In the never-ending drama of the hardcore scene, one of the recent flare-ups has concerned a website named RetiredArtists. Smattered with shots of energetic live shows and boasting a "love of music," you'd think it'd be along the lines of a booking agent or record label, right? In fact, RetiredArtists are a group of formerly underground musicians ("metal, hardcore, punk…rock") who offer music ghostwriting services, for those ranging from young bands needing material for a demo to labels in search of that next big hit. Scene Point Blank decided to get in touch with the group to investigate.
Scene Point Blank: Hi. So the group has sprung up pretty recently, please provide some background. How long has it been in the making? Was it one person’s idea and then recruited others or has it always been a collective ambition?
Riff Writers: The group being a collective is very new. Initially it was a few people that were doing it on their own for friends bands or other artists primarily through word of mouth. The idea to organize it into a collective and build a website actually came from a person who was seeking the service.
Scene Point Blank: Have you approached potential songwriters and been rejected due to the concept of the group? Have you had to persuade people to join or have you had a warm response among old heads?
Riff Writers: Most of the songwriters were people someone had already known who were thrilled with the idea, but a few that have recently come on board, [who] wrote to us upon hearing about it. It was especially appealing to some of the people we approached that currently tour in bands, offering them a way to help make ends meet while keeping doing what they love. It's not always the easiest to hold a job while having to leave constantly to go on tour.
Scene Point Blank: Seeing phrases like "shitty music" on your site suggests that you don't hold the current scene in high regard. Is that the case? Does any of the money made get reinvested into the scene in any way?
Riff Writers: This is not the case at all. The "Retired Artists" site was just an idea we had to stir up some controversy and get people talking and, as expected, it definitely did. People couldn't figure out if it was real or if it was indeed some April Fool’s joke. Our initial writers were writing songs for artists outside of the hardcore/punk scene, but some had gotten their start playing in that scene, so they were familiar. Knowing that scene, the Retired Artists site, as it was presented, was a surefire way to gain publicity and give us some press—be it good or bad—it has all been helpful. Our factual site can be found at www.riffwriters.com.
The idea to expand into hardcore/punk/metal didn't actually come about until one of us was approached by someone from that scene about assisting them with writing. Prior to that, we had never thought the idea could even gather interest there. The money all stays in the music community, so we look at it as a win-win. Everyone involved loves music and has a desire to be a part of it. A new band is able to get songwriting help from an existing band member trying to stay on the road playing music or, in other instances, a musician that no longer plays in a band can still see their songs put to use.
"The money all stays in the music community, so we look at it as a win-win. Everyone involved loves music and has a desire to be a part of it."
Scene Point Blank: How involved in hardcore or other musical projects are the members of your group (i.e. bands, labels, booking agents)?
Riff Writers: Some play in current bands in the genres of hardcore/metal and also indie/alternative, while others have played in some notable bands in the past, but no longer can commit to the lifestyle. No one works at a record label or is a booking agent, but one writer has produced records for bands in the past. However, Riffwriters has decided to operate anonymously from the beginning, to protect our writers as well as the people who come to us for assistance.
Scene Point Blank: Customer-wise, who have you had the most interest from: bands, record labels, studios?
Riff Writers: We have had the most interest from people who want to get a band started and have had little success finding the members. Tired of posting ads on message boards, craigslist, etc., they figure it will be easier to get interest when they have some music to show potential members. Also a lot of bands have been in touch, saying they can't write songs that are consistent with one another. We have had various other people express interest as well, from band managers to studio engineers who are in the studio with bands in need of help.
Scene Point Blank: Apart from the fact that it is online, do you think this venture would've been a success twenty years ago?
Riff Writers: Sure. I could imagine seeing an ad for a company like Riffwriters in music-based publications like Guitar Magazine or Rolling Stone. People have been writing songs for other artists for hundreds of years, and there is a demand for it in all genres. I just think it isn't typically organized into a collective through an online website. Twenty years ago it probably would've been done via snail mail.
Scene Point Blank: Has this been a corporate venture (i.e. private investment and a management structure) or is this a DIY, bottom-up sort of deal?
Riff Writers: It has been totally DIY.
Scene Point Blank: At a push, would one of the members write lyrics?
Riff Writers: In the indie/hardcore/punk/metal genres of music, we don't feel you could write lyrics for someone that you don't know because they wouldn't be representing the person who is going to sing them. In pop music maybe you can write some sort of love song that anyone can sing, but not here. When we've written other types of music, that are more based around vocals, we have assisted with melodies and such, but lyrics we've always left open. Maybe somebody we will one day, but probably not in the hardcore/punk/metal genres.
Scene Point Blank: Without having to name names, have any notable bands employed your services or does it tend to be more up-and-coming types?
Riff Writers: Our services tend to differ (sometimes very greatly) from client to client. Our writers have worked with notable bands and up-and-coming bands, but for different reasons. A notable band will have different requests, which generally fall into the category of more help-based services, as opposed to writing the full music.
Scene Point Blank: Is there ever any awkwardness or embarrassment between the group and the people using your services?
Riff Writers: From the time the original email conversation starts through the time right before the client receives their first song, there may be a bit of the artist questioning the writing quality and if our relationship is going to work. However, once they receive their first song they will realize that everything is legitimate. It is because of this that we will have “sample” clips on the website soon of different genres—to ease the awkwardness.
Scene Point Blank: What's the most involved you've been with a band? For example, have any staff members "temporarily joined" a band?
Riff Writers: No. That was part of the RetiredArtists marketing plan, and it worked (in the sense of getting worldwide press). We hope to help people assemble their own bands through giving their music a foundation that inspires them. Not only do our writers remain anonymous throughout the entire process, but if we weren't anonymous and joined people’s bands it would defeat the purpose. We aim to give them a starting point to find members or to get through their writing troubles for the existing band. Many people don't understand the difficulties of putting a solid band together; finding the right people that all mesh can be a lot harder than the writing.
Scene Point Blank: Could you see this venture expand beyond heavy music into other songwriting services?
Riff Writers: We have great “heavy music” writers, but also people that can write in a plethora of styles from rock, blues, folk, alternative, just maybe not say, jazz, just because our writers have never been professionally involved in that genre. To work with us you must not only be a talented songwriter, but must have also been a professional in what you write, genre specific. Everyone has a great ear for what sounds good, and what will work.