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Songmine: The Publisher/Attorney Tango by John Braheny

A John Braheny Songmine column from the archives…

Songmine: The Publisher/Attorney Tango by John Braheny

Accession Number: C000000137-034-001 Document/Digital File, “Songmine: The Publisher/Attorney Tango by John Braheny”, OCR converted text under same Accession Number

(Digitally converted text. Some errors may occur)

The Publisher/Attorney Tango

In the last article we discussed a couple of incidents which illustrate the reason for Arista Music Vice President Billy Meshel’s antagonism for the kind of attorneys who represent their own interests before those of their writer clients. One of those was about an attorney who said he wanted $50,000 “up front” for an unproven writer/artist that Meshel wanted to sign. Remember that several factors are unknown to the publisher at this point: (1) Will a dependable paycheck make the writer lazy or will domestic difficulty make him/her unproductive? (2) Will the publisher or producer be able to secure a record deal for the writer/ artist? (3) If a record deal is secured and the writer/artist is called upon by management and label to tour extensively, will this severely affect the writer’s output? (4) Will the publisher be able to get covers on the songs? Obviously, the latter is the basiC gamble all publishers need to be willing to take. The gamble involves their ability to pick coverable songs and to work with the writer to encourage their creation. All these considerations, however, affect the odds and, the higher -the stakes, the bigger the gamble. With every deal there’s a point at which the gamble seems too big to take. Any good creative publisher, assuming he has the money to invest, will want to spend money not on front money just to sign a writer, but in promoting the writer and the songs. It’s those companies who have the money to spend who seem like fair game to attorneys. There’s a prevalent philosophy that says, “If they give you big front money, it guarantees that the company will work like hell on your project so they can recoup it.” The philosophy has probably worked in enough cases to give it some credence. The problem is that each situation is unique and must be dealt with individually, and some attorneys don’t always explore the situation fully before negotiating for the writer. Ultimately, the best contract is one in which neither party feels ripped off and there’s plenty of incentive for both parties to do their best. By the way, writers don’t always understand that advance means against future royalties and they can’t gripe if they don’t see any royalties for a lo-o-o-ong time. It’s a good thing to remember when your attorney says, “Let’s go for big front money…”

Anyway, back to the publisher. It may be a relatively small company who could give you a weekly advance, but big front money could seriously jeopardize their financial resources for, say, hiring independent promo people to help the record company promote the songs or financing your masters as a writer/artist. There are small companies who don’t have the big bucks but who can give you lots of attention and aggressively pitch your tunes. They grow as you grow. A good working relationship with your publisher is also extremely important and should be a major factor in the deal. It’s very short-sighted to say, “If the money’s right, that’s all that counts.”

As for attorneys, you do need them, not so much for a single song deal (though you should have professional advice from somebody knowledgeable) but for any contract involving exclusive commitment. The attorney should give you the pros and cons of all deal points and discuss current industry practice. You should explain your personal feelings about the people in the company and ask for any information he/she may have about the company’s reputation. Then, you tell your attorney what you want him/her to do. A percentage (usually 10%) of the deal in lieu of an hourly fee is an arrangement you should be very cautious about. It’s tempting for an attorney to negotiate for high front money so he/she can get a big 10% right away, but that’s not always in your best interest. You may also decide to change attorneys later on and you’ll continue to pay that original attorney that 10% Better to borrow the money and give them an hourly fee, stiff as it may be. Learn enough to know what you want and just use your attorney to make sure you get it in writing.

John Braheny is co-founder/director of the Alternative Chorus Songwriters Showcase in Los Angeles.

See all previous entries in the Songmine Series

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: Attorneys: Do You Need One? by John Braheny

A John Braheny Songmine column from the archives…

Songmine: Attorneys: Do You Need One? by John Braheny

Accession Number: C000000137-033-002 Document/Digital File, “Songmine: Attorneys: Do You Need One? by John Braheny”, OCR converted text under same Accession Number

(Digitally converted text. Some errors may occur)

Arista Music Vice President Billy Meshel did an animated rap against a certain type of attorneys in a recent interview at’ the Songwriters Showcase. Too often, he said, as soon as he found a writer/artist he was interested in signing, he would recieve .a call from an attorney who proceeded to “blow the deal” both for him and the writer. His apparent hostility toward these attorneys brought a barrage of reactions which we didn’t have time to discuss in depth. I felt it was worth booking him for a later interview to explore the personal feelings, and experiences that produced his volatile attitude about these attorneys.

