No, it’s not a daft joke. It’s a serious question. And the answer is apparently now 4.53.

U.K. music industry magazine Music Week has carried out analysis of the 2016 Top 100 Singles, which reveals that nowadays, you need an average of 4.53 people to write the very biggest hits. To make the year-end Top 30, you needed to employ an average of 4.67 people.

Furthermore, 13% of 2016’s biggest 100 hits in the U.K. were credited to eight or more songwriters. Three – DJ Snake Featuring Justin Bieber’s “Let Me Love You”; Drake’s Controlla; and (deep breath) Lil Wayne, Wiz Khalifa, Imagine Dragons, Logic & Ty Dolla Sign Featuring X Ambassadors’ “Sucker For Pain” – featured no fewer than 11 credits apiece. One – 99 Souls Featuring Destiny’s Child and Brandy’s “The Girl Is Mine” – lists 12. That’s not a “group” - that’s sports team!

It’s not all like that, of course. Twenty One Pilots, Calvin Harris and Mike Posner stood up for “true” songwriting acts – those three acts contributed all four of the year’s big hits to be written and performed by the same, single entity.

Sampling or reusing refrains from previous hits has, of course, had a big impact on the way hits are “written”. But even big “solo” stars regularly rely on help. The U.K’s biggest solo stars, Adele and Ed Sheeran, routinely write with at least one other person. It took nine – 9! – to write Sheeran’s current hit “Galway Girl”. 

Ed Sheeran

Credit Where Credit’s Due?

We guess you can look at it two ways. For one, it’s good that people are at least getting credit where it’s due.

The other side is that record companies cannot simply risk investing money on a single talent. If they sign an artist – singer, band, whatever – they need to ensure a return, and quick. And they think (and can prove!) the best way is to get their songs “designed” by a “proven” committee. Cynics will no doubt argue that this is exactly why modern chart music “all sounds the same.” More experienced artists may have simply run short of ideas or, Spinal Tap-style, “hope you enjoy our new direction.”

Even so, the whole business seems a little less innocent these days. Back in the day, fans would sit trying to work out, for example, which bits of a Beatles’ classic was “by Paul” or “by John”. Lennon and McCartney remain the two most successful number one hit writers in Billboard chart history (with 26 and 32 #1s, respectively). But the third most successful hitwriter (there’s no other word for what he does) is Max Martin. The reclusive Swedish writer/producer has co-penned hits for Britney Spears, NSYNC, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry P!nk, Backstreet Boys, Kelly Clarkson and many more. Different types of artists to The Beatles, sure, but their fans may even wonder which bits their favorite artist wrote... if at all.

Call The Experienced Hit Team!

It’s been going on for years, of course, and in rock too. Simple Minds’ biggest hit in the ‘80s, “Don’t You Forget About Me”, was written by Keith Forsey and Steve Schiff – it was originally offered to Billy Idol, but he declined. Aerosmith’s only Top 20 hits of the last 20 years were “Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” (written by Diane Warren, who also wrote hits for Toni Braxton, Celine Dion) and “Jaded” (partly by Steven Tyler, but co-written with pro Marti Frederiksen, who also co-pens for Buckcherry, Ozzy Osbourne and Mötley Crüe.) To be fair to Jon Bon Jovi, his loss of (usual) co-writer Richie Sambora didn’t affect This House Is Not For Sale too much. The album boasts a relatively trim five co-writers, mainly album co-producer Jon Shanks.

But no-one seems immune these days. That “gang of lads” from Dublin? Well, U2’s forthcoming album due in 2017, Songs Of Experience, reportedly boasts writing/production input from (deep breath) Andy Barlow, Jolyon Thomas, Jacknife Lee, Danger Mouse, Paul Epworth, Ryan Tedder, Declan Gaffney, Flood, maybe, possibly David Guetta, and RedOne, too. Good news is that Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr are also on it! Whatever the album sounds like, it certainly won’t lack an experienced team.

Is this a good a bad thing? Would you let “outside” writers meddle with your songs or even totally call the shots? Whatever: at least these days there’s little chance of everyone suffering from “writers block” at the same time.