||The Muse's News
Issue 1.7 - October 1998
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/.
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Rockhouse Music Mailorder - providing worldwide music mailorder-established in 1973-offers you a most interesting music search database on line with over 700,000 titles. Lots of specials included fifties, sixties, rockabilly, swing, doowop, r&b, jazz, indies, pop, rock, european product, etc.E-mail Us
Also sponsored in part by Art Online: Featuring contests, digest, articles, and a gallery of online artists. Submit work or simply browse catagories ranging from poetry to sculpture.
It's a bit long this time around, folks. I apologize for that - but there was just so much to fit in!
I thought I'd try something different this issue. I thought I'd try speaking with a member of a band rather than an individual. I'm quite proud of the resulting interview. :) I hope you'll all find it a very informative read. Look for more interviews with other PrimeCD artists in the future. They're an indie with a *very* talented roster! If you know of any other indie labelswith artists that might just be interested in being interviewed, please do let me know. I'll be happy to talk with them. Meanwhile, check 5 Chinese Brothers out. You won't be disappointed!
The article this time around has been contributed by the talented Harriet Schock - the same Harriet Schock whose book was given away in the last issue. This particular article is one from the book and I think it'll give you a good taste for the publication. As mentioned in the last newsletter, the book is an excellent one.
Our winner this month is Aaron Fowler, a Kansas singer/songwriter and educator. He will be taking home a copy of Pat Pattison's book, reviewed below - and it's quite a catch. Having read through it and tried the exercises, I can honestly say that it's helped me immeasurably. Why not try it out for yourself?
And wow! Did you know that parts of this newsletter are now being translated into Japanese? (Thanks to Yamamiya Masayoshi of Big Fish Music at http://www.bigfishmusic.com/) I thought that was pretty darned cool! If you're interested in translating either the newsletter or parts of the web site into your mother tongue, please do contact me.
As always, if you have anything you'd like to contribute to upcoming issues, feel free to let me know!
All the best everyone.
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Songwriting Book Review: by Jodi Krangle
WRITING BETTER LYRICS by Pat Pattison
This has got to be the *mother* of "how-to's". Chock full of information and exercises for inspiration from start to finish, Pat takes the tough part of songwriting - the structure - and makes it seem simple. How many of us have forgotten how to use metaphor? How many of us have lost our creative "spark" simply because we've let it sit idle too long? One of the very first exercises in the book, something Pat calls "Object Writing" is designed specifically to get your muse talking to you again. I've tried it myself. If it can work on me, it can work on *anyone*, believe me. But there's *lots* more where that came from. Some chapter names include "Travelogues: Verse Continuity" (how many of us have started a song and then simply forgotten where it was going?? Continuity is important and a relationship that goes beyond the pairing with a repeated refrain or chorus or what have you, is essential to a well written song. The true test comeswhen you look at your verses without the benefit of the chorus or refrain. Do they still hang together? Make sense?), "Point of View: Second Person as Narrative" (When to use "you" instead of "I" or "we" in your narrative - something I'd never really given much thought to, but was greatly impressed to see outlined here in a clear and concise manner - the way Pat narrates all of his chapters.) & "The Great Balancing Act" (using "balanced" and "unbalanced" lyrics to keep your listener hooked from start to finish). There is so much in here that it would be absolutely impossible for me to outline it all. Pat's unique voice sticks out - his way of thinking seems so different from any I've come across before and yet all his words really strike home. They make me think about my song writing in a way I never thought about it before - as a process that really doeshave some sort of cohesive structure, whether I choose to acknowledge that or not. After having read this book, I can see that not acknowledging it would be awfully silly. Why not try to write the best song I can write? This book will certainly help you do just that. In fact, I would go farther than that and say that this book is a *must have* in any songwriter's library. As a reference, you'll find WRITING BETTER LYRICS a very helpful tool. As a cattle prod to your usually lazy "inner writer", you'll find it invaluable.
