You Can’t Stop The Waves…But You Can Learn To Surf (The Music Industry)

Dan Swinimer has 20 years experience in the music industry – both on the business and creative side. Dan’s unique skill set, combining business experience and creative/musical talent have seen him involved in many successful ventures to date including charting on various Billboard charts, NBC olympic music placement, and video game placement to name a few.  He is also currently the Songwriters Association of Canada’s Featured Member.  We’re grateful he took the time to share some of the wisdom he has garnered over the course of his extensive career.

In His Words…

When I was asked to do this guest blog about the music industry, the devil on my shoulder instantly snickered “tell them to RUN FOR THEIR LIVES!!!!” It’s true – the music industry can be a volatile, pride swallowing, thankless place. It is intensely competitive, sometimes back stabbing and often political. Oh yeah – for most musicians, it will never pay a dime. So why do it? Life is made up of peaks and valleys – much like a wave. Sometimes you sit atop the wave and admire the view. Sometimes you find yourself in the trough of the wave – looking for a ladder. Well, if a normal life is a wave, then a musician’s life is a tsunami! Sure the lows are pretty low, but the highs are like nothing else in this world, and like a powerful drug, they keep you coming back for more. As they say, you can’t stop the waves…but you can learn to surf.

I’ve been riding this tidal wave for close to 20 years now, and here are a few things I think I’ve learned along the way;

1. There are very few, if any absolutes in music – only patterns. For any so called “rule” in the music biz, there are exceptions, often countless exceptions, and that goes for every point I make in this blog! Success in the music industry is a moving target – both on the business and creative side, so anyone claiming to know anything for certain…likely doesn’t. Chasing what is hot now can be very counterproductive. For songwriters, I do think it is very important to invest time listening to what is happening on the charts now, but I think it is equally important to listen to what worked in the past AND to listen and appreciate all different genres and styles of music. When we write music, we are constantly accessing our subconscious. If there is only Katy Perry in there, you will probably just regurgitate Katy Perry. If you have proven hits past and present, as well as all many other styles and genres of music mixing together, I believe you give yourself a chance to create something exciting, new, original and relatable.

2. Focus. Know what your goals are, and make sure your actions line up. Here is an example – I have artists tell me all the time that their goal is radio play, but they will write 5 minute songs with 2 minute intros. With the rare exception, you either write 5 minute songs with 2 minute intros, OR you get radio play. Not both.

3. Making money in music isn’t the same as “selling out”. There is a wall that so often exists between musicians and success. It’s the “selling out wall”. Sometimes peer pressure puts it there, sometimes we put it there ourselves. The reality – there is nothing wrong with being successful. Some musicians put more thought into avoiding the mainstream, then they do into making great music. Figure out the truth behind “selling out” as it pertains to you, then write the best music you can write and ignore the haters.

4. Musicians make music – Music lovers listen to, and buy music. Not all music lovers are musicians. In fact, MOST music lovers are not musicians. If you are trying to write music that millions will love and relate to, then don’t write music that only musicians will understand. Lyrics are not an after thought. To non-musicians, the lyrics are every bit as important as the music.

5. Find people whose opinion you value. This can be hard to find. There are 2 types of useless opinions that come to mind right away;

–  “I Love it!” guy.  They “love” everything, but in reality are just too polite to tell the truth.

– “I would have done this and this” guy. We all love this guy – the one that criticizes just to try and impress you.

The perfect opinion is the one that has no agenda, and shoots straight. They should like the style of music that you are doing, and they DON’T necessarily have to be music industry peeps! As much as I like to have industry opinions, I take as much if not more stock in non-musician/music lover’s opinion. After all – they are the ones buying the music…right?

6. Don’t sign ANYTHING without getting a lawyer to look at it. There are a lot of very bad recording and publishing deals out there – just waiting for a sucker to sign them.  DON’T be that sucker. If anyone threatens to take a deal off the table because they are not willing to wait for you to have a lawyer look at it, then that deal is likely a very bad one.  If someone is truly interested in what you are doing, they will wait.

7. Be nice! Be fair! Be honest! Be Strong! If you do all these things, you will really stand out in the music business! There are tons of slime-balls in music. Don’t be one of them. Don’t get walked over, but don’t be a jerk.

There are many things I haven’t included here because being musicians, and thus crippled with ADD, I figure a long blog wouldn’t get read anyways! I didn’t include “work hard” or “be persistent” in my list, mainly because these are just givens. If you don’t work hard, you will get left behind before the race even begins. I should also add “enjoy the ride”. There have been times in my journey that the ups and downs of the business have gotten the better of me, and I forget why I do it.  At these moments, it is important to get away from being a music creator, and go back to being a music lover. Listening to the music that first inspired you to write can help you can get back to writing from the heart – which is where all the best music comes from. Yes – the music industry is a wild ride – intense highs and lows. Grow thick skin, learn from your mistakes and enjoy the ride!


An Unusual Thank You to Video Game Designers

written by: Allister Bradley

Let’s start by getting this point clear – I am NOT a gamer.  Video gaming never much caught on with me.  Sure, I’ve wasted hours over the years on Angry Birds, Tetris, and various puzzle games, but I’m the last guy you’ll ever see playing Halo or Worlds of Warcraft…

Let’s face it, however, I do have kids, and kids love video games – especially young boys. We’ve more or less kept up with game systems, and currently have a PS2, PS3 and Wii all connected to the home theater.  They used to see a lot more action, but now they’re gathering a bit of dust.

When the kids were younger, they’d usually have a video game or two on their wishlist at any given moment.  These ranged from sports games to shoot-em-up games, or games based on movie themes.  My son usually wanted battle games, and my daughter usually wanted sports games.  I’m okay with sports games, but we always explained to our young son that we didn’t want him playing games that glorified violence (despite most of them shamefully veiling the violence in a Disney-esque ‘defend the good guys’ paradigm).

