As we head into Grammy weekend, Harvey Mason Jr, the CEO of the Recording Academy, deserves to be commended for restructuring the organization to credit and support songwriters like never before. Among the positive changes under his watch: establishing a songwriter wing and including writer credits on albums. Seeing as Harvey is a publisher and songwriter himself, music makers, and those who represent them, are looking to him to endorse a Grammy category for songwriter of the year.
Its dumbfounding that the Grammys do not recognize songwriting as a craft. After all, writers are indispensable to the creative process and embedded into the very core of music. As creatives, songwriters are consistently under-credited and largely under-compensated, receiving the smallest share of the streaming pie — Spotify and the labels take four times what the songwriter is allotted — and rarely allowed to participate in merchandise based on their lyrics or to share in master points for records.
As it turns out, neglected songwriters have existed since the dawn of popular American music. Luckily Canadian, British, Chinese and Swedish Grammy equivalents have implemented distinguished “Songwriter of the Year” categories for years to ensure that these songwriters can enjoy the same benefits and provenance such an award gives its recipients.
The effects of the pandemic have rapidly transitioned the music industry into a song economy, and record labels are increasingly turning to hitmakers, like my client Starrah, to elevate the potential of their artists with chart-topping songs. If the Recording Academy’s mission is to positively impact the society of music creators at large, then the perspective of songwriters needs to be reshaped through recognition. If screenwriters are celebrated at both the Oscars and the Emmys, why should songwriters in the music industry be left out of the celebration when it comes to the Grammys?
On the flip side, the surge of new music-tech startups and Web3 innovations gaining traction makes me optimistic that smart contracts, the blockchainification of royalty data and fan-centric licensing models will elevate songwriters and rightsholders dramatically when it comes to the economic equation. Platforms like HiFi and Beatbread are reshaping the way creators get paid, while startups like Xposure have been shining a spotlight on songwriters and producers like never before. (Editor’s note: And, of course, there’s Variety‘s annual hitmakers list, which awards the writers, producers, engineers and A&R who truly shaped the songs we love.) These platforms are trying to democratize the new music industry for everyone, but especially songwriters.
Change is coming fast as 30% of the revenue made in music last year came from sources that originally claimed they didn’t need to pay musicians.
Now is the time to make change happen from within. I truly believe we can get this done. Four years ago, myself and a group of Grammy board members submitted a formal proposal to introduce a songwriter of the year category. I further championed the idea in an editorial for this very website. The category was denied, but I write today’s op-ed with a sense of renewed optimism and hope — that an era of songwriter recognition and remuneration will come. We look to the Grammys to help usher in that long overdue recognition, and create a songwriter of the year award once and for all.
Nick Jarjour manages the hitmaker Starrah and is global head of song management for Hipgnosis Songs Fund.