Archive | Songwriting Business

Helpful articles about the Business of Songwriting

Songmine: What a Record Company Needs to Know – Part 4: What Makes This Act Marketable? by John Braheny

A John Braheny Songmine column from the archives…

Songmine: What a Record Company Needs to Know - Part 4: What Makes This Act Marketable?

Accession Number: C000000137-012 Document/Digital File, “Songmine: What A Record Company Needs to Know: Part 3 by John Braheny, OCR converted text under same Accession Number

(Digitally converted text. Some errors may occur)

Songmine: What a Record Company Needs to Know – Part 4: What Makes This Act Marketable? by John Braheny

Music Connection
February 1 – 14, 1979

Songmine by John Braheny
What a Record Company Needs to Know – Part 4: What Makes This Act Marketable?

So far, as a record company executive, I’ve talked about the value of a writer/artist package, what I want to hear musically and what I’d like to see. Now I have to assess how, if I sign you, I’m going to make people aware of you. It’s easier for me if you’re the brother or sister of somebody famous, though after the curious-ity of the first album wears off, you’d better be able to deliver something substantial and very much your own. It’s also great if you know Linda Ronstadt or any-one else who’s famous and likes to help their friends. That in itself doesn’t get you signed, but it does give me something to talk about.

That’s what I need: P.R. potential! “He/She ‘has been in the background as a musician (Clapton, Hendrix, Glen Camp-bell), a singer (Rita Coolidge, Cher, Nicolette Larson) or a writer (there are legion) and is now coming up front to make his/her own music.” That’s a good hook for us because there may be a bunch of people out there who actually remember you when you were doing whatever you were doing in the background or on stage with the more notorious folks. If not, then maybe we can arouse their curiousity by associa-tion. “Oh yeah, if he played with him, who I really dig, it must be something like it, only different. I’d probably get off on it.”

Beyond all those old, familiar P.R. approaches, which I guess, at least in the beginning, are probably as good as any, I want to look for things about you personally that enhance the mystique; they reveal you as a human being of substance, morbid interest, virtue or character, or ideally, all of the above. Eddie Money was a cop. You have to say, “Hey, what kind of a great rock ‘n’ roll singer was a cop?” or vice-versa. It’s a great interview opener.

Beyond all those old, familiar P.R. approaches, which I guess, at least in the beginning, are probably as good as any, I want to look for things about you personally that enhance the mystique; they reveal you as a human being of substance, morbid interest, virtue or character, or ideally, all of the above.

Can you speak well and confidently and do you have something interesting or funny to say. If not, I’ll make sure Johnny Carson doesn’t invite you to talk to him after you sing and that you don’t do interviews. If you have a strong or well-articulated opinion, on the other hand, I might want you to be interviewed, unless I thought that your views were directly opposite those of your audience. For example, how would Joni Mitchell have fared if she had thought it was wonderful for us to be in Viet Nam and took every opportunity to say so?

Do you have an unusual or interesting bachground that will inrigue people? Jail and the funny farm have always been interesting, unless you were in jail for mugging old ladies or moles-ting children instead of something heroic, like smuggling 20 tons of Columbian into the country.

Have you had some kind of previous success that we could use for P.R.? Were you part of a successful group? The writer of a well-known hit? Do you have an interesting and flamboyant per-sonality or hang out in social circles that automatically attract attention from the press?

Those things are important in that they give us “hooks” that we can use to let people know about you, and the press needs that knid of stuff to work with. More important though, is the market-ability of the music itself. It’s important that the music have a unity of style such that, when we do find the audience, you’re the same artist from album to album.

Writer/artists frequently ask if record companies like to hear stylistic variety. “I can write country, R&B, pop, anything! Why don’t I give them a little of each and see what they pick up on?” That’s commendable if you want to be a staff songwriter, but a record company will have to say, “Rut really, who are you?” If country music is what you write and perform best and enjoy most, what’s the point in trying to market you as an R&B artist and release an R&B single on you? If it takes off, are you going to be trying to sell half an album of country tunes to a rock or R&B audience, or vice versa? So, as you can see, it becomes a market-ing problem. Of course, we don’t want all your music to sound the same and we do want you to grow, we just need for you to have developed your style to the point where you’re the same, identi-fiable artist from one album to the next.

Next time – Attorneys, managers and agents: Your Team.

Previously in the Songmine Collection:

About Songmine and Music Connection Magazine:

John Braheny met Eric Bettelli and Michael Dolan right before they were going to publish Music Connection magazine. Eric and Michael wanted to get their publication out to as many songwriters as they could. They had already heard of the LA Songwriters Showcase, and of John and his partner, Len Chandler. John’s goal was to advertise the schedule of guest speakers and performers at the weekly Showcase… so they made a deal. 

They published John’s Songmine column (he had never before written a magazine article!) in their very first edition, in November 1977. Trading out the column for advertising, this arrangement continued for many years. Plus, Eric and Michael came to the Showcase each week and distributed free copies to the songwriters!

Those articles became so popular that (book agent and editor) Ronny Schiff offered John’s articles to F&W Media, where they became the backbone of John’s textbook, The Craft and Business of Songwriting. As a follow-up, Dan Kimpel (author, songwriter, teacher), who had also worked at LASS, took on the Songwriting column at Music Connection magazine which continues to this day! You can subscribe to get either hard copies or online.


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Songmine: What A Record Company Needs to Know : Part 3 by John Braheny

A John Braheny Songmine column from the archives…

Songmine: What A Record Company Needs to Know - Part 3

Accession Number: C000000137-011 Document/Digital File, “Songmine: What A Record Company Needs to Know: Part 3 by John Braheny, OCR converted text under same Accession Number

(Digitally converted text. Some errors may occur)

Songmine: What A Record Company Needs to Know: Part 3 by John Braheny

Music Connection

January 18-31, 1979

What a Record Company Needs to Know Part 3
John Braheny

I’m pretending to be a record company again this time, asking the questions I’ll need answered to my satisfaction before signing you, a writer/artist, to my label. Many of the same questions relate to you as a non-writing artist, too. My information comes from my experiences as a student of the industry. I’ve been a recording artist, I’ve attended and taped hundreds of seminars, read the trade magazines, and with my partner, Len Chandler, conducted over 300 interviews with music industry professionals at the Alternative Chorus Songwriter’s Showcase. Among those pros have been many of the record company executives who make the decisions about signing new talent.

