Saturday, September 22, 3:30pm
In this four-part series of updates, I will summarize some of the things that I learned while attending the Dewey Beach Music Conference last weekend. This is mostly so that I don’t forget some pretty obvious yet important ideas regarding recording, the music industry, and technology. Yay.
This was the talk that I enjoyed the most during the whole weekend. The panelists were diverse and professional and had the experience necessary to explain issues regarding writing, publishing, copyright, licensing, and PROs in the current state of the industry.
Response to the host’s opening statement:
When you are hired as a songwriter by a publisher, you have to look at things from the business side of things. You have to still produce output even when you might not want to or be in the mood too. You will have to differentiate between writing for yourself and writing for others – the style, the voice, and the methodology.
Should we worry about affiliating with a performance rights organization (PRO)?
Dr. Louis: Always be concerned about being a member of a PRO.
Thorald: They are good for meeting other songwriters and for networking with peers.
Tim: They are not necessary until you’re successful.
John: It’s a mindset, it helps you with thinking as a professional.
Dr. Louis: The workshops that they offer might be helpful.
Host: Collaborations are helpful to develop your craft.
Discuss publishing and copyrights.
John: Do it to protect yourself. It’s a simple Library of Congress form. You can do a collection, not just individual songs (to save money).
Tim: Logic and ProTools stamp the date of the file, so you don’t have to worry as much about people stealing your tracks.
Dr. Louis: Self-mailing yourself a dated copy is a wives tale and wouldn’t hold up. The 1976 copyright act says that as soon as you write it, your song is copywritten. Registering authenticates it. Registering a collection of material is more affordable.
Host: The majority of songwriters find this elusive.
John: He was lucky when he got his publishing deal. The publisher hooked him up with other writers. He finds it more difficult to write for other artists.
Host: Writing songs is easier when you’re alone; collaborating or writing for someone else is harder or just different.
Tim: As an R&B producer and writer signed to Universal, he is glad he has an agent. He personally wouldn’t sign a publishing deal because you’re giving away rights to your songs which are personal. They found him and loved the way he wrote. Don’t sign unless you need the money. When THEY want you, you’ll have more room to negotiate and keep control.
Thorald: He came in through the back door. They were able to (fortunately) keep publishing off the table when negotiating their contracts.
Dr. Louis: Historically publishers had a real function with getting people to record your songs. That happens differently today. The old model still exists somewhat.
Tim: Publishers > PRO. His publisher acts as a label. They are in tune to artists who will record the songs he writes.
Host: The walls (to entry) came down and now you have to deal with it.
“If you don’t feel like you need to do it, then it’s probably gonna crush you.” – John Faye
What would you recommend as a first step? As a songwriter without a publisher but with a body of work, what would you do today?
John: Speaking from his experience, he has always had a blind faith that he would succeed if he continued. “If you don’t feel like you need to do it, then it’s probably gonna crush you.”
Tim B: in this climate, anyone can put out a record. It’s a problem, because a lot of labels won’t give you the time of day. With social media, artists can do it themselves. “You can do whatever you want without going to a label.” Success with a label is the long road. If you can get it on radio, they’ll work with you.
Host: Question on how to make it as a non-performing songwriters if you’re saying that performers will be noticed?
Tim: Even with non-performing songwriters, work with artists you believe in. It’s necessary.
Isaac: Working with others is uncomfortable at first. The more you can get past that and stop protecting your style. It’s a different form of expression when you work with someone else. The lyrics can be more simple and you don’t get lost in words. “I encourage you to get together with others and just write.”
Thorald: Working with others forces you to keep writing.
John: Breaking down the wall you have as a singular writer will help your solo material improve.
Isaac: It all really just boils down to the song. The majors are just focusing on the radio, so if you want a record deal, that is how you have to write. So many songs are based off of the same progressions. Keep it simple. It’s all music. Just because there’s four chords doesn’t mean it’s better than two chords. Repeat melodies.
Host: Foster the People wrote for commercials first, so knew how to write trendy songs
If you are writing for a niche marketplace, you won’t always get on the radio; can you still be a great writer?
Thorald: Gary Clark Jr. is a great blues artist. Blues has its own thing, it isn’t on pop radio. The music he writes is great though, and publishing is about all music.
Host: I know of a writer who was a secretary at Billboard and now writes a certain style of songs for pop albums. That’s her thing. The best writers from previous trends are nobodys now though.
Host’s question on plugging songs (publishers to recording artists)
Dr. Louis: There was a period of time when Carole King and peers were writing and the publishers found recording artists. The business model now is if you’re not writing hit records, you can get licensing in TV and film. Good producers and good singers are the only way to do that though.
