Songwriting Camps in the 21st Century is an international research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the German Research Foundation (DFG).
Popular music has a high personal value for many people; it touches us emotionally, creates memories and accompanies us in our daily lives. The listener may not be aware of how the songs we enjoy are created; in many cases, it is through the collaborative effort of a number of people involved: performing artists, record producers, engineers, programmers, arrangers. However, the creators of the most fundamental aspect, the song, are not necessarily included in this list: songwriters who compose the songs to be performed, recorded and released. Despite the romantic notion that performing artists write their own songs, the reality is often quite different. Many songs that enter the charts are (co-)written by professional songwriting teams, increasingly in songwriting camps convened and overseen by publishers and record companies.
This project researches how collaborative songwriting takes place in songwriting camps. As the first study to focus on the UK and Germany, it investigates what forms of songwriting camps exist in the 21st century to understand the interests of convenors (publishers, record companies, individuals) and participating professionals. It investigates the collaborative creative processes and interplay of the different skill-sets of various roles (topliners, beatmakers, lyricists, producers, performers) and offers insights into the organisation of offline and online camps, legal factors, and the role of songwriting camps within the wider music industries. The investigation will uncover who convenes these events, for what purposes, and what is created and ultimately selected for release. Legal factors such as royalties, shares and splits will be considered as well as the power structures at play. Apart from the organisation of these camps, the research will investigate how the participants’ personal, professional and cultural backgrounds influence their aims and actions. This includes an in-depth analysis of the collaborative creative work and the evaluation of the value of collaborative songwriting offline and online. Furthermore, the research will study how the industry uses the results of the camps in the short and medium term.
To understand the organisation, purposes, participants, processes and outcomes of songwriting camps, the research employs a combination of methods, in particular qualitative interviews with 30 professionals (songwriters and industry representatives), ethnographic fieldwork in real-life offline and online songwriting camps with field notes and video recordings, and the implementation of a Songwriting Lab documented with a multi-camera setup and audio-recorded interviews.
The academic understanding of commercial songwriting as a profession and as a creative and economic activity, as well as its realisation in the wider music industries, is still limited. In particular, there is next to no literature on songwriting camps, and all that exists pre-dates Covid-19. For these reasons, the research is expected to have a profound impact. It develops an empirically derived model of songwriting camps with their various actors, interests and the creative, social and economic contexts in which songs are written. In terms of the songwriters themselves, we expect to make a significant impact on the general understanding of this practice and how participants rationalise their involvement. For those who convene songwriting camps, this research will transform their understanding of the commercial and professional potential of songwriting camps as a model of production. While there is a consensus in academic and journalistic literature about the value of collaborative songwriting, the increasingly important role of songwriting camps is not yet well understood. This research project lays the groundwork by developing a systematic model of songwriting camps in the UK and Germany, filling a significant gap in knowledge and providing a foundation for future research in the young field of songwriting studies.