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Adventures of a Songwriter

Jerry Flattum By Jerry Flattum

2001-2009, Jerry Flattum. All Rights Reserved. Used By Permission (Please do not reprint without asking permission!)

A song is an adventure.

A song is born, sometimes gentle as the whisper of a butterfly, other times as big as a cataclysmic cosmic event.  It starts with a sound, a riff or a lyric phrase and from there heads out to destinations unknown. Some songs bite the dust, becoming the soil where the seeds of new songs are planted. Others become permanent stars in the musical universe. 

As the saga unfolds, there's a lot of characters and obstacles along the way. Producers, engineers, musicians, managers, A&R reps, critics, politics and ultimately the audience all play a role in determining the roads traveled. There are rip offs, burns and bad deals. A licensing or publishing company gets sold. An A&R rep gets fired. A contract gets broken. Creative choices have to be made.  Bands fight.  Technology changes.

Success could be because of something magically inherent in a melody or the result of clever marketing.  A major artist/band might introduce a new song and generate strong initial sales, but that doesn't mean the song will continue the quest of popularity.  An unknown songwriter, tickling the charts for the first time, can unleash a song that so resonates with an audience, it sends both the songwriter and song into superstardom.  Amazing how that happens.  

Some writers write a 1000 songs and never have a hit. Others come up with a fluke, make millions, and never write another song again. Some writers quit. Some give up. Others become legends.

Songwriting is a boat ride up a river through a jungle, a trek across a frozen mountain, a thrust into darkness, a trip to paradise, or a practical business deal. Whatever the metaphor, songwriting is most definitely an unforgettable adventure.

And, I am NOT on this journey alone.  We're (whoever you are) are in this thing together.  So please send me an email and help answer all these ridiculous questions I ask.  Better yet, take it to the Muse's Muse Songwriting Message Board.  I'd say we've got some things to talk about.  I'll be lookin' for ya.

A short bio

Articles:

