- Book author
- Christopher Johnson
- Robert Wilsmore
Coproduction is dedicated specifically to the study of an emerging field in music production musicology. It explores the limits of what this field might be, from the workings of a few individuals producing music together in the studio, to vast contributions of whole societies producing popular music.
Taking a wide-ranging approach to examining the field, Coproduction looks through multiple formats including essays, interviews, and case studies, with analysis and commentary of coproduction experiences at Abbey Road studios. It does so by examining multiple disciplines from social science and coproduction in mental health, to philosophy and mathematics. At its extremes (which is the extreme middle and not the blunt ‘cutting edge’) the authors attempt to produce every song in their development of an all-encompassing pop music concept, peculiarly called Toast theory.
In attempting to unite the pragmatic collaborative patterns of Vera John-Steiner with philosophical postmodernist concepts of connection, Coproduction has something to offer readers interested in the traditional workings of teams of producers, as well as those seeking to understand the wider philosophy of collaboration in music production.
As a songwriter who regularly entertains in a pub environment, I am frequently plagued by the sense of having sold out; a notion that by singing other people’s songs I am denying my own creativity, contributing to the dumbing down of popular culture, distancing myself from musical peers and betraying my artistic conscience to take the easy money and keep the audience clapping and the gigs rolling in. Why should I feel like this when the job I am being paid for is to entertain, and the audience will always favour a song they know over one they don’t? This sense that I might be performing in an inauthentic manner is the driving force of this chapter, and what requires examination is my own criteria for constructing authenticity.
The idea of authenticity is a central feature in popular music discourse, prized by musicians, debated by fans and analysed by scholars. Roy Shuker (2017, p.24) writes that authenticity assumes “an element of originality or creativity present, along with connotations of seriousness, sincerity and uniqueness,” and Weisethaunet and Lindberg (2010, p.465) point to terms like “integrity”, “honesty”, “sincerity”, “credibility”, “genuineness”, and “truthfulness” when introducing their ideas about authenticity. Barker and Taylor define the term ‘primarily in opposition to “faking it”’ and note “the notion that honest, raw, pure selfexpression is the thing that matters” (2007, p.ix). Such concepts of originality, creativity, and self-expression are central to discussions about authenticity and form much of the common person’s understanding of the term. Butler writes that “authenticity is constructed discursively: within musical communities, fans, critics and performers argue about what constitutes authenticity and why” (2003, p.1), therefore my audience’s opinions, or at least my imaginings of them, must affect my understanding of my own authenticity.
As a modern freelance musician with a portfolio style career I find that my differing roles afford differing bandwidths for creativity and personal expression, which impact upon my feelings of authenticity. If we use Sternberg’s Propulsion Model of Creativity (2006, p.96) we can map my musical occupations against his creativity types as a crude measure of paradigm shifting and how original each is allowed to be. At one end of the spectrum of my activities, as a songwriter and music producer, the possibilities for expressing an original voice are complex and limitless. I can choose to produce original challenging music, rejecting the current trends of whatever genre I am working in, or conversely write songs that reinforce genre expectation and fall into Sternberg’s ‘Replication’ type of creativity. This is rarely a consideration whilst writing as the creativity type and genre framework of each song can only really be assessed retrospectively, but the point is that they are written in a mental space of relative artistic freedom where self-expression is valued over all other factors, and therefore I feel authentic. As a hired gun playing session guitar or keyboards in another songwriter’s band, or as a composer responding to a client’s commission, the creative possibilities change as effective collaboration within a stylistic framework becomes more important than raw self-expression, but although less frequent, paradigm shifting contributions are still possible and still valued. I am contributing to original work through a creative process that allows for all Sternberg’s creativity types to emerge and therefore I feel authentic.
At the other end of the spectrum of my activities, as a solo performer in a pub environment playing acoustic guitar and singing through a small PA system, my role is to entertain the people in the room. An assumption exists that the songs I will play should be familiar to a generic pub-going crowd, which limits the creativity types to contributions that accept current paradigms (Sternberg 2006, p.96). I want to play songs that resonate with me, regardless of whether or not they are in the public awareness, and therefore such an approach feels less creative and inauthentic. The importance of this feeling of inauthenticity in a performer cannot be understated. In their book Faking It, Barker and Taylor describe authenticity as an absolute, “a goal that can never be fully attained, a quest” (2007, p.27). They examine the effect the desire to be authentic has had on performers and whilst it can produce wonderful heartfelt music, such inner conflicts can be damaging and led to the undoing of Kurt Cobain, Richey Edwards, and Tupac Shakur in the 1990s (Powers 2009). “The question of authenticity in popular music is […] fundamental to thinking about, listening to, and performing it as well” (Barker and Taylor 2007, p.xii) (my emphasis).
This presents our problem: is it possible for a performing songwriter to retain their sense of authenticity whilst still fulfilling their role as a pub entertainer? Is it artistically shallow for them to play it safe and limit their set selections to well-known cover songs whilst rarely performing their own original material, when their natural creative impulse is to work at propelling their art forward and expose audiences to material they haven’t heard before? What would happen if they indulged their artistic reluctance to give the audience what it wants, or what they think it wants, and removed their imposed limitations to reject current paradigms and perform obscure, challenging, and original material?