What would The Strokes' 'Is This It' have sounded like without JP Bowersock - the man credited on the record sleeve as the band’s guru? There’s a good chance songs like 'Barely Legal' and 'Take It Or Leave It' would’ve been missing critical components.
In a recent interview, Bowersock explained that as guru he worked closely with Casablancas to perfect those now-immortalized guitar solos. “On the first record, there are a bunch of notes that came from me,” he admitted.
Say what you will about The Strokes, but at least they had the decency to publicly acknowledge and thank Bowersock for his creative contributions. Rock and indie’s dirty little secret is that hired-gun songwriters are a lot more common than you might think.
“Most people think songwriters mainly exist in the top 40,” says Roger Gisborne, a professional songwriter and founder of LA’s Intravenous Music Group, “but in this music climate labels want to make sure the hits are in place, and more and more are utilizing uncredited writers on rock albums - indie and major - to ensure they have the hits before throwing their money at breaking a new artist.”
That’s right: ghostwriters. Professionals brought in either to compose entire songs or help bands iron out arrangements - and expressly paid to forego their earned public credit.
The Strokes: 'guru' JP Bowersock not pictured
But before you start accusing a band of Milli Vanilli-ing their way to the top of the indie charts, it’s perhaps worth asking the question: why would bands go to such lengths to conceal their songs’ true authorship in the first place? Why do we the audience, complicit in this perpetuated fraud, care so much about our favorite bands’ ability to craft their own material?
After all, we don’t judge our pop stars’ worth by their songwriting abilities. We gladly allow them to enlist and credit professionals like Max Martin and Dr. Luke, who have gone on to become household names themselves.
And last I checked, you could still be considered a world-class violinist without having composed an original violin concerto. Yet we continue to hold rock bands to a higher standard, insisting that the songs be theirs and theirs alone.
Or do we? Would you enjoy your favorite rock songs any less if it turned out professional songwriters had penned them? Do you think you could love a band that didn’t come up with a single note on its own and credited all its songs to outside writers? Have at it...