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.

Songs inspired by real people: interview on BBC Radio Ulster

 

Image
Carly Simon in 1972; the You’re So Vain identity debate continues to this day.

Here’s me and singer-songwriter Katie Richardson participating in a short interview/discussion about songs that mention real people, as broadcast on BBC Radio’s Good Morning Ulster today. For the full ‘You’re So Vain’ debate see Carly Simon’s website.

Joe Bennett and Katie Richardson on BBC Radio Ulster, 8 May 2014 (MP3)

 

 

Who Writes the Songs? Creative Practice and Intellectual Property in Popular Music’s Digital Production Chain #crassh3c #songwriting

Screenshot 2014-03-29 15.01.33
Discussion of the originality spectrum – is ‘newness’ defined by non-plagiarism from the Domain?

Joe Bennett (Bath Spa University): Who Writes the Songs? Creative Practice and Intellectual Property in Popular Music’s Digital Production Chain
In music, two objects can be owned – the composition (sometimes including a lyric as a ‘literary work’), and the sound recording. The separation of song and recording is the basis on which the music industry distributes monies, but equitable IP distribution becomes more difficult when creative individuals’ contributions (of melody, lyric, arrangement, performance or production) overlap or are non-­‐linearly created. In the 1960s it became increasingly common for performers to write their own songs; from the 1980s, democratisation of recording technologies gave songwriters and performers the opportunity to self-­‐produce; and by the early 21st century most digital home studios had more production power than the world’s leading studios had enjoyed only 30 years earlier. 1 These changes in creative context mean that songwriters no longer need to notate their work as they did in the early 20th century; production, lyric, melodic, arrangement and performance elements can be created, edited and adapted at any stage of the creative process. Non-­‐linear creative practice in song production has implications for ownership and copyright that may challenge the historical privileging of melody & lyric in popular music’s legal hierarchy. 2 This paper will provide examples of creative practice, and discuss the legal, musicological and ethical questions that 21st century song production presents for the music industry and for future music creators.

Understanding Collaborative Songwriting

“You Won’t See Me” – In Search Of An Epistemology Of Collaborative Songwriting

This research paper was published in the Journal on the Art of Record Production issue #8 – proceedings of the 8th Art of Record Production conference, Université Laval, Quebec (2013).  Full version

Université Laval, Quebec

This paper proposes an observational methodology by which we may gain deeper understanding of the creative processes used by collaborative songwriters. Almost every aspect of popular music production and consumption has been discussed and analysed in scholarly work, but the creation of the song itself has rarely been subject to scrutiny. This is perhaps due to the fact that very little of the songwriting process can reliably be inferred by listening to an audio track or reading a score. Therefore, two methods are proposed in combination – interview-based and participatory auto-ethnographic observation. In both cases the songwriters themselves generate the qualitative data. The aim is to construct a framework that researchers may use to provide answers to the question “how shall we know the mind of the songwriter?” The methods proposed here have been tested with more than 20 professional songwriters between 2009 and 2013, and a selection of these observed co-writes will be published as case studies in 2014.

[…]

Download full text (pdf)

RMA Study day session 2 – Laudan Nooshin, Joe Bennett, Nikki Moran

(Chair: Ruth Herbert, University of Oxford)

Laudan Nooshin (City University London)

Between a rock and a hard place: discourse, practice and the unbearable lightness of analysis. Methodological challenges in studying creative process in Iranian (classical) music

Since the late 1980s, an important strand of my research has sought to understand the underlying creative processes of Iranian classical music, a tradition where the performer plays a central creative role and which is therefore often described as ‘improvised’, both in the literature and – since the mid-20th century and drawing on concepts initially adopted from European music – by musicians themselves. Methodologically, perhaps the greatest challenge is tracing the relationships between musicians’ verbal discourses – usually taken by ethnomusicologists as evidence of cognitive processes – and what happens in practice. Of course, the relationship is a complex one and the dual ethnomusicological methods of (a) ethnography and (b) transcription and analysis don’t always tell the same story. In the case of my work, there was a disjuncture between musicians’ discourse of creative freedom, albeit underpinned by the central memorised repertoireknown as radif, and the analytical evidence which showed the music to be highly structured around a series of what could be termed ‘compositional procedures’, but which are not explicitly discussed by musicians.

Don’t Bore Us – Write a Chorus (Techniques for Songwriters)

This article originally appeared in Total Guitar magazine issue 227, May 2012. Reproduced by permission. Words: Joe Bennett. Illustration: Naomi Hocking. Click the image to download a pdf.

———————

Here’s a psychology experiment. Tell a group of mates that you’re going to ask them to sing the verse of a well-known song, and that they have to start singing as soon as you reveal the title. Get them to breathe in deeply and be ready, and then tell them the title is… All Right Now. Everyone will sing the chorus, even though you had asked them to sing the verse.

