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Does a hit song really need 9 writers?

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Rudimental, Dan Caplen, Jess Glynne and MacklemoreImage copyright
Atlantic Records

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Rudimental, Dan Caplen, Jess Glynne and Macklemore – just some of the writers on These Days

Rudimental’s uplifting dance track These Days has been named the most-performed song of 2018 at the prestigious Ivor Novello Awards.

A major international hit, it topped charts across Europe, and became the UK’s fifth best-selling single of 2018.

But their prize had to be shared between nine writers – a phenomenon that’s become increasingly common.

According to research by Music Week, it took an average of 5.34 people to write last year’s Top 100 biggest singles.

That’s up from 4.84 in 2017, and 4.53 the year before. So what’s going on?

“It’s a sign of the times,” says Jamie Scott, who wrote the first draft of These Days in a shed at the bottom of his garden.

“You go into a [songwriting] session and there are five people in a session and, if everyone is doing a great job, then there’s going to be five people on the credits.

“And if they’re not, then next time there are going to be four people in the session.”

Scott says songwriting teams have blossomed because streaming services demand a constant supply of new material: An artist who wants to stay at the front of fans’ minds needs to put out more new music, more frequently, than at any other time in pop history.

“You need songs out there – literally one a month for streaming,” he says.

“It’s a business and people want a great product. That’s what we’re here to do – and that’s why you’ll find six or seven or even 12 writers on a song.”

It can go even higher than that. Anne Marie’s 2002 has 18 writers; Drake’s Nice For What lists 22; and Travis Scott’s Sicko Mode credits a staggering 30 people, each of whom receives a wafer-thin slice of the royalties.

Song ‘skeletons’

To be fair, all of those tracks contain samples and/or lyrical fragments of other songs, whose writers receive a mandatory credit in the post-Blurred Lines era of copyright litigation.

But co-writing culture is so ingrained that even singer-songwriters like George Ezra and Lewis Capaldi take a helping hand in the studio, albeit on a more one-to-one basis.

“I often write with other people and I always enjoy it,” says James Blunt, whose last album had collaborations with seasoned hitmakers like Ryan Tedder (Adele, Beyonce) and Johnny McDaid (Ed Sheeran, Snow Patrol).

“I still write very much from the heart but it’s nice to have someone to show me the elusive fourth chord – otherwise I’d always just be repeating the same three.”

For pop star Dua Lipa, working with co-writers helped her learn her craft at the start of her career.

“I was always able to write – essays and poetry – but I never really sat down to write a song,” she says.

“So when I started going into the studio, I learned a lot from the co-writers that were coming in to help me – the bones of how to write a proper song.

“But now I feel able to take the lead.”

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Dua Lipa / Instagram

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Dua Lipa and Silk City’s hit single Electricity credits 10 writers – but she wrote the bulk of the song in the studio with Mark Ronson and Diplo

Songwriting sessions aren’t for everyone, however.

After making two records in a Glaswegian basement, pop trio Chvrches attended a songwriting camp to see if it could bring a new dimension to their third album, 2018’s Love Is Dead.

“These guys were writing a track and we were bouncing ideas around when a couple of producers came in and kind of sprinkled a chorus on,” recalls singer Lauren Mayberry.

“And then they left… We were just like, ‘What just happened? Have they gone to the toilet? Are they coming back?’

“But no, they’d left like ‘Boof! There’s your chorus. Goodbye’.

“That song did not make it any further.”

Personal touch

Let’s Eat Grandma, whose psych-pop opus I’m All Ears was up for album of the year at the Ivor Novellos, have also shunned writing camps.

“When that many people get involved, everyone is almost competing for their ideas to be heard,” says singer Rosa Walton. “It makes it hard to be honest and open.”

“If you’ve got really personal songs, you don’t really want to share them with people you don’t know that well,” agrees her bandmate Jenny Hollingworth, “because then you can’t really be yourself.”

That’s exactly why Olly Alexander (largely) avoided co-writers on Years and Years’ recent album Palo Santo,

“I don’t really want to sing a song someone else has written,” he says. “I have to be the person who writes the lyrics and who writes the top line [melody].