Last time, I talked about where I was coming from as a record company executive. My bottom line question has to be, “Can my company make money on this act?” Other re-lated questions are, “Will this act enhance the prestige, and contribute to the image, of the company?” and, “Will I be a hero or lose my gig on the success or failure of this act?” For all those reasons, I need to ask the right questions and get the right answers. I was talking about what I knew I needed to hear on the tape I received, so now let’s assume that I liked what I heard. I thought the songs had commercial potential and the performance was excellent. Those are really the basics. Now I also have to ask another series of questions, not necessarily in order of importance, but all, nonetheless, very significant. –

1) How is your live performance? It would impress me to know that you had spent a few years as a live performer. I’d like to see some great reviews of your performances, preferably by recognized critics (your high school or college paper won’t quite do). But most of all, I want you to do it to a tough audience. Not one where all your friends are stacking the house.

2) I’ll want you to be visually interesting (if you’re good looking it helps, but isn’t necessary), move and speak confidently (remember that we process and retain more information with our eyes that our ears, which is one reason we can sell a lot of records to people who attend your concerts), and have a good sense of you personal identity. I want, as the audience, to go away from your performance with a feeling that I know who you are and I like you, or that you’ve given me enough pieces of yourself in your musical and visual presentation, to create an intriguing mystery that makes me want to know who you are. Sometimes the mystery is more delicious, but you do have to make me care.

3) If I’m watching a group I want to see you involved and interacting with each other, not all standing there like robots, each in your own little world.

4) I want to know you’re giving me something and enjoying it. Live performance bears a lot of similarity to making love; you have to have a sense of drama and dynamics in your movement, choreographed or not. Your choice of songs and their placement in the set, your arrangements and the way you dress (uniform or not) should all be appealing.

5) I’ll want to see that the things I liked on tape can be reproduced live. I don’t expect to see an orchestra, but the basics have to be there. For example, if a significant degree of your appeal to me is based on your group vocal sound, I’d better hear it in your live performance.

6) I want to know that, ideally, I’m dealing with an experienced professional performer who knows and under-stands (and accepts) the hardships of the road and loves to perform. I know that in spite of TV exposure and hit records, there’s no substitute, in the eyes of fans (and potential fans), for the magic of a great live performance. Live performance sells a lot of records and is a great marketing tool for us. It gives us reviews we can use and something for local DJs and fans to talk about. It gives you the contact with your audience so you’ll know what they like about you. It gives you a kind of high that can’t be duplicated and, even if it sometimes takes a couple of years, it provides a major source of income, particularly for non-writing group members.

To be continued next time…

Previously in the Songmine Collection:

About Songmine and Music Connection Magazine:

John Braheny met Eric Bettelli and Michael Dolan right before they were going to publish Music Connection magazine. Eric and Michael wanted to get their publication out to as many songwriters as they could. They had already heard of the LA Songwriters Showcase, and of John and his partner, Len Chandler. John’s goal was to advertise the schedule of guest speakers and performers at the weekly Showcase… so they made a deal. 

They published John’s Songmine column (he had never before written a magazine article!) in their very first edition, in November 1977. Trading out the column for advertising, this arrangement continued for many years. Plus, Eric and Michael came to the Showcase each week and distributed free copies to the songwriters!

Those articles became so popular that (book agent and editor) Ronny Schiff offered John’s articles to F&W Media, where they became the backbone of John’s textbook, The Craft and Business of Songwriting. As a follow-up, Dan Kimpel (author, songwriter, teacher), who had also worked at LASS, took on the Songwriting column at Music Connection magazine which continues to this day! You can subscribe to get either hard copies or online.


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Songmine: What A Record Company Needs to Know: Part 2 by John Braheny

A John Braheny Songmine column from the archives…

 Jb C000000137 010

Accession Number: C000000137-010 Document/Digital File, “Songmine: What A Record Company Needs to Know: Part 2 by John Braheny, OCR converted text under same Accession Number

(Digitally converted text. Some errors may occur)

Songmine: What A Record Company Needs to Know: Part 2 by John Braheny

I’m going to pretend to be a record company this time, except for a few impartial asides, to explain what’s happening or why.

I’m assuming that you’re looking for your first record deal. I’m asking about things I need to know to make a decision about signing you to my label. I know I’ll need to spend anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 on the recording alone. Then, maybe another $100,000 on promotion to make enough people aware of you that, if they like you enough, they’ll buy your record. If they don’t, I’ll have to eat it. It might take that much again next year, but I’ll spend it if I’m still as excited about the music as I was when I signed you.

Also, I want to see that you’re not sitting on your ass expecting me to make you a star. I want to know that you’re writing and I want to hear new songs. Are you working on your act? The visuals? Arrange-ments? Concepts? I want to know that you’re working to improve your vocal and instrumental chops. I want to know that when I do spend more bucks, both you and your manager know what to do to maximize its effect and return and you’re ready to get out on the road and get those people excited enough to buy that record. We’ll get reviewers out to see you and my ulcer dictates that I be confident that you have your trip together. I can inspire everyone in my company to do their best for you if we know that you’re into it 100% yourself.

