Carole King and Paul Simon

The Brill Building

The Creative Labour of the Professional Songwriter

This research explores the ways in which organized approaches to creative work can improve productivity, increase the likelihood of commercial success, and sustain careers. This is accomplished through a case study of the working practices of a number of professional songwriting teams situated in and around the Brill Building in New York during the 1960s. The argument is illustrated by Brill Building-era alumni like Neil Sedaka, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Jeff Barry and Mike Stoller, who speak through a series of original interviews created by the author for Sodajerker On Songwriting, a podcast devoted to the art and craft of songwriting. The precarity of this form of labour is addressed by situating the career trajectories of these professional songwriters within a broader continuum of musical and industrial practice. The emergence of Motown is presented as an example of the ongoing adoption of strategic routines in the pop production process after the decline of the ‘Brill Building sound’.

This chapter was included in a book called The Cambridge Companion to the Singer-Songwriter published by Cambridge University Press in February 2016.