Working out a deal with your band………..


Reader Oliver was kind enough to post a comment with a question that covers a topic I have intended to cover for a few weeks now. That topic is how do you cut up money within a band? What’s the whole royalty payment thing mean for individual band members over the long haul?
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Read through Oliver’s question and I’ll be back at the end……By the way Oliver is well-informed, and has put some thought into how his actions will affect other’s lives and their desire to be in the band. This proves Oliver is not a sociopath. Good for you Oliver. This may prove a handicap when dealing with all the bona fide sociopaths in the music business but it’s likely he’ll be a more satisfied rock star……………..
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Oliver writes:

Sorry if I’ve missed this somewhere but in keeping with the non-democratic approach you described, whats the best way to go about song rights/royalties? How do I avoid this situation:

i) Write every note and syllable and take all the royalties but gradually lose my band (but buy one eventually) (Dylan-esque)

ii) Write every note and syllable, split the money with band members to keep the band, drive myself crazy giving away money to the non-writing band, potentially lose the band anyway (Dandy Warhols-esque?)

iii) Agree to play/record anything good that any member writes and allow the rights/royalties go to the contributing member, run the risk of losing direction/ internal power struggles/ control over band. (Stones-esque)

None of these options seem good to me, and although I’m not greedy I’d hate to see a disgruntled band member in 30 years cruising on a yacht he bought with my songs (fanciful I know). I assume there’s no right answer, but you’ve been there and there must be a slightly better option of the three. I feel I’ve got to get this right early.

Regards and many thanks for publishing knowledge you can’t buy.
Oliver.

None of these options seem good to me, and although I’m not greedy I’d hate to see a disgruntled band member in 30 years cruising on a yacht he bought with my songs (fanciful I know). I assume there’s no right answer, but you’ve been there and there must be a slightly better option of the three. I feel I’ve got to get this right early.

Regards and many thanks for publishing knowledge you can’t buy.
Oliver.

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You’re welcome Oliver. I appreciate my readers and I know that getting an informed opinion is valuable. That’s why I write this blog.

Oliver’s predicament is classic. He is the primary creative force in his band. This is common. Most musicians are not also great songwriters.  A typical band is made up of :

A drummer – a rock steady rhythm monster with a flair for knowing exactly when to step in and a flash. He is the backbone and holds the rest of the band in the pocket and is the timekeeper.

A Bassist – He builds the groove and either adds the drive or defines the song as a dance tune. He can add darkness or light, thunder or soul.

Guitarist – Endless, colors and flavors, rhythms, melodies, flashy solos and roar.

A Lead singer – this is the ego and the magnet and turns the writing into an experience.

Any and all of these people make up a band and make the magic that the world recognizes as rock. Any and all of the people could be primary writers. Any and all of these people make it work and without them the magic is lost. All you need to do is think of two or three great bands and it’s easy to point out an instance where the loss of a minor member seemed to change a band’s spirit and as a result the band’s golden years were over.  Making music is a touchy thing, little  changes often have big results for the better or worse.

Since this is the case how does a band split up the money?  In a way this question misstates the reality of the way money is usually dealt with within a band.  The vast majority of bands are controlled internally by one or perhaps two creative geniuses.  This is the person that writes the material and provides the vision that makes the band unique. This person has more power than the other members so saying how does a band split up its money is dishonest.  The real question is how does the person that controls the band allow the money to be split up? Or what is the best way for a band to work out a compromise that keeps everyone on board and gives credit and money to the person (s) that deserve it based upon contribution.

Another wrench that gets thrown into the possibility of an easy fair system is the fact that most of a band’s career is spent in poverty. The lifespan of bands after they get a deal or a hit, or build a base is, at the absolute extreme 10 years with 3 years being a much more likely scenario. As a result of this reality in most bands money is never discussed except perhaps as a fantasy until it is too late and there is a pie to split up without a system to do so.

I suggest quite strongly that if you are in a band, form a band or join a band that you force the band to have some kind of agreement on how money is cut up.

In the underground indy world, the world that I lived in for twenty years and helped create, there is little money to worry about as a band works out its career. Gigs can be for $50, or perhaps a $100 and recordings are simple affairs that are self financed.  So nothing to worry about right? No, there is still a little money being passed around and more importantly people will often PUT MONEY INTO THE BAND.  So you and your Mother’s Uncle’s Nephew pay for the band to record a record, who owns it? The answer is 50% you and 50% your brother. Or 50% you and your brother and 50% the band. What about the producer? I think you get the point.