Questions revealed that Billy, on two occasions, had found songwriters at the Showcase he wanted to sign to exclusive staff writing deals. Within a couple of days after expressing interest in one writer, he received a phone call from the writer’s attorney saying, “We’re talking about $50,000 in front and escalations if certain moneys are earned.” What was irritating to Billy was that there seemed to be no interest on the part of the attorney in what the company planned to do to advance his client’s career, or how much money and effort the company was going to dedicate to it. Billy said, “I didn’t expect to get into the deal free, but that was out of line. The problem is that most attorneys work on percentages…” It may be a conflict of interest for an attorney to get, say, 10% for negotiating a deal, because he may negotiate for high front money so he would get a fat fee right off the top. He risks blowing the deal or giving up deal points somewhere else at the expense of the writer in order to get the front money. (This is called “front loading a deal.”) Billy felt that the writer was a “piece of meat” to that attorney, who wasn’t at all concerned with the writer’s career. If his outrageous request for this new writer wasn’t met, it didn’t bother him that he’d blown a deal with a publisher who might have helped to build a great career for the writer. The writer would fade into the woodwork and the attorney would go on to the next deal.

In the second situation, the writer, the manager and Billy had come to an agreement. Though Billy wouldn’t want the details publicized, I can attest to the fact that it was excellent for a new writer/artist. The manager wanted to think about it for a few days. A couple days later, an attorney representing the writer called Billy saying that they had received a better offer somewhere else and could he top it. Billy told him to take the other deal. The next day, the manager called to say that he didn’t know that his attorney had run that number on him and they still wanted the original deal. By that time, Billy was turned off by the game and didn’t want to work with people who operated that way. He couldn’t believe that the manager didn’t know what his attorney was going to do. He also wanted to feel that the writer wanted to be with his company because they’d do the job for him, not just because he was the highest bidder.

It may have seemed to those who heard Billy that he didn’t think songwriters should have attorneys. WRONG. Billy feels that the writer and publisher should sit down and discuss the deal in broad terms, then leave the ‘boiler plate’ details (specific percentages, etc.) for the writer’s attorney to negotiate. He thinks that before seeing a lawyer, the writer should find out (by talking with the publisher) just what they each can expect from one another and get a feeling about the personal chemistry. Attorney Kent Klavens was in the audience and cautioned writers not to discuss specific deal points with the publisher if they don’t know what they’re talking about.

Meshel’s main point was that too many attorneys look out only for their own best interests, and too many writers take too little interest in the business end of their careers, or are too intimidated by attorneys to tell them what they want. Next time, we’ll continue this rap with some insight into the publishers’ side of this controversy, and more on songwriter-attorney relationships.

See all previous entries in the Songmine Series

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: Sex and the Singles Writer by John Braheny

A John Braheny Songmine column from the archives…

Songmine: Sex and the Singles Writer by John Braheny

Accession Number: C000000137-033-001 Document/Digital File, “Songmine: Sex and the Singles Writer  by John Braheny by John Braheny”, OCR converted text under same Accession Number

(Digitally converted text. Some errors may occur)

Sex And The Singles Writer

Sex sells just about everything. It is an international preoccupation, particularly for those in the prime record buying age groups. A look at last week’s (or any week’s) Billboard Hot 100 singles chart shows that outright sex themes like “Sexy Eyes,” “Brass In Pocket,” the old “Gimme Some Lovin’,” and “Do That To Me One More Time” are still prime song lyric topics.

Radio wasn’t always as tolerant as it is now. If writers wanted to get that powerful, money-making airplay they had to avoid the subject… or be very clever about it. In the early 50’s, even songs like “Teach Me Tonight,” as tame as it sounds today, could give people wet dreams. It’s all relative, isn’t it? See how jaded we’ve gotten?

Throughout history there’s been a wealth of bawdy balladry, and during the ’60s folk revival, Oscar Brand (“Bawdy Songs and Backroom Ballads”), Ed McCurdy (“When Dalliance Was In Flower”) and others resurrected volumes of it to record. There’s also been a steady flow of “underground” record classics like “Stickball,” lots of raunchy blues and, of course, the Rusty Warrens and Red Foxxes. There are’also currently a lot of hard core album cuts you won’t hear on the radio. There’s always been a heavy division between what can be sold on record and what’s considered fit for the air. In the past few years, however, that division seems to have all but disappeared, and if it isn’t getting played it’s because it doesn’t sound like a hit. There are rock stations that 15 years ago would have been shut down for playing “My Sharona” or the Pretenders’ “Tatooed Love Boys” (where she sings “…you showed me what that hole was for”). Artistically it works fine in context, but there was a time when it would have given the FCCs a heart attack.

