Songwriting—The Money Angle
A pro songwriter points the way toward profitable projects
By Eric Alexandrakis
Songwriting—it has such a nice ring to it. You know what would sound even better? Making money from it. How in the world does one even begin to start that process? Following up on my article in our last Songwriters’ Issue (March 2012), here are some more ideas and talking points for the songwriter with serious ambitions.
There are hundreds of success stories about one-hit wonders and flavors-of-the-month, and they all have one thing in common: Somebody was in the right place at the right time. But to get ready to make the most of that right moment requires patience, organization, and, of course, talent! Meanwhile there is one avenue to making money from your music that has become much more accessible than it used to be—licensing. We’ll focus on that. But first, let’s talk about another kind of focus—yours.
Where is your focus?
Will you be a professional songwriter, writing for a job, or are you going to write what you want, and damn people’s opinions/agendas? If it’s the latter, keep your day job—forever.
Make a decision and stick to it. What are you going to shoot for? Have you considered writing for television, or for advertising, or movies? While it’s not realistic to absolutely want to decide this early on, somehow you already know whether you gravitate towards The Beatles, or John Williams, or both.
No matter what music genre and media outlet you have in mind, songwriting comes down to one thing, and that’s a hook and a theme. If you try to go pro with the widest appeal, Pop music owns that market. There are so many Pop writers and writer wannabes. How does one stand out?
These days Pop music encompasses everything from Hip-Hop to Country, to Rock, etc. One of the biggest mistakes inexperienced artists/writers make very early on is that when they’re asked what their genre is, they say something like “Well it’s a little Pop, with a little Country, and some Metal, and Progressive Rock, etc.” Do you know what that tells me? It tells me that you have no idea what the heck you’re doing. No focus!
If you suddenly decide that you’re going to write Pop songs, and your favorite band is Metallica or some stoner band, you’ll never get it. If you didn’t gravitate towards Pop early on, chances are you never will. If you really want to study the great Pop writers, I highly recommend learning the entire Beatles and Monkees catalogues. Pop songs in the ‘60s were so simple, yet really hooky, and many are great examples of the lyrical and musical simplicity needed to grab hold of the average radio zombie listener. How does the listener relate to the lyrics? Is the hook stuck in their head for the rest of the week? A writer can’t go wrong with universal themes, but deliver them in a clever way. This sets one apart.
Show and tell
Once you’ve gotten your focus together and produced some decent tunes, make some decent demos. Presentation is everything. If your music is rendered professionally, you’ll be perceived as professional right off.
While it’s not vital to do so, many committed pro songwriters find that to get where they want to be, they have to move to where the business is. Try Nashville, Los Angeles, etc. When you get there, seek out publishing houses, jingle houses, and the like. Make a professional presentation. Assume everyone will say “no”, but keep pushing and writing. If you want to be a jingle writer, make up jingles for various products already on the market.
For songwriting I suggested to focus on one style, but in the case of jingles, no matter what music style, it is also true that the focus is the hook and its clever delivery. That’s the universal factor in jingles. So try making everything from a 1940s vibe to modern ad music.
Network and collaborate. Go to every networking event you can. Make note of the major names, seek them out at functions. Network with other aspiring writers as well, and collaborate with them. You never know, one of them could be the next John Lennon, and if they get a hit, it could rub off on you. Just make sure you know how much of the song you retain before you leave that night.
Be quick. When someone asks you for something, get it to them quickly and perfectly. No half-assed work, as that first request could end up being your last.
Life’s a learning lab
Study everything. Understand that there is always something to learn, and that you must be open to anything. I have friends who are some of the top players in the universe, have been in the top bands, and still strive to learn new things. I also know some guys who are 40 years old, still talk about a garage band they were in at age 20, haven’t done anything since, and think they play as well as Alan White of Yes. That type of mentality/ego has no future. You can never peak at your skills, you can only evolve. The moment you think you’ve done it all is the moment you should quit.
Have you heard of Jingle Punks? Check out some of the shows they provide music for. If you’re determined to try as many avenues as possible, watch the shows they work with, study the music they use, and make loads and loads of tracks just like the ones they broadcast. Seek out the music supervisors/editors, and try to get noticed somehow.
Learn the business inside out. Make sure you learn how licensing deals, songwriting deals and fees all work. There are plenty of resources available, and it is essential that you understand it all. It’s not enough to write a great tune, you have to learn how not to get screwed when you sell it.
The three Ps
These are somewhat general and idealistic concepts, but they will get you there:
~ Pray. Religious or not, you’ll need all the help you can get. It’s free, and couldn’t hurt even if it does or doesn’t work.
~ Perfect your craft. I’ve seen so many artists who do not have the capacity to understand how crappy they are!
~ Persevere. Those who have great skill and are determined always rise. Some kind of niche and opportunity will present itself as long as you do not quit.