Let’s say typically that I received your tape through your attorney, manager, someone in my company, your producer or someone else who’s taste I respect. This is because I’m usually too busy to be out on the street dropping into clubs on the remote chance that I’ll hear something I like. Before I listen to that tape I know what I want to hear: 1) Songs that I think are hits or that will appeal to a large number of people because of your point of view, style, etc (Randy Newman, Tom Waits and Joni Mitchell are good examples of writer/artists who don’t write hits but have a large following. They’re known as album artists, and it takes more time and money to market them successfully because hit singles are proven to be the fastest and most cost-effective way to promote an artist.) 2) I’m looking for craftsmanship that tells me that those songs I liked were not just an accident, and that you know exactly what you’re doing and can do it again. 3) I’m looking for identity. After hearing the record once or twice, I want that audience forever after to be able to recognize you. If your voice sounds like a lot of other people, what you do with it stylistically should be unique. If that isn’t happening, I should be hearing an instrumental sound and production concept that’s unique. I should know that you and/or your producer can continue to recreate that sound once the public has grown to love it (Gerry Rafferty and Al Stewart have strong production identities). 4) I want to hear something that has an emotional impact on me. I want to be moved by the way you sing your song. I want to know that you are totally involved with what you’re saying in your song. If you don’t believe it, why should I? If it’s not the kind of music that’s lyrically oriented, I want it to move my body. If you’ve been playing your songs at your lounge gig every night for the last three years, there’s a danger that they’ll sound tired and unenthusiastic. I want to know that you can get into that song every time that you sing it. 5) I expect and assume that what I’m about to hear on this tape is the very best that you can do. It doesn’t have to be a finished product. It could be a piano/vocal, but I have no evidence to believe you’ll ever perform it any better than on the tape, so don’t tell me “That was a bad day for me”, or “It’s just a demo, I’ll do it better on the master.” When I’m spending this companies money, I’m not taking your word for it; I need to know. I can have some influence and control over the technical quality, so I’m not worried about ‘just a demo in a funky studio’ if the performance is there.

Next time–more record company considerations.

1-4- 1-17-79

Previously in the Songmine Collection:

About Songmine and Music Connection Magazine:

John Braheny met Eric Bettelli and Michael Dolan right before they were going to publish Music Connection magazine. Eric and Michael wanted to get their publication out to as many songwriters as they could. They had already heard of the LA Songwriters Showcase, and of John and his partner, Len Chandler. John’s goal was to advertise the schedule of guest speakers and performers at the weekly Showcase… so they made a deal. 

They published John’s Songmine column (he had never before written a magazine article!) in their very first edition, in November 1977. Trading out the column for advertising, this arrangement continued for many years. Plus, Eric and Michael came to the Showcase each week and distributed free copies to the songwriters!

Those articles became so popular that (book agent and editor) Ronny Schiff offered John’s articles to F&W Media, where they became the backbone of John’s textbook, The Craft and Business of Songwriting. As a follow-up, Dan Kimpel (author, songwriter, teacher), who had also worked at LASS, took on the Songwriting column at Music Connection magazine which continues to this day! You can subscribe to get either hard copies or online.


0

Songmine: What A Record Company Needs to Know: Part 1 by John Braheny

A John Braheny Songmine column from the archives…

Songmine: What A Record Company Needs to Know by John Braheny 

Accession Number: C000000137-009 Document/Digital File, “Songmine: What A Record Company Needs to Know: Part 1 by John Braheny, OCR converted text under same Accession Number

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Songmine: What A Record Company Needs to Know: Part 1 by John Braheny

This past October, Len Chandler and I presented a two-day seminar at UCLA Extension about “Song and Talent Evaluation”. As a part of that seminar, we discussed the special problems and considerations of writer/artists relative to their making record and publishing deals. Since many of you are writer/artists, both as individuals and in groups, I’m sorting a series on the subject.

VALUE OF THE ARTIST/WRITER PACKAGE

There have always been exceptional writer/artists. Until the 40s and 50s, however, with the increasing exposure of country and western, black music and the birth of rock and roll, most of the popular songs heard on the radio were not performed by the writers. More recently, record companies began to. discover that they could get publishing rights to the songs the artists were writing and thus be able to keep all the publishing income for themselves, as well as the record royalties. It was a lucrative package, because they didn’t have to pay outside writers and publishers that 2 cents per side per unit sold. They could also participate in the airplay royalties collected from BMI and ASCAP. Today, virtually every record company has a publishing affiliate, and though they’ll sign a writer/artist without participating in the publishing rights, it is definitely something they want. Not only is it financially advantageous to a record company to sign a writer/artist, but it is convenient. Record company A&R staff, non-writing artists and their producers go berserk trying to find the right songs for that artist for that particular album. Record buyers, paying more and more for albums, are also becoming more knowledgeable and sophisticated in their tastes and will no longer go for an album with one or two great tunes on it, and the rest schlock filler that the producer’s niece wrote and he just happens to own the publishing on.

The writer/artist, on the other hand, has always had more latitude on that score, since is is often a combination of style, sound and point of view that makes the music of the writer/artist commercial. Joni Mitchell’s music, aside from some of her early work, is not the kind of music you’d ask Helen Reddy or Linda Ronstadt to record. The blend of her writing, performing and personal point of view is so unique that you can’t say “that’s a bad song”. You either like her or you don’t. Non-writing artists would never choose to record a song they didn’t understand or identify with in some way. But a writer/artist group with a strong sound identity can get away with songs that have a little more obtuse or abstract lyric content because people are buying a sound. How about America’s Horse With No Name, or Tin Man. Didn’t they defy interpretation? But didn’t you dig that Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young sound that you’d gotten used to? Those aren’t so much songs as they are records, since they’re not the kind of songs an artist 20 years from now will want to record, and as records, they will possibly get played as oldies only as long as they remain a trigger for the nostalgic feelings of those old enough to have been into something worth remembering at the time of their peak popularity.Songs with strong, accessible lyrics and melodies, like Lennon and McCartney’s Yesterday are adaptable to many styles, and say things in such a simple and poetically beautiful way they’ll probably touch people no matter what style they’re sung in 20 or 100 years from now.

To sum it up, writer/artists, including groups, are valuable to record companies in several ways. If the record company has a piece of the publishing, the value is in 1) the writer/artists’ ability to create a self-contained identifiable sound that allows them to make successful records using their own material (including some that may not be mainstream commercial), 2) the writer/artists’ ability to write great songs that the record company/publisher can collect on for the next 100 years, and more from cover versions, 3) and so the artist, record company and producer, ideally, won’t have to look for outside tunes. One of the basic benefits of he writer/artists’ regardless of publishing participation, is the potential to create a fusion of style and material that is quite unique, and that offers fans the opportunity to get to know the writer/artist in a personal way, i.e. Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, Billy Joel, Dan Hill, etc. Next time, I’ll talk about some of the things in particular that a record company considers in signing an artist.

