This is a question I get asked pretty frequently these days. Especially by songwriters who mostly write alone or with one collaborator. They see up to 9, 10, 11 writers on current hit songs and can’t understand how this occurs.
It’s different in every case, but maybe I can give you an idea of some of the ways this can happen.
A lot of pop songwriting has become highly specialized. In some cases, one person makes the beat (the music track) – there can even be one who handles the drum and percussion parts, another who does the chords and other sounds. One person writes the melody, someone else writes the words – sometimes one person for the Chorus/Title lyrics, another for the Verse lyrics.
Though of course these various functions can overlap, the above collaboration can include from 2 or 3 to 5 or 6 contributors.
You also might have a song with a bunch of writers that’s then rewritten or polished by other writers, adding to the total.
Additionally, you might have a name producer supervising the whole thing, polishing a line, note, or lyric here and there. He or she – in the music business, usually he – will naturally (and usually automatically) have to get a piece of the pie; sometimes a large one.
If the artist/singer isn’t doing any of the above, they will often make their contribution too, adding their name to the copyright. Also, some songs are based on other, older, songs and/or use samples from them. The writers of that song have to agree and they wet their beak too.
These are examples of what might be called variations of the assembly-line process (I’m not using that phrase pejoratively).
All of the above scenarios don’t happen in any one song, and many songs are still written by 1-3 writers. But you can see how the writers can pile up.
This is also because what constitutes a ‘songwriter’ has changed dramatically over the years.
As rhythm tracks have gotten more prominent, the people who make the beats are more likely to be considered writers – rightly so, I think. Every creative part of making a recording can now be considered songwriting.
Often songs are much less separated, if at all, from the recording of them. It’s frequently all created at the same time; the creation of the melody/lyric and the recording/arrangement happen simultaneously and inextricably (although they can be teased apart later).
There’ve always been songs written on the spot, in the studio, but it’s never been nearly as common as it is now. And remember – being credited as a writer has always been about leverage. If you can negotiate your contribution to the song, whatever it might be, as ‘writing’… you’re a writer! It’s always been this way.
It’s also a generational thing. If you came up in the ‘rock’ or ‘singer/songwriter’ era, there was a songwriter or songwriters… and then there were producers, musicians, engineers… the twain rarely met in the songwriting credits.
If you came of age making Hip Hop, there was much less separation. Many more aspects of record- and song-making were considered to be part of the songwriting.
So yes, there can be an assembly-line aspect to having more than a handful of songwriters. But in many ways it’s not that different from the artist/songwriter sitting in a studio with a band and a producer. Only now, for their contributions, many more people can get a songwriting credit.
If they can negotiate it.
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