Bringing the dream of the dreamer into he mind of the listener requires scores of unsung people that have all made a contribution to our favorite songs. In the medium of modern technology and the minds of the audience, the ownership of the creation belongs to all of us in some small way, but the profits belong to a record company.
The public mistakenly believes that he latest hit song by a popular artist found its genesis in the mind of the artist, took form, and became an original work of art. In fact, the song had its beginnings years before as the songwriter was influenced by the music of the world around them. The artist will take the familiar sounds, forms, chord progressions, and melodies that they know and add their own dimension to come up with a new piece of music. Igor Stravinsky once commented that "A good composer does not imitate. he steals". From this standpoint, all music is a collaboration between the artist and the past, and no one has a title to its ownership.
Once the artist has created the music, it becomes subjected to the process of reproduction and distribution. The artist will have an agent that will handle the business arrangements, contracts, and obligations as they work towards the goal of getting signed to a record label. The record company, known as the ‘label’, will get the song recorded, reviewed, promoted, and distributed for sale. By way of a contract, the record label and producer literally owns the artist and the music. While music is easily shared with everyone via reproduction and radio broadcasts, the label owns the artist, the music, and the profits.
Getting a song from the artist to the public requires that it gets recorded in a studio and reproduced onto a compact disc (CD). The artist will go into a recording studio where the song is brought to life. Often, the artist writes the song on an acoustic guitar or piano, and without the full instrumentation that will later be heard by the public. These pieces are all added later in the studio. The recording of a hit song in a studio involves scores of singers, arrangers, and musicians that are often hired to work on a specific piece of music at an hourly rate of pay. Known as ‘studio musicians’, they are heard on hundreds of recordings, yet get little or no notoriety or fame for their performance. Recently, the union pay scale for a studio musician was $181 for a three-hour session (Baker). They also get no royalties or income from the future sale of the CD. The studio musicians own a part of the record, and it is a part of their soul, but they do not own the profits that it generates.
Engineering a song entails far more than simply placing a microphone in front of the singer and hitting the record button. Modern technology allows the recording engineer to record each individual part separately and mix it together at a later date. Known as ‘tracks’, the engineer may have hundreds of individual tracks that make up a song. Occasionally, the parts of a song may be recorded at different locations at different times. The legendary album All the Roadrunning by Emmy Lou Harris and Mark Knopfler was assembled a piece at a time with the help of engineer-mixer Chuck Ainlay, as well as guitarist Richard Bennett and Dire Straits keyboardist Guy Fletcher (Hill).