You’ll find this trick works with any title-based classic – try it with All You Need Is Love, Sweet Child of Mine, Smoke On The Water, No Woman No Cry or Blowin’ in the Wind. Why should this be? I think it’s because the title of the song has put the chorus into people’s minds, and these particular songs use the title in their choruses. Rock music history has proved time and time again that music fans like songs with big choruses more than they like chorus-less songs. Take Radiohead – a band that (I’m sure we can agree) has done some work that’s pretty challenging and ground-breaking, including lots of songs that don’t have anything you’d call a ‘chorus’. But if you look up their most popular songs on Spotify or iTunes you’ll find the chorus-heavy Creep right at the top of the list every time. Try the same with 1970s prog rockers Yes, or their contemporaries Genesis. At the top of their respective lists you’ll always find big-chorused tracks such as Owner of A Lonely Heart and Invisible Touch rather than the more complicated ‘album track’ material. Whether you prefer these popular singles or the less well-known stuff is a matter of personal taste, but the message from the download charts is clear – lots of people like big choruses based on a simple title.
We already know that well-loved choruses are usually higher in pitch than the rest of the song, meaning we tend to put more energy into singing them (see TG215’s ‘Rules of Thumb’). But we can learn from their other characteristics too. Have you ever thought about that word ‘chorus’? The original ‘Greek chorus’ was a group of singers who would comment on the action in the theatrical plays of ancient Greece, summarising the story for the audience or revealing the characters’ innermost feelings. In songs, the job of a ‘chorus’ – to summarise meaning for the listener – can be just the same. For a straightforward example look no further than The Beatles’ She Loves You; the verse provides background plot about the characters’ relationships, and the chorus simply chants a summary of the song’s meaning. Not all songs do this of course, but run the numbers: it’s amazing how often a chorus follows that ancient Greek wisdom.
So we know that many successful songs have big choruses based on a simple title, are higher in pitch, and summarise the meaning. Now reverse-engineer the logic. You want lots of people to listen to your songs? Write big choruses based on a simple title that are higher in pitch and summarise your meaning. Simples!
Or it would be, if we did not fear cheese. Lots of songwriters say that they don’t want their music to be thought of as ‘obvious’, ‘cheap’ or  – for some the worst crime of all – ‘commercial’. So we sometimes stay away from simple successful ideas like repeating the title in a chorus. Is this ‘cheesy’? Not many Van Halen fans would use that word to describe Runnin’ With The Devil, Jamie’s Cryin’ or Jump, all of which have title-heavy choruses. REM-lovers are pretty pleased with Everybody Hurts, and no Chili Peppers show would be complete without Californication.
There are techniques we can use to break these ‘chains of cheese’ that can push our creativity into unproductive self-doubt – and our songs away from popularity. If you’ve got a good title, try singing it over and over, trying out different notes and phrasing until you hear something you like. Push your voice so you’re singing towards the top of your range, and if it isn’t working or doesn’t feel right, try changing the key or underlying guitar chord and see what comes out. This will give you the pitch peak and might go some way towards suggesting a chorus hook. And while you’re chanting that title, perhaps a summary of the song’s overall meaning is starting to form in your mind. Look behind you. Standing at the back there’s a bunch of Greek guys in masks…

All You Gotta Do Is Sing – lyric processes in songwriting

This article originally appeared in Total Guitar magazine issue 225, March 2012. Reproduced by permission. Words: Joe Bennett. Illustration: Naomi Hocking. Click the image to download a pdf.

Lyrics are not poetry. And a poem is not a lyric. Poems have their own ‘music’, made by the natural rise and fall of the vowels, the rhythmic flow of the syllables and the breaks at the end of lines. As songwriters we can use melody to control how the audience receives our lyric. Melody has the power to give a few simple words a powerful emotional impact, in a way that neither a poem or an instrumental tune can achieve on its own. But how do we choose words that show our melodies in the best light?

To make a lyric singable, the vowels have to work properly. When a singer performs a song, the audience hears vowels more easily than consonants. Try singing the two-syllable word ‘calling’ over any two musical notes in the middle of your vocal range. Sing it out loud and long, and enjoy the feeling of those big vowels passing over your teeth. Now, using the same two notes, try doing the same with the word ‘quickest’. Doesn’t feel as good, does it? ‘Calling’ sings really well because the ‘aaaaa’ sound opens up your mouth and gives you a meaty vowel, whereas ‘quickest’ sounds unmusical because it contains more vocally restrictive vowels and tougher consonants, especially when you get to the ugly ‘st’ at the end of the word. And sure enough if you research the lyrics of any style of music, the word ‘calling’ is much more likely to appear than ‘quickest’, even though they’re both pretty common words. Songwriters tend to favour words with big vowels that avoid tongue-twisting combinations of hard consonants. As a rule of thumb, we should avoid sibilant words (with lots of ‘s’ and ‘t’ sounds) whenever we can.

