Creativity and originality in songwriting
Submitting InstitutionBath Spa University
Unit of AssessmentMusic, Drama, Dance and Performing Arts
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Studies In Creative Arts and Writing: Film, Television and Digital Media, Performing Arts and Creative Writing
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies
Summary of the impact
This case study demonstrates the application of Joe Bennett's research
into strategies for quantifying, observing and analysing creative
processes used by songwriters. Impact has been achieved through three
researcher-practitioners at the University — Bennett himself, plus Davey
Ray Moor and Richard Parfitt. The research has been disseminated outside
of academia through the publicly accessible workshops at the UK
Songwriting Festival and Burnsong, which have received national media
coverage (BBC, Sunday Times) and attracted participants from all over the
world. The research has also had an impact in the commercial music
industry through Bennett's forensic musicology songwriting consultancy
reports, which have been used by music publishers and law courts in the
settlement of songwriter copyright disputes. Summaries of the research
have been presented to a non-academic music audience via international
print publication (Total Guitar Magazine). Practitioners connected
with the research (Moor and Parfitt) have achieved top 10 hits and
international music publication for non-academic audiences.
The research is based within musicology because it aims to define
creative processes and originality thresholds in popular song. It also
analyses creative behaviours of individuals and teams and has been
published in both musicology and psychology contexts. The underpinning
research listed below took the form of: academic journal articles,
conference papers, a book chapter, co-written songs with corresponding
performances/broadcasts, and confidential forensic musicology reports for
music industry clients. The primary research itself includes interviews
with successful songwriters, musicological analysis of copyright disputes
in US and UK case law, active work on copyright disputes (some resulting
in case law — see references), and analysis of live songwriting sessions
(with international publication of outcomes — see Ashgate book chapter and
Total Guitar articles).
Observation fieldwork for the creativity research (studying the behaviours
of songwriters in collaborative or creatively constrained contexts) began
in 2004 when Bennett launched the UK Songwriting Festival, and is ongoing
as at November 2013. Initial findings were shared in 2010 (Art of Record
Production conference and subsequent 2011 journal of proceedings) and more
detailed psychology work was published in 2012 as a book chapter (Ashgate
Psychology of Music series). Bennett's concurrent work on originality and
similarity thresholds in popular song and observational methodologies for
songwriters' processes was disseminated at conferences during 2013 (IASPM
Spain, Art of Record Production Quebec, PopMAC Liverpool).
Compositions and underpinning fieldwork for research
Bennett's 10 compositions for Rockschool draw on his academic research
into collaboration and constraint in collaborative songwriting.
Compositions are created within specified artistic constraints, and are
`linearly collaborative' whereby the constraints of form and duration are
pre-specified and the composer (Bennett) uses these constraints as a
creative stimulus to make the work. The compositions, which are published
worldwide in the Rockschool syllabus 2012-2018, are used as set pieces for
guitarists, bassists and drummers studying for formal music Grades 1-8.
Bennett, Moor and Parfitt have all undertaken commercial collaborative
songwriting activities throughout the audit period. All three
researcher-practitioners have been undertaking observational fieldwork (of
songwriters' processes) together via the UK Songwriting Festival, which is
an annual meeting of academics, professional and amateur songwriters,
music industry guests and researcher-practitioners. Bennett collects these
outcomes together for analysis; the fieldwork explores negotiated
creativity in collaborative contexts and manifests itself in his book
chapters and conference papers. In commercial terms, the fieldwork informs
Bennett, Moor and Parfitt's commercial work, whereby compositions are
created within known creative constraints using collaborative songwriting
techniques developed at the Songwriting Festival (and summarised in
Bennett's published research). Moor's work with Carl Barât (of The
Libertines) on the latter's self-titled debut album featured several songs
that were co-written with Moor with the intention of them being performed
in Barât's artistic (and literal) `voice'.
The UK Songwriting Festival (established in 2004 by Bath Spa University)
is an annual public workshop event, open to all songwriters, where
creative processes are explored, analysed and shared. It is organised by
Bath Spa University and has been hosted at the University itself
(2004-2010) and more recently in partnership with Scottish songwriting
organisation Burnsong (2012 and 2013), with funding support from the
University and from Creative Scotland. Media coverage of the event in 2009
had a reach of 422,028 and a value equivalent to advertising of £8,849.47.
