||The Muse's News
Issue 1.3 - June 1998
In This Issue:
ISSN 1480-6975. Copyright 1998 - Jodi Krangle. For more info about placing ads, send an inquiry.
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This month I'm very pleased to include an interview with Steve Gillette. He and his wife Cindy have been doing a lot of touring and he kindly fit in time to answer my questions in between their travels. I hope you'll find the results as informative as I have. Steve is definitely someone who's doing what he loves to do. It shows.
Mitch Kricun has contributed this month's feature article - a fine example of passion and determination at work. He certainly presents a very compelling reason for devoting yourself to your craft. Is there really only so much to go around? You decide.
As always, any articles, reviews or suggestions for interviews you wish to contribute would be more than welcome. Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Best of luck to you all!
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Songwriting Book Reviews:
The Music Business (Explained in Plain English):What Every Artist & Songwriter Should Know to Avoid Getting Ripped Off!
by David Naggar and Jeffrey D. Brandstetter
This is an excellent book for several reasons. The book really is in plain English; the book is only 122 pages long, with big type face, lots of 'white space', and the prose is very concise. Also, it gives *detailed numbers*, such as mechanical royalty rates and computations, performing rights royalties, sales figures and expectations, etc. It covers the major points of artist and songwriting contracts, discusses the 'industry norms', and gives advice about which points are more 'negotiable'. It clearly divides the revenue streams between money made as an artist and money made as a songwriter and keeps that distinction obvious throughout the book.
The book is so short and succinct that I initally was going to read it in Barnes & Noble while waiting on my family and save myself some money, since I have many other 'music business' books already. But this book was simply too good to pass up. I recommend it highly.
Steve Guidos is an entreprenuer and aspiring songwriter living in central North Carolina.
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Musical Notes: Songwriting Contests & Market Information
For Up-To-Date listings, please go to:
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Songwriter In Profile: Steve Gillette
What have your musical influences been and were they what inspired you to begin writing songs or did something else do that?
I was very fortunate to have a lot of music at home. We didn't have a TV until pretty late, but I remember my dad playing the piano as far back as I can remember anything. My dad has played all his life. Most of his music comes from the jazz and big band era. He loves the stride players like Fats Waller, Hoagy Carmichael, etc. I think some of my sense of swing and syncopation especially in the fingerstyle guitar patterns comes from this early influence. My mom also loved to sing. She never sang on a stage and I'm sure she would be very self-conscious if she thought anyone overheard her except for us kids, but she loved to sing. She especially loved the old music hall songs that I believed she learned from her dad who was a wonderful character.
I grew up with most of the same influences of my generation. I guess we baby boomers were into rock and roll and then the folk artists. I knew all the Everly Brothers' songs and of course, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran, Elvis and the a lot of the rockabilly guys, then The Kingston Trio, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, The New Lost City Ramblers, and some of the blues greats like Big Bill Broonzy and Josh White.
It was really the folk revival of the sixties that got me learning to pick and then writing songs. There was a wonderful folk nightclub called the Golden Bear in Huntington Beach, California near where I grew up. I would go there regularly and play the open stages and eventually became an opening act. In this way I met Ian & Sylvia, Judy Collins, Brownie McGee and Sonny Terry, Jack Elliot, and so many of the touring performers of the mid sixties.
In the summer of '65, Tom Campbell and I wrote "Darcy Farrow" and showed it to Ian & Sylvia at the Golden Bear and they later recorded it. Many of the folk performers of that time were finding old traditional songs and then to some extent arranging them or even writing new material based on them. Many were also writing whole new songs with much of the sound and language of the traditions. My friends and I did that a lot. Linda Albertano and I wrote our own version of the old song, "Molly & Tenbrooks." Bill Monroe, of course had adapted the song in a version of his own.