And listeners prefer single-syllable words most of the time. Read that last sentence back and try to sing it. Whatever notes you choose, it all starts to come crashing down when you sing ‘listeners prefer single-syllable’, but the phrase ‘words most of the time’ sings really well. You can stretch a monosyllable out over lots of notes (this is called a ‘melisma’) – for example the word ‘fire’ in Kings of Leon’s Sex on Fire is spread over three notes – but it’s impossible to make a two-syllable word fit a single note. Overdoing melismas when they’re not needed is generally considered a crime against music, but let’s not lower the tone with talk of Mariah Carey.

Let’s test our syllable-count theory on a couple of classic songs. The Beatles’ We Can Work it Out opens with the lines ‘Try to see it my way / only time will tell if I am right or I am wrong’. That’s 18 words, 17 of which are monosyllables. Hey Joe begins with ‘Hey Joe / where you goin’ with that gun in your hand (x2) / I’m goin’ down to shoot my old lady, you know I caught her messin’ round with another man (x2)’ – 39 words, 34 monosyllables.

If lyrics are not poetry, neither are they the same thing as prose. This means you can take serious liberties with the English language and get away with it, as long as it sounds good when sung. Having melody on your side means you can say things in a lyric that are grammatically incorrect, such as Paul McCartney’s famous line “…ever-changing world in which we live in” (from Live and Let Die). You can cram in some dodgy rhymes, such as Kurt Cobain’s ‘self-assured / dirty word’ (from Smells Like Teen Spirit).You can make up words, as in ‘Pompitous of love’ (from Steve Miller’s The Joker). Or just use any old sounds. Be Bop A LulaNa Na NaNo DiggityGoo goo g’joob. And if the phrase sings well, it might notmatter if the song’s overall ‘story’ doesn’t make much sense, such as Deep Purple’s Black Night or Oasis’ Don’t Look Back In Anger. To misquote Duke Ellington, if it don’t mean a thing, all you gotta do is sing.

For the songwriter, the best and most obvious way to make a lyric singable is simply to sing it and see if it works. A lyric that looks great on the page may not work so well when you shine the cold light of melody upon it. Even if you’re not a singer yourself it’s worth singing out loud when you write – regardless of the quality or tuning, if you hear the words in context it’ll become obvious where the tweaks are needed. And if your lyric doesn’t read like the finest English poetry, no-one in the mosh-pit is going to complain.

Song vs Track – the Picture and the Frame

This article originally appeared in Total Guitar magazine issue 219, October 2011. Reproduced by permission. Words: Joe Bennett. Illustration: Christian Ward. Click the image to download a pdf of the article.

Do you have a favourite song? Do you know why you like it? We all have favourite tracks, of course, but if someone asks us why we like a particular song – that is, the words, melody and chords – we find it difficult to give an answer. Often we’ll talk about where we were when we heard the track: going to school, falling in love, going on holiday, passing an exam or getting a new job. And tracks are great for evoking these memories. But tracks and songs are not the same thing.

Total Guitar magazine – songwriting article (song form)

This article originally appeared in Total Guitar magazine issue 216, July 2011. Reproduced by permission. Words: Joe Bennett. Illustration: Christian Ward. Click the image to download a pdf.

If you build it, they will come

Most songs consist of a small number of basic building blocks, and the order of these defines the form. Some of the blocks themselves will be familiar to any music fan – intro, verse, chorus, bridge and so on, and each has its own particular characteristics.To state the obvious, a verse has the same melody and different lyrics each time it repeats; a chorus usually has identical lyrics and melody each time you hear it. Intros and outros can have their own original music, but are often just an instrumental version of another section (ever noticed how the intro chords for lots of chart hits are the same as those for the chorus? This is a psychological trick played on the listener so that when the ‘real’ chorus arrives, we feel like we already know it).

Process in songwriting – Total Guitar magazine

This article first appeared in Total Guitar magazine issue 215, June 2011. Words: Joe Bennett. Illustration: Christian Ward.

Six rules of (fingers and) thumb

Click picture to download pdf of article. Reproduced by permission.

There are no rules in songwriting. It’s your song, and you can do anything you like with it. But! There are principles that occur in a large number of successful songs, and many of the songwriters I teach find these ideas useful when writing new material. They are, in no particular order, Economy, Imagery, Prosody, Universality, Repetition and Originality.

Songs use word economy to communicate lyric ideas. The Beatles’ Yesterday tells an entire story of love, loss and regret in 84 words – and 125 seconds (and it holds the record for the most cover versions of any song in history). Many successful songs start with a killer first line that provides lots of information in a few words. When we hear “Stacey’s Mom has got it goin’ on” (Fountains of Wayne) we know (or guess) that the singer is an American teenager, that he is dating a girl called Stacey, that he’s in love with her mother, and that the mum knows nothing about it.  Not bad in seven words.