DEC 14 – JAN 3

Previously in the Songmine Collection:

About Songmine and Music Connection Magazine:

John Braheny met Eric Bettelli and Michael Dolan right before they were going to publish Music Connection magazine. Eric and Michael wanted to get their publication out to as many songwriters as they could. They had already heard of the LA Songwriters Showcase, and of John and his partner, Len Chandler. John’s goal was to advertise the schedule of guest speakers and performers at the weekly Showcase… so they made a deal. 

They published John’s Songmine column (he had never before written a magazine article!) in their very first edition, in November 1977. Trading out the column for advertising, this arrangement continued for many years. Plus, Eric and Michael came to the Showcase each week and distributed free copies to the songwriters!

Those articles became so popular that (book agent and editor) Ronny Schiff offered John’s articles to F&W Media, where they became the backbone of John’s textbook, The Craft and Business of Songwriting. As a follow-up, Dan Kimpel (author, songwriter, teacher), who had also worked at LASS, took on the Songwriting column at Music Connection magazine which continues to this day! You can subscribe to get either hard copies or online.


0

Songmine: Getting the Most from the Trades Part 4 by John Braheny

A John Braheny Songmine column from the archives…

 Songmine: Getting the Most from the Trades Part 4 by John Braheny

Accession Number: C000000137-008 Document/Digital File, “Songmine: Getting the Most from the Trades Part 4 by John Braheny, OCR converted text under same Accession Number

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Songmine: Learning From The Trades Part 4 by John Braheny

Songmine: Learning From The Trades Part 4

Here’s a good game to play with the trades. Listen to a station like KNX-FM (93.1) who’s not afraid to take a chance and add a new song by a new artist now and then. When you hear one you think is a hit, look at the Billboard Hot 100 chart or other trade charts and see if it’s there. Analyze the song stylisticly and predict what charts it’ll show up on. Is it a crossover that will show up on both pop and R&B or Country charts? Pretend it’s your song and get into following it up (or down) the charts. Check out the Single and Album Radio action charts and see who’s adding it to their playlists. What kind of stations are playing it? What other songs are those stations playing? What good is this exercise? It’s a game that record companies and publishers play for real and it gets you into the excitement of 2nd guessing. You’ll compare these songs to your own and it’ll help you 2nd guess your songs before even taking them to a publisher. It gives you the opportunity to critique your own song in the context of the real music world. I’m frankly amazed at the number of songwriters who are totally out of touch with what is going on. I’ll ask them if they like “Gerry Rafferty” or “Boston” or “Foreigner” and they’ll have no idea what I’m talking about. Or they’ll say proudly, “I never listen to top 40 stuff.” Now, people, to be ignorant is one thing, but to be deliberately ignorant is inexcusable when you claim to be trying to write commercial songs. That’s probably one of the reasons why publishers and producers say that over 95 % of what they hear when they have an “open door” policy is not even in the ballpark. That’s why, from their point of view, the Songwriters Showcase is valuable. We showcase less than 10% of what we hear. Songwriting is one of the few professions (alongside parenthood) which people seem to feel they don’t have to learn anything about to do successfully. 

So, back to learning. It’s important to develop your critical abilities and there are good opportunities to develop in that respect by reading record and live performance reviews, not only in the standard trades but in Stereo Review, High Fidelity, Rolling Stone, Crawdaddy and other consumer music periodicals. Listen to the same records they do, go to the same concerts and do your own reviews. There are obviously differences of opinion between reviewers depending on their own personal taste and critical abilities. As to your own learning process, tho, it’s as positive an experience to disagree as it is to have your viewpoint supported as long as you’ve paid careful attention to their critique and given some thought to your own. 

The trades contain some great interviews with music industry people that can be helpful on several levels. First of all, if you see an interview with, say, Linda Ronstadt and you want to write a song for her, you may gain some insight into likes, dislikes, experiences, fears, etc., that will help you write a song that she’ll identify with. It’ll ‘speak’ for her. You may also be a performer or group looking for a manager and you can get an idea, thru the interview, what that manager is like personally and professionally. What does he or she think is important? What kind of acts do they like? Why? What’s the nature of their relationship with record companies? Co-operative or adversary? Are they feared, respected, loved or all of the above? There are interviews with A&R (Artist & Reportoire) execs at record companies. You’ll find out what they look for, their company policies, their personal ex-periences and philosophies. You’ll discover that, although there are basic considerations that all managers, A&R people or others share within their particular field of expertise, everyone has a little different approach or “tricks of the trade” learned from their own experience and from their personal creativity and imagination. There are several “right” ways to do almost anything in this business and it helps to know a bunch of them. While we’re on the subject of learning from the pros, I want to tell you to never be afraid to ask. We’ve found in our showcase interviews, that with few exceptions, music industry people have spoken freely about how they do things, and how they feel about what they do. Even as a struggling writer/artist, whenever I expressed a desire to learn about something, there was always someone who would take the time to clue me in. More on this next week. 

OCT 19 – NOV 1

Previously in the Songmine Collection:

About Songmine and Music Connection Magazine:

John Braheny met Eric Bettelli and Michael Dolan right before they were going to publish Music Connection magazine. Eric and Michael wanted to get their publication out to as many songwriters as they could. They had already heard of the LA Songwriters Showcase, and of John and his partner, Len Chandler. John’s goal was to advertise the schedule of guest speakers and performers at the weekly Showcase… so they made a deal. 

They published John’s Songmine column (he had never before written a magazine article!) in their very first edition, in November 1977. Trading out the column for advertising, this arrangement continued for many years. Plus, Eric and Michael came to the Showcase each week and distributed free copies to the songwriters!

