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21st century Tin Pan Alley
May 19, 2011 5:46 AM   Subscribe

"Sometimes less," he says cheerfully. "Sometimes I get two hours. Someone comes over at three, we have a cup of tea, chew the cud for a bit, go: 'All right, shall we write a song?' And by six, they've gone home and we've done it. Chasing Pavements, that took two or three hours." The life of today's pro songwriter.
posted by fearfulsymmetry (55 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Obligatory book.
posted by gjc at 5:49 AM on May 19, 2011


I clicked through to the article's linked review of Bruno Mars' "Doo-Wops & Hooligans," and was delighted by this dissection of the songwriting:

"And there is Runaway Baby, on which Bruno Mars compares his penis to a carrot. "So many eager young bunnies," he sighs, "and they all got to share it." There are obviously worse vegetables to compare your penis to – the brussels sprout and the jerusalem artichoke, for example – but it's still an image that seems destined to encourage speculation about exactly what Mars means. It's bright orange and covered in mud? He sprays it with fungicide to discourage powdery mildew? He dangles it in front of a donkey as an incentive? Furthermore, it's an image that haunts the rest of the song. He advises the object of his affections not to get too attached – "Lord knows I'm a rolling stone" – and one thinks: yeah, leaving town before word gets around about your peculiar carrot-like penis."
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:14 AM on May 19, 2011 [15 favorites]


Monkey Toes - Clearly you never read "Lonesome Dove" where carrot is the favored term for penis and is used about two or three times a page.
posted by Faze at 6:43 AM on May 19, 2011


It's enough to make you go Gaga.
posted by Artw at 6:48 AM on May 19, 2011


Faze, nope, but I just planted 200 parsnips and wondered why my McMurtry-reading husband laughed when I said it.

Neglected the link to the Mars review, which also takes apart "Grenade," "on which he expresses his unrequited devotion via a series of violent metaphors so overblown they somehow suggest Bruno Mars can't leave the house without someone trying to lob an anti-personnel weapon at him, shoot him through the head, stab him, or push him in the path of a train – a state of affairs that a cruel observer might suggest is less inexplicable if you've heard the rest of his album."
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:50 AM on May 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Oooh if my love you seek to invoke / Why doncha touch my jerusalem artichoke" ...
posted by the quidnunc kid at 6:51 AM on May 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


quid, there's a Holy Hand Grenade joke just waiting to be made here...
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:54 AM on May 19, 2011


More proof of how people in suits are wrecking the recording industry.
posted by FunkyStar at 7:15 AM on May 19, 2011


"Oooh it's time to throw your books by Bertrand Russell out /
Cos' baby my love is nutritious like a brussels sprout ... "
posted by the quidnunc kid at 7:18 AM on May 19, 2011 [8 favorites]


oh, i'm a killer rabbit with a killer carrot
and baby, baby, baby, i just want to share it
posted by pyramid termite at 7:19 AM on May 19, 2011


"Girl, they say you won't, but I know you will-o /
When I show you my ripe tomatillo /
So girl meet me down by the river at dusk /
Where my love-fruit is encased in an inedible, paper-like husk, ooh yeah ..."
posted by the quidnunc kid at 7:26 AM on May 19, 2011 [9 favorites]


More proof of how people in suits are wrecking the recording industry.

Was there ever a recording industry without the people in suits? There's been millenia of musicians, but concert promotion and sheet music sales were a tiny aspect of music. Once they started mass producing and selling recordings the music has become a tiny aspect of what has become industry.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:26 AM on May 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


Baby come on over here
And butter this aspar'gus spear
posted by cortex at 7:37 AM on May 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Baby lettuce do it
Baby it is thyme
though the rabbit beet you to it
so all that's left is lime (x2)
posted by Sourisnoire at 7:38 AM on May 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


gjc: Obligatory book.

Note the cover's insightful lyrics: "Do Do DooDo"


Things I learned from that article: a semi-indie music label I associate with my high school years (aka the mid-to-late 1990s), Fueled by Ramen, is doing quite well for itself; and Adele, who is sometimes credited as singer-songwriter is sometimes just a singer.

And when I think of songwriters, I first think of a character in a web comic.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:41 AM on May 19, 2011


"Honey baby I don't want you to suffa /
So why don't you chow down on my ridged skin luffa /
I know you're scared but baby just take the plunge /
My ripe, dried fruit is also the source of the loofah or plant sponge ..."
posted by the quidnunc kid at 7:42 AM on May 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Baby, I know love ain't fickle
When you crunch down on my pickle
posted by unSane at 7:43 AM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Oooh I gotta tell you pretty girl /
and I gotta tell you quick /
blah blah something something /
check out my dick."
posted by the quidnunc kid at 7:51 AM on May 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


The only songwriter I knew who didn't perform his own work was a humorless coke head.
posted by The Whelk at 7:52 AM on May 19, 2011


Everything turns to shit if you give it enough time.