Illustration - Christian Ward

Music fans listen with their imagination as well as their ears – and lyric imagery is one of the most useful tools we have in stimulating it. So if you say “I met a girl in a night club” you’re halfway to telling the story, but if you add detail you get “I met her in a club down in old Soho / where you drink champagne and it tastes just like cherry cola” (from the Kinks’ classic Lola – TG205). We see a picture in our minds when we hear this lyric. We also get an inkling of the narrator’s naivety – he’s never been to a bar and doesn’t know why the drinks taste funny.

You can write perfectly good lyrics without using imagery, but a few choice visuals can work wonders in helping fans to remember your song. And images can also be used as metaphor. In Biffy Clyro’s God & Satan, when Simon Neil sings “the see-saw snaps and splinters your hand”, he’s talking about life’s balance between good and evil, not about a children’s playground. But if he’d just sung “when your life doesn’t work out as you hoped” the lyric would have been much weaker.

Prosody is a catch-all term to describe music and lyric working together to give meaning for the listener. If your chorus says “I Predict A Riot” it’s pretty unlikely that you’re going to accompany it with delicate open-tuned fingerstyle guitar and a tempo of 60 beats per minute – the feeling of the lyric doesn’t go with the music. Conversely, “You never close your eyes any more when I kiss your lips” (from You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling) is such a tender image that you won’t want amps up to 11 and a Screamo vocal.

Some songwriters believe that melody and lyric are even more closely related – that positive lyrics go with rising melodies and negative ones with descending melodies. There are plenty of classics that disprove this theory, of course, but again it’s surprising how often you find really successful songs following the ‘rule’. And while we’re at it, have you noticed that the chorus melody is almost always higher-pitched than the verse? It makes people want to join in and tells them that this is the ‘point’ of your lyric.

To state the obvious, successful song lyrics appeal to lots of people – this is often described as Universality. It’s no accident that more than 80% of the biggest hits of all time are about love and relationships, because it’s something that all humans relate to. But it’s not all hearts and flowers. Elbow’s One Day Like This suggests that if we can all just feel good about ourselves for one day, we’ll put up with the rest of life’s troubles (and the chorus opens with the wonderful image “throw those curtains wide”). And listen to Lennon’s Imagine – who wouldn’t agree that there should be more love in the world?

Repetition! What is it good for? Absolutely everything! Say it again. It might not seem terribly ‘clever’ to simply repeat the title in your chorus, but it’s amazing how well this simple device can work.

Perhaps the most difficult part of songwriting is achieving originality. As listeners, we need to hear that quirky extra ingredient – the sound, riff, melody, chord pattern or lyric we haven’t heard before. Over to you.

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Harmonic Rhythm in Songwriting

I originally wrote this article for Total Guitar magazine. It appears in issue TG214 (May 2011) and it is reproduced here by permission.

Download pdf – TG214-harmonic-rhythm

Put some rhythm in your rhythm

It could be said that songs (as distinct from recordings) consist of only three things – melody, lyric and chords. Today we’re going to focus on the use of guitar chord changes in the songwriting process, and how you can use them to make your songs communicate more powerfully.

When you’re adding chords to a new song, you get to decide on the chord root (C, G, Eb, F# or whatever), the chord type (major, minor, m7, 7flat9 etc) and when in the song each chord change should happen. The first two are pretty easy to explain and to use – every guitarist has a chord vocabulary, and if you want to use new and exotic chords, you can either consult a chord book or make up shapes by trial-and-error.

It’s the placement of each chord that sometimes takes a bit more work. Many new songwriters change the chords every bar, on the bar. They strum a chord for two or perhaps four beats, then move onto the next chord. Sometimes the whole song consists of the same four-chord loop over and over – well-trodden paths include Am-G-F-G, C-G-Am-F, Am-C-G-D or even the old 1950s staple C-Am-F-G. Using the same chord loop throughout is a perfectly good way of writing a song, and includes four-chord classics such as Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower, U2’s With Or Without You, Ben E King’s Stand By Me and Coldplay’s Viva La Vida, but it’s not the only option. The simplest change you can make is to vary the loops, using a different sequence for verse and chorus e.g. Green Day’s Boulevard of Broken Dreams uses (capo 1st fret) Em-G-D-A for the verse, then C-G-D-Em for the chorus.

