I Write the Songs… And Now You Can, Too!

Scott McGibbon is a Project Specialist at the Norman Lear Center.

1369844459_adam-levine-articleI was glad when I learned earlier this year that singer-songwriter¬†Imogen Heap was working on a new album and intrigued when it was announced she was going to crowd-source the composing of the songs, with an anticipated schedule of one new song every three months. She’s been a one-woman band for a while; what a smart way to use social media to shift the dynamics of her creative process, right? Heap welcomed recorded sounds, words, pictures, art and video from fans, uploaded to her Web site and then proposed a two week assembly and tweaking process before she formally released the song, originally titled “heapsong1.” She promised appropriate credit and pay for contributors and also invited fans to use all the uploaded resources to compose a work of their own.

What a fun, fresh, creative and transparent enterprise. So then why is the result so flat, so, well, God-awful, not even up to the least of her previous work? Is crowd-sourcing creativity a roadmap to FAIL?

Before I could even ponder that, Becca Johnson, a member of the Popular Music Project‘s student work group with 2011 Artist in Residence Raymond Roker, wrote a blog post about the band Maroon 5 teaming up with Coca Cola on a “24 Hours Session,” where the band took on writing and recording a song in 24 hours based

on fan tweets. Now, no one outside of Brentwood (the band’s hometown) thinks Maroon 5 offers much other than the occasional pop hit with a catchy hook sung by pin-up lad Adam Levine (now a judge on NBC’s The Voice), so crowd-sourcing song composition ought to work just fine in this case. But Lord-a-mommy, as a co-worker used to say, this song just hurts!

Doesn’t the music industry have enough grief already? Do these sorry efforts simply reflect the chasm between short, instantaneous thoughts and what might be called “true” lyrics, which tend to come from a very deep place or are painstakingly crafted to appear that way?

What’s to be made of this new trend? Well, perhaps it’s not so new and there’s reason for hope in the long run. A recent New York Times piece on the Cole Porter song “You’re the Top” noted that Porter asked his fellow passengers on a cruise down the Rhine to name the most wonderful thing they’d seen or done. And then he used some of their replies in the lyrics. So, kind of an analog version of crowd-sourcing. Listen to this great version of YTT.

Maybe there’s still hope for Imogen and Adam.


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