Songwriting Tips, News & More

Tom Silverman: On Songwriters And The New Reality Of The Music Business

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Mar 29, 2011 @06:17 PM

Tom Silverman On Songwriters And The New Reality Of The Music Business

Interview by Lorenz Rychner

 

Tom Silverman, founder the independent label Tommy Boy Records

Tom Silverman founded the independent label Tommy Boy thirty years ago. Over time it was home to a great many award-winning artists and consistently dominated the Dance charts.

Together with industry veteran Dave Lory, Tom Silverman launched the New Music Seminar (www.newmusicseminar.com) where today’s songwriters, artists, and recording musicians can tune into the latest industry trends as presented by high-profile producers, performers, and other industry figures who are at the forefront of the new developments.

We will report on the latest seminar taking place in February in Los Angeles. In the meantime, we wanted to hear Tom’s views on the state of the industry as it affects songwriters and new artists.—LzR

Formerly, songwriters/artists looking to make a career from performing their own material pretty much needed a record label deal to make it happen. Not now. What has changed?

Tom Silverman: I think it is important for songwriters to understand what’s going on with the music business, what the changes are, so that they can adapt and figure out the new ways of plugging in. There may be more opportunities than ever before, if you can see the big picture. A lot of them still think it’s business as usual.

So what I’m talking about is—as the business has gone downhill, like 80 percent in the last 10 years—the number of artists that are signed has decreased probably by 60 or 70 percent over what used to be released in the past by labels. People at labels have becoming very wary, they are not taking risks, they can’t afford to be wrong. In the old days if they batted .250 that was okay, now they have to bat .400. And on the ones that lose, they can’t really afford to lose that much money.

So who has the best chance to still benefit from a label deal?

Labels are looking for artists who already have a head of steam, who have built a base for themselves so they’re not starting from scratch. There are exceptions, but fewer and fewer. They are looking for artists who already have a big fanbase, like fifty thousand Facebook fans, a million YouTube views, so they are not starting from nothing. They are looking for different things than they used to look for, and radio isn’t necessarily breaking certain genres of music the way it used to. So all of that means that music is a lot different now.

How can a songwriter adapt if radio isn’t in his picture?

On radio you used to have about 30 seconds before the hook to get listeners interested before they would change station. For your songwriters it’s important to know that if you’re getting exposed on YouTube or on Spotify or even Pandora, you have five seconds to suck the listener in, because in ten seconds they could be somewhere else.

Goodbye intro...

Your readers might even consider using a different song structure for the promotional version, the one you put online, the one playing behind the YouTube video—instead of three or four minutes long, maybe it’ll be two minutes long because people’s attention span seems to have shortened compared to what it used to be. You want an opportunity to expose more music and give them a taste, and if they like it, they can go to iTunes and download the full four-minute version.

So there might be a verse-chorus-verse-chorus-out version of every song, in additon to the full three-verse version there might be a two-verse version...

...and the intro might not be an intro but the second half of the chorus to grab the listener...

Absolutely, so people have to start to experiment with different song lengths, different song structure. Listeners could be playing a game at the same time, checking their text messages—there are so many ways that people are ingesting music, it’s no longer either radio, or at a club, or in front of their hi-fi speakers at home.

And it’s mostly earbuds now...

I remember in the old days when I was producing records we always used to have that single mono Auratone speaker that we used to listen to the final mix to make sure nothing was missing. That was what it would sound like on a car radio or a kitchen radio, like what most people would be listening to. Now they might just as well have a little white wire coming out with two earbuds, and a little compressor that makes it sound like 192 kbps, and see if it still passes muster. When you’re in the studio, you listen to huge studio speakers with big amps, great sound from 20 to 20, but that’s not how people are listening to music, really. These are things people should watch and consider.

On your seminar website I saw the term “Creative Quartet”. What is it?

