Vocal Instruction

Should vocalists write their own songs ?

A question often asked by students is: should vocalists write their own songs? In order to cover this great topic in detail, let’s begin with some history.  Looking back we see an interesting chronology of events over the last 80 to 100 years in the evolution of music as it relates to singers and songs.

In the “Golden Era” of music, considered to be the 1930s and 1940s,”Standards” were the rule of the day. Most singers at this point in music history did not write songs. Some of the vocal stars of this era included Helen O’Connell,Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan,  Peggy Lee, Doris Day, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. Of course, Frank became a legendary performer over five-plus decades, and was an incredible interpreter of song while he surrounded himself with great arrangers and producers. But Frank did not write songs.

The song writing process during this era was so individualized, typically one person wrote music and the other the lyrics and then the singer performed the songs with a band.  Some legendary songwriting teams include Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart (Blue Moon, My Romance), Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen (All the way, Love and Marriage) and perhaps the most famous songwriting duo of this era: George and Ira Gershwin (Someone to watch over me, I got rhythm).

But by the latter 1950s and early 60’s, the phenomenon known as the singer-songwriter bloomed out of the folk and rock genres by artists such as Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Carol King. These artists now wrote music and lyrics and performed their songs as well.

In the case of King, she produced songs for publishing companies which were then performed by other artists. By the late 60s/early 70’s King was performing her songs and in 1971 she created the legendary Tapestry album, a multi-million seller. The country music industry is today perhaps the music genre with largest cadre of songwriters who write songs for other singers.

And so today we now have scores of singer-songwriters. Additionally,  there are many singers performing tunes from a variety of writers.  As a singer you must decide the best direction for you. If a singer has the desire and can write good songs then they should do so. But some singers may choose to leave the writing to songwriting professionals. The goal with your songs should be to assemble the best possible songs to propel your career.

Any music artist wants to be associated with the best possible material. From a commercial view, as music artists we want to be paid for performances and if we are fortunate enough to produce songs that sell then we have the opportunity to receive royalties on those songs that we write. To take things one step further, there is the option to pursue your own publishing company for even greater control of your material and for higher economic gain.

So in the end, it all comes down to the songs, the quality of our songs- regardless of the source.

RG