As you may be aware Fair Trade Music has been a focus and priority of the Songwriters Association of Canada for the last several years. In the spirit of the season, we are asking our members to consider buying a t-shirt (or two!) as a great Holiday season gift that will help us build Fair Trade Music (FTM). All proceeds will go to furthering FTM’s mission to achieve a fair, transparent and equitable music value chain for songwriters, artists and everyone in the music value chain.
In the future, the goal of Fair Trade Music is to certify anyone in the music value chain, including digital steaming services, record labels, ticket sellers, and anyone else in the music value chain between those who create the music and the millions of people who enjoy it everyday. Fair Trade certification will inform consumers who pays and who plays “fair,” so they can make better choices when streaming and purchasing music.
As a valued member of the Songwriters Association of Canada, we ask you to show your support for the Fair Trade Music by purchasing a t-shirt (or two!).
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to add your name to the Fair Trade Music campaign mailing list.
Award-winning songwriting and Canadian legend Ian Thomas whose songs have found international success with many artists such as Santana, America, Manfred Man, Chicago, Bette Midler and Ann Murray, played an integral part of the evolution of the Songwriters Association of Canada. We invited him to share his memories of the journey. We also hope you will hear his appeal and join us.
In the words of Ian Thomas
In the mid-eighties I went to Ottawa with a group of songwriters to bend the ear of then Minister of Communications, Flora MacDonald. The issue of the day was that the mechanical rate for song usage in recordings had been fixed at 2 cents in 1924 and over 60 years later the rate was still sitting at … 2 cents. It was a wake up call for many songwriters who, like myself, had been living in a bit of a bubble. Many of us just couldn’t believe why no one had done anything about this? More importantly though was the realization of why we expected someone else to look out for our interests in the first place. We needed to grow up.
That Ottawa trip and the attendant publicity succeeded – the mechanical rate increased. The publicity alone probably outed and shamed the industry into action. An awakening creative community of songwriters shortly thereafter founded the SAC. It was a group of talented writers and kindred spirits who knew that songwriters needed dome serious advocacy and education in the business of music.
From 1998 to 2000, I took a turn as president of the SAC in a rather transitional time. The board and I worked hard and we accomplished a lot. We acquired a greater national profile, our own office, our first full time Executive Director, our first full time secretary and a new quarterly magazine.
Songwriters Magazine stirred up criticism from a few industry moguls. One article brought on considerable harrumphing from a few publishers. The article, “Looney Tunes” used some actual contracts to show how little money could trickle down to songwriters on every dollar earned. It was an educational, not a sensationalist, article and so no names were mentioned. We offered to print any rebuttals but none were offered. It’s hard to argue facts. The real problem was that advocacy for the creative community was offensive to some who posed as champions of writers while making a living at acquiring their rights. There were many in the music business establishment who simply didn’t like the notion of writers becoming better businessmen.
We visited the Heritage Ministry in Ottawa often in my years as SAC president. I must admit then Heritage Minister, Sheila Copps was a friend to the creative community. I think she sensed that authors’ rights were something of a canary in the coalmine in the fallout from international trade agreements and multinational corporations. Despite a sympathetic minister, I soon understood the sad reality that our Canadian government was merely a government by the best-funded lobby. Then, as now, we were up against an ever-increasing full court press from corporate lawyers working 24/7 to whittle away creator’s rights. My two years as president were an age of reason compared to current realities where unbridled capitalism is so mistakenly being considered the same thing as democracy. Where the common good is evaporating into the garish wealth acquisition by the few.
We have seen “work for hire” language erode creative rights. Language in some film contracts currently demands that, “producer shall be known as author of all work created by composer”. The latter is like Morris Levy of Roulette Records who, in the formative days of rock n’roll, insisted on co -author status of anything released on his label. I never imagined this would become a corporate template with full authorship, no less. Such corporate evolution requires a permissive societal moral regression.
Some commercial music users state that SOCAN and songwriters do not “fit into our business model”. That model seeks profit from music streaming without paying a penny for the music. This is akin to wanting to open a chain of hamburger outlets around the world … if they can get the hamburger for free. Outrageous? Not in the corporate boardrooms of the new millennium.
A few songwriters have a lofty notion that music should be free. In 2014, corporations hold an unbridled sense of entitlement to songwriters income as they seek to drift-net the industry. “Free music” means somebody else will gladly take the income your music might generate if you find it so distasteful. You won’t be writing for a living … well not your own.
The future has never looked so bleak for music creators. This has become a struggle for our very economic existence. As writers we have never needed the SAC more than we do now. As Canadians, there has never been a time when we needed to seriously dig down deep and “stand on guard for thee.” Take your pick. As a Canadian … or as a songwriter, it is our watch.