I also call it the Creative Conundrum; it is composed of four elements that combine to make an artist a hit artist. There is a lot of clutter in a world where over a hundred thousand albums are released a year, and over 81,000 of them sell less than 100 units, and 17,000 releases sell only one unit! Thousands of musicians produce releases on their home computers, with programs like Garageband, and they pay maybe 35 dollars to put it up on TuneCore, and these releases don’t get bought by anyone, but they get in the way of the artists who are in real studios spending real money in real time trying to break through. There’s so much clutter out there, the artists have to have a sound, everything about them has to be differentiated to have a chance at breaking through.

What are the four elements?

Okay, so we break it down.

• The first is the song. It has to stand out, above the other songs actually, the composition, including lyrics and everything about how the song is written.

• Second is the production, the recording, the performance—everything that happens in the studio.

• The third element is the live show; a lot of groups are breaking because of the notoriety of their live shows. If they’re great live, then that could be how they market themselves and promote themselves, and in some cases, a great-enough live show can make an artist break, even if the songs are just OK and the production is just OK but they are just so amazing live. More and more that is the case, as radio is diminishing in power.

• The fourth and last area is becoming the most important, more and more, and that’s the image, the concept, the story, the platform, what does the artist stand for, what do they look like, what is their image. All of that stuff that previously was intangible back in the pre-video days.

Not image as strictly looks...?

In the video days the look became more important, but now in the YouTube days, people are buying artists based on what they stand for, “How do they affect me?”. Susan Boyle is a great example, that one little video of her ended up selling 31/2 million albums in six weeks this time last year, based on what people liked about her that she stood for—here’s this hausfrau from Northern England, able to beat the odds, and people thought anything is possible and they bought that story. She’s singing the same song that Rod Stewart and a million other people sang before, and the production was good and the performance was competent, but if it was any other artist, if wouldn’t have sold a thousand copies.

She was different...

...so the whole thing is, how do you differentiate yourself? Her story was differentiated, plus there was the X-factor, England, which leaked over into the US on YouTube and got tens of thousands of views if not more.

Think about Lady Gaga, if not for her image, would she be this big? I mean she has good songs and good productions, but without the image, I don’t think so. What about the Black Eyed Peas without Fergie? Sometimes you just have to put the package together in a way that it makes sense.

The image has always been important, but it has never been more important than it is now, and by image I don’t just mean the look, I mean the story, what they stand for, is it a political band, are they nonconformist, do they stand for something like Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead maybe, or a jam band might. Is there a perception that they are meaningful, is their lifestyle something people can relate to, they’re buying the lifestyle more than they’re buying the music. “I’m into what this artist is into, so I’m buying this guy”, as opposed to just the song.

Is this order of the elements fixed, or is number four creeping up to take the place of number one?

Well, the order I gave you is the chronological order that starts with the song of course. If I were to list the four elements in terms of impact they might have on somebody’s career potential, I would move the image up.

To the top?

Yes, in a way it is already number one. The image shouldn’t be the afterthought. The concept of the group should be decided on before the song is even written, because—if the songs don’t fit the concept of what they’re standing for, then it’s a mismatch and doesn’t work.

So the first thing an artist has to say before even getting into the studio or starting to write is “what do I stand for, what am I trying to say, how am I going to be different from any other artist, how can I differentiate myself in this area”.

Then he’ll make songs that differentiate themselves because the hooks or whatever will be so outstanding that they’ll reach out from the internet and grab you by the throat and suck you right in. So the next morning when you wake up, that song is still stuck in your head. That’s the purpose of a great song, and then the production is getting the great performance that delivers that song.

Maybe a song doesn’t have to have all four of those things, but it should have two or three.

Maybe an artist doesn’t do live show but his videos are killer...

...or there may be a case where the song is just so great that it overwhelms the need for an image. But usually those ones will sell a lot of singles on downloads but not albums. People always buy the album if the artist is meaningful to them, but not if only the song is big; then they don’t need the rest of the songs on the album, they just want the one song.

A lot of consumers just enjoy songs, and don’t have to have an artist attached to it, they just like that record. That’s OK, by the way; the new business, the economics of singles, could become substantial, because the other change in the business now, back to the way it used to be in the ’50s, is that five times as many singles are selling than albums. So I think a lot of writers, producers and artists are missing the opportunity to make hit singles.

