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The recent debate surrounding the launch of an Instagram account and website for a group of disaffected professional songwriters known as The Pact has got me thinking.
First, some background. The initially anonymous collective behind some of the most successful songs written or ‘co-written’ with, amongst others, Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift, Dua Lipa, Selena Gomez, the Weeknd, Justin Bieber and many, many more set out to draw a line in the sand, declaring:
This body of songwriters will not give publishing or songwriting credit to anyone who did not create or change the lyric or melody or otherwise contribute to the composition without a reasonably equivalent/meaningful exchange for all the writers on the song.
The main beef being that, unlike the artists themselves, songwriters make their living from publishing rights, not from touring, merchandise, brand partnerships and so on. And so with every dilution comes less food on the table.
But here’s the thing. Creating popular music has always been a collaborative process. Jobbing session musicians have always been trusted by artists to help translate their songs in the studio, from the famous LA-based Wrecking Crew of the 1960s and 1970s to the more recent hit-making machine of Swedish writer/producer Max Martin and his multitude of protégés.
In the same release, The Pact has this to say on the subject:
Behind most songs, there is a story of collaboration. By the time of release, a song has been touched not just by the artist, but by songwriters, producers, mixers, engineers, record labels, publishers, managers and more.
Too true. So why is it OK for the process of creating popular music to be seen along such collaborative lines, blurring the roles played by recording artists, songwriters and session musicians, but writing a successful book is perceived as such a solitary act? One forever associated subliminally with the tortured writer, an apocryphal Jonathan Franzen wearing a blindfold and earplugs and disconnecting the internet for fear of distraction from channelling his muse.
No one is suggesting that writers are falsely claiming authorship of their own books. But the reality is that even the best of the best could not achieve the success they undoubtedly merit without input from the talented support structure around them. The marketing person who comes up with the killer tagline, the publicist who secures a career-defining review, the copyeditor who cuts out an embarrassing anachronism. All the people who, in a different industry, might be in a position to claim some small percentage of the success of the work, but whose input in publishing essentially enhances the author’s reputation. Unsung professional collaborators behind the scenes help propel authors to fame all the time, many of whom, as individuals, still take for granted the wealth of valuable knowledge their own careers represent. There may only be one name on the cover of a book. But teams make bestsellers.