DIY Does not Mean Do It Alone
Performing Songwriter & WCS Board Member Kaitlin McGaw is our latest blogger...on creating partnerships...
As performing songwriters in today’s music world, we are expected to be able to do it all, and DIY (do-it-yourself). Luckily we’ve got tons of relevant career tools at our fingertips, from recording software to musician websites, doing everything from helping track our demos to connecting us with booking and licensing opportunities. Honestly, I’ve found the whole gamut a bit daunting to navigate and keep on top of, especially while trying to keep up with what I really want to be doing – singing, writing, and performing. But we have to do it all in today’s market, so I’ve learned HTML, Photoshop, accounting, PR, and all the in betweens (still working on the engineering bit!). And amongst all of the learning, the most valuable lesson I’ve learned thus far is that I don’t have to do it alone.
A few years ago, right before my first album came out, I attended a St. Louis music conference designed by Bob Baker that focused on goal-setting – breaking dreams into projects, and projects into tasks. In the last 10 minutes of the conference, as we all bid farewell to one another, I met Mari Rosa, a singer-songwriter from New York. We talked and laughed for just a few minutes, and decided to pair up as “accountability partners” toward tackling our goals, through weekly check-in phone calls.
One week later, Tuesday at 4 p.m., I was dialing a Brooklyn number to share my most precious dreams to a woman I hardly knew. We each spoke for about 20 minutes about what we wanted to achieve in the coming year, which included everything from re-launching my website to her wanting to book shows at certain clubs in NYC. She gave me instant feedback on both the tasks I had shared and the broader process of what I was hoping to accomplish. As awkward a blind date it was, it was magical. For the next six months, our Tuesday afternoons included a cross-country conversation about our dreams and plans, our triumphs and challenges. We gave one another virtual high-fives for tasks accomplished: updated website this week, check! Wrote my newsletter, check! And we shared tips on how to tackle the challenges – our experiences were not so dissimilar in the ups and downs of it all.
By December of that year, Mari and I realized that we had both made significant progress on one of our mutual goals: to be able to perform a solo show on piano, and be able to accompany ourselves without bands. We set a new goal together, and it was lofty. We were going to tour together as solo artists, in five months time. We selected the California Coast and SouthWest, and true to form, we booked 7 shows and made it happen. (Followed by another tour of the Northwest and shared dates at great clubs in Boston and San Francisco.) It had been only 15 months since we partnered up, and we had achieved our individual goals, and managed to do so without feeling completely on our own. Do it Alone was now a thing of the past for each of us.
Mari and I (still 3000 miles apart) continue to support one another in our goals and dreams as singer-songwriters, though our calls are no longer on a weekly basis. It has given me the ability to track my own goals better, knowing that one week later my Pavlov reaction is to make sure I’ve made progress! Each of us now have similar support and resource from our local communities. Mari is teaming up with several other Boston singer-songwriters – writing together, performing together, and sharing the joy and struggle of the grind together. In the Bay Area, I have an informal group West Coast Songwriters folks who get together for brainstorming sessions and resource sharing (which helped Billy Schaefer get on the road this fall!) and to share some laughs along the way. Similarly, in my work as a children’s music performer (with Alphabet Rockers) I’ve found a great support system in a new collective of similar performers called “Let’s Play,” which in our first meet-up, left me feeling connected, supported and encouraged in the field of entertaining children and families.
The best news of all of this is that after two years of talking weekly with Mari Rosa, we became best friends – it’s inevitable. She’s like the wingman to my music!! I have someone to send the draft of a new song before I show it to my band. I have someone to double-check whether the flyer I laid out works (she always has great visual input). I have someone to go on the road with. Basically, I’m still doing it myself, but I’m never alone.
Finding a partner to DIT! (Do-it-together):
1. Write up your goals for the next year – and what you hope to achieve within the next three months. There is a ton of info online on how to do this efficiently (google goal-setting, time management, or any of these broad concepts). But just do something – start writing it down and making timeframes for what needs to happen. (Versus spending 20 hours reading blogs of self-defined super-productive experts, and getting overwhelmed!)
2. Identify someone who is can commit to you for three-months of weekly phone calls or emails. Best idea would be to choose someone you genuinely respect and like – because it will allow you to be a bit vulnerable and admitting when you feel like a dork, loser, or whatever story you’ve made up about how frustrating it is that we have to do this stuff amidst just trying to be artists.
3. Set a time/date for talking – and don’t alter it. If you put it off, a week will go by and you’ll be out of sync with the process. Think of it like “date night” – for those of you who are married and need to use this nouveau cultural practice to make sure you stay on track together.
4. Keep track of your goals on paper so at the end of three months you can see what you’ve learned and achieved. (I still have scraps from years ago. And I finally launched my new website this year!! www.kaitlinmcgaw.com)
5. Keep making music. That’s the most important part of all of this. Write your songs, practice them, and share them. If you keep them to yourself, than it will just be doing-it-alone! Come to the West Coast Songwriters monthly song contests and meet other songwriters, perform, laugh, and connect.
Ted Hewitt of Nashville
Guest Blog Entry from Tami Mulcahy, WCS Board Member
Find Your Fellow Travelers – one of the many great lines given in an interview with Ted Hewitt of Nashville. Not much of an interview really, at least not in the beginning. I came with my list of questions, thinking I would take the angle of covering thecurrent state of the country music industry. But Ted just started talking and went practically non-stop on his own inspirational pulpit. A very humble, soft-spoken man, he put out one gem of wonderfulness after another. I will dare to paraphrase if I can’t quote exactly...
"It's about the emotion, pushing the boundaries, being the champion of the song. It's good to have diverse musicality"
It's easy to be dazzled by talent. There are a ton of talented people. But the components of success are 60/40. 40% talent and 60% being smart and driven.