Pat Pattison's WRITING BETTER LYRICS was our book give-away for this month and I would like to thank all of you for taking part by subscribing to The Muse's News. The next book to be reviewed and given away in the December issue will be John Braheny's THE CRAFT & BUSINESS OF SONGWRITING - one you will *not* want to miss.
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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:
Tom Meltzer of 5 Chinese Brothers
How did you guys meet? What different musical influences did each of you have and how do you think it has melded together to create the sound you now have?
The core of 5CBs is myself and the bass player, Paul Foglino--we write the majority of the songs, we finance album recordings and pressings, and we're the ones who don't get paid when there isn't enough money for everyone after the gig. We met at Columbia U lo these many years ago in 1984 to be exact. The circumstances are actually pretty interesting, to me anyway. Our friend Robbie Fulks (his new album comes out on Geffen Records on Sept. 15) was at Columbia at the same time, playing in a duet called Rob and Wally. When Rob moved to Chicago, Wally decided to recruit a full-size rock band. Rob recommended me to Wally; we had worked in the same mail room that summer and had done some singing and playing together. He also recommended Paul, if memory serves me, although I don't know how they knew each other, since I didn't meet Paul until the band formed.
Our initial calling was to play roots-oriented pop and rock. At the time, the school was lousy with bands that sounded like Joy Division. We wanted to be more fun--we took Rockpile as our model, and we played quite a few of their songs in a set that was made up largely of covers. We played the Blasters, Rockpile, Little Richard, Carl Perkins, and lots of Chuck Berry, among others. At the time I was really getting into old country music, everything from early scratchy Carter Family records through such Sixties luminaries as Kris Kristofferson and Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers. At the same time, Paul was also playing in a soul/Motown cover band, and heavy exposure to that music really influenced his songwriting.
I had a few original songs before the band--which was called the Special Guests--began, but not very many. I did, however, have "Paul Cezanne," which had been popular previously when I was performing with a folk group. Once we decided to play it in our set, we opened the door to original music, and after that we tried our best to replace all the covers with songs of our own. A number of the songs from the first album are from that period, although most of the songs we wrote back then are thankfully lost to time.
Wally chose the first group of musicians, but as happens with most bands, folks started drifting in and out as real life obligations beckoned. Wally left to go to law school, our first drummer left to become the tour manager for Cracker, our sax player married the keyboard player, had kids and settled down, etc. Our current lineup consists of great players we have gleaned from great NYC roots bands of the past. Our guitarist Steve Antonakos used to play with the Blue Chieftains, whose awesome singles can be heard on the albums "Rig Rock Truckstop" and "Rig Rock Jukebox." Keyboardist Neil Thomas has been with us ten years now, I think (!)--we originally heard him in the Surreal McCoys, which also featured our second guitarist, the unbelievably charismatic Kevin Trainor. We often play with guitarist-dobro meister David Hamburger, and our drummer is Pete DeMeo. Steve's biggest influence is Duane Allman, and you can especially hear it in his slide guitar playing. Neil is heavy into honkytonk and everything that was on the radio during the Seventies. I hear a lot of Little Feat in his playing and songwriting. David has mastered so many different genres it's hard to tell where his roots lie, but I'd guess it's in finger- picking blues a la Lightnin' Hopkins and Mississippi John Hurt. He seems to have mastered all of Jerry Douglass' dobro licks, and has come up with a large quantity of his own as well. As for the second part of your question, what really binds us together is that we're all musical omnivores, and we like what the other guys like. Our music is a real mutt sired by country, cajun, rock, soul, blues, and folk. Because everyone in the band is conversant with all those genres, we can pick and choose the elements we like and fuse it into this thing called 5 Chinese Brothers music. That's the way Elvis did it. Our way isn't as lucrative, but I still think it's the right approach.
How do you guys write your songs? Do one or two of you come to the band with a completed piece that then gets melded into the 5 Chinese Brothers sound? Do you compose a song together from the first lyric to the melody and the arrangement of the accompanying music? Do some of you collaborate more often than others? And do any of you collaborate with people outside of the band?