I imagine artists as an end-to-end-made-up product is probably how it's always been, though...
posted by palbo at 8:06 AM on May 19, 2011


More proof of how people in suits are wrecking the recording industry.

More proof of how it needs to be supplanted: a million davids with a million 8-tracks and laptops. The bigs don't add anything anymore.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:25 AM on May 19, 2011


My heart it hurts,
Feels like angina,
please let me into,
your sweet embrace.
posted by longbaugh at 8:40 AM on May 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


More proof of how people in suits are wrecking the recording industry.

Let's not be daft, mmmkay? People in suits started the recording industry. You think 'artists' just up and walked into studios on their own and out popped 100,000 copies of a record and then the artist stuck it in his trunk and miraculously the whole world loved it? It's an industry. A business. You think Edison invented recording devices so that he could give them away? You think song publishing companies in the late 1800s didn't exploit artists? I bet they wore suits too.
posted by spicynuts at 8:53 AM on May 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


When gjc said 'obligatory book' I thought he was going to link to this: The Manual by the KLF
posted by DanCall at 8:53 AM on May 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


You know I love you baby
Whether you're smart or dumber
So take off your lid
And brine my cucumber
posted by infinitewindow at 8:56 AM on May 19, 2011


The good news is that, if you're good enough, it is possible to make a living from making music, rather than tossing it in, selling your guitar and getting a job working in an office or managing a plant hire depot or something.

The bad news is that, if you're one of those talented and lucky enough to make it, your work will involve penning mass-market drivel for reality-TV stars and celebrity fame-whores. The excessive drinking of the rock'n'roll lifestyle will be replaced by excessive drinking to blot out the self-loathing when you hear your songs on the radio and think about what happened to your ideals.
posted by acb at 8:57 AM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Did you do it for the money, honey? Did you? Trollope did it for the money, every day writing a set number of words in the morning before he went off to his job in the afternoon. Then there was some guy named Dickens. Pop songwriter employs skills in short time frame, placing inspiration a far second to writing a hit by teatime for the money? I think somebody, somewhere, once wrote "there is nothing new under the sun."

But speaking of root crop thingies, my favorite line from Marvell: "My vegetable love should grow/Vaster than empires, and more slow." Beat that, Bruno Mars.
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:01 AM on May 19, 2011


The excessive drinking of the rock'n'roll lifestyle will be replaced by excessive drinking to blot out the self-loathing when you hear your songs on the radio and think about what happened to your ideals

Yeah, everyone who enjoys writing songs really hates the idea of money and success and loathes the fact they don't live up to some cliched, vapid, bullshit idea of "authenticity" bleated out by internet nobodies.

NOW LET'S FIGHT.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 9:20 AM on May 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


QUIDNUNC KID

SKILL   10        STAMINA   12
posted by the quidnunc kid at 9:21 AM on May 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


A record industry flack once offered me piles and piles of cash to compromise my artistic principles, and I looked at him and said, "sir, that's a lot of money but money isn't why I do what I do". I showed him the door, sat down, and, secure in the knowledge that my integrity was yet unblemished, got back to work writing "Carol of the Butts".
posted by cortex at 9:24 AM on May 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


When it's peach pickin' time in Georgia
It's gal pickin' time for me
J. Rodgers
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:26 AM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


He said son have we got a deal for you,
I'm gonna make you a star and give ya fifty thousand too,
I told him my momma didn't raise no fool,
I'll take your money, I'll make your movie,
I can tell you right now I was born to boogie.

H. Williams (Jr.)
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:27 AM on May 19, 2011


UNSANE

SKILL 1 STAMINA 10E6
posted by unSane at 9:30 AM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Ohhh ... seven years of hard luck, comin' down on me
From the Florida border, yes, up to Nashville Tennessee
I worked in every joint you can name, yessuh, every honkytonk
Along come Mister Yankee Slicker, sayin' maybe you what I want

Want you to sign your contract
Want you to sign today
Gonna give you lots of money
Workin' for MCA"

(Credited to Ed King - Ronnie VanZant)

fourcheesemac, I'm ashamed that when I saw your post, I heard these lyrics in Hank Jr.'s voice.
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:34 AM on May 19, 2011


Debates about "selling out" make for pretty dull Metafilter writing.

Not to say that for an artist, choices about money and art aren't crucial in unimaginably huge ways. Me, I went for a day job.