When your band first starts out have a serious band meeting. Discuss the following topics and write down the results. It’s better to lose a nutty bassist during an argument before things get going then to have him walk out on tour when he doesn’t get all of the door which is what his warped mind had decided was fair. (this happened to me. He started with “Everyone knows I have the most talent…..)

1. Does the band keep a joint piggy bank? Who keeps it? In what form? (cash or an actual bank account)

2.What is done with gig money? Most bands use this to build up the piggy bank.

3. If you pay for a recording what is the split on the ownership of the recording? On this one I will suggest that you work out something where the person that pays gets their cash back first, then the band owns the recording with the person that paid getting an extra share for risking their money. This is a common arrangement.

4. Is one person the leader and or main writer? If this is the case that person MUST GET SOME CONTROL over the use of their songs, and get the publishing money. I will explain this later in the blog. Let me just say that songs make money and bands make money and the songwriter is gonna end up with the song money no matter what you may want. If this pisses you off then write a great song about it, turn it into a hit and keep all the money to prove how unfair that system is….

Have a meeting. Write this stuff down. Then rewrite it in the form WE the members of Dog Dandruff being Joe, Schmoe, Larry Schmoe, Curly Schmoe and Gonzo Garbigian do hereby agree  to the following……then put all the crap you agreed to and sign it. Make four copies sign them all and Larry, Curly and Joe get a copy. Gonzo’s mom gets a copy since he can’t read.  This is a binding contract. It’s not a very good contract and it’s not a contract written up by a lawyer but in court the judge will hold his nose and respect it. Make sure it covers what to do with gig money, royalty money and songwriting money.

Now if it comes down to a fight about money and this goes to court this contract and your two-bit agreement will run smack into the LAW. There are laws about songwriting royalties. (see one of my blogs for an explanation) There are laws about contracts and working for hire and working for a cut. There are sleazy lawyers. There are sleazy bass players with sleazy lawyer cousins.  What does all this mean? As soon as you have some success and/or a manager redo all of this with a lawyer doing the consulting.  If you do end up using a lawyer YOU TELL HIM WHAT TO DO!!! He doesn’t tell you. He works for you. He will advise you and you’d be an idiot to pay him and not listen but in the end if the band wants to leave all of the money to the Museum of Idi Amin then that’s tough luck for the lawyer.

Now for some practical advise. Perhaps this will help our Reader Oliver. The vast majority of bands, and by that I mean a band formed by unknown musicians in an attempt to make it big, split their gig money evenly.  Since recordings are becoming less and less valuable as money-making endeavours this may turn out to be the lion’s share of the money.  So split the money evenly after the band covers gig expenses. The better you do the more the gig expenses cover. Once the band starts to play regularly and your fee starts to get healthier it’s wise to start a system of per diems. (that’s Latin for Per Day) What does that mean? Well, let’s say your band is getting paid $400 per gig. You are doing 4 to 7 gigs per month. The gigs are all within a day or two drive from your home base. The band will be covering a hotel room where you can all fight over who gets the single bed and which three fools have to sleep together in the King size. The gas for the van will be covered as will tolls and strings and drum sticks etc. What won’t be covered is food, drinks etc.  (of course, you will read one of my future blogs about how to get a promoter to feed you and get you drunk. But that’s only one meal a day) So in this situation you make a joint decision to give each band member a $20 per diem each day you are on the road. If you have crew it applies to them as well. (even the T shirt girl) Why would you do that? It’s simple. If  you try to have the band pay for dinner, and drugs, and alcohol you will soon be really pissed at the one guy in the band that eats steaks, smokes high-class bud and get’s loaded every day. Every band has one. Well, maybe Fugazi didn’t…well come to think of it I think they just SAID that everyone was straight…

If you go with a system where everyone gets a little cash every day then if they eat too much or drink or whatever most of it comes out of their own pocket. This is fair. You will be surprised how many days you can go on twenty dollars a day if your bed is paid for and the promoter gives you food and drink once a day.  sometimes it’s $5, sometimes $10, sometimes $50, I’ve never seen it go over a $100 unless it was a cheap excuse for the band to subsidize the members drug habits. (the breeders, The stones, Etc.)

