Songwriters deserve credit from listeners and music world

For every great artist, there’s often a greater songwriter at work behind the scenes.

That’s because a significant amount of artists, many of them mainstream, show up to sing their songs and build their brands but do not compose the material.

In the rap and rock worlds, not writing one’s own material is more unusual. Artists in these genres pride themselves on their creativity, which is why many of them take a two-year break on average in between record releases.

Rapper Eminem, for example, writes all of his own lyrics and contributes to beats for his songs. Meanwhile, rock band U2 has always written its own lyrics, in addition to composing all of its musical arrangements.

When it comes to rap and rock, people seem to value genuine creativity and emotion, which is why it is important for these artists to write their own material.

Of course, there will always be exceptions to the rule.

The Strokes is just one band that has a hired writer — JP Bowersock. Since he is acknowledged in their record sleeves, Bowersock is what the industry calls a professional songwriter. Still, other artists employ “ghostwriters” instead.

A ghostwriter is essentially the same as a professional writer, except the ghostwriter is paid a premium price to never receive any credit for the work he does. For the most part, labels hire ghostwriters to try to drive sales for smaller artists that the label thinks have the potential to make it big.

Labels do not want to advertise that a band receives assistance because it might tarnish a group’s “hard-working” image. At the same time, labels want to help a band hit its stride and be more radio-friendly, which is why hiring an experienced, hit-making ghostwriter is such an appealing option.

The world of mainstream music, however, is where hired songwriters are most prevalent, as no listeners really seem to have a problem with it.

Rihanna is a wildly successful pop superstar whose singles consistently find their way to the top of the charts. From her debut hit “Pon de Replay” to recent chart toppers such as “We Found Love,” she has managed to establish herself as both a household name and Grammy-winner along the way.

But she has not written any of her songs — not a single one in her entire catalogue.

Rihanna and her record label, Def Jam, have employed a vast amount of professional writers to aid the singer in her quest for stardom.

Sure, she supplies the voice, but her writing team — which includes Jay-Z, Dr. Luke and Makeba Riddick — is the creative force that actually gives her something to sing about.

But Rihanna is the only one who gets the fame and recognition. The writers merely sit back and figure out how to keep her in the limelight with the next song.

It’s just like with Hollywood: Writers and producers sit back and brainstorm on projects while actors sit in the spotlight waiting for the next interesting idea to come along. A movie is nothing without a good plot or script, much like a song is nothing without a good arrangement or melody. Yet time after time, movie studios market actors more than they market actual plots and creative teams, just as record labels market individual artists rather than their writers.

Thanks to branding, artists can be both adored or detested for how they’re marketed. Some enjoy the brand, and others do not. And because of branding, many artists have to play it safe and stay true to their genre. It is rare, although not unheard of, for artists to abandon one scheme for another.

So far, only a few artists have been daring enough to do so. When it does happen, it polarizes fan bases. Just ask Linkin Park, who dropped its nu-metal sound in favor of a mashup of arena- and pop-rock that alienated many old fans while also managing to draw in thousands of new ones.

Because of these risks, some artists turn to writing songs for other musicians if they want to experiment and flex their creative muscles. Jay-Z has interests outside of rap, which is why he writes for Rihanna. Similarly, Katy Perry showed her country twang when she penned “Bullet” for singer Jessie James in 2009.

The bottom line is that the music industry is a place where many things tend to happen behind the scenes.

So the next time Rihanna’s “We Found Love” plays on a radio station, remember: It probably wasn’t her who found love in a hopeless place.


Nick Mindicino is a sophomore majoring in print and digital journalism. His column “Industry Ballads” runs Fridays. 

15 replies
  1. Melissa
    Melissa says:

    As a fan of The Strokes, I don’t see anything wrong with the writer’s statement. He never said that they didn’t write their own songs. Just look at the differences in how he described Rihanna (who doesn’t write anything) and The Strokes (who have a songwriter). Obviously, Julian is the main songwriter for the band, but JP as we all know plays a crucial part in the composition phase. So, the writer probably just classifies him as a songwriter, and I would agree because he does help them write the music after all. And everyone seems to be getting upset over two sentences! He probably just didn’t have enough space to fully explain the situation with The Strokes. There’s no need to assume the worst, guys. After all there wasn’t a single bad thing said about the band.

    • ricardo
      ricardo says:

      The Strokes is just one band that has a hired writer — JP Bowersock.

      ‘hired’ – wrong
      ‘writer’ – wrong

  2. ricardo
    ricardo says:

    Dude, I stopped reading this little essay you wrote for school when you got to The Strokes’ part. I mean, you’ve clearly pissed off some Strokes’s fans, indeed. but that’s not all that’s bothered me.

    You’re trying to be a journalist, right? There’s quite a few point’s there: telling the truth, manipulating it, you know; but telling it wrong by MISTAKE or, even, MISINFORMATION.

    You do have a point on your column, but you’ve failed to write it, man.

    With that said, I didn’t feel like coming here just to say bad stuff about you, just to give you some constructive criticism.