Paul and I write differently. Paul tends to work on songs longer. Also, he usually presents songs to the band with a lot of open- endedness - that is, he gives us a lot of leeway in terms of feel and arrangement. I write more quickly, but I generally hear pretty full arrangements for my songs by the time they're done. When I bring them to the band, I suggest a lot of parts and have a definite feel in mind for the song. I don't consider my ideas the final word on the subject, however, but rather a skeletal jumping-off point from which we can develop a final version. Usually, Neil has better ideas about what the accordion should do, and Steve comes up better guitar parts, than the ones I suggest. The final product sounds like my original idea, but a lot better! Before we get to that stage, however, Paul and I have already played our songs for each other and asked for suggestions, comments, etc. We edit each others' work pretty well, since we're pretty familiar with what each of us is trying to accomplish with our songwriting. We have collaborated, but mostly on specific projects - music for an off-Broadway play, songs for a movie soundtrack, holiday songs for our Christmas album. We've found that collaborations are easier when specific parameters are created before writing begins. I doubt we could just sit down and write a song if we weren't given any direction. If you asked us to write a song about a particular subject or within a particular genre, however, we could probably do it fairly quickly. Me, I usually start with a melody hook, then a lyrical hook, and then I build around that kernel. For "Avalanche Song," for example, the first thing I had was the intro riff/chorus melody that sounds quite a bit like the old childrens' song "Say Say O Playmate" played with a Cajun beat. I then came up with the line "I wish we were married/So we could get divorced." Like most of my good ideas, I have no idea where it came from. It just popped into my head. The rest of the song was work, as I used the tune and lyrics I had to develop a coherent song. If I remember correctly, I beat on that one a long time but made no progress whatsoever until the avalanche metaphor popped into my head, after which I finished the song very quickly.
Do you guys ever go through writer's block? Or is that less of a problem because you're a group?
I've actually been going through a doozy of a block just recently, although I think it has more to do with the fact that nothing has really grabbed me lately, either in terms of music or subject matter, and demanded that I try to tackle it.
I don't worry about long periods of non-writing for a few reasons. One is that I've never been a disciplined writer. I write as the ideas come, and if they don't come for a long while, I've fortunately got enough songs to put together a couple of good sets even without new ones. When I finally want to write badly enough --when I'm sick enough of the old songs--I have faith that I'll come up with something. If not, then that's OK too. I say this because I am an ardent believer in the fact that there are way too many mediocre and awful songs in the world today. It's a form of noise pollution that I don't want to contribute to. There also happen to be plenty of great old (and new) songs I still haven't heard, played, sung, and I can be just as happy singing them as singing my own songs.
It's getting on time to record another album, so this issue may rear its ugly head soon. I have a few new songs for the record but not enough, so I either better get inspired or start stealing! Hahahahahaha, that's a joke.
What are the pros and cons associated with being a group rather than a single performer? What do you like about the experience? What do you think you miss out on because of it (if anything!)?
The biggest pro is having several gifted songwriters to work with. It would take me forever to come up with an entire album's worth of good material. Fortunately I don't have to, since Paul is prolific and Steve and Neil also write very well. I try to get six or seven songs on our records, a much easier target to hit. The second benefit is that everyone really contributes. I think solo artists don't always get the same range of feedback from their players, who often regard themselves as hired guns who are there to do what the leader wants. We really collaborate on the music, and I think that results in a better finished product. One con of being in a group is moving everybody.A band is like an eight- or ten- or whatever-legged beast, especially on the road. It is cumbersome and inefficient, and once it sits down it really doesn't want to stand up again. It is very hard to get anywhere on time with a band. Also, by the time you've asked everyone whether they can stand to eat another meal at Wendy's and they've all answered, you've already driven past it.
I suppose if I went solo I could indulge my every musical whim, but I doubt that would be a good thing. If I went out just by myself, I might make a little more $$. But I'd be SO lonely!!! I don't at all envy those folkies in their beat-up old hatchbacks, driving 400 miles a day by their lonesomes just to tell the same stories and deliver the same punch-lines in between songs. Also, except in rare cases--Richard Thompson, Lightning Hopkins, Joseph Spence, Mississippi John Hurt--I find a solo guitar pretty boring.