Illustration - Christian Ward

And chords don’t always have to change on the barline – you can do it any beat of the bar. One method that songwriters use to spice up a sequence is to include an additional chord change on the half-bar i.e. beat 3 if you’re in 4/4 time. Say you’ve decided you’re going to write a 4/4 verse section that uses the chords of E, G, D and A. The most obvious starting point would be to strum each chord for a bar each, creating a four-bar loop that you’d then repeat. So let’s try a few variations. Strum the E for two bars, the G for one bar, then the D and A for two beats each. Not only is this less predictable, it’s more likely to encourage your brain to write a more interesting melody. Here’s another variation. Strum the E for three beats, then change to the G on the count of four and throughout the second bar (this is sometimes called a ‘push’ chord change). Then play the D chord from the start of bar 3, changing to the A only for the final two beats of bar 4.

The term we use to refer to how often the chords change is called ‘harmonic rhythm’, and it’s a very useful tool for the songwriter because it is one of the ways we control the listener’s sense of ‘pace’ and momentum in the song. To go back to Boulevard… as an example, both chord loops are played as half-bar changes, or two beats per chord. At the end of this chorus there’s a surprise for the audience as the song includes a B major chord for two whole bars – which adds to the drama of a melodic change combined with the emotionally powerful lyric “Til then I walk alone”.

Changing the harmonic rhythm at the start of a chorus can help to show the listener that they’re hearing a new section; typical techniques include moving from half-bars to whole-bar changes, or from whole-bar changes to two-bar changes, or vice versa. Clapton’s Tears In Heaven uses half-bar changes (with occasional whole bars) in the verses, then switches to whole-bar changes throughout the chorus, supporting the change of mood provided by the self-reflective lyric “I must be strong…”. This ‘gear-shift’ effect can be equally effective at the start of bridge section or even a guitar solo.

Generally, the faster the harmonic rhythm, the more momentum the section will have. For example, the Rolling Stones use 2-bar changes (verse) followed by 1-bar changes (chorus) in Satisfaction, but take the exact opposite approach in Sympathy For The Devil.

Every song has its own signature harmonic rhythm, and controlling it in your songwriting can add a powerful weapon to your arsenal of techniques. Ready… aim… strum!

Entering Exeter

I’ve been to the University of Exeter today, giving a presentation about Zotero, which I’ve blogged about before, to a group of library and information professionals from Exeter and elsewhere in the South West. As ever with teaching and conferences, you learn as much as you provide, and through feedback and questions from the group, I discovered Mendeley, a more recent (and UK-based) citation software alternative which I will explore soon. It seems to have a very similar feature set to Zotero, and crucially has an iPhone app associated with it.

Here, mainly for the benefit of those who were at the presentation, but also for anyone else who’s interested, are some short videos demoing the specifics of Zotero (including some features I didn’t cover in the presentation).

Drag and drop in Firefox – Zotero to Google docs

Extracting metadata from a journal article

Live citations in MS Word using Zotero plugin

Art of Record Production – final session

I’ve just presented my own paper – seemed to go OK. I’ll post more about this later in the PhD section, but for now here’s the abstract;

Joe Bennett – Bath Spa University

Collaborative songwriting – the ontology of negotiated creativity in popular music studio practice

The relationship between songwriting practice and song product is an under-explored one in popular musicology, still less so in a studio-based environment. Our research sources are accordingly limited, drawing mainly on first-hand retrospective interviews with artist-songwriters, who may have an incentive for self-mythologising, or at least romanticising their songwriting methods to preserve fan perceptions of authenticity. There are no available real-time observations of the collaborative processes involved in creating popular song, despite the huge economic and artistic successes of songwriting partnerships throughout the history of our field. Sloboda (1985) identifies the reluctance displayed by composers of any sort to participate in detailed analysis of their processes; these difficulties are exacerbated further by some songwriters’ apparently-deliberate mystification of their craft. Attempts to analyse processes of musical composition generally have generally focused on single-composer models (Nash 1955); even studies relating to collaboration remain concerned with instrumental art music (Hayden & Windsor 2007)or educational-based observation subjects (Burnard & Younker 2002).

This paper will build on the single-songwriter research of McIntyre (2009) and the theoretical definitions of creativity provided by Csikszentmihalyi (1996). It will explore, through analysis of ‘hits’ and examples of emerging practitioner-based research, the inferences that can be made by comparing historical and current songwriting practice with the finished product, and will attempt to identify commonly-used collaborative models, including artist with ‘ghost-writer’, artist with artist, band-based ensembles, ‘factories’ e.g. Brill Building and Stock/Aitken/Waterman’s Hit Factory, and collaborative distance-writing. Established and emerging musical practices will be identified and analysed, including top-line writing, ‘Nashville’ co-writes, loop-based improvisation, lyric-first and music-first approaches, together with a discussion of the effect of the presence (or absence) of studio technologies as mediator of the songwriting process.

Burnard, P. & Younker, B.A., 2002. Mapping Pathways: fostering creativity in composition. Music Education Research, 4(2), 245-261.Csikszentmihalyi, M., 1996. Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, New York: HarperCollins.

