The Changing Landscape for Songwriters – Statement by Eddie Schwartz

As most of you are well aware, the music industry faces many challenges, and making a living as a music creator has not gotten any easier over the last decade.

One of the few good news stories has been the significant growth of revenue collected and distributed to songwriters and music publishers from performing rights societies, such as our excellent Canadian society, SOCAN. Revenues at SOCAN are up approximately 40% in recent years, and performing rights societies around the world now collect over $10 billion annually.

Just as importantly, songwriters and composers receive their performance royalties directly from SOCAN, and overhead has been kept to around 15%, so 85% of the money collected goes to music creators and publishers.

Unfortunately, the very success of performing rights societies may have created serious problems going forward. Please follow http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20121216/MEDIA_ENTERTAINMENT/312169998 to this interesting and important article which helps explain the enormous challenge to performing rights societies in the US and worldwide by the threat of direct licensing.

Please stay tuned for further posts and information from the S.A.C.. Given the enormous stakes and profound change direct licensing poses, this is not an issue songwriters can ignore.

Many thanks,
Eddie Schwartz
President S.A.C.
Co Chair Music Creators North America

Producers Can Help Focus Grow Your Song

becka_deHaan-CoverLowResBecka deHaan whose new Christmas album,  Long-awaited, Unexpected, was recently featured by CBC’s Music Man, Bob Mersereau, is a self-professed solo writer who has long enjoyed the organic process of songwriting.  Her first foray into working with a producer was surprisingly fruitful…

In Becka’s Words…

Many film depictions of songwriting portray characters physically writing, with instrument and/or writing utensil: Johnny Cash in the air force, writing and singing under his breath, June Carter with her autoharp, trying out options for Ring of Fire, or Kelly and Beau, in one of the opening scenes of “Country Strong,” passing the guitar back and forth…

A candid shot of me songwriting, however, would reveal me in a rocking chair, surrounded by sunlight and sipping a tall cup of tea–my changing facial expressions being your only measure of progress. I am silent… Improvising and journaling certainly provide inspiration, but with the blessing (and sometimes a curse! –but in this case a blessing) of perfect pitch, I can imagine music in intricate detail without physically hearing anything–and that is my compositions’ true breeding ground. I’ll do research and eventually seek feedback from trusted colleagues and friends–so by the time I’m laying down the guide, the song is ready–ready to be produced, to be edited, adjusted, revised and even rewritten? I didn’t think so, until this past May…

I can’t deny that this is an era of beautifully self-produced masterpieces–but I also cannot deny what can become of a song when placed into the hands of a loving and caring producer. A good producer will shepherd your project, making it “lie down in green pastures” (Psalm 23:2A) where it belongs–and that is exactly what my producer, Tim, did with my latest album, and wonderfully with one particular song.

We were editing the final piano before bringing in the full band, and when it got to one line of the lyric, Tim suddenly asked, “Does that really need to be said though?” With a background similar to my own, Tim is acutely familiar with this type of lyrical content, so I trusted his opinion beyond that of a strict producer. “Something to think about–not right away–in the next while,” he added at length, “what are you really saying with this song?” A gentle and encouraging spirit, he continued: “Now let me say right away that this is a very strong song. It’s not the structure; it’s the message…”

As we started discussing the details, my explaining where each part came from, I realized that he was right. What I thought were subdivisions of one message were in fact different messages under one topic. I was in for an unprecedented post-preproduction rewrite. I went home, afraid yet confident: afraid it wouldn’t come together before the vocal session, yet confident in my newfound focus.

After five days of the usual process–in rocking chairs, cars and the shower–the rewrite was complete–and the more session musicians played to the wrong lyric, the more strength the right one seemed to take on. At last I walked into the vocal booth–and after the first run-through, Tim immediately declared, “Love the rewrite, by the way,” and I knew this was the best thing that could have happened to the song. A producer who cares not only for the production but also for the content thereof, will truly grow a song and make it shine.

So, if your biographical movie shows you strumming fiercely, madly scribbling and fighting with your bandmates…Enter your producer, who can lead you “beside still waters” (Psalm 23:2B). You may not be telling the heroic tale of having braved the rapids, but trust me: The song will be remembered.