Along came music-based games.  First, the karaoke and dance-along games.  We bought ‘em, and were grateful that our kids were getting exercise and enjoying music.  Then the real revolution came, with Guitar Hero, and ultimately, Rock Band.  We bought ‘em, and even ended up with instrument controllers for two competing game systems (imagine the clutter). But we gladly did, because we love music, and considered this a worthwhile investment of our kids’ time and energy.  It even offered a great pastime for family parties!

Meanwhile, both kids were enrolled in piano lessons, and proved very talented.  We actually had arguments over whose turn it was to play the piano (wow, my problems could have been SO much worse).  But my son really wanted to play guitar.  So, after he finished his fourth year of piano lessons, we agreed to switch him to guitar lessons.  I expected the worst – after playing Guitar Hero and Rock Band on a plastic guitar with five buttons and one ‘string’ to pluck, I figured a real guitar would be too difficult and frustrating, and expected my son’s musical education to come to an screeching halt.  Could I have been more wrong? Instead, he took to the instrument like a fish to water, and looked forward to every lesson.

Fast-forward four years, and he’s playing gigs and writing songs.  But can you imagine the artists this 14-year-old boy is studying?  Kansas, Rush, Chicago, The Beatles, Ben E. King, Bill Withers, Steve Miller, John Mayer, Coheed and Cambria, Dream Theatre, Jimi Hendrix, Joe Satriani, and the list goes on and on.  He has an unending musical appetite.  Where did he pick up such a diverse musical appreciation?  That’s right…  Playing video games…

So, I have to offer my humble thanks to whoever it was that came up with the idea for a video game which would let my children play as if they were in a rock band.  Hands down, that beats spending hours shooting bad guys.  My kids are doing even better: as Jack Black would say – we’re saving the universe with face-melting rock and roll…

Click Here to visit Allister’s Songwriters Profile.

Click Here to see original posting of this blog.

The Road To Nashville Ain’t Easy, Especially From Canada

TODAY, the S.A.C. hosts our first ever workshop for Canadian songwriters considering heading to Nashville.  The Road To Nashville:  Strategies for Canadian Songwriters Heading to Music City promises to be an informative event with a roster of Nashville experts including our very own President, Eddie Schwartz. Click for details.

Along the theme of going to Nashville, one of our members, Lisa Nicole, a 22 year old independent Country singer/songwriter based in Vancouver has a story of the fun and folly that ensued when she tried to go to Nashville.

In Her Words…

Here is my Nashville story:

I had the trip booked for a couple months now, along with a fellow musician, Jason Thomas, and my producer. I started with booking the Socan house. From there I started looking into writers nights and people to write with. I booked a couple small shows, along with sessions with writers such as Kathleen Higgins of the country band “The Higgins” and Daryl Burgess. During the time leading up to my dates to go (March 19th-March 26th) I was in a contest called Get Me The Menu. It was a contest on facebook for artists who are in the restaurant industry. The prize was $1000, which would cover my expenses to get to Nashville. I was neck and neck with another artist the whole time and ended up losing by 20 votes with 822. I did a successful show to fundraise money a couple days before I left. We raised over $500. Which covered my flight and Get Me The Menu also awarded me $250 for my efforts. So, I bought my flight.

My dad is funding my album and sent me with a little money to record a couple special tracks like fiddle, banjo, dobro,mandelin and steel guitar. This was going to be a great trip of writing, recording and doing shows in Nashville, a dream I’ve had since I was 15.

The day comes when I am set to go down to catch my flight in Nashville. Going across the border, I was so excited that I let it slip that I was doing shows. Right away, a red flag went up. I spent 2 hours at 2AM in the customs border and protection, fingerprints and everything. They wouldn’t let me through because they considered the shows as working, even though they weren’t paid. They said I could only come back with a working Visa. I was heartbroken, balling my eyes out at the customs. Nothing I said would change their mind. So I went home.

Right away I put my flight on hold. Got a couple hours of sleep and woke up when the Vancouver Consulate opened and called to see about getting an emergency Visa. It would take months. So, that wasn’t going to happen. I decided, what the heck,I can’t give up this easy! I’ll try again. I got paystubs showing I work in Canada, emails that I cancelled my Nashville shows, letters from work saying I will return to work, anything I thought would change their minds.

Off I went the next morning at 7am, this time I didn’t bring my guitar, that would have been a red flag again. Right away the border guy asked me “Why are you trying to come through the border today if you got denied yesterday?” There I went back into the Customs Border Protection office. I explained my situation, and showed them the paperwork. After an hour, he came back and said “I’m sorry, you need to come back with a Performance Visa.” I was so upset, it takes months and I’ve worked so hard for this. I wasn’t going to give up. I then asked to talk to his supervisor. The officer said they wouldn’t change their minds. After several minutes he came out, by this time I was in tears. I begged him, and tried showing him more emails on my phone. He still said, “No, I’m sorry mam, you need a performance visa.” I then asked to talk to his chief. They searched my car. And, after yet another half hour they came back and said “Ok you can go.” I couldn’t believe it !! I hugged the guy ! I did a happy dance right when I walked out the door. They asked me if I was a country singer and if I could sing a song. So, I sang them a song and off I went. On the other side I met Bill Buckingham, my producer. I found wifi at a local gym in Blaine, booked my flight which cost an extra $650 and off we went. We got a speeding ticket on the way, of course, as luck would have it.

In the back of my mind I was preparing to spend the week crying in a little ball. This was something I have really wanted since I was 15. I couldn’t believe they let me cross after denying me 4 times. Hard work really pays off, along with persistence!!

Click Here to visit Lisa Nicole’s Songwriters Profile.