July 13

The Localist: How To Write an Album, Part 5 – The Process of Overwriting

If you take the next ten songs that you write and make those ten songs an album, then you will have a mediocre album. If your feeling is that those ten songs are absolute bangers, then you have set your sights too low on what a banger is. On the other hand, if you acknowledge that those ten songs aren’t absolute bangers, you have set your sights too low for the album, because unless you can pay your way to recognition, you need to write a full album of absolute bangers to get attention. (And even if you could pay your way, as some musicians do, what would the value in that be?).

Relax though, it’s natural for artists to not immediately write an album from beginning to end. For instance, it used to be the practice that artists would release a series of “B-sides” to a record, reflecting material that was written in the writing sessions for a record, but which never made it to the album cut itself. (These days, artists are likely to just release those B-sides as “singles” for streaming metrics reasons). Essentially, the artists used a process of over-writing after which they culled material down based on its value to the overall feel of the record.

Actually, many (if not most) mainstream artists hire large teams of writers to write songs for them. Sometimes these writers are brought together to co-write material in group sessions that the artist then picks and chooses from to develop into the final material for their record. This process has much the same result as overwriting, except that the artist generally has much less creative input into the music writing process.

Beyond that, many of these musicians essentially contract out the writing for many of the songs to other songwriters who effectively submit songs for consideration as album tracks – a kind of songwriter subcontracting. Given that the number of songwriters and songwriting teams that an artist may seek submissions from is very great, there may be dozens or even hundreds of songwriters that end up providing creative input for a record – only some of which makes it to an album.

And even these subcontractors oftentimes source their material from other places. Many subcontractors trawl the internet for material, for instance looking for Tweets and trending posts for material to appropriate into their music. So really, the number of contributors that are sifted through in album writing can easily number in the thousands.

Looking at it from this perspective, you can see how much you set yourself at a disadvantage by releasing a record that simply takes the first ten songs that you’ve written. You, as a solo singer-songwriter, are competing against an enormous team of writers, who have been paid to team up together, take submissions from other songwriters by submission, trawl the internet for lyrics, and who are funded by a large corporation with a huge production budget. The amount of material they’re sifting through is enormous.

At the very least then, you should overwrite for an album. The only thing that you lose from overwriting is the time it takes to write additional songs. And a better record is going to make more of an impact than releasing records more frequently. People are impressed by a fantastic record, not the fact that the musician is releasing a lot of music.

///**//

The Localist is a column focusing on issues relating to aspiring local musicians in New York City. In his free time, the author performs as St. Lenox. St. Lenox’s most recent record, “Ten Fables of Young Ambition and Passionate Love” was placed on Best Albums lists at Pop Matters and AllMusic. AllMusic credits St. Lenox with “some of the most unique and unconventionally thrilling pop music in the late 2010s.”