Bennett's theoretical work on creative constraint in songwriting underpins
the curriculum for taught sessions and workshop tasks; Moor, Parfitt and
many other professional songwriters contribute to the analysis and
workshop sessions, and host discussions relating to collaborative and/or
constrained creativity in songwriting. Notable participant songwriters and
industry speakers include Richard Thompson, Eddi Reader, Chris Difford,
Boo Hewerdine, Iain Archer (Snow Patrol), Nigel Beaham-Powell (deputy
chair, PRS), and Midge Ure.
Bennett's research into songwriters' working methods and his analyses of
originality thresholds in songwriting has resulted in frequent commissions
(2007-current) as a forensic musicologist by music industry clients (music
publishers, advertising agencies or individual songwriters). These
documents are all comparative song analyses using a combination of
analytical methods (reductive/notational, waveform analysis,
spectrography, nulling, historical musicology, prior art searches) to
ascertain the extent to which copying between songwriters may or may not
have occurred. Clients include Universal Music Publishing, Warner/Chappell
Music Publishing, Kassner Music, Adelphoi Music, Michael Simkins LLP, Van
Straten solicitors, and many individual songwriters. Bennett has worked on
some high profile cases (including, for example, cases involving platinum
selling albums, a well-known jazz standard and UK top 10 hits) and is
recorded on the UK Music Publisher's Association's register of expert
Position held at Bath Spa University
Joe Bennett: Subject Leader, Commercial Music (2001-2005); Head of
Department of Music (2005-2008); Dean of Music and Performing Arts
Davey Ray Moor: Senior Lecturer in Commercial Music (2005-present)
Richard Parfitt: Senior Lecturer in Commercial Music (2009-present)
References to the research
Bennett, Joe. "Collaborative Songwriting — the Ontology of Negotiated
Creativity in Popular Music Studio Practice." In Journal of the Art of
Record Production 2010. Leeds, UK: Art of Record Production, 2011. http://researchspace.bathspa.ac.uk/864/
Bennett, Joe. Mohair Mountain (Grade 6 Guitar Examination Set Work),
Rockschool Instrumental Grades (London: Rockschool Ltd, 2011).
Bennett, Joe. "Constraint, Collaboration and Creativity in Popular
Songwriting Teams." In The Act of Musical Composition: Studies in the
Creative Process. SEMPRE Studies in The Psychology of Music. London:
Ashgate, 2012. http://goo.gl/ADXeN7
Bennett, Joe. "`You Won't See Me' — in Search of an Epistemology of
Collaborative Songwriting." Journal on the Art of Record Production
Vol. 8. Presented at the International Art of Record Production
conference, Quebec, Canada: Art of Record Production, 2013.
Bennett, Joe. "Applying Melodic Analysis to Infer the Extent of
Plagiarism in Popular Song Authorship Disputes," International Conference
on Analyzing Popular Music: Society for Music Analysis/University of
Liverpool, July 2013.
Bennett, Joe. "Two Worlds Collide — Originality and Plagiarism in
Songwriting". Presented at the Bridge Over Troubled Waters: Challenging
Orthodoxies conference, Gijon, Spain: IASPM, 2013.
Barât, Carl, with Moor, Davey Ray et al. Carl Barât (self-titled
debut album). Arcady Records/PIAS International, 2010.
Evidence of Quality
The book chapter, journal articles and conference papers have been through
a rigorous peer-review process. Bennett was commissioned by Rockschool to
compose pieces for their internationally-delivered syllabus. Moor's
collaboration with Barât was Album Of The Week in The Independent
and BBC Radio 6, received four-star reviews in Uncut and Mojo, and was
playlisted on BBC Radio 2 and Single Of The Week on BBC Radio 1's Zane
Details of the impact
The impact takes three forms:
- Impact on listeners — International artistic and commercial success of
- Impact on songwriters — Experiential collaborative projects between
university staff and non-academic musicians; dissemination of new
theoretical frameworks for constrained or collaborative songwriting
through international print and web media, and creation of
publicly-available songwriting curricula.
- Impact on music industry — Confidential musicology reports for music
Since 2004 the researcher-practitioners (Bennett, Parfitt, Moor) have
been researching strategies for the analysis (and also teaching) of
creative processes in songwriting, with the aim of identifying and
describing creatively effective methods for writing songs collaboratively.