Hayden, S. & Windsor, L., 2007. COLLABORATION AND THE COMPOSER: CASE STUDIES FROM THE END OF THE 2OTH CENTURY. Tempo, 61(240), 28.

Mcintyre, P., 2009. ‘I’m Looking Through You’: An Historical Case Study of Systemic Creativity in the Partnership of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. In Collaborations: Creative Partnerships in Music.  The Performance and Social Aesthetics Research Unit (PASA), Monash Conference Centre, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia.

Nash, D., 1955. Challenge and Response in the American Composer’s Career. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 14(1), 116-122.

Sloboda, J., 1985. The musical mind : the cognitive psychology of music, Oxford [Oxfordshire]  ;New York: Clarendon Press ;;Oxford University Press.


10:30

The next presentation is by Maria Hanacek. This one is particularly fascinating for me because she is working on the analysis of ‘songwriters in the studio’ videos, and the notions of mediatised and mediated authenticity relating to songwriters.

Maria HanacekHumboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Songwriting in the Studio or: The Idea of What Went into its Making

This year’s conference is concerned with change and continuity in the art of record production – I will argue that it is the rather old-fashioned idea of “songwriting” that creates coherence within the changing world of music production, and that this idea is indeed more important than ever for the success of large-scale commercial productions.

Thinking of record production as an art form or of the studio as a musical instrument already indicates that our models of thinking about music production stay pretty much the same, all debates about technological change or innovation aside. The idea of “songwriting” as a modern form of composition also correlates with a traditional notion of music as artistic self-expression, which still provides the conceptual framework for most records, and it is important to notice that apparent tensions between technology and artistry, between commerciality and authenticity result from this theoretical framework, not from the actual process of music production. In such instances we are ultimately dealing with the question what musicianship means in the age of studio production.

Authorship and intentionality are still such important concepts because it is the idea of what went into its making that gives meaning to a recording. The way popular music history works, songs need a history and an origin. According to this logic studio stories become part of a band’s or artist’s biography and discography, they contribute to the idea of an artist’s oeuvre that crystallises into a series of records. This idea is also replicated by “best of” albums, box sets and reissues – in short, the marketing of records always relied on the star persona for coherence and to personalize its products.

I will use the DVD ‘U2 and 3 Songs, A Documentary’ to illustrate this point. This “documentary” provides a retrospective on the songwriting process of the album How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, for which the band and producer Steve Lillywhite received six Grammies in 2005. The affiliated Vertigo tour made the band the top grossing act that year according to Billboard – the eight concerts held in New York’s Madison Square garden alone sold 149,000 tickets. Although the purpose of promotional touring is to “authenticate” and personalize recorded performances in some way, attending one of these large-scale concerts wasn’t much of an “unmediated” or “live” experience of these songs and their authors.

This video, though, which came with several editions of the CD, tells us about human beings writing songs, about the development of creative ideas within a studio environment.  It foregrounds the “raw material” of this record, whether by presenting a basic chord progression a song developed from or via an acoustic performance with slightly mistuned guitars. And this – in itself highly mediated – display of theunproduced or preproduced puts our picture of music making back in place.

Complete Junior Guitar Player

My next book, the ‘Complete Junior Guitar Player’ is nearing completion – I’m at the final stage of proofing now, and expect to see it in print sometime in June. It’s aimed at 8-12 year old children (and guitar teachers in schools who work with this age group), and I’ve tried to create a basic beginner method that sails halfway between the classical and rock traditions of guitar teaching. This is a slightly different approach from some of my more facetious books – it all uses really straightforward language and a step-by-step, systematic method.

Here’s a sneak preview of a couple of pages (and yes – I know one of the footstool photos is wrong!).

The book will be available on Amazon and Musicroom soon.

There is some dispute about the title, it being planned for sale in the UK and USA, and in translation. We need a title that isn’t condescending to children, that appeals equally to children and guitar teachers, is easy to remember, makes it clear that it’s a beginner level children’s book, and looks snappy/clear on the cover.

Here’s the poll – vote now!

JCGP sample 2

JCGP sample

A song for… Widcombe

This post will mainly be relevant to Bathonians, who may know about the ‘search for a song’ for local Bath district Widcombe. The whole Widcombe community thing is great – street parties, arts events, local history and political pressure groups – all in a group of fewer than 1000 people.  So today I’ve had a punt at writing a traditional English Morris Dance tune (with local references in the lyric). No audio demo yet (as you know my studio is currently being built) so this is done in traditional notation. Any folkies reading this – do you feel like doing a demo with traditional instruments?

