What's the deal with songwriting?
June 19, 2011 5:14 PM   Subscribe

What does it mean to be a songwriter?

I'm guessing there's a range of creation. On one end, the songwriter is more of a poet, simply writing lyrics on a page. Moving down the spectrum, the songwriter attaches a melody to the lyrics, and then the specific song structure--chorus, solos, bridges, etc. And at the other end are the songwriters who want to sing or in someway perform their songs themselves. Are there more of the latter, former, or middle type?

Is the songwriting world analogous to the screenwriting world, in which some people just want to sit with ass in chair and *write*, whereas some people want to write and direct? Surely some mefites are professional songwriters or singers; some of you must know how the business works.
posted by zardoz to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Not a musician or in the music business, but I can get you started:

"Songwriter" means you can write both lyrics and music. There are examples of partnerships where one writes the music and the other the lyrics (ie Elton John/Bernie Taupin), but it's not that common as far as I know. Someone who only writes lyrics would be a "lyricist" moreso than a "songwriter."

It really tends to break down by genre: pop music tends to be written by professional writers behind the scenes. People like Britney Spears don't usually write their own songs, and if they do, they get accused of having a ghostwriter, as Avril Lavigne has. Many of the people writing songs for others are ex-performers- a notable example is Linda Perry, formerly of Four Non Blondes.

The Nashville kind of country music also has a strong tradition of people writing songs and giving them to others to perform.

However, a rock band would usually be looked at askance if someone else was writing their songs. Aerosmith got a bit of mockery for recording a song by Diane Warren, who usually writes for Celine Dion and that type of person. Bands often come to an arrangement re: crediting that may not exactly reflect reality: for example most Beatles songs are credited to "Lennon/McCartney" event though usually one or other was the sole writer of any particular song. (Whoever sang it usually wrote it, in the case of The Beatles.)

As a final complication, the person who writes the songs often makes quite a bit more money, so sometimes the writing credit is given away in kind of a scammy arrangement. This is the case with Elvis Presley, who is credited with several songs despite there being no evidence of him ever having written anything.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:25 PM on June 19, 2011

Well, there is the craft of songwriting, and there is the profession of songwriting....there are people who work for companies who write songs for a living. Then there are people like me who write because we like to write and want to share what we do with others. Then there are singer-songwriters....this is kinda a broad question. Can you narrow it down?
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:27 PM on June 19, 2011

BTW many artists have a songwriting credit because it was a condition of them picking the song to do it. They might actually change a word or two, or maybe not....I think it is scummy but it happens and not infrequently.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:28 PM on June 19, 2011

There are no hard and fast rules, but the spectrum does seem to break down by genre.

First, the Tin Pan Alley business model is still alive and well in Country, R&B, and Pop. Singers rarely write their own material.

Folk, blues, and jazz tend to consist of a lot of covers and interpretations, where being faithful to the original is not a priority.

Most rock tends to be written by members of the band, either separately or together, sometimes in collaboration with the record producer, but there's nothing taboo about throwing in the odd cover or occasionally collaborating with outsiders.

Hip-hop has always had the MC and the DJ create their respective parts separately. It's an unspoken rule that a rapper must write his own rhymes. Covers are exceedingly rare.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:55 PM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

A songwriter comes up with strong melodies. Strong melodies are very hard to create.
The only way that you can create strong melodies is to try very hard to create them.
And then there is lyrics....
posted by ovvl at 8:21 PM on June 19, 2011

These days 'producers' write just as many songs as song writers do.

Red One (Lady Gaga), Dr Luke (Katy Perry), Stargate (Rihanna), etc --- since the music is basically made on a computer, and the producer is the only guy sitting in front of it and the only one that knows what it's capable of, they're writing most of the pop music you hear on the radio these days. (though they probably are not writing the lyrics).
posted by empath at 5:49 AM on June 20, 2011

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