Those articles became so popular that (book agent and editor) Ronny Schiff offered John’s articles to F&W Media, where they became the backbone of John’s textbook, The Craft and Business of Songwriting. As a follow-up, Dan Kimpel (author, songwriter, teacher), who had also worked at LASS, took on the Songwriting column at Music Connection magazine which continues to this day! You can subscribe to get either hard copies or online.

Songmine: Learning From The Trades Part 4
Here’s a good game to play with the trades. Listen to a station like KNX-FM (93.1) who’s not afraid to take a chance and add a new song by a new artist now and then. When you hear one you think is a hit, look at the Billboard Hot 100 chart or other trade charts and see if it’s there. Analyze the song stylisticly and predict what charts it’ll show up on. Is it a crossover that will show up on both pop and R&B or Country charts? Pretend it’s your song and get into following it up (or down) the charts. Check out the Single and Album Radio action charts and see who’s adding it to their playlists. What kind of stations are playing it? What other songs are those stations playing? What good is this exercise? It’s a game that record companies and publishers play for real and it gets you into the excitement of 2nd guessing. You’ll compare these songs to your own and it’ll help you 2nd guess your songs before even taking them to a publisher. It gives you the opportunity to critique your own song in the context of the real music world. I’m frankly amazed at the number of songwriters who are totally out of touch with what is going on. I’ll ask them if they like “Gerry Rafferty” or “Boston” or “Foreigner” and they’ll have no idea what I’m talking about. Or they’ll say proudly, “I never listen to top 40 stuff.” Now, people, to be ignorant is one thing, but to be deliberately ignorant is inexcusable when you claim to be trying to write commercial songs. That’s probably one of the reasons why publishers and producers say that over 95 % of what they hear when they have an “open door” policy is not even in the ballpark. That’s why, from their point of view, the Songwriters Showcase is valuable. We showcase less than 10% of what we hear. Songwriting is one of the few professions (alongside parenthood) which people seem to feel they don’t have to learn anything about to do successfully. 
So, back to learning. It’s important to develop your critical abilities and there are good opportunities to develop in that respect by reading record and live performance reviews, not only in the standard trades but in Stereo Review, High Fidelity, Rolling Stone, Crawdaddy and other consumer music periodicals. Listen to the same records they do, go to the same concerts and do your own reviews. There are obviously differences of opinion between reviewers depending on their own personal taste and critical abilities. As to your own learning process, tho, it’s as positive an experience to disagree as it is to have your viewpoint supported as long as you’ve paid careful attention to their critique and given some thought to your own. 
The trades contain some great interviews with music industry people that can be helpful on several levels. First of all, if you see an interview with, say, Linda Ronstadt and you want to write a song for her, you may gain some insight into likes, dislikes, experiences, fears, etc., that will help you write a song that she’ll identify with. It’ll ‘speak’ for her. You may also be a performer or group looking for a manager and you can get an idea, thru the interview, what that manager is like personally and professionally. What does he or she think is important? What kind of acts do they like? Why? What’s the nature of their relationship with record companies? Co-operative or adversary? Are they feared, respected, loved or all of the above? There are interviews with A&R (Artist & Reportoire) execs at record companies. You’ll find out what they look for, their company policies, their personal ex-periences and philosophies. You’ll discover that, although there are basic considerations that all managers, A&R people or others share within their particular field of expertise, everyone has a little different approach or “tricks of the trade” learned from their own experience and from their personal creativity and imagination. There are several “right” ways to do almost anything in this business and it helps to know a bunch of them. While we’re on the subject of learning from the pros, I want to tell you to never be afraid to ask. We’ve found in our showcase interviews, that with few exceptions, music industry people have spoken freely about how they do things, and how they feel about what they do. Even as a struggling writer/artist, whenever I expressed a desire to learn about something, there was always someone who would take the time to clue me in. More on this next week. 
OCT 19 – NOV 1

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Songmine: Getting the Most from the Trades Part 3 by John Braheny

A John Braheny Songmine column from the archives…

 Songmine: Getting the Most from the Trades Part 3 by John Braheny

Accession Number: C000000137-007 Document/Digital File, “Songmine: Getting the Most from the Trades Part 3 by John Braheny, OCR converted text under same Accession Number

(Digitally converted text. Some errors may occur)

Songmine: Getting The Most From The Trades. Part 3 by John Braheny

by John Braheny

Let’s continue the rap about checking out Billboard’s “Executive Turntable”, Cashbox’s “Executives On The Move” and Record World’s “Copy Writes” to find out where your contacts have moved since you last saw them.

In the case of publishers, a good thing to keep in mind is that if you’ve already signed a publishing contract on a song and you see that the person responsible for signing your song to that company has made an exit, you should call the company and make an appointment with their replacement. If you-don’t bring your song to their attention, it may get lost in the shuffle of thousands of others the new person has to represent. It also gives you a chance to make a new contact and expose some of your newer songs. Call your old contact at the new job, congratulate them and go to see them at their new company.

Occasionally, a whole company will be restructured due to possibly a new president who wants to put together his or her own “team”. This is also valuable info for anyone looking for a job in the business. That kind of news will be carried in the columns and is also likely to be found in a more detailed featured article elsewhere in that issue. In the case of new companies forming or branch offices being set up locally, you’ll have a situation where people are eager to prove themselves by finding some great new local artists or songs. Take advantage of that info by calling right away to make an appointment.

