The Beat Lives On: Songwriters deserve more credit

Alright, here’s the deal. Songwriters deserve more credit. 

The craft of songwriting is much like writing a beautiful poem but with words woven together by melodies and euphonic vocals, sounds of percussion and instruments as the backdrop. As a songwriter, you envision what you want your song’s message to be, line by line, what words you want to rhyme and how they’ll all flow together in harmony. It’s often the most challenging part of creating the song — deciding how vulnerable you want to be with the lyrics and how much of the story you want to tell or withhold from the listener. 

Songwriting is a method of storytelling. A songwriter can send the listener into another world — just like directors do with their films, authors do with their novels and singers do with their voices. 

But the decline of the solo singer-songwriter is on the rise as each year; more of pop music’s greatest hits are written by someone other than the voice singing it or rather a team of writers. The most recent song to hit No. 1 written by one songwriter was Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect” in 2017.

However, another way of looking at the decline of the solo singer-songwriter in present-day music is by examining the collaborative nature of music and the creative process. Sometimes the producer has a suggestion for the artist — change a word here, flip the phrase there, say it like this instead of this — but does the collaboration of people writing the lyrics behind a song make the artist singing it suddenly ingenuine? 

I wouldn’t say so. With the steady increase in the collaborative approach to songwriting and, at the same time, the growing demand for artists to always be releasing something new, the role of collaboration can sometimes be beneficial — at least when the artists’ voice and vision are also being considered. 

Rarely is music today written solely by one person. Record labels and management teams bring together writers and artists to get ideas flowing for music in a smaller window of time. As a result, collaboration has seen steady growth in the last decade. 

However, some prominent figures in the music industry worry that the declining trend of the solo songwriter will dilute the vision the artist has for themselves and their music. 

Look at the songwriting credits on any of today’s biggest hits — there are multiple writers attached to them. Fans adore authenticity, but can an artist still be authentic when they collaborate with multiple songwriters? I think there’s a way to collaborate without the artist’s distinctiveness being drowned out. 

Let’s take Ariana Grande’s latest single “Positions,” which came out Oct. 23, for example. Hop on Spotify or do a quick Google search, and you’ll quickly discover that there are eight writers attached to this song — Grande, Angelina Barrett,  Brian Vincent Bates, James Jarvis, London Tyler Holmes, Nija Chaeles, Steven Franks and Tommy Brown. Big surprise? 

Like Grande, many pop singers collaborate with multiple songwriters, but their identity as an artist isn’t always lost by doing so. Yes, there may be influence on the product of the song once it’s completed, but songs with multiple collaborators likely won’t ignore the artist’s stylistic choices and what they are trying to achieve in their music. 

If a song does, however, change the image of the artist, it’s typically on purpose — as we see with artists such as David Bowie, Prince and Lady Gaga — who embrace being a chameleon of their craft and morphing genres and styles with each of their albums or “eras.”

Before 2000, the majority of hit songs were written by a solo songwriter. As examples, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, Prince and Stevie Wonder all single-handedly wrote some of their No. 1 hit songs.

Although I appreciate knowing that the artist I’m listening to wrote their own lyrics, I don’t suddenly dismiss all of the music that has been made behind the scenes by songwriters. 

It’s important to understand that behind the artist delivering the message, there’s someone who created it, and though that someone may not always be the singer, their artistry is just as important. For some songwriters, it’s a huge compliment to have an artist sing the song they wrote. It can also be an honor that the song gets heard by a larger audience due to the singer’s caliber, notoriety and fanbase.

But does it then decline the artist’s authenticity if they didn’t write the song their listeners are praising them for creating? Should we no longer respect them as an artist if they’re singing someone else’s story?

While I don’t think it declines the authenticity behind the messages the singer is trying to relay to listeners, I do believe the writers behind their hit songs should be given more respect and acknowledgment for their work. 

I don’t think we should look down on artists who don’t write their own songs, but giving recognition to the writers who do write them would be a wonderful thing.

Often, when I connect with an artist’s music it’s because I hear something in it that lyrically resonates with me. I think the role of songwriters within the music industry should be recognized not only by the artists themselves, but also by the listeners.

Hardly any popular artists today write their music solely on their own. But all of this isn’t meant to dismiss the plenty of artists who do solely write their own music, all I’m saying is that secret songwriters who do some of the background writing behind popular hits shouldn’t remain such a secret.
Emily Sagen is a senior writing about music’s lasting impact. She is also an arts & entertainment editor at the Daily Trojan. Her column, “The Beat Lives On,” runs every other Friday.