American Sociological Association

Harmonizing Small-Group Cohesion and Status in Creative Collaborations: How Songwriters Facilitate and Manipulate the Cowriting Process

Because of economically induced changes in record label contracts, recording artists are now required to cowrite their songs. Despite this obligation, many recording artists are unskilled as writers. For their professional songwriter teammates, using face-work to save the recording artist from the embarrassment of being an unskilled songwriter can be at odds with status maintenance in the larger social community if the collaboration results in a bad song. Interviews with 39 country songwriters revealed two key strategies for orienting the songwriting process toward writing a song that will allow for status maintenance among peers while still attending to group cohesion. Of the two strategies for achieving this goal, most common was a process of commercially oriented “bespoke facilitation” to match songs’ lyrical content to artists’ personal branding goals. In a second strategy, referred to as a “manipulation dance,” songwriters prewrite songs or portions of songs to guide the creative process toward content that will contribute to their status among industry peers. Both strategies rely on songwriters using face-work to be perceived as a “good hang” to keep the recording artist happy while still ensuring that the song is well crafted and will help to build and maintain their status. This study contributes to understanding how an individual working in a collaborative group might orient efforts toward maintaining status in a wider community while attending to group cohesion when the group has mismatched goals, skills, or tastes.


Rachel Skaggs





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