Billboard’s “Studio Track” is another valuable column for writers. If youre the aggressive, creative type, you can find out, like publishers do, who’s recording, what studio, who’s the producer and engineer. If you’re very sure that your songs are appropriate for the artist, you’ll know how to get to them. It’s not a bad idea to meet recording engineers at some of the hottest studios in town. They’re in a position to work with many producers and artists. You might, as an incentive, offer them a percentage of the “mechanicals”. That refers to income generated from the sale of recors and tapes as opposed to income from performances (radio, TV & clubs) which comes from BMI, ASCAP, or SESAC. The percentage can be anything aggreeable to both parties. There is no “standard” for that type of deal. I’d suggest that you just deal with the ‘publishing’ (the 50% of the total pie that a publisher ordinarily takes for getting artists to record your song) as opposed to the ‘writers’ half. We’re assuming now that you’re acting as your own publisher. It’s better to reward them with a percentage of ‘mechanical’ for the particular record where they place your song rather than give them a percentage of the ongoing publishing rights because you may want to reward someone else for placing the song with another artist on another record and it becomes very difficult to do the paperwork when pieces of publishing are goig to several different people who all co-own your copyright. Of course you can also give them some “performance income” (from airplay) but the major problem is that when you get your royalty statements from BMI or ASCAP, they don’t tell you what record it’s from and if you have a song that gets recorded by more than one artist, there’s no way to tell what you owe on each one of them. One way you can do it is to deal with time periods. Say, “I’ll give you 50% (or whatever) of `performances’ for the first three quarters (payment peri-ods).” I believe that it’s a good idea to reward people who help you get a song to an artist, and to set up ‘a financial arrangement in front with people who have those contacts but are not necessarily in the business of publishing. I’ve even heard of groupies placing songs. Roadies and road managers, bartenders, andyone who comes in contact with the artists or
producers. Artists are often intrigued enough by gettin a song from an unexpected source that they pay special attention to it. One of the things this business thrives on is the thrill of discovery. “Would you believe the waitress at Duke’s laid this killer tune on me?”

It’s a very creative business and the trades can give you lots of fuel for your own ideas. We’ll explore more of them next time.

If you’ve discovered any novel ways to pitch your songs, let’s hear from you.

Previously in the Songmine Collection:

About Songmine and Music Connection Magazine:

John Braheny met Eric Bettelli and Michael Dolan right before they were going to publish Music Connection magazine. Eric and Michael wanted to get their publication out to as many songwriters as they could. They had already heard of the LA Songwriters Showcase, and of John and his partner, Len Chandler. John’s goal was to advertise the schedule of guest speakers and performers at the weekly Showcase… so they made a deal. 

They published John’s Songmine column (he had never before written a magazine article!) in their very first edition, in November 1977. Trading out the column for advertising, this arrangement continued for many years. Plus, Eric and Michael came to the Showcase each week and distributed free copies to the songwriters!

Those articles became so popular that (book agent and editor) Ronny Schiff offered John’s articles to F&W Media, where they became the backbone of John’s textbook, The Craft and Business of Songwriting. As a follow-up, Dan Kimpel (author, songwriter, teacher), who had also worked at LASS, took on the Songwriting column at Music Connection magazine which continues to this day! You can subscribe to get either hard copies or online.

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Songmine: Getting the Most from the Trades by John Braheny

A John Braheny Songmine column from the archives…

 Songmine: Getting the Most from the Trades by John Braheny

Accession Number: C000000137-006 Document/Digital File, “Songmine: Getting the Most from the Trades by John Braheny, OCR converted text under same Accession Number

(Digitally converted text. Some errors may occur)

Songmine: Songmine: Getting the Most from the Trades

by John Braheny

If you’re actively trying to get something going, either as a writer or a recording artist, one of the most important things you need to do is to know the names and meet the people in the business. If you’re on the outside looking in and you’re not hanging out at Martoni’s or other music biz watering holes, it gets very difficult to keep track of who’s who, who’s what and where these people are. It’s complicated by a musical chairs game unequaled in any other business, except maybe advertising. There have been some cases where people didn’t know they’d been fired till they read it in the trades. Cold shot! So Billboard calls their column “Executive Turntable”, where you can see where your favorite A&R person,publisher, etc. is working this month. Cashbox’s column is called “Executives On The Move” and in Record World a good column for writers is “Copy Writes”, which gives you news about writers and publishers. A&R (Artist & Repertoire) people are important to you. They work at record companies and are usually the people who listen to new acts and to material for artists already on the label. Unfortunately ly, it’s a very insecure job because, if they make too many wrong decisions, they’re on the street again. I say “unfortunately” because it has the result of making them afraid to make decisions. They keep their jobs longer if they make fewer decisions, consequently fewer mistakes. Signing an act that stiffs can cost a company over $100,000 easily. What this means to you is that, if there’s any doubt whatsoever about the commercial potential of your material or act, you’ll get a “NO” or a “PASS”, as it’s usually called. You might ask, “If these people are so terrible at their jobs, why do they keep showing up in Executive Turntable, etc. with new ones?” There are several answers. One is that losing their job doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t have good “ears” or judgement. They may not fare well in the political gamesmanship that happens at that particular company. They may quit in frustration, because acts they really believe in don’t get signed or don’t get any attention once they are signed. A&R people usually are responsible for following through on a project, and may run into a situation in the company, where their jobs are jeopardized by pushing too hard for the act in the face of new and ever shifting priorities in the company….”Stop with this act.. .We’ve got 3 major artists to release and promote in the next couple of months and that’s where our biggest money is….So don’t hassle me about your new act….We’ll get to them later.” Thin Ice Time! Lots of pressure in that position. Try to explain those things to an act who’s living on peanut butter sandwiches and waiting to be famous, and YOU know they CAN be. A reason why A&R people, who DON’T have good ears or judgement, continue to get jobs, is that some executives who hire them don’t look past the resume to say, “I want to hear what acts you liked at those other companies and what happened to them.” They just say, “Hey, that’s great, you’ve worked for all those great companies and ‘worked with’ (a nebulous phrase used to avoid pinpointing actual credits) all those great artists. You’re hired!” The person may have been fired for bad judgement in all those other jobs, but it’s well known that there CAN be other reasons, and people at the previous companies may not want to give him/her a bad recommenda-tion. After all.. .she/he might be THEIR boss next month! I should also mention that another reason for job changes is that one company finds out that an A&R person or publisher is doing a GREAT job at another company, and simply offers them a lot more money, fringe benefits and decision making power. So…anyway…you may have run into an A&R person who liked your act or your songs but couldn’t get anything going for you at her/his previous label. You see in the “Executive Turntable” that they’re at a new company now so it’s worth another shot. In a new company they may have more respect, more power and a renewed motivation to prove themselves. Yours might be the act she’ll sign or your songs might be better suited to the acts on his new label. I’ve been talking about A&R but most of the same considerations also apply to publishers. It’s turning out that “using the trades” is a good springboard for ther topics so I’ll continue it next time.

