Interview with John Braheny
by Doak Turner
Founder of The Nashville Muse
John Braheny is a music industry consultant and mentor/coach for performers and songwriters. He and Len Chandler co-founded the legendary Los Angeles Songwriters Showcase (LASS), a national non-profit service organization for songwriters, from 1971 until joining forces with the Songwriters Guild of America in 1999. In addition to teaching at several conferences and organizations throughout the US and Canada, he has conducted 55 interviews with hit songwriters and producers for United Airlines In-flight (audio) Entertainment. For more information, visit his Web site www.johnbraheny.com .
The first two editions of “The Craft and Business of Songwriting” are credited to helping many hit songwriters including Jon Ims (She’s in Love with the Boy) achieve their songwriting skills. Jon Ims says, “Braheny’s Craft and Business of Songwriting (first edition) helped me organize my talent and motivated me to do something with it. The book was a godsend for someone like me living outside of the music business inner circle.
Diane Warren says on the back of the book, “The Craft and Business of Songwriting” offers practical street – level look at today’s world of songwriting. It’s essential reading for anyone contemplating a career as a professional songwriter, Read and Learn. Dianne Warren was a member of John’s LASS organization in the 70’s.
“The Craft and Business of Songwriting 3rd Edition” by John Braheny hit the bookstores October 2006.
Doak – Why did you find it necessary to do a new edition?
As you know, Doak, the landscape for songwriters and writer/artists has changed pretty dramatically since my 02 edition. Technological advances and the creation of more services to support indie artists have enhanced their efforts to be entrepreneurs. More opportunities are available in film/TV, video games etc., and I wanted to expand the info writers need to deal with that fast growing market. I wanted them to know how to approach music libraries, song-placement companies and music publishers who specialize in audio-visual music. I think it’s really important that writers know what takes place on the other side of the desk with those companies to be able to approach them professionally and effectively rather than just shotgunning their CDs out there hoping somebody will discover their songs.
Doak – When you look back – I believe the first book came out almost 20 years ago – what are the most dramatic changes you’ve seen for songwriters – any in the craft and what ones on the biz side really stand out to you?
The first edition came out in 1988. CDs were six years old and gaining fast on cassettes but cassettes were the way writers pitched their songs. Some of the major artists then were Steve Winwood, Guns ‘n Roses, George Michael, Bon Jovi, U2 and Anita Baker, Whitney Houston and INXS. In country there were George Strait, Dwight Yoacam, Keith Whitley, Rosanne Cash, Oak Ridge Boys, Alabama, Reba, The Judds. Hip Hop and Rap were well -established by then with NWA, Public Enemy, Run DMC among others and the big topic of discussion was sampling and whether rap’s explicit language would corrupt kids. Disaffected grown-up music fans who were raised on pop and rock were starting to gravitate to country and so were a lot of pop writers who started moving to Nashville in hopes of actually making a living writing “real” songs. I could go on and on about that but, for me, I believe that all popular music styles are valid though I saw Hip-Hop as primarily a producer’s medium (still is) and I focused more on traditional songwriting. I came to realize later that the most successful Hip-Hop uses relatively the same kinds of structures as pop hits though there was more creative latitude because the writer/producers were in control. With the advent of cheap home multi-track recording more and more writers were also becoming producers, at least for creating their own demos.
When digital recording come in, it really escalated and I needed to reflect that transformation in the 2002 edition. The Digital Audio Workstation was probably the biggest tech innovation that changed the way writers, especially pop and Hip-Hop writers, could work. They could lay down tracks first and start to create and control how they wanted the song to sound (though sampled guitars still sound like crap).
Another factor on the creative side is that, since people can download individual tracks now, it’s more important than ever that writers come up with better songs. It used to be that publishers and record companies provided more of a filter before the indie DIY revolution but now too many writers just write songs and record them without any song feedback so there’s a lot of terrible stuff out there along with the good stuff. On the other hand, more of my consulting business is about helping writers improve and chose their best songs. So I can’t complain too much.
