Songwriting and Commerce
The Cognitive Arguement
I am listening to an interesting interview with music strategist Jay Frank, about how to write a hit and the new paradigm of the new music industry. In his interview with Nora Young he argues that the iPod has changed the way people listen to songs. This new era, he argues, represents the end of radio programming as the primary way people are introduced to new music. He presents a new world where we listen to songs from the “zero play” (the beginning) as opposed to turning on the radio and hearing a song from some random point. He also makes a compelling argument for releasing your songs, videos, etc slowly over time instead of one massive rush.
Unfortunately, his perspectives on songwriting are not nearly as interesting as his business knowledge. He crafts an argument that directs songwriters to write songs that have a higher commercial potential. Among his recommendations for writing successful pop tunes are:
* SHORT INTROS – i.e. Don’t bore us, get to the chorus
* LONGER SONGS – but not too long, unless you’re the Beatles
* CHORD CHANGES – “change things up around the two minute mark”- read: Bridge!
* REPETITION – “if there’s anything that occurs in Bieber’s songs, it’s repetition”
His argument for the change in the how we listen is compelling but from a songwriting stance, these techniques are Played, stale, obvious, and self congratulatory – “And Justin’s songs regularly engage in a Futurehit.DNA formula”. really?
As the interview continues my stomach stasrts turning and I am beginning to feel dirty listening to him speak…Click.
As I fade the interview out, I am reminded that there is a different process depending on whether we are attempting to compose music or simply writing about music.There is a vast divide mentally between composing a pop song and writing about composing a pop song. Many of Franks ideas about creating change a minute and a half through (yes we know, it’s called a bridge) and using repetition (hello?) are less than revolutionary while his points on the changing way that we listen to music is informative and insightful. Stick to the business my brother, you got my ear on that one.
The emotional response
The problem for songwriters is that the process is rarely as clear cut as creating a cognitive strategy to create the next big hit. Mr. Franks is a music strategist and we can forgive him for that, for he will always be stuck in the business of commodifying music, but the real work for songwriters is how do you move to a place beyond intention into that unquantifiable source of inspiration while still writing something that people will want to buy.
At some point we come home to a place where we have to ask what we are writing for. Are we attempting to produce the next pop hit or are we actually sitting down with an instrument, an open mind, a pen & paper and moving beyond intention and into the world where I would argue the best songs of the past 100 years have been written.
In the meantime, maybe we can listen to his sound advice that technology has once again altered the way we get our music and that as songwriters we must adapt to our new surroundings.