Songwriters – Get Thee On YouTube!

Music on YouTubeMany of us attend workshops and conferences on a regular basis hoping to gain insight and information that will further our songwriting careers.  Often times the information we learn lies in notebooks rarely visited after the fact.  Jane Lewis, an S.A.C. member who is a singer/songwriter that is very active in the Guelph music community, recently attended Folk Alliance and put what she learned into action.  We’re grateful she took the time to share what she learned about putting your music on YouTube.  Hopefully it will put you into action too!

In Jane’s words…

At the recent Folk Alliance conference in Toronto, I learned that YouTube is now the #1 search engine for music. If people (the general public as well as music industry folks) want to find out who you are and what you sound like, they go to YouTube first.

A panel of industry expert
s strongly advised that musicians have all their music available on YouTube. They agreed that videos of live performances are great (bookers check those out to see how well you do in front of a crowd), but somebody like a manager or agent will also want to hear the recorded versions of your songs. “Even if it’s only a song with a static photo,” they suggested. “Just get your stuff up there.”

“Make YouTube videos” had previously been an item hovering near the bottom of my endless to-do list. After attending that panel, I bumped it up to the top. How hard could it be to make a simple video, as they suggested: just the song playing with a static photo behind it?

Well—obstacle #1 was my own personality. I’m incapable of leaving well enough alone; once the “simple” project was underway, I started to think about how it could be “just a little bit more interesting.” What was one step up from a static photo? As a songwriter, I figured: why not at least showcase the lyrics of my song?

This brought me to obstacle #2 (also my own personality): perfectionism. In iMovie, I couldn’t get the exact effect I wanted with the built-in “captions,” so I ended up creating all the lyrics as individual jpegs in Photoshop, and then importing them like a slideshow. And if you’ve ever used iMovie, you may already know that synching them up can be an exercise in frustration…I did have to let go of some of my perfectionist tendencies there!

In the end, the “simple” video project took me about three days. Perhaps it will go faster next time, now that I’ve learned how to deal with a few of iMovie’s quirks.

Is it worth spending that kind of time and energy? We’ll see. I’m not in it for the money—with 186 views to date, I think I’ve earned about 0.007 cents (and apparently you don’t get paid until you hit 200,000 views). But if I think of it as advertising, then it’s an investment. And I will try to get more videos posted, as time allows.

I certainly won’t be operating on the timetable that industry blogger Bob Lefsetz proposes. In a recent post titled “Using YouTube,” he opined: “You’ve got to create on a regular basis. Once a week at least, once a day is totally fine.”

Everyone’s priority list is different. Where does “make YouTube videos” fall on your list? If once a day or even once a week is your goal, I suggest you stick with the simple stuff—perhaps a recorded song with a static photo…


Songwriting for Survival – Inviting Your Audience to “Follow the Lion”

by Debra Alexander

The Final, Sixth Week of the SAC Songwriting & Blogging Challenge 2013 is upon us. Our relatively small (50/65,000) but extremely dedicated and talented group of Coursera Songwriting Class Participants has braved jungle-like entanglements of song form, plot development, point of view, number of lines, lengths of lines, rhyme schemes, rhyme types, melodic and harmonic rhythms, and song structure. In short, we’ve been asked to climb the highest tree in the forest and have a look around in order to make decisions on how to support our lyrics with prosodic choices for every syllable, word, phrase, line, and section contained in our songs. And we have emerged from the jungle a new and upright-walking species of survivors.

Berklee College Professor of Songwriting Pat Pattison brings us full circle in the last lesson and reminds us that the reason we set out on this journey was because we, as songwriters, have ideas that we want to express. Our ability to translate to an audience how we feel about our subject will either bring our audience closer and intensify the feeling, or distance our audience and dissipate the feeling. The tools we have developed during this course are now at our disposal to aid us in our endeavour to create emotional resonance.