Disclaimer: This blog is part of an occasional series whereby those involved in the founding of the Songwriters Association of Canada have been invited to share their memories with us. These articles represent the recollections, perspective and opinions of their author only, and not the organization.
One of the more interesting and important parts of any profession is the representation of that profession to the public and to those who work with those professionals. From the middle ages when “guilds” became the representatives of those who worked on the churches and castles to present day society, such groupings have played an important part in the progress of such groupings. It was with this thought in mind that I approached Stephen Stohn in 1987 and asked him about the ability to copyright a song in Canada and if there was a professional organization representing songwriters in Canada. I knew that there were songwriters participating on many of the boards of related associations, but I was not aware of one that served only songwriters.
Stephen told me of one, the Canadian Songwriters Association, that had been started in the early 80’s but had never really gotten off the ground. (Like many new enterprises, professional associations have a high failure rate because of the time and money commitment to make them work.) He referred me to Donna Murphy who was an executive at CIMA (then CIRPA), who had some knowledge of and had helped the fledgling group of songwriters some years before. Donna and I spoke on the phone several times and then we decided to meet with Greg Marshall, one of the principals for the original organization. Stephen arranged for us to use one of the smaller boardrooms of McCarthy Tetrault in the TD Centre and we had our first meeting with the four of us present. Although Greg was enthusiastic about re-energizing the original idea, his time was limited and so he agreed to lend his name but he could not participate. Stephen also generously lent his name to the enterprise and he was happy to attend board meetings and to counsel us but his own very busy practice precluded any “hands on” work in building up the association.
So Donna Murphy and I embarked on a several month mission to present the idea to the rest of the music industry through a series of informal lunches that not only helped us define some of the more pressing issues for songwriters but also gave us great insight into the need to bring in some of the “name” writers who were interested and who were earning. Enter Eddie Schwartz and Rich Dodson. Eddie’s very positive and literary influence was immediately felt by his reasoning for renaming the group and the Songwriter’s Association of Canada instead of the Canadian Songwriter’s Association. “With all due respect to Canada, we are songwriters working in Canada not Canadians who happen to be songwriters!” And of course, he was right. I came up to Toronto from London weekly and we held board meetings monthly.
With Eddie and Rich and Stephen’s blessing and encouragement, Donna and I continued to “lobby” the industry and Donna was able to help generate some income for the organization through some grants for research on songwriters for the Ontario government.( In the days of typewriters and regular mail, Donna put in many many hours digging up facts and numbers while I wrote more broad generalized papers about what was needed by our profession.) Both Donna and I wrote many papers during those first couple of years to keep the money flowing so that we could get the word out. Everything was new and everything was possible!
I think the turning point for the organization came with the plans for PROCAN and CAPAC to merge. (Up until that time Canada followed the US model of two performing rights societies, one which favored ASCAP and one which favored BMI.) When Nancy Gyokeres of SOCAN told us about the plan I was immediately on board because I had seen the east / west divide in songwriters and I knew that in order to have a national organization, we had to have songwriters from across the country. I saw the opportunity to not only bring the performing rights organizations together, but to grow our association. We were able to get a financial commitment from SOCAN to hold a national meeting and so the phone calls began.
I had lived in Vancouver for a couple of years where PROCAN ruled the roost and the West Coast writers were fiercely loyal to that performing rights society. I got on the phone and I started to call some of the top writers and ask them to join SAC and to get behind the amalgamation of the two societies. I talked for hours to many of them but it was Bill Henderson who really cracked the ice out there. We had a spirited conversation about the fact that the west coast already had a songwriters association and why was there a need for another. I offered to make him a vice-president of SAC in order to assure him that the west would be represented and I still remember him laughing and saying “You want to make me a vice-president of a society that I am not even a member of?” But thanks to his open mind and ultimately his brilliant leadership, not only did he join with us, he went on to lead the association to bigger and better things and even serving on the SOCAN board.
Eddie Schwartz, Bill Henderson and Donna Murphy were all critical to the establishment and success of the SAC. As we brought on more board members besides Rich Dodson such as Ron Hynes, Roy Forbes, Shari Ulrich, Ron Irving Joan Bessen and others,and as we reached out to our Quebec counterparts the organization took hold and we found a place at the table.
As to my question to Stephen about the ability for songwriters in Canada to protect their own works in this country, that is now the Song Vault. Along with the Song Vault are a myriad number of services to help, guide and promote the young songwriters career and all of those are ideas born in those days.
