Thursday, July 2, 2009

Who is the Author and why isn't the drummer getting paid?

Been thinking about collaboration in my own musical world and other types of art, too. What is the relationship between the idea of a "sole author" and the real process of making art? Is the heroic solo author just a figurehead we need so that we can refer to the art and imagine that it comes from one body?

From the inside, I am more and more aware that any good piece of music I am involved with turns out to be a collaboration, even the stuff I once would have called "solo" work. Even if just one person writes a song, there still may be 6 musicians performing the song, a producer and two engineers recording the song, a mixer and a mastering engineer creating the final sound of the song, a kitchen cabinet of friends and spouse and peers telling the singer whether it's good enough to release, etc, etc. Pretty quickly, you're up to 12 specialists and at least a few trusted sets of ears afterwards.

And this is the case for almost all the music we think of as the work of a single artist - Bon Iver perhaps an exception to this, but he's the rare one.

But the thing I'm thinking of is that even in the visual art I go to see, the work is often a site-specific collaboration between artists and venue - an artist or two flies into town, looks at a room/park/building/atrium, gathers up some fabricators/engineers/collaborators, and when they leave town they leave behind them a cool piece of conversation fuel on tap for the public.

Even though these works are promoted to us as solo artworks, they're no less collaborative than the songs I get involved in.

So why do we still need the heroic solo author in the press materials and on the outside wall of the musuem? Is it just because a group photo is a mess? Is it because we need a figurehead just in order to talk about the art or music?

I am wondering whether our mental picture of how art and music are made are going to catch up to this reality or whether we'll always need that figurehead.

Last night I went out to a show - a friend of mine, Sara Watkins, came to Minneapolis, taught her songs to the band Romantica, and they played them together at the Ritz. I found it to be very inspiring and beautiful just as music, but even more than that I was fascinated by Romantica's willingness to let their "identity" as a band flex. They temporarily absorbed elements of Sara's vision and vice versa and the night was more exciting for it. I know this isn't a new practice, but it seems to be happening a lot among the musicians I know.

Here's another comment on the question of authorship: the biggest unacknowledged travesty in crediting and payment of royalties in music is that drummers are not paid royalties on the tracks they record. I think that most great rock songs boil down to being a great duet between the singer and the drummer. The feel that the drummer brings to the recording is almost the whole thing. But the way the payment is structured is that the singer gets royalties on sales of the recording, being the "artist." Drummers of the world, unite! It's time to get paid for your ideas, before that idea competely bites the dust.


Lambophil said...

This is very true. I keep thinking of exactly the same thing. It also applies in my field of work where film directors are credited constantly, however the writers are left in the dark; rarely mentioned. There is also the vast remainder of the crew involved in filmaking who all contribute in some form or another. The script writer is an essential part of the team, so is the Director of photography, editor etc.

Similarly in music, I imagine all the musicians in a studio jam session working out the kinks of a song collectively, working it out as a group.

Spencerhouse said...

Don't even get me started on the dance world and choreographers who don't dance in their own work, but take all of the credit. No matter how much they thank the dancers, it's still her/his name on the program.

Interesting subject to noodle on.