It seems that R&B and rock and roll have always been the homes of the up front, unsubtle sex lyric. “Let’s Get It On,” “I Like To Do It With You,” and “Get It Up For Love” are the first -ones that come into my head but a little more research could turn up lots more. I believe this is so because musically these lyrics sit in a dance format which is, in itself, stimulating. Blatant, sexual lyrics, at least for me, as a listening experience, get boring.
Sex has been the lyric backbone of disco, probably because discos are places where people go to look for sex. Perhaps many of those people go there looking for love, but finding love in a disco is like trying to find drinking water in the Pacific. It all looks good but it’s not quite what you need. It doesn’t satisfy the real thirst.

I think it’s interesting to observe how often the word “love” is substituted for sex. “Let Me Love You Tonight” is a current example. The sex/love confusion in colloquial usage since the term “making love” came into being could be the subject of a major psychological study. Peter McCann used that phenomenon to create his hits “Do You Wanna Make Love (Or Do You Just Wanna Fool Around).”

In general, most country and pop ballads take an approach that’s more subtle and inventive than that taken with R&R, R&B and disco. The importance of the lyrics in the mix of these songs subjects them to closer scrutiny. David Gates’ near standard “Make It With You” lets the listener use the phrase not only in the sexual sense, but in the sense of building a successful relationship. Songs like his, with titillating titles but broader, multi-level meanings and good craftsmanship, not only sell the song, but also make it more satisfying for a longer time as a listening experience.

There are probably as many ways to write about sex as there are ways to do it. Some of them are quickies that are off the charts in a minute and others, that we fall in love with, stay with us a long time and continue to excite us. What are the limits? Somebody asked me that in a seminar not long after Donna Summer’s “Love To Love You Baby” was a hit and I said that if someone can orgasm over 20 times in a hit record, how much further could you go?

John Braheny is co-founder/director of the Alternative Chorus Songwriters Showcase in Los Angeles.

JULY 10 — JULY 23


See all previous entries in the Songmine Series

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 Else Is Commercial? by John Braheny

A John Braheny Songmine column from the archives…

Songmine: What Else Is Commercial? by John Braheny

Accession Number: C000000137-032-002 Document/Digital File, “Songmine: So What’ Else Is Commercial? by John Braheny by John Braheny”, OCR converted text under same Accession Number

(Digitally converted text. Some errors may occur)

SONGMINE BY JOHN BRAHENY

So What Else Is Commercial?

Last time I discussed the importance of writing lyrics that reflect the values and’experiences of a large segment of the record buying audience. This is, of course, assuming that you’re concerned about selling records and getting airplay, i.e. “being commercial.” Hopefully, those values and experiences are either ones you feel comfortable with or that reflect your own experiences. This is especially important if you’re a writer/artist. A major part of your appeal will be tha, n,,ndle will identify with your point of view. Billy Joel, Jackson Browne and Rickie Lee Jones are good examples. It doesn’t work if you take a different point of view on every record. People never really learn who you are. It’s also really tough to have a hit as an artist with a song that you’re not at home with. You may be doomed to playing it for years. If you’re a non-performing write, you’re not so restricted, and can write “for the market” or try’ the point of view of the artist you’re writing for.

Beyond the considerations we’ve just discussed, there are some stylistic considerations that affect the commerciality of a song. One of those is cleverness. Country music is the obvious home of the clever word play, the new twist on an old cliche and the lyrical “turnaround.” Some recent examples are “Lying Time Again,” “Yippi Cry Yi,” “Nothin’ Sure Looked Good On You,” and “Wishful Drinkin’.” There was also the old pop tune, “I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night.” That kind of cleverness is designed to stick in the listener’s mind. The lyrical “turnaround” with the surprise ending has wide appeal. The most recent example is Rupert Holmes’ “Escape (The Pina Colada Song).” “Tie A Yellow Ribbon” was another in that genre that was a great crossover hit. To hardcore “heart” writers, that kind of song may seem trite and contrived. Those same people probably hate to hear a joke more than once, because once they get the punch line it’s not funny to them anymore. Because of the way they’re put together or the way they’re told, though, some jokes never seen to wear thin. I guess that’s the appeal of those songs. The appeal is probably even broader if the song illustrates some common problem or has a “moral” like Chapin’s “Taxi” or “Escape.”

The more conversational and natural the lyric feels, and the more vivid the visual imagery, the less contrived it seems. In other words, the trip should be as rewarding as the destination. “The Gambler” was a very cleverly contrived story, and even though the use of a deck of cards as an analogy for life wasn’t a new idea, it was a fresh way to do it. Its natural, rhymed, colloquial language and movie-like imagery made it great art.

