9 songwriters, more power to you.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter. “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics. (And you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)