Freedom in the Songwriting Career

Music, like any other career, is one that seeks to optimize life’s fulfilment. For songwriters, music is where they do not only find a means of livelihood, but also a way of life. Given the professional nature of modern day songwriting, it has become inexplicably linked with freedom rights in society. Songwriters are able to influence how freedom is viewed and addressed in their community while also being able to practice their freedom. Songwriting and the expression of freedom share a complex relationship as the career offers numerous opportunities where songwriters enjoy significant freedom, but also have their fair share of hurdles including censorship and unfair royalty rules that curtail their freedom rights.

Songwriters operate as freelancers as they can determine their working hours unlike in other careers where work schedules are largely inflexible. Comparatively, white collar jobs are monotonous and as they require a person to not only work within an established work programme, but also get their work done behind a desk for many years. As such, white collar jobs are a great source of work-related boredom, which is a negative emotional state of mind that arises from a work environment that elicits little activity hence limited pleasure and challenge (Seckin, 2018). The repetition of the same task for many years in a specific timeframe and defined work environment makes white collar jobs restrictive hence denial of freedom.

Over the years, research has sought to establish the source of boredom within white collar jobs and freelance jobs and different hypothesis have been generated. More specifically, under the extant theory, work-related boredom has been attributed to the variety of employees’ activities during a typical workday (Van Hooff & Van Hooft, 2016). White collar jobs generate boredom as they are low on skill variety, autonomy, feedback, task identity, and task significance. By limiting the scope and type of work a person can do, white collar jobs effectively act as barriers to employees’ freedom. On the contrary, a songwriter is constantly exposed to feedback, has autonomy over their work, and their skills are regularly challenged which simultaneously does away with boredom and enhances one’s freedom.

In addition, the restriction of freedom experienced by white collar employees is not just restricted to the characteristics of their workplace, it also has other unintended consequences. Research has shown that work-related boredom underutilizes employees’ skills and therefore denies them the ability to fulfill the human need for autonomy and explore self-identity (Van Hooff & Van Hooft, 2016). On the contrary, songwriters operate within the creative industry which enables workers to have a challenging work environment and a subsequent opportunity to explore self-identity. While the search of self-identity is seen as a daily struggle in the creative industry, it also comes in handy by generating pressure to produce goods and services that meet commercial demands (Beech et al., 2016). By posing a challenge to meet a certain market demand, the creative industry provides an avenue through which work-related boredom is done away with effectively. For songwriters operating as creatives, such regular struggles are a fundamental part of the freedom associated with their work.

A songwriter’s career is also filled with freedom that arises from workplace flexibility. Workplace flexibility is a result of the dynamic changes in the labor market that allows employees to choose their preferred working hours and stay motivated for long periods. Workplace flexibility is important in modern day human resource practice as it facilitates workspace modelling, increases employee autonomy, improves employee involvement in decision-making processes, and increases employees’ productivity and creativity (Davidescu et al., 2020). Ultimately, developing workplace flexibility is an important ingredient in finding a balance between person and professional life, and one that competent human resource departments should actively seek.

The need to maintain workplace flexibility as a form of freedom is one that has garnered interest in recent years within the public policy circles. Most notably, the creatives industry has been looked at for inspiration by policy makers who seek to improve precarious work environments, make work more meaningful, and drive economic growth. To this end, flexibility has been seen as a direct contributor of freedom especially in the creatives industry for professions in music, marketing, content writing, and visual arts. Researchers acknowledge that the creative industry embraces freedom from workplace flexibility, but that has also been a driver of precarious working conditions (Bridges, 2017). In the case of a songwriter, there is ample workplace flexibility not just in terms of the hours one chooses to work, but also on the place from where one wishes to work. As long as one is able to deliver thee content required of them in a given timeframe, all other elements of their work are largely determined by them. In so doing, a songwriter’s career is greatly rewarded with freedom and opportunity to maintain proper work and life balance.

A songwriter’s career is also important in promoting the freedom rights of both the songwriter and members of the public. The benefits that a songwriting career brings are varied but they all point towards generating freedom. In the process of songwriting, one is able to not only give meaning to their work, but also improve their quality of life by feeling a deep spiritual connection with others. Songwriting accords one many opportunities to experience a transformative inspiration that brings permanent changes. Such permanent changes include feelings of acceptance, connection, joy, having a new perspective of the world, and a greater sense of freedom (Beech, 2015). By validating one’s work when a connection is generated with others, songwriting is both rewarding and a dispenser of freedom.