  • Obedia - 24-hour Tech Support for Musicians - A new service, Obedia, answers a long awaited need:  24-hour tech support for musicians.  Steve Garth, Fred Maher and Jayce Murphy are your new best friends.  Need help right away with a hardware/software issue?  Click Obedia.
  • Groovebox.com - Need help learning Pro Tools, Cubase, Garageband, Ableton Live, Propellerhead, building a spaceship?  Groovebox has the answers.  I'm about ready to launch my first mission to Venus and I'm taking along my laptop with wireless access to Groovebox (I bought the DVD versions of the online tutorials just in case some quasar or pulsar knocks out my wireless connection). 
  • "Screwin' Around" - Practical advice from Composer, Engineer, Producer Stephen Sea - In tackling the the concept of the role a producer plays in recording, Stephen Sea offers some practical advice and lays out a blueprint for "screwin' around," a technique most songwriters are already familiar with when writing tunes. 
  • Do You Need A Producer? - Couple of months back, I decided to use Bob Katz for mastering.  After a few email exchanges and wrestling with his amazing book, Mastering Audio, I told Bob I wanted to achieve the same high quality recording with my studio as that which I've been hearing on a slew of top commercial CDs (Celine Dion, as one example).   Bob Katz recommended using a producer.  Just exactly what does a producer do?  Do I need one?  Mick Polich, another Muse's Muse Columnist, has some answers.
  • Cross-Marketing (Linking): Selling your music - New ways to sell your music online is exploding.  CD Baby is only one of them.  Of course you need your own website, but how does anyone know where it is--how to find it?  One way is to cross-link, particularly with other sites that feature your music. 
  • Pirates of Microsoft: Curse of the Black MP3 - Something is radically wrong with this movie, you know, the movie the music industry made about mostly young pirates ripping off the music industry. We are caught in the age old paradox when it comes to illegal activity of any kind: the paradox of supply and demand. Is the drug dealer to blame or the user? Did kids and pirates of all ages build the ships that made piracy possible? Well, yeah...if they worked for Microsoft.
  • Main Street and Back Alleys - Indie labels and artists range from Middle-eastern New Age to Religious Rap. Majors are no longer turning a blind eye to the Inde world. Getting signed is not the problem. Turning a profit is. But is superstardom the final destination?
  • Being Cool: A Musician's Delimma - More a blog entry than an article, I decided to get a bit personal, and discuss an issue that has plagued me for years: why so many musicians I've met think they're so cool. Why is this an issue? Despite the fact that the music industry is primarily centered around love songs, it is not love I find in the trenches or at the top. Instead, I've encountered a steady stream of cocky, immature, self-indulgent and insecure flock of superstar wannabe's who rarely rise above big fish in a little pond...and the pond is polluted. I don't see clear waters in the bigger ocean of commercial success either.
  • Pandora's Box On The Internet - In Greek mythology, Pandora was the first woman on Earth. Her name means "all gifted," but of course, most people know about her through the myth of Pandora's Box. The Gods gave Pandora a box and was told not to open it. Being naturally curious, she opened it, and out flew all the evils of the world. Well, the myth has since undergone several interpretations and Pandora's Box can mean just about anything you want it to mean. Meanwhile, Pandora.com is one of the most exciting music endeavors on the Internet. Masquerading as a kind of Internet radio, instead of unleashing evil, Pandora.com is a way to experience new music without commercialized agendas. For songwriters, it's a songwriting tool.
  • Country's Rap - The shift in recent years of Country acts crossing over to a more Pop/Rock feel is really decades old. It goes back to the "Nashville Sound" of the 50s, an attempt to bring country music to a broader Pop audience. Now, Bon Jovi tops the country charts and the Dixie Chicks just recorded in LA with producer Rick Rubin, who has worked with the Beastie Boys, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Shakira. So what is country?
  • Killer Music - At the end of this article "Killer Music" is a list of rappers who were murdered or died mysteriously. It is my no means a definitive list. In fact, it might not even be accurate. Who really knows what happened? One thing's for sure, not one of these deaths was due to old age. Facts aren't really important. In Pop/Rock, myth far overshadows reality. But has the gangsta myth gone too far? Is murder really the new ploy used to increase sales?
  • MP3s in the Car - Digital technology is increasingly going mobile. Sales of iPods and other portable digital audio players--most using the MP3 format--are soaring, with digital downloads nearly tripling in 2005 over 2004. Going mobile means far more than listening to music while jogging or standing in line at the bank. Going mobile means playing MP3s (and other audio formats) in the car, van, truck, RV and even a boat.
  • MP3s in the Car: Understanding Digital Audio Formats - An audio file format is a file format for storing audio data on a computer. There are a number of different audio file formats, with MP3 being the most common. This article includes an extensive list of codecs.
  • World Music in the New Millennium - Globalization--a term used more to describe the spread of Western influence, particularly political and corporate--will continue to bridge geographical borders in the coming years. Meanwhile, other countries will continue to reach out to America...if not compete...across the full spectrum of business, medicine, technology, space exploration and cultural influence. Globalization is in large part due to the Internet. And, the Internet is where non-Western music will find new outlets mainstream rock and pop channels currently block.
  • Reggaeton - Like all styles of World Music, lyrics sung in English will help Reggaeton reach a more mainstream audience.

