Things Every Songwriter Should Know
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What Happened, Why, and Where the Music Business is Going

Written by Barry DeVorzon – Follow us on Twitter

The Golden Years

In my opinion the golden decade for the record business, publishers, and songwriters would have to be the fifties followed by the sixties.  In the fifties, everyone had their job and it was more of a collaborative effort.  The songwriter wrote the song, the publisher placed the song with an artist, the artist sang the song, the producer produced the record, and the record company promoted and sold the record. We were all one big happy family and there was something for everyone.

The single record was alive and well and was the fastest and cheapest way to launch a career. And when I say a career I mean as an artist, songwriter, publisher, or record company.  Radio was our friend and if you could get on the charts of just one major radio station or city you could break it nationally. Independent record companies ruled and gave birth to Rock and Roll and R&B. The majors hung on to the established pop stars with a few exceptions. There was very little format radio other than R&B and Country, but generally speaking, if it was a hit, radio didn’t care weather it was Pop, Rock, Country, Folk, or R&B.

It was easy and inexpensive to get a record out

There was an immediacy in the business that is not here today. You could record a song on Friday and it could be on the air the following week.  It didn’t cost a lot to take a chance, which encouraged people to follow their gut. The result was a golden era that was immediate, imaginative, and just pure fun.

The British Invasion and how it changed the business

This all came to a screeching halt, beginning in the early sixties with the British invasion. In the fifties, all the world wanted was American music.  For a good part of the sixties, all America wanted was British music. It was during this time that the major record companies rose to power, and there was good reason.

Majors were the only ones with reciprocal rights

In the fifties, independent record companies were focused nationally and usually let the majors handle their foreign distribution.  England wanted our music, we didn’t want theirs, but reciprocal rights were part of every distribution agreement.  When America did want their music, the only companies with reciprocal rights for British product were the Major record companies. As a result, The majors rose to power and many of the independent record companies either went out of business or were sold to major record companies.

Corporate thinking comes to power

This is the period when corporate thinking came into power and took over the business. The first thing to go was the single record.  Corporate thinking determined that selling an album was far more profitable than selling a single, and they were right. But now, serious money had to be spent on an album before you knew if anyone was going to respond to the artist or his/her music.

Singer/Songwriters take center stage

It also became unfashionable for an artist to sing songs that were written by others.  The record companies for the most part were only interested in signing artists who wrote their own songs. This led to a decline in quality and diversity, and the end of an era for songwriters in general.  Don’t get me wrong, there were some great songs written by some great songwriters during this time, but for the most part, you had to be the artist, the songwriter, and you had to be signed to a record company to get your songs heard and recorded.

Hard times for songwriters

It has gone from bad to worse these past forty years and that’s unfortunate for pure songwriters who are not artists. The only place that resisted that kind of thinking was Nashville, but I understand today, it’s beginning to change there as well.

More to come

That’s all for now, but look for part two of this article where I discuss the other ways corporate thinking brought the music business to its knees and to the unfortunate place we find ourselves in today. That being said, I will also discuss why I think a brighter future may be ahead for all of us.

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

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46 Responses to “What Happened, Why, and Where the Music Business is Going”

  1. I think the industry is being tested a bit by independent artists who can cheaply produce a song for digital distribution. Websites like tunecore.com offer global distribution for little cost through giants like iTunes and Rhapsody. There are still lots of good producers and garage studious that can master a recording with enough quality to compete with the giants. Self promotion is getting easier with social media sites like YouTube, Twitter and FaceBook. While it takes a lot to get on radio, it only takes one good song and a bit of work to get noticed.

    • admin says:

      I agree with a lot of what you say, but it’s still difficult these days. Technology has certainly opened a lot of doors but we still have a ways to go. Check out my blog next week for my thoughts on where it’s going.

      Best,

      Barry

  2. Johnney says:

    Great Article Barry,
    I always enjoy reading your articles and learning from you.
    I once had dreams of being a recording artist and songwriter, but feel that in todays industry my age has dimmed the hope
    of a recording deal. However, I am still passionate about songwriting, (I love my masterwriter by the way) and feel there is no age
    barrier for the aspiring songwriter.
    I can’t wait for part two of this article.
    Thanks again for all your insights and inspiration.

    • admin says:

      You’re absolutely right, nobody asks how old the songwriter is when they hear a great song. Look for part 2 next week, I think you’ll enjoy it.