What's it like working with an indie? Why an indie rather than say, Sony or other large record companies? Pros and cons?
Personally, I'm very sour on the whole record business. I love our label--that's 1-800-PRIME CD, the name is the number, folks-- but, like all indies, it lacks the clout, the connections, and the money that it takes to make a record really sell. Very few people make any money at all in the indie record business, certainly not on the folk end of the business.
There are no hard and fast rules about indies. You might think that, because indies don't give you a lot of advance money and don't promise to spend a lot on promotion, you as an artist will have a similarly short list of obligations to your label. That's been true in our case, right down having to the artistic freedom to make the records we want to make, which is the main reason I like Prime CD so much. But I also know artists who've signed with indies and, despite getting minimal advances, no tour support, and little promise of promotion by the label, have nonetheless had to give up publishing, sign multi-record deals, or both. The problem is that people are so anxious to record that they take terrible deals to achieve their goal. When it comes to the record business, it's a buyer's market, and as a result the deck is heavily stacked in the record labels' favor. If you tour a lot, I think you're better off recording and pressing your disc yourself, if you have the money to do it right. In the long run, you will be a lot better off because you will be able to keep the entire difference between production cost and retail cost. If you're good, you'll sell records at gigs and pretty soon you'll make back what you invested. Then, you can sign a deal for your next record with a label (if you want), and your track record will help you get a much better deal. By the way, ALWAYS have a lawyer read over and explain any contract you are considering signing. Otherwise, you may well wind up cursing the day you were born.
The majors can be a real nightmare. They're full of the kind of awful backstabbing and mean-spirited politics you thought you left behind in junior high. If you sign with an A&R rep and that rep moves on to another company (or just gets sick of the record business and quits), good luck! No one at the label will care about your record, because if it succeeds, the A&R guy who left will get the credit, and if it fails, the person working your record will get the blame. This happens ALL THE TIME at major labels, because people switch jobs in this business frequently. The worst thing about the majors is that they really get your hopes up as an artist. You figure, "I've finally made it to the Big Time. I'm on the same label that the Beatles (or whoever your musical heroes are) recorded for!" But the fact is that 97 percent of what the majors release stiffs, sometimes because the records stink and sometimes because the labels don't support the records. Majors sign lots of acts and make lots of records in hopes that ONE of them will break through. When that one does, they pretty much forget all their other unestablished acts and crank up the publicity machine to sell that one record. Everyone else is left out in the cold, wondering why they're not selling as many records as the Beatles did. This has happened to a lot of good acts as well as a lot of bad ones.
On the other hand, a major can--and if you can excite someone there enough, will--give you an ungodly sum of money to make a record. If you're smart, you can make a good record and keep some money to live on for a while. That is a rare thing in the record business -- being able to keep your money. (This is because the music business is full of people who tell you that you must have all the latest equipment, an expensive van and PA, and that you must hire an extremely expensive producer --who also happens to be a personal friend of the person recommending him--if you consider yourself a 'serious' musician. Also, only the majors really have the power, the distribution networks, etc. to sell lots and lots of records.
I don't know that we'd be able to sell enough records to make a major happy, but the point is academic because no major label has ever offered us a deal worth signing.
What advice would you give to other songwriters?
My advice to songwriters is to write and perform because you love to, not because you think you're going to make a lot of money doing it. If you can find satisfaction in your own accomplishments regardless of the pecuniary validation you receive, you'll be a much happier songwriter than you otherwise would be. And take lots of long walks, because they clear the mind and make it easier to write.
What's in store for 5 Chinese Brothers in the future?
In music-speak, we're in 'pre-production' on our next record.In English, this means we are still writing songs and deciding whether they are good enough to record. We'll keep touring around the East Coast and, occasionally, beyond. We'll probably be working hard this Christmas, because we put out a Christmas album last year and it did pretty well. Those things tend to build on a year-to-year basis. Otherwise we'll just keep playing shows, writing songs, and enjoying life.