Click Here to visit Becka deHaan’s Songwriters’ Profile.
Click Here to listen to Becka on CBC’s Music Man.

One Last Song – The last day of SongWorks Vancouver 2012 proves to be just as productive

SongWorks Vancouver 2012 Participants: (from top left) Mario Vaira, John Pippus, Jeff Dawson, Laurell Barker, Dave Gaudet, Kate Morgan , Kaylee Johnston, Rachel SuterOmar Khan
SongWorks Vancouver 2012 Participants: (from top left) Mario Vaira, John Pippus, Jeff Dawson, Laurell Barker, Dave Gaudet, Kate Morgan , Kaylee Johnston, Rachel Suter, Omar Khan

Songwriting camps are an opportunity to tune out the world and get intense about songwriting – often with a group of strangers.  John Pippus embarked on this journey courtesy of SongWorks, an S.A.C. sponsored professional songwriting camp that brings together 9 professional songwriters.  Thanks to John’s play-by-play reports, we’ve gotten a taste of the pace and intensity of these kinds of camps, that are often held around the world to create the best environment for some of the best songwriters to write their best songs.  Here is John’s recap of his third and final day at SongWorks Vancouver 2012.

In John’s Words…

9:30AM I arrive with a dozen bagels and cream cheese from Siegel’s Bakery. Best bagels you can get, this side of Montreal. It’s the third and final day of SAC’s three-day songwriter camp. I’m tired but looking forward to see if we can make musical magic one more time. I’m assigned to write with Kate Morgan and David Gaudet. Kate is a 19 year-old writer, with a talent that belies her age. She’s spending a lot of time in Los Angeles these days working with well-known producer Brian Howes. Dave, our producer du jour is a skilled writer, guitarist, and singer, and knows his way around the recording gear. While we wait to get started, Kate plays me a song on her iPhone by Bruno Mars. She would like to try writing something along similar lines. His name is only vaguely familiar to me, but I like what I hear. Acoustic R ‘n B is the vibe I get with some pop ear candy. Right up my alley. And Dave’s too, as it turns out.

10:00AM By now it’s a familiar routine. We play around with a few chord sequences and within a few tries, we come up with something that we all like. The chorded riff evoke a sad or wistful mood, and Kate suggests a theme of knowing when it’s time to let go. Nothing stays the same. Kate and Dave get on a roll, I feel more like a third wheel for much of the writing process today. I come up with a few lines here and there, but they seem to have a flow going between them. I mostly play the riff over and over while they tease out the words, first for the chorus and then the verses. That’s OK with me. The ego has to be kept in check, the song is king. In other sessions, I’ll contribute more than my share, so it all comes out even in the end.

11:00AM We settle on a tempo, record a simple piano motif, and build the song from the chorus out. Dave lays down the acoustic guitar part. The tune slowly grows and we all like the direction it’s going in. While Dave loops and layers the sounds, I fill out my song camp evaluation questionnaire. Full marks from this happy camper.

1:00PM Pizza for lunch. Everyone is either bleary-eyed or giddy from lack of sleep and three days of intense creative work. We pose for a group picture. By now, we know the broad strokes of each others’ personalities and quirks. There is a lot of laughing and goofing around.

3:00PM Kate records her vocals. She has a warm, engaging voice. Dave adds some low harmonies. Then it’s time to build up the tracks with keyboards, drum sounds, hand claps, and a backwards guitar whoosh to kick off the first verse.

5:00PM Kate has to leave early, so Dave and I spend the last hour or so fine tuning what we have. The song is called “Ashes and Dust”. Vince comes in and has a listen and declares it ‘”great”. Music to my ears.

6:45PM SongWorks IV is over. It’s been a genuine thrill and an honour to be here with all these talented people. I’m exhausted but feeling satisfied. I’ve helped give birth to three songs, all solid, all in different genres, over three long days. Not only did we collaboratively write them from start to finish but we recorded them too. Each demo still has a few things that need doing – a guitar solo here, additional harmonies there, some extra whooshes and swirls to lift a chorus or make a breakdown more interesting. But they are, basically, done. And like any good song, they don’t need the extra bits to make them complete, it’s just nice to have. It’s exciting to know we’ve got songs that are going to see some serious pitch time!