These findings have been influential outside academia, and have led to
collaborative songs and compositions whose creative processes were
informed by the emerging research.
How the research led to the impact
Throughout the nine-year timescale (2004-13) the researchers developed
strategies for the analysis and teaching of collaborative songwriting (and
collaborative creativity generally). Findings were regularly fed back into
teaching (public and undergraduate) for further development. Researchers
also used these identified creative strategies in their own commercial
work. Finally, the academic research findings were rewritten as a series
of 18 Total Guitar Magazine articles for worldwide distribution in
order to disseminate the theoretical frameworks to a wide mainstream
audience of songwriters.
Bennett's work as a forensic musicologist builds on extant recent
research in this area from the fields of law and popular musicology, and
this music industry work informs academic papers. Bennett compares case
law and creative practice in different countries, and this academic work
further informs work on future professional authorship disputes.
Beneficiaries of the impact
Emergent songwriters worldwide (articles and events); music purchasers
(creative work); other songwriting events providers (events); teachers
(the UK Songwriting Festival event attracted over 500 songwriters from
2004-2012, some of whom were teachers of songwriting themselves, enabling
them to disseminate the teaching methods to their own students); magazine
publishers (articles); record labels and music publishers (creative work).
Confidential forensic musicology work benefits music publishers and law
professionals, who have used Bennett's song analyses as evidence to
resolve copyright disputes between the parties. This eventually benefits
songwriters, whose Intellectual Property is safeguarded as a result of the
evidence provided in Bennett's reports. Music industry professionals also
benefit from Bennett's research — he has appeared as an expert panellist
for PRS for Music (Soundalikes and Plagiarism event, PRS House, London,
March 2011) and for the international Audio Engineering Society annual
conference (`The timeline never lies', AES 135, New York, October 2013).
Evidence of extent and nature of impact
The impact of creative work (Parfitt and Moor) can be measured in part by
its commercial success and international distribution through mainstream
media channels. The artists with whom Parfitt and Moor were working
performed the collaboratively written songs on worldwide tours, achieving
radio broadcasts in more than 50 countries each. Barât and Moor's songs
have resulted in sales of over 100,000 copies and significant press
coverage, including Album of the Week in the Independent. Three of Moor's
songs for Barât were BBC playlisted. Performances of works include major
international music festivals and two sell-out world tours, and Barât
headlined the Leftfield Stage at Glastonbury Festival in 2010 performing
songs by Moor.
Bennett's compositions were commissioned and selected by Rockschool for
worldwide publication, and now sell around more than 50,000 copies per
year worldwide, supporting the technical development of training
Bennett's magazine articles (published worldwide with an international
monthly circulation of c.48,000 print copies per month over an 18 month
period — total approx. 850,000) provide evidence that the findings of the
research have reached a very significant number of songwriters over an
extended period, enhancing their understanding of the songwriting process.
From 2007 Bennett has collaborated with an external public-facing
songwriting organisation www.burnsong.org,
leading to performances at BBC Glasgow (2007) and the Scottish Parliament
(2009). In 2012 these successful collaborations led to the UK Songwriting
Festival 2012 being delivered in partnership with Burnsong with additional
support from Creative Scotland. Bennett's forensic musicology work is
named in court transcripts (see references for sample) where his expert
opinion has been used successfully to resolve music copyright disputes.
Dates of impacts: 2004-2013 (UK Songwriting Festival); 2010-2013
(magazine articles); 2008-2013 (creative work); 2007-2013 (confidential
Sources to corroborate the impact
1) Festival review: Sinclair, David. "UK Songwriting Festival at
Bath Spa University" Sunday Times. September 6, 2009. Mirror of
article available at
Impact on creative practice.
2) Press coverage: BBC News — UK Songwriting Festival First
for Galloway. Glasgow, August 16, 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-19284817;
Impact on creative practice.
3) Individual: Solicitor, Simpson & Marwick Solicitors. Impact of
forensic musicology on the legal process.
4) Legal opinion report: http://www.scotcourts.gov.uk/opinions/2012CSOH158.html.
Impact of forensic musicology on the legal process.
5) Individual: Editor, Future Publishing. Impact of Bennett's
research on guitarists, and distribution of research outcomes worldwide.