“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain…a well-known line from the movie The Wizard of Oz. It comes up in the scene where Dorothy and her friends discover that the “Wizard” of Oz is really nothing more than a mortal man behind a curtain with some gadgets.
Recently I saw a Facebook post that was a gripe about musical artists that do not write their own songs with a picture of Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus collectively known as Milli Vanilli. First off, to set the record straight Milli Vanilli not only did not write their material they also did not even perform it which yes, I feel is total fraud. However, as far as artists writing their own material, spoiler alert….many (if not most) artists in the Pop and Country genre’s do not write their own material. Even in the late 80’s many Rock artists (Heart, Aerosmith, Kiss) did not write most of their hits. This is the way it has been done WAY before even Elvis. While many may look down upon this think of it it this way…do actors write their own lines? No, screenwriters and a writing team do. Behind every performer in the entertainment world (which pretty much is EVERY performer) there is a team of people that make that happen. Producers, writers, engineers, managers, booking agent, publicists, PR firms, and the list go on.
I heard it was George Straight that said (although don’t hold me to that – either way it’s rather profound) “If I sing it they think I wrote it, if I wrote they think I lived it”. Unfortunately that’s how many people perceive performers and they forget that they are exactly that… “Performers”, basically actors and entertainers. Is it pretty amazing when such a performer DOES write their own songs? Of course, as well as if they produce their albums etc. But, is an artist obligated to be their own writer, producer, engineer etc? Where do we then draw the line? I don’t think it’s realistic to expect that a musician do all those things mentioned above (although many do at least several of them, myself included) and obviously the more of those they do the more they deserve respect, provided they do them well. That’s where the problem begins. Like anything, we as people can only do so many things and do them well, at some point some areas begin to suffer. So, would you rather have an amazing singer that makes a song totally come alive and hit home with you such as a Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, (insert favorite singer that doesn’t write songs) or a great writer that can’t perform their song well enough to excite you?
The point is, some are performers yet not writers and some are writers yet not performers. Some are business minds that love music and many musicians are not business minded. That is why artists have teams and when you get a great combination of all those individuals in those specialized areas, magic happens…the perfect storm. Just like actors have writers, the director, the makeup person, and camera crew, musicians have many behind the scenes that help them give a star performance and sometimes that means not writing their own songs but relying on writers who excel in that area. That is also why songwriters have jobs. So think about this next time you hear a song on the radio that REALLY moves you…that performer delivered it in way that made you go “WOW!” Does it really matter if they wrote it or not? Oh and one last thought…you know that song by Barry Manilow called “I Write the Songs”? Well, he didn’t write it ;)