Be picky about what you record as if you have little money. It makes you be choosy so you only record what you feel really good about.
Some songs are stiff (dead). But every song is a stepping stone and you just need to keep showing up...keep doing it until you get that magical one.
Likewise, young artists should connect with songwriters who can elevate their songs too.
There are so many great artist writers but it's good to know the value of an outside song. Know what it takes to write a great song or to recognize one.
You may have a great song idea but you have to execute it. Be in the receiving mode and the song will come to you.
Country music is still a radio driven market. You have to connect with the major stations. But they won't commit to an artist unless the artist has a catalog.
And finally - my personal favorite - Be drawn to people who believe in you. Find your fellow travelers. Together with them you are more than the sum of your parts. It's a spiritual journey as much as anything else.
Whitney talks about the conference
As we begin our new season of song competitions, screenings and mixers I thought it invaluable to share some information from our Conference Blogger, Whitney Nichole. If you haven't attended a song screening yet...think twice! Thank you Nicole for such a fabulous description!!
One of the great things about the conference was the amount of feedback songwriters were able to get – directly from industry professionals. After lunch , I headed for my first song-screening by the TV & Film group – including Chris Austria, Kurt Kunselman& Steffen Franz of IDC. I walked in a bit nervous and slightly unprepared. I was the 10th person in the list, so I got to hear a bunch of other critiques first. In general, the panelists were pretty positive. Very substantive comments – I heard “shorten that intro” – “spread the mixing out in that song” – “make sure you only send mastered tracks” – “copyright your work!” My song was up, my heart was beating fast, and… the CD didn’t play. Apparently I’m the last to learn, when you burn a CD on iTunes, you must choose “audio format” and not “mp3.” Luck on my side, the lovely song-screeners agreed to listen to my song on my computer. They gave me some great feedback, which I won’t bore you with – but everyone here should make sure to utilize these screenings. They are invaluable!
One of the most helpful things I came away with is that if you want to place your music in TV & Film, make things as easy as possible for the music supervisor; well packaged, produced, written, performed & easy to stream to your computer from a simple SoundCloud link. No Myspace for these IDC men…
Written by Whitney Nichole
West Coast Songwriter Member & Blogger
Singer-Songwriter & Vocal Coach
KC Turner & Megan Slankard discussing the house concert revolution, moderated by Tami Mulcahy. You may recognize KC Turner from his Bay Area House Concert Series, his various Open Mic Gigs, and simply KC Turner, the musician. He begins by telling us how he started, since being introduced to the world of House Concerts by another Bay Area Veteran, Drew Pearce, KC fell for the idea of intimate house concerts. In the last 5 years he’s gone from small shows in his 1 bedroom apartment in Novato, to hosting local celebrities like Matt Nathanson & Bob Schneider at houses holding up to 100 people.
Megan is here representing the artist/performer’s perspective of the House Concert. Megan Slankard has been writing and perf orming her fantastic original music for the last ten years in and around San Francisco. She represents the independent artist, having sold over 22,000 records on her own. KC & Megan have recently collaborated on multiple house concerts, and I can attest to their success! Megan went into depth about why she loves this type of venue, because the audience is so attentive & respectful. At these shows, you get to meet fans individually, thank them for their support and make a connection. Ultimately, it results in a memorable experience for the audience members and a lasting fan-relationship for the artist.
Our seminar had some specific questions about how to find a house, what to prepare & how much to expect in payment. KC & Megan recommended just reaching out to your friends, fans & family – announcing that house concerts are something you’re interested in doing. Asking that people contact you if they would be interested. Considering location, size, parking & host’s friendliness when choosing a home. Megan talked about the value of house concerts on tour – as a place to stay & perform for a night; then hopefully take home a decent profit in door & CD sales. Her advice was to make sure you have plenty of contact with the host beforehand & have discussed all details – so you know exactly what is expected of you – and so they know what you are expecting of them. Another great tour idea for independent musicians was to “Show Swap” with artists akin to your music, in other cities. Although it varies case by case, in general hosts don’t take any door money – they do it for their love & support of local music.
Megan wrapped her love of house concerts up well, “I want fans for life, real connections.” These intimate shows are the perfect way to do it.
Written by Whitney Nichole
West Coast Songwriter Member & Blogger
Singer/Songwriter & Vocal Coach
Pointers on Pitching at the Conference
- Make sure to listen to your CD’s to make sure they play. I can’t tell you how many times a CD goes into the player and it’s blank….nothing on it!
- Put your details on the CD – Name, phone number email address if you can. Think long term. If the address and phone number are transitional put one that you know will be good in a couple of years…your mother’s address?? Sometimes a song is pitched and held onto for a long period of time. I know of a couple of instances where publishers have called me to see if I have a current address or contact information for someone, because the info on their CD doesn’t work any more. One time they had the placement for a song and had to make a decision between going with their first choice (the person they couldn’t reach) and a second song that wasn’t perfect for the placement but would work. I tried everything to reach them….had people knocking on their door at different times of the day…to no avail. The publisher went with their second choice….sad I know!
Are you pitching to TV and Film?
- Is your recording master quality and what does that mean? Master quality is normally a studio recorded song that has been mastered. Everything is in balance…instruments and voice. If you are the vocalist on the track and you’re mixing it yourself, it’s hard to be too critical of your own performance.
- Make sure the vocal is on pitch and that it’s where it should be in the mix.
- Try turning the volume down so you can barely hear your song. That will give you a better reference as to how balanced the instruments are.
- Does something stick out like a sore thumb? The snare too loud? Is the vocal buried? We all have a habit of listening to our songs at a loud volume, which might not be the easiest way to check out the mix.
- How does your song compare to one of you favorite songs recorded by a major artist?
- Try comparing the sound of each of them by A + B through your sound system.