I think also the artists are making the mistake of trying to make an album right away. I think the idea is to make a song, find the one song that’s going to move people, then the album will come out of that. Use the song to prospect, to tune up, to find your audience.

Sticking to singles allows someone to test the waters without breaking the bank.

Yes, and that’s not new. When I started Tommy Boy, we only did twelve-inches, we didn’t do 45s and we didn’t do albums yet. Until we found a twelve-inch that resonated, even in 1981 money, $3.98 was already four times what now a download is, and most of them only had two or three versions of the same song—instrumental, a cappella, maybe bonus beats and the radio version or the album version, so that was a good margin for us in those days. Imagine today, in dollars adjusted for inflation... that would be like nine or ten bucks. Imagine if you could get nine dollars per download, we’d have better economics and we could sign more artists than we’re signing now.

Anyway, that’s really what needs to be known. Making a whole album for a new artist, a writer or a producer will spend a whole lot of time, and usually that artist isn’t going to get picked up. But in the same amount of time they could do five or six different artists with two songs each and test those, and when one connects, then make the album. If it doesn’t connect, make another single.

Why are we as an industry so fixated on the album? It’s an anachronism that we have refused to accept. People are so egotistical, they think people want to buy a body of work from an artist or group when nobody even knows who they are yet. That’s pure ego, and it’s time for that to really stop for new artists. Once an artist is established and has built a fan base, when there is a demand, it’s a different thing. Until they do, a single is a fabulous tool for prospecting.

You also have a different perspective on making money from one’s music.

How do you change your mindset when you realize that music is the way you build your relationships with your fan base, but it’s not necessarily the way you’ll be making money? The way you’re gonna make money is merchandise, touring, maybe some music sales, and maybe other things we haven’t even thought of yet. But it’s the relationship that you’re monetizing, not the records per se.

So these are some of the things that we’re gonna be discussing at the seminar.

 

More about Tom Silverman can be found at www.newmusicseminar.com/blog/about-us/staff/ 

 

Excerpted from the March edition of Recording Magazine 2011

©2011 Music Maker Publications, Inc. Reprinted with permission. 5408 Idylwild Trail, Boulder, CO 80301  Tel: (303) 516-9118 Fax: (303) 516-9119  For Subscription Information, call: 1-800-582-8326 or www.recordingmag.com For more information on the USA Songwriting Competition, please go tp: http://www.songwriting.net 

Tags: song write, Song writing, Songwriting, Songwriters, Song writers, Tom Silverman, tommy boy records, the music business, the new reality, New Music Seminar

The 3 “PS” of Songwriting — Present, Protect, Promote

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Mar 23, 2011 @03:01 PM

The 3 “PS” of Songwriting — Present, Protect, Promote

Simple strategies for making sure your hard work gets what it deserves
By Bruce Kaphan
Bruce Kaphan (Photo by James Saxson)
 

(Bruce Kaphan, Photo by James Saxon)

You write songs, but are you doing everything you should to take care of the business end of songwriting?
As a reader of Recording you are, by definition, a recording musician who knows how to make a song sound good. Today we’ll help you focus on how to present the song so as to maximize the business potential of your production.
Protection of your work is important. You may have seen the monthly columns that entertainment lawyer Todd Gascon and I have been co-authoring, called It’s Your Music—Know Your Rights. From those texts I’m summarizing points to keep in mind for the protection of your work.
Lastly we’ll suggest ways to promote your songs—some time-tested ideas for how to turn your songs into income generating entities.
   

Presentation

Focus is a challenge to most self-recording singer/songwriter/musicians. Do you wear lots of different hats? Are you trying to promote yourself as a singer, songwriter, musician, recording engineer, or producer? That can be distracting.
How do you prioritize? And how far should you go with the recording and production of your songs? Do you intend to sell your song “as is” to someone who will record and produce and release it? Or do you record and produce your own songs and sell the finished recordings?
Whichever of these two paths you choose should determine how you present (produce) the recording of your song.

