Benny Andersson, the pianist in Abba, interviewed in a music business website, revealed his and his writing partner Bjorn’s golden rule: if they both didn’t feel the song was the real deal, they wouldn’t do it. His opinion on the modern way of coming up with hits, where 12 different writers contribute to a track, is that he finds it hard to believe how 12 people can agree on anything, let alone really feel the song, really mean it.
I read the article the day after I’d turned down the opportunity to work with an act whose manager said he’d like to get lots of writers in the room to see how the best brains would combine. On paper it looks great with all these wonderful ideas floating around. In practice, the ideas, far from getting sharper, get watered down with everyone second guessing each other about what a hit is.
I felt a bit better about my choice having read Benny’s words. When a writer of Benny’s calibre speaks, us mere mortals should listen.
I’m envious of artists who say “I’m really happy with our records” and “I’m really comfortable with how we make music”.
In thirty years of making a living in music I’ve never been happy or comfortable with any music I’ve made. There’s little comfort in trying hard to find more than stock answers, rewriting, rearranging and replaying what isn’t working, having to delete an entire body of work because it just isn’t cutting it.
The relief of finishing a record brings with it a degree of happiness, as does the sound of kerrching in the bank account when success is found. But as for being artistically happy, I’ve felt it in fleeting moments in between insecurity and doubt about the quality and validity of my work.
To artists who feel happy and comfortable I say: well done.
It’s just that happiness and comfort rarely deliver careers in music, a fact known to all of us who do this for a living.
True enough, artists may well be happy with their records, but unhappy with their careers. Lack of money and resources is often cited as the main reason why their work isn’t being heard. The inference usually is that if it was being heard, it would find success right away.
They should go to the bank and borrow money. A few grand will buy the services of pr/pluggers and, with it, access to tastemakers on all levels.
If the banks won’t lend, Wonga.com offers instant loans without any collateral.
When push comes to shove, the artist is not prepared to take the risk by pressing play on Wonga.com for the same reason why companies in the music business aren’t queuing up to sign them.
Success happens with records other people are happy with.
The solution lies in why we got into this racket in the first place: we love making music. We have something to say. We want others to feel about our music the same way our favourite artist made us feel when we were 15 and their record blew our minds.
Chances are that that record wasn’t made by committee in an effort to tick all the boxes that hits are made of. It was art as an expression and extension of someone’s very personal emotions. It was produced and mixed by professional people using equipment and skills accumulated over many years and hundreds of sessions.
It took both the artist and their team a lot of time, unhappiness and discomfort to get to blow your mind with their art.
Just write the songs and make the right records. You will be discovered.
“EVERY SONGWRITER NEEDS TO SIT THERE, KEEP GOING, AND WAIT FOR ‘IT’ TO HAPPEN” – Benny Andersson of Abba