Being around musical people was the best thing for me. Growing up listening to the radio and singing along (I used to stay in the car while my mom took the groceries into the house and run the battery down while singing along with everybody from Andy Williams to Connie Francis.) I always had the sense that music was just an activity that everybody could do, and that I would have my chance to be heard too. In my writing workshops I like to say that if you are out with a couple of your buddies and everybody's laughing and making jokes, you make jokes too. It's the most natural thing, same with songwriting, you sing the songs you like and as a natural extension of that, you write.
When the folk-rock era came along, I was pretty much in the middle of it. I was still just learning to write, most of the songs I'd written were mostly inspiration and not much discipline. But as Linda Ronstadt and John Denver and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and a lot of other people in the greater Southern California area began to be recorded, they were doing some of my songs.
After Ian & Sylvia's version of "Darcy Farrow" was released on Vanguard, I got a chance to do some touring. I was invited to the Philadelphia Folk Festival in 1966, and eventually Vanguard signed me as an artist. As I look back on it this was a particularly glorious time. Vanguard was the label most of my idols were on and after my first album came out I was invited to play for the established clubs and festivals and treated with much more deference than the real merit of my work deserved.
Very soon after that, The Sunshine Company released their first album and the first single, my song, "Back On the Street Again" climbed into the national top thirty pop charts and that helped a lot. Linda also sang, "Back On the Street Again" and invited me to sing with her on the album. John Denver recorded, "Darcy Farrow" and that happened to be on the "Rocky Mountain High" album which sold about four million copies.
All these things helped to lend credibility to my writing but at the same time I was being pulled more into the music business and farther away from performing on the folk music circuit. I didn't realize it at the time, but I had found a very nurturing and validating world in the festivals and small clubs and coffee houses, and the music industry, although offering the exciting prospect of money and notoriety, was lacking a lot of the values I'd come to appreciate in the folk community. Issues of personal growth, social conscience, and sustainable lifestyle were not very well served by the priorities of the increasingly corporate and money oriented music business.
You've obviously known a lot of very talented musicians. Have they influenced your songwriting in any noticable way?
I think best thing about having opportunities to work with talented people is that it raises the bar of your own sense of the possibilities. There are talented people everywhere, the thing is to foster those situations where good things can happen. And where you can be inspired.
For me that sometimes happens in the studio, especially when there is a budget to fill a room with "A" players and the time to let things get wonderful. I also cherish the campfire time at Kerrville and other festival settings where a few days with good friends can dispell the "professional" anxiety and the music can begin to benefit from the other kinds of harmony.
The main thing is just to believe in the song. To let yourself risk the true musical emotional participation in what is being expressed. To believe in the connection with the listener enough that there is the freedom to be authentic about what you bring personally to the song.
For me this is mostly a solitary process. Even in collaboration I need to have lots of alone time. I walk when I'm stuck, or any time that I need to get things into perspective. I do a lot of drafts, each one helping to form the good points of the next. I enjoy writing when I can give it the time. That's the real commodity, time. If there is a magic songwriter's crystal, it's got hands and feet, and it falls asleep when it's tired.
What do you think are the differences between the songwriting you were doing when you were playing in the venues of the 60's and the songwriting you're doing now?
I think I mentioned that I was very lucky to get to have a part in what they call the "60's Folk Revival." There were wonderful things happening musically and things were changing fast on many fronts. The Civil Rights Movement was a great crucible of consciousness. The Vietnam War brought a generation together partly because people of our age were being sent to fight and die in it, and partly because it was an unjust and unwinnable political nightmare.
The music we grew up with, largely soft-pop, puppy love commercial stuff, had just given way to rock and roll, Buddy Holly, Richie Valenz, Elvis and Conway. While the commercial apparatus was reorganizing itself to take advantage of us as the baby boomer demographic bulge, a rash of independent production had broken out and there were openings for a lot of us to be heard.
For me, that opportunity actually led me further into the corporate labyrinth and away from the interpersonal process that had formed my musical consciousness. Only when I reached a point of some serious burn-out, after fifteen years of trying to interpret all life as a perennial teen-ager, did I question the need for defining myself in terms of it's priorities.