- When you mix your song make a mix with and without the vocal, This is a must for TV and film. You’ll need to give them both mixes so they can choose to use the version with lyrics as long as it doesn’t clash with the scene they’re using it for. It’s OK to pitch the song and do the mix later.
- Has everyone who’s played on your recording signed off on it. Even if you’ve paid the musicians on your recording it’s important to get them to sign off at the end of the project. The publisher/supervisor will need to make sure that you own the master and that all the players have signed off on your song before he would place it in the movie/TV.
Are you pitching to a publisher with the thought that your song would be recorded by a major artist?
- If so, think about what artist could record your song. Do your homework to make it easier for the publisher. When the publisher asks “Who would record this song?” you can be ready with your answer. It helps if you can think of more than one artist that could record it.
- Would it be a natural progression from the artists’ last record? Why would they record it? Do they do ‘outside’ songs. In other words do they only record songs they write themselves.
- Do some research. Some artists surround themselves with a team. Check to see if there’s a song on their record they didn’t write. If so, was it written by their producer? If a publisher is interested in your song and wants to take it with them, ask how you should follow up.
- If Your Song is taken by the reviewer they are saying that they’re taking it for further review, sometimes to bring it to other people at the company they work for to get another opinion.
What Happens if My Song is Signed?
- If the publisher signs your song, you will be in a partnership with him/her.
- Don’t expect them to do all the work. Continue to figure out who could record your song.
- Try and find a way to get the artist to hear your song. It’s better they receive it from two sources rather than none. I’ve heard of some pretty creative ways songs have been presented to artists….but that's another blog.
- The publisher will not hand you a contract on the spot. You will have time to have any contract sent to you reviewed by a music attorney, so you don’t have to freak out.
What if You are the Recording Artist?
If so, the publisher will look at it differently. When you’re pitching to another artist, the screener has to decide whether it’s a song the artist would record, whereas if you’re the artist and you’ve written the song, you probably would be able to record it.
Does your song represent you? Remember, not every song you write will be right for you as an artist. That’s OK, these songs can be pitched to other artists, or be recorded and pitched for TV & Film.
- Keep intro’s short.
- Edit out guitar solos. As much fun as it was to play the part, it will detract from the listen and the publisher will stop it-dead in it's track!
More later. I’ve got to get back to working on the Conference and look forward to seeing you there!
Enrique's Finished Song
You've had plenty of time to listen to the original song, write down your own thoughts and then compare them with Enrique's. NOW, is the moment of truth..the final song!
Arron Dean's final version: HAPPY HOUR. (If you can't access the song directly, please right click and 'save as" You will then be able to access from your system...
NOW, imagine what Enrique could do for YOUR song!!! We are so happy to be able to announce that Enrique will be doing a workshop to help master your song at the conference!
Don't Miss this opportunity....I can truly say this workshop is a gem...
So sign up now for the conference and get into the workshop. You'll be thankful and amazed at what he can do for you.
What does Produced, Engineered and Arranged Really Mean?
Enrique Gonzalez Muller very kindly shared his work with me as I was curious about the inner workings of projects produced, arranged and engineered by him. Enjoy this... and meet him in person at the conference.
Today I was talking to a young singer/songwriter who is interested in working with me and after chatting for a while she asked "...but exactly what does 'produced, arranged and engineered by Enrique Gonzalez Muller' mean?”... I told her that unfortunately there isn't a stock answer for that question but the best way to illustrate it was for her to check out projects that I've produced. The problem there, is that there is no before and after. The audience seldom hears what the original demo sounded like, they just get to listen to the final finished product. Fortunately I just completed a project where the artist has given me permission to share his demos and final album tracks even before they are officially released! So... I thought it would be interesting, for anybody out there who is curious, to hear what does the "before andafter" sound like on a project I've produced, arranged and engineered.
The artist's name is Arron Dean and the name of the song is HAPPY HOUR. As a first step, you should check out theoriginal demo recording that Arron Dean sent me so you can hear where we started at and then, I will walk you through every step of the process. My job for this specific project was to take his demo and then suggest musical changes to improve the structure and mood of the song, the chords, the melodies and then dream up an arrangement for it (ie. create and write all the musical accompaniment that goes beyond his original acoustic guitar and lead vocal, select and hire all the musicians, getting them well rehearsed, record them individually in the studio, coaching everybody's performance, drawing out 110% of their talents and finally mixing the multitrack recording).
So listen to the ORIGINAL DEMO RECORDING and takes notes on your personal impressions on it… "Is the message that it wants to convey intelligible and coming through? Does the song keep you engaged? Is it repetitive? Is it all over the place? How would YOU improve it?…" On the second installment I will share my initial impressions and specific notes on how to approach the production on HAPPY HOUR. (NOTE: If you are having trouble accessing this - right click on the link and hit "Save As"...then you're able to open it in your browser)
I hope this gives you a small peek onto what I do and keep in mind that every project is completely different and every music genre has its different challenges and demands. That's what's fun about it... it's different every single time.
So... listen carefully to the original HAPPY HOUR and check back in for the second chapter of What does Produced, Arranged and Engineered Really Mean?
When Ian and I were at ASCAP's I Create Music Expo last April, we ran into Ralph and asked if we could share his insightful article with our members. He generously said of course! Enjoy!
Written by Ralph Murphy Monday, 08 March 2010 22:31
I get a lot of heat for studying only #1 records. Strangely enough, not from the writers, publishers or artists that have one. My feeling is that if the “business” feels it is worth promoting, pushing, bullying or outright buying a record to the top, they must be pretty confident in the “foundation” that the artist’s career is built on…..the song. So, no matter how they got to the dance, here are the songs that went to the #1 ball. In line with “no one throws a # 2 party” this is a look at what made it to No. 1 in 2009.
The number one songs of 2009 continued a trend that started at the beginning of the decade. For the last ten years, there has been a substantial increase in the number of #1 records. For instance, this year, ’09, there were 31 #1s up from 26 last year ‘08, and 21 back in ’04.