Creativity has become a crucial across different professional careers. Most employers seek workers that have high creativity as it assures them of great product or service innovation, thus, huge profits (Gooderson n.d.). While other careers perceive creativity as a means of gaining more money, songwriting views it as the essence of music. “Songwriting is a creative activity (Riley, 2012).” Every aspect of this career embodies to preserve and increase creative freedom. Creative freedom is seen in that songwriters can explore different elements – political, religious, socio-economic, race, education – of life.

Having creative freedom means that a songwriter can express their ideas in different ways. Creativity can be inspirational from one’s personal life or communities’ culture, romantic, imaginative construct such as myths or science-fiction or religious (McIntyre, 2008). Romanticism is one of the most common creative perspectives that songwriters explore: mainly because it is an everyday encounter that majority of people face. The creative freedom in songwriting allows an individual to validate their beliefs and in so doing they become a point of reference for future creators. In essence, the profession embodies exploring freedom which ultimately provides a foundation for other songwriters to do so.

The construct of creative freedom in songwriting does not necessarily translate to making hit songs for the purposes of making money. Creative freedom in this career helps one attain emotional stability, self-discovery, overcome challenges and facilitates self-expression. Commercializing creative works in the modern society has led to many artists losing the essence of their works. Given the demand to become a hit-maker, songwriters might find themselves losing their creative freedom. As such, it is essential to note that creative freedom can be explored for individual well-being rather than for commercial purposes. Undertaking it for personal rejuvenation makes it possible for a person to experience freedom.

Attaining personal freedom through self-expression is a critical element found in songwriting. Projecting one’s moods, beliefs, and values through lyrics makes it possible for one to find their voice in society (Riley, 2012). The freedom of self-expression in songwriting eliminates stereotyping or any form of judgement passed onto individuals in regards to their education, love-life, sexuality, religion, mental state, or race. Different groups such as the LGBTQ, atheists, socialists, and minorities among others in society seek a platform of self-expression. An example is the ‘I’m Coming Out’ song written by Nile Rodgers and sang by Diana Ross (Jeon & Shumer, 2021). Rodgers wrote the song when he observed a rising in the number of drag queens in New York gay clubs. Since its release the song became an anthem for LGBTQ community. For this reason, songwriting plays an important role in freely manifesting people’s views or opinions.

Finding a source of therapy is an assurance of emotional stability. Majority of students in institutions of higher learning find it difficult to handle mental distress. Emotional distress brought about by finding their self-identity and cultural shifts in school makes them develop depression among other mental conditions. A study conducted in 2013 by the National Union of Students estimated that 20 percent of students have mental health issues (Gee et al. 2019). As such, songwriting has been considered an activity that promotes emotional well-being by increasing creativity cognition in affected individuals. From this perspective, songwriting becomes a source of emotional freedom. The act of creating lyrics enables one to communicate their emotions in music and in so doing become therapeutic. Songwriting offers emotional relaxation to a point where one attains emotional intelligence and thus freedom.

Historically, songwriting was a significant component for many slaves that sought physical and emotional freedom from their masters. While slaves worked in the fields they had different songs they wrote linked with their homeland Africa (Awassi, 2016). Given that they worked under harsh conditions and treatment, the songwriting acted as a means of emotional freedom from the same. Slaves had with them African harmonies and rhythm with which they sang the songs they had composed. In their bid to seek for freedom, slaves wrote songs that were coded; some being map songs and others signal codes.

Examples of these songs include, In the Wade in the Water which was a Christian baptism song. The song bore the secret code that for slaves who sought to escape should be to do so through the Ohio River and be ready to face their masters’ hound dogs. Sweet Low, Sweet Chariot is another song that was written as used as code for slaves to be aware that an escape plan was imminent through the Underground Railroad (Awassi, 2016). The songs written and used during this time played a great role in facilitating freedom for an entire race, the African-Americans. Thus, songwriting is not just a profession of linking up words but an avenue through which freedom is attained.

Songwriting has also been linked with self-discovery. Discovering one’s identity is a way of attaining personal liberty. The profession provides a journey of an individual discovering their strengths and weaknesses making them aware of their beliefs and values (Riley, 2012). In writing down’s one’s moral ethics, an individual is aware of the extent to which they can practice their moral freedom. To be aware of one’s race or ethnicity, religion, sexuality, and value as a person means that they can practice freedom in their way of life.