The last fifteen years have represented my seeking to get back to the primary musical process and to write from a more self reliant place. Cindy and I are able to provide for ourselves with our own music, which is closer to what people think of as "folk" music. We don't have agents, managers, publicists, or any label other than our own small label, Compass Rose.
We've each done projects with other people and in other areas of music. Our songs have found their way into many situations we couldn't have envisioned. Some have been on major recordings and have earned money, some have found a different acceptance, at the campfire, or among those doing other kinds of work.
We've endeavored to set things up in a way that allows us to speak from our best place, to an audience that is aware and has a sense of history, so that we are challenged to grow and be what we would be. We are grateful to the people who support us in this sense of ourselves. But we don't take it for granted.
So to answer the question, I guess I'm saying that I have come full circle. I still work in the commercial music business, but I'd like to say that I'm "in it but not of it." I like to take a longer view. We value the great songs that come down to us in the ballad tradition and in the humble family histories, and hope to write songs that have that kind of staying power.
I love the joke about the Voyager space capsule that went off into deep space after flying by Jupiter. The capsule contained a bronze plaque with a description of man and woman, some mathematical formulas and some recordings of Earth sounds including symphonic and even rock music. Years later a message was received from deep space from some distant alian life form. When deciphered it said, "More Chuck Berry."
Now that you've been doing this for a while, how has your focus changed?
At first we all seek some sort of validation. And to get paid, of course. This all seems to flow from the business entities, record labels, publishers, etc.
But the longer we do this and the more success we have the more we have the opportunities to do what seems worthwhile to us, and the less we have to worry about the priorities of those who only see us as someone who can make money for them. At some point, it becomes clear that there is a certain level of understanding which can only be attained when we can let go of the need to be supported in what we do. That is, supported by anyone other than the one person we can truly respect, the listener.
It doesn't mean you have to be wealthy. Far from it. Actually, wealth and fame make this sort of thing much more difficult. It's the "If you're so smart, how come you're rich" problem. And most of us have a hard time rejecting the message that we don't have enough and we need to have more. When what we really need is to be willing to live with what he who has the least has. Not to be glib, but I guess you know what I'm saying.
Anyway, for me the priority I most like to answer to has to do with how something will sound to someone listening a long time from now and from a much wiser place where digital technology has exceeded the frequency response of ears, and everyone is calm enough to take joy in the beauty of ideas. And the pop charts will be filled with tunes that take their rhythm impetus from the placid heartbeat of loving mothers. Something like that. In other words, trying to write better. Even better than what works for TV!
In the meantime, I don't turn down the royalties, they help to fix the roof, and I guess I need a roof, although I've tried not needing one. Cindy and I are really very privileged to be supported in our vision of who we are and what we do, and we're grateful.
What advice would you give to other songwriters trying to hone their craft?
I'm sending as an attachment, something from the book called, "THE STACK OF PLATES THEORY", a check list of aspects of a song that might benefit from being looked into. The trick is to develop the ability to look at one part of the song separately and then recombine it with the whole song. This gets easier with practice. I hope your readers will find it helpful.
The Stack of Plates Theory
If you can think of many songs existing at the same time like a stack of plates that can be un-stacked and re-stacked, you can develop the ability to examine each layer for its own values and to understand the interaction of the different layers. Some of the layers or plates can be described as follows. Notice how some of these layers interact. Use these ideas to analyze the best songs you know.
The Melodic Song.
Do-re-mi. Can you whistle the tune? Does it sound too familiar? If you heard a Muzak arrangement of it on an elevator would it have its own recognizable identity?
The Harmonic Song.
Major or minor, diminished or augmented chords or intervals. Is there a sense of resolution? Do the song's harmonic elements seem to be well-integrated and memorable?
The Rhythmic Song.