It is very gratifying to look back today at the establishment of SAC and all of those services to its members and to remember that first conversation over 25 years ago that has brought all of this to fruition. You, as songwriters who live and work in Canada, are so fortunate to have such a strong and vibrant society to help you climb the ladder and to make sure that your place is recognized culturally and financially. Many thanks to those people who were so important in making this happen!
I can list several reasons why the S.A.C. has been so important in my personal journey as a songwriter, but would like to say that the fellow writers I have met and the connections I have made have had the greatest impact.
Several months ago, through a network of songwriters on Facebook, I came across a song that was posted called “Half A World Away”. I immediately connected to the song and was eager to see who had written it. John Pippus and Lucy LeBlanc of Vancouver were the creators, and they had developed something really magical. I re-posted the song and complimented the writers on how much I liked it.
Early this past June I had the opportunity to go to Vancouver for a couple of days and wanted to see if I could do a co-write while I was there. I emailed the SAC Regional Writers Group in Vancouver and was quickly connected to Lucy LeBlanc, who was so warm and kind. She suggested a three-way co-write with her writing partner, John Pippus, and I was delighted.
We figured out a central meeting spot that was convenient for everyone. I was staying at UBC, and Lucy was coming from White Rock. Lucy and I met at the station closest to John’s place and we headed over there together.
I spent a little time observing their co-writing style and identifying the best way for me to fit in. I quickly learned that Lucy was a wonderful lyricist and John was a great melody man. We bounced some ideas around, and I loved some of the riffs John was playing. I was slowly developing a chorus in my head. It was a little country, and I thought it might be something we could work with. Lucy immediately began to piece together a story, and John nailed down the verse melody with a catchy guitar riff that I immediately fell in love with. Within a matter of hours the song was coming together.
Lucy LeBlanc adds, “Dayna came prepared. She had a chorus for a country song that seemed to crackle with energy. So, we started working with it, throwing out ideas and crafting the verses. It’s a good feeling when it all comes together, and you end up with a song that resonates among each of us.”
It was my first time writing away from home–with the exception of Nashville…and it made me feel so grounded to be writing while I was in a place that was completely new to me.
After our first session we were tremendously excited about how the song was developing and made arrangements to meet the next day to finish it. With the exception of getting stuck on a musical bridge, we did almost finish it, and sorted out the bridge and fine-tuned the details over skype once I got home.
Lucy was able to do some sightseeing with me, and graciously helped me find my way back to where I was staying. As I sat on the bus and replayed our song through my iphone voice notes, I felt even more confident about what the three of us had created.
I was happy to have connected with Lucy and John in Vancouver, and would certainly access the S.A.C. to set up co-writing opportunities when travelling to other cities. The song we wrote is called “ I Still Want You”. We are hoping to have it demoed in Nashville and hope to have it pitched to an artist.
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!
Canadian Music Week wrapped up last Saturday with a special SAC Words and Music DemoListening Session at the Toronto Marriott Downtown Eaton Centre. I have attended a few Date With A Demo sessions before, but this was by far and away the best yet, for a couple of reasons.
First, the 23 songs auditioned by the panel during the two-hour session were, as a group, of much higher quality than I had seen at any SAC session before; and second, because the panelists themselves, drawn from different sectors of the industry that are all relevant to aspiring songwriters, gave such precise prescriptions for making good songs great.
Moderated by SAC’s own Ania Ziemirska, the panel included Juno Award-winning singer-songwriter Melanie Doane; radio promotion and music director Andrea Morris; Juno Award-winning producer Gavin Brown; and internationally acclaimed producer-songwriter Brett Rosenberg. As Brown said, their job was to provide analysis, not criticism. For those who were unable to attend, here’s a distillation of their advice, in no particular order.
General production advice
Keep intros short. This was hammered home many times during the session. Listeners will give an unknown song about 40 seconds, at most a minute, before moving on to something else. This is particularly true for radio programmers, who need to be grabbed immediately. No one will get to hear a great bridge if they’re not hooked by the first verse and chorus.
A demo produced for other people to sing should sound like a finished hit. Try not to allow the production to sound dated. However, a very simple demo, such as piano and voice, may allow a creative producer to imagine the song as it might be produced for different genres.
Leave room at the beginning to build up excitement as the song progresses. A song that doesn’t change much from beginning to end will tend to sound boring. Make it quieter and louder, not just loud the whole time.
Ensure that the low end isn’t muddy. Roll off the low frequencies in the mix and see if that improves the song.
If singing from a first person singular point-of-view, maybe it’s best not to have multiple voices harmonizing on the word “I” when it comes around.
