You’re eating lunch on a Saturday afternoon and your friend just trash-talked an artist because they found out he/she doesn’t really song-write. On the contrary, maybe they had just finished bad-mouthing another artist for a song they had written his/herself. So what’s the big deal? Every music artist or group has a mission. Some want to spew their own feelings, while others want to channel emotions their listeners have. That being said, a lot of people have something to say about whether or not an artist writes their own songs. It begs us to ask the question, “Are artists who don’t write their own songs less valid than those who do?” (Don’t worry – we’ve given you room to argue in the comments – but let’s get the ball rolling first).
“But it’s subjective!”
There are a lot of factors that go into this thought process with musicians. While some artists may not shine as a songwriter, maybe they have a well-controlled or unique voice. Others can do insane dance routines. Some are just really great at the instruments they play. For example, Beyoncé isn’t often the sole writer of the songs she’s recorded, but she’s praised internationally as one of the world’s greatest performers. Elvis Presley wasn’t a songwriter, but Rolling Stone has listed him as No. 3 on their list of the Greatest Artists of All Time. And yes, it’s quite possible there are plenty of people who also just don’t vibe with Beyoncé or Elvis Presley’s music at all.
The Un“sung” Heroes
There are a lot of people in the music industry who have built an entire career around songwriting. While they have a great way with words, and some with arrangements and production, they may not have the best voice. On the other hand, we just said someone may have a fantastic voice, but maybe they’re not great at songwriting. If both of these aspects of a song are strong, it often doesn’t make a difference to the ear of the listener how many people were involved – it simply can make a project more impactful than if both people worked on their own. Based on some of the top-ranked picks we’ve seen in FanLabel, audiences still stream songs even if the singer hasn’t written it.
It’s important to note that music is a really collaborative industry. According to MusicWeek, “even artists that people think write all their own songs – such as Adele or Ed Sheeran – routinely write with at least one other person.” They also looked at recent top 100 hits and found that to get into the top 30, about 4.67 collaborators are hired. Though they’re often behind the scenes, many songwriters have given the world a long list of classics. Without Songwriter Max Martin, we wouldn’t have pop hits like “California Gurls,” “…Baby One More Time,” “Can’t Stop The Feeling!,” “No Tears Left To Cry,” “Shake it Off,” and many (many) more.
NBC’s new show, “Songland” aims to give up-and-coming writers a platform to get their songs out to the world. In this first-of-its-kind reality show, four up-and-coming songwriters pitch their song ideas to three industry professionals (including our friend from SMACKSongs, Shane McAnally) along with a guest artist. The top three participants each work with one of the professionals to polish up their song and perform the complete version for the guest musician. The musician then selects the song they want to record and releases it as a single.
With a show like this, people will be getting a glimpse behind the scenes, and maybe giving a lot more credit to those behind the chart-toppers we know and love. While this is a condensed version of the full song-writing process, it at least gives viewers who are unfamiliar with it a better idea of how things work.
“But What About…”
OK, so here’s the part you may be waiting for. We have artists with a wide range of talents like Lady Gaga and Freddie Mercury, both of whom have written many of their own songs, can shred a piano, and belt a tune. A multi-talented artist can have a crazy impact, delivering a song’s emotion straight from the heart it was written by. Does this mean that they’re more valid than other acts? It definitely means they have a wider range of musical talent and may come off as being more authentic to some people. All in all, it really comes down to the artist and their following. Some listeners may be blown away by a voice alone, and others simply may have more respect for singer-songwriters. I mean, technically anyone can write and perform a song on their own, but does that mean that they’re objectively better than Beyoncé because they wrote their own song?
Phew! We know – it’s a lot to think about, but what are your thoughts on the topic? Are there different rules for pop vs. rap? (OK, now’s when you can argue in the comments).
P.S. See if you can guess which of the following songs had lyrics written by the actual singer!
- “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” – Marvin Gaye
- “Like A Prayer” – Madonna
- “Jump” – Kriss Kross
- “Perfume” – Britney Spears
- “I Do Not Hook Up” – Kelly Clarkson
- “Feeling Good” – Nina Simone
- “Wolves” – Selena Gomez & Marshmello
- “Bennie & The Jets” – Elton John