Selling your song

If you’re looking to just shop the song, for someone to sing who will take it elsewhere for production, then present it accordingly as a song demo. [Note that this is different from the artist demo which isn’t really done much any longer, now that you might as well make a finished record for sale, since the technology allows for that even on a modest level.—LzR]
When I’m producing a singer and looking for songs, I prefer to hear the songs as unadorned as possible. While the most stripped-down version isn’t necessarily always better, I like for the song to stand out clearly, maybe with just a single voice accompanied by a single instrument (most likely guitar or keyboard). There may be exceptions—cases where a musical hook is so deeply embedded in the essence of the song that it must be present in the song demo, in a way that requires a more elaborate production than I’d usually suggest.
Still—if you are trying to sell just your song, it will be to an artist or possibly a team comprised of artist, producer, management, record company, etc., etc., who will have their own ideas about how best to produce the song.
Your song, even though you’re not making a big production out of it, will have a better chance at getting picked up if it is presented properly. If you can’t effectively sing your song, hire somebody who can, so it sounds convincing rather than questionable.

Selling a record of you and your song

Do you sing and perform on the recordings of your own songs? If you’re just starting out, and you think you have what it takes to be a star, but you have hardly begun to launch the business side of your career, think about how your recordings represent you.
One of my clients plays mostly solo shows, singing and playing guitar. He sells CDs at his gigs. He’s made a few albums. All but one of them present the music similarly to what people hear at his gigs—mostly just one guitar and a vocal. 
He had a dream of doing an album with a full band, so we did one, at much greater expense than his solo albums—musicians had to be paid, we needed to work in a bigger, more expensive studio, etc., etc.
He loved the way the album came out, but has noticed that it doesn’t sell as well as his other albums, because his audiences generally want to hear his recorded music presented the same way as his live shows.
If you’re a singer-songwriter starting out, it’s going to be a lot easier and much more economically realistic to work as a solo artist—with fewer mouths to feed, airline tickets and hotel rooms to purchase, etc., etc. If this is how you’ll present yourself onstage, doesn’t it make sense to make recordings that reflect this same presentation? In business, this is called branding.
Last—take pride in your work! With recording tools improving all the time, you may as well put the effort into making your recordings sound as good as they can be.
 

Protection

There are certain legal steps you must take to protect your interest in your intellectual property. In past issues in our column It’s Your Music—Know Your Rights, we’ve discussed the following tasks in great detail. Let’s summarize them in this list that should never be far from your eyes...
Step 1: Copyright your songs. We describe copyright in detail in our March 2010 issue. In our April 2010 issue, we show you how to file a copyright claim.
Step 2: If you record with other musicians or singers, ask them to sign a Service (or Sideman) Release. You’ll find more details for this and Steps 3–6 in our June, 2010 issue.
Step 3: If you use the pre-existing work of others (sampling), depending on the type of sampling, you’ll need to get the permission of the copyright owner and/or publisher.
Step 4: To earn royalties when your songs are broadcast, affiliate with a PRO (in the USA, ASCAP, BMI or SESAC), either as a writer, or writer and publisher.
Step 5: To earn royalties when your masters are broadcast on the internet, digital cable, and satellite radio, register with SoundExchange.
Step 6: If you manufacture a physical product (like a CD or vinyl), get a UPC bar code for the packaging and ISRC code for the master recordings.
Step 7: If you publish your songs, form a publishing company. This can involve forming a business entity, obtaining a business license in the city in which you live, doing a DBA name search/filing for a fictitious business name in the county in which you live, possibly filing for permits for doing business in your home, etc., etc. You’ll find more details on these topics in our July, 2010 and August, 2010 issues.
Step 8: If you’re self-publishing, provide adequate notice of your copyrights on your packaging and on your discs. We describe this in detail in our March 2010 issue.
 

