Thursday, June 14, 2018

Are you expressing your soul or just generating content?

I'm a member of a Facebook group for Young people pursuing careers in the Entertainment field as Professionals.  I'll leave it to you to guess the name of the group. (I was invited to join by a friend who is not much younger than me, so clearly the criteria for membership are pretty loose.)

An actual post on the page really caught my attention:

"hello a singer/songwriter looking for a collab partner, someone who can write the music while i handle lyrics and melodies..with the goal of creating catalogues for publishers..if anybodys interested or has any advice for getting started lemme know thanks"

Setting aside the lazy typing and spelling (these kids today, whatta they know about grammar!), I was struck by the "mission statement" of sorts: "...the goal of creating catalogues for publishers...."

What a lofty aspiration, eh? Never mind "writing great songs" or "writing songs that say something worth hearing and contribute to people's happiness and spiritual well-being" or even "creating hits that make a bunch of money." No, let's fill publishers' (plural) inventories of songs. I just have to say "Oy!" (And I'm not even Jewish! Or Australian!)

I understand he's trying to impress with his use of industry terminology. For those not "in the know," a "catalogue" (or as is the preferred American spelling, "catalog") is a collection of songs to which a writer or publisher has (or shares) the rights. It implies a commercial intent for the use of the songs (or, as is much more often the case in the pro songwriting game, the lack of use). And if you ask many of my pro songwriter acquaintances, the term "commercial" is pretty optimistic as well. It's the emphasis in his post that rankled me. A catalog should be a byproduct of songwriting, not the goal.

I'm still Pollyannaish enough to believe there is still a reason for any songwriter to create new songs that can be valued by whatever audience may hear them, whether it's for the joy of the exercise or to create that mega-hit that helps define or even redefine our culture and our perspective on life, or anything in between.

But as for the music industry, the fact is, if there's anything most publishers don't need, it's more copyrights to fill out their product lines; those coffers are generally filled to overflowing, with more flowing in every day. Managing them must be something like that last scene in Indiana Jones (or its source, Citizen Kane) with the giant warehouse full of forgotten stuff, with the lone worker wheeling yet another treasure to put on the pile. "There's another song for the catalog. That's lunch, boys!"

If your GOAL in songwriting is merely (or even mainly) to create commodities, you might need to take a step back and pause to reflect on why you were given the gift or ability to portray the human condition in melody, rhythm and words. Everyone who is honest will admit that the thought of writing a hit song that is loved by the world and that pays for a house or even a retirement is a sweet dream. But since that fantasy is less likely to be realized than it has been in decades (though not impossible), maybe it's best to refocus on making music that is worthwhile for you and a listener or two. And being thankful for the privilege. We don't have to forget about the dream; we just need to keep it from distracting us from why we are here.