Sep 21 – Oct 4

Previously in the Songmine Collection:

About Songmine and Music Connection Magazine:

John Braheny met Eric Bettelli and Michael Dolan right before they were going to publish Music Connection magazine. Eric and Michael wanted to get their publication out to as many songwriters as they could. They had already heard of the LA Songwriters Showcase, and of John and his partner, Len Chandler. John’s goal was to advertise the schedule of guest speakers and performers at the weekly Showcase… so they made a deal. 

They published John’s Songmine column (he had never before written a magazine article!) in their very first edition, in November 1977. Trading out the column for advertising, this arrangement continued for many years. Plus, Eric and Michael came to the Showcase each week and distributed free copies to the songwriters!

Those articles became so popular that (book agent and editor) Ronny Schiff offered John’s articles to F&W Media, where they became the backbone of John’s textbook, The Craft and Business of Songwriting. As a follow-up, Dan Kimpel (author, songwriter, teacher), who had also worked at LASS, took on the Songwriting column at Music Connection magazine which continues to this day! You can subscribe to get either hard copies or online.

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Songmine: Publishing III by John Braheny

A John Braheny Songmine column from the archives…

Songmine: Publishing III by John Braheny 

Accession Number: C000000137-005 Document/Digital File, “Publishing III ” by John Braheny, OCR converted text under same Accession Number

(Digitally converted text. Some errors may occur)

Songmine: PUBLISHING III 

by John Braheny

There are two areas I haven’t covered in the last two columns: the daily duties of publishers and the variety of outlets for songs. I’ve discussed broad areas, but in every active publish-ing company there are lots of daily activities. They include: 1. Screening songs; 2. Meeting with writers; 3. Critiquing and other-wise working with staff writers; 4. Negotiating contracts with writers, managers or attorneys; 5. Initiating or suggesting col-laborations between staff writers or lyricists and producer/writers or artists; 6. Reviewing songs in the catalog; 7. Calling producers and A&R reps to learn what songs they need for their artists; 8. Reading the trades and tip sheets to discover projects that may need material, including film and advertising trades; 9. Producing demo tapes; 10. Making and mailing tape copies; 11. Having lead sheets made; 12. Having casting meetings with staffers and staff writers to determine which songs are appropriate for certain pro-jects; 13. Seeing producers; 14. Maintaining files on producers, the songs they liked and why, what they didn’t like and why, who’s holding songs and for how long; 15. Making calls to radio stations, record companies and managers of acts who’ve recorded your songs to work out ideas for promotion; 16. Negotiating and granting licenses to users; 17. Filing copyright forms; 18. Filing notices with BMI, ASCAP, SESAC for songs that have been released for airplay; 19. Filing notices with the Harry Fox Agency or other agen-cies which collect mechanical royalties (for records, tape sales) or making collections from record companies yourself; 20. General ac-counting, financial planning, filing taxes, etc.; 21. Initiating and maintaining contacts with foreign sub-publishers.

I’m sure my publisher friends will let me know if I’ve left something out. There are big companies who hire people to do these tasks, and small, independents who must, to some degree, do it all. There are yet others who seem to be publishers in name only and, in effect, are holding companies, as is often the case with managers or producers who use a song once with a particular artist and have no staff to exploit the song beyond that first use.

The uses of songs are limited only by lack of imagination and perception. The bottom line for any publisher is making money by finding as many uses as possible for the song. Ob-viously the big ones are sales of records and tapes, and synchroniza-tion—the use of songs in films and video. If a song is successful there, sheet music can be a major source of revenue. The song might be suited to a choral or band arrangement for high schools and col-leges. It also might have value as a commercial. Manufacturers of autos, audio equipment and the like put together special compila-tion tapes and records to demonstrate auto sound and stereo equip-ment. There are K-TEL-styled compilation records, and airlines, restaurants, hotels, doctors’ offices, elevators and supermarkets all use collections of songs for which royalties are paid. Manufacturers of music boxes, musical toys and video games are also licensed to use appropriate songs. Greeting card manufacturers use song lyrics, and there are more uses.

It’s not always enough just to be aware of those possibilities. A creative publisher will initiate compilation albums using songs already in the company’s catalog and possibly outside songs as well. The publisher might think of a children’s album with a philosophy compatible with a new children’s book being written, have his writers or outside writers tailor songs for it, produce it and offer it as part of the book. So instead of griping about how bad the music business is doing because artists aren’t cutting their songs or they’re not getting paid enough, they could actually be creating new business. There are very few publishers like that around. At its best, publishing demands imagination, creativity, intuition, tenaci-ty and good business sense. A publisher must be willing to make mistakes and face daily rejection of songs he/she believes in. A knowledge of how the music industry operates, a familiarity with the work of a great variety of recording artists, both established and new, is also required. It’s a special combination of ingredients that makes a great publisher, and few have it all. If you are one, thank you! You’re the ones who will grow and prosper because you’ll change with the times and with the technology. You’ll take chances and lose and win and, hopefully, inspire everyone else.

SEPT. 30-OCT. 13

Previously in the Songmine Collection:

About Songmine and Music Connection Magazine:

John Braheny met Eric Bettelli and Michael Dolan right before they were going to publish Music Connection magazine. Eric and Michael wanted to get their publication out to as many songwriters as they could. They had already heard of the LA Songwriters Showcase, and of John and his partner, Len Chandler. John’s goal was to advertise the schedule of guest speakers and performers at the weekly Showcase… so they made a deal. 

They published John’s Songmine column (he had never before written a magazine article!) in their very first edition, in November 1977. Trading out the column for advertising, this arrangement continued for many years. Plus, Eric and Michael came to the Showcase each week and distributed free copies to the songwriters!