Over the past few weeks, we have witnessed the development of one of Pat’s songs, starting from the initial idea to a fully realized lyric and melody. The final decisions required in writing the song concern phrasing, which Pat calls the “body language” of communication. In every day communication, it turns out that our actual words account for much less meaning than our tone of voice and our body language. So phrasing, in songwriting, is an extremely important skill to cultivate. We learn how to write front heavy vs. back heavy, and strong bar vs. weak bar phrasing to create stability or instability. Additionally, tone of voice can be equated to certain melodic intervals, and our awareness of these relationships can help us intensify the feelings we’re trying to express.

One of the most fascinating segments of Lesson Six was, for this writer, the part where Pat describes the work done by ethno/evolutionary musicologist by Joseph Jordania in his book, Why Do People Sing? Music In Evolution. Jordania posits that our tree-dwelling hominid ancestors, over the millennia, learned how to drive lions off their kill by making noise together, and that this skill fed the entire tribe. For 2.5 million years, we were scavengers who followed the lion; we were coming down from the trees, learning to raise our voices together, “singing” to get our supper! Singing is actually linked to survival, and predates language. So remember, Pat says, “when you write a song…invite your audience in, let them sing with you, let them bond with you. Let them be your tribe.” He goes on to say that songwriting “is really a lifetime of fun, a lifetime of exploration, a lifetime of growth…”

I’d like to express my heartfelt thanks to the Songwriters Association of Canada for inviting me to participate in the SAC Blogging Challenge 2013 as mentor and guest blogger. And now, I have to go after a few of those lions I’ve been trailing.

All ye hunters, please post:

1. How you feel you have used front heavy, back heavy, and/or weak bar phrasing tools to assist the expression of your stable and unstable ideas.

2. The URL to your Week 6 blog. (NOTE:  please post the exact URL to the entry and not just the general URL to your blog)

Intellectual Property 101 for Musicians

By: Safwan Javed 

Safwan JavedMusicians interact with intellectual property (IP) on a day-to-day basis, yet many are unaware of the elements, rules, and rights involved. This is understandable given the combination of fairly complex doctrines comprising IP law and the time, effort, and energy a music career demands. Often, musicians will farm out the seemingly administrative nature of managing their IP rights to others, which results in substantial reliance upon the managers’ understanding of the legal regimes, and significant trust that they will navigate those regimes in the best interests of the musician.

IP laws are divided into several legal frameworks, including copyright, trade-mark, and patent laws. This article seeks to provide a basic jumping off point for musicians to better understand the two IP areas most frequently at issue in the music business, namely, copyright ad trade-marks.


Arguably, copyright laws are the most germane for musicians, in that the creation of music itself fits under the umbrella of copyright protection. Copyright laws provide a host of default rights to the creators of songs, including the sole right to: produce the song, reproduce the song (i.e., make copies of it), perform the song, publish the song, and synchronize the song to visual content.

A common misconception about copyright is that it affords protection to an idea. This is not the case. Rather, copyright law protects the original expression of an idea. In other words, copyright doesn’t protect your brilliant idea for a song, but when you actually write that song (i.e., express it), copyright protection kicks in.

In fact, that protection kicks in as soon as you express the song in a tangible form. This tangible expression is known as “fixation”, which simply means the song has to have been expressed in material form. For example, if you record yourself performing the song, or if you write down the elements of your song, such as lyrics, melody, and chord progression, you have tangibly expressed it.

If someone copies your song, s/he has infringed copyright. To ascertain infringement, an arbiter (e.g., a judge) has to find that the person accused of copying took a ‘substantial’ part of the original work. What amounts to substantial is not necessarily black and white. The arbiter has to use her/his discretion juxtaposed against a sliding scale comprised of both qualitative and quantitative variables. A song may potentially infringe copyright even if it only copies a small piece of another work, so long as it qualitatively meets the threshold required.

While copyright protection for your song exists automatically, practically, you may need evidence showing that you are the original author. Determining who wrote a song is likely based on who wrote the song first. Consider an example where two songs sound similar enough that a neutral arbiter would judge one to by copying the other. All else being equal, the infringing song is likely the one that was written later in time, because

that would make the notion that it was copying much more plausible (it’s hard to imagine copying a song that has not yet been written/expressed).