Make sure the lyrics are always clear. Don’t bury the vocal in the mix.
Ensure that the singer’s point-of-view is clear and unambiguous. Be careful not to slip from a first person (“I”) to a second person (“you”) or a third person (“she”) point of view as the lyrics unfold, unless the story demands it.
Above all, make sure the message is clear. A song is a vehicle for communicating. If a line isn’t communicating anything or isn’t amazing, it shouldn’t be in the song. The re-writing process is tremendously important. As the panel pointed out, prose writers rewrite constantly and have editors who help them revisit the text many times.
Look at the building blocks of the song and ask what emotion is in each part. Make sure the different blocks don’t contradict each other.
Avoid clichés. Don’t sing what you wouldn’t say. Extend the lyric to its logical conclusion and make sure you haven’t left anything important unsaid.
Always avoid awkward lyrics. If a line sounds weird or stilted when spoken out loud, then consider recasting it for the song.
Lyrically, something has to happen more than once, or else you’re writing a poem. If working with an extended metaphor, try to milk every association out of it, and make the whole song relate to that one thing.
Verse and chorus
Work on the melody. Then work some more. Don’t just sing over the chords. Try singing different notes of the triads or scale. Make the melody memorable.
Work on different melodic elements in the music track and the vocal so that they are different but complementary, rather than parallel and similar. For example, the guitar or piano should not be playing the melody in unison with the voice.
The title should be the hook. Make sure the song title is clearly stated, perhaps as the last line of the chorus. If you can’t fit it in naturally, then add a beat or two to let it fit. Or if that doesn’t work and it doesn’t fit in the lead vocal more than once, then try to have it sung in the backing vocals.
Don’t take too long to get to the chorus. The lift or pre-chorus should be followed immediately by the chorus without being repeated.
The chorus should be set up convincingly—most often it is set up on the fifth or dominant chord. A chorus should be awesome. Make it soaring, triumphant. If a chorus doesn’t sound triumphant, then keep trying. Experiment with big interval jumps. Big intervals are exciting.
Differentiate between the chords in the verse and the chorus.
Take care not to go to half-time or drop beats in the chorus.
Don’t let the drummer play over the payoff or the song’s title line in the chorus.
Scream it and mean it.
Writing for radio
If you’re going to write songs for radio, make sure the song fits the conventions of radio. Listen to the radio, and figure out what stations and formats you’re targeting—even if not every song you write is intended for radio. If you’re new, you can’t start out by doing your own thing—you need to have already established your identity as an artist to pull that off.
If sound effects are absolutely essential to the song, then keep them for the album version and provide a stripped down remix for radio play, especially if the effects are at the beginning of the song.
Beware of using sexually-tinged lyrics; even a word as innocuous as “virgin” may limit a song’s potential for radio play.
Jump into the lyric right out of the gate and make the intro short. A radio programmers’ music meeting is not likely to listen past the first minute of your song, if that.
The quality of the songs was truly impressive. Due to time constraints, only the first verse and chorus of each song was played, but on several occasions, the panelists expressed a desire to hear more of a song. A few songs even elicited spontaneous applause from the audience: Kat Leonard’s witty, off-the-wall I’m My Own Asshole; David Keeble’s liberating, stripped down demo Maybe Freedom; Steve Onotera’s The Field of White with melodic acoustic guitar accompaniment; and—illustrating a soaring, triumphant chorus—Catherine Bacque’s Stand.
Moderator Ania Ziemirska laboured valiantly through a lingering cold to keep panelists on track and play as many songs as possible, skipping songs if the writer was not present. Noting that some of the other CMW sessions were running late, she graciously returned to songs that were skipped, after the writers were able to join the session.
Speaking with the participants after the wrap-up, I can say that most were deeply appreciative of the depth and originality of the advice offered by the panelists, and the gentle candour with which they analyzed each song. There were no bruised egos in evidence, but more than once I heard a writer say, “That was great—now where do we go from here with our songs?” From that, it’s clear that most found this version of Date With A Demo to be both motivating and inspiring. Given the other sessions that were on offer at the CMW Songwriters Summit, like How Artists Are Being Discovered and Publishing 101, SAC’s Demo Listening session provided an excellent springboard for writers to move forward with their songs.
Alan Hardiman produces music and provides sound design for large scale events and exhibits, feature films, television, and live theatre. For more info: www.abcbuzz.com
It’s an incredible feeling being in a room full of music creators who have traveled from many countries around the world for a common purpose: Bettering the collective lot of music creators everywhere.