Promotion
Words From An Expert

I asked Steve Seskin, one of the most successful writers in Nashville today, to share his thoughts about getting songs into the right hands. Steve had his songs recorded by Tim McGraw, Neal McCoy, John Michael Montgomery, Kenny Chesney, Collin Raye, Peter Frampton, Waylon Jennings, Alabama, Mark Wills, and Peter Paul and Mary. His song “Don’t Laugh At Me” was a finalist for CMA “Song of the Year” in 1999, and has spurred an entire tolerance movement, launched by the Don’t Laugh at Me Project. Other Seskin hits include: “I Think About You,” “Life’s A Dance,” “No Doubt About It,” “If You’ve Got Love” and “Grown Men Don’t Cry.” (More at www.steveseskin.com)
 
Here’s what Steve had to say:
“When it comes to writing songs for others to record, there are many ways to go at getting songs to the artists looking for them. The best way is to partner with a good publisher who will act as a middleman between the writer and the various people involved in a recording project. It’s not that easy to get a publishing deal these days, so what else can a writer do to pitch their songs?
In Nashville, writers collaborate on songs, and it has just as much to do with business as creativity. I tend to choose collaborators strictly because of the creative connection, but I see a trend towards more writers hooking up with emerging artists to co-write specifically because there’s a greater chance the song will be recorded if you write it with the artist.
If a writer wants to pursue this route, the best thing to do is to perform at lots of writers’ nights and showcases with the hope that an up-and-coming artist or producer will hear their songs and either be interested in cutting one of them or possibly co-writing for their project.
This is also a good way to meet other co-writers in general, because it lets writers hear each others’ songs, which is one of the things to do before considering co-writing with someone.
Lastly, if you have a song that you think would be good for a specific artist, I would certainly try being creative about finding ways to get it to them, such as sending it to the manager, producer, or A&R person at the label. It’s a long shot but there’s no harm in trying. Let’s not forget that Kris Kristofferson pitched “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down” to Johnny Cash by landing a helicopter on his front lawn. Flying lessons, anyone?”
In the music business, just having talent and skill usually isn’t enough to further your career—you need to be in the right place at the right time, doing the right thing; you have to jump into the stream at just the right time... and you have to be able to swim!
Perhaps the title of this article should have been The Four P’s, because persistence will have to be a permanent partner on your path to success.
 
Bruce Kaphan ([email protected]) appears every month in our column “It’s Your Music—Know Your Rights”.
 
Excerpted from the March edition of Recording Magazine 2011  ©2011 Music Maker Publications, Inc. Reprinted with permission. 5408 Idylwild Trail, Boulder, CO 80301  Tel: (303) 516-9118 Fax: (303) 516-9119 
For Subscription Information, call: 1-800-582-8326 or www.recordingmag.com For more information on the USA Songwriting Competition, please go tp: http://www.songwriting.net 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting Tip, The 3 “PS” of Songwriting, Present, Protect, Promote, Bruce Kaphan, James Saxon, Recording magazine

Songwriters Tip: Presenting Yourself as a Pro

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Mar 02, 2011 @05:25 PM

Presenting Yourself as a Pro

(By Molly-Ann Leikin)

Molly-Ann Leikin
In Nashville, one of the most successful songwriters of all time writes on Mondays and Wednesdays, then spends the rest of the week wearing another hat altogether.  The man is not a tunesmith on Tuesday, Thursday or Friday.  He is in business.  That’s when he pitches his songs.


Business people make professional-sounding phone calls, write professional-looking mail email, texts, and check their spelling. They arrive on time, look solid and immediately gain the respect of the person on the other side of the desk – in our case, the guy with the contract and the money.      


Recently, while interviewing candidates for a job in my company, people I’d spoken to at length on the phone who sounded like great possibilities, showed up late and stoned in flip flops.  They texted during our conversation, spelled songwriting with two t’s and didn’t know who David Foster was.  Folks - that’s not it.
If you looked at yourself in the mirror, would you hire you?  Would you want to do business with the person you’re looking at?  Do you appear to be a solid investment?  And most important, do you know what the guy on the other side of the desk needs - not just what you want him to want?    


It would help if you consider yourself a potential business partner, not somebody begging for a shot.  That sure changes the dynamic, doesn’t it?       