    Oh, and Val…. “There’s a humility and grace that comes across in your thoughts,”?!?! Come on! Lack of humility is what got this guy to screw up the article in the first place, by assuming some thought he had was the absolute truth, instead of going out to see if it was actually true!

  3. chris
    chris says:

    Nick The Strokes are not a good example for this story, even though it is interesting. Read the credits on their albums and learn about Casablancas and co (who is actually a very well respected songwriter) before the sweeping accusations, which are actually at least 10 years old. JP does deserve credit but where its due.

  4. Mitchell
    Mitchell says:

    Hmmm. JP Bowersock is very much respected by Strokes fans but he is not the hired writer for the band. Bowersock was not listed as the writer of any of the Strokes songs in their CDs, nor on discog and ASCAP. He was listed in the credits as the ‘guru’ because he mentored several members of the Strokes in guitar. He also helped them fine tune their musical techniques and gave advice for their album recordings, and toured with Jules during his solo phase. If you’ve done some research, say some simple googling, you may realised that quite a few of their songs from the first two albums had early demo versions that had different arrangements and even different riffs from the recorded version. The songs gradually evolved as the band work out the kinks. This was how the band wrote their songs, though Julian did have most of the writing credits for the first three albums (he writes the best hooks in the band imo, but I digress), he also wrote most of the lyrics for all four albums. An example of how the band worked shows in Games (Angles, 2011), the main riff was taken from an unrecorded song of theirs in 2000, prior to their UK EP, when they were still playing in smaller venues.

    Pardon my language I’m not exactly a native English speaker. I can’t believe I wrote so much but yeah, I was quite surprised by this assertion. As a result of this erroneous statement, I’m doubting the authenticity of the facts in rest of the article too, even though this topic is something I’m rather interested in.

  5. bob
    bob says:

    I suggest you read more about The Strokes. The story about them having someone to write for them is almost 11 years old but everyone knows it was a rumour spread because of Julian’s father’s status. For the rest I agree but please, this is a disgrace to the strokes

  6. Gimli
    Gimli says:

    do your homework next time…julian wrote everything on the first 3 albums…why do you think angles was barely average?

  7. Mitchell
    Mitchell says:

    Erh, did you get a pirated copy of their albums? Please do proper research before writing about The Strokes. (Try for songwriting credits) Even though Bowersock is much respected by the fans, the songs are written by The Strokes. JP Bowersock is credited as their overall ‘guru’, because he mentored some of them in guitar and gave them advice on musical techniques during their recording. He went on to support Casablancas for his solo album tour, when the rest of the band was recording ‘Angles’. Some of the songs in the first 2 albums in particular, came from demo songs that were different from the final recorded version. They even incorporated a riff from one of their unrecorded jamming songs they used to perform briefly in 2000 in their 2011 album. If Bowersock is their hired writer, that would be pretty strange indeed.

  8. Eric
    Eric says:

    Val and Nick sitting in a tree. K I S S I N G.

    First comes a column, then comes a compliment, then comes…well I don’t know. What I do know, however, is Julian Casablancas wrote all the lyrics and music for The Strokes’ first and second records. JP Bowersock, if anything, was an editor Julian could bounce ideas off of. He was Julian’s music teacher when he was growing up; not a hired writer.

  9. Jenny Santana
    Jenny Santana says:

    Ive been a strokes fan since the day they were brought to recognition in the US, til today, and I have never read such a false statement made about the band as this one. Julian Casablancas, along with the others, are all credited to writing their own song lyrics. I believe that all their album booklets include the credits to lyrics, which is entitled to The Strokes…and sometimes, in interviews, you can find out which members of the band contributed their ideas to a specific song. Like Lynn (above) said, JP is their music guru. He most likely gives them pointers on improvement and helps them make the music worthy for listeners to enjoy.

  10. Lynn Wiberg
    Lynn Wiberg says:

    JP Bowersock is not credited as having written any of the Strokes material. This is false. All words AND music by Julian Casablancas on the album where Bowersock is listed as guru.

  11. Val
    Val says:

    Nick – I rarely ever feel inclined to comment on columns. However, I really agree with you. I’m a music lover, like many, but I always want to know if the artist singing the song is the writer. If I find out they’re not, I associate the songwriter as the “artist” and the singer or band as simply the “performer/s”. Also, this piece is beautifully written. You have an eloquent, intelligent, and thoughtful of conveying your message to people. The fact you say the truth without it coming across as opinionated and rude is a lost art in writing, anymore. I like how you highlighted the positive aspect of the “rap/hip-hop” genre, too. Moreover, it was informative. You taught me something about how the industry works. There’s definitely more credibility when there’s informative information provided educating the reader so they understand what brings you to say what you have to say. This whole approach makes me as the reader respect you as the writer, which makes me want to read more of what you have to say. There’s a humility and grace that comes across in your thoughts, versus slamming an opinion in one’s face; that humility is a lesson I wish many writer’s would take. Nice work.

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