Widcombe Rising

Download Widcombe Rising (pdf)

Keeping research locked away

Bank safeA colleague (let’s call him/her ‘P’) gave a research presentation the other day at the University. The subject was interesting, the research was a result of more than a year of work, and it was P’s first research seminar at this University. For all these reasons I was keen to attend and support P. Unfortunately a meeting over-ran and I couldn’t make it. Of course I sent P my apologies over email, and I learned that actually the presentation wasn’t very well attended because other interested colleagues had teaching commitments at that time.

Undaunted, I asked P if I could see some of the research outputs – a paper or other documentation of this work. Nothing was available – the work had been presented ‘live’ on that day, and had taken the form of a verbal lecture. I suggested that P could put some documentation of the work online and send out a link to interested colleagues – at our University and elsewhere in the subject, perhaps to network with those working in a similar research area, and build future projects. P asked me a question I’ve been asked many times about Web 2.0 skills – “Can I get some staff training to do that?”.

Let’s investigate this perfectly reasonable question. What would this staff training involve and what skills does someone need to put their work online? P already has standard/typical web browser skills, can type text onto screen, can cut and paste between MS Word and a browser, and can save/upload images and documents, i.e. all the necessary skills to get started with a blog. So I suppose we could run a simple demo of, say, Blogger – this would probably take less than an hour, then P would be ready to go. So we’d hire a ‘trainer’, book a room and ask the trainer to put some teaching materials together. They’d probably create something like this – i.e. a YouTube ‘How To’ video for Blogger. But these materials are already out there – and anyone who Googled the term ‘how do I start blogging?‘ would find it pretty easily. So P already has the skills, not only to create a blog, but to self-learn by using a search engine. No training necessary – only the will on the part of the trainee to investigate a new method of communication. Shouldn’t every academic exhibit this hunger to communicate as effectively as possible?

Now look at P’s work itself – it’s the result of more than a year of endeavour, excellent in its field, and ground-breaking in many ways. And no-one knows about it – the chosen method of research dissemination (a face-to-face seminar) has vanished into history, and anyone who wasn’t there has missed out. This research is effectively locked away in the memories of those who attended P’s seminar. The information has ‘died’ – all that work, down the drain.

Locked gateIn the ‘old’ (i.e. pre-Internet) research landscape, P could perhaps have published a paper or spoken at a conference. As we know, much of this culture still pervades in HE, perhaps because many academics remain Digital Immigrants (or even take obtuse pride in being ‘Digital Foreigners’ – personally I find this noble-savage approach irresponsible and even arrogant, given our pedagogical duty to our students). Papers are submitted to peer-reviewed/edited journals, printed, dutifully mailed by academic publishers and equally dutifully filed by libraries, and any suitably tenacious academic or student can discover them (though we know anecdotally that many students don’t do this in practice, preferring simply to use Wikipedia as the fount of all knowledge – it’s not hard to find a grumpy academic who will bemoan this trait). A lot of research content – actually, MOST research content – is still fairly difficult to discover through a simple web search, for a variety of reasons relating to copyright/IPR, but also, I suggest, through a lack of understanding by individual researchers of how to put their work online. Of course, many academic journals are available online, but just try posting an interesting Athens or JSTOR link on your Facebook page, Twitter feed or blog – and see how far the recipient gets without a login. Another locked gate.

LectureColleagues who present at conferences effectively ‘broadcast’ their work using the ancient Greek model of one-to-many speaking. Almost every academic has the skills to communicate using this method; the job title is ‘lecturer’ after all. But with the academic conferences, you’re left with the same problem as P’s seminar – if you weren’t there on the day, you’ve missed the boat. And realistically how many people can we reach in this way? A few hundred at most.

So, for the last ten years or so we have had a new and revolutionary method of communication available to us as professional sharers of knowledge. During this period it has been easier to publish content online without ‘tech skills’ i.e. HTML coding etc; this is what the world (and this blog) refers to as ‘Web 2.0’. Tim Berners-Lee, by the way, argues that the phrase is meaningless, and that there is really no difference between the two generations of the web.

“Web 1.0 was all about connecting people. It was an interactive space, and I think Web 2.0 is of course a piece of jargon, nobody even knows what it means. If Web 2.0 for you is blogs and wikis, then that is people to people. But that was what the Web was supposed to be all along. And in fact, you know, this ‘Web 2.0,’ it means using the standards which have been produced by all these people working on Web 1.0.” (arstechnica.com interview, 2006)

In practice, though, Web 2.0 (i.e. the world of blogs, free urls and wikis) is substantially different for us as teachers, because it’s possible for academics who are self-defined as ‘not very techy’ to publish material online using skills they already have. 20 years ago anyone who wanted to publish research on the Internet would, at the least, have had to learn about FTP and HTML. Now that’s just not necessary – anyone who can use a web browser can show their work to the world.

The gates are unlocked. All we need to do is push.

