The Death of the Songwriter – attribution of creative ownership in popular music production #arpOslo2014

Screenshot 2014-12-05 18.46.19Here’s my own abstract and presentation from the Oslo conference. I was delighted to learn that in the audience was Jon Marius Aareskjold, a Norwegian sound engineer (and academic) who was actually involved in the production of ‘Irreplaceable’. We’ll be working together on a research paper about the track sometime in 2015.

Death of the Songwriter – ARP Oslo 2014 pdf version

ABSTRACT: The creation of recorded popular music has always been a collaborative process. Listeners enjoy an audio product that consists of a composition (usually with lyrics) that is arranged, performed, recorded, mixed and mastered. All of these activities combine in an object that creativity psychology would define as creative – that is, original and valuable (Boden 2004; Mackinnon 1963; Weisberg 1993). Sometimes creative contributions are fully demarcated but in practice there is often substantial overlap between roles, and individual creators frequently take on more than one role.

Drawing on the author’s research into creative behaviours in songwriting teams (Bennett 2012) and his experience as a forensic musicologist in copyright disputes, this paper discusses the challenges posed by collaborative popular music production, for copyright law and for the recorded music industry. The traditional binary allocation of creative activity across two objects (the ‘song’ and the ‘sound recording’) was developed many years ago and may no longer be truly representative of the way popular music is made. Creativity that is obviously derivative such as melodic quotation or audio sampling is a form of linear collaboration that makes authorial attribution particularly difficult, not least because of the complex interrelationship between moral and economic rights in copyright law.
Audio recordings of successful hits will be analysed to frame a discussion of the specific creative contributions that led to particular sonic outcomes; these will be contrasted with the Intellectual Property that subsists in the finished work. The paper proposes mechanisms by which the disparity between the extent of creative contribution and ownership of song copyright might be addressed.

Bennett, J., 2012. Constraint, collaboration and creativity in popular songwriting teams. In D. Collins, ed. The Act of Musical Composition: Studies in the Creative Process. Ashgate, pp. 139–169.
Boden, M., 2004. The creative mind : myths and mechanisms 2nd ed., London ;;New York: Routledge.
Mackinnon, D.W., 1963. The Identification Of Creativity. Applied Psychology, 12(1), pp.25–46.
Weisberg, R., 1993. Creativity : beyond the myth of genius, New York: W.H. Freeman.


  • Bennett, J., 2014. Constraint, Creativity, Copyright and Collaboration in Popular Songwriting Teams. Guildford, UK: Surrey.
  • Bennett, J., 2013. Mona Lisa by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans – analysis of a co-write. Joe Bennett website. Available at: [Accessed August 26, 2013].
  • Bently, Lionel. “Authorship of Popular Music in UK Copyright Law.” Information, Communication & Society 12, no. 2 (March 2009): 179–204. doi:10.1080/13691180802459948.
  • Boden, M., 2004.The creative mind : myths and mechanisms 2nd ed., London ;;New York: Routledge.
  • Carter,W., 1990.Writing together : the songwriter’s guide to collaboration, London: Omnibus.
  • Csikszentmihalyi, M., 1988. Society, culture, and person: a systems view of creativity. In R. Sternberg, ed.The Nature of creativity : contemporary psychological perspectives. Cambridge ;;New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 325–339.
  • HMSO, 1988. Copyright, Designs and Patents Act (UK) 1988, Available at: ukpga/1988/48/contents [AccessedJuly19,2010].
  • King,C.,2012.A natural woman:a memoir 1st ed.,NewYork:Grand Central Pub.
  • McEwan, I., 2012.The originality of the species.The Guardian. Available at:
  • Moore,A.F., 2012. Song means : analysing and interpreting recorded popular song, Farnham, Surrey; Burlington,VT:Ashgate.
  • Tingen, P., 2010.The Stargate Writing & Production Team. Sound on Sound magazine.Available at: http:// [Accessed April 28, 2013].

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