The number of writers participating in the cheese and shrimp, speeches and backslapping increased from 49 last year to 71 this year. What that means is each writer’s work has less total time on the charts. The longest chart records were Chris Young’s “Getting You Home” and Lady Antebellum’s “I Run To You” at 38 weeks. Look back at Steve Holy “Good Morning Beautiful” at 41 weeks or Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats” at 46 weeks respectively, about 2 months more than ‘09’s crop. The times they are a changing!!!
Race to #1
The fastest travelers up the chart were Carrie Underwood’s “Cowboy Casanova” and Brad Paisley’s “Then” with 10 week runs to the top. Unfortunately Carrie was also the fastest off the charts—on and gone in 14 weeks, while Brad hung around for a total of 17 weeks.
There were 8 records that were on, and peaked in 15 weeks or less—Carrie and Brad as well as Kenny Chesney “Out Last Night,Jason Aldean “Big Green Tractor”, Rascal Flatts “Here comes Goodbye”, Toby Keith “American Ride”, Sugarland “It Happens, and Lady Antebellum “Need You Now” it was interesting to note that records seemed to take a little longer than last year to climb the charts. Eleven of the thirty-one, slightly over one-third took 20+ weeks to get to #1.
As most of these artists have had hits before, it would be easy to attribute their fast rise to star power and fan familiarity, but there were 4 newcomers to the #1 club in (09) - Mac McAnally (although paired with Kenny Chesney) “Down The Road”, Chris Young “Getting You Home (The Black Dress Song)”, Justin Moore “Small Town USA” and Lady Antebellum “I Run To You” and “Need You Now”. As a matter of fact, 2 of the 4 newcomers took the longest to get to #1- Chris Young and Justin Moore, so maybe they just had to earn their way there. “Small Town USA” was 33 weeks to #1 and winning the prize for longest ascent goes to “Getting You Home” at 35 weeks. Those two were also the longest lived on the charts at 35 and 38 weeks respectively along with Lady Antebellum “Run To You” (38 weeks).
Notable is the haste that records moved off the charts. Two to three weeks after they hit #1 seems to be the average amount of time spent in the sun. That by the way is the opposite of what happens to Pop songs on The Billboard Hot 100 Songs. Those records race to the top and then hang around for months!
In 2008, 50% of the #1s were written in whole or in part by the artist. This year, that trend continued and accelerated with 19 of the 31 #1s having the artist as the writer or one of the writers. Almost 2/3 of all #1s were “inside” jobs. How that will affect publishers business plans in the future will be almost as interesting as watching how non-performing writers respond to this new challenge.
Well, somebody rolled the dice and went with a waltz and danced all the way to #1. “Already Gone” got the job done forSugarland and gave them the 1st of their 2 #1s for 2009. The other 30 chart toppers were all 4/4, tempo almost equally shared between ballads, including “Already Gone” (9 of them), midtempo (12) and up-tempo (10).
Intros were pretty consistently within the 13-18 second range, with only “Start A Band” by Brad Paisley & Keith Urban going over that, with a feature at the front of the record, 24 seconds long, of them swapping guitar licks. However, the intro after that was only 17 seconds long. “River of Love” came in at 24 seconds to be the longest intro and at the other extreme, was the Chesney/McAnally’s “Down The Road” and “Alright” Darius Rucker who did away with the intro, started the track and vocal at almost the same time although “She Wouldn’t Be Gone” Blake Shelton, started at 3 seconds. But, just for fun, if you add all the intros together and average them out, you’d arrive at the old industry standard of 13 seconds.
Look at “Cowboy Casanova,” using the third person “him while talking to you” allowed Carrie Underwood to caution her pal “That boy is like a disease” “the devil in disguise” and “you’d better run for your life”. Using third person pronouns, “She’s Country” allowed Jason Aldean to cover the country virtues of every woman from South Carolina to Kansas, be inclusive, and not exclude any southern woman from his celebration. “ It Won’t Be Like This For Long,” in the third person, allowed Darius Rucker to walk us through what it’s like to be a father without personally having to be one. 12 were first person (I, Me) talking about third person (Him, Her, she and Them) which allowed the singer to extol third party virtues like in Toby Keith’s “God Love Her,” Dierks Bentley’s “Feel That Fire” or tell a great story in Billy Currington’s “People Are Crazy”. Over 50% (16 of 31) were first person (You, Me, I, Us, We) which is in line with country songs being a linear, lyrical conversation between two people- you and me.
The largest group of #1 songs had romantic love as its theme, so obviously romance is alive and well at drive time. Twelve or about 1/3 of 2009’s #1s were romantic love songs. Illustrations of that would be “Then” Brad Paisley “taking 45 minutes to kiss goodnight”, Chris Young “watching your baby blue eyes dancing in the candlelight glow”.
Love of Family
Examples would be Darius Rucker’s “It Won’t Be Like This For Long” where the Papa is dropping “her off at preschool” and thinking “about walking her down the aisle” and Kenny Chesney & Mac McAnally’s “Down the Road” questioning whether the prospective son-in-law is “washed in the blood or just in the water” and if he makes enough money “to take his daughter”.
Love of Country
“American Ride” was the vehicle for Toby Keith to talk wryly about America saying “Gotta love this American ride.” Rodney Atkins celebrated America with “It’s America” where “People came from miles around just to help their neighbors out”.
Great examples of heartache are “She Wouldn’t Be Gone” where Blake Shelton was “screamin’ out her name at the windshield” and he “cried like a baby to her best friend” and “Here Comes Goodbye” Rascal Flatts where they knew that “here comes the start of every sleepless night” and love had traveled “from good to gone”.