Those articles became so popular that (book agent and editor) Ronny Schiff offered John’s articles to F&W Media, where they became the backbone of John’s textbook, The Craft and Business of Songwriting. As a follow-up, Dan Kimpel (author, songwriter, teacher), who had also worked at LASS, took on the Songwriting column at Music Connection magazine which continues to this day! You can subscribe to get either hard copies or online.

“Feedback: Why some publishers won’t give it” by John Braheny

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Songmine: Leave Your Ego at the Door by John Brahney

A John Braheny Songmine column from the archives…

Songmine: Leave Your Ego at the Door by John Brahney

Accession Number: C000000137-004 Document/Digital File, “Feedback: Why some publishers won’t give it” by John Braheny, OCR converted text under same Accession Number

(Digitally converted text. Some errors may occur)

LEAVE YOUR EGO AT THE DOOR 

by John Braheny

Despite the fact that you may be writing very personal songs and exposing delicate parts of your being, people in the business must look at your creations as a product. They, in turn, must try to sell your product to someone else on the merits of it’s commercial potential alone. It’s understandably difficult, though, for a writer to keep from feeling that it’s him or her who’s being rejected, rather than the song. Some of the most powerful songs written are very personal statements and confessional revelations that make the writer’s ego quite vulnerable to destruction when rejected. So, don’t stop writing those kinds of songs, just get a grip on your ego and leave it at the door when you shop your wares.

One of the first important things you have to do before knocking on doors is to become a good self-critic. There’s got to be a point during or after the writing of a song where you step away from the song and try to look at it as though you were another person, a J.Q. Public, a publisher, a recording artist, a radio program director. Sometimes, in order to get that perspective, writers put a song away for a few days, weeks, etc. so they can look at it fresh. Ask yourself some questions: Is this a song about an event or feeling that a lot of people can relate to? Will the people most likely to relate be in a certain age group? Will the music appeal to the same age group? Can the lyrics be understood by everyone? Is there a better, more powerful, more graphic way to say it? Is every line important? Is this a song that can compete with the best songs (not the worst) that I hear on the radio? Doing this kind of self-critique will help you in some big ways. It will help you write better songs. It will help you choose, from among your songs, those which are the most commercially viable and consequently, the least subject to rejection. It will help you develop that professional detachment that will make it easier to look at your own work as a product, like someone who makes omelettes or clothes or anything else. In accomplishing that, you’ll find it much easier to leave your ego at the door and to welcome the comments of the buyers.

You should also be sure to play your songs for friends before approaching the buyers. Even if they can’t or won’t give you honest criticism, it gives you some instant perspective. I’ve written songs that, when sung to myself, I was perfectly happy with, but when I read the words out loud or song the song for someone else, suddenly sounded really stupid. Scratch one song!

Another kind of perspective you should have is an awareness of what happens on the other side of the publisher’s or producer’s door. It does neither you nor them any good if they publish a song they’re not genuinely enthusiastic about and in which they see little commercial potential. They have to spend money to demo it, and they have to put up with your Continued questions about what they’ve done with your song. They have to keep telling you nothing’s happened or avoid your calls. So if they can’t really get excited about your song as a product, they have to reject it. No point in your ego trying to talk them into it. You shouldn’t want someone to publish your song unless they’re very enthusiastic about it. When they get rejections on your song you want them to retain enough enthusiasm for the song to continue to pitch it. Two publishers told me that they had songs in their catalogs that had been rejected over 100 times! In spite of that they continued because they totally believed in those songs. Sometimes songs or styles are ahead of their times. Three or four years ago, for instance, it was common for L.A. writers to get rejections because their ‘country’ songs were ‘too country’ for L.A. and ‘too pop’ for Nashville. Now country artists, smelling big pop money, are crying for country crossover (country/pop) material.

There are more reasons why you’re more likely to be in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong song than vice-versa. Probably 99% of those reasons have nothing to do with you personally, but with the marketplace, your product and the buyers ability and inclination to deal with it. It may be your sweet dream, but to them it’s just apples and oranges.

Nov 30 – Dec 13

Previously in the Songmine Collection:

About Songmine and Music Connection Magazine:

John Braheny met Eric Bettelli and Michael Dolan right before they were going to publish Music Connection magazine. Eric and Michael wanted to get their publication out to as many songwriters as they could. They had already heard of the LA Songwriters Showcase, and of John and his partner, Len Chandler. John’s goal was to advertise the schedule of guest speakers and performers at the weekly Showcase… so they made a deal. 

They published John’s Songmine column (he had never before written a magazine article!) in their very first edition, in November 1977. Trading out the column for advertising, this arrangement continued for many years. Plus, Eric and Michael came to the Showcase each week and distributed free copies to the songwriters!

Those articles became so popular that (book agent and editor) Ronny Schiff offered John’s articles to F&W Media, where they became the backbone of John’s textbook, The Craft and Business of Songwriting. As a follow-up, Dan Kimpel (author, songwriter, teacher), who had also worked at LASS, took on the Songwriting column at Music Connection magazine which continues to this day! You can subscribe to get either hard copies or online.

“Feedback: Why some publishers won’t give it” by John Braheny

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Archive Highlight: John Braheny speaks on The Craft and Business of Songwriting [Audio] (55 mins)

Another interesting piece of John Braheny history from the John Braheny Archives on the Craft and Business of Songwriting.


John Braheny speaks on The Craft and Business of Songwriting on this undated cassette tape. Most likely recorded at a Songwriters Expo.

Archive Highlight: John Braheny speaks on The Craft and Business of Songwriting [Audio]  

Listen to this presentation

Accession Number D000000102-001 (Note: These numbers are the unique Accession number for each piece in the archives and allows us to quickly locate any item by searching the archive index) 

From the Acting Archivist…

This is one of those pieces which exist in every archive collection — an undated item with only basic information, if any at all. I have no idea when this recording was made, although it appears to have been presented at a Songwriters Expo, due to John’s mention of “the rest of the weekend” near the end of the talk. If you happen to have any further information about this recording, please send it along and I will add it to the archival entry for this item.

Douglas E. Welch, douglas@welchwrite.com

Previously on Archive Highlights:

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