Do you have a business card?  If not, get one.  A clever one.  Make it as original as your music.  After all, nobody can stuff a CD in his wallet.  At least not yet.        Always remember this:  you have something to contribute to the literature of music that nobody else but you can, because nobody else but you is you.  
Present it in a professional manner, and you’re half way home.

© 2011 Molly-Ann Leikin
Molly-Ann Leikin is a Career Mastery Coach and Songwriting Consultant.  An Emmy nominee, Molly has 14 gold and platinum records, plus four ASCAP Country Music Awards.  She's the author of "How To Write A Hit Song" and "How To Be A Hit Songwriter" and has written themes and songs for over four dozen TV shows and movies, including "Violet” that won an Oscar.   Molly has helped launch the careers of thousands of singers and songwriters, three of whom have Grammy nominations.  She can be reached at: www.songmd.com or 800-851-6588.    

Tags: Songwriting, American Idol, Molly-Ann Leikin, Songwriters Tip, Presenting Yourself as a Pro, song writing. song writer, The Carpenters, Emmy Awards, Country Music Awards

Songwriting Tip: 5 Tips to Build a Kick Ass EPK

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Mar 01, 2011 @12:31 PM

5 Tips to Build a Kick Ass EPK (Press Kit) by Tess

EPK sonicbids

 

High fidelity audio is key. Long gone are the days where a cheaply recorded demo is fine to shop to promoters and music buyers. With high-quality studio equipment becoming more and more accessible and home studios beefing up, it’s hard to ask any music professional to ignore the fidelity of your recording anymore. Keep the demos as a fun thing to share with fans on your blog, while your EPK highlights your highest quality work.

 

Invest in a quality Main Photo. Picture an image of 4 flannel-wearing guys, one holding a fiddle, all with long beards standing in a grassy field. Now, picture an image of 3 girls, all dressed in purple with loads of pink lipstick and their hair taking up half of the frame. You can at least safely assume these two bands don’t make the same genre of music, even though you haven’t heard either of them play. What I’m trying to say here is that your image matters. I know that ideally your “music will speak for itself” …but I hate to say it… it doesn’t. The viewer of your EPK sees that before anything else and it sets an immediate expectation of who you are and what you’re about. You main photo is your first impression. So don’t skimp on investing in your promo photos and make sure it gives off the right image for your sound.

 

Write a descriptive Elevator Pitch. If you were riding in an elevator with a stranger, and you had 30 seconds to sell your band to that person, what would you say? Choose your words carefully on your EPK elevator pitch, because this is your chance to grab the reader’s attention. The most important thing to remember is that the pitch should describe the music, because music is what the reader is looking for. The second thing to remember is that arrogance, triteness, and vagueness don’t work well. Avoid saying things like: “You’ve never heard anything like this before!” or “My music defies all genre and comparisons.” If you want to talk quality, highlighting a single great quote from a blogger or a recent award is a good tactic to get the point across.

 

Display complete Calendar Dates. A complete and up-to-date Gig Calendar is one of the most important and useful things to have in your EPK. It’s pretty simple: your calendar is your line-item resume. Promoters, especially those for performance opportunities, want to know the types of venues you are playing, how often you are performing, and even what nights of the week you tend to play. A complete calendar that includes past performance dates gives viewers a great idea as to where you are in your career, and if you’re a good fit for their gig. Also, many promoters prefer to see bands live themselves before booking - without the where and when, no one will know where to go to see you play and they most likely won’t go to the extra effort to head to your Myspace to check it out.

 

List out your Press Reviews. It’s nice to tell everyone how great you are, but it’s even better if you can show how great other people say you are. Keep in mind that brevity isn’t just the soul of wit – it’s the soul of everything in the music world. Choose the best quotes from the best articles and include those. And when I say “Press” I don’t mean only the New York Times. Posting links to bloggers that gave you a shout is definitely something to include.

 

Sonicbids.com is a sponsor of the 16th Annual USA Songwriting Competition. If you want some more tips, check out the Sonicbids Lounge – our blog dedicated to educational content – or find me on Twitter @SonicbidsTess and we can keep the conversation going.

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, sonicbids, EPK, press kit, electronic press kit, music production, music artist