Given the freedom of speech that songwriters pride in their work, censorship is always a major concern for their work. The significant impact of music has necessitated some form of control to be exerted in how music is written and produced. Music undergoes regular censorship by artist communities, radio stations, governments, religious actors, companies, and parents (Kirkegaard & Otterbeck, 2017). For the songwriters’ community, censorship from multiple actors means that their work is faced with multiple impediments to the point where their freedom can be curtailed. Censorship in songwriting could limit the creative power of an artist as their work will either be sent back for revision, fail to get released, or get serious criticism altogether. In essence, a songwriter needs to ensure that they have a personal checklist that they can use to censor their work before it gets out to be vetted by others.

While it is important to have censorship in place, there is need for a specific pattern to be developed. Censorship should not be used to promote certain issues while suppressing the choice of others in what effectively becomes infringement on the freedom of speech. Researchers have lamented that modern day censorship is not based on exact reasons and there is no specific pattern (Kirkegaard & Otterbeck, 2017). For a songwriter, it is near impossible to determine the kind of content that would be approved or banned when it gets to the censorship stage. Without an established checklist for which songwriters have to follow, a gray area within censorship practices develops and threatens to undermine the freedom of expression.

However, it is worth noting expression of one’s freedom should not infringe on another person’s freedom. Broadly speaking, the music industry would be a platform where controversies and even hate messages are exchanged if censorship is not implemented appropriately. To the liberal mind, censorship is not bad as it is a tool through which certain freedoms and rights in the society are also protected. Songwriters and other stakeholders in the music industry do not have the monotony of freedom that would allow them to affect that of other members in society. With that in mind, censorship is a beneficial strategy that protects underage children from potentially traumatizing products, prevents dissemination of content that would breed conflict, and also ensures social peace is upheld (Kirkegaard & Otterbeck, 2017). All these tangible benefits of censorship do not infringe on the ability of songwriters to exercise their freedom. In fact, with proper means of censorship, songwriters’ ability to perform and generate content at their best is enhanced.

Besides censorship, songwriters are also concerned about their infringement to fair compensation. The wealth win the music industry is not spread equally and songwriters are part of the group that have their compensations held or stifled unfairly. Today, music is not streamed directly from the composers as large multinational companies have taken over the duties of music distribution. To succeed in the music industry, songwriters have to be aligned with a specific music label or franchise so that they can make music and generate a living. Copyright laws demand that a songwriter has to be part of a performing rights organization (“PROs”) who in turn license the rights of their music to digital music distributors such as Spotify, Pandora, and Apple (Hanus, 2018). While songwriters, musicians, and band members will eventually be paid in the form of royalties, they effectively become third party earners to content that they own and create. Such a draconian arrangement of earning royalties is not only flawed, but one that infringes on the freedom of songwriters.

The earning of royalties has been criticized for its lack of fairness in how earnings are distributed. Songwriters are usually in a tight spot because governments also meddle inappropriately in how they generate their money. The federal government’s Consent Decree allows songwriters to be paid a certain percentage from the revenues their works generate, and such amounts are often fixed. When the digital service distribution companies and PROs are unable to determine how the revenue is to be shared, the dispute always ends up in court where a judge determines the final percentages (Hanus, 2018). For instance, if Apple seeks to pay only 5% of revenue per stream and a PRO asks for 15%, the case ends up in court and the judge determines the percentage. While on one hand the court ensures that a compromise is reached, it also sidelines the songwriter who effectively owns the rights to the song under contention. In essence, the songwriter’s voice is muted and their freedom to voice their concern is taken away by the government.

In conclusion, songwriting is a career that affects how freedom is viewed in society, it is also one that is affected by freedom rules. Songwriters’ jobs are usually distinguished from traditional white collar jobs as they have more freedom. More specifically, a songwriter’s career accords them a lot of freedom by eliminating boredom that comes with underutilization of their skills. Songwriters have the pleasure to choose their work schedule and lead a life where work and personal life commitments are equally addressed. It is important that the government, stakeholders, and other actors within the music industry acknowledge the importance of freedom for songwriters and take appropriate steps to amend the situation. Similarly, songwriters should use their creative freedom diligently so that it is only a tool of expressing their ideas and not a means of infringing on the freedom of others.


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