Dum-diddly-dum-dum, dum-dum! Can you dance, walk, or dream along with the song? Does it have its own clock and is it rhythmically interesting or even enchanting? Does the language chafe and grate or does it resonate?
The Rhyme Scheme of the Song.
ABAB, AABB, AABC-DDEC, etc. Are the rhymes true rhymes? Are there other forms of alliteration? Are the rhymes natural and conversational? Do your choices honor the listener?
The Thoughtful Song.
The treatment of strong lines and ideas. Are there original thoughts? Are there thoughtful lines? Are they presented in a conversational and singable way?
The Structural Song.
Verse, chorus, bridge, refrain, intro, outro, fade, tempo changes, instrumental breaks and riffs. Does the structure seem fresh, appropriate and musical?
The Story of the Song.
Does the song begin somewhere and go somewhere? Does the second verse merely restate the first verse? Is there a sense of having made progress in the course of the song?
Usually the title, or "bottom line." The essential element or concept that brought the song about. Is it valid? Is the idea worthy of a song and is it handled well?
Musical or lyrical devices that "hook" the listener. Some of these devices can be very subliminal. Are they effective? Are they used smoothly and tastefully?
The Geography of the Song.
The soft meadows, the rugged peaks, the romantic hills. The hard climb, the rapid slide, the sense of journey, the sense of coming home.
The Mood Song.
Is there a quality of non-verbal, synesthetic expression to the song? Have we worked it too long, or not long enough? Have we lost the first sense?
The Character Song.
Who are the characters in the song? Are the characters balanced, consistent and interesting. Can the listener empathize? Is the language "in" character?
Who is speaking? Is he or she intensely involved, dispassionate, ironic, undergoing a process of learning as the song unfolds, humorous, wistful, singing to someone in particular? Do we believe we know this person? Is it me?
Reprinted from "SONGWRITING AND THE CREATIVE PROCESS" by Steve Gillette, Sing Out! Publications, Copyright 1995, Sing Out! Press, used by permission. http://www.singout.org/sopubs.html
What's in store for the future, Steve?
I've been lucky to have some good writing time. I'll be going to Kerrville for just about three weeks on May 20th, and I'm really looking forward to it. It's my summer camp. But in the meantime, I've been trying to finish the basic tracks of this album project of mine. The album is about three years along now from the first recordings we did, and I've got to turn it in by August 1st. if I want it to come out this year.
The working title of the album is "Texas and Tennessee" and I've been describing it as the ten year odyssey of a songwriter making the pilgrimage from the campfires of Kerrville to the studios of Nashville. Much of the writing began during the years before I met Cindy ('84-'88) and much of the writing took place in Austin, Kerrville, and in Nashville.
The music is somewhat more Country (with a capital "C") than what Cindy and I normally do, although it ranges into the more traditional sounding and decidedly more acoustic realms as well. The songs themselves are not just a collection of songs that seem to fit a format, the songs are actually comments on the life and times of the writer, and can be seen in their diversity to raise issues about the difference between the kind of writing one might do for a group of close friends around a campfire and the kind of writing that would fit through the keyhole of the Country charts.
Some of the songs have been recorded by top-forty artists, but the feeling of the album only remotely approaches the production conventions of the slick Nashville milieu. (this is partly because that kind of production is pretty expensive) I'm really proud of some of the writing. The songs range from cowboy nostalgia (the worst kind) to some pretty personal revelations. I've also had the good sense to include some truly great traditional melodies as well. (can't be too careful)
There is a setting of a beautiful poem by Roque Dalton, the Salvadorean poet, called "No Pronuncias Mi Nombre." In it he says, "Don't speak my name when you know that I am gone, your voice will call my soul from it's resting place." (Great stuff) He was quite a figure in El Salvador, at one point he walked out of a prison when it collapsed in an earthquake.
Anyway, I'm anxious for you to hear it. I'm hoping it will be available by November, I'll know more about that soon. Certainly when it gets close to the time for it to come out, I'll try to let everybody know about it and get the word out.