For the fortunate few finding new love, the examples are Jason Aldean’s “Big Green Tractor” where he had to “dust off the seat” so she could go for a ride on his “big green tractor” and Rascal Flatts “Here” where they took “every stumbled step” down “a million roads” to get to the one they love.
The boys had a ball in “Out Last Night” Kenny Chesney where he “drank too much beer last night” and “everybody was some kind of star,” and we got to “lay in the hot sun and roll a big fat one” with Zac Brown’s “Toes”.
Under the “I’ll show him” category came Carrie Underwood with “Cowboy Casanova” bringing his “candy-coated misery”.
Billy Currington with “People are Crazy” where Billy sat and talked about “old dogs and new tricks and habits we ain’t kicked” and “some guy he barely knew” left him his fortune! Montgomery Gentry with “Roll With Me” showed why it’s a good thing to be a part of the world and celebrate the simple things.
Justin Moore and friends made a list of hometown virtues “a little Hank Jr. and a six pack of light” and “a Sunday morning that full of grace” and listeners responded in “Small Town USA”.
So, we’ve covered the spectrum of all issues Country. It would seem that having a lot of total #1s allowed for much more canvas to paint on, so a lot of themes could be included.
Songs over 4 minutes (8) were up slightly from last year (7). “Start a Band” (Keith & Brad) at 5:22 takes the prize but 24 seconds at the top is a personality piece with Brad and Keith swapping guitar licks. So, without that and looking at the last minute plus as an instrumental (which you’d expect from two great guitar players) which radio had the option to shorten based on need it comes back down to the norm. There were, however, three that were under 3 minutes long, so compared to last year, songs were somewhat shorter. The bulk, twenty songs, were between 3 and 4 minutes.
This form made only 1 appearance at #1, but Billy Currington rode “People Are Crazy” all the way to the top.
Pre-chorus or lift
Chorus or title
Pre-chorus or lift
Pre-chorus or lift (optional)
Next up with six appearances at #1 4th Form. Prime examples of 4th Form are “Alright” Darius Rucker and “She Wouldn’t Be Gone” Blake Shelton.
2nd Form is used a lot in rock and roll and was used very appropriately by Brad & Keith on “Start a Band” and Keith Urban on “Sweet Thing” among others.
and out (an instrumental can be put in before or after the bridge if you feel the need!).
As usual, 3rd Form was the most used and seems to be the most accessible structure. Again this seems to be the form of choice for listeners receiving their drive time song fix. “Here Comes Goodbye” Rascal Flatts and “Then” Brad Paisley are good illustrations. Songs with that listener friendly shape took 17 of the #1s, over 50 %!
We watched as repetition of title shrank after radio slowed the climb of songs substantially some years ago. Back then this changed records moving from 18 weeks to get to #1 to 28 weeks to get to the top….sometimes more! However with the speed up of records to #1 and because of that, less burn factor from multiple repetitions, we seem to be moving a little closer to pop in terms of repetition. You will note I have said “a little closer” because in studying the pop #1s, one of the most prominent features is the use of the title within the first few seconds of the record and multiple uses throughout. Again the only #1 that had those features was “Alright” Darius Rucker with the title upfront and holding the ‘09 record at most repetitions of title at 22. The bulk of the rest of the records 2/3 or 22 out of 31 had between 3 (Cowboy Casanova) and 10 repetitions. The “story” at country appears to still be the main ingredient, not repetition.
All of the above was abundantly evident throughout the songs. One that caught all of the elements is “People Are Crazy” Billy Currington. But when lines like “She Wants the toy in the cracker jack” “make every stray a pet” or hear a couple of very successful artists say they wanted to get their “picture in the hometown paper” (Start A Band) or “buy their mommas a Cadillac” (Start a Band) or ‘borrow uncle Jake’s mustang’ (“Sweet Thang”) or her ‘trusty rusty had a flat’ in (“It Happens”). Just hearingTaylor Swift envying some other girl and saying “she’s cheer captain, I’m on the bleachers” is worth the price of admission. Detail, humor, irony was easy to find in this years winners.
Story carried a little more weight (17) than conversational songs (14). However, in some cases, the “stories” had a very conversational quality about them. The old adage that “if you wouldn’t say it, you wouldn’t sing it” held true. Illustrations of the story song would be “Down the Road” Kenny & Mac, “People Are Crazy” Billy Currington, and “It Won’t Be like This For Long”Darius Rucker. Examples of the conversation are “Then” Brad Paisley, “I Run To You” Lady Antebellum, and “You Belong With Me” Taylor Swift.
Advice, hmmmmmmm! Let’s get back to that ‘More and Less’ thing. It would be good to look at the trends that the analysis of last year point to. There are 2 traditional income streams for writers and publishers. Mechanical income received for records sold or downloaded and performance royalties collected by performance organizations wherever songs are performed for profit. If you take the last decade as a template, sales both digital and physical, dropped by 50% which will affect mechanical income and according to media economist Jack Myers who told Inside Radio that he “forecasts radio revenues will fall 18.7% this year” that will lead to a decrease in performance income and writers and publishers will be “splitting the blanket” (to quote my old friend Harlan Howard) much more than they used to.
You might start to panic somewhat. DON’T DESPAIR. The good news is that the demand for music has never been higher. The bad news is that people just don’t want to pay for the use of it. Well, I’ve got real news….they never have!
So, if you’re a smart artist, find some great writers to write with or if you’re a great writer, find a great artist to work with. Knock out a story/conversational song. Spice it up with the appropriate pronouns to make the singer look good/smart/fun/young. Make it 3-4 minutes long being sure that you get to the first use of title in 60 seconds. Try to keep the tempo 4/4. Don’t beat up the title/hook, 3-10 repetitions are just fine. Lean toward 3rd form, but 4th, 2nd or even 5th will work as long as you have a great story. Love in all its variations is just fine, but a life lesson or a little revenge is ok. Spice it up with engaging humor, irony, and detail and you’re ready to roll!