Put these concepts into practice, and you’ll be on the road to success in a very difficult business. But if nothing else, they may help you to realize that you really did want to become an architect, like Mother suggested.
Eric Alexandrakis (email@example.com) is a highly successful songwriter, producer, and recording musician. He was a pioneer in digital copyright protection, producing the first-ever digitally watermarked CD while in graduate school, and has had several top-40 hits on the Adult Contemporary charts. Learn more at www.ericalexandrakis.com.
This article is printed with permission from Recording magazine. For more information on recording magazine, go to: http://www.recordingmagazine.com
For more information on the 18th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, please go to: http://www.songwriting.net
Legendary Music Producer Phil Ramone Dies
(edited by Jessica Brandon)
Phil Ramone has worked with virtually every top music star including Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Ray Charles, Rod Stewart, Elton John, and Paul Simon, often as a producer, occasionally as a songwriter. He recorded Marilyn Monroe’s infamous performance of “Happy Birthday” to JFK. He’s the co-founder of A&R Recording, Inc. He had a key role in the release of the first ever album, Billy Joel’s 52nd Street.
A former violin prodigy and expert engineer, he worked with Dylan, Sinatra, McCartney, Bennett, Charles, Streisand, Simon, Joel and Bacharach and spent more than 50 years in the business.
Phil Ramone, the instinctive music producer whose mixing mastery for Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, Paul Simon and Billy Joel helped fashion some of the most sumptuous and top-selling albums of his era, has died. He was 72.
Ramone was married to Karen Ichiuji-Ramone (a.k.a. Karen Kamon, who had a top 100 hit in 1983 "Manhunt", featured in the hit movie and stage musical "Flashdance"), with whom he had three sons.
The 14-time Grammy winner and 33-time nominee once dubbed “The Pope of Pop” was hospitalized in late Feb. with an aortic aneurysm in New York and died Saturday morning at New York Presbyterian Hospital, according to Ramone's son Matt.
A native of South Africa who at age 10 performed as a violinist for Queen Elizabeth II, Ramone spent years working as a songwriter, engineer and acoustics expert in New York before charting a path that would make him a trusted studio partner in the eyes (and ears) of the industry’s biggest stars.
Among the albums on which he worked were Streisand’s 1967 live A Happening in Central Park; Paul & Linda McCartney’s Ram (1971), sandwiched between the Beatles and Wings eras; Dylan’s aching Blood on the Tracks (1975); Simon’s pop classic Still Crazy After All These Years (1975); Joel’s critical and commercial breakthrough The Stranger (1977); Sinatra’s last-gasp Duets (1993), a model of technical wizardry; and Charles’ final album, the mega-selling Genius Loves Company (2004).
Ramone served as a songwriter in New York’s famed Brill Building music factory and worked early on with Quincy Jones, Tom Dowd, Creed Taylor, Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller and Burt Bacharach & Hal David, among others. In 1959, he launched the A&R Recording studios on Seventh Avenue in New York, where Blood on the Tracks and so many other classics were recorded.
“Players are like prodigies, thoroughbreds," he added. "You have to handle them with care.”
Born on Jan. 5, 1941, Ramone at age 3 began studying the piano and violin, and he attended the Juilliard School in New York as a teenager. Although he was an accomplished performer and composer, he was attracted to the technical side of music and became a wizard working with the dials.
Ramone was nominated for 33 Grammy awards, winning 14 awards and a technical Grammy for a lifetime of innovative contributions to the recording industry:
1965 – Best Engineered Recording (non classical), for Getz/Gilberto
1970 – Best Musical Show Album for producing Promises, Promises
1976 – Album of the Year for producing Still Crazy After All These Years
1979 – Record of the Year for producing "Just the Way You Are"
1980 – Album of the Year for producing 52nd Street
1981 – Producer of the Year (non classical)
1984 – Best Album Of Original Score Written For A Motion Picture Or A Television Special, for Flashdance
1995 – Best Musical Show Album for producing Passion
2003 – Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album, for producing "Playin' With My Friends: Bennett Sings The Blues"
2005 – Album of the Year and Best Surround Sound Album for producing Genius Loves Company
2006 – Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album for producing The Art of Romance
2007 – Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album for producing Duets: An American Classic
2012 – Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album for producing Duets II
For more information on the 18th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, please go to: http://www.songwriting.net
INVITING THE LISTENER IN
by Ralph Murphy
In looking at songs there is a huge leap from "good" to "great". When a listener first hears a song, that leap is made possible by the writer of the work doing the "inviting in" using humor, irony and detail. Ease of singing,"accessibility", remaining linear when you tell your story, having melody to cling to, making sure there is no confusion over what the title is and telling a story with a beginning, a middle and an end are all part of the songwriters "tool kit". If the songwriter doesn't have the creative savvy to create an expectation by making a statement, asking a question or having enough detail to make the listener keep listening all the way to the resolution of that statement/question, then the listener is gone. Once the listener is gone, they're gone for good.