Steve Gillette's music has inspired glowing reviews from the critics and the deep loyalty of his fans. Since Ian and Sylvia first recorded "Darcy Farrow" in 1966, Steve's songs have been recorded by dozens of major artists including Garth Brooks, John Denver, Waylon Jennings, Anne Murray, The Oak Ridge Boys, Tony Rice, Kenny Rogers, Linda Ronstadt, Spanky and Our Gang, Jerry Jeff Walker, Jennifer Warnes, Don Williams, and Tammy Wynette. He has several recording projects under his belt, has written songs for many popular films and has taught numerous workshops and seminars on songwriting, guitar theory and record production. Steve is also a published author ("SONGWRITING AND THE CREATIVE PROCESS", published by Sing Out! Press) and is the recipient of both ASCAP and BMI performance awards. For more information about Steve Gillette, his live performance schedule and his recordings, you can view his web page at http://www.sover.net/~gillette/
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Muse's Clues - Web Site Reviews by Jodi Krangle
The Concert Web:
Created by: Jay Schankman
If you want to talk about thorough, Jay has all but cornered the market. Between the three sites he runs (all found through the above address) he has managed to not only pinpoint just about every major concert taking place around the world, but he has also managed to assemble one of the largest collections of music links on the net AND to top it all off, he carries difficult to find CD's on his site, The World Music Marketplace. If you love music, you'll love these sites. Cleanly designed for easy navigation, The Concert Web is kept current on a daily - if not moment by moment - basis. I have no idea how he does it. It's got to be one hell of a big job. My hat's off to Jay for the fabulous job he's doing and the wonderful service he's providing. Take a look at the site and I think you'll agree.
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Feature Article: If Music Means Everything
By Mitch Kricun
I'm not quite sure how many people read this e-zine, but I can tell you that (approximately) only 1 out 10,000 of you will ever write a hit song. I'm not saying that writing a hit song is or should be everyone's goal. I'm just saying the odds of "making it" are very small. So I guess the question is, which one of us will it be?
The answer to that question will most likely be........ the one who wants it the most! So you see, the object of this article isn't about trying to depress everybody. It's about trying to inspire some of you. (and myself for that matter!)
The great guitarist Mike Stern once said," If music is something that you really, really like, and you think it would be cool to become successful at, don't do it. Because it's the worst business in the world. However, if you have no choice in the matter, if it's a part of you, if it means everything, than go for it. Because it's the best business in the world." Pretty cool huh?
Here's another story that really inspired me. Arnold Palmer is considered one of the best golfers in the world. Everywhere he went, people would come up to him and say, "Man, you're great. I wish I could hit a golf ball like you!" Arnold would just smile and thank the person. But one day he was having a particularly bad day, when someone came up to him and said, "Man, you're great. I wish I could hit a golf ball like you!" This time however Arnold replied, " No you don't! You only wish you could hit a golf ball like me if it was easy! If you want to hit a golf ball like me, you'll go out on the course at 7am every morning, and hit 500 golf balls. Then when your hands are blistered and bleeding, you'll go into the club house, tape them up, and go out and hit 500 more! Do that for ten years in a row, and THEN you could hit a ball like me!
Every one of us thinks we have that something special that will make us inevitably successful in this business. We can't all be right. We're all special in that we've been blessed with the gift of being able to create music. But only the ones whose MUSIC MEANS EVERYTHING to them will ever have a chance. I'm betting it's going to be me. Catch me if you can!
Mitch Kricun is a producer /engineer/songwriter from the Philadelphia Area. He makes his living at producing/engineering. He keeps his dreams alive with the songwriting.
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" O N S I T E " F E A T U R E D A R T I C L E :
An interview with Jay Schankman of The Concert Web community of web sites. Here's your chance to get inside the head of the creator of one of one of the best sites for concert information and music resources on the web today. Read about how it started, his thoughts on music and the web & where The Concert Web sites are heading.
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