While I’m on the subject of colloquial rhyme (though not necessarily great art), I was fascinated by the success of the R&B “rapper” records. By and large, my personal opinion was that they were pretty terrible. The rhyme, in most cases, was really, as we say, “cheap.” They went for the easiest rhyme, clearly at the expense of content. Even though their success was not exactly gigantic, and they were obviously records and not songs, I was surprised, and figured there was definitely a lesson involved in analyzing the phenomenon. What really got me into it, though I’d been hearing them on the radio, was stopping at a taco stand on So. Robertson and hearing one blasting out of a big stereo portable radio on a table in front of the stand. On the inside, waiting in line to order, were two black kids about 16 years, old doing every line of that rapid rap in perfect sync. That’s when I realized that the first level of appeal is that they’re fun. It was clear that memorizing all that rap wasn’t my idea of fun, but it obviously was to them. There’s also the idea that the stuff felt spontaneous and consequently we’re a little more forgiving about the bad rhyme. The spontaneity was also welcome amid the super-slick produc- tions around it on the radio. It was unquestionably a black record with limited appeal anywhere else, and I’m sure nobody had any illusions about it being a coverable tune. It’s just nice to know that with songs like the “rappers,” like Mac Davis’ “Hard To Be Humble,” and Ray Stevens’ “The Shriners’ Convention” that there’s an audience for tunes that are “just for fun.”

John Braheny is co-founder/director of the Alternative Chorus Songwriters Showcase in Los Angeles.

JUNE 2 6 — JULY 9


See all previous entries in the Songmine Series

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: So What’s Commercial? by John Braheny

A John Braheny Songmine column from the archives…

 Songmine: So What's Commercial? by John Braheny

Accession Number: C000000137-032-001 Document/Digital File, “Songmine: So What’s Commercial? by John Braheny by John Braheny”, OCR converted text under same Accession Number

(Digitally converted text. Some errors may occur)

Songmine BY JOHN BRAHENY

SO WHAT’S COMMERCIAL?

At some point before, during, or after the writing of a song, it behooves a writer to decide whether the idea itself for the song is “commercial.” Now don’t get defensive! I’m not saying that every song you write must be a potential hit. At the risk of repeating this message too many times, you should write everything and anything your creative impulses trigger. At some point though, you’ve got to develop some perspective on those songs. The one you wrote about your second- cousin’s appendicitis may be impor- tant to you personally but everybody else will say, “So what?” The romance between you and your pet sheep, let us hope, is not exactly a universal theme, nor one that most recording artists (who don’t write their own bizarre songs) are going to record. You need to decide which of these songs are going to be meaningful in some way to a mass audience before shopping them to publishers or producers. Lots of different kinds of songs work. Larry Groce’s ” J unk Food Junkie” was a really “off the wall’ song but everybody identified and it was a #1 hit.

I’m not talking now about putting together a commercial sounding, contemporary groove or an infectious rhythm track. It is important but lots of people know how to do that very well. They know how to make a commercial sounding record. At the height of the disco mania, they were turning them out by the hundreds. The ones that sounded a little different from the rest or that came up with a new electronic sound gimmick would hit the charts and immediately spawn a couple hundred clones that would hit the discos but never make the radio. As popular as some of them were for a few weeks, few of them had any staying power or held the attention of the listener as a song. Some got airplay but few sold records. One of the rare exceptions was “I Will Survive” by Freddie Perren and Dino Fekaris. The reason was that, along with the great groove and production, it had a lyric idea that made its popularity continue long after that groove and production would have otherwise burnt us out by repetition. The lyric was an anthem for women. Something positive their spirits needed to hear from someone who sounded like she knew what she was talking about, with a story that sounded familiar. The message was positive: that no matter how he treated them before, they didn’t have to take it anymore because they had found a new self-respect. They rallied to “I Am Woman” but it was more general and philosophical. without the nitty gritty “real life” feeling that made “I Will Survive” such a hit. So what we have here is an idea that people had a need to hear, a thing they needed to say. I think one of the most important functions of a song is,to give the people a vehicle to express hopes, dreams, and inner conflicts that they might otherwise keep inside; feelings of love, hate, and humor. Songs have a. way of uniting us by those common strings that bind us together. It was great to hear Dan Hill express the apparent contradictions of the love/hate aspects of an intense relationship in “Sometimes When We Touch.” Those of us who’ve been there may have felt like we were a little crazy for having those kinds of feelings and were relieved to hear someone else express them. We were even more relieved that hundreds of thousands of other people loved the song.

“Torn Between Two Lovers” was both a country and pop hit because it expressed an old situation in a new and more sensitive way. Lots of people don’t identify with “cheatin’,” but still have the problem of loving more than one person at the same time. It was also interesting to note that it’s always been okay in country music to talk in a positive way about men having more than one lover whereas only really bad women could love more than one man and I don’t ever recall a woman making a statement like that. Times, values, and mores change constantly and often the more “Commercial” songs are the ones that not only express your most personal situations and feelings, but do it in a way that everyone else can easily understand and identify with.

