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Anyone Still Writing Songs the “Old Fashioned Way?”

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I came across an article in my Twitter feed this morning, though it’s been out there for a couple of weeks, and you may have seen this already. “Songwriting: Why it takes more than two to make a hit nowadays” discusses why today’s hits seem to have such a long songwriter credit list, while a couple of generations ago, songs typically had one, possibly two, credited songwriters.

As they imply in the article, I don’t think the method of writing has really changed all that much, it’s more an issue of who is getting the credit. In the 60s, a band member might suggest a small modification to something in a song, but that didn’t necessarily mean that they got credit for that. Today, though, as the author of the article, Mark Sutherland, says, “even just ‘being in the room’ when the magic happens can get you on the list.”

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This is only my opinion, and I fully understand that others do not hold the same view, that just because someone’s suggestion for a changed word is accepted in the final version should not necessarily mean that they receive a songwriting credit.

I think the reason for inflated credit lists is a preemptive attempt to avoid any future legal proceeding from someone who might feel that they deserve some credit. And also, I fully admit that the whole area of songwriting credit can be a murky one. At what point should one get credit? If they suggested changing the word “the” to “that”, I say no. But changing an entire line… we’re getting into something a bit more substantial.

Group Songwriting

Some bands, like “Genesis,” always had a policy of crediting everyone in the group as songwriters. That avoided any kind of “who actually wrote this” question, but it also acknowledged their approach to songwriting. Someone would bring an idea to the rehearsal, and everyone would contribute to its final version. How much each individual musician contributed was an issue they chose not to deal with. Today’s songwriting method, at least the one that produces many hit songs, isn’t much different: several musicians in the room, all contributing to varying degrees on what the song will eventually be.

But the article begs the question: is the traditional view of a songwriter as someone sitting on the edge of their bed with a guitar on their lap just not valid anymore? Is anyone still writing songs like that?

Well, they may not be on their bed — they may be sitting somewhere with an iPad or iPhone, singing ideas to themselves and making digital notes about songwriting ideas, but I think the notion of one person with a vision is definitely still one that works. The specifics of the process may be different, but songwriting as a sole person’s creative outlet is as alive as it ever was.

As a songwriter, I think it’s important to not obsess over how hit songs are being produced in a studio. A song that the contributors hope will be a hit on the Billboard Hot 100 are being written to adhere to the latest formula to achieve that goal. Chords, melodic shape, tempo, beat, sound, and choice of words in the lyric… there is little that’s truly original, and much that’s written to conform to what will please an audience immediately.

So if you’re still working out your songs on the edge of your bed, or with your iPad in hand, don’t stop what you’re doing. Songwriting that’s one person with a vision is still alive and kicking.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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