The petty hierarchies of music – bands and songwriters


Let me premise this with saying that if I could, for every live show, I would list the musicians I’m playing with that night, as part of the billing. And in an ideal world there would be credits, like on an album, so everything was completely fair.


But why would that not work ? There needs to be a single name that tops everything, exclusively.


Well in jazz it can be different – particularly in instrumental, improvised jazz, where you sometimes see a list of musicians, as the band name. In that genre there is such an ethic of equality of musicians, that even 1 musician writing the songs, undermines the primacy of the players, so that’s partly why it has to be improvised. They often eschew vocals with lyrics also, because they must know that words tend grab people’s attention more than a pick hitting a guitar string.


You might point out that many classic rock bands are collaborative endeavors. But still there is the front person. Somehow there is that one person who enjoys being more public, and is in fact often better at it. Even bands with a strong stick-together ethic, will see just 1 or 2 people doing all the talking. Often there are the straight up interviews with the front person, and interviews with anyone else, will have a “behind the scenes” tone.


So far, what I’m suggesting is known to everybody – it takes all kinds. And in music its: extroverts and introverted specialists, lyricists and instrumentalists. But the truth is, this makes things ripe for unfairness. And we all play into it.


If you argue that lyrics are especially important, or that the songwriter/composer are who really make the music mean something, you have to recognize that in most cases there’s a pretty steep hierarchy involved. Songs and lyrics need to be realized, and without the chemistry and talent of other musicians, no one may ever have heard certain songs or lyrics. So there’s a symbiosis there of all the people who go into recording or performing music. You can even say that not all the components are equal. But honestly, in the end result, they end up very – very, un-equal


For something so symbiotic as a musical performance, or recording, it’s striking how much it’s TOP-MAN-TAKE-ALL. But still, We relate to a singular name, and identity for something. So this petty hierarchy as I call it, is not likely to ever change


I say this from years of inside experience on both sides of the issue. Even as a record producer, my role has been similar to that of a another musician on the record.  And I have my own band, with a revolving group of musicians, so uuhh… we just use MY NAME.. it just “makes sense”. But I stand to benefit very disproportionally from anything good that could happen – cause my name is right there at the top


I’ll just end with this – Think of music history. History is written and remembered as a collection of those single names – TOP-MAN-TAKE-ALL. And everyone else is a footnote. Thankfully, there are those who really care to look in depth at everything and everyone that went into the music. So, that’s something I suppose


You can find Martin Bisi’s songs and live appearances on my Myspace:






Leave a Reply