JUNE 12 -JUNE 25 


See all previous entries in the Songmine Series

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: Ideas – Thinking Them Up and Getting them Down Part 2 by John Braheny

A John Braheny Songmine column from the archives…

Songmine: Ideas - Thinking Them Up and Getting them Down Part 2 by John Braheny 

Accession Number: C000000137-031-002 Document/Digital File, “Songmine: Ideas – Thinking Them Up and Getting them Down Part 2″ by John Braheny”, OCR converted text under same Accession Number

(Digitally converted text. Some errors may occur)

IDEAS-THINKING THEM UP AND GETTING THEM DOWN
PART II

You’re lying in bed, half asleep in that twilight zone where great ideas just seem to pop into your head. You’ve got one! It rolls out like a movie in your mind, a great concept, great lines, you see it all. You’ve had a hard day at work and your body doesn’t want to move to get a pen and paper. “It’s such a great idea,” you say to yourself, “Not a chance I’ll forget this one.” The next sound you hear is the alarm clock. You’re up, showered, breakfasted, and on the job. About noontime you remember that you had a great idea but you can’t quite remember what it was. Another hit down the tubes. That could have been the one to pay the rent for the rest of your life! Do you think now it would have been worth it keep a pencil and paper by your bed? Or easier yet, but more ex ensive, a cassette recorder. The advantage of the recorder is t at you can also capture melody and phrasing. You should hav one or the other with you always. Have an extra pad and pencil n your car for those freeway daydreams too.

There will be times you’ll get an idea in a situation where it’s not cool to whip out your pen and start writing. n those situations, like formal social gatherings or in mid-conversation, you can use what Len Chandler calls “The Weak Bladder Syndrome” and depart for the restroom to inscribe it on toilet paper. You may also want to write about someone you’re with at the time. That’s when it’s beneficial to have a personal brand of shorthand. I know one writer who developed a whole code of geometric symbols that only he can understand. Many writers write very candidly about their personal relationships and it gets difficult if you’re expressing negative feelings your lover is not aware of, yet. You can say “This isn’t really about us, it’s just something I’m creating from the memory of another relationship,” or “It’s about a friend’s romance,’.’ or “Don’t get on my case, I’m a songwriter and I make stuff up! I don’t want to have to worry that every time I write something you’re going to think it’s about us.” Of course, depending on the circumstances and what you wrote, any of those approaches could sound utterly ridiculous, so don’t quote me.

I think it’s important here to talk about some different problems and methods involved in just writing the stuff down. A lot of times you’ll have a basic idea you want to explore but don’t really have it in sharp focus. A good way to approach it is to get plenty of paper and start writing in what’s usually described as a “stream of consciousness” process. Write everything that comes into your head about the subject: visual impressions, feelings, lines of dialogue, etc. Don’t worry about the rhymes now, do that later. Also leave a blank line or two between each one you write because you’re bound to look back over and start to shape it up–by thinking of alternate lines or by rhyming lines you’ve already written. What happens during the “stream of consciousness” process is that you pull out a lot of ideas and make a lot of creative hookups and links that you might not ordinarily make when you’re trying too hard. You also avoid getting hung up trying to make something rhyme or make your meter tight at the expense of flow and focus. Once you’ve filled a few pages, you’ll have a better concept of how to structure the idea and you’ll also have come up with some great lines, some rhythmic feels that those lines may suggest and some good rhymes that will feel natural because you’ll be writing closer to the way you think and speak. At that point you can start a new page with the best lines you’ve come up with. Hopefully, you’ve found (1. an intriguing way to start the song, (2. some kind of linear direction for the lyric to develop so you’re not being redundant, and (3. a short, catchy chorus that crystalizes the concept of the song and has a meter and feel that’s different from the verses. One more tip. Don’t erase or throw away anything. That line that didn’t work for this song may work for another.


See all previous entries in the Songmine Series

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: Are You A ‘Craft’ Or ‘Inspiration’ Writer? by John Braheny

A John Braheny Songmine column from the archives…

Songmine: Are You A 'Craft' Or 'Inspiration' Writer? by John Braheny 

Accession Number: C000000137-030-002Document/Digital File, “Songmine: Are You A ‘Craft’ Or ‘Inspiration’ Writer? by John Braheny”, OCR converted text under same Accession Number

(Digitally converted text. Some errors may occur)

Songmine By John Braheny
Are You A ‘Craft’ Or ‘Inspiration’ Writer?

