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.

Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban show us how it’s done

Carrie and Keith overcome setbacks, never lose sight of ‘The Prize’

Two country artists have chalked up remarkable career achievements in the past few days. And both can serve as an inspiration to those who are just beginning a career in music.

Carrie Underwood

First of all, congrats and kudos to Carrie Underwood who is celebrating a major career milestone. The CMA Vocalist of the Year has scored her 25th Number One with her current single, “Dirty Laundry.” The song marks Underwood’s 22nd chart-topping hit on country radio, but when you add in a Billboard Hot 100 Number One (“Inside Your Heaven”) plus her two Number Ones on the Hot Country Songs chart (“Something Bad” and “Something in the Water”), she has scored a total of twenty five chart toppers.

Meanwhile, a few days ago, Keith Urban made certain of a spot in music history when his single, “Blue Ain’t Your Color,” simultaneously topped FOUR major charts. The song was Number One on Billboard Country Airplay, Hot Country Songs, Country Digital Song Sales and Country Streaming charts.

Keith Urban. Photo credit: American Idol

Urban is only the third artist to achieve this feat, following Jason Aldean (“Burning It Down,” 2014) and Luke Bryan (Play It Again,” 2014). “Blue Ain’t Your Color” is Urban’s twenty-first Billbioard Country Airplay Number One.

It might seem that both Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban are just plain lucky but that is definitely NOT the case. Both artists had to overcome disappointments and setbacks before they achieved the success they enjoy today.

Record deal falls apart

Underwood was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma, where her father worked in a sawmill and her mom taught elementary school. At age 14, she went to Nashville and auditioned for Capitol Records. She must have felt she was on the way to fame when Capitol prepared to sign her to the label. But it wasn’t to be: the label’s management changed and, as a result, the plans for her record deal were scrapped.

That might have been enough to discourage most young artists, but not Underwood. Looking back on that roadblock, she said, “I honestly think it’s a lot better that nothing came out of it now, because I wouldn’t have been ready then. Everything has a way of working out.”

She went back to Oklahoma, finished her high school and college education, graduating magna cum laude from Northeastern State University with a degree in mass communication. But music was still her passion and, having polished her musical experience over the years, she auditioned for American Idol and went on to win Season Four, becoming one of the most successful artists, not only in Idol history but also in all of country music.

Urban makes the big move

Keith Urban found a measure of ‘local’ success in Australia after moving there from his native New Zealand. Like Underwood, Urban saw talent contests as a way to further his career, competing in Australia’s ‘New Faces’ show. In 1992, he made the momentous decision to leave behind that local fame and move to the USA where he was a virtual unknown, finding work as a session guitarist and then starting a band, The Ranch, that had some success on Capitol Records. Meanwhile, he was becoming an increasingly successful songwriter, scoring cuts on Toby Keith and 4 Runner, among others.

His solo career took off with a self-titled album that produced his first Number One single with more to follow. But success took its toll and Urban became addicted to cocaine. For many artists, this would be the beginning of the end; the start of a spiral into obscurity.

However, Urban found the strength to fight and overcome his addiction with the help of a rehab program and the support of a loving wife and family. He has gone on to become one of country music’s most consistently successful stars with a string of Number One hits and a mantle full of industry awards. Echoing his own career-launching participation in talent shows, he has served as judge on The Voice in Australia and American Idol in the USA.

Setbacks are opportunities in disguise

In many ways, Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban serve as inspirations for aspiring artists and songwriters. In Underwood’s case, she saw the collapse of her initial record deal not as a career-killer but as an opportunity to go back and work on improving her skills as a performer so she was truly ready for the big time when the Idol opportunity came her way. Urban had the strength of faith in his abilities to leave his homeland and start over in the USA… and then virtually re-start again after beating his addiction.

Both had the perseverance to keep their eyes on the prize. Your music career will inevitably face obstacles but if you see each obstacle as a learning experience rather than as a career-ender, you will be better prepared when the next opportunity presents itself. Make a pledge to yourself to persevere, to develop ‘staying power,’ to persist in achieving your goal of a rewarding career in music. Remind yourself that all of today’s top stars faced times of despair and disappointment. But they persevered until they achieved the success of which they never lost sight!

