Thursday, December 24, 2009

The perils of work for hire

Like most of you, I don't generally keep up with news involving Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana. However, a bit of drama around one of the songs she sings unfolded recently, and you might find it interesting. I did. (Hat tip: Songwriting Scene.)

Seems that "The Climb," from the Hannah Montana movie soundtrack, had been nominated for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture. One day later the nomination got pulled because, strictly speaking, the song hadn't actually been written for the movie.

The sequence of events makes the decision seem pretty straightforward. Jessi Alexander and John Mabe cowrote the song. Alexander, who's under contract for Disney, submitted it to Disney for general consideration. The director of Hannah Montana: The Movie wanted to use it.

Here, in the words of Alexander, is where it gets fuzzy.
We started a song. It was actually called “It’s the Climb,” and it was a more spiritual song, sung in third person. And it was really about my woes, and Jon’s woes in the music business ... [Peter Chelsom] called back within weeks and said the song was gonna be an integral part of the movie, and the only thing he needed was for me to change what I would consider to be a substantial amount of the song.
Full interview at Entertainment Weekly

They made their substantial revisions, changing third-person perspective to first-person and downplaying the spiritual elements. If they didn't write the song with Hannah Montana in mind, they certainly rewrote it with Hannah Montana in mind.

The interesting takeaway question for those who care deeply about the Grammies is, where should these guys draw the line when vetting music for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture? Does every aspect of creation have to occur with the knowledge that it will be used for the film, or can, say, the melody come beforehand?

The interesting question for me is, how do songwriters do this kind of work without going insane?

I can handle criticism. I can handle hearing that this line or that break isn't good enough. But rewriting autobiographical lyrics so they're perfect for somebody who isn't old enough to drink?

Let's just say I'm not sure I would cope with as much grace as Alexander and Mabe.


Anonymous said...

She admitted in another interview (it's on video) a fact that she conveniently left out here - that she pitched it to country artists prior to the Hannah movie.

cinderkeys said...

Which sort of invalidates her "But I wrote it for Disney" argument in the EW interview.

I don't necessarily think the decision was unfair (though they should've sorted that out before submitting the song in the first place). I do wonder where they draw the line. Say somebody comes to you and asks you to write a song for their film. You think, "Ooh, that thing I started three months ago would work well ... I'll keep the melody and rework some of the existing lyrics." Is that good enough for the category?

Anonymous said...

Not a musician, but I would say that if it's something that you are still bouncing around in your head and haven't completed, then that's probably okay. But if it's something that WAS completed, and then you are told, or decide to go back and rework to fit a new project, then no, because it wasn't created for the movie, but rather modified to fit the movie.

Then again, everything about Hannah Montana is the musical equivalent of wax fruit, so it kind of fits right into that world.

Jannie Funster said...

I did not know that Bout the song, our daughter has it on her iPod. Good song. Nice performance of it.

I'd say it has to be for the movie, alone. Melody could probably come before, I think.

cinderkeys said...


Complete lyrics and no melody = song


Basic melody and no lyrics != song