I’ve asked this question of many hit songwriters in the weekly “Hang-Out” interview sessions at the Alternative Chorus Song-writers Showcase. Some, like Gloria Sklerov (“I Just Fall In Love Again”) view writing as a profession, a job; pure craft. They’re very disciplined about it and never refer to the “Cosmos” as a scource of inspiration. They actively look for song ideas in everything they read, watch, listen to and experience. They give little credit to inspiration and approach songwriting as they would a 9 to 5 job that they enjoy. The craft of songwriting is described, more or less, as a design, word engineering and problem-solving experience. It’s like a big puzzle in which the “pieces” come from rhyming dictionaries, thesauruses and real life, and in which there are several right ways to construct the “picture.” Their knowledge of the most effective construction principles gives them a goal and methods which help them put together this picture clearly. Without this command of the craft, “pictures” are created that may be too complex or abstract to be readily appreciated.

Most amateur writers and many writer/artists fall into another general category. I’ll call them “inspiration” writers which, I should add, doesn’t mean that those in the first category never get inspired. Only that in this one, they rely on inspiration rather than craft. My profile of hard core inspiration writers is that they won’t rewrite, feel that the magic moment that they got from the cosmos and put on paper is sacred, and will only write when inspired. It’s the attitude that will stand in the way of success for these writers, regardless of how wonderful their inspirations are. Publishers don’t like to work with this type of writer. Many “inspiration” writer/artists have had short careers because their first LP contained the best of their songs to date. When they’re faced with turning out two LPs a year they discover that they’re too tired to be inspired when they’re on the road for six months and no longer have the luxury of waiting to be inspired.

People who sit down and write a hit song in 10 minutes are usually those who have the craft down so well that they don’t think about it. It’s automatic. They get the idea, focus on exactly what they want to say and the rest of it comes easily. “If you think of a great title, the song writes itself” is a typical statement for that phenomena. There are writers, like Bill Withers, who find it difficult to discuss their creative processes and downplay the craft involved in their work. They deny consciously making craft decisions. The songs, nonetheless, show organized thought processes and good structure. I believe that many successful writers have unconsciously acquired their craftsmanship by osmosis. They’ve been emotionally affected by so many great songs for so long that they instinctively know, for instance, when there “needs” to be a chorus or bridge, when a lyric line could be stronger, etc. They go by “feel,” but behind it there’s been a subconscious analytical process developing. When a writer plays me a song with 12 verses and the “chorus” occurs only once.and it’s nine lines long and none of it rhymes, I know I’m not listening to a natural writer who has unconsciously learned the craft. I’m prompted to ask whether the writer has ever listened to the radio.

There are inherent dangers with both extremes. I’ve heard writers who are trying so hard to write a well crafted, formula “hit” that they forget about imagination and originality and end up with songs that remind me of the “people” in the movie “Westworld” who look great on the outside but have nothing inside but machinery. On the other hand, Ive heard writers with great ideas but no discipline or knowledge of how to communicate them. All that good inspiration goes to waste.

In contrasting “craft” and “inspiration” writers, I’m de-picting two extremes. Ideally, the inspiration is recognized as only the beginning of the songwriting process. The craft gives you the confidence and a dependable vehicle to communicate those inspirations in a way that an audience can easily understand and enjoy.

MAY 1 – MAY 14

See all previous entries in the Songmine Series

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: When in Doubt…”negotiate” II by John Braheny

A John Braheny Songmine column from the archives…

Songmine: When in Doubt... 

Accession Number: C000000137-030-001Document/Digital File, “Songmine: When in Doubt…”negotiate” II by John Braheny”, OCR converted text under same Accession Number

(Digitally converted text. Some errors may occur)

When in doubt… “negotiate”
PART II

Last time we covered some of the ways to give producers and artist financial incentives to record your song without giving them a percentage of the copyright. Giving up or snaring your copyright is, of course, your option, and if you go through a publisher, he/she will want to own a substantial portion, if not all of it. The advantage of dealing with a good publisher is that you don’t have to knock on the doors and wheel and deal yourself. You’ll have someone, ideally, who’s a partner and will put lots of energy and creativity to work to justify the control you’ve given him/her over your creation.

If, however, you enjoy or feel capable of hustling your own deals, you should know what your options are. Publishers themselves have a variety of attitudes about splitting the copyright or using the options we’re discussing in these two articles. They range from, “Under no circumstances will I give up anything; I’m doing the work and I deserve it,” to “I’ll give up what I have to to get the tune recorded.” It depends a lot on the circumstances of each situation. How important, for instance, is this recording? Is this the only artist who could cut the tune? Would this cut be very important in the development of the writer’s career in generating interest in the rest of his/her catalog? If I give this producer a piece of the action am I setting a precedent with him that I’ll regret later? And always, how badly do they want this song? So, if you’re doing the publisher’s work, those are questions that you’ll have to consider.