Protect your online presence!

Check out carrieunderwoodofficial.com – and note the ‘official’ in the address if you want to reach the ‘correct’ Carrie! And also check out keithurban.net, because the site named ‘keithurban.com’ belongs to somebody selling paintings, not to ‘our’ Keith. As a further object lesson, let these situations remind you of the importance of protecting your name and establishing ‘official’ websites and social media before anyone has the chance to beat you to it!

 

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.

The “I” in ROI for songwriters

The difference between a hobby and a career

Preshias music notes graphic crop pink purpleROI stands for Return on Investment. To put it another way, it means what you get out from what you put in. You might think that a phrase like ROI is only relevant to stockbrokers and bankers but it definitely affects you as a songwriter or artist.

There’s a difference between  songwriting as a hobby and songwriting as a  a career. Here’s a way to look at the difference:

  • When you do something you don’t particularly enjoy and you get paid for it… that’s a job.
  • When you do something you love but you don’t get paid… that’s a hobby.
  • When you do something you love and you DO get paid… that’s a CAREER.

Can you see the difference? Your career is music, because that’s what you love, but it’s only a career when it provides some sort of income for you, otherwise it’s just a hobby. Yes, songwriting, for most people, begins as a part-time career, often supplementing the dreaded ‘job,’ but it is still your career, if you choose to make it so.

It takes more than talent

To have any kind of success in that career, it takes a commitment to invest in your God-given talent. Your talent is the raw material, the lump of clay, the pile of bricks. What you choose to do with that raw material is the element that determines your success.

“Effort without talent is a depressing situation, but talent without effort is a tragedy.” – Mike Ditka

I wish I could tell you that you can make it to the top on nothing but talent, but I can’t because it flat-out isn’t going to happen. Talent alone is not enough; it’s just the beginning.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a disgruntled parent say, “My son/daughter has much more talent than [insert star’s name here]. How come they made it and my kid can’t?”

A variation on that is the songwriter who is consumed with envy for “that lucky guy” who is getting all the cuts on the top acts.

Lucky? Okay, I’ll admit that sometimes luck does play a part in success. But one thing is certain: The better prepared you are, the luckier you’ll get.

There’s almost no such thing as an overnight success, at least not one that lasts longer than a flash in the pan. That “lucky” person, that “overnight success” had almost certainly invested in their talent so that when the opportunity presented itself, they were prepared and were able to confidently take full advantage of the situation.

Invest in your talent

As you develop your career as a songwriter, you will need to commit to making an investment in your talent. It’s an investment in both time and money, but the part to always keep in mind is the ROI… the return that you will reap on that investment of time and money in your career.

Make a commitment to go to Writers’ Nights, network with other writers, ask questions, read books, take classes, set up co-writing sessions and write, write, write!

SONGWRITERS: Can you answer these seven questions?

Build your Music Biz I.Q.!

guitar and mic 02In every business, there are some things you just have to know. Your songwriting career is no different. Here are seven questions you should be able to answer. If you’re not sure of the answers, go online and search for the information before you scroll down to read the answers. By carrying out your own research, you are more likely to retain the information, adding to your knowledge of the music industry.

QUESTIONS

  1. What are the 6 exclusive rights bestowed upon the owner of a song’s copyright?
  2. What should you do after you have written (or co-written) a song?
  3. True or false: A song has copyright as soon as you finish writing it.
  4. Name the three Performing Rights Organizations (P.R.O.s) in the United States.
  5. What is a P.R.O. and why do you need to belong to one?
  6. What is the length of contract and termination requirements you would sign if you affiliated with one of the three P.R.O.s?
  7. At what age can you start your own publishing company?

Ready to check your answers?

ANSWERS

  1. Preshiasmusic note 02What are the 6 exclusive rights bestowed upon the owner of a song’s copyright?

Here are the six exclusive rights, as defined by the U.S. Copyright Office:-

[i] To reproduce the copyrighted work in copies or phonorecords. ‘Phonorecord’ is a legal term for material objects produced through sound recording, such as a CD, vinyl record, audiotape, MP3, etc.