Several years ago in this column, Chris Taylor wrote about how to protect songs under copyright law. His suggestions included: (1) using song repositories (e.g., the Songwriters Association of Canada Song Vault at; (2) registering songs with the appropriate regulatory bodies (e.g., the Canadian Intellectual Property Office at; the United States Copyright Office at; etc.); and (3) employing “Poor Man’s Copyright”, which involves sending date-stamped copies of the song to yourself, and leaving it unopened until such time as you need it for evidence. These are all still valid approaches to bolstering copyright protection for your work.

It is important to note that registering your song with a regulatory body does not in and of itself provide evidence. Rather, registration creates a favourable default position for the registrant, should a legal challenge arise. Simply put, if you register your song with a government agency, anyone who claims you copied him/her, will have to prove it because the courts will presume you are the original author based on the fact that you are on record as the registrant.

Generally, copyright can be described as a complex web of layered rights. Indeed, sorting through these layers requires more time and space than is available in this forum. I suggest seeking legal counsel on the subject, if/when you create songs.


Trade-marks provide protection for any combination of words, designs, or symbols used to distinguish the source of wares or services. This protection is for the exclusive right to use a mark, as opposed to protecting the mark itself. Note, the mark itself, could potentially be protected under copyright law depending on if it meets the basic criteria for a protected work.

Trade-mark law serves consumers by ensuring the brands they think they are purchasing are in fact those brands. Similarly, trade-mark law serves businesses by ensuring the reputation and good-will they build doesn’t get usurped by others in the market place.

The most obvious instance of trade-mark relevancy for musicians is in the artist/band name. Bands or artists with the same name can cause confusion. Trade-marks aim to curtail, if not eliminate, such confusion. It’s important to note that a trade-mark can’t be primarily just a surname of anyone living or who died within past 30 years. In other words, you likely cannot register “Gordie Howe” as your trade-mark.

As with copyright protection, trade-mark protection can exist for business names and trade names without registering the mark. However, un-registered marks aren’t afforded the same level of protection as registered ones. For example, an unregistered mark is protected only in the geographic region where it is distinct, whereas a registered mark would be protected throughout Canada.

Unlike copyright protection, trade-mark protection is dependant upon initial and continued use of the mark. So, you couldn’t register a name that you aren’t using. And, you couldn’t retain a registered trade-mark that you stop using.

Registration lasts for 15 years, and so long as you are still using the mark, you can keep renewing it every 15 years.

As with copyright matters, and any other IP matters, I recommend musicians seek the counsel of legal practitioners well versed in the field.


This article was previously published in Canadian Musician.  Safwan Javed is a member of the Wide Mouth Masons and currently serves as a board member of the S.A.C.

From 11-year-old Dreamer to World Travelling Musician – The Path of a Songwriter

Ross Douglasby Ross Douglas

The desire to write songs hit me almost as soon I first heard the Beatles –I started swiping their melodies and putting my own words on top. My  first work that I remember  “ I Hate Her -yeah yeah yeah!” (a response to young love spurned and obviously a lost masterpiece)  borrowed heavily from the early work of misters Lennon and McCartney . As bad as it was, I was putting words to music, being careful to make them rhyme and adding a bit of 11 year old sarcasm.  The bug had bitten.

And there was a great by product.  I had taken piano lessons as a 7-8 year old with limited interest, but to learn the Beatles tunes I got serious  . I pecked away by ear and learned quite a few of them .   To this day I play the instruments I do primarily to aid in the learning and writing of songs.

I moved to Toronto in the mid 70’s – I met Des McAnuff who needed a piano player for some shows and ended up working with and observing a keen genius and great songwriter.  A couple of years later, another stroke of luck gave me the opportunity to become the piano player for John Gray’s “Billy Bishop goes to War” and toured a lot of the world  for about 3 years.  A groundbreaking   show, and more great songs to perform and songwriting brilliance to observe and soak up.  And of course, through travelling I experienced much to delight and inspire me.

