We Need More Songwriters, Not More Singers

Young People Are Listening to Old Music

Photo by IJ Portwine on Unsplash

There has been such a deluge of awful and crappy music since the early 2000s that many Millennials need to go back decades to find quality music. From the Jakarta Post:

Are you a millennial who prefers to listen to the “oldies but goodies” music of The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones? You are not alone, as your generation may be more familiar with the music of that era, a new study found.

Researchers from New York University found that the people of today are more familiar with the music released from the 1960s to the 1990s than those of today. The research, released on Wednesday, is published in the journal PLOS One.

From a creative standpoint, one can make a reasonable argument that the decline in the quality of popular music can be attributed to the work of one man.

Max Martin

Max Martin – the Darth Vader of bad music

In popular music’s heyday of the 1960s to 1990s, musicians often wrote their own material and their producers would come in and add their own contributions in order to shape the songs.

However, this changed with the rise of Swedish songwriter Max Martin in the music industry. From Martin’s Wikipedia entry:

The traditional division of work in the record industry often has the artist or songwriter writing the songs and then hiring a producer to help shape the sound. But at Cheiron (a studio in Sweden where Martin produced many of his hits), it was the other way around; the producers wrote the songs, played the instruments, and engineered and mixed the recordings, and the artist was only brought in near the end of the process to do the vocals. For example, on Britney Spears’s second album Oops!… I Did It Again (2000), Cheiron had already written seven songs and had proceeded to record the layers of music before Britney even arrived at the studios in early November 1999. It took her only one week to do the vocals. Martin and his team worked more like a band that alternated singers. Martin explained his working method:

I want to be part of every note, every single moment going on in the studio. I want nothing forgotten, I want nothing missed. I’m a perfectionist. The producer should decide what kind of music is being made, what it’s going to sound like–all of it, the why, when and how.” – LA Times, 6/05/00

Martin has written songs for almost every popular musical act in the last 20 years, including the Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Avril Lavigne, Katy Perry, Christina Aguilera, Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, and the Weeknd.

The attendant result? Within popular music, there’s been a lack of diversity in musical style, timber, chord structure and melody because one man has written pretty much the vast majority of hit songs for the last two decades.

And what’s worse – whenever I go onto Instagram or YouTube, I see singers doing covers of the same set of songs that every other singer is doing – most of them incidentally written by Max Martin.

Therefore, it seems to me that young people today want to become singers not because they want to create art and make some sort of artistic statement. Rather, they just want to become famous and therefore eschew the songwriting process altogether and just want to perform cover songs.

We Need More Great Songwriters

Photo by Soundtrap on Unsplash

We need more great independent songwriters who can write, produce and distribute great music in order to dilute the mass of repetitive and unimaginative musical dreck being pumped by corporate record labels.

What do I mean by great songwriters? A great songwriter is someone who:

  • Has a sense of melody and understands that without a memorable melody, a song is fucked no matter how great the lyrics are. Melody comes first and is the foundation of any great song – the lyrics should be an afterthought. For example, this is how Kurt Cobain wrote his songs.
  • Is going to write innovative lyrical content and, isn’t going to write the same love song, breakup song or relationship song or some variation thereof over and over again. Female songwriters are particularly prone to this habit.
  • Is savvy enough to understand that the best course of action for smart songwriters may be to have other artists perform their material rather than performing it themselves. In that way, they’ll have their music reach a broader audience. This is pretty much how Max Martin became the third most successful songwriter in history (behind John Lennon and Paul McCartney) and had accumulated a net worth of $350 million dollars. Of course, you want to write songs of a superior quality to those of Max Martin, but the principle is the same – get your music out to as many people as possible even if you don’t perform it yourself.