On the business side, once everybody had CD players, CDs replaced cassettes as the medium for pitching and with the Internet it’s gone to sending audio files online, though CDs are still hanging in there. The Internet also changed the way licensing was done and provided lots of new income streams and media – like music for video games and cell-phone ringtones you can buy online. Music for audio-visual use is exploding as more writer/artists/bands control both their songs and master recordings. Writers can produce broadcast quality recordings and relatively inexpensive high-definition video cameras are within reach of teens. Now we just have to teach them to license the music for their videos before they upload it to YouTube. The legal system and copyright law are still trying to catch up with the changes that all these tech advances have brought, so in the new edition I get into the new digital royalties available to writers and artists.
Doak – What kinds of information did you add for audio-visuals.
Info on how to get to music supervisors for film/TV and a Work For Hire Agreement. A lot of writers aren’t aware that when they do demos they need to have Work For Hire agreements signed by their musicians and singers before they can claim to own the master recordings. I included a list of all the ways music is used in film/TV and the codes used on cue sheets to designate those uses. I also include a sample cue sheet and a list of the best tip sheets both pros and amateurs use to find out about projects they can pitch to. There’s a lot more but those are just a few that I didn’t have in the last edition.
Doak – Aside from audio-visual arena, what other topics did you expand on?
Lots of other musical arenas are expanded in the book with web resources and interviews – children’s music, musical theatre, getting a record deal, why you may not want a record deal, etc.
Doak – I noticed that you’ve always included contributions by other experts in your book. Have you continued that in your new edition?
Absolutely. Obviously I’m not an expert on everything I feel writers need to know about. But I have made a point of finding out where to get that information. I feel very strongly about giving writers access to the best info. I just happen to know people who are experts in fields I’m not as experienced with or, even if I am, there are those who can explain it better. For example, David Cat Cohen is a wonderful pop music teacher and he’s always written the chapter on composing music so he updated that section and his examples. I also recommended other great books that can take readers a lot deeper than I could go within the scope of my book. Another example is that I asked Jeannie Novak to write a piece on the concepts involved in writing music for video games. I’d never seen that in other general songwriting books and Jeannie has written books on the topic. I asked Berklee lyric prof, Pat Pattison, to write a piece on what he calls the “No” Free Zone after telling me about his first collaboration in Nashville. Great stuff! Jon Ims wrote a breakdown of the techniques he used in writing “She’s In Love With The Boy” that’s a great lesson in re-writing all by itself. I used the critique sheet I developed for TAXI as a writer’s checklist for their songs by explaining all the points on the list. Lots of stuff like that.
Doak – What part of the book did you expand the most?
The chapter On Marketing Yourself and Your Songs. I came up with a lot more lists of services and websites and added sections on Blogging and Podcasting among other things as well as some legal opinions on Podcasting.
Doak – Were there other topics you wanted to add but couldn’t?
Yeah. One of the frustrating things is that there are new legal developments happening all the time regarding music licensing. There’s stuff that’s still being worked out, contested, fought about and it’ll still be in process after this goes to press. So the best I could do was say “Watch these websites (including johnbraheny.com) for further developments. Actually that’s one of the things I’ve always found fascinating about the business. Just when you think you know something – it changes. So it keeps me on my toes – but I like that.
Doak – are you looking forward to the next edition?
Are you kidding? It took me about 9 months to birth this baby and I was still working on it while I was on the road last May and June and I’m finally back to not having to tell my consult clients they’ll have to wait a little longer for their critiques and consults. No, I’m not looking forward to it but I’m always in the info-freak mode so I’ll keep collecting info anyway. When it gets to the place where I think too much of the info in this edition is obsolete, I’ll do a fourth edition.
Doak – Thanks John, your books have certainly been a blessing to me. I recommend songwriters read your book FIRST! I tell every songwriter I meet to read your book!
Thanks Doak – You’re one of the real “good guys” in Nashville, you provide a great service with The Nashville Muse, and I’m grateful for your support of the book.
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