Saturday, 20 February 2010

Empire State of Mind (Part II) deconstructed

I did a sort of experiment today, based upon my recent sideline in boshing out lyrics for this FAWM thing. I tuned into Radio 1 whilst in the car and listened to half a dozen tracks, to find one that stood out as a good song.

Not very scientific, but I just wanted to hear one that was a recent tune and radio worthy. I decided to go mainstream in the interests of deconstruction.

After hearing Lady Gaga the one I alighted on was Alicia Keys, "Empire State of Mind (Part II)", which is a song about New York. Haunting choral type start, some affectionate words about an iconic city, hope and positivity plus an inspirational hook.

A short stop at the nearby Tescos and I had a copy in my hand. Not very digital, but I wanted the little booklet to check the lyrics and the writing.

Very clever. The track credits were at the back of the booklet in italic 8pt. It showed that the song was indeed written by Alicia Keys.

Oh, and Al Shuckburgh.

Not forgetting Sean Carter and Jane't "Jnay" Sewell-Ulepic.
And Angela Hunte and Bert Keyes.
And finally, Sylvia Robinson.

I estimate there's 200 words, including a couple of lines from "New York, New York", so that would average almost 30 words per songwriter (including the Ooohs). Not forgetting the original Jay-Z version with slightly more NYC references in it.

Of course, its worked in that the album is at number two in the Tesco rack and actually the whole album is quite listenable mainstream R and B type music. Many would put Alicia into the superstar category, and her delivery is pleasantly un-diva-esque compared with the Reality X clones.

Comparison with my own efforts, which are for fun, are somewhat minimal. No teams of writers or special production in a different studio to get the right commercial sound. Just ten minutes of tapping. But of course Alicia will sell millions of copies.

It raises a broader question though, about ultimate economics. How few records get bought in full now, compared with track downloads, and how many ways does the 69 pence need to be split? The full list of people on the track in question amounts to 7 writers, 9 record publishers, 2 producers, plus musicians and a considerable production crew. With the occasional million seller, this still works.

For the rest of us, its still just for fun.

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