  • A Buck A Song - A Commentary - Regardless of artist or genre, what music collectors collect most is songs. The New Millennium is a singles market, and having a collection of 10s of 1000s of songs has become the norm.
  • A Brief History of Music Publishing and Recording in America - A Brief History of Music Publishing and Recording in America provides a quick view of just what the title implies, from the early 1800s to the digital revolution today. Actually, the first published music was in 1640, but the industry didn't really get rolling until the late 1800s.
  • The Entertainment Cyberscope - A guide to entertainment on the Internet for the songwriter, musician and entertainment industry professional. It is an exploration in the creative, technical, social/cultural, media and business realms of the entertainment industry as a whole, but with a focus on music.
  • What Is A Broadcast Quality Recording? - This article is Part 1 of a series of articles exploring the question, "What Is A Broadcast Quality Recording?" From home studios to state-of-the-art facilities, what kinds of recordings songwriters and artists need to make will prove critical to their success. It could be that the new millennium marks a new era in recording: the death of the demo. And, how commercially released recordings are "mastered" may influence sales.
  • What Is A Broadcast Quality Recording? Part 2: Technological Change - A quick picture of how recording technology has changed since Thomas Edison first recorded "Mary Had A Little Lamb" sets the stage for broadcast quality recording in the New Millennium.
  • What Is A Broadcast Quality Recording? Part 3: Journey From Note to Recording - What is being recorded and how it is recorded proves critical in what is being mixed and what can be "fixed" in mastering. A single note "doth not a song make." A broadcast quality recording depends on everything that comes before it: the song, the sound, the performance.
  • What Is A Broadcast Quality Recording? Part 4: Myth of the Piano or Guitar/Vocal Demo Revisited - There is the piano or guitar/vocal demo and the broadcast quality recording...and the wisdom to know the difference.
  • What Is A Broadcast Quality Recording? Part 5: Mastering Basics - Broadcast quality recordings are produced in the finest studios by the best engineers in the world. Is it possible to rival such recordings in a home studio? It starts with the basics.
  • What Is A Broadcast Quality Recording? Part 6: Formats - In mastering a broadcast quality recording, one size does not fit all. There are a wide range of tape, CD and DVD formats. Each format has its own mastering strategy.
  • What Is A Broadcast Quality Recording? Part 7: Mixing Techniques - Mastering is not about "fixing it in the mix." It's about enhancing audio and preparing a recording for replication. There is some overlap in the mixing techniques used in mixing and mastering. But it's the mix that gets mastered.
  • What Is A Broadcast Quality Recording? Part 8: Monitors and Routing - What an engineer hears during recording, mixing and mastering depends on the quality of monitors used.
  • What Is A Broadcast Quality Recording? Part 9: Mixing To Broadcast - An arranger works with a palette of instruments and sounds. An engineer works with a palette of f/x. Using f/x is as much an art and science as playing an instrument and equally critical in terms of quality of recording. Producing a broadcast quality recording doesn't stop there. Once mastered, now the challenge is distribution.
  • Love, Sex and Marriage in Pop Music - Britney got married...for real this time. So, is she out of the game? And what does Britney's marriage have to do with song lyrics?
  • What Is A Song? - What is a song? A song is defined not only by its structural components--melody, lyric, harmony--but also by style, genre, production, vocalist and message. A quick historical view will help illustrate how songs through the ages have in some ways remained the same, but also how it is the differences that define more accurately what a song is.
  • Spiked Hair and Cowboy Boots - Beyond file sharing wars, new business models, economics, digital distribution networks, or even major labels versus independent labels, the digital revolution is radically changing the way artists/songwriters think about genre.
  • The Musical, or Something Like It - Las Vegas Strip shows share something in common with Hollywood: a dreaded fear of the musical. But, what looks like fear, might be a search for something new in disguise.
  • Diane Warren: Achieving Focus as a Songwriter - Diane Warren is one of the most successful songwriters of all time. But, her success might not be just because of her talent, a workaholic mentality, or even a gift from God. Diane has achieved what many songwriter's lose along the songwriting journey: Focus.
  • The Story Leads the Dance: An Interview with music supervisor G. Marq Roswell - The following article, "The Story Leads the Dance: An Interview with G. Marq Roswell," was originally published in Scr(i)pt Magazine, Sept. 10, 2002. The article is "angled" towards screenwriters but is a telling account of what music supervision is and how it works, told through an interview with one of Hollywood's most prolific music supervisors, G. Marq Roswell.
  • Convergence and Content - Two buzzwords for the new millennium are Convergence and Content. The convergence of technology and entertainment and the "morphing" of content will prove critical to the future of entertainment in the 21st century. For songwriters, filmmakers and artists of all types, such change will open the doors for many new opportunities.
  • Dreamin' In Las Vegas - What's happening in Vegas? Take a fast rollercoaster ride through Sin City and see what opportunities there are for songwriters. Ever here the song, "Cathouse Blues?" Also, watch the Entertainment Cyberscope for Vegas links (some included in article) and other new categories in the next couple weeks.
  • Commercialism Part V: A Musical Kaleidoscope - I learned music is a kaleidoscope. I learned variety is the best thing of all. Everybody has their own image, their own sound, their own way of doing things. Commercialism is a launchpad for reaching a wider audience and a way to earn a living. And it's OK to be a millionaire.
  • Commercialism Part IV: Pet Rock - Inspired by the sincerity of the 70's music scene--you know, whirling disco chandeliers, cocaine and "must have hair" bands--as well as the recent and artistically triumphant Coca Cola commercial performances by Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears and so many others, a new band is born called: Pet Rock.
  • Independent versus the Enterprise - Let a cost/benefit analysis of commercialism in the Digital Age reveal how you can increase opportunity by traveling the independent route.
  • What Kind of Music Do You Write? - Get therapeutic advice on a new psychiatric disorder called MCS: Multiple Category Syndrome. New songwriters are particularly afflicted with this disease but it strikes established artists as well.
  • Troubadours, Pirates and the Digital Police - Songwriting, publishing, production and distribution in Y2K - a comprehensive 5-parter with tons of links & informative information. Songwriting in the Year 2000? You be the judge.
  • INTERVIEW: Jay Schankman - Creator of "The Concert Web" group 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.

A short bio:
Jerry Flattum is a songwriter (BMI), screenwriter and freelance writer.  For more information, you can visit his website.

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