The option I covered last time was negotiating for a percentage of the mechanical royalties. Another type is “perfor-mance royalties.” That’s the term for all the money received through BMI, ASCAP or SESAC for the performances of your songs on radio, TV, juke boxes and in clubs. Those organizations called performance rights societies pay directly to the publisher and to the writer. This is a different situation from “mechanical” royalties for sales of records and tapes which are paid directly to the copyright owner. If your publisher owns the copyright it comes to him/her, who in turn, according to the terms of your publishing agreement, pays you. If you have a hit song, particularly one that gets played on the radio long after it’s been a hit, your “performance” royalties will make you considerably more money than “mechanicals”. For the purpose of negotiation, there is another important difference between “mechanical” and “perfor-mance” income. It’s that when you receive your earning satement from BMI or ASCAP, they don’t let you know which recording of your song you’re receiving royalties from (SESAC lets you know). So you can’t say, “I’ll give you x percent of the publisher’s share of the performance income on this particular record.” There have been many cases where two different versions of the same song are on the charts at the same ,time, or one is a country cover of a pop record. So, in the case of performance royalties,you could say;’,I can give you x percent of the publisher’s share of performance money for the first four quarters (the payments are received quarterly),” or maybe until the quarter before the next recording of this song is released. Whoever you’re negotiating with might say, with possible justification, that, were it not for the success of the first record, the second would not have been made. He/she should be reminded that the odds are against an album cut making much . performance money, and the offering of a percentage on performances should be an incentive for a producer or artist to release the song as a single.

Another factor that can be negotiated is the number of units sold, in the case of mechanicals, or, in the case of both mechanicals and performances, the amount of money received is a parameter. In other words, “I’ll give you x percent of the money until you’ve received x thousands of dollars.”

In closing, if you choose to deal with producers and artists directly, and they want some financial incentive, you just need to know that, as they say, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat,” and,  “Everything is negotiable.”

APRIL 17 – APRIL 30

See all previous entries in the Songmine Series

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: When in Doubt…”negotiate” by John Braheny

A John Braheny Songmine column from the archives…

Songmine: When in Doubt... 

Accession Number: C000000137-029-002 Document/Digital File, “Songmine: When in Doubt…”negotiate”by John Braheny”, OCR converted text under same Accession Number

(Digitally converted text. Some errors may occur)

Songmine
BY JOHN BRAHENY

When in doubt… “negotiate”

A recent incident prompted this article; a writer I know happened to get to the manager of a major R&B/pop crossover group. The manager loved her song and felt it was so good that the group may want to record it despite the fact that the group usually wrote their own songs. He asked her if the group could have the publishing if they recorded it. She said, “No.” He said, “Goodbye.” She said she was totally unprepared to deal with the situation and had no idea what to say. She was excited that he liked it, but thought that when he wanted the publishing he was trying to rip her off.

There were three reactions to her story. The first was, “Right on; don’t let them have the publishing. You did right! You did the job of the publisher by getting it to him in the first place. Does anyone seriously believe that that manager or that group is going to exploit that song beyond the group’s recording of it?” The second reaction was, “My God. Do you know there are writers who’d sell their kids for an album cut by that group? The writer’s royalties alone are worth thousands, especially if it’s a single. Who cares about giving them the publishing? You give it to them and get a guaranteed recording. If you give it to a real publisher, it might never get cut because they are not going to give up their piece of the action to that group. Either way, you don’t get to keep any of the publishing! It’s just one song and it’ll help build your career.”

The third point of view was mine. While I conceded that both points of view had merit, I wondered why she didn’t negotiate. She answered, “I don’t know. I didn’t even think of it. What’s to negotiate? Either you give them the publishing or you don’t, right?”

Wrong. There are several items that are negotiable. First of all, you don’t want any deal to go into effect until a song is released. So, you don’t want to assign them the publishing rights (if that’s what the deal is) and then have them decide they don’t want to record the tune after all. Then you’ve given away the publishing and no one is out plugging the tune. You can put yuour deal in writing and add a clause that says, “This contract goes into effect on the day this record is released commercially.”

The two major sources of income (mechanical and perfor-mance) are negotiable without transferring your ownership of any of the copyright. Generally, when someone says they want “the publishing” they want ownership of the copyright (and/or the right to collect all income earned by the tune). In the “standard” writer/publisher contract, you assign the copyright to the publisher in a contract which gives you half the income as writer, with the other half going to the publisher. But the publisher owns the song and can sell it to anyone else if he wants to. A good businessperson will always want to own the copyright. It’s a commodity whose value will increase with the song’s degree and length of popularity. So you can’t blame them for going after it. They’re not trying to rip you off, just taking care of business. You need to do the same.

