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Do real artists have to be songwriters?

In the 1950s, it was still quite common that singers were only performers, while the songs were written and arranged by professional songwriters. This changed in the 1960s, with the rise of artists such as Bob Dylan, The Beatles, or The Rolling Stones for example. Soon it was a common belief that only so-called “singer-songwriters”, or bands that wrote their own music, were real artists.

This, of course, is not true.

YOU MAY BE A MORE COMPLETE ARTIST IF YOU WRITE YOUR OWN SONGS, BUT THIS WON’T MAKE YOU ANY BETTER THAN A GREAT TEAM OF WRITERS AND SINGERS.

Not all great artists have been singer-songwriters

Both Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra were great artists, even if they didn’t write their own songs. And I still prefer Elvis Presley performing a great song written by Leiber and Stoller over Justin Bieber writing his own stuff for example.

Many of the greatest songs of the 1960s were not written by their performers by the way: 

  • Aretha Franklin’s Respect was written by Otis Redding,
  • the Ronettes’ Be My Baby, as well as Ike and Tina Turner’s River Deep Mountain High, were written by Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, and Phil Spector,
  • Elvis Presley’s Jailhouse Rock and Hound Dog were both written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller,
  • Martha and the Vandellas’ Dancing In The Street was written by Marvin Gaye,
  • and so on… 

Most of the classic songs produced by Motown Records have been written by professional writers by the way, and many of them are now being considered to be among the greatest songs of all times.

SO IN THE END, IT DOESN’T MATTER WHO WROTE THE SONG AND WHO PERFORMED IT, AS LONG AS BOTH THE SONG ITSELF AS WELL AS THE PERFORMANCE ARE GREAT.

The quality of the music is more important than any writing credits

Being a singer-songwriter won’t help you if either your songs are crap, or if your performance sucks. And most people still prefer a good remake over a bad original.

You also shouldn’t forget that almost all great musicians have been supported by their managers and producers. Actors usually don’t write their movie scripts either, and many visual artists get help too, or they work in teams.

BEING AN ARTIST DOESN’T MEAN THAT YOU WILL HAVE TO DO EVERYTHING ON YOUR OWN.

A great product is often the result of successful teamwork.

But, on the other hand, you also shouldn’t do what many of today’s entertainers are doing, and that’s having up to 10 or even 20 writers per song.

Don’t go down the Beyoncé-road by having up to 100 writers and producers on a single album, even if some of those writers may be good artists themselves.

YOU WILL NEED A VISION IF YOU WANT TO CREATE REAL ART, AND REAL REVOLUTIONS HAVE USUALLY BEEN SPARKED EITHER BY INDIVIDUALS, OR BY SMALLER TEAMS.

You can be a loner, but you don’t have to. Your only goal should be to create great art, and in the end, most people won’t care about how you achieved that goal.

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This article has been taken from the Jamplifier's Manual: How to become a Rock Star in the 21st Century.
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