      Best,

      Barry

  3. JJ Johnson says:

    i always enjoy your blog posts Barry, thank you. i look forward to hearing about the brighter future ahead! :) change is constant, i wonder what the next chapter in music will bring. i envision a new form of quality audio files like vinyl, (not digital). people don’t want to pay for music today bc digital quality takes some of the feeling away, as does the overproduction (in my humble opinion)

    • admin says:

      Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed the article, we’re definitely in transition. I’m coming with part 2 next week, be sure and look for it.

      Best,

      Barry

  4. Perhaps you’ll cover this aspect of the songwriter’s plight in Part Two, but I’d like to add that quality recording equipment is so inexpensive now that one can write and record a song for almost nothing. While you can then post your song on the Internet that very day, getting paid for the effort requires a different medium.

    • admin says:

      Very true and all of this works for the independent songwriter. There are still a few things that have to fall in place for him/her to make any kind of serious money. Watch for Part 2.

      Best,

      Barry

  5. Brian Thomas says:

    Hi Barry… love your blog, website, and MasterWriter.

    Having said that, I hope that part 2 of this article is more upbeat. I mean if things have gone from bad to worse, then what chance could “just-a-songwriter” have to really break into the business?

    And though, to Daniel’s point, distribution via itunes is relatively cheap, how do you viably promote your music to drive people to buy your songs?

    At this point in my life (i.e. family, mortgage, JOB, etc.), I don’t see myself touring to try to make a dollar. And though itunes is probably great for big artists, does anyone make their bread and butter only on itunes? That would be great if they did.

    Though I’m sure groups like KISS and the Rolling Stones love the stage attention, my guess is that they really tour because the $$ are so great — compared to selling CD’s and digital downloads.

    • admin says:

      A lot of what you say is certainly true, it’s still difficult, but you can look forward a more upbeat forecast in part 2.

      Best,

      Barry

  6. Don Joseph says:

    As usual a great article and I agree with all of it because as a songwriter I was there at the beginning also. I was also there in Russ Regan’s office at Uni Records when he turned down a master tape of a singer sent to him from England by the name of Elton John. I was with Andy Di Martino and the cascades at the time playing Russ a demo of “Listen To The Rhythm of the Falling Rain.

    As a songwriter and proud member of NSAI in Nashville, I agree with you that Nashville is changing also. In the fifties and sixties you could write a song, walk into any publishers office and walk out with a check. They owned your song and you got to go out and party.

    You could walk into a radio station with your music, and if it was good Radio played your music. They would work with labels and program you in. Today radio is in the business of selling commercial time and all they use music for is to get you from one commercial to another. That’s what radio has also done to the music business.

    Those days are long gone. As you say, and truthfully, Corporations do own the music industry today and if you do not have a track record it’s hard to even submit works to publishers and labels today. A few years ago there were over two hundred record labels out there, today there are only a few and to top it all off Nashville and Austin are the only two places still signing and recording new artists and songwriters. The big labels have all of their money makers and don’t need to pursue new artists or writers.

    That’s why people have taken up self publishing and putting out their own works thru iTunes, Cd Baby and other entities through the internet today.

    Yes Barry the music business has indeed changed and people like you and I and your articles help and give hope. I once read somewhere a passage that said; “If it were necessary to completely crush a man, all you would need to do was to make his work aimless and meaningless”.

    I teach everyone at the Song Craft Studio for songwriters that If you want to become a songwriter in the music business today you will find that songwriting is the hardest profession to get into. If you want to do it then you must live and breathe it and do it everyday.

    You know Barry that because of people like you and I who grew up in this business, new young artists and writers have a chance, Keep writing and sharing because we’re all in this together.

    Don Joseph

    • admin says:

      You and I were privileged to be part of that golden era and we both witnessed the fact that is has been very difficult for the songwriter these past years. A lot of the reasons it has is mentioned in your comments. Despite it all, I remain optimistic and part 2 may give us all a little hope.

      Best,

      Barry

  7. T Black says:

    Hi Barry,

    I enjoyed your post and am reminded that no matter what the era, people will always want music in their lives and there is always room for more great songs.

    If you need to pay bills with your music, I think that the challenges are many. However, if you simply want to create and make people feel through music, there is opportunity around every corner.

    All the best and looking forward to the next article!

    • admin says:

      I couldn’t agree more, it’s not just about money, but it sure helps if you can make a living from writing music. I think it’s going to get better, check out part 2.

      Best,

      Barry

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