This piece was submitted by Rafe Sholer, who has completed both a Bachelor of Music and a Masters of Digital Media.
Like many creative pursuits, music has benefitted from an explosion in public accessibility and potential for collaboration, but it was not always this way. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1900’s that musical composition was engaged in collaboratively; for the vast majority of human history, composing music has been a solitary pursuit.
And so were the creative industries of the day. The romantic period saw creative geniuses acting as loners, in the case of Archimedes and Newton, as if placing themselves outside society gave them unique perspectives and creative insights hidden from the general public. Perpetuating this belief was the public perception that only a few people possess the God-given ability to think and act creatively.
Today, musical excellence is attributed not just to individuals, but to groups and networks of creative practitioners. Musical excellence is recognised as belonging within a sociocultural spectrum, and is accepted or rejected on the basis of its contribution within sociocultural contexts. This is particularly true of music over the past century, and I will attempt to analyse its progression within a changing sociocultural landscape.
Figure 1 – ‘Woman With A Parasol’ by Claude Monet, beside ‘Vader With A Parasol’ by David Barton (2012)
The romantic model of creativity, with its focus on the achievements of certain ‘special’ individuals, is being augmented with a modern awareness of the sociocultural contexts in which creativity emerges (Jennings, 2017). The book Culture, Communication and Creativity states that creative work first and foremost “involves an always particular social cooperation marked by varying degrees of mutual specialisation and diverse modes of coordination or supervision” (Knoblauch, Jacobs, & Tuma, 2014). Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1996) similarly asserts that creative activity is increasingly realised within appropriate social contexts. These contexts have always existed – music requires listeners to establish its worth, however the modern approach is to engage multiple practitioners during creation, in order to produce work with the widest possible appeal. But, do these new contexts result in greater creative outcomes? Is the independence of thought that the Romantics benefitted from becoming obscured by groupthink, social loafing and polarisation?
In order to answer these questions, let’s examine the developments in a particular sector of the creative industries.
Specific Examples in Industry
There is an emergent trend in the music industry that exemplifies this sociocultural context of the modern creative industries. A 2016 study by Music Week magazine shows that a modern hit song is written by an average of 4.53 songwriters (Sutherland, 2017). Further to this, 13% of hit songs in 2016 were written by eight or more songwriters. One hit credited 12 individual songwriting contributors. On the other end of the spectrum, just 5% of hit songs in 2016 were written by a single songwriter.
What would be interesting to investigate is why larger songwriting teams are finding greater success than small teams and individuals. Do larger teams produce more appealing music? Perhaps they simply benefit from greater exposure via extended social networks afforded through collaboration. Or perhaps it is becoming less common to create alone, resulting in a reduced representation in music charts. The main question is – are we using collaboration to innovate or stagnate… even regress?
Figure 2 – The times, they are a-changing (stotta18, 2014).
It would appear pop music at least is becoming less creative, with research showing a progression towards increasing mundanity (Serrà, Corral, Boguñá, Haro & Arcos, 2012). A recent research project used the Lempel-Ziv algorithm, usually used to compress Gif images, to look for repetitive lines in song lyrics from 1958 to 2017. The result was a consistent reduction in lyrical complexity in every year from 1960 to 2017 (Morris, 2017). Quantitative studies on creative output can only offer reductive perspectives, isolating aspects of inquiry when a holistic evaluation of musical appeal and complexity is more appropriate. However, it does give some insight into the implications of creative merit awarded within evolving sociocultural contexts.
Figure 3 – Cultural remix and appropriation in the work ‘Apu-Dali’, shown next to the photo that inspired it (Limpfish, 2007)
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996). Creativity. New York: HarperCollins.
Jennings, C. (2017). On Making The World: Class Notes, Introduction To Creative Thinking.
Knoblauch, H., Jacobs, M., & Tuma, R. (Eds.). (2014). Culture, communication, and creativity : reframing the relations of media, knowledge, and innovation in society. Retrieved from http://ebookcentral.proquest.com.ezproxy.newcastle.edu.au
Limpfish. (2007). Apu as Salvador Dali. Retrieved from http://limpfish.deviantart.com/art/Apu-Dali-68619715
Morris, C. (2017). Are Pop Lyrics Getting More Repetitive? Retrieved from https://pudding.cool/2017/05/song-repetition/
Serrà, J., Corral, Á., Boguñá, M., Haro, M. & Arcos, J.L. (2012). Measuring the Evolution of Contemporary Western Popular Music. Scientific Reports 2, Article number: 521. doi:10.1038/srep00521
Stotta18. (2014). Kanye West and Jimi Hendrix [Image]. Retrieved from https://www.reddit.com/r/funny/comments/1qaht0/kanye_vs_hendrix/
Sutherland, M. (2017). Songwriting: Why it takes more than two to make a hit nowadays. Retrieved from https://www.musicweek.com/publishing/read/songwriting-why-it-takes-more-than-two-to-make-a-hit-nowadays/068478
Santagata, W. (2010). The Culture Factory: Creativity and the Production of Culture. Berlin, Germany: Springer-Verlag.