Tom Meltzer is one of two primary songwriters for the country-folk-pop band 5 Chinese Brothers (the other is Paul Foglino). 5 Chinese Brothers have released four albums to critical acclaim (from Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, and Stereo Review, among others) and an amount of sales that has kept Tom working his day job. They have appeared on World Cafe and Mountain Stage, toured the country and Europe, and been thrown out of Canada on several occasions. You can order their records by calling 1-800-PRIME-CD and asking for "Shemp."
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Muse's Clues - Web Site Review by Jodi Krangle
CDArt - The Indie Music Video Showcase:
Created by:The CDART guys
This is a *very* cool web site. Yeah yeah. I know. This is the place I'm *supposed* to say such things. Ok. You got me there. But it's true. This really IS a cool web site. Why? Here's where the review comes in. ;) First off, it's very nicely arranged. That's one of my main criteria folks. You caught me. I like something I can easily navigate, that has explanations next to links, that shows me there's meat to the site without confusing the heck out of me. I don't usually like web sites with frames, but the frames used on this site are unobtrusive and actually *serve a purpose*. Ok. On to the next criteria. These guys have chosen a very worthy premise for their web page - music videos of unsigned bands looking to make it and/or spread their music to the web community at large. Better yet, and here's another something that makes it review material - it's FREE. The web page they create for your band is one page, that's true, nothing too elaborate. But that one page contains links to everywhere it needs to be linked to and it makes your music and your music video easily available to any who drop by and want to hear. Better yet, if they like what they hear, they can purchase your music in the store.
Top that all off with the ability for listeners to rank bands, and you get a sort of free-for-all poor man's Billboard. Hell, *I'M* poor. I can't speak for anyone else, but since I'm doing the review, you're getting my point of view here. I love the concept, I love their philosophy (take a look under "Philosophy" at http://www.penduluminc.com/cdart/jumper.htm for more details) and the skillful arrangement of CD covers and textual content makes the page a feast for the eyes AND the ears all at once. I was greatly impressed. Keep up the wonderful work, CDArt guys! And if any of you out there have a music video (that is their number one criteria - you MUST have a music video), you really should be listed with them.
Good luck, everyone!
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TRUTH VS. FACTS IN SONGWRITING By Harriet Schock
"Just give me the facts, ma'am," Sergeant Friday used to say in Dragnet. And somehow we got the idea that the facts and the truth were synonymous. And frequently they are. But in songwriting, confusing the facts with the truth is like mistaking clay for sculpture. What is done with the facts, and which facts are chosen--that's everything.
First of all, let's be clear on what kind of songwriting is being discussed here. I'm not talking about "formula" stock songwriting. I'm talking about songs that are written from a desire to say something. Songs that communicate some truth always have a longevity beyond mere "hit" songs, because that truth lives beyond fashion. Though the production style on the first record may become obsolete, the message in the lyric and melody will not. So the children of the fans who first heard it will discover it again in the modern clothing of new arrangement and production later on. That's what makes a classic, a standard.
Let's take a very down-to-earth example. You're writing a song for your parents' anniversary. You want to express the truth that they are heroes to you, that their love has withstood more than many people's could have survived and they are deserving of the prize that comes with such courage and constancy-- whatever you deem that to be. Now imagine that story told with these facts. You remember when you were six years old, he came home at 3 in the morning and she screamed her head off and threw a mirror at him. Seven years of bad luck later, they took you to Disneyland where you got really sick on those greasy cinnamon things. Lest you think I am jesting, let me assure you I've heard songs that have more inappropriate facts in them than this. And when I question their presence in the song, I hear the defense, "Well, that's what happened." Yes, I'm sure it did. But the sun came up again this morning and it doesn't go in every song you write.
Deciding which facts to use is what separates a true storyteller from a poser/lyric writer. One of the four qualities that makes a great songwriter, according to my mentor, Nik Venet, is "the talent to communicate truth and conceive from scratch realistic characters and situations in order to do so." Of course, many of these characters and situations will be straight from your life; many of them will be composites from different times and places in your life. But arranging those facts, shaping them into the story that will tell the truth you're imparting is like a sculptor taking a hunk of clay and bending it, adding a glob here and a twist there, taking part of it away.