Host: Can an individual without a publisher get licensing and placements?
Isaac: Definitely. Their manager knew the right people. Every time you get a placement, people buy albums and support you.
Host: Where can artists go to be found by publishers?
Dr. Louis: YouTube. Producers and publishers see things they like there.
“If you sound like Coldplay, they’ll take you.” – Isaac Koren
Host: But what kind of numbers ($) do you see here – highs and lows in general?
Isaac: If a site is charging the artist, don’t trust it.
Soliciting never works. People want to feel like they discovered you.
Thorald: If you’re just looking around like you’re alone at a club, it’s just never gonna happen. You want them to be coming to you. In terms of licenses, there are a lot of free ones. Quincy Jones ghost songs series. Sound like other songs in history and are licensed cheaply.
Isaac: Sony offered us a $50k licensing deal but brought it down to $5k. Just deny them. We wanted the $5k but didn’t want that as a precedent in that business relationship. “If you sound like Coldplay, they’ll take you.”
Thorald: If you as an indie have someone come to you, always balance both sides of it. If they want no money, make sure they link back to you and send people your way.
Tim: At this level, film and TV is the go factor. Extremely beneficial. In an independent situation, it’s a level of exposure. Certain sites such as the ReverbNations, Soundcloud, the YouTubes, producers are going there to find music based on criteria.
John: A great song is one that taps emotion, when a songwriter gives a piece of themselves. The top 40 doesn’t exist for true music fans. It exists to give them a soundtrack while they do other shit when they aren’t listening to music.
Dr. Louis: Songs are hard to do well.
Host: We don’t all live the same way anymore, it’s hard to communicate to everyone at once.
Tim: He lives off old school writing. The human mind, we are so relatable. Regardless of whether it is a hit record, music is a tool to be used for healing. He writes music to heal. “I was axed to write music for an album for Chris Brown” there is this trendy thing that is going on with progressions and all, but there is an underworld where people wanna hear strong lyrics. We’re getting a lot of chemicals killing the heart and the body, but people just wanna be healed.
Host: The connection that makes a hit song is the depth.
What are any breakthroughs that you’ve had in the craft of writing?
Tim: Knows in his gut it’s right when he cries/gets chills. Feels a personal breakthrough.
John: Worked at the craft side of it when he started. For the first several years, he wasn’t really afraid to tap into places where other writers don’t. “That’s the challenge, to be willing to break down whatever wall is keeping you from that place of complete honesty.”
Thorald: (Jokingly) “I cry.” I mean, I get to those points. “Keeping it authentic – something you really wanna sing and share with someone.” Everyone has their root their trunk their foundation. When your song is tapped into that, it’s genuinely coming through you. It’s authentic when it is coming through you.
Isaac: Follows three “rules” when he writes.
1. Sit down and play whatever comes. Usually the mistakes lead to beautiful sounds and I go from there. Without thinking too much. The best music comes when I’m just walking down the street. I don’t believe in writer’s block.
2. Keep it an image OR
3. Keep it a conversation
Also, half the bands you hear, you don’t hear the songs. You just hear noise.
Dr. Louis: Breakthroughs. The most important thing, since he isn’t a singer, is to be able to sing his own songs. If he, a non-singer, can sing them, then that means that great singers can sing them.
Writers are putting down things that other people in the audience might feel but can’t necessarily put into words.
What should I do if I think that my songwriting quality is better than what is on the radio?
Host: If you’re comfortable writing a certain style, there is money to be made. Don’t kill yourself over trying to get it on the radio.
How do you make your songs sound different from one another?
John: Instrumentation, chord inversions, make the listeners’ ears perk up. Don’t just play the open chords. Strike a balance between simplicity and sounding interesting.
Dr. Louis: Listen to Bert Backarack’s songs – changing meters 3/4, 5/4, 5/8, etc.
Isaac: Phrasing has nothing to do with chords. Use silence and write with spaces. That is what is distinct about your songs and singing – the rhythms.
Thorald: He has experienced different things, how to fit all content to the space you have and make things instantly relatable. Forget about radio and just think about humans in 2012 and what they feel. Reach out and hit something. It isn’t about great bridges or anything. The other thing is that he has noticed that today just singing well with sincerity about how you feel is not enough for people. Make it sound not great sometimes. Less about the chords and not about the singing, but about the words. Frank Sinatra wasn’t a properly trained singer, but his voice was catchy. And at the end of the day, great singing and writing might not matter.
Tim: Everything has been done. Your lyrics and your tone are original. Delivery and everything about it is what you are and what people hear. We all play the same.