And as you roll that song out remember, we have had a wonderful ride for the last century all due to the effort of our great great great grandparents. They got us a copyright law in place back in 1909 and then fought every theater, bar, club to get compensated for their music. Also, every new technology came along needed what writers created and wanted it for cheap…..read FREE.
All the kind people behind technology were doing us a favor, giving us exposure….you can die of exposure. “New technology” like radio, movies, television all battled us for the right to use music for as little money as possible. The war going forward today is no different to the war that has always been fought. We as creators and copyright owners have been lulled into believing that we are part of an industry that deals with all parts as equal partners in success. Not so. The more that people use what we create and own to make money for themselves, the greater appears to be their sense of entitlement. Well, they can’t do it without us. Breaking new ground and finding new uses for our songs is great if we share in the revenues generated. Without the music there is almost no point in all this wonderful technology other than spoken word and images without the music.
If you think about a breakfast of bacon and eggs, there are 2 animals represented on your plate. The chicken and the pig. Think of the user/customer of the song as the chicken and the songwriter as the pig.
The chicken is involved.
The pig is committed!
Remember, it all really does begin with a song.
Glossary of Songs & Writers (Alphabetical by Title)
• “Already Gone” by Kristian Bush, Jennifer Nettles and Bobby Pinson
• “Alright” by Frank Rogers and Darius Rucker
• “American Ride” by Dave Pahanish and Joseph West
• “Big Green Tractor” by Jim Collins and David Lee Murphy
• “Country Boy” by Alan Jackson
• “Cowboy Casanova” by Mike Elizondo, Brett James and Carrie Underwood
• “Down The Road” by Mac McAnally
• “Feel That Fire” by Brett Beavers, Dierks Bentley, Brad Warren and Brett Warren
• “Gettin’ You Home (Black Dress Song)” by Cory Batten, Kent Blazy and Chris Young
• “God Love Her” by Toby Keith and Vicky McGehee
• “Here” by Steve Robson and Jeffrey Steele
• “Here Comes Goodbye” by Clint Lagerberg and Chris Sligh
• “I Run To You” by Tom Douglas, Dave Haywood, Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott
• “It Happens” Kristian Bush, Jennifer Nettles and Bobby Pinson
• “It’s America” by Brett James and Angelo Petraglia
• “It Won’t Be Like This For Long” by Chris DuBois, Ashley Gorley and Darius Rucker
• “Need You Now” by Dave Haywood, Josh Kear, Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott
• “Only You Can Love Me This Way” by Steve McEwan and John Reid
• “Out Last Night” by Kenny Chesney and Brett James
• “People Are Crazy” by Bobby Braddock and Troy Jones
• “River Of Love” by Billy Brunette, Shawn Camp and Dennis Morgan
• “Roll With Me” by Clint Daniels and Tommy Karlas
• “She’s Country” by Dan Myrick and Bridgette Tatum
• “She Wouldn’t Be Gone” by Jennifer Adan and Cory Batten
• “Sideways” by Brett Beavers and Dierks Bentley
• “Small Town USA” by Brian Dean Maher, Justin Moore and Jeremy Stover
• “Start A Band” by Dallas Davidson, Ashley Gorley and Kelley Lovelace
• “Sweet Thing” by Monty Powell and Keith Urban
• “Then” by Chris DuBois, Ashley Gorley and Brad Paisley
• “Toes” by Zac Brown, Wyatt Durette, John Hopkins and Shawn Mullins
• “You Belong With Me” by Liz Rose and Taylor Swift
Jerry Lawson of the Persuasions
Our Berkeley Chapter Managers, Nomi. Grace and Mike have a very special guest , Jerry Lawson of the Persuasions, coming to the Freight and Salvage on Monday night (July 19th). Jerry is one of the most revered a capella singers in the world. He and the group started in the '60s and has been a force to reckon with ever since. They have traveled the world and grown to have a huge following. Through thick and thin they have stuck together and performed some of the most original and beautiful music.
Jerry will be featured on Sony's The Sing Off, hosted by Nick Lachey in December. The Sing Off is an a capella singer competition that will be aired in December, which I hope will encourage more singers to come and join the world of music!
As a further treat on Monday evening, Jerry will perform two songs for the audience full of WCS Members and friends, this will be a night to remember. Following the performance I have been told that Sony will interview Jerry and then the audience, so come prepared to be on TV.
What a treat for all of us to see such an inspirational man perform amongst the WCS Members.
Come out and support the Berkeley Chapter Finalists and Jerry Lawson! See you there....
Talking Shop: Little Big Town
Interview with Kimberly Schlapman of Little Big Town
Interview by John BoykinLittle Big Town is (left to right) Kimberly Schlapman, Jimi Westbrook, Karen Fairchild, and Phillip Sweet.
Most bands get their distinctive sound by having one lead singer out front. A few have two. But while any of the four members ofLittle Big Town could easily front their own band, they have instead made their mark by merging into a tight four-part harmony band, taking turns singing lead.
Nor do they leave their songwriting to one or two members. Kimberly Schlapman, Karen Fairchild, Phillip Sweet, and Jimi Westbrook write nearly all of their songs together as a coequal team, along with their producer, Wayne Kirkpatrick. So, not surprisingly, the four routinely describe themselves as a family.
They have been making music together since 1998. But it was their breakthrough 2005 album, "The Road to Here," that first put them on the map. It went platinum and brought them the first in a string of hits and nominations for Grammys and country music awards. They have since appeared on "The Tonight Show" and "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" and toured with Keith Urban, Alan Jackson, Kenny Chesney, Sugarland, George Strait, Martina McBride, John Mellencamp, and Carrie Underwood.
After problems with their two earlier labels, they signed with Capitol Records in 2008. Capitol re-released their 2007 album "A Place to Land" in 2008 and will release their fourth album, "The Reason Why," in mid-2010.