Teaching songwriting with a Mac laptop

Demo panel at the UK Songewriting Festival 208[note – Feb 2013 – most of the links from this 2008 article are now defunct, but the basic principles of how I project lyrics in lectures are the same, so I’m leaving this post online for archive purposes].

I occasionally get asked, by undergraduate studentsFestival songwriters, and songwriting teacherswhat software and hardware I use to project lyrics and play back songs for analysis during songwriting lectures. Sometimes the question actually hijacks lectures and diverts us from discussing the actual song, so I’m going to write this blog post about it, so next time someone asks, I can just send them this link and get on with talking about songwriting!

This is unapologetically nerdy and exhaustive, because the people who ask about this sort of thing often want lots of technical detail.

The hardware
During lectures I have my Mac laptop with me – it’s a standard Mac Powerbook running OSX andiTunes. This is connected to a VGA projector (see photo) and a mini-jack audio cable connects the Mac to whatever sound system we’re using (in the photo example we used a small mixing desk on the table, routed into the theatre PA system in the ceiling).

The library
My iTunes library is around 6000 MP3s that I’ve collected over the years from various sources. The computer is always live on the ‘net, so if someone in the lecture class wants to discuss a song I don’t have, I just spend the £0.79 then and there and buy it online.
Because I’m sometimes running a PowerPoint or web browser simultaneously, I like to be able to play and pause iTunes remotely in the background. Sometimes I use the Apple remote for this, but most of the time I prefer to use a background application called Synergy, which is a simple iTunes controller that provides play, pause, next track functions etc, using function keys.

Lyrics and MP3s – the background
We all know that despite many years of attempts by rights owners to prevent fans publishing song lyrics online, it’s possible to locate the lyrics to almost any song on the ‘net. But using a web browser to do this live in a lecture is inelegant, and distracts the class from the song. So I combine two techniques – MP3 lyric metatags and lyric widgets.

An MP3 metatag (or to get really techy, its ID3 metadata… stay with me, here – it gets interesting soon!) is simply a way that the MP3 file can have textual information or images (title, artist, composer, cover artwork and lyrics) attached to the file. iTunes has a really simple text editor – just click Apple-I on any iTunes track to bring it up.
So once the lyric is found on the ‘net and then pasted into the MP3’s iTunes lyric info window, it’s there in the file forever, right there on my hard drive. This works for MP3s and also protected AAC files bought from the iTunes Music Store.
So far so good, but that’s still a lot of hassle, especially if I’m running seat-of-the-pants lectures like this year’s SWF (where I asked every member of the audience to write down a choice of song for analysis, then downloaded them live in the classroom). And it’s also not very useful to bring up the Apple-I info window, because the font size isn’t big enough for the class to see on a projector.

The widgets!

In 2005 I discovered Mac OSX lyrics widgets. These are small applications that run in the background using Apple’s OSX Dashboard (i.e. they work with any Mac). There are several, but they all do essentially the same thing – display lyrics attractively on screen from the iTunes lyric data. But that’s not all. If they don’t find any lyric data, they automatically search the ‘net for the lyric, and then extract the text from the lyrics sites they interrogate, and paste it into the MP3 for you. All this happens live, in the background, meaning I can download a song (legally, of course) and then have the lyric embedded in it within less than 10 seconds.
I use several widgets, running concurrently, because they all search slightly different lyric sites. I’ve found that if one widget doesn’t find the lyric, another one will, and then the first one will simply pull the data from the MP3 itself (which will have been embedded automatically by whichever widget found the lyric online first). My current ones are;
Sing That iTuneFireHarmonic and the defunct but easy-to-find PearLyrics.

Icing on the cake – hot corners
Mac users will know that OSX supports hot corners. So I set up the Mac so that every time I move the mouse pointer to the top left of the screen, it launches Dashboard. Having previously set things up so that the lyrics widgets are always running, this means, in a lecture, all I have to do is play an MP3, sweep the mouse to the top left of the screen, and the lyrics appear!

But there’s more…

Sometimes, we have an iTunes playlist running while we’re setting up a lecture – a list of recent hits, or songs in a particular form, theme or genre. So to make this a bit more visual, I also occasionally use Jewelcase, a shareware plugin for iTunes that displays not only the lyric metatag, but also the JPG of the album cover metatag – and puts the whole thing in a beautifully rendered spinning CD jewel case. Projected 20ft high in a lecture, it is a thing to behold!

And a tiny bit more…
This setup works great for lectures, but sometimes we’re discussing tempo. We can usually find the chords and key of a song (just by having an acoustic guitar to hand), and we can see its form usually from looking at the lyric and listening to the playback, but finding the tempo was always a bit fiddly, using a metronome there in the lecture.

So I searched the ‘net for a tool that would enable me to mouse-click along to a track, display its tempo in Beats Per Minute, then embed the tempo in the MP3 for next time. It’s called BPM Widget. Does what it says on the tin!