In 2016, the 100 most popular hit singles in the world were written by an average of 4.53 people, according to a study conducted by Music Week. In the top 30, this average increased to 4.67. In addition, 13 of the songs listed a minimum of eight credits.
However, only five were the work of a solo writer. One of these was a cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” by Jonas Blue and Dakota. The other four were “I Took a Pill in Ibiza” by Mike Posner and “My Way” by Calvin Harris, as well as “Heathen” and “Stressed Out” by Twenty One Pilots.
The findings reflect an increase, over the past decade, in the commercial success of team-based songwriting and a corresponding decrease in the number of solo writers topping charts. In 2006, the average number of writers involved in creating a top 100 hit was 3.52, while 14 songs were written by lone composers.
“Think back 20 years and an artist would take at least two or three albums to really hone their craft as a songwriter,” Mike Smith, managing director, Warner/Chappell UK, told Music Week. “There is a need to fast-forward that process [which means record labels] bring in professional songwriters, put them in with artists and try to bring them through a lot faster.”
Mark Sutherland, editor, Music Week, writes, “Increasingly, labels and publishers are holding songwriting camps for upcoming projects, bringing in multiple songwriters to multiple rooms to cook up songs with a specific client in mind. In their quest to break new acts they’re also more likely to pair them with pro writers to get quicker results … [they often] end up with a cut-and-shunt hybrid that may not represent the purity of any one person’s artistic vision but sure sounds banging on one of those ‘hot hits’ playlists.”
One act that is concerned about the potential homogenisation of music is Scottish trio Chvrches. “People don’t make albums any more,” band member Iain Cook told the BBC in 2014. “They make 11, 12 songs, and they put them out as an album, but they feel like a greatest hits, or a playlist.”
Martin Doherty, fellow band member, said, “It’s a regurgitation of whatever cool counter-culture is going on. It’s like, ‘We’ve got the rap one, we’ve got the house one, we’ve got the R&B banger.’ And maybe out of those 10 or 11 songs, those co-writes that you do, there’s a global number one. But it’s not yours.”