According to this recent blog post on Popmatters, the singer and songwriter of emo-rock band Say Anything has offered to write personalized songs for fans at $150 a pop. Max Bemis (pictured right) asks for a paragraph or two of autobiographical information, or details of a specific situation to be written about, and he'll write it into an acoustic song and record it for you. It's a Song Shop, which I haven't heard of before in popular music. When 99% of musicians are struggling to make money from their art, it seems to me like a great idea if he can pull it off to fans' satisfaction. Painters and sculptors are routinely commissioned to paint or sculpt specific pieces for specific customers, yet the convention for music has assumed that the musician must come up with their own completely original ideas for a non-specific listener. Why? This still requires a great deal of creativity from Bemis - he's given an angle to start with, that's all. And I don't think $150 is too expensive - there will surely be plenty of big Say Anything fans willing to treat themselves to their own personal Bemis song.
Another interesting aspect of this, pointed out by the Popmatters blogger, is that the rights of Bemis's songs are vested in his record label, RCA Music Group - including any song from his Song Shop. Presumably this means that if he writes anything particularly good, or if he struggles to fulfil his obligations for the next Say Anything record, then the song he wrote for you could appear on the next Say Anything album.
So, I have a few questions.
Firstly, which artist would you most like to write a song about you, if money was no object? It's not quite as easy as "who is your favorite artist?". For example, I doubt a Kraftwerk song would emerge with profound lyrics about your written scenario (fun game: give your own words to "Pocket Calculator" and try to make it sound serious); and if you chose Sigur Ros or the Cocteau Twins - well, you're never going to understand the words! Also, a lot of my favorite artists are dead, so that rules them out straight away. Many more of my favorites - Neil Young, David Bowie, Stevie Wonder to name a few - are well past their best, which makes me wonder whether I'd rather have a not-very-good song from a legend, or would I rather choose a contemporary artist who's more likely to write a song I enjoy? Finally, you also have to think about just what a songwriter might do to you in the song - Eminem would probably kill you (you may consider than an honor, to be killed by Eminem in a song), and Al Green would probably seduce you. Again, you may consider that an honor!
Secondly, would you be pleased or upset if the song was used on the artist's next proper album? I think it would be great, something to tell the grandkids about - though they'd probably just say "who?" and listen to something new and noisy, instead of whatever ancient stuff their grandpa liked! But others might be upset by it, especially if their song was about something quite private.
Finally, are Say Anything any good? Admittedly I know next to nothing about them. I don't really have $150 to spend frivolously, but then again, it is my birthday in two weeks!