The following is from a recent experience I had that contains a couple of valuable lessons.
I was working at an art school where she helps organize a student art show three times a year. Many of the crew members who work with her are young musicians. Hence, the following conversation:
JoAnn: So, have you been gigging lately?
Musician: Yeah, we’re playing once a week in a club.
J: Great, are you doing covers?
J: Playing other people’s hits.
M: Oh, no. We do all our own stuff. Originals.
J: Great. It’s tough to get a paying gig just doing originals. Are you writing the songs?
M: Um, no. There isn’t – we don’t – um, we’re not really writers. We get together and just make stuff up when we rehearse.
COMMENT: Musicians who create original songs/music in a band context rarely think of themselves as “songwriters.” This is a fact that we learned through years of experience with the Los Angeles Songwriters Showcase where, in the ads for our annual “Songwriters Expo” we always made sure to say “for songwriters, BANDS…” etc., so bands knew this included them too.
Bands typically have a vision of a “songwriter” as someone who sits alone with a sheet of staff paper in front of him/her and “writes” music. In fact, an amazing percentage of today’s “songwriters” don’t do anything resembling that scenario, except maybe scribble a lyric idea on a napkin.
Songs are created in every imaginable context from the traditional scenario to recording a guitar riff to “making stuff up” in rehearsal, to creating it a note at a time with sequencing software, to improvising it on stage. Generically, it’s all “songwriting” or “composing,” no matter how antiquated those terms may now seem to newbie musicians.
JoAnn: So do you record the “stuff” you make up?
Musician: Yeah, we just put four of the songs on a CD and we sell them at our gigs.
J: Did you copyright them?
M: Naww, we don’t really want to get into all that heavy business shit. We’re not really serious or anything. We just want to have fun.
J: What if another band heard your song and wanted to play it or record it for themselves?
M: Probably won’t happen but, if it did, I guess that would be cool.
J: How would you get paid?
M: I dunno. I guess it’s not really that important. Like I said, we’re just having fun.
J: (Relentlessly pressing the point.) What if somebody took your song, recorded it and copyrighted it as their own song and five years from now you don’t have a job and you’re living in your car and you hear your song being played on the radio and they’re making big bucks on it?
M: Jeez, that never entered my mind. Isn’t that scenario a little – extreme?
J: Well, I’m sure the guy who wrote “Louie, Louie” never thought it would go anywhere.
M: “Louie, Louie”????
J:A really dumb but fun song that made millions and is the second most recorded song of all time. Richard Berry wrote the song in 1955 and rarely gets credit for it and it took him years to see a cent of royalties.
COMMENT: Laziness and ignorance could cost this new musician big time when all he has to do is go online to http://www.copyright.gov/forms/formsr.pdf and download an SR form to register the songs and the recording of the songs at the same time, send $30 and one copy of the CD (two if published) with the form and then, he’s covered. He can list all the band members as writers. Keep this in mind the next time you’re just “making stuff up.”