We caught up with Kimberly Schlapman as Little Big Town was putting the finishing touches on the new album and preparing to go back out on the road, this time as part of the Country Throwdown tour.
John Boykin: There are a million songwriting teams of two people. I can't think offhand of very many teams of five.
Kimberly Schlapman: [Laughs] I know! When we started out that way, everybody thought we were crazy! But the four of us have such a sense of what we want and how we want to sound. And as you know, songwriting is a very vulnerable exercise. Writing with Wayne and is just comfortable and safe. We started working with Wayne probably eight years ago. Wayne is so good with harmony and vocals, he's such an amazing singer himself, and he has such great musical ideas that it's just so comfortable for us. We've called it the lyric grinder before, because by the time a lyric goes through the five of us, it ought to be all right.
Now, on this new record, we split up some more into different kinds of pairings, just because we wanted to push ourselves and try something new. But we still wrote the majority of the record as the four of us and Wayne.
Can you walk me through the typical evolution of a song from gleam in the eye to recording?
We almost always go out to Wayne's studio in Franklin, Tennessee, which is just a cozy, cozy house out a little bit away from everything. We love it out there. It's comfortable. It's peaceful. It's like our home at this point. Somebody might come in with either a little line of lyric or a little line of melody, and we'll start from there. For example, Karen thought of the title "Little White Church," then she came up with the idea for the song, and we all sat down together one day and wrote it.
Sometimes we get there and we're all brain dead and nobody's got anything going. So we'll just sit there for a while and talk about things, and that usually spurs on some kind of idea.
The four of us writing with Wayne is such a safe place that we can throw out an idea that is not developed at all, and we'll all sit there and develop it and see if it's worthy of chasing.
We're so used to doing harmony that it just falls out as we write, just sitting around with an acoustic guitar and having fun. After that, we'll decide what key it should be in.
Different keys have a certain buzz. The buzz is just that magical moment where the song sits. Usually we'll sing through the chorus first in different keys and figure out what key sounds best for that particular chorus. Even a half step can make a difference in the buzz. We experiment a whole lot with that. Then we decide who's going to sing this. That depends a lot on key, and it depends a lot on the person's personal experiences, because a lot of times it's easier for a song to be believable if someone's been through a certain experience themselves.
After we've worked up the song, we'll get the band together in the studio and cut the track. We always sing live with the track as it's being cut, because we think that creates even more energy for the players. Then we'll do the vocals after that, overdubs, then mix it up and send it on its way.
So the instrumental parts and your vocals are all being recorded at the same time, just like in a stage performance?
They are being recorded at the same time, but once we have the track perfect like we want it, then we'll go back and hone in more on the vocals and the harmony. We've created some of the harmony when we wrote the song, but then more harmony comes out as we experiment in the studio.Kimberly Schlapman
As you're working out your harmonies, are you consciously thinking of the music theory -- like doing parallel thirds -- or are you just going by how it feels and how it sounds?
I think it's more about the feel. In a more difficult song, when we can't do typical thirds, we think more about the theory of it and try to figure out what would sound best in the harmony. But normally it's just natural. We all grew up singing harmony with our families, so it just comes natural to us. But then when we get into the studio, we work really hard at making it perfect. We'll try different types of harmonies, things like that.
Does each one come up with their own harmony, or is someone saying, "Hmmm, we need an F# here?”
We've done it for so long, everybody comes up with their own harmony. But as we’re recording, somebody might have an idea, "Hey, why don't we try this here" and that might be better. But all in all, we all come up with our own harmony.
Are y’all trained musicians?
All of us have had music lessons. Some of us have had more technical training than others. I was a music major for a while in college. So there's a little bit of that thrown in. But I think most of our Little Big Town sound comes from our roots as Southern family singers really. We grew up in church choirs and school choirs. I started out playing piano in church since I was 11 years old. Phillip and Jimi always played guitar, and Phillip's a great piano player.
Are you writing things out in musical notation or just remembering them?
We write the lyrics down, but we just remember the melodies. Once we finish a song, we always record it on someone's little recorder or someone's computer so we don't forget. When someone has a great idea, we'll throw it down on the recorder just so we don't lose it.
Are there any specialties, like one of you being the main lyricist, or somebody else being really good at coming up with the bridge, or so-and-so is really good at doing the arrangements?
No, we all pitch in on lyrics and on melodies and all the ideas. Sometimes we'll sit there and say, "Does this song need a bridge?" Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't.. That's just part of our writing process. We all pitch in on all of it.
Are there any other customs you've found conducive to writing besides being at Wayne's studio? Are some times of day better than others? Do you set up any kind of ground rules, or are songwriting sessions completely wild?
They' re usually completely wild! We've been together so long that we know each other's boundaries, so those are unspoken. But we don't have anything really special that we do. Sometimes we write outside, which we love, until the bugs get after us in the summertime.
Are y’all able to write on the road?
Yeah, we write on the road some. We sometimes bring writers out with us and just dedicate the days to songwriting. But it's a challenge to write on the road, because there's always so much going on out there: interviews and radio station visits and whatever else might be going on during the day. So more often we write at home in Nashville, at Wayne's place or at one of our houses. We wrote "Little White Church" at my house one day.
Y’all have your fair share of love songs, but the theme that seems to come up the most often in Little Big Town songs is "You're no good. I'm out of here." I'm thinking "Good As Gone," "Fine Line," Looking for a Reason," all the way back to "Pontiac" and "Don't Waste My Time," and up to "Little White Church." Is there a story there?
[Laughs] We call those kiss-off songs. Sometimes they'll come from personal experience, but usually it's just some fun we wanted to have. For some reason we just like to get sassy. "Little White Church" was not any one person's personal experience. It was just a story but we had fun developing. Of the songs we put on this brand-new record, there are probably less kiss-off songs than there have been before. There's no reason for that either, though.
