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"Music reviewers devote their attention to those who care about their work, and it’s rare to see a “classic” or universally-adored piece of music that was written for hire."

Let's not forget how european classical music came to be a form of work for hire where patrons, for variable amounts of time, sometimes decades, payed for musical art creation. Hope I am not reading that wrong but the op is lacking historical reference and concentrating on a very specific contemporary frame.

Also, most successful music today is made by songwrites hired for the job. By this I mean 'commercial' artists such as Rihanna, Lady Gaga and Beyonce-like ones songwriters.

OP sees this too black and white. With passion comes devotion, with devotion comes practice, with practice comes performance, with performance comes sucess. Kinda.

Lady Gaga is prob not a good example since she writes or has a big hand in writing pretty much all her songs. Like most pop artists she utilizes producers and songwriters, but she relies on them less than say Rihanna who essentially has had all her hit songs written for her (or picked up songs originally written for other singers).


There was once an article about a "songwriters auction" where songwriters would pitch their music to producers of famous singers. (sorry can't find it now)

For most commercial pop music it's an assembly line really. Several stages specializing in one thing. McD ideas for McD music. Tastes the same as well.

The pop-music assembly line is actually pretty fascinating -- and definitely staffed by artists. Check out this New Yorker article about Ester Dean, whose role on the assembly line is coming up with a hook for the producer's computer-generated tracks:

Dean has a genius for infectious hooks. Somehow she is able to absorb the beat and the sound of a track, and to come out with its melodic essence. The words are more like vocalized beats than like lyrics, and they don’t communicate meaning so much as feeling and attitude—they nudge you closer to the ecstasy promised by the beat and the “rise,” or the “lift,” when the track builds to a climax. Among Dean’s best hooks are her three Rihanna smashes—“Rude Boy” (“Come on, rude boy, boy, can you get it up / Come on, rude boy, boy, is you big enough?”), “S&M” (“Na-na-na-na COME ON”), and “What’s My Name” (“Oh, na-na, what’s my name?”), all with backing tracks by Stargate—and her work on two Nicki Minaj smashes, “Super Bass” (“Boom, badoom, boom / boom, badoom, boom / bass / yeah, that’s that super bass”) and David Guetta’s “Turn Me On” (“Make me come alive, come on and turn me on”).


I mean, sure it's ridiculous, but these tracks are made by people who are uniquely good at the ridiculous things they like doing. If they've found a way to get paid for that, my hat's off to them.

Very interesting!

So I guess this explains how Justin Bieber's 'Baby' has so many songwriters/composers. It's really an assembly line

"I mean, sure it's ridiculous, but these tracks are made by people who are uniquely good at the ridiculous things they like doing. If they've found a way to get paid for that, my hat's off to them"

Agree wholeheartedly.

It is successful but it's not universally-adored.

It is targeted on a pretty narrow demographics and has no meaning outside it.

I'm sorry, but most of the most commercially successful music is written by songwriters as RedOne and Max Martin (well, I'm not so sure about just them, but people such as them).

The music industry produces art that millions of people all over the planet love and enjoy.

I am sorry, but I do not care about that. Neither would anybody in thirty years.

Universal does not equals "millions of people all over the planet". It means transcendence.

Also most movie soundtracks are written "for hire", and some of them are pretty successful too.

Quite correct - I neglected to think back more than a century. Very good point. I was merely trying to point out that modern pop music, while successful, has been very commodified. I'll stick in a quick footnote.

The very idea that "true art" cannot be made for hire is largely (though not exclusively) a product of 19th century romanticism. This isn't limited to music. Pick any famous piece by Raphael, Michelangelo, Bernini, Rembrandt... Chances are it was made for hire. Literature has more exceptions, like Shakespeare writing for a playing company of which he was part owner.

It would be really interesting to explore how making art for hire, which used to be the norm for centuries, came to be looked down upon in the last century and a half. Probably a lot of economic factors worked together to produce that effect.

Interesting. I feel like I am always an outsider in this thought process, but I believe that if you are not being paid for your art (regardless of type), you are not producing anything of real value to a large enough group.

The concept of "true art" not being made for hire seems like an excuse for someone to imagine they are successful without actually being so. One of the factors I think is driving this is that everyone in today’s (US) culture needs to be a winner and there are no losers. While it isn’t bad in and of itself, if you truly look at 2 artists as an outsider and one is being paid and the other is not, it seems clear to me who is producing better art for the masses and therefore generating the most economic value.

This same concept can be applied to startups. I read people making excuses for not having VC funding that typically include things like, VCs only like big market sizes which is dumb or VCs only fund businesses with XYZ type of cofounder which is not fair etc. Normally when I read these statements it is obvious to me that the person writing them just doesn’t understand the reality of the game they are involved in.

Similarly, an artist producing music that only .001% of the population will listen to will make excuses about why they don’t have a record deal bc record execs have no taste in good music. That is obviously ridiculous.

Well, "making art for hire" is not exactly the same as "being paid for your art".

The former is when you already have a buyer lined up before you start working. For example, a rich man in the Renaissance era might ask an artist to make him a sculpture of Bacchus fucking Ariadne. (You'd be surprised how many renowned artists were paid to make porn for rich folks.) In that case, the buyer might pay for the block of marble and cover the artist's expenses while he sculpts, in addition to paying him a handsome fee for his work. But then the buyer also has a direct influence on every aspect of the end product. If the buyer wants the girl in the sculpture to look like his underage mistress, it's going to happen even if the artist thinks it's a bad idea.

The latter is a broader concept, and it includes the case where you produce something first and then look for buyers. Novelists often work in this way, spending years to perfect their works without any buyer lined up. Some people who have no problem with this broader concept might still be uncomfortable about the narrower case of "making for hire", because of the direct influence that the buyer's spec has on the product. If you build it first and then look for buyers, at least you have a chance to show people that they might want to do things in a way they never even thought of before.

Your point was worth me saying good point. I never thought of the distinction.

my thoughts exactly.. Wasn't most of what we today see as great works of classical music paid for by the church or a king?

His statement is simply false..

I don't think working for hire and working to produce a quality product are mutually exclusive. However, there surely are many people who focus on only one of the two. Even then, the situation usually isn't as bad as people make it out to be.

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