Credit for being yourself is at an ironic crossroads, these days… 

the loss of the individual. 

Kids are taught, almost from day one, that they have to learn to be part of the team; that no one is more important that anyone else and we’re all in this together and we’re stronger together and it takes a village and insert collectivist platitude here. 

There is an effort to beat individualism out of kids before they’re in high school. We want a world where everybody’s equal and the same and nobody is better (or worse) than anyone else. 

And this idea shows itself in weird places …

This past week, Diane Warren, legendary songwriter (notorious for writing by herself), questioned there being 24 songwriters on a Beyonce record. She asked what I think was a legitimate question: how can there be 24 writers on one song? 

This immediately got racial, as everything does theses days (it’s just boring at this point). And one of the Beyonce collaborators (The Dream) went all in on Warren, citing the legacy of black people sampling other black records due to a historical lack of funding…or some such thing. 

To be honest, I didn’t really understand his (or her or their) point. I could list more black songwriters, who have written songs by themselves, than I have room for in this piece. 

But there may be something to this on a cultural – even political – level. Let me explain …

The idea of ownership is under attack. 

Ownerhip is a western principle, based in the American construct and stamped in the DNA of the constitution. A lot of people believe this is, in and of itself, immoral; that owning something is existentially impossible and rooted in the European conquest movement that colonized land and displaced indigenous peoples, and culminated in the creation of The United States. 

This is the underpinning of Critical Race Theory and the BLM movement and all the current “social justice” waves, we are told are so needed and important. And culturally, a lot of black people buy into this and draw hard lines around it. This may have been what The Dream was talking about. 

But ingenious marxists have used that mindset to put individualism on trial. Now, it’s somehow seen (I mean you have to throw your back out to see it this way. But…) as a “white” way of thinking. 

In the larger, political sphere, this idea represents itself in things like taxes and healthcare and property rights…and priviledge. 

Some are constantly (and I mean constantly) trying to make sure that people who have a lot, pay more into the state than anybody else. And that is based in a way of thinking that says, if you have more, it’s because you probably took advantage of something unfair in the system – either you were trading on racial advantage or gender advantage or birth advantage or some form of one (or all) of those. 

And if you have less, it’s probably because you have less of those advantages. Therefore, you are actually entitled to some of what the advantaged people have. That’s the basis for the “equity” movement. 

That’s how this idea looks in the macro.  

In the micro, however, this idea plays out in more subtle things like college admission rolls and who gets cast in a sit com. Or what the ratio of male-to-female superheroes is, or, yes…believe it or not…how many songwriters are on a song. 

My hunch is that songwriting credit is now based more in some sort of collaborative equity, than it is in actual contribution.  

I’ve made a living as a songwriter for almost 40 years. And nothing can get more complicated than writer credits. Everyone who had anything to do with the writing of that song, has to be credited…and they should be. 

But that can get murky as a song progresses. And lots of claims can get made along the way. 

This is why I insist on everyone leaving a writers room if they were not invited to the process. I don’t like interns and second engineers sitting around, throwing out lines and ideas. At the risk of sounding arrogant…I promise you we’re not the same.  

Who walks in the room and happens to throw out a usable line? Who had the idea in the first place? Who was there just messing around with a drum machine and happened to stumble on a beat that got on the radio? 

All of those things can become lawsuits. And they all HAVE. 

But make no mistake…collectivism is at the heart of the “everybody’s-valuable-in-this-process” type of writing that happens now. The idea of masters and apprentices – or individual visionaries – is seen as quaint and outdated.    

Older songwriters often complain about how many writers are on current songs. But it’s not just Beyonce records. Check the writer credits on anything coming out of Nashville, on records so white you can’t stare directly into them. 

You’ll find the same thing. Numerous writers. More than 5, in some cases. 

The prevailing wisdom, among the old guard, is that it’s a talent problem and that not enough writers have the vision, intellect and basic skill set to write the way old schoolers did. 

But I would submit that it’s not a talent issue at all. It’s a collectivist mindset; that we’re better in numbers, that we must rely on each other more than a singular vision, and that everyone who breathed air in the same facinity of the songwriting session needs to be credited. Because it’s only fair. 

There are many songwriters out there who make a handsome living, who probably couldn’t actually sit down and write you a song from scratch, by themselves. 

I have always questioned the true genius of someone who never has a song credit where they are the sole writer. 

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in collaboration. And I’ve done a lot of it. It can make you better and the project better. But there also comes a time when you have to go kill the bear by yourself and prove to the world you deserve the accolades and that you have done the work and have mastered all the disciplines. 

This is the crucible we must all take on, to allow ourselves to be shaped and molded into that special thing that is unlike anybody else. 

And that is the basis for individualism. 

Working alone tells us who you are as an artist or a creative soul. Once you are not reliant on someone else’s vision, where do you naturally veer? What are your instincts? What is it you want to say to the world?

The answers to these questions are, for me, the basis, and very bedrock, of what it means to truly live out your specialness. 

Show us who YOU are…not just who you all are together. 

Personally, I couldn’t care less how many songwriters are on a Beyonce record. And if I’m being honest, Diane Warren’s tweet was probably some kind of frustration with becoming less and less relevant in pop culture or (probably more to the point) wondering how she was going to keep her houses in Malibu and Bel Air, if she was now going to have to learn to split royalties 24 ways. 

But what multiple writers represents to me is something deeper and cultural. And it’s why I very often write alone. 

In the arts, collaboration is beautiful and should be encouraged.  But credit must be earned. Defiance is necessary.  

And the individual matters.  



Venmo | Regie Hamm Venmo is a digital wallet that lets you make and share payments with friends. You can easily split the bill, cab fare, or much more. Download the iOS or Android app or sign up on today.

2 thoughts on “AND ONE FOR YOU …

  1. We need to be individuals when it comes to choosing our beliefs and actions and collectivists when our actions affect others. We should help each other because we care, but not because the government forces us .


  2. I get what you are saying, but there have been many models of credits. In science, everybody including the guy who set up folding chairs at the meeting gets credit. In math, a person can solve a problem of more than 1000 years but make a mistake akin to the order of magnitude of misspelling a word. Call that person Smith. Later Jones correctly spells the word. The solution then becomes “The Jones Theorem” and Smith dies in obscurity. It’s brutal.

    I once quit on a project because I couldn’t stand working for the lead guy. I told him that he could thank me in a footnote. He said that I had contributed enough to be a co-author, but my name would be at the end. Since tradition was to list author’s alphabetically and my name is near the end of the alphabet, I readily agreed. He looked puzzled and then burst out laughing. It’s my most popular research article, yet I had little contribution!


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