Documenting Collaborative Songwriting

Today I’m at the Royal Musical Association study day at the University of Oxford, presenting a paper about the methodological challenges of observing and analysing collaborative songwriters’ creativity. For the convenience of those who are there today I’ve pasted the references at the bottom of this post. An academic paper with more detail will be published soon in the Journal on the Art of Record Production (Issue 8, December 2013).


Documenting collaborative songwriters’ creativity using Linear Event Analysis

It is a little-known fact that almost half of the hit songs in the USA of the last 60 years were written by collaborative teams[1]. Songs acquire immense cultural and economic value, and good songwriters are celebrated in the music industry, but collaborative songwriting practices remain largely unexplored by popular musicology or cognitive psychology. Psychologist John Sloboda[2] identified the methodological challenges in understanding the creative mind of a composer, and concluded that the best way of acquiring evidence of compositional decision-making was real-time reporting of composing as it occurs. Such ‘verbal protocol analysis’ into composers’ creativity has been attempted by a small number of researchers (e.g. Collins[3]) but such methods are necessarily interventionist and therefore risk subjecting the composer to the observation effect. Collaborative songwriting is immanently communicative, so some of the methodology problems identified by Sloboda can be solved through ‘linear event analysis’ – i.e. audio recordings of the songwriting process. This evidence base can be triangulated with computer-assisted generation of iterative documentation such as ‘track changes’ lyric edits and ‘save as’ audio files. These evidence bases can then be compared with the finished product – the song itself – and tentative conclusions about authorial intent and processes can be drawn. In this paper the author will describe his emergent research into observation methodologies for popular songwriting, and outline the techniques and systems he has used to try to answer the question ‘what do collaborative songwriters do’ in a musically meaningful way.

Keywords: songwriting, popular musicology, music psychology, creativity studies.

[1] T. F Pettijohn II and S. F Ahmed, “Songwriting Loafing or Creative Collaboration?: A Comparison of Individual and Team Written Billboard Hits in the USA,” Journal of Articles in Support of the Null Hypothesis 7, no. 1 (2010): 2.
[2] John Sloboda, The Musical Mind : the Cognitive Psychology of Music (Oxford University Press, 1985).
[3] David Collins, “Real-time Tracking of the Creative Music Composition Process,” Digital Creativity 18, no. 4 (December 2007): 239–256, doi:10.1080/14626260701743234.


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