Things Every Songwriter Should Know
  ...from the Pros Who've Done it.

Written by Barry DeVorzon – Follow us on Twitter

In my last blog, we took a brief trip through the fifties and sixties and the events that drastically changed the music business for songwriters, publishers, artists and record companies.  The main villain in this scenario was corporate thinking.  Doing away with the single record, only signing singer/songwriters, and the cost associated with recording albums before you knew if you had something or not, changed the business in a way that we would have to pay for later.

Corporate thinking and its consequences

Corporate thinking continued to zig when they should have zagged.  Radio lost its freedom and individuality, and became an advertising medium owned by a precious few corporations. The tight play lists did very little to break new artists, independent radio personalities disappeared and the most popular stations adopted the oldies but goodies format which was good for the oldies but not good for new product.

Greed will get you every time

The CD came out and offered a quality of sound that far surpassed vinyl and tape. Digital came at a price however, and as good as it was, it was also expensive and the sound was a little cold. As the consumer and the business itself embraced the CD, the sound quality improved, but for some reason or other, the price stayed the same.  With every other product, greater volume in sales usually results in the price coming down. This was not the case with the CD and once again it was corporate thinking at the major record companies who made that decision.

Since $16 was a lot of money for a kid to spend on an album each week, and kids were in the habit of wanting more than one album, they found a way to steal the albums. The new digital world made it easy and the record companies, instead of dropping the price, thought they could contain the problem legally. They finally realized that the cat was out of the bag and there was very little they could do about it. They finally did drop the price but by then it was too late, and convincing kids to pay for something they could get for free was not going to be easy.

The music business in transition

The rest is history, iTunes helped, but the business in general continued to suffer and here we are today – in bad shape, in transition, and nobody is 100% sure of exactly where it’s going.

To sum it all up, corporate thinking is not always a bad thing, it can be very powerful and positive, especially when it comes to developing and marketing products.  When it comes to the arts you have to be careful. The term music business says it all, it’s a delicate partnership between creative entities and business entities.  If either partner gets too powerful, it doesn’t work.

Where do we go from here?

I’m not that involved in the music business these days and what’s even worse, I’m getting old, but my guess is probably as good as anyone’s so for what it’s worth, here’s what I think is going to happen:

The new home of the record business is on the Internet. On this level playing field, independent record companies will be able to compete with major record companies. Boutique and specialty labels will also play an important role. We will take more chances and dare to be different. The cost of making records will normalize and the concept of the single record will be reborn. The cost of manufacturing will disappear since everything will be downloaded and companies like Pandora, Spotify, Amazon, iTunes, Emusic.com, Napster, Rhapsody, MP3Mix.com will provide interesting alternatives.

Exactly how this will end up? I don’t know, but it will certainly be better than what we have now. Better for the creative community as well as the record and publishing companies. Let’s hope I’m right!

If anyone has anything to add on this subject, your comments will be welcome.

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Written By: Kenny Loggins

Key lessons from this post:

  • Why most executives only give most artists one CD to prove themselves
  • The danger of trying to follow a fad
  • Why artists are losing their audience
  • The power of looks and video

When I started in the music business, Clive Davis was the hand’s-down taste-maker, the man who far-and-away, “got it”, and lead the way with an ethos of how to do the music business, a style that completely lead the industry. Among his many gifts, I especially noticed:

1. He trusted his instincts, his “ears”, while watching the trends, and he had/has a damn good set of ears.

2. He knew that artists needed time to mature their craft, and would often invest deeply in an act for quite a while (as he did with Loggins and Messina), in order to shepherd that act’s creative growth. He literally invented the term “Artist development”.

In today’s music business, there are precious few record executives who still believe as Clive did, and are willing to hang with an artist for more than one CD.

There seems to be little or no “artist development” any more.

Why is that? Perhaps because when accountants took over the music business, they had no clue how Clive came to his decisions, had no inkling what was “good or bad”, and so they encouraged their “artists” to follow whatever fad was selling at the time. Thus we were launched into an era of copy-cat trends in music that has led to an all-time record-industry crash.

Artists are losing the audience’s attention.

Artists no longer capture the imagination of the public for very long, because Record Companies (interesting that they still use the term “record” in their own definition…) do not encourage originality and don’t stay with an artist’s development long enough to let them. New acts are signed for one “record”, sometimes even two or three songs only!

I suspect the rule of thumb is, “take one shot. If it doesn’t stick, it’s not worth the investment.” I’ll bet money that’s because they don’t “get it” in the first place. They never really “heard it”. It’s all just “white-man’s magic” to them, the incomprehensible whims of the unpredictable masses. In most cases today, it looks to me as if they just throw it all out there and see what happens. Then, if they smell success, they might spend some promotional money on that act and invest in a second song or CD.

How to be an ‘exception’.