“I wouldn’t feel comfortable otherwise.”

Dance producer Jax Jones, who’s scored top 10 hits with Breathe and You Don’t Know Me, says the proliferation of writing credits often obscures the fact that songs originate with one or two people, who will ultimately take the lion’s share of royalties.

“When I’ve had experience of writing in LA, you might get a killer song but as a producer, I’ll be like, ‘Alright, I need a better part here’.

“And I know someone who’s incredible at writing a verse, or a bridge, so I’m going to call them and get them involved.

“But that’s traditional record making,” he argues. “Quincy Jones works like that, Kanye West works like that. It’s amalgamating all these incredible talents, and that’s why you get incredible records.”

That’s pretty much a template for how These Days came together. It was originally written by up-and-coming R&B singer Dan Caplen in a session with the team behind One Direction’s Drag Me Down – Jamie Scott, Julian Bunetta and John Ryan.

He sent it to his label, who passed it on to Rudimental. The band liked the song and did some additional production work, earning each of their four members a share of the rights.

Finally, US rapper Macklemore was asked to contribute a guest verse – resulting in a ninth, and final, credit.

Caplen admits the figure looks ridiculous but says the song “needed a little Midas touch to make it what it is today”.

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Getty Images

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Dan Caplen says any hit single needs the “perfect mix” of hard work and inspiration

In general, however, Caplen prefers to work with a smaller team.

“You know when there’s too many cooks in the kitchen? I say three or four maximum,” says the 27-year-old.

But the real question is whether the climate of co-writing genuinely affects what we hear.

“A film isn’t necessarily more enjoyable if it’s based on a true story. Likewise, a song isn’t necessarily any better or any more heartfelt, or convincing, because it was written by the singer,” wrote Bob Stanley in his peerless history of pop, Yeah Yeah Yeah.

And Natasha Khan, aka Bat For Lashes, argues the modern hit factory isn’t too different from the 1960s, when teams like Dozier-Holland-Dozier wrote timeless soul classics in the back room of Motown Records.

“Five writers seems like a lot,” she says. “It feels like it’s manufacturing something.

“But if a great pop song comes out of it then, why not?”

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Children In Need 2019: Strictly, Star Wars and soaps help charity appeal

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Craig Revel Horwood, Motsi Mabuse, Shirley Ballas, Bruno Tonioli

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The Strictly Come Dancing judges in charitable mood

Stars from Strictly, Star Wars, Doctor Who and EastEnders are lending a hand to Children In Need to help raise funds in this year’s charity BBC TV appeal.

The five-hour telethon also features England football players, a celebrity edition of music quiz The Hit List and songs by Louis Tomlinson and Westlife.

They are all hoping viewers will donate to Children In Need, which supports 3,000 local charities and projects.

Last year, £50.6m was raised on the appeal night.

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The hosts: Marvin and Rochelle Humes, Mel Giedroyc, Tom Allen, Graham Norton, Ade Adepitan and Tess Daly

Children in Need is the BBC’s official UK charity and raises money for disadvantaged young people around the country, such as those experiencing poverty, with disabilities, or victims of abuse or neglect.

This year, comedian Tom Allen joins a presenting line-up that also includes Graham Norton, Tess Daly, Mel Giedroyc, Ade Adepitan and Marvin and Rochelle Humes.

EastEnders actors Ricky Champ (who plays Stuart Highway), Louisa Lytton (Ruby Allen), Maisie Smith (Tiffany Butcher) and Rudolph Walker (Patrick Trueman) swap Albert Square for the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom for the night.

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Strictly judge Craig Revel Horwood appears in a sketch with EastEnders’ Ricky Champ and Rudolph Walker

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The EastEnders teamed up with Strictly professionals

Star Wars actors Daisy Ridley and John Boyega challenge YouTuber Colin Furze to build a real working landspeeder [vehicle that hovers], helped by young people from Children In Need projects.

Doctor Who’s Jodie Whittaker also makes an appearance, and Norton gives three children the chance to be on his chat show sofa – and the power to tip joke-telling celebrities out of his famous big red chair.