[ii] To prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work. You have the right to change it around if you wish. Add lyrics, make a new arrangement, change the chorus, etc.

[iii] To distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending. (Remember, you are not selling the SONG which is your intangible, intellectual property; you are selling the CD onto which a copy of the song has been recorded!)

[iv] In the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works, to perform the copyrighted work publicly. So, as the songwriter, you have the right to perform your song at a public event such as onstage or at a writers’ night.

[v] In the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, to display the copyrighted work publicly. As you might guess, this right refers mainly to painters, sculptors, photographers, who would want to display or show their creative work.

[vi] In the case of sound recordings, to perform the copyrighted work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission. If your song is in a digital file on your computer, you have the right to ‘perform’ it digitally.

Note that you, as the copyright holder, can monetize those rights by licensing the use of your music (for example to a record label or artist that wishes to record your song).

Preshiasmusic note 022. What should you do after you have written (or co-written) a song?

Here’s what you need to do:

[i] Type up the complete lyrics (do not simply type “repeat chorus,” etc) and add your name and your co-writers’ names (if any) to the bottom of the sheet.

[ii] Be sure to include all info for all of the song’s writers (example: Legal name, their P.R.O. and names of publishing company).

[iii] Start a file of typed lyrics sheets.

[iv] Make and print a hard copy for possible future pitches, performances and cuts.

[v] In your file, make note of contact info of all the writers.

Note: If you said “Register the copyright,” that isn’t usually necessary immediately after a song has been written. See Number 3, below.

  1. Preshiasmusic note 02True or false: A song has copyright as soon as you finish writing it.

True. The writer[s] of a song own the copyright as soon as it has been completed, but you should be sure to include the writer’s information on the lyric sheet as noted above.

When you are ready to register your copyright you can do so online at http://copyright.gov/ using their ‘e-copyright’ (eco) form, which is faster and less expensive than filing a hard copy by mail. A copyright registration is considered to be ‘effective’ when it is received by the U.S. Copyright office, subject to review. You’ll receive a mailed certificate several weeks later. Whereas registering your copyright is not essential or even necessary unless the song is going to be commercially recorded or performed in public, registration provides ‘prima facie’ evidence that you legally own the copyright in the event of a dispute or infringement.

  1. Preshiasmusic note 02Name the three Performing Rights Organizations (P.R.O.s) in the United States.

 Here are their names and websites:-

ASCAP  (The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) http://www.ascap.com

BMI  (Broadcast Music, Inc.) http://www.bmi.com

SESAC (The Society of European Stage Authors and Composers) http://www.sesac.com

  1. Preshiasmusic note 02What is a P.R.O. and why do you need to belong to one?

P.R.O. stands for Performing Rights Organization.  A P.R.O. acts an intermediary between copyright holders and parties that use copyrighted music works publicly. The key word there is publicly, because a P.R.O. is not involved in any legal consumer purchase of works such as buying a CD from a retail outlet, which confers private performance rights. When music is performed publicly, the P.R.O. collects income owed to songwriters and music publishers. Such public performances can include radio, television, clubs and restaurants.

As an individual songwriter, it would be impossible for you to track down and collect the royalties due to you from all the radio stations and TV broadcasts as well as from clubs and restaurants playing your songs. Your P.R.O. is set up to perform that task for you and retains a small percentage of each payment they receive. There is a lot more you need to know before deciding which, if any, of the P.R.O.s you should join. Visit each of their websites, listed above, and do your homework!

  1. Preshiasmusic note 02What is the length of contract and termination requirements you would sign if you affiliated with one of the three P.R.O.s?

Each of the three P.R.O.s has different regulations concerning the length of your contractual commitment and how you, as a writer and/or publisher, can terminate your affiliation.

ASCAP: The contract terms at ASCAP are identical for both writers and publishers and affiliates may resign at the end of any year of the contract upon three months written notice in advance.

BMI: A standard writer’s contract lasts for two years and a standard publisher’s contract is for five years, but some writers and publishers have been able to negotiate shorter-term contracts. The contracts continue to renew for two years (writers) and five years (publishers) if the termination date is missed. Notice of requested termination must be sent by registered or certified mail no sooner than six months and no later than 60 or 90 days prior to the end of the contract term.

