Thursday, December 18, 2014

Five Pre-Songwriting Demo Mistakes (and how to avoid them)

educated-songwriter-blog_5-pre-songwriting-demo-mistakes-pt1The professional songwriting demo process is a necessary part of the equation for songwriters aspiring to get their material heard by music industry decision-makers and, hopefully, cut by successful recording artists. Despite the fact that hundreds of demos are recorded every week in places like Nashville, New York and Los Angeles, new songwriters often find themselves overwhelmed and a bit intimidated by the prospect of getting their songs demoed and ready for prime time. By highlighting some of the mistakes I’ve encountered in my years of recording songwriter demos, I can hopefully help new songwriters avoid some of the pitfalls that result in either unnecessarily expensive or ineffective recordings.

Mistake #1: The song isn’t finished.

It would seem obvious but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been paid – on the studio clock – for the privilege of watching a client’s finish writing their song in my studio. I do understand why this happens. It’s incredibly exciting to feel like you’ve got a great song on your hands and the temptation is to get it recorded right away even if there’s a “small tweak or two” left to finish. I mean, how long can it take to re-write the second line of the bridge, right? Well, the reality is that when you’re in the studio and the clock is ticking, the environment is a lot more stressful than it is creative.
This is definitely not the ideal place to make sure your lyric is perfect. Unless you’re planning on only being a songwriter for another week or so, be patient, take your time and know that waiting another week – or even another month – to make sure your song is done before you book the studio time is always a good policy. Remember, you’re going to be spending real money on this recording so be as certain as you can that your song is finished before you begin the process of recording.

Mistake #2: You haven’t made a rough recording.

Everyone’s writing process is different and vive la difference BUT one essential part of making sure your song is finished is making a simple rough recording. When I say “simple” and “rough,” I mean recording one instrument – usually guitar or piano – and a vocal into anything from a hand-held recorder to your smart phone. Here’s why. Without listening back to your song from the perspective of an audience member, you’ll miss a critical part of the writing/editing process. It doesn’t matter if you’ve played the song live a hundred times, by sitting back with a lyric sheet and just listening to the song, you’ll notice little flaws and missteps that you might never have heard if you’d been playing and singing.
The rough recording gives you the necessary perspective for those last few adjustments. I’d recommend re-recording your rough every time you think you’ve got the song totally finished. There’s an added benefit as well. Once you’re absolutely satisfied with your final rough recording, you’ll then have something to provide the demo vocalist so they can learn your song and you’ll have a reference for the session musicians when they get to the studio.

Mistake #3: You think the demo will fix what isn’t quite working in your song.

Every once in a while you’ll finish a song and feel like it’s missing a certain something but you’ll convince yourself the song is fine and just needs the full demo treatment to give it what it lacks. My experience is that if you have reservations before you demo, the demo won’t solve the problem. Of course all songs sound better with a full band of great players on them BUT don’t invest that money to fix a problem that most likely needs to be addressed in the melody and/or lyric of the song itself. If you find yourself feeling like your song is missing something and you’re not sure what it is, play it for a trusted friend or put it away for a while and come back to it. Demoing to fix the problem is an expensive way to get unsatisfactory results.

Mistake #4: You think you’ll save money by recording/playing on the demo yourself.

I completely understand the mindset. I did it myself for years. The difference is that I was as passionate about becoming a recording engineer and session musician as I was about writing songs. If you’re only looking at recording and playing on your demos as a way to save money and not to become a professional engineer and session musician, then you’re better off hiring experts. The key is to end up with a recording that marks you as a professional not one that saves you money and isn’t up to par. There’s no point in saving money on a demo that isn’t pitchable.
Take your ego out of the equation. No one else can write your song for you. That’s where you’re the expert but unless you’re also an expert at recording, playing and singing in the studio, it doesn’t make sense to do that part of it yourself. When it comes to making a great first impression with your demo, your recording has to measure up to the highest quality standards and that’s worth paying for. At the end of the day, if you’re trying to make money with your songs then remember it’s a business and you have to invest money in order to make it.

Mistake #5: You decide to record a full-band demo without having a VERY good reason

It’s understood that professionally recorded, full band demos sound amazing BUT it’s also understood that they’re expensive. Sometimes, VERY expensive. Depending on why you’re demoing your song, a simple, professionally performed and recorded guitar/vocal or piano/vocal may very well be all you need. In my opinion, there are only a few reasons to record a full band demo. First, you’ve got a film/tv pitch opportunity and they’re looking for a full-band sound for a particular scene. A second reason would be that you’re planning on using your demo as an artist project for the singer doing the vocal.
For excample, you may be working with a great, young singer and you’re planning on killing two birds with one stone by demoing the song you wrote but also putting together a series of recordings that showcase that singer as an artist. In that case, do it up. You’ll be well served by going all the way with these recordings. That being said, I would strongly suggest not recording a full band demo of every song you write just because you want to. Professionally performed and recorded demos are never inexpensive but you can get more bang for your buck doing simple, clean guitar/vocal demos of several songs in the place of a fully blown out demo of one song.Remember, you can always go back and add more instruments to a professionally recorded, stripped down demo later if the situation warrants.