All that happened because at age 11 I realized I wanted to be a songwriter. It brought out the musician in me.

I’ve written a lot of songs for historical theatre – songs that at their best have revealed aspects of a character and a time period in a way that only a song can. That requires research  – and in doing it I often find a turn of phrase or nugget of information that sparked me into the  zone where I  knew I’m on to something  good in a place I’ve never been before.  I love that –songs that bring out the detective in me and take me some place new.  To serve that purpose I learned bit of mandolin and ukulele and knowing a bit on those instruments has gotten me work as a performer in other shows.  Once again, an extra payoff.

I tend to be eclectic. I like the variety of style and substance. Performing solo I like stringing together my straight ahead tunes, humor, character tunes, narratives and things that are just plain silly into an evening that takes people a few places. That’s my thing. And I see people who just rip my heart out or have me helpless with laughter doing theirs. Through other songwriters , I am constantly re-inspired by language , melody and personality.

Songwriting has expanded my horizons in every way.  It led me into a career in theatre and music. It has taken me to wonderful parts of the world and introduced me to people of great creativity, heart and soul.  I’ve made a bit of a living. I have 3 albums. People around the world have contacted me to tell me my music has really meant something to them. That’s very gratifying

The most recent thing I was reminded of as a songwriter is that you’re never beyond a good tip from someone else.  I was asked to share some of what I’ve learned over the years . I confessed to Lily Cheng that I was finding it hard to start the flow of ideas. She offered me some excellent starting  points- So thank you Lily-one songwriter to another.   Here’s to us all!

Click Here to visit Ross Douglas’ Songwriter Profile

The Muse is Not King in Songwriting (i.e. You Need Skills)

by Debra Alexander

Those participating in the S.A.C. Community Songwriting & Blogging Challenge have their hands full this week with Lesson Five, the penultimate in the series. Our fearless leader, Berklee College of Music Songwriting Professor Pat Pattison, makes a case for working efficiently on writing your song, as opposed to writing whatever comes along, letting the muse strike as you hum or strum or what have you. He is careful to say that spontaneous, inspired writing has a legitimate place, but he contends that involving your head as well as your heart engages your whole self; therefore producing a better end product.

This whole head / heart thing is examined in the book The Rhythms Of The Game, by former major league baseball player and Latin Grammy Nominated jazz musician Bernie Williams.  The Rhythms of The Game draws a parallel between ‘being in the flow’ in playing the game of baseball and in the playing of a musical instrument. Being in the flow, in the context of baseball, is the ability to execute something that looks deceptively simple— but in reality it’s the result of a great deal of applied knowledge and experience along with a wonderful blend of athleticism and instinct. And so it is with songwriting. The dexterity required to manipulate those accented syllables is astounding!

So, “involving your head” means applying all the elements that have been presented since Week One, filtering them through the lens of prosody, and evaluating all the concepts in terms of stability and instability. In addition, this week you’re also considering how to create melodies and melodic rhythms by employing your knowledge of stressed and unstressed syllables. Embracing methods that allow for efficient work include the use of a thesaurus and a rhyming dictionary, as well as constructing what Pat calls a “worksheet” of rhyming words—before you ever write a line. Learning to use these structures is not meant to curb your freedom of expression, but rather to set you free. You can cure writers block and make sure your writing process keeps flowing if you rely on “informed instinct.”  Thinking, in an organized way, through the choices you have at every step should contribute to how well you’ve invited your listener to participate in your song.

Hence although the muse is important in guiding our songwriting, Pat Pattison would argue that effective use of the tools and skills he teaches is a way to lead and guide our muse.

SAC Bloggers, please post the following for Week Five:

1. The title to your Week 5 Assignment, along with a list of the 4-6 keywords you used to make your worksheet.

2. The URL to your Week 5 blog. (NOTE:  please post the exact URL to the entry and not just the general URL to your blog)