The song ‘Hold Up’ off Beyoncé’s most recent solo album has 15 different credited songwriters including Diplo, members of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the lead singer of Vampire Weekend, and Soulja Boy. It has 3 different producers and samples 4 different songs. You would think that with so many cooks in the kitchen the song would be a jumbled mess. It isn’t. It’s an inarguable standout on a landmark album.
Rock music, on the other hand, was a genre built on auteurs. Solo artists or small collection of artists who would write, perform and sometimes even produce songs on their own. Save a handful of covers and Harrison outliers, almost every song in the Beatles vast catalog was written by Lennon and McCartney. They had a very specific vision and worked largely in isolation to realize that vision.
Two artists toiling away towards a shared creative expression is not unlike the stereotypical creative process in advertising. The industry was built on decades of copywriters working with art directors to create ads. Yes, they were overseen by creative directors, and yes, they would collaborate with producers and directors, but the idea — the creative foundation — was usually created by two people working in isolation.
But the advertising creative process is changing and it’s changing much in the same way the creative process in popular music has changed. To paraphrase Aaron Sorkin’s Steve Jobs script, hip hop artists of today don’t play an instrument, they play the orchestra. In other words, artists like Kanye and Drake and Beyoncé are like conductors — they assemble a team of collaborators, then coordinate and shape their collective output. And they aren’t just collaborating with artists in the present, they’re collaborating with artists from the past. They will frequently take elements of existing songs and re-interpolate them to create something new.
This approach serves as a harbinger for the change I’m seeing in the ad world. There are still copywriters and art directors coming up with ideas, but they are increasingly at the centre of a team of collaborators — planners, developers, platform partners, influencers, filmmakers — working in concert to create ideas that can come to life in ways that wouldn’t have been possible in decades past. This collaboration is allowing us to push beyond what we would traditionally have considered an ‘ad’ and embrace new creative brand expressions and new creative brand solutions.
And we’re increasingly not afraid to sample other songs too. Many of the year’s top ads aren’t just in conversation with culture but directly pull from culture — think of the recent Aviation Gin culture flip or the Bud Light x Game of Thrones Superbowl ad.
The advertising landscape is changing. And for us to thrive, we need to embrace outside collaborators, not push them away. There still needs to be a conductor but more and more, we can’t be working in isolation. Beyoncé may have gone solo, but she did it with a lot of help from her friends.