Everybody’s Doing It, So Why Don’t We?

There’s a little online debate going among my music journo pals concerning the relative merits of singers who write and perform their own material vs. those only handling the performance end of the business (we’re talking non-classical here). In the course of the discussion, a general hostility has emerged towards pop stars whose hits are penned by someone else—even in cases where the relationship produces results considered to be quite brilliant. In response to this perceived snobbery, one poster chimed in, “They don’t write their own stuff at the Met or Philharmonic, either. It really dents their reps….”

It gets me thinking. In general, we don’t write and perform our own stuff, but even in the age of The Matrix we also don’t swing so far over the other way as to have a team of paid professionals craft us a “number one with a bullet” orchestra hit. Lots of Billboard charters do it, but what if we did?

Before we get off on the obvious objections, I am not suggesting any sort of dreaded dumbing down of the composition—an audience should not be underestimated as “too stupid” to appreciate great music, even if they can be marketed into purchasing tickets to real crap. This is not supposed to be a gimmick, but a challenge to shift the considerations made during craftsmanship and to expand the available talent at the table. What if five composers were asked to pool their creativity and give life to a piece that audiences will want to hear even more frequently than Beethoven? Popularity shouldn’t be our only motivation, but when you’re working in a performance art, shouldn’t it be one of them? And in this case, if we pushed that aspect to an extreme, would the result necessarily be the intellectual wasteland we seem to like to assume it would be? I’d argue that it’s a worthy experiment and I wouldn’t mind being pleasantly surprised by the results.

4 thoughts on “Everybody’s Doing It, So Why Don’t We?

  1. mollys

    Hmm. Interesting site, Steve. But no, personally, I was definitely not thinking of common denominator art.

    I remember a while back watching Sondheim take the stage for a bow after a concert reading of Sweeney Todd, and I was thinking, “Wow, I wonder what it’s like to wake up every day and know you wrote something like that.” But the next time I wondered such a thing was when the silhouetted dancers of the iPod commercials came out. I’d bet some of our great creative minds are working in advertising, figuring out what will intrigue their audience and collectively polishing that idea to a high gloss. I just wonder what would happen if we tried that angle on music. Music by committee: Is it a guaranteed failure?

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  2. Marc

    It’d be exquisite
    Why not turn it into a game of Exquisite Corpse, and have one person write the brilliant theme, another brilliantly develop the brilliant theme, and another brilliantly recapitulate the brilliant theme? It would differ from the parlor game in that each composer would know what came before their contribution, but hey, it just might give the audience what they supposedly want. And someone who really had a gift for development, but who couldn’t write a decent melody, would no longer be unable to compose.

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