My most painful memory of selling out was playing "My Way" six nights a week for two months in Japan. Man, I hate that song.
posted by kozad at 9:37 AM on May 19, 2011


There are various reasons why people pick up instruments, start writing songs and form bands. Some do it for the fame and the accoutrements thereof. Some do it to express some deep artistic urge. Many are inspired by the music they've listened to. From doing that, putting some records out and having some degree of success on one's own terms (EMF's "Unbelievable" would count, I imagine) to realising that, since you're not up there at the very top (i.e., in the Olympian heights occupied by the Jaggers and Bowies and such of this world), the best niche available to you in the music industry is that of hack writer, churning out MOR crowd-pleasers as requested by whoever has the chequebook, must be pretty sobering.
posted by acb at 9:47 AM on May 19, 2011


Dude, you roll 2d6 for your attack strength. Don't babble out some rubbish and expect me to lose STAMINA by reading.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 9:53 AM on May 19, 2011


Sorry, dude. I did it my way.
posted by unSane at 10:21 AM on May 19, 2011


It's cool dude. Add 1 point to your LUCK.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 10:29 AM on May 19, 2011


If you are a geniune talent, you can create a fun song quickly, or take a long time to craft a masterpiece. If, like most, you're just faking your way through it, then you have to write quickly to capture the emotion before you overthink and nitpick your song into mediocrity. The former kind of person creates an album, and every song on the album is good; the latter kind of person creates an album, and a couple of songs are good but the rest are shit.

it goes without saying that I write all my songs in an hour or less
posted by davejay at 10:38 AM on May 19, 2011


My penis is a parsnip
My penis is some sprigs
My penis is a rutabaga
If all these foods is bigs
I don't have them in me diet
I push them off the edgeathetables
For I cannot stand the flavor
Of those wretched veggieonthetables.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:35 AM on May 19, 2011


Pretty sure MetaFilter has rules against weird comments like that, Astro. Let's just keep on topic, big guy.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 11:43 AM on May 19, 2011


> The excessive drinking of the rock'n'roll lifestyle will be replaced by excessive drinking to blot out the self-loathing when you hear your songs on the radio and think about what happened to your ideals.

Backstory for Charlie Sheen's character on "Three and a Half Men"?
posted by mmrtnt at 12:01 PM on May 19, 2011


Sorry, the link in the previous comment goes to another MetaFilter thread.
posted by mmrtnt at 12:02 PM on May 19, 2011


When the leaks are in the succotash
and asparagus aligns with chard

Then peas will guide the planets
and corn will rule the stars

this is the dawning of the age of asparagus
the age of asparagus
a spare a gus
posted by mmrtnt at 12:04 PM on May 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Crap!

and asparagus broccoli aligns with chard
posted by mmrtnt at 12:09 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Nobody wants the beautiful slow song that ends up as track 11 on an album but that everyone who buys the album will end up loving best of all.

Yeah, that makes me sad.


Actually some of us find it easier to write something in two hours. And if you are going for pop music (or whatever the genre is in the industry) you can get something fit for that in that amount of time.

The only songwriter I knew who didn't perform his own work was a humorless coke head.

Well, now you know two. I'm not humorless, but I AM a (diet) Coke head.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:24 PM on May 19, 2011


Aside from arms dealers and cocoa kingpins, I tend to reserve judgement about how people pay their rent. You made 300,000 people happy with the instant gratification your downloaded tune offered? Good for you.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:36 PM on May 19, 2011


you hear your songs on the radio and think about what happened to your ideals.

The songwriters I know hear their songs on the radio or on the TV and think "ca-ching!".
posted by Ideefixe at 1:41 PM on May 19, 2011


I don't at all agree with the idea I'm picking up from some people that professional song-writers must naturally be suppressing sinking feelings and regrets about their work. As if pop music were inherently an embarrassing waste of everybody's time. That's madness: Pop is amazing right now, and one of the reasons for that is that in pop they split up all the different tasks that go into making music and hand each one out to somebody who actually knows what the fuck they're doing, instead of waiting around and hoping to find some twenty-something who can get it all done on their own. What's the point of requiring every artist/band to be like that? It's a kind of authenticity that's horribly limiting and in a way, not even authentic. I think it's wonderful that people who want to write songs can just write songs, instead of going through everything that people who are actually famous have to go through. I only wish there were more money in it, but oh well.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 2:24 PM on May 19, 2011


Well, some people want to work like that, and honestly, that's cool, and fine. I listen to that stuff and like it.

But I like being able to write all my own words and my own chords and melodies and communicate what is on MY mind, too. It's apples and oranges, really, but, again, nothing wrong with it being that way.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:38 PM on May 19, 2011


Rose are red
Violets are blue
Some songs rhyme
And this one does not

posted by Sebmojo at 3:16 PM on May 19, 2011


This is the shortest
Song
In the world.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:20 PM on May 19, 2011


This is the shortest
Song
In the world.


♫ No ♫
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 6:22 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


you hear your songs on the radio and think about what happened to your ideals

some of us actually LIKE pop music - and there's no law that says just because you've written one of today's pop songs that you can't do something that's more "credible"

although it's my impression that a lot of genre music operates under rules and methods that can be a LOT more constrictive than what pop musicians work under - and the production techniques and quirky arrangements of today's pop are often as adventurous as anything else being done

here's what i wonder - somewhere, there's some kid, some future genius, who is listening to this stuff, taking it all in and is going to twist it to his/her own purposes - hell, there's probably quite a few

me, i'm really interested in what that will sound like - to the point where i'm willing to make some wild guesses and try it myself
posted by pyramid termite at 9:06 PM on May 19, 2011


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