Artists vs. Performers

This article had me foaming at the mouth. I’d long suspected this happened, but it’s the first time I’ve heard anyone go on record about it.

Musical performers who take a piece of the writer’s publishing.

Okay, so you’re gorgeous. You spend countless hours at the gym sculpting that perfect diva body. You have vocal talent, whether coached and groomed or god-given. You have an adoring fan base with money to burn and high expectations.

I possess none of these. The years you slaved in the gym, I toiled on a piano bench. While you were getting your eyebrow manicure, I was trying to find a way to bridge the instrumental breakdown to the third verse. You partied in Ibiza, sunning and wooing suits on that yacht while I inscribed pathos-laden lyrics that transcended my gender, race, and age from my 400 square feet in Harlem.

This song, the single that will define your career for the next six months, is what I have to offer. You made no creative contribution whatsoever, and you want a shared credit? Fuck that noise. Yes, you may be doing me a favor by “letting me” let you record one of my songs that could launch or revitalize my career through your celebrity. And true, there’s money to be made in publishing long after the chart lifespan of a song (ain’t no retirement plan for songwriters). But . . . you didn’t write it. That’s why I’m on this side of the curtain. You want the fame, I’m entitled to my full share of “fortune” that enabled it.

Sadly, many aspiring songwriters see this common practice as a dues-paying right of passage. But they’re the ones who need it most! The solution is simple: you want some of my publishing points, you help write the damned song. At least the lyrics – I mean, you’re the one who’s gotta sing them. Collaborate, learn an instrument, mine your feelings and learn to capture them. If you want compensation for the “opportunity,” I’ll find some way to show my gratitude: buy you dinner, some bling, a small country – whatever – but I’m not paying for it over the rest of my life. And I won’t be getting a cut of the merch from your 2027 comeback tour when you’re still singing it.

Some performers (or their managers) perpetrate this theft for credibility; they want to be perceived as singer/songwriters. Artists instead of just performers. There’s often a giant chasm between the two disciplines. A great singer can bring a lyric to life for an audience, translate it in a way the songsmith never could. But while that craft is admirable, without the song, it remains just a vehicle and the performer an empty vessel. We want to believe this awesome projection of emotion we’ve witnessed was seeded in the singer’s soul, and 87% of the audience will assume this without question, anyway. I might watch American Idol if the contestants were required to perform their own material.

Starpower is a function of talent and reputation. While their risks are considerable, the rewards are far, far greater. My song and any artistic cred are all I have to get by on, and I expect to be fully compensated for them. It’s a misconception that artists (pure artists, I mean) “get all the chicks.” Until there’s a public performance of it, they’re likely unknown, and even then . . . it really only applies if the artist also happens to be really good-looking. No one wants to be with some miserable schlub. Unless they’re famous, but that’s a different topic.

Anyway, yeah, if you want to be an artist, create art. Otherwise, you can rent mine for a fair price.

About Gordon

Gordon Highland is the author of the novels Flashover and Major Inversions, with short stories in such publications as Word Riot, Black Heart, Noir at the Bar Vol. 2, and Warmed and Bound, among others. He lives in the Kansas City area, where he makes videos by day and music by night.
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