“Mechanicals” refers to the income from the sales of records and tapes at the current rate of two and three-quarters cents per song per unit sold, payable to the copyright owner. For a million seller, that’s $27,500. As the writer, you’ll take half off the top right away, and from the remainder (referred to as the “publisher’s share of mechanicals”), you can offer percentages as an incentive only for their limited exploitation of the song. If someone else later records the song, you don’t end up giving them parts of the mechanicals for that new recording.

Next time I’ll write about the “performance” income, which is also negotiable without giving up your copyright.

APRIL 3 — APRIL 16

See all previous entries in the Songmine Series

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: Collaboration Part IV: Can This Marriage Work? by John Braheny

A John Braheny Songmine column from the archives…

COLLABORATION PART IV:  Can this marriage work? 

Accession Number: C000000137-029-001 Document/Digital File, “Songmine: Collaboration Part IV:  Can This Marriage Work? by John Braheny”, OCR converted text under same Accession Number

(Digitally converted text. Some errors may occur)

Songmine BY JOHN BRAHENY
COLLABORATION PART IV: Can this marriage work?

“My ego is my biggest problem when I collaborate,” says a successful L.A. songwriter. “I have to keep reminding myself that I’m collaborating with this lyricist because I really respect his work and when he offers a suggestion or asks me to change part of my melody to accomodate a lyric, I should give it a shot.” This problem, at least in part, was caused by the fact that he’d written the words and music himself for years and found it difficult to readjust his habits. It typifies a problem faced by all collaborators and unless it can be controlled, it becomes one of the most frequent causes of breakups. A negative and quarrelsome attitude can destroy any type of partnership, especially with people who are sensitive and involved with emotional issues. It’s not always easy to deal with someone who tells you your baby is ugly. Remember that you’re both trying to make it pretty. We all want to believe that, because the baby comes from us, it’s already perfect. Even when you’re writing alone, the ability to step back from your song and look at it objectively is what makes you a professional rather than an amateur songwriter. When you’re working with someone else, that professional attitude becomes doubly important because criticism is a necessary part of the process–a good partner won’t let you get away with ignoring a flaw. It is, in fact, one of the primary benefits of collaborating. The one thing to keep foremost in your mind is that you’re both trying to create the best song possible. All criticism and response to it should be directed toward that goal rather than to protecting your ego by defending something just because you wrote it.

You’ll need to learn not only to accept criticism graciously but to give it. Giving criticism is an art in itself. When you’re beginning a relationship it’s crucial that it be done as gently and positively as possible. As your routine develops and you get more comfortable and trusting with each other you’ll probably work out some shorthand that will speed up the process of criticism. You’ll also get to know which buttons not to push. For instance, there’s a lot of difference between saying That line sucks!” and “Let’s make that line stronger.” The former is an unqualified putdown. The latter acknowledges it could be better, offers a challenge, and implies faith that you and your partner can do it. It’s important that you continuously acknowledge your partner’s talent and compli-ment his/her good ideas. In an atmosphere where your partner knows he/she is respected, criticism becomes much easier. If you find few causes for compliments, you should be writing with someone else.

Approaches to collaboration are as varied as the combinations of individuals involved. It’s very important that you find out right away how your prospective partner likes to work. Here are some of the variables: 1. Writing lyric and music alone and getting together later. Some people get very uptight when their partner is in the same room. It disturbs their creative flow. They may be open to criticism and change later but they need to get something to work from first. Some lyricists would rather write to a finished melody and vice versa. This method makes it easier to write by correspondence. Some who write this way will take their melody or lyric to several writers in succession and say “Take this lyric (or tune) for a week. I’ll hear what you’ve come up with then and if I like it, great, and if not I’ll take it to someone else.” For those writers, it saves the hassle of waiting endlessly for a collaborator to finish a song. A very common problem. 2. Writing together in the same room. Writers who work this way love the give and take and instant feedback. They’re into the excitement and high energy level that can happen when they really start to “cook.” It’s particularly good for those who write both lyrics and music so ideas can be stimulated and shared in both areas. With this type of collaboration your compatability becomes more important. What time of day is your best creative time? Can you work every day or once a week? Do you like each other and not feel intimidated? Regardless of the approach, you’ll also need stylistic compatability and you’ll need to decide whether you or your partner also want to collaborate with others. As in all other partnership efforts (including marriage) give and take and understanding are the keys.

MARCH 20 — APRIL 2

See all previous entries in the Songmine Series

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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