Songwriters: ‘hard work’ is the key

Hall of Famer Gary Burr’s advice to rising songwriters

 “You have to go to work every day. You just have to go to work.  I went to the office every morning, I went to the office every afternoon.  If I had something good, it wasn’t going to be good enough ‘til I went over it with a fine-tooth comb several times.  You just work hard.  The ones [songwriters] who are making it today are just working really, really hard.”

Gary Burr. Photo: Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame

Those words came from Gary Burr, a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame during an interview on the Public Television show, The Songwriters, produced the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in conjunction with Middle Tennessee State University. MTSU professor Robert Gordon Jr. directs the episodes, which are filmed by students from the school’s College of Media and Entertainment. Ken Paulson, Dean of MTSU’s College of Media and Entertainment, hosts the new show and interviewed Burr during a recently televised episode.

Songs for Garth, Ringo, Skynyrd and more

Gary Burr backstage with Ringo Starr. Photo: Mark Mirando

Burr has been honored with Songwriter of the Year Awards from Billboard Magazine and ASCAP in addition to the Hall of Fame recognition. In a 40+ year career, he has written or co-written literally hundreds of songs that have been cut by major artists including Garth Brooks, Collin Raye, Kenny Rogers, Randy Travis, Tim McGraw, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Ringo Starr and more. Many of those cuts are also Number One hits. Take a look at the Discography at his website.

In his interview with Paulson, he emphasized that there’s no ‘trick’ to songwriting. As with any other creative enterprise, it takes a commitment to working at it every day, just like a ‘regular’ job because it is your job.  You can’t wait for inspiration, said Burr. You simply sit down, either alone or with your co-writer and start work.  That’s where hits are born.

‘The Songwriters’ currently airs in Nashville on WNPT Channel 8 on Saturday evenings. Check local TV schedules for air dates and times in other areas.

Those darn noisy guitars!

Did your dad ever complain about you playing your guitar too loud in your bedroom? Or get upset about ‘that weird music the kids are playing nowadays’? Well, he wasn’t the first to think guitars are the beginning of the end of the world as we know it.

Read these comments by French musicologist Pierre Trichet (1586 – 1644):

“Even in France, one finds courtesans and ladies who turn themselves into Spanish monkeys. Still there are some in our nation who leave everything behind in order to take up and study the guitar… is it because it has a certain something which is feminine and pleasing to women, flattering their hearts and making them inclined to voluptuousness?”

Monsieur Trichet wasn’t the only 17th century musician to view the guitar as an abomination. Here are the thoughts of Sebastian Covarrubias Orosco, writing in 1611, on the matter:

“Since the invention of the guitar there are very few who study the vihuela… the guitar is nothing but a cow-bell, so easy to play, especially when strummed, that there is not a stable-boy who is not a musician of the guitar.”

In case you’re wondering, the vihuela was a string instrument from the 15th and 16th centuries, played in Spain, Portugal and Italy. Those ‘stable boys’ knew a good thing when they saw it. And how many people do you ever see playing ‘air vihuela’?

Guitars: driving people crazy for over 400 years!

Hmmm… the more things change, the more they stay the same! I saw these quotes in Nigel Cawthorne’s “Guitars: Amazing Facts & Trivia,” a book that will fascinate anyone who loves guitars, be they acoustic or electric. You can find the book here at Amazon.

Your music IS your business

Don’t leave your career in the hands of others

“With an artist, everything is hunky-dory until he wakes up and can’t pay his rent. Everything is hunky-dory until he wakes up and realizes he got ripped off.   I mean, you always get these artists who say, ‘I dunno man, I just play the music. I don’t know anything about the business.’ But if you ask a guy who owns a restaurant and he says, ‘Oh, I just cook the food, I don’t know anything about the business’ – that restaurant is gonna fail, y’know?”

Joe Bonamassa, blues guitarist and songwriter, interviewed by Henry Yates in The Blues Magazine.

Blues guitarist and songwriter, Joe Bonamassa

Everyone starting out on a career in music should pay attention to those words of wisdom from Joe Bonamasso, who began playing the guitar at the age of four and opened for blues icon B.B. King when he was twelve years old. It would have been easy for him to concentrate solely on his guitar playing and leave the business side of his career in the hands of others.

But, from an early age, he saw what happened to artists who knew little or nothing about the business side of their own careers. When other people are controlling your management, your bookings, your publishing, your copyrights and your royalties, there’s a good chance that they are more focused on their own interests rather than on yours.

Your music is your business

Of course, as your career expands, you won’t be able to personally handle absolutely everything entirely by yourself: you will need to utilize the expertise of others who are professionals in their field. But it is still essential that you have at least a working knowledge of the major aspects of the music business.

With that knowledge, you can protect yourself from being taken advantage of; you can review documents before you sign, ask questions that demonstrate your familiarity with the subject. In short, treat your music career as your business – because that’s what it is – and you greatly reduce the risk of getting ripped off.