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Graham Norton gives Julio, Iara and Emma control over his famous lever

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Will Julio like the jokes told by Anneka Rice in the big red chair?

Meanwhile, there are special versions of Mock The Week, Crackerjack and Dragon’s Den, along with performances from Michael Ball and Alfie Boe, plus the casts of Big, The Tina Turner Musical and Circus 1903.

England footballers Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling have been filmed surprising children from the England Amputee Football Association.

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England stars Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling with children from the England Amputee Football Association and presenter Mark Wright

A special edition of BBC One’s The Hit List features pop stars including rapper Wretch 32, ex-JLS singer JB Gill, Heidi Range from the Sugababes, Girls Aloud’s Nadine Coyle, Liberty X star Michelle Heaton and Blue’s Antony Costa.

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JB Gill and Wretch 32 on the special Hit List

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Marvin and Rochelle Humes host The Hit List

TV personality Rylan Clark-Neal has already raised more than £1m for the cause with his 24-hour karaoke marathon on BBC Radio 2.

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Media captionRylan’s karaoke challenge: The best bits

Children in Need is on BBC One at 19:30 GMT on 15 November

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Al Murray: ‘Nephew needs a transplant before Christmas’

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Comedian Al Murray is urging people to sign up to a blood stem cell register run by the cancer charity DKMS.

His nephew Finley, aged six, has a rare and aggressive form of childhood leukaemia.

He is undergoing chemotherapy but his best chance of fighting the disease is a bone marrow transplant.

Watch the Victoria Derbyshire programme on BBC Two and BBC News Channel, 10:00 to 11:00 GMT – and see more of our stories here.



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Taylor Swift says AMAs performance in doubt amid music feud

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Taylor Swift performs at the MTV Video Music Awards in New Jersey, US, 26 August 2019Image copyright
Reuters

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Swift is being named Artist of the Decade at this month’s AMAs

Taylor Swift has said her performance at the upcoming American Music Awards (AMAs) is in doubt because she is being barred from performing her own songs.

In a message to fans on social media, the singer said music managers Scooter Braun and Scott Borchetta would not let her perform songs from her past albums, which they own the rights to.

She said a Netflix documentary about her life had also been put in jeopardy.

Braun and Borchetta have not yet responded.

Swift made the allegations in a statement posted to Twitter with the caption: “Don’t know what else to do”.

“Right now my performance at the AMAs, the Netflix documentary and any other recorded events I am planning to play until November 2020 are a question mark,” she wrote.

Why is there a feud?

In June, Swift revealed that the masters of her early music had been sold to Braun by her former record label, run by Borchetta, and alleged that she was not told about it.

At the time the singer accused Braun, who also manages Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber and Demi Lovato, of “incessant, manipulative bullying”.

  • Swift v Braun: Personal or strictly business?
  • Taylor Swift ‘bullied’ by man who now owns her music

Swift also accused Braun of attempting to “dismantle” her “musical legacy”. While he did not respond to her comments, he was supported by Lovato and Bieber, who claimed Swift was just out “to get sympathy”.

The singer confirmed in August that she planned to re-record music from her first six albums so she could own the rights to the new versions.

What about the AMAs and Netflix documentary?

Swift is set to be named Artist of the Decade at the AMAs later this month and said she had been planning to perform a medley of her hits.

But in her statement on Thursday, she said the two men had blocked her from performing her old songs on television, claiming that this would be re-recording her music before she is allowed to next year.

They also blocked the use of her older music or performance footage in the upcoming Netflix film, she claimed.

Swift alleged that Borchetta told her team she would only be allowed to use the music if she agreed “not to re-record copycat versions” next year and stopped talking about the two men.

“The message being sent to me is very clear. Basically, be a good little girl and shut up. Or you’ll be punished,” she wrote.

She went on to ask her fans to help to pressure Braun and Borchetta into changing their minds and to appeal to the artists they manage for help. She also asked for help from the private equity firm The Carlyle Group, which she said financed the sale.

Fans responded instantly, with the hashtags “IStandWithTaylor” and “FreeTaylor” trending on Twitter.



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