By avoiding the above mistakes, you will be removing a good deal of angst from the songwriting demo process. It’s always a little stressful getting ready to put your money where your mouth is and the better the decisions you make in advance, the more able you’ll be to enjoy the recording process as you’re going through it.
Good luck!
Interested in learning more about the songwriting demo process? Click to get a FREE sample of Cliff’s eBook, “The Songwriter’s Guide to Recording Professional Demos.”
cliffgoldmacherCliff Goldmacher is a songwriter, producer, session musician, engineer, author and owner of recording studios in Nashville, TN and Sonoma, CA. Cliff’s site,(CLICK HERE), is full of resources for the aspiring songwriter including monthly online webinars. CLICK HERE for the latest schedule.
Cliff’s company,, provides songwriters outside of Nashville with virtual access to Nashville’s best session musicians and singers for their songwriting demos.
You can download a FREE sample of Cliff’s eBook “The Songwriter’s Guide To Recording Professional Demos” by going to
Twitter: edusongwriter

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Business of Songwriting: Co-Writes and Split Sheets

by Dave Kusek
songwriting_sheet-pianoAs a songwriter, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the creativity and excitement of writing and forget about the business side of things.
A lot of times, the very subject of business, royalty splits and copyright can change the atmosphere of the room and dry up whatever creative juices were flowing.
However, it’s important to remember that it’s your copyrights that will get you a publishing deal, a licensing contract, and ultimately, an income in the future. If you don’t legally and properly claim your work, you could be missing out on thousands of dollars worth of opportunities.
Of course, this becomes a little more complicated if you work with other writers or producers to compose songs. Co-writing is pretty common these days among songwriters and the collaboration culture is growing rapidly in today’s music industry. It’s a great way to explore new styles, find inspiration, and discover melodies and grooves you never knew you had in you. However, it also means that all co-writers have a stake in the song and it’s up to you to determine just what percentage each writer owns. These splits will determine the royalties you receive in the future.

The Split Sheet

In the US, in the absence of a written agreement each co-writer automatically owns an equal share in a song. To get around this, you’ll need to create a split sheet putting each songwriter’s ownership down on paper. A split sheet is a short document that details which writer owns what percentage of a song. While it is a legal document, you probably don’t need to hire a lawyer, especially during the early stages of your career; instead, you could download this free template. You’ll need to create a split sheet for every song you write with someone else.

When to Create a Split Sheet

It’s best to create a split sheet up front, right after you’ve completed a song. You want to make it extremely clear who owns what before any income or royalties start flowing in. Often, having real money on the table can complicate things. Not to mention, the writing process will be fresh in your mind and it will be easier to determine the percentages.
If you’ve skipped split sheets on previously co-written songs, you definitely want to make sure you write one up before you enter into negotiations for any kind of license or deal. Publishing companies don’t want to get dragged into a copyright ownership dispute and may not let you sign a contract unless you have it figured out. On top of that, if ownership is not clear, PROs, publishers, or record companies may hold back any royalties your songs are generating to avoid liability.

How to Determine the Splits

There are a few ways to approach this, and it will vary depending on your particular situation. If you’re intent on avoiding confrontation, you could go the easy route and give each contributor equal ownership.For example, if you had two co-writers, it would be split 50/50 between the two of you for the writer’s portion.
Another option is to give each writer a percentage equal to their contribution. This is where things can get a little tricky. If you simply measure by the length of each contribution, the person who wrote the hook may only get 10% or 15%. However, most people consider the hook the most important part of a song and believe it deserves a much larger percentage. With that in mind, you need to evaluate each contribution by its length and value to the overall song. If you’re working with a producer, the genre will largely determine their ownership. For the most part, hip-hop and urban producers will get a higher percentage than other genres with jazz and classical producers receiving little to no ownership.

How to Write a Split Sheet

You can certainly write up your own split sheet. As long as all the information is there, it’s a perfectly legal document. Create a template in Word with labeled fields and space to fill in the song name, the contributing writers, their PRO and publishing company, their role in the song creation (producer, writer, etc.), address and contact information, the percentage of the song each writer owns, and a signature for each writer. Or download our free template. Once you have this template, you can simply make copies to fill out every time you collaborate on a new song.
Sit down with your co-writers and fill it out together. Once finished, make sure each writer has signed the sheet and are given a copy of the final split sheet.
If you’d like to learn even more great strategies, check out this free video lesson series. You’ll meet some of our students who are seeing real results and success and go through their winning strategies.
Of course, if you want to be a successful songwriter, you’ll need to go above and beyond split sheets and learn how to promote and license your music. In the New Artist Model online music business courses you’ll learn how to turn your music into a successful business. You’ll create an actionable and personalized plan that will help you achieve a career in music, and you’ll be able to do it all with the resources you have available right now.
Author bio: Dave Kusek is a digital cowboy, consultant, teacher, entrepreneur, musician, marketer, co-author of Future of Music, founder of Berklee Online, and the driving force behind New Artist Model.

Friday, December 12, 2014

What Is A Publishing Deal and Do I Really Need One?

sign_a_contractThe term “publishing”, most simply, means the business of song copyrights.  A songwriter owns 100% of his song copyright and all the related publishing rights until the writer signs those rights away. Under the law, copyright (literally, the right to make and sell copies) automatically vests in the author or creator the moment the expression of an idea is “fixed in a tangible medium.” (i.e., the moment it is written down or recorded on tape.)  With respect to recorded music, there are really two copyrights: a copyright in the musical composition owned by the songwriter and a copyright in the sound of the recording owned by the recording artist (but usually transferred to the record company when a record deal is signed).
A writer owns the copyright in his work the moment he writes it down or records it, and by law can only transfer those rights by signing a written agreement to transfer them. Therefore, a songwriter must be wary of any agreement he or she is asked to sign. Although it is not necessary, it is advisable to place a notice of copyright on all copies of the work. This consists of the symbol “c” or the word “copyright”, the author’s name, and the year in which the work was created, for example: ” (c) John Doe 2014.”
The filing of a copyright registration form in Washington D.C. gives additional protection in so far as it establishes a record of the existence of such copyright and gives the creator the presumption of validity in the event of a lawsuit. Registration also allows for lawsuits to be commenced in Federal court and, under Federal law, allows an award of attorneys fees to the prevailing party.  To order forms and for additional information on copyright registration call (202) 707-9100 or go to\copyrights. These days a songwriter can even register on line.
As defined by the copyright law, the word “publish” most simply means “distribution of copies of a work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental lease, or lending”. As a practical matter, music publishing consists primarily of all administrative duties, exploitation of copyrights, and collection of monies generated from the exploitation of those copyrights. If a writer makes a publishing deal and a publisher takes on these responsibilities then it “administers” the compositions. Administrative duties range from filing all the necessary registrations (i.e., copyright forms) to answering inquiries regarding the musical compositions.
One of the most important functions of music publishers is exploitation of a composition or “plugging” a song. Exploitation simply means seeking out different uses for musical compositions. Sometimes a music publisher will have professional quality demos prepared and send them to artists and producers to try to secure recordings. They also use these tapes to secure usage in the television, film and advertising industries.
Equally important as exploitation is the collection of monies earned by these musical usages. There are two primary sources of income for a music publisher: earnings that come from record sales (i.e., mechanical royalties) and revenues that come from broadcast performances (i.e., performance royalties).  Mechanical royalties are collected directly from the record companies and paid to the publisher. Performance royalties are collected by performing rights organizations – ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC – and then distributed proportionably to the publisher and to the songwriter. In addition to plugging and administrative functions, it is also important to know that there is a creative side to music publishing. Since producing hit songs is in the best interest of both the writer and the publisher, good music publishers have whole departments devoted to helping writers grow and develop. The creative staff finds and signs new writers, works with them to improve their songs, pairs them up creatively with co-writers and hopes the outcome will be hit records.
A publishing deal concerns rights and revenues. If a writer decides to do a publishing deal then the main issue for negotiation is going to be the language pertaining to the calculation and division of the rights in the copyright and division of the monies earned. In the old days, most deals were 100% copyright to the publisher and 50/50 share of the revenues because there was a concept that the “writer’s share” was 50% and the “publisher’s share” was 50%. This, of course, was an invention of the publishers. Legally, these terms have no such inherent meaning but their calculation is defined in each individual agreement. Most modern publishing deals, however, are referred to as “co-publishing” deals where the copyrights are co-owned 50/50 and the monies are usually calculated at around 75/25 meaning the writer gets 100% of the 50% writer’s share and 50% of the publisher’s 50% share for a total of 75%.
It is best for the writer to insist that all calculations be made “at source” so that there are not too many charges and fees deducted off-the-top before the 75% calculation is made. Keep in mind, however, that the advance paid to the writer by the publisher is later recouped by the publisher out of the writer’s share of income from the song. So, the net business effect is that the publisher pays the writer with the writer’s own money to buy a share of the copyright (and the right to future income) from the writer.
Although a writer can be his own publisher and retain 100% of the money, the larger publishers in the music business usually pay substantial advance payments to writers in order to induce them to sign a portion of their publishing rights to the publisher – and this can be a good thing for the writer. Although a deal for a single song may be done with little or no advance payment (provided there is a reversion of the song to the writer if no recording is released within a year or two), there should be a substantial advance paid ($5,000-$100,000+) to a writer for any publishing deal with a longer term (e.g., 3-5 years or more). Moreover, sometimes the length of an agreement is more than just a function of time, it might also be determined based on the number of songs delivered by the writer or, even more difficult to calculate, based on the number of songs that get recorded and released on a major label (something neither the writer nor the publisher may have any control over).
Publishing deals have to do with more than just the money though. Since every music publisher is different, it is important for the songwriter to assess both the business and the creative sides of a music publisher before signing any deal. Ultimately, the songwriter is trading a share of something the writer already owns 100% of (the copyright) so it is important to be mindful of what it is exchanged for by way of services and money.
wallace-collins_sep2014Wallace Collins is an entertainment lawyer based om New York.  He was a recording artist for Epic Records before attending Fordham Law School. Tel:(212) 661-3656 /

Thursday, November 6, 2014

How To Grow Your Email List At Your Next Gig

by Yannick Ilunga
email_imageWhen it comes to the online world, having an email list signup feature is one of the most important things a website can have. While having a lead magnet such as a free giveaway (e.g. free song, ebook, etc.) is an excellent way to attract people into subscribing to your newsletter, there are a few tricks that you can use to increase the number of your subscribers.
For musicians, having an email list represents an opportunity to collect email addresses and to have direct access to their followers. In a recent episode of The Jazz Spotlight Podcast, Dave Kusek talked about email lists as a tool that can land artists more gigs.
As promoters and music venues aim at getting people through the door, you can utilize your email list to help them get customers. “If your email list has 200 people in a 20-mile radius from the venue, you can let promoters know about that,” explained Kusek. “If you show venues and promoters that you can help them get more patrons and promote your gig, you have more chances to get booked for a performance.”
So, if you don’t have an email list yet, now it is a good moment to start one. If you have already built an email list, these are 4 tactics you can use to grow it offline, at your next gig.

1. Contests and Giveaways

Chances are people will stop by your merchandise corner (because you have one set up, right?) after your show. So, why not take advantage of that and invite them to join your email list?
You could easily do that by having a notebook or board where people can write down their name and email address.
Or even better, you could use contests and giveaways. Place a box somewhere on the table, have people write down their name and email on a piece of paper and ask them to put it into the box. This is how they become eligible for the contest or giveaway.
The next step is to manually add the email addresses to your newsletter, randomly draft a winner and give him/her her prize.

2. Use Specific Apps to Collect Email Addresses

Having a box or board where people can write their email address can be a great way to grow an email list. There’s the risk, however, that you may end up having to spend quite a lot of time to manually insert that data into your newsletter.
Luckily, though, there are alternatives. Apps like ProspectSnapSignupAnywhere and Chimpadeedoo for instance, allow you to instantly add people to your email list.
Such tools are great for networking at conferences, but can also be very valuable at live shows. Why not hand over your smartphone or tablet to them and ask them to insert their name and email address while you are signing a copy of the CD they have just purchased?
This kind of app usually works without a wi-fi connection and they syncronize the data with most popular email list services  as soon as you have an Internet connection available.

3. Use a QR Code That Redirects People to Your Email List Subscribe Page

Another way to grow your email list offline is to add a QR Code to promotional materials such as posters, flyers and business cards.
In order to do this, you want to have your email list subscribe page already set up. This way, people can simply scan the QR Code using their smartphones and they will automatically be redirected to where they can sign up for your newsletter.
If you decide to use this tactic, you want to make sure to add some catchy copy next to the code, so that your fans know what the code is for.
You could also integrate the QR Code with a contest and write something like “scan this code and sign up for the email list to enter the competition and win a free [name the prize].”

4. Word-of-Mouth

The good old word-of-mouth is still a very good way to pass messages along and promote yourself.
When people pay an admission fee to come see you perform live, they will be focused on you (for the most part of your gig). So why not take advantage of this focus and ask them to subscribe to your email list?
Obviously, if you decide to go down this path, you want to have a link that is easy to remember (e.g. something like and have a lead magnet, a giveaway that will incentivate people to immediately sign up for it.
The next time you hit the road to head to your next gig, keep in mind that there are great ways you can easily grow your email list offline.
Yannick Ilunga writes about music business at The Jazz Spotlight and talks about jazz and the music industry with artists, best-selling authors and experts on The Jazz Spotlight Podcast.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

How to launch a music publicity campaign

This excerpt from our Planning Your Album guide speaks to things you should do as you prepare to launch a PR campaign and enter your music publicity phase

planning a music publicity campaign
If you’re sitting down to tackle making an album, there’s a lot to think about; from clearing the rights for your cover songs to converting the cover art to the right format. These issues can trip you up, or cause the album to take a lot longer than you’d expect. Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan, authors of The Indie Band Survival Guide, have revised our popular Planning Your Album From Beginning To End guide. Here’s an excerpt from the revised guide, which you can download for free right now!
The following material has filled many books, so rather than go into detail about how or why you’ll want to do all the steps below, we’ll simply list them out so you don’t forget to do them as part of your music publicity campaign.

1. Plan your PR campaign

This should be your overall strategy for the album and any live shows you do in support of it. Most bands do both a traditional media campaign (newspapers, magazines, and radio), as well as a new media campaign (podcasts, music blogs, MP3s, entertainment blogs).
Promotion requires creativity
Music publicity is not just compiling lists and following steps mechanically. It can and should be fun and creative too. It’s at the planning stage that you should be channeling the same creativity you put into your music to build excitement and buzz about your upcoming album.
Here are some planning ideas to get you started:
  • Do a contest
  • Make a video*
  • Create a Flash game based on a song on your album
  • Partner with a blog or podcast
What’s the biggest music search engine in the world? YouTube. In fact, video is possibly the only true viral media on the web. Beyond being an amazingly powerful medium for generating awareness and sales of your music, it also can be monetized and generate revenue for you.

2. Set up alerts with your new album name and song titles

You’ll want to keep up-to-date on what people are saying about your new album and songs. This is as easy as setting up a Google Alert with your band name, as well as the name of your album. (For step-by-step instructions on setting up Alerts for your music, see the article “How To Get Automatic Alerts When Your Band is Mentioned Online.”)

3. Update your music resume documents

Your “music resume” contains the following important brand elements:
  • Your bio
  • Your fact sheets
  • Your online press kit
  • Your offline press kit
  • Your tour schedule
  • Other PR documents with the new album information
These are the documents that you’ll either send out (to the press, bloggers, music reviewers, etc.) or need updated online if they have questions or need more information. Updating these now will save you time and energy later when you start sending these out or people start asking you for them. Plus, by crafting the message, tone, and language for your release and promotion here, you can repurpose the content as you update your website and web presences.

4. Prepare PR documents such as press releases

Sending a press release is a simple way you can notify the media of your album and CD release show. They’re not that difficult to write and there are free press wires that will help you blast out your release to the media.

5. Compile your target PR lists

There are plenty of outlets within your arm’s reach that you can target to get your music reviewed and heard. In short, you’ll want to compile a list of:
  • Album review press, magazines, zones, and websites
  • Traditional local and national press
  • New media press
  • Commercial, college, and public radio stations
  • Internet radio stations
  • Music blogs
  • Music podcasts
  • Radio stations
  • Non-music blogs covering topics in your niche
  • Non-music podcasts covering topics in your niche
  • Other websites
If you find a website, blog, radio station, or podcast that looks like it may play your music but lacks details about submitting, reach out to the blogger, podcaster, or website owner directly. Always obey the rules of submission. Don’t miss out on coverage by making their life more difficult.

6. Work with your street team and fans

It’s people, not technology, who make things happen. Your fan network is no exception. Don’t be afraid to involve them and ask for their help. Keep your fan network up to date about the upcoming album and give them exclusive cuts from the album as a reward and to whet their appetites.
Involve your fan network early in your music publicity efforts so you can create missions and steer their enthusiasm from random acts of buzz to a coordinated effort that’s in line with your overall strategy.

7. Maintain and update your own website

Don’t rely on just a social network (e.g. Facebook) as your website. Platforms like Facebook are important for promotional purposes, but these are your “web presences.” Every musician needs a home base – a site that you control, with your own domain, where you’re not competing against advertising.
If you’re looking for a place to build and host your own website with your own domain, check out HostBaby, a web hosting service for created for musicians. HostBaby features include 10GB of space, hundreds of design templates to choose from, an email newsletter tool, gig calendar, streaming audio, video, guestbook, and blog/news page tools. You also get unlimited email addresses @yourdomain. Often overlooked, writing from your own band’s domain name is a simple, consistent, and effective branding and promotional practice.
Once you update your music resume documents, you’re ready to update your website to announce and feature your new album. This should include blogging about the upcoming release, but also could include adding songs and videos on your site to generate interest.

8. Update your web presence (Part I)

Update your web presences with news about your upcoming album (Facebook, Twitter, Eventful, etc.). Remind fans about your mailing list and blog so they can stay informed as to when the album drops. Add the “radio single” to your web presence audio players.

9. Contact your mailing list

Nothing justifies a new newsletter or email campaign like announcing your upcoming album and shows and following up with promotion and press being generated.
Billboard magazine called Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan “the ideal mentors for aspiring indie musicians who want to navigate an ever-changing music industry.” They’ve written three books with major publishers (Macmillan, Random House), teach music business (including a 15-hour online course called “Making Money with Music”), and are regular contributors to Electronic Musician magazine.
To learn more about generating awareness and sales of your music on YouTube, watch Chertkow and Feehan’s class “Making Money From YouTube” from their online course, “Making Money With Music.”

Read more: How To Launch A Music Publicity Campaign – Disc Makers

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Avoiding Common Songwriting Obstacles

songwriter-thumbBen Camp is a successful songwriter whose song “Gold” was a hit for Victoria Justice, tallying more than 14 million YouTube views. In Part I of this interview, “The road to becoming a successful songwriter,” Ben spoke about his journey as a songwriter and the importance of building a team as “today’s music industry is very fragmented, so the more angles you can come at a project with, the more likely you are to be successful.”
In this post, Ben shares his perspectives on the art and craft of songwriting, including methods he uses to develop compelling song ideas. He expands on his thoughts about the importance of co-writing and why he believes it’s essential to build a network of talented collaborators while pointing out some of the common mistakes aspiring songwriters often make.
Let’s dive into the craft of pop songwriting. You mentioned there are rules and conventions, so when you are working with someone who excites you with their raw talent, what types of issues come up that you help them understand and improve?
Singers with fantastic voices provide an interesting problem. Most great singers know exactly what range makes their voice sound spectacular. As a result, a lot of them tend to write the entire melody of their song in that one little sweet spot, within the range of fifth or a sixth, which robs them of the ability to use a melody to affect the listener’s emotions. Instead, they rely solely on the strength of their voice to influence the listener.
When you cut the range down and only allow yourself a handful of notes, your melodic contour can’t take the listener on a journey. Even if you do something as simple as take the chorus and move it up an octave, you can really set off some great fireworks and draw the listener in.
One of my favorite examples of that technique is the song “Free Fallin’” by Tom Petty. The verse and the chorus are centered primarily around the same scale notes, but when the chorus uses those notes an octave higher, the song hits almost everybody that listens to it like a ton of bricks. Even if you’re going to use the same pitch set from verse to chorus, just taking it up an octave and hearing the change in the voice is such a powerful tool.
Songwriting tips
What about lyrics? What problems pop up most often?
A lot of young artists fall into a few common traps, the first of which is rhyme scheme abuse.
Much like we just discussed the pitches being the same in every section, they will have the same rhyme scheme in every section. The verse will be A-B-A-B, the pre-chorus will be A-B-A-B, the chorus will be A-B-A-B and maybe even their line lengths will be identical. Repetition and variation are the keys to songwriting success. You want to repeat things enough to give the listener something to hang on to, but you want enough variation to make it exciting and fresh. Repeat too much and they get bored, if you vary too much, they get disinterested. That applies in use of rhyme scheme, as much as it does in melody and length of lines.
Another trap a lot of young writers fall into is clich├ęs. Since they feel it’s really nice to sing an “I” sound at the end of a line, they go with “fire,” and the next line they go with the first thing out of their mouth, which happens to be “desire.” This is one of those craft versus instinct battles, where I would encourage people to let their craft have a fighting chance.
Your instinct is going to tell you what vowel sounds best – I believe it was Keith Richards who once called his writing process a “vowel movement.” Which is to say he is simply singing vowel sounds over the melody to try things out. And if you get a rhyming dictionary, or even just spend five minutes going through that vowel sound exercise, you’ll be able to drastically increase the amount of your personal flavor that’s going to be in the track. Because I guarantee you, anybody with a firm grasp of the English language and a basic knowledge of pop music of the last 50 years is going to instinctively come up with “desire” to rhyme with “fire.”
So when you’re working on your lyrics, take a minute and really look at your rhyme sounds and the words that you’re choosing and ask yourself if something else hits you harder. And the only way to tell that is to sing it, which is another mistake a lot of young writers make. They’ll literally write lyrics and never sing them, so they never have any idea how good they are.
Frequently in a writing session, I’ll have what I think is the dumbest idea down on paper and something I think is pretty good, and when we actually sing them, they get completely reversed! As a result, I’ve made a rule in my writing sessions that if somebody writes something down, you gotta sing it, just to hear how it sounds. The number of untapped gems that we’ve found that way has made a lot of songs stand out.
In addition, for some listeners, the lyric is going to be the most identifiable element of how they remember that song. And how does that artist wear that lyric? I sometimes use the analogy that the artist is the actor, and the lyric is the script, and the song is the movie. You wouldn’t want to cast an action hero in the role of a damsel in distress. So you want to make sure your lyric is always putting your best foot as an artist forward so the listener connects with the feeling you are trying to portray.
Can you talk a little bit about collaboration? It seems on nearly every hit song today, if you look at the writer’s credits, you’ll see quite a few collaborators.
The aspect of [songwriting] specialization is something that has become less and less practiced these days. I think that is because for nearly every label or project, it seems the budgets are shrinking from what they used to be – and the timetables, too. Everybody wants better results and faster turnarounds. So to keep up, you have to collaborate. You either need to have someone on your team who can do what needs to be done, or you need to learn how to do it yourself.
The frequency and type of co writing that happens today as opposed to that which happened 50 years ago (Lennon and McCartney, Jagger and Richards) is a reflection of that. Today, a publisher or A&R rep emails you and says we need this song for project A, another for project B, and this song for this particular movie; and you have a week to hand in three songs, fully finished.
We’re not talking about, “Write the song and send in a voice memo from your cell phone.” They need the song, they need the beat, the vocal arrangement, and the mix; meaning they can send it to the movie and have it ready to place, or they can submit it to an artist and just swap out the lead vocal and go.
Putting together a specific team of people for each project is pretty helpful to be able to deliver the results they are asking for: quick turnaround and a high level of quality. With a team, you are able to stylistically broaden the horizons of what you can deliver. One day I’m writing an urban song, the next day I’m writing a dance a capella, and the following day I’m working with somebody who wants an indie-electronic sound. I will bring in different co-writers for each of those.
If it’s a rock artist, I will bring in a buddy of mine who has great rock instincts. I don’t come primarily from a rock background. So there will be the artist, myself, the rock guy, and perhaps a fourth person if we need another producer. There are also the business elements as I said before. The more people you have working together on a project, the more avenues you have to get that project placed.
Also a lot of times, labels will not want to release something if it doesn’t have one of their guys on it. Their producer, their writer, their vocalist, and so on. If you want to get the next Cee-Lo single, chances are you’re going to be working on that track with one the label’s in house producers, because of course, the labels want to get a cut of the publishing income and keep as big a share as possible.
Any closing thoughts on what it takes to be successful as a songwriter?
You had brought up the etiquette of co-writing earlier and a couple of things come to mind. First of all, one of the best ways I’ve heard it described is as a “no-free” zone, which I have to credit to my teacher at Berklee, Pat Pattison. The idea being that you should never just flat out say “no” to any idea. You should either not say anything and just keep generating ideas, or take the idea and find something you do like and add to it.
When you are co-writing, keeping a great emotional vibe in the room and keeping everybody’s spirits up is just as important to getting a quality product out. When people are excited they turn out more and better work. So your job is not only to come up with great melodic, lyrical, and production ideas, but also to keep people engaged and excited about what’s going on.
A second co-writing tip is something that I learned over time that I have found very useful to remember.
The first two years out of Berklee that I spent writing, we would get a pitch sheet and it would show everyone who was looking for a particular type of song and when they needed it. The writing sessions would be, “Today, we are going to write a Kelly Clarkson song.” And we would spend all day listening to every song that Kelly had recorded and we would find a singer with about the same vocal range and every decision in the writing room was made trying to decide, “Does that sounds like something Kelly would sing?” Is that something the label is looking for?
That led to a lot of turning off of the instincts of the people in the room instead of trusting our gut feeling to what was a great song. As a result, we got a lot of garbage songs that nobody was interested in, and we didn’t understand why.
The approach that I use now is to treat someone in the writing room as an artist. And trust my instincts on what sounds good in their voice. At every melody or lyric choice, I ask that somebody in the room in a co-writing situation is going to be able to sing, and we treat that singer as the artist. Whether or not that person wants to sing the song for themselves, of whether or not their style of music is totally different than the style of music we are writing that day, my question is, “Am I moved emotionally when I hear that voice singing that melody with that lyric?”
If I had a different singer in the co-writing session that day, I would probably write a different song, and unless the voice on the demo captures the emotion you want, the chances are less and less in today’s music industry that an A&R or music publisher will be able to project a fantastic voice onto that song later and really nail it.
So I really just try to find the emotional truth that is in that singer’s voice [in the writing session] and put that down on the recording and trust that somebody will hear it and have an emotional response to it.
Later they can decide where it needs to go – “as is” directly to a film or TV show, or will they say, “Yeah, I feel sad when I listen to this song and Leona Lewis is looking for a sad ballad, so let’s send it to her.”
So it all comes down to the honesty of what the song is communicating. In a way, nothing else really matters.
Correct, at least that’s how it works for me. I recommend that aspiring songwriters at least give this approach a try and see how it works for them.
Keith Hatschek is a regular contributor to Disc Makers Echoes blog and directs the Music Management Program at University of the Pacific. He’s also written two music industry books, How to Get a Job in the Music Industry and The Golden Moment: Recording Secrets from the Pros.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

4 Royalties You’re Probably Missing

pile-of-money_thumbIf you’ve affiliated yourself as a songwriter with a performing rights organization (such as ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC) and registered all your songs, you’ve taken an important first step in collecting the publishing royalties you’re owed.
That being said, PROs such as ASCAP and BMI only collect one form of music publishing revenues: the performance royalty.
In order to collect ALL of the royalties you’re owed, you either need to have a publishing rights administrator working on your behalf, or spend hundreds to thousands of hours each year tracking down this money yourself (in every corner of the globe); oh, and you’ll also need to speak dozens of languages and be absolutely psyched about paperwork.
In case my sarcasm went undetected, I’ll repeat it plainly: it’s nearly impossible for independent artists to collect all the music publishing revenue they’re owed — while also having time to make music — without the help of a traditional publisher or a service like CD Baby Pro.

If you’re only signed up with a performing rights organization such as ASCAP or BMI, here’s what you’re missing:

1. Mechanical royalties for physical product (CDs, vinyl, etc.)
Performing rights organizations do NOT collect mechanical royalties. Yet every time a song you’ve written appears on an album that is manufactured for sale, you’re owed a mechanical royalty. If you’re releasing your own material, you’re essentially paying this royalty to yourself. But if other artists cover your songs, are you set up to get paid?
2. Streaming 
Every time your music is played on an interactive streaming service such as Spotify or Beats Music, you’re owed publishing royalties, in addition to the standard streaming license fee you receive per play. These publishing royalties from streaming services are comprised mostly of mechanical royalties, but there is also a small percentage of performance royalties that will be paid to your PRO. Again, if you’re only registered with ASCAP or BMI, you’re only getting paid a fraction of what you’re owed.
3. International download sales
As our friends at SongTrust explain: “Outside of the US, music retailers (iTunes, Amazon, etc)  are required to pay mechanical licensing societies (think Harry Fox Agency but in other areas of the world) around 9% of revenue earned from each download. This amounts to about 9 cents per digital download, owed to the songwriter. This money sits at the mechanical society until it is collected by a publishing administrator.” Without a service like CD Baby Pro, you’re leaving those uncollected international mechanical royalties on the table.
4. International Performance Royalties
US-based PROs such as ASCAP and BMI are great at collecting performance royalties within the United States. But with CD Baby Pro, your songs will be registered directly with international performing rights organizations around the world. We’ll collect your international performance royalties straight from the source. With our direct agreements, you’ll get paid faster and more efficiently than you would via BMI, ASCAP, or SESAC (who have reciprocal agreements for international performance royalties).
If you want to make sure you’re set up to collect all the publishing royalties you’re owed, check out CD Baby Pro.
Courtesy of