There's a video on YouTube of y’all recording "Little White Church.” Is that Wayne' studio?
Yeah, that's the real place. We did do one thing differently as we recorded this brand-new record: We changed the configuration of everything in the studio. Before, it was a little blocked off in sections. So this time we moved boards and chairs and couches and tables all around so that it was a completely open space. And we ended up looooooooving that. It made a big difference in everybody's participation because we were all right in the same big space the whole time.
About how many songs do you write for every one that actually shows up on the album?
We might write two for every one. It's hard for us to let a record go. Some people make a record in a month. We make a record in about a year. It's kind of hard doing a record and being on the road. So we take a long time to do them. We might write a bunch of songs in the beginning that we think are great, but we beat on them. So by the time we’ve finished the process, we've knocked out half of the songs we wrote at the beginning.
How do you decide that a song just doesn't make it?
Sometimes we know as soon as we've written it that it's only OK. Sometimes we don't know until we've worked out every little detail that it's just not lighting us up. And sometimes we don't know that a song doesn't work until it's fully recorded. Because we know each other so well and we've been together so long, usually either we're all on board, or none of us are on board. We usually know if it's going to work for us, or we know all together that it's not going to work.
Are some songs more conducive to harmony than others?
Yeah, they are. Some are more challenging harmonically. We tend to go in a direction where the song just lives well with harmony. But I can recall times when we were thinking, "What in the world are we going to come up with for harmony for that?" But we always do.
Why does one song work better for harmony than another? Is it the chord progressions? Is it a melodic thing?
Probably a chord progression thing.
When you listen to the Everly Brothers or Fleetwood Mac or any of the other groups that have been known for harmony, are you listening to them differently from how other people listen? Are you analyzing what they are doing?
Yeah, we listen to it differently, especially now that this is our living. We'll really just study what made something so magical. Even growing up, the four of us have always just had ears for harmony. When I was growing up, I would learn all the harmony parts in Fleetwood Mac music or the Mamas and the Papas. We're all that way. That's how we all grew up, singing all the different harmonies, just because we thought that was fun.
I've always described Little Big Town as being country without cowboy hats or pickup trucks.
I have a pickup truck! I have an old red pickup truck. I don't drive it very often, but it's my comfort zone. We don't wear cowboy hats usually, but sometimes I'll throw on a cowboy hat in the summertime for an outdoor show.
"Good Lord Willing" has the only reference to a pickup truck in a Little Big Town song.
Why did you put that in?
Oh, I don't know. We are all very southern. Jimi and Phillip and I grew up in very small towns, very rural communities. Karen grew up in the city, but she came from very rural parents. The core of who we are comes from those very rural and small-town country roots. So a song like "Good Lord Willing" is so completely natural for us. It's just home. All our families are still back in those little towns, so we are very connected to all of that still.
As a matter of fact, we wrote “Boondocks” back in the beginning because people were questioning whether Music Row had put this band together and whether we were really country. Heck yeah, we're really country. And Karen and I have been friends for 22 years. There's nothing fabricated there. So we set out to prove something with that song, “Boondocks." That's where that all came from.
The last section of “Boondocks” is an unusually complex bit of four-part harmony. How did that section come about?
That was Wayne's idea. Then we all just kind of embellished it. That's one of Wayne's strong suits. He's great at harmony and interesting ideas like that.
How far was that idea thought through when he presented it to you?
I think he had thought through the general idea enough to explain it to us so we could understand it and run with it. Then the four of us sat down with him and created that little moment.
Your first album, "Little Big Town," was OK. Most bands would be proud to have those songs. But your second, "The Road to Here," completely blew that album out of the water. Then "A Place to Land" was even better. Y’all seem to have walked away from that first album. What's your attitude about it now?
The first album was a big learning process for us. In that album, the record label was veeeery very involved, and we didn't have creative control over anything. We were green. That was our first one, so we wanted to please the record label. But we learned a lot from that record. I think that record is OK, but it’s kind of watered down, not really who we are.
When we started making "The Road to Here," we were on our very own with no record label at all. So we got to do whatever we wanted. We got to record whatever songs we wanted to record and the way we wanted to record and with whom we wanted to record. That's why there's such a drastic difference between the those first two records. We finally got to do what we felt like we needed to do.
You also didn't have Wayne as your producer for that first one. How is working with Wayne compared to producers you worked with before?
I love the producers that we worked with before as people, and they are good friends. But our connection with Wayne is just magical. With Wayne, it's just on a different creative collaborative level. "The Road to Here" was all that the five of us were working on at the time. There was a lot going on in our personal lives, but nothing else going on in our professional lives at the time. So we dedicated ourselves completely to making that record. So I think that is one of the big differences.
Is Capitol leaving y’all alone to do as you see fit on the new record?
Oh yeah, they are. Capitol is awesome. They've been so good to us. They just tell us to make our music. They've heard what we've done, and they are just over the moon about it. So it's very exciting. In fact, the single "Little White Church" is the fastest-rising single we've ever had. Pretty cool.
Writer John Boykin is a member of West Coast Songwriters.
A few more Little Big Town songs
Lanny Sherwin Wins!
For the first time in the history of the Dallas Song Contest the Novelty/Children's Category won the grand prize, second and third place! Lanny's song I Can't Rhyme took first place in the category and overall grand prize.
"I Can't Rhyme cleverly doesn’t rhyme disease/wasps, any more/window, mad/upset, time/sound the same. You expect to hear bees, door, glad and rhyme, but he fools and delights you every time." Dallas Song Contest
Lanny won a Tradition S200 Gold Top electric guitar featuring a pair of PAF humbucker pickups.
I Can't Rhyme can be found on itunes, along with all his other great work.
Congrats again, Lanny!