SESAC: For both writers and publishers, contracts last for three years and auto-renew for 3-year periods. Contracts may be terminated in writing not more than six months and not less than three months prior to the contract’s scheduled ending.

Note that – unlike ASCAP and BMI – SESAC membership is essentially ‘by invitation only’ and their website states: ‘SESAC requires potential affiliates or their representatives to have a pre-existing relationship with a member of the Creative Services Department. At this time, SESAC is not taking unsolicited affiliation applications.’

  1. Preshiasmusic note 02At what age can you start your own publishing company?

Because you can write a song at any age, technically you are the ‘publisher’ of the song that you have written (unless you have signed with a publisher), even if you are seven years old.

However, that doesn’t mean you can legally start a commercial enterprise such as your own music publishing business if you are a minor. Running such a business will mean you’d be initiating and/or signing legal documents and that would require you to have reached ‘the age of majority’ which is the age when a person is considered to be an adult, and it may vary according to state laws. In most states, the age of majority is 18, but in Alabama, for instance, the age of majority is 19.

However, there are many highly talented songwriters who begin writing before the age of 18. In many cases, the writer’s parents start a publishing company in behalf of their child and assume the legal responsibilities, at least until the writer reaches the age of majority.

All three of the P.R.O.s mentioned above have very helpful information about starting and operating your own publishing company that you can investigate at their websites.

Knowledge is power

guitar and mic 02The answers above are just an overview and by no means definitive and complete. I encourage you to do your own research at reliable sources online. A good place to start would be the websites of the three P.R.O.s listed above, and also at the U.S. Copyright Office website where you can find several downloadable ‘circulars’ that are informative and easy to read and understand.

Knowledge is power: Increasing your knowledge of how the music industry works will build your confidence and help you to make informed decisions when opportunities are presented to you.

Luke Bryan’s snafu provides learning moment for emerging artists

Luke Bryan is tagged
Luke Bryan is tagged

As ‘wardrobe malfunctions’ go, it wasn’t the world’s worst, but it was a bit embarrassing for Luke Bryan who was performing live on the Today show. He was singing “I Don’t Want This Night to End,” a song that was a Number One hit for him in 2011 and went on to be certified double platinum by RIAA. The rain was coming down as Bryan performed the song and, on impulse, he decided to peel off his damp jacket.

That would have been fine – except fluttering from his T-shirt were the white tags, still hanging from the collar. It took a minute or two before Bryan realized what the fans were pointing at, and he laughed as he stopped to pull off the tags and toss them into the crowd. For many, it was reminiscent of Minnie Pearl (Sarah Cannon) who would appear on the Grand Ole Opry stage wearing a fancy straw hat with the price tag hanging from the brim.

Luke Bryan is not easily flummoxed and, as an established star, can easily handle minor snafus such as a forgotten tag on a T-shirt. But if you are an emerging artist, there’s a learning moment here. Walking out on stage with an overlooked price tag or sticky size label attached to your clothing might be enough to throw you off kilter, just when you wanted to sound and look your best. There you are, starting your first song, and you notice audience members smirking and staring at… what? OMG! The price tag is still on my shirt!!

Unless you are at Luke Bryan’s star level, dealing with that kind of a moment is not something you’ll want to do. So let Bryan’s boo-boo be a reminder for you as you prepare for every performance: Are all the labels and tags removed from your clothes? Are zippers zipped up and buttons buttoned up? Is there toilet paper stuck to the heel of your boot? Something green stuck in your teeth?

Take a moment before every show to ensure your appearance is just the way it should be (better still, have someone else give you a quick visual once-over) and you won’t have a ‘wardrobe malfunction’ that throws you off balance at a crucial moment.

Another Preshias Pointer

Preshias music notes graphic crop pink purpleA Performing Rights Organization (P.R.O.) is a songwriter’s best friend in the music business. A P.R.O. acts an intermediary between copyright holders and parties that use copyrighted music works publicly. Such public performances can include radio, television, clubs and restaurants. Without a P.R.O. it would be impossible to collect even a fraction of the income your music generates.