As what lures the listener to the piece of work is melody, and what keeps them there is lyric....oh, I know, I have friends who,say, "I love this song(song X) and I don't know the words to it" well, if you play the song for them, they DO know the lyric subliminally. And that's what kept them there. No matter if that lyric is only "call and response" ie: Na Nahs, they know it. That first listen is so important. Everyone speaks of "first impressions" in meetings or dating or employment opportunities, well, first listens when you are a songwriter peddling your wares is just as important. AND you, as the writer are totally in control of the way the way the listener receives the information you want them to hear.
That "first impression" doesn't change if your song is being heard for the first time by a judge in a song contest or the producer of the hottest act in the world. We all face the same demons. It doesn't matter if it's the first time you play a new song to someone you need to impress or the one millionth new song first time. It's all up to the song and that song will be as good as the writers craft allows his/her vision to be shaped.
If you as a writer have done your job and the listener "gets it" and wants to "invite it in", that song will be a living thing that will outlive you by 70 years. If you haven't, write on! Maybe the next one.......
Ralph Murphy is a producer and songwriter. He wrote huge hit songs such as Crystal Gayle's"Talking in Your Sleep" and "Half the Way". Murphy has served as President of The Nashville Chapter of the Recording Academy and has been a NARAS National Trustee. Add to that the platinum records as a producer, the widely acclaimed Murphy’s Laws of Songwriting articles used as part of curriculum at colleges, universities, and by songwriter organizations, his success as the publisher and co-owner of the extremely successful Picalic Group of Companies and you see a pattern of achievement based on more than luck. To buy his book, please go to: http://murphyslawsofsongwriting.com
For more information on 18th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, please go to: http://www.songwriting.net
Demo vs. Master Recordings by Melissa Axel
Demo vs. master recording—what's the difference? You might as well ask the difference between Norma Jeane Baker and Marilyn Monroe. In the same way we evolve from blossoming youth, searching for the best ways to express ourselves, to realizing our potential as a self-possessed adult, a song often undergoes a drastic transformation from rough demo to fully produced track.
The purpose of making demo recordings is manyfold:
* to get feedback from industry professionals to address melody or lyric issues of a song before beginning the production stage
* to create a sketch of the song for making pre-production decisions, such as tempo, feel, instrumentation, and arrangement ideas
* to share the song with musicians and other members of the production team to decide on parts and prepare for recording
* to compare basic recordings of a number of different songs being considered for recording full production and choose the best or most urgent ones to focus on
Making demos can be as simple as performing the song into your phone's voice memo app or using a computer program like GarageBand to flesh out a basic accompaniment to the melody. Or, many cities have demo studios you can hire, complete with session musicians and a vocalist who will perform in the desired style for pitching the song to a recording artist (be aware that in most cases, you will not retain the master recording rights to be able to license these tracks for use in film and television or to put on your own release and sell). By nature, demos should not be fully produced but remain stripped down so music professionals can easily envision possible arrangement and stylistic ideas for the song.
Master recordings, on the other hand, are fully produced "broadcast quality" tracks. Whether recorded at home or with a producer at a recording studio, they should be professionally mixed and mastered to be ready for radio and online broadcasting, available for sale, and placeable in film and television. Unless you are deliberately recording a live performance, masters require several weeks to months to a year or more of preparation. You will need to spend significant time in pre-production and rehearsals with your team (producer, arrangers, musicians, co-writers, etc.) fine-tuning the song form, instrumentation, arrangements, tempo, feel, and overall sound or vibe just right for the finished recording.
Like Norma Jeane and the iconic screen personality she became, both are beautiful—and at their core, they are one and the same. As we saw many times with Marilyn's image though, diamonds in the rough run the risk of being over-produced or sexualized, feeling too "manufactured" and in danger of straying too far from the authenticity that made them so special in the first place. If we follow our instincts and mold raw inspiration into a polished presentation that best serves the song and reflects its original joie de vivre, that fundamental essence will ring true in the final creation.
Melissa Axel is an Artist Relations representative of USA Songwriting Competition. At just eight years of age, she was writing songs about the bittersweet journey of life, love, struggle, and inspiration. The piano-driven singer/songwriter studied at Boston's renowned Berklee College of Music and went on to earn her master's degree in Interdisciplinary Arts from Nova Southeastern University. Axel's new album LOVE . HUMANITY . METAMORPHOSIS is reminiscent of Regina Spektor, Norah Jones, and Tori Amos. For more information on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net
Jonathan George, Songwriter/Producer speaks about songwriting and collaborating with music artists, songwriters and bands. He won overall grand prize in the 2009 USA Songwriting Competition with Sarah Lonsert and Jami Templeton: