Issue 1.0 - March 1998
||The Muse's News
In This Issue:
ISSN 1480-6975. Copyright 1998 - Jodi Krangle. For more info about placing ads,
send an inquiry.
Sponsored in part by Samurai Consulting. To set up a mailing list or for UNIX consulting, please contact Bryan Fullerton (Owner) at firstname.lastname@example.org, or see their website at http://www.samurai.com/.
Welcome to the very first issue of The Muse's News. Thank you to all who have been sending in contributions and have been supportive and patient with the process. I hope you'll feel that the wait was worth it.
I'm particularly glad to have Irene as the first songwriter interviewed for The Muse's News because she was also the first songwriter/performer I featured in the Sample Songs section of the web site oh so long ago when I started out in 1995. Call me nostalgic. ;) If you have thoughts on who you'd like to see interviewed for this recurring spotlight, I hope you'll e-mail me at email@example.com to let me know.
I'm always looking for submissions for future issues. All articles should be no more than 400-600 words and all reviews of CD's or books should be no more than 200 words. Suggestions for future content are also welcome.
Thanks go especially to all those who contributed to this first issue. I couldn't have done it without you!
I hope you all enjoy the results.
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Songwriting Book Reviews by Rick Paul
This Business of Music, by Krasilovsky and Shemel
This feels to me like the bible of music business information. It is almost 700 pages long, including appendices (e.g. sample contracts of many types, copyright law extracts) and index. Despite its length, the retail price is a fairly reasonable $30. It is quite dry, and fairly to the point, but covers most aspects of the music business. For example, while I'd heard horror stories with respect to new artists' abilities to make money from a major label deal, even despite big advances, there is actually a breakdown of what comes out of the 12% of retail list or so that a typical artist will get. For example, and this is from memory, about a quarter of that typically goes to the producer, so that could take it down to 9% right away. On CDs, a 25% is taken off retail list basis for "packaging" costs, and the artist is paid only on 90% of sales anyway, then there are things like free goods, reserves (which will eventually be liquidated), etc. The net is that instead of actually getting 12% of retail list, the figure could end up being more like 4-5% after reserves are liquidated. And these deductions don't include other costs that can be charged against the artist, such as video production (or part of it). Very educational. I suspect some of the information has a lot in common with the Passman and Brabec/Brabec books, though my quick scan through all of those books gave me the impression that this one is more comprehensive. The sample contracts themselves were also very useful, and informative.
500 Songwriting Ideas (for Brave and Passionate People), by Lisa Aschmann
This book literally goes through 500 different short, anectodal ideas to try and get you inspired to write a song. Some are really off the wall, and others are less so, but most do get the wheels rolling -- at least in wondering where she came up with some of this stuff. An example: Idea #96 reads, "Think of the most nasal song you can, and write in that voice." That one doesn't give any examples, but some of the tips actually give examples of songs that model the idea being given.
Rick Paul is a songwriter based in Southern California. He specializes in writing country, pop/rock, and adult contemporary, while also writing in other genres. He is a member of the National Academy of Songwriters (NAS) and Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI). Rick participated in the NSAI Song Camp 101 workshop in Spring 1997. Rick also sings and plays piano and other keyboard instruments. To find out more, visit his web page .
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Musical Notes: Songwriting Contests & Market Information
The Cultural Council of Luzerne County (PA),
a non-profit organization, is sponsoring a songwriters' contest. Submissions must be received by March 21, 1998. Over $2000 in prizes; seven categories; $15 entry fee. Contestants receive copies of judges evaluation forms. Contact: CCLC,67 Public Square, Suite 804, Wilkes-Barre, PA 18701 (717)826-6111.
1998 Newfolk Songwriting Competition
Information brochure to be mailed February 27 - Further info will be posted at http://www.kerrville-music.com/kerrfest so check regularly. Kerrville Music Festivals - E-mail
USA Songwriting Competition:
Join the 1998 USA Songriting competition! It is currently the LARGEST songwriting contest judged in the United States with prizes awarded in 14 different categories. This is a wonderful oppurtunity for Songwriters, Bands, Solo Artists to get discovered! This contest is sponsored by BMI, Guild Guitars, D'Addario Guitar Strings, Cakewalk Music Software,Musician's Friend, Superdups and ASN. For more information visit: http://www.tiac.net/users/asn/songcontest.html or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The 1998 UNISONG International Song Contest is now open!
Created by Songwriters...For Songwriters, the UNISONG International Song Contest is a fantastic opportunity for songwriters and writer/artists around the world to have their songs heard, their careers enhanced and make a direct contribution back to the songwriting community and world at large...all at the same time. Over $30,000 USD in cash and prizes in 12 categories. Grand Prize Winner receives an all expenses paid trip to Cuba to participate in the 1998 MUSIC BRIDGE project, "Music Bridge...Over Troubled Waters." Check out our website for details on all the cool prizes and how to enter. http://www.unisong.com/muse
An Informational Resource For Music Professionals:
If you're looking for music industry resources on the Internet covering just about every aspect of the industry, then you will definitely want to stop by Music Network USA. It's the one stop shop for online industry information, whether you're hunting for a specific item or just looking for a great surfing starting point. The site features a number of categories, from publications (trade and consumer) and music retail to musician resources ( The Muse's Muse is among them. :) ), Photo Classifieds, Shopping Mall, Daily Chat Workshops and more. There's a great random link generator, which will give you a new place to go to each time you visit (or reload) the site's homepage, and a page of "free for all" links with countless links submitted by visitors to the site every day. If you'd like more information about Music Network USA or would like to become affiliated with it visit http://www.mnusa.com/. Start networking...now!.
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Songwriter In Profile: Irene Jackson
How did you get into songwriting? Why did you start and who were your early influences?
When I was about 10, I fell in love with my best friend's guitar (as opposed to her boyfriend!)...she got guitar lessons and the whole bit, and I remember having dreams about playing after that. I finally convinced my parents to get me one, and even though I couldn't play it, I picked up what little I could from my friend, and fooled around with a couple of very basic chords. I don't even know if I consciously thought I was songwriting, or if it was just some mysterious internal instinct, but I began making up these little songs about things like my dog, or my home.
I was always listening to music. The first music I heard in the house was classical, but eventually my cousin introduced me to AM radio. That's what I fell in love with next...all of those hokey little pop songs like "Dizzy" and "Little Red Riding Hood". I actually wanted to play those types of songs, but I didn't know how to play well enough. So I used to tape myself singing (like karaoke!) along with the songs I liked.
I was really influenced by the songs of the 60's. And when people like Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and James Taylor hit the airwaves, those were the sounds that I wanted to duplicate. Gordon Lightfoot was also an influence, although I forget how much I listened to him for some reason... and he's still out there! I also loved the Motown sounds, and the smooth R&B styles of songs like "Lean On Me". The chord progressions fascinated me I think. When I actually got some guitar lessons, I wanted to play minor 7th and major 7th chords alot. My husband tells me that he used to think every song I wrote sounded like "Wildfire"!!
How did you progress from copying styles you heard, to trying your own? What makes a song "original"? And do you think there's such a thing?
Oooh...that's a good question! I don't know that it even occurred to me, in my early writing, that I was copying anybody. And I certainly don't think that I had any desire to create a new sound or style... although I know there are others who have.
That awareness really didn't happen for me until my 30's. Up until then, I think I wanted to sound like everybody else, and when I stopped wanting to, it was hard not to! I don't think it was a sudden change in writing style for me, I think it was a slow evolutionary process mixed with more and more confidence in allowing my self to shine through.
When you think about it, it has alot to do with our emotional and psychological growth as human beings. In our early teens (around the time I began to write) most of us want to fit in, we want to follow trends and be like everybody else. But as we get older, we become more and more aware of our own idiosyncracies and uniqueness, and begin the struggle towards becoming who we really are.
What makes me original and what makes a song original can be two different things. Certainly as a performing songwriter, I have my own style of singing, my own particular set of vocal cords. When I sing a cover song, I am putting my own stamp on it, whether it's conscious or not. But as for songwriting, it's hard to say where influence ends and individuality begins. There are only so many notes and chords and words in the universe, and it's so easy to have retained an idea or a melody without even knowing that it came from someone else.
Besides that, when you write or perform, you are often compared to somebody, out of necessity I suppose. In my case, it's people like Joni Mitchell or Shawn Colvin...because of course, these are artists that I've listened to alot, but also because, for instance, Shawn Colvin and I have very similar voices, and some of our writing styles are similar because we both listened to and loved Joni Mitchell! We're all mixed in with each other no matter how "individual" we try to be. I don't think that's a bad thing because personally I wouldn't want to be so "out there" that no one could relate to or make sense of what I was doing. So as for whether or not something can possibly be completely original, I'd lean towards saying no. However, there can be enough of an uniqueness to make it appear very "fresh" and new.
I compare it to being a painter in some ways. There are only so many colours that a painter has to work with, but his/her eye sees something just a little differently than the rest. What appeals to my "ear" is what makes my writing my own. I consciously try to create a universal feeling or idea with a unique set of lyrics and music. I try to allow my own personality to come through, since that is the most individual thing about me; I have my own little twist in perspective that sounds different to everybody else. This is what seems to appeal most to an audience...the unique way in which a story or idea is related.
Have you ever experienced the dreaded Writer's Block? And what do you do about it? (Yeah, I know. It's a standard question - but it's one that just about every songwriter I know goes through - and it's a natural part of our development as artists, so I thought I'd ask. :))
The dreaded writer's block!!
Well, sure I've had it. Many times. I don't think it scares me in the same way I've seen others rattled, though. It could be because I'm not a disciplined writer. I don't try to sit down everyday and write something, although I know that alot of writers do either because they've developed the habit, or they are staff writers and have to write constantly. If I was in that position, I'm sure I'd be terrified of "losing it".
However, there have been occasions when I've just had nothing to say, nothing to write. Or I've come up with some music, but I can't, for the life of me, find anything lyrically to go with it, and vice versa. I don't push myself during these times. I tend to walk away rather than to wrestle with myself, because I honestly think that struggle makes it worse. Writer's block never lasts. I guess I've been writing long enough to know that, and perhaps that's another reason I don't get too rattled.
There are things I do that help me through those times. First of all, when I do have alot of ideas either lyrically or musically, I write them down or record them. Even if they are just little snippets of stuff. Sometimes, there will be something there that I can use during a dry spell, or just the process of reading or listening to them will inspire something else.
Reading is something I like to do. I don't read fiction, though! I prefer left-brain, intellectual books, or spiritual ones. I think that the more we study the world around us, the more fascinating facts we can come up with. For instance, for a long time I've had this bit of information that I think is amazing, and eventually I know it will become a song. When I'm reading or thinking about other things, I'm constantly scrutinizing the usefulness of the facts I read about, as to whether or not they would be a good metaphor for some lyrics. "Eagle's Eyes" came from the fact that eagles always die with their faces toward the sunset or the dawn, towards the light. It was, I thought, a great metaphor for something spiritual, and eventually when I had some music that suited that idea, I used it.
Musical dry spells are worse for me. I find myself repeating the same progressions or rhythms and going nowhere sometimes. This is when I might learn to play a song by another artist I like...the process of getting into somebody else's groove musically sometimes inspires something different for me. I don't want to copy them, of course! Paul Simon programs different rhythms into a drum machine and writes from there! I think that's an interesting approach, and my writing tends to be very rhythm-based as well. Sometimes it's just a matter of lifting your head up out of the way you've approached songwriting and taking a different view. Playing a different guitar seems to inspire, as does doing something you haven't done before. Getting into the meat of life...going to a funeral, striking up a conversation with somebody new, driving your car somewhere you've never explored before...all of these kinds of things can inspire. When I was in Seattle recently, my friend Debra and I had a cappucino at an outdoor cafe and I saw this lady with lime green socks and a fresh-baked muffin sitting on a bench. I ended up creating a whole story around her and writing lyrics to a piece of music that I'd had lying around for awhile. During a dry spell, anything goes!
Any last words? Have you tried to shop your songs around or do you perform them yourself exclusively? What advice would you give to other songwriters who are honing their craft?
I made a half-hearted attempt to shop a couple of songs about 4 or 5 years ago. At the time I didn't have the right attitude...my skin was too thin and I was pretty defensive.
My plan right now is to continue performing my own material. I figure I have a good ten to fifteen years left as a performer (I'm just past 40), and I want to make the most of it. But in the meantime, I'm working on demo-ing some new songs to shop around, because I may as well get started now! I wrote some theme music for a couple of TV shows and I REALLY enjoy those royalty cheques, so I figure that's the way to go. By the time I've had enough of performing, hopefully I may have established myself primarily as a songwriter writing for other artists.
My advice for songwriters who are beginning to hone their craft is this:
Learn, learn, learn...it never ends. Develop your belief in yourself and your songs. Call yourself a songwriter. Listen carefully to critiques...pay most attention to the comments that come up more than twice. ALWAYS be polite. Share what you learn with others.
I think that's about it! Oh yeah, and have FUN!
Irene Jackson is a performing songwriter from Victoria, BC currently promoting her new CD 'Motor Scooter'. She uses her nearly 30 years of performing and songwriting experience to help others in the same pursuit, writing columns, articles and maintaining a webpage dedicated to songwriting. You can reach her at email@example.com or through her webpage.
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Muse's Clues - Web Site Reviews by Jodi Krangle
Creator: Rob Van Slyke
As the very first site I review, this one is ideal. I have so many nice things to say about it! First of all, it's arranged very simply with pleasant graphics and nothing too fancy to make your system balk while it's being loaded. It's easy to get around in and contains tons of interesting information for songwriters including an online thesaurus (I've found this very helpful myself!), a listing of record labels and management companies, information on copyright law, and an innovative section where songwriters can post their lyrics for other songwriters to review. Though Rob only started the site in September of 1997, it's a truly impressive piece of work and I'd recommend that you take a good look through it. You're bound to find something of use to you.
MUSE'S CLUE RATING: ***** (A definite 5 star!)
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Feature Article: Original Songs: What you need and where to find them
by John Braheny
Here's a scenario you may be all too familiar with. You send your tapes to record company A&R reps. You get a reply (if you're lucky) that they like your voice but they want to hear original music and you've sent them covers. You thought it would be perfectly obvious to them what you were capable of when they heard what you could do with some established hits. What's going on here? Isn't it their job to find you some great songs? What about Clive Davis at Arista Records. He signed Aretha, Whitney and Taylor Dayne who weren't writers. (Dayne started co-writing later.) He finds them great songs, doesn't he? Isn't it enough that you're an exceptional performer who has spent years developing your craft? For a very few, including Davis, it is.
Why don't more record companies adopt that philosophy? First, it's much easier to deal with a self-contained artist. It means they don't have to listen to thousands of tapes, even from ordinarily reliable sources(publishers, successful writers) to find the few great and appropriate songs. One of their strategies to deal with this problem is to hire writer/producers like Narada Michael Walden and David Foster to write (or find) songs as part of the production arrangement deal, though Davis and his staff continue the search as well. Another reason is that record companies perceive that it's easier to sell an artist with an identity and image that is, at least in part, defined by their personal viewpoints and attitudes as expressed by what they write.
Identity may be the single most important factor in signing an artist; a unique vocal sound, vocal style and writing style that differs from others enough for a listener to be able to hear an artist on the radio and immediately identify her. Ideally, they want all those ingredients ala Sheryl Crow, Vince Gill and Counting Crows, But, if you don't really have a distinctive vocal quality, you need to make it up in style and/or unique songs.
So if you don't write, what are your options? You have two, either find songs that reflect your image, beliefs and attitudes or learn how to write lyrics or melodies and collaborate with other writers.
Finding The Right Songs
Assuming that you've lived long enough to have formed opinions and attitudes about personal relationships and a philosophy and value system about life in general, you have some basis for how you want songs to represent you. This doesn't mean any of this is set in stone. Your attitude today might be "life sucks" but in two years, when you're in love, it might be, "life is beautiful." Whatever it is, you want songs that represent what you think and that resonate with you, not just that they're fun to sing and show off your voice, though that's important too. Remember that if you're fortunate enough to have a hit record, you're destined (or doomed) to be obliged to sing it for the rest of your career.
Also important is how much at home you are with a musical style and the audience for that style. What I often hear is, "Hey, I love it all. I can sing anything and everything. I'm very versatile and proud of it! I can do country, R&B, rock, whatever." This approach works great for your cover gigs but it's the last thing a record company wants to hear. They want you to have evolved your own personal style that they can market in a consistent way. If your first rock single finds a massive audience, they don't want people complaining about buying an album that has R&B and country in it and album sales are really where the company makes their money. They also don't want album reviews saying "This artist has no idea who she is." And although there are always exceptions, the industy doesn't usually take kindly to dilettantes who decide to "go country," for instance, because they couldn't be successful in pop and they think country is "happening now."
Anyway, now that you've got an idea what style of song you're looking for and have an idea what you do and don't want to say with your songs, Here are some options for finding them.
Sing on the demos of exceptional writers
Go to where you can hear writers. Odds are best at the Los Angeles Songwriters Showcase (LASS) weekly Tuesday night showcase which is all tape. It's best because you may hear 100 writers on tape and also hear the weekly guest publishers, producers and record company A&R reps respond to them. You can call the LASS hotline number, (213) 467-0533, and get the lineup for the following Tuesday to hear what styles they're looking for. If they're looking for your style, go down and sit in. It's only $5 (members $3) if you're not pitching tapes. When you hear a song you like or hear an industry pro pick it up, take down the number of the tape and go to the sign-up sheet for that night to get the name and phone number of the writer. If the writer is present the LASS staff can introduce you. If not, they can put you in touch. Tell the writer you liked his/her song and ask if they need a demo singer for their new songs. There are some definite advantages to this strategy. First, you'll get paid for doing the demo. Second, you're now on the trail of some good writers and good songs. Third, you've got a performance that will hopefully end up being listened to by A&R reps, publishers (many of whom do artist development deals) or producers. I've often heard those people critiquing or screening songs saying "This is an okay song but who is the singer!" James Ingram got signed by Quincy Jones after Quincy heard him singing Barry Mann's "Just Once" demo. Also understand that many songwriters develop great skill as arrangers and producers by producing their own demos and, if the chemistry is right, may end up being interested in producing you. For them, there's a great value in having a vehicle for their material and may want to write more unique songs specifically for your style. They may also be open to collaboration.
(Editor's Note: My apologies for not catching this sooner, everyone. Information about LASS in this feature article has changed recently. Those particular showcases are held only once a month now. You can contact NAS (Nassong@aol.com, their website at http://www.nassong.org/ or (213) 463-7178, or your local songwriting organization for more details about similar programs.)
The best package for a record company, for reasons mentioned in the beginning of this article, is a self-contained artist or band who writes their own material. If you don't totally write your own songs, the next best situation is co-writing. In fact, even if you do write both lyric and music well, there are times when it's a good move to collaborate as a strategy for both artistic and economic reasons. Artistically, the diversity of influences can give you something unique that neither of you would have come up with on your own. Economically, your chances of reaching a publisher are doubled since there are two (or more) of you shopping your song. Half of the writer and/or publishing royalties might be a financial incentive to someone who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford to gamble their time on your project. For example, a successful producer, or band members who creatively contribute to your sound may be willing to work with you, even when you're not making money for them, if they knew they were entitled to future writer or publishing royalties.
Talk to music publishers for several reasons. They are looking for artists to record the songs in their catalogs. If you don't already have a deal you're definitely at the bottom of their priority list. You rise on the list as your career gains momentum by finding a manager, getting a buzz going around town, actively shopping masters, selling 10,000 of your independent CD, etc. Getting to know them by doing demos for them is a good back door route. Publishers also sign promising or successful writer/producers and look for artists they can produce. Their priority is to pair their writer/producers with successful recording artists or those newly signed to labels. But occasionally, business is slow and they'll look at an exciting new singer or singer/songwriter that they can "develop" (find a manager, producer, finance master recordings and shop to record labels). This pairing makes sense for them because they want half of the publishing royalties on your songs or those you write with their writer/producer. Not a bad deal.
John Braheny is the author of the best selling Writer's Digest book, The Craft and Business of Songwriting, former co-founder/director of the Los Angeles Songwriters Showcase (now National Academy of Songwriters) and a songwriting, talent and music industry consultant. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Classifieds & Useful Services:
EIGHTEEN YEARS EXPERIENCE,
many published pieces. For $20 (guitar and voice) you can get a good melodic interpretation of your words. Four and eight track recordings are also available. For those looking for material, I have over 100 songs copyrighted in the pop, rock & alternative veins. Dennis Wayne
NEW INDEPENDANT COUNTRY MUSIC RADIO STATION
We will be on the air in about six weeks. If you want to get air time send your cd's,cassettes, bio's and photo to James Cooper/CMG P.O. Box 116 Burkburnett, Tx. 76354-0116
Visit our web site for more information about us.
For info about selling your products on our site email Jerry Cramer .
PRODUCER LOOKING FOR LYRICIST/VOCALIST/ACTS
R&B producer in search of lyricist, artist etc. to form collaboration and create some good music in the MD, DC and VA area. All interested please E-Mail
A FREE PLACE FOR YOUR MUSIC RELATED WEBSITE. http://www.jersey.net/~afmretro
If you or your band have a webpage I will post your link on our band links page. Also looking for agents, producers, studios and other music related sites to add to our musician resources page. Email me (Moonbear) with your website URL and I will add your links once I have reviewed your page.
ARRANGEMENTS & PRODUCTION - http://kiwihouse.com/
Experienced producers available to help you arrange and/or record your release-bound material. Toronto, Canada. E-mail: Christian Ravera
REVIEWING DEMOS FOR NASHVILLE PUBLISHER
New writers welcome to submit. Send COPR. work on cassette- 3 song max. w/lyric sheet- tapes not returned. Professional demo not required but, clear upfront vocals a must!!! If interested will respond within 4-to-6 wks. Include S.A.S.E. for reply.
Send tape to: CMS Productions-2171 Hope Rd.-Sweet Water, Al. 36782
US$2/line/issue. Min. 2 lines, max. 7 lines, where a line = 65 characters including spaces and punctuation. All contracts must be prepaid. E-mail to: email@example.com
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Contact Info & Credits:
Jodi Krangle ...........EDITOR
Kathryn Obenshain ......GRACIOUS PROOFREADER
Bryan Fullerton ............SYSTEM ADMINISTRATOR
Back issues and other information available at: http://www.musesmuse.com/musenews.html
The Muse's News is part of The Muse's Muse, a web resource for songwriters.
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