I am in Brussels, along with the S.A.C.’s Managing Director, Isabel Crack, attending “The Creators Conference”, hosted by the European Composers and Songwriters Association (ECSA).
Clearly, there is a shared understanding that making the world a better place for those of us who create music will not be easy. We have daunting problems and limited resources. We work in our respective continents and countries under very different regulatory and legal frameworks. Our continental European counterparts have “authors’ rights”, while we in North America and the UK work under copyright (an upcoming blog will go into the differences).
But there is also an understanding that as different as our situations may seem, they are increasingly similar. Global connectivity and large mergers are making the world an increasingly smaller and in some ways less diverse place.
Rather than many significant music publishers in various territories as there once was, there are now basically three global giants: Universal, SonyATV/EMI and Warner. These companies have enormous market share everywhere.
And of course Google, Apple and Spotify are all global concerns as well.
These massive companies would prefer not to deal with dozens of local laws and regulations. Increasingly they are pushing for global “harmonization” and “One Stop Shopping”, and prefer to deal directly with one another, thereby bypassing performing rights societies and other music collectives.
In a world where huge commercial interests negotiate directly with one another on a global scale, creators must form global alliances to ensure we have a voice in the process, that we are fairly compensated, and that there is transparency.
That is why this conference in Brussels, capital of the European Union, is so important. And it is why “The Fair Trade Music Principles” which we are developing with music creator organizations in Europe, Latin America and Africa, as well as Canada and the US is a vital tool for us to establish a sustainable music industry for creators.
The “Fair Trade Music Principles” transcend our regional and cultural differences and give us a common platform for a proactive and unified approach in this new global environment.
Last year the S.A.C. launched the Canadian Songwriters Social Media Challenge. It sent dozens of songwriters into an online frenzy as participants blogged, tweeted and Facebooked their way to a more focused social media strategy. This year, we are encouraging songwriters to focus on our raison d’être – songwriting. Over the next 6 weeks, S.A.C. members from across the country are taking part in a free online songwriting course provided by esteemed Songwriting teacher from Berklee, Pat Pattison. We call it the S.A.C. Songwriting and Blogging Challenge 2013…or Challenge 2013.
So,where does the challenge part fit into this? Like last year, participants are asked to check in on a weekly basis with a blog that encapsulates what they have learned or wrestled with. We hope that even those in the sidelines will benefit from this discourse.
1. Please make sure you are part of the exclusive Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/506631312722262/
2. Write your first blog answering the following questions: Where are you in your songwriting journey? What do you hope to gain from participating in this challenge?
3. Post the link to your blog below. If you do not have a blog, you can also choose to post it as a note in Facebook and share the respective link. (Type “Notes” in the search area of Facebook to find the appropriate place to post).
NOTE: This initiative is not officially related to the Coursera Songwriting Course. Participants are responsible for their own course material.
2012 was a ground breaking year for songwriters and composers worldwide. For the first time our organizations formed alliances both in Canada and around the world.
In Canada, the S.A.C. joined with the Screen Composers Guild and SPACQ, our counterpart in Quebec to form Music Creators Canada.
Music Creators North America was formed following a meeting with the Songwriters Guild of America (SGA) and Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI). We have also joined hands with our colleagues at the European Composers and Songwriters Association (ECSA), and the International Council of Authors and Composers (CIAM).
The work will continue in 2013 and beyond to strengthen these newly created relationships so that music creators around the globe can and will speak with a united and powerful voice.
But what will that unified voice say? Surely, with so many organizations from so many parts of the world involved, agreeing upon a common narrative will be difficult.
Well, we have good news on that front. Almost all of the organizations have agreed upon a set of principles: the Fair Trade Music Principles.
In the coming weeks, I will present each of the Principles and explain the thinking behind each one.
Here is the first:
We call for new (and existing) music business models built on principles of fair and sustainable compensation for music creators.
One only has to think of Apple, a company that transitioned from a niche computer manufacturer to the most highly valued company in the world. The transition was built on the incredible popularity of the iPod, which originally had one purpose: to play music. (The iPod of course led to the iPhone.)
In addition, we have Spotify, Rdio and Pandora, not to mention Google and Internet service providers, generating combined revenue streams in the billions of dollars annually.
Without music these businesses would not exist, and yet those who create the core element to this vast wealth, the music creators, are the beneficiaries of very little, if any of this massive value chain.
So we find ourselves in much the same place that Third World coffee growers were in before the Fair Trade Coffee movement, and this is a situation that music creators must and will work globally to correct.
It is time music creators were fairly included in these value chains based on our collected works. The fact that we are working together internationally to achieve this goal is a real step forward.