The music industry is confusing. Even those of us in it have a hard time keeping up. A lot of you asked if I’d explain it, though, (as I’ve experienced it) so I’ve taken your requests as a challenge. My goal is to make you feel like the cool kid at your next dinner party.
Here we go…
Let’s use the construction industry as an analogy. It’s a bit oversimplified, but you’ll get the gist of it. The analogy will help you understand the three roles I find myself in most frequently here in Nashville.
Songwriters are like architects in the construction industry (shout out to my sister Ingrid!).
They design the song, create its dimensions and framework. It’s a blueprint, really. Here are the lyrics. The melody goes like this. The chorus repeats this many times. So on and so forth.
Instead of an actual blueprint, a songwriter’s blueprint is a “work tape” and lyric sheet. A work tape is just a low quality recording (iPhone voice memo) of the songwriter(s) performing the song on guitar or piano and singing it. It’s usually pretty rough. Background noise and interruptions, but the idea comes across. And the idea is the important thing.
So here we are — we now have an idea in the form of a song. But it still hasn’t been properly built. It’s intellectual property.
*Side note: this is why publishers sign songwriters. Publishers are in the business of ideas, designs, and blueprints. A publisher is like an architectural firm. A place where one or more songwriters work.
Ok, so where does the Artist fit in?
An Artist is the person who wants to live in the house.
I’m tempted to say the homeowner, but that’s not really true. Because the artist doesn’t own the song. So it’s more accurate to say that the artist inhabits the song (house). People call it their house, just like people call my house my house, even though I didn’t build or design it. Anyway…we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
So, back to the artist. They see the design for a house, and think This would be the perfect house for me. It’s got all the things I’m looking for. I could totally see myself living here.
Why would a songwriter let artists live in their house? Because artists have established identities. They have the resources to help make the house a reality and not just a blueprint.
So, let’s take a look at what we’ve got now. We’ve got a blueprint for a house, which we got from the Songwriter, and we’ve got somebody with resources to make the house a reality, the Artist.
You’re probably following me by now. Yes, this is where the builder comes in.
A producer is like the builder of a house.
Producers are often hired by the artist or record label (more on record labels in a minute) to build the song. How do they get the job? Much like the construction industry. The artist either admires their previous work or perhaps they are a friend or family member.
So the producer takes the blueprint from the songwriter (and/or publisher) and says, Ok, let’s build this house! I’m going to use my crew (musicians) and my tools (studio/ studio gear), and it’s going to be awesome.
Together, the producer and artist (and sometimes, as a courtesy, they let the songwriter peek in) build the house.
Much like construction, there’s back and forth between parties during the process. Yes, that color. No, not that light fixture, it’s too busy. Etcetera, etcetera.
* Side note on record labels. Record labels sign artists (and sometimes producers) because record labels are in the business of developing neighborhoods, so to speak. They want to erect actual houses in neighborhoods and have their artists spread out all over the city.
This is getting a little confusing, I know, but I put a glossary below for reference.
As you’re probably aware, Songwriter, Artist, and Producer often overlap. There are songwriters who are also artists. There are producers who are songwriters (very common in Nashville/LA). And like me, there are many who are all three. But each role has a specific value in the music industry because it solves a particular problem.
Also, the process of building a house, can start with any of the three roles. It doesn’t have to start with the songwriter. Sometimes an artist has a half-built house, then realizes they need help with the design. Or sometimes a producer has built a house, but doesn’t have anyone to live in it yet.
Got follow up questions? Cool! Email them to me.
Artist – house dweller
Songwriter – house architect
Producer – house builder/ general contractor
Song – house blueprint
Recorded Song – house built
Record Label – neighborhood/city developer
Publisher – architect firm
Musician – subcontractor
Genre – neighborhood
Multiple genres – sub city/area of city
Music Industry – city