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Musicians: Learn How to Soundcheck

One of my biggest pet peeves as a performer is a band who doesn’t know how to soundcheck properly. It
shouldn’t be – it usually reflects inexperience and ignorance rather than disrespect and apathy. The truth is that most bands are taught how to soundcheck, it’s just a skill that gets picked up along the way. Despite this, the soundcheck is often an indicator of the professionalism of the band.
Here’s a lesson on how to soundcheck the right way:
Before the show
Once you have a show confirmed, you should send a stage plot, technical rider, and input list to the sound and lighting engineers. Having detailed needs spelled out in advance can help overcome any issues early on, including deficiencies in equipment, limited inputs or monitor mixes, etc. For larger shows, you could send audio tracks or performance footage showing the kind of mix and light design that you’d like for the show (assuming you don’t have your own sound/lighting crew).
You should be prepared to bring everything needed for your instrument: the instrument, cables, adaptors, amp, stands, microphones, batteries etc. Unless you have a detailed list of what is being provided by the venue, assume that you are responsible for your own gear. I also recommend keeping a backup set of power strips, extension cables, strings, drum sticks, gaffer tape, setlists, sharpies, DI boxes, power cables, and vocal microphones. Things should be clearly labeled so that they can be quickly identified – something that is often useful on dark stages.
The biggest issues with soundchecking that are under your control include:
  • Weak or dead batteries, especially in wireless systems or electronic pickups
  • Loose or damaged cables
  • Poor mic technique (standing too far back, holding mic improperly, etc.)
  • Noisy channels caused by effects, grounding, or wireless systems
  • Over-aggressive padding or attenuation of devices (mixers on stage, DI boxes, etc.)
The more that you can take care of these common problems ahead of time, the more time that can be spent making you sound good.
When you arrive
Show up at the designated time (or earlier if you need more loading time) and ask the sound engineer where they would like you to place your gear. When loading onto the stage, begin with larger pieces of equipment – the drum set, amp rigs, etc. but watch out for the mixer snake, power outlets, or areas where XLR cables will be run. Find a place for “dead” or empty cases to be stored off stage.
Whether you will be getting a full soundcheck or only a line check, prepare your gear in advance so that you can be ready at a moment’s notice. This means setting up the drums, positioning stands, tuning, etc.
The soundcheck
Most shows will soundcheck in reverse order of the show. In other words, the headliner will soundcheck first and the opening act will soundcheck last. Sometimes, the acts in the middle will only get a quick line check right before their set. Whether you you get a full soundcheck or not, the process is generally the same.
The sound engineer should guide you through the process, asking for one instrument at a time. No one else should be playing or testing their gear at this time, only the person being addressed by the engineer.
Most of the time, engineers will check in this order: drums, bass, guitar, keyboards or electronic samples, horns, lead vocals, backup vocals.
When your instrument is being checked, play a quick sample at the intended volume and test any gear that might increase that volume (pedals or effects). Usually, as each instrument is being checked, the engineer will ask which band members require it in their monitor – simply gesture whether you want it up, down, or not at all in your monitor. This is also the time to address any mixing requests for the house as well (e.g, we’d like stage right guitar louder in the mix).
After all of the individual channels are dialed in, you’ll be asked to play a song. Play one that incorporates all of your instruments and vocalists if possible, so that the engineer can get a good mix for the house. In fact, try to play the same song every time you soundcheck so that you can listen for consistency.
Band members can also walk through the front of the house (one at a time) or have a member of the road crew listen for any abnormalities or changes.
After the soundcheck, if you’re requested to move your gear (such as sliding it back to make room for the next band), try and mark the positions of amps and stands with brightly colored tape so that you can quickly re-set the stage.
After the soundcheck/show
If you have another act coming on after you, clear off your equipment as quickly as possible. Try and get the larger things out of the way, such as drums or amp stacks, so that the next band and can load their gear on stage. Tasks, such as breaking down drums, wrapping cables, putting things in cases, etc. should be done offstage. A quick tear down is a courtesy both to the act following you, the sound crew who needs to set up for the next band, and the promoter who is trying to run a show on time. Before the acts begins playing, do another quick walkthrough to make sure that you got everything.
If you don’t have another act following you, there isn’t as much of a rush to clear the stage but you should still ask the venue when they’d like you to tear down. The last thing that you want to do is to keep up any staff waiting to close and go home for the night.
Finally, be sure to thank the sound engineer. You might even consider tipping them or buying them a drink so that you can develop a good rapport.
If you want to be a professional musician, you have to learn how to deliver a professional experience. Everything from how you load in, how you soundcheck, to how you perform on stage is a part of the process. Not only will this help set you apart, but the venue staff and other artists will appreciate your efficiency as well!
To find get specific tips on how to improve your soundcheck as well as make your touring/live shows more effective, check out Music Business Hacks.
Courtesy of