When Paul Gallico (The Snow Goose) was asked what the hardest part of writing was, he said "the part you leave out." When you think about it, any situation you're writing about is so full of information, you have to be able to look at it as you would one of those "3 D" pictures and see the picture inside it. You have to look at life, full of irrelevant, fascinatingly distracting facts, strip them away and find the few key elements with which to tell your story, your truth. And if you tell it specifically, honestly, remarkably enough, other people will see their own truth in it. People will relate to it whose facts are totally different from yours. Truth is shared by many, specific facts are not.
Have you ever noticed two children from the same family remember the past totally differently? They may have had the same parents, lived in the same household, and yet they have totally different viewpoints and personalities. The facts surrounding them were the same, but they saw them differently, reacted differently to them. So to find any two people who actually share the same, objective experience is very difficult. It's better to paint with pictures the listener can put himself into. You'll never find the exact experience he had. That's why facts that don't go to the next level of revealing some truth are so lame in a song. A long time ago, of course, they used to sing songs to tell the news -- before the days of newspapers. Bards would go from town to town singing of politics, the latest scandal, and other Hardcopy type lyrics.
But art has always bent objective reality a bit to make its point. Novelists and playwrights are constantly using conglomerates of people they know for characters. And many visual artists, after they've mastered the craft of realism move into a less photographic style to express their feelings about the subject. Matisse is said to have had a visitor in his art studio one time, an artist's worst nightmare, a person who avowedly doesn't "know anything about art" but knows what he likes. He pointed to a canvas of Matisse's and said to the artist, "That woman's arm is too long." Matisse answered, "That is not a woman, sir, it's a painting."
Today, especially with the renewed literacy in all art, songs, poems, novels, plays, films, and short stories are expected to lead the listener/reader into a world so fascinating and so real, that he discovers real people there, some of whom are himself. And by being all those people, he can shift his viewpoint and know what it feels like to be other people and to feel what they feel. You, as a songwriter, will have helped him achieve this. And not by sticking to the facts, maam, but by sculpting them into the truth.
From the book, Becoming Remarkable, by Harriet Schock, published by Blue Dolphin. Email email@example.com for futher information or go to http://www.harrietschock.com/ .
Harriet Schock wrote the Grammy-nominated standard, "Ain't No Way To Treat A Lady," and co-wrote "First Time On A Ferris Wheel," plus many other songs for records and films. She co-wrote all the songs for the ABC animated "The Secret Garden." She offers private consultation, a one-on-one 6-week course and correspondence courses. She also showcases songwriters in L.A. (L.A. Women In Music Soirees and others). Her newest CD, "Rosebud", produced and directed by Nik Venet, was just released on Evening*Star Records. For information on courses and consultation, call (213) 934-5691.
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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 :
THE BIRTH OF THE RECORDING INDUSTRY - by Allen Koenigsberg
And speaking of recording, ever wonder how the whole thing got started? I found this article a fascinating peek into the fledgling science behind the huge mechanism we now call "The Recording Industry". I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Classifieds & Useful Services:
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for next CD. Like Adult Contempo, Soft Rock, New Country. Copy of current CD available to illustrate voice, range and style. Also looking for serious, reputable representation from agent or personal manager. Serious inquiries and requests for CDs can be forwarded to firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE FASTEST GROWING SONGWRITING SITE ON THE WEB,
now accepting freelance articles about songwriting in the following categories: News, How To, Business, Comedy. Make up to 5 cents per reader! Email us at email@example.com for more info.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Contact Info & Credits:
Jodi Krangle ...........EDITOR
Kathryn Obenshain ......GRACIOUS PROOFREADER
Bryan Fullerton ............SYSTEM ADMINISTRATOR
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The Muse's News is part of The Muse's Muse, a web resource for songwriters.
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