Of course there are a few exceptions to that rule, but I consider those acts either left over from the previous era of the music business, as in the case of a U2, or artists so charismatically powerful, so willing to constantly push themselves into new territory that even the company can’t stop them (Witness John Mayer’s continuous self-empowered evolution). But I believe those artists and their managers have had to fight for every leap they’ve taken, and probably against the “better judgment” of their company’s most fearful leaders.

The difference (and danger) with Video Artists.

Clearly, looks and image have propelled Rock n Roll from the very beginning. Elvis had the look, the hips, the outrageous style that would propel him into the ethers of the Rock Pantheon. He would have made a great Video Star, as indeed he DID with his dynamic performance of Jailhouse Rock!

But many artists now owe their entire careers to Video, and have very little substance to back up their stratospheric rise. In all fairness, Music Video has kept the music business breathing during hard musical/financial times, but it has also hampered careers that might have had a chance in earlier times. So it goes.

But Video has also fueled the “fast food” intellect of the consumer by overexposing a new artist right from the beginning, thus usually quelling the mystique an artist might have developed over time. In many ways, it is the illusion that an artist’s music spins that fuels the longevity of the career. We crave more because we are allowed to simmer in the magic for a while.

Short-term hype causes true fans to be replaced with infatuation.

That, I believe, is why today’s audience rarely falls too deeply in love with an act. What I see today is more akin to the white-hot intensity of an infatuation, a “fantastic first date” if you will, and why today’s acts fall so quickly from grace, their promise never quite achieved.

The public simply got too much too quickly, and the act lost its seeming uniqueness right away. The Video too often strips us of the use of our imaginations. I am hardly the first person to say that. Folks have been saying that about TV since the death of radio.

And where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire…

How has the rapidly changing songwriting business affected your career? What changes could we help with? Please share in the comments. Even a short sentence helps our community in a big way.

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Written by Barry DeVorzon – Follow us on Twitter

You have some great songs…Now what?
You have some great demos of some great songs, and when I say great I don’t mean good or even very good, I mean great!  Now what?  Now is when the songwriter has to become a detective and identify and find the people and companies that he should be sending his songs to.  This used to be an impossible task but today you can find almost anything you’re looking for on the Internet.

Music magazines are also great sources of information and often publish lists of record companies, producers, and publishers.  There are also a great many songwriter resources on the Internet that will give you all the information you need. Spend whatever time it takes, but leave no stone unturned. Your goal is to get your songs in the hands of as many artists, producers, publishers and record labels as you can.  Here are 7 places you should be sending your songs to:

1. Record Labels

In addition to the majors, there are a lot of smaller labels that are even more accessible and just as effective as any major.  Everyday, more independent labels come on line and this is a trend that I think will continue.

2. Producers

Getting your song to the producers of the various artists is one of the most effective ways to get your songs cut.  Who they are is information that is out there, how to get to them is not so easy.  It’s been my experience that less is more, try and keep your submittals to one or two songs and no more than four.  Here again, all you need is for one producer to take the time to listen.

3. Artists

The best way to get to artists is through a personal relationship or mutual friends, or members of their band.  If that’s not possible, try contacting their managers or you can send your songs to the A&R departments of the record companies for a particular artist.

4. Publishers

Publishers are easy to get to but the only Publishers really pitching songs these days seem to be in Nashville and Austin.  There may be some exceptions in LA and New York, but not many.

5. Music Libraries

While you’re trying to get your songs recorded a great place to make money are Music Libraries.  Usages and the subsequent performance royalties can really add up.  Some major Music Libraries are: APM, Killer Tracks, Extreme, 5 Alarm, Megatrax, and First Com.  For the entire list, check out PMA, Production Music Association.  You may have to give them exclusive rights in as far as production music is concerned, but don’t give up your copyrights.

6. Music Departments at Movie and Television Studios

Music Departments at movie and television studios always need production music.  Sometimes they augment the music in a film by adding a song or two from their music libraries in scenes where they need them. If for any reason they are unhappy with the Main or End Title you may even get a shot at one of those.  Sometimes they use songs from their music libraries as a temp track for a movie or television show, and sometimes producers and directors fall in love with those songs and they stay in the film.  That’s happened for me a number of times.

7. TAXI

If you don’t feel like doing all of the above, there is a company that does it for you named TAXI.  Check it out, it’s worked for a lot of songwriters.  Michael Laskow, is the President of Taxi, and he has assembled a great staff to help songwriters in a number of ways.  They not only do what they can to place your songs, they critique them as well, pointing out the weaknesses, and suggesting how you can make them better.

Leave no stone unturned.

Some people will argue that spending the time, effort, and money that is required to do the above isn’t worth it since you’d have to consider taking this approach as somewhat of a long shot.  Some of my biggest hits came as a result of taking long shots rather than following the obvious path.  Most of what I’ve suggested to you will be a waste of time, with the exception of TAXI, but this is a business that is all about percentages, all you need is one or two people to hear something in your songs and the result could be life changing.

If anyone out there has any additional suggestions on how to get your songs heard, we’d love to hear from you.  Share in the comments below.  Thanks for adding to the conversation.

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