Is nobody capable of making a hit single on their own these days?  Just take a look at last week’s singles Top 50; there are 18 singles that are credited to more than 1 artist (and that’s not including Noah and the Whale).  Rewind 10 years and 8 singles are credited to more than 1 artist; go back another 10 years and it’s down to 5.  Go back another 10 years to 1981 and there are 2 (and one of those is a comedian with a brass band).  You don’t need to be a statistician to spot a trend there, do you?

It’s not as if the idea of getting together with your mates to knock out a quick track to keep your dealer off your back is a new idea, but it’s never been quite as blatant as it is at the moment.  There’s nothing wrong with a good duet when there’s a bit of sexual chemistry going on (say, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell) or just old-fashioned hero worship (the whole Tom Jones “Reload” album) but the current obsession with multiple-artist songs has nothing to do with that, and I blame Rick Rubin.

Why? “Walk This Way”, that’s why.  In 1986, Rick Rubin combined Run DMC with Aerosmith and created an MTV goldmine. Hundreds of music business powder-monkeys suddenly realised that they had the answer to their prayers.  Why try to obey market segmentation rules when you can shoehorn different musical cultures together and call it a collaboration?  You also get the chance to tap in to more than 1 fanbase for any given single, so make sure your collaborators represent totally separate markets. How about Sting and Pato Banton?  Don’t forget dance music in the early 90s either; there was a legal obligation at that time to have at least 16 bars of rap 2/3 of the way through dance singles of every genre.

So there’s a chance for a bit of genuine musical creativity here, musicians collaborating across genres to produce new forms and push back musical boundaries.  Not unless you lived in Bristol apparently.  Massive Attack produced 2 timeless, essential albums and the local scene also gave us the likes of Tricky, Portishead and Martina Topley-Bird.  It should have opened the doors for all sorts of creative collaborations, but the music-buying public preferred Blur and Oasis.

So it’s 2011 and you’re putting together the package for the new Katy Perry single “ET”.  What’s the first thing you would do to make it more commercial?  How about an intro by Kanye West that sounds like it was thrown together by a 3-year old with a sampler?  Sounds about right.  The J-Lo former number 1, “On the Floor” is a huge party anthem aimed at the Ibiza dance market, so what’s the last thing you would want on there? Spot on, a rap by Pitbull smeared all over it.  It’s all about increasing market penetration and absolutely nothing else.  It wouldn’t be quite so bad if you thought that it was actually a collaboration where the artists got together and produced something from a meeting of creative minds, but the reality is something like: “Have a listen to this and can you email me a 32-bar rap for bars 256-288 by the end of the week?”

Maybe it’s a bit radical, but wouldn’t it be great if you got a good melody with some interesting chords under it, decent lyrics and a good vocal performance (preferably without Autotune) and put the whole lot together as a song?  Any chance of that catching on?

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One Response to “Isitjustme…”
  1. Jo Musson says:

    Absolutely spot on. I couldn’t have put it better myself!

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