Jamie Scott is one of the songwriters behind some of the biggest hits in recent years – notably One Direction’s ‘Story Of My Life’ and ‘Cold Water’ by Major Lazer (featuring Justin Bieber & MØ).
He is also a producer and a performer in his own right, so can look at the impact of digital on the music community from a variety of angles.
Scott sees streaming as a powerful means of discovery, but also as a genuine meritocracy in music, as songs have to properly connect with listeners rather than merely being hyped up the charts.
You might argue that someone with a share of two of the biggest hits on Spotify, YouTube and other streaming platforms in recent memory would think that, but Scott says he also thinks streaming can benefit new and emerging songwriters and artists.
“No, I don’t think it is bad for up-and-coming music. I think it is a great opportunity from music to get out there. There have always been key vehicles that you need to get on board with your music to be successful – that has always been the way. You have always needed radio to play your stuff. You still do,” Scott tells Music Ally.
“There was a point where getting the iTunes single of the week was really important. There was a point where getting iTunes front page coverage was the number one thing to get over everything. It appears now that, as well as those important things, another a very important thing to get is on a Spotify playlist so people can hear your music.”
The changing revenue model as we move from ownership to access – whereby upfront purchases are being replaced by granular income from repeated streams stretched over a long period of time – is also something that Scott is not losing sleep about.
“Whatever happens in any industry, it is very easy to freak out and think that it is negative,” he says of this upheaval in the revenue model for creators. “Obviously the internet is stopping people buying physical records, or not stopping them but halting that process dramatically; that isn’t good for album sales and retailers […] You can record a song and put it up on the internet and potentially, if it’s that good, it can go viral and you can have a hit.”
“Look at that Gnash song, ‘I Hate U, I Love U’; that started with almost nothing. Of course it has a label behind it [now], but it started with almost nothing. It was just a great song. How many people have been through that? It’s things that people go through. You hear it and you like it.”
But back to Scott’s hits: with 182.6m plays for ‘Story of My Life’ on Spotify alone, and 335.5m for ‘Cold Water’, he could be seen as part of the 1% that benefit most from streaming. Are the mega-hits just getting bigger and clogging up the top end of the streaming charts, while those further down the tail end up with smaller crumbs?
“I don’t think so,” he says. “I was away on holiday and I wanted to catch up with the new music so I checked out one of the playlists on Spotify – New Pop Revolution. I listened to it and they weren’t all massively commercial big choruses. There was a Bon Iver song on there. He is one of my favourite artists. I do think that Spotify are quite good at making sure you do hear lots of different music.”
He continues: “If there is an element of the biggest songs getting bigger because they are on lots of playlists, that is just something that is happening now because this is the medium that people are getting interested in. We could be sitting here in five or 10 years from now and something else will have taken over […] When this all first started happening, I had this conversation with my manager. ‘I’m not being funny, but I’ve had a lot of big cuts and a few hits and I feel worried about what kind of living there is out there.’ He said, ‘Mate, fundamentally the cream will rise. Just make sure you’re writing the cream!’”
Scott is also enthused about the appeal of lip-sync apps like Musical.ly, especially given some of the songs he has been involved with are fuelling much of the use there.
“Music is supposed to make you feel good – that’s all it’s about,” he says. “Kids putting lip-sync videos on Facebook? Are they having a good time with it? I love it. I fucking love it. If you have written a song that those kids are doing that to, how cool is that? I was at a little club and one of my songs came on and my kids started to dance to it. That’s sick! That’s just awesome.”
Finally, outside of digital’s impact, the other major issue affecting songwriters is the repercussions of the ‘Blurred Lines’ case last year whereby the estate of Marvin Gaye successfully sued Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams for infringing ‘Got To Give It Up’. There is, he suggests, a sense of paranoia snaking around songwriters at the moment, with them increasingly fearful that having a hit could be the fast track to an expensive and protracted court case.
“It is very hard to write a song these days that doesn’t just have just one second of something that makes you think of something else,” he says. “That doesn’t mean that it’s copied. We’re all human and we take so much music. Sometimes you’ll be in a room with a writer and they might say a song sounds like something else and you realise it does – so you change it. Every now and again something happens, and by mistake you’ve done something that sounds like something else. As long as it’s not intentional. But if you then have to give away some publishing because of it, then fair enough.”
Much of the ‘Blurred Lines’ case hinged on the sound and atmosphere of the recordings, which (excuse the pun) blurs the lines further. “That whole issue of atmosphere is where it gets a bit tricky,” he says. “Atmosphere comes later – when you produce the track. For my part in terms of melody and lyrics, you have just got to make sure that, hand on heart, you aren’t doing something that you think that someone else has done before.”
There is the aggressively proactive approach to songwriting litigation and there is a more restrained approach, as shown in the case of Tom Petty who ended up with a co-write on Sam Smith’s ‘Stay With Me’ as it had (unintentional) similarities with Petty’s ‘I Won’t Back Down’. Petty reached a settlement in a gentlemanly fashion, graciously saying this was an occupational hazard for songwriters and can be resolved without the need for high-profile litigation.
“All my years of songwriting have shown me these things can happen,” said Petty in a statement. “Most times you catch it before it gets out the studio door, but in this case it got by. Sam’s people were very understanding of our predicament and we easily came to an agreement.”
It is no surprise that Scott sides with the Petty approach more than the Gaye estate approach.
“I have always been of the opinion that I don’t like making music about maths,” he says. “I have never intentionally ripped someone off […] If it was done unintentionally, I don’t think someone should come in with a big lawsuit. I think the Tom Petty conversation is about right. If you can sort things out in a human way, that would be better.”