When Miracle Legion toured Europe in 88? (I can’t remember which of the dozen tours it was) I sent a new member of the road crew out with them. His name was Tommy, he was from Philly, someone’s cousin’s friend, tough, strong, compact, didn’t say much. The kind of crew i prefered. If he had been Scottish I would have had him cloned. Hey you can clone a dog, why not a great roadie?

Well Tommy was new to the road so I gave him the standard lecture and then told him he would receive $24 each day. I forget why we picked that number but that was the per diem. He looked at me like and owl in the headlights. I asked him what was wrong. He said “That’s a lot of money.” The other crew members laughed.  LAter I noticed him loading a ten pound sack of rice into his backpack with a camp stove and pot. I told him he had to dump the rice. He looked hurt so I told him we would buy him ten pounds of rice in London since the issue was bringing grain across the English border (no fruits or grains)

The tour went out for twelve weeks.  When I met them all for the wrap up at tours end I asked the tour manager how Tommy had done. “Too fuckin’ good!” was the reply. It seems that Tommy lived on boiled rice and whatever he could scrounge. He didn’t smoke or drink. He got high once a week on the band’s day off.  Since the band demanded a full meal each night at the gig he was all set for food. So he hadn’t spent much money. To top it off he had lent all the other crew money when they ran out and charged them 5% interest (he ok’d this with me. How the hell could you say no to that?) He came back with everyone owing him money and he still had $1780 of the 2100 in per diems. Smart Kid. They all ended up hating him because he made them look bad. They tried to keep him off of the next tour so I made him crew boss with a different band.

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So you split up the gig money evenly. You give out per diems based upon what makes sense.  Now we come to publishing and recording which was the central issue with Oliver’s questions.

I’ve seen numerous solutions and they all have strengths and weaknesses. I’ll start with recording.

The most common solution is for the band to split the royalties from and recordings evenly. This split only pertains to records that you actually play on. If you leave the band you keep the royalty payments on albums you played on and forfeit all future royalty earnings on future albums. You have no rights to the band’s name. That remains with the band that continues on. This is important. Ask the prog rock band Yes. They had a PRODUCER take the band’s name away from them. That sucks huh?

Now we come to the complex one, songwriting and the use of songs. This is often where the big money comes in. This money is largely outside the grasp of the record company. It has the law backing it up. Radio pays it. TV pays it. Concert Halls pay it.

When a songwriter writes a song it is, by law and common sense, his property. He cannot stop someone from recording it including his own band. They do, however, have to pay him for it and the payments are set by law. (I strongly suggest that you read my blog about royalties.)

This brings us to Reader Oliver’s questions. In essence since he is the writer and guiding light he is wondering what is fair when it comes to splitting up money from his song’s publishing.  Should he give his band members some of this money so that if he becomes wealthy they will too, at least in some smaller way. There are arguments on both sides.

Now keep in mind that this does not have anything to do with songs that the whole band writes of songs that other members write.  In that case everyone will share or the individual writer will get the money. But what about a band where one member is the writing machine?

So let’s now imagine Oliver goes to see his Big NY Entertainment LAwyer Harvey Jacobowitzhofffriederstein. Yup he sounds like he’s a stereotypical NY jewish lawyer.  Don’t worry I will also send Oliver to other stereotypical characters of other races and religions in future blogs spreading his fictional life around amongst all of America’s stereotypes! whoopee! Sorry I got carried away.

Harvey is smart, he knows the business and he has decades of experience. He says

“Kid what a you meshugenah?  You’re talkin’ about giving away your money? Don’t you think the law is fair?”

He goes on to explain to Oliver that careful consideration had gone into the law and songwriters get exactly what they deserve.  He, of course, is a lawyer and lawyers are paid to represent your interests alone. They also seem to think that the law is always fair. If they changed the law today, he would tell you it was just as fair tomorrow.  In some ways the lawyer is right. Why would Oliver give away his money?

Oliver on the other hand realizes that if he has a hit song his royalty money will pour in. The band will not see any of this cash. Yes, the record will sell but the band will be in debt to the record company for big money. All of the sales of the record will go to paying off the band’s debt and the individual members will see little of it. This brings about a situation where one member is rich and the balance of the band gets nothing.

So now Oliver goes to see his manager, Clive Bakersfield -Coopersmith, a sweating, overweight Englishman with bad teeth. The manager listens to his problem while answering phone calls and returning emails.  He says

“Oliver, baby, you’ve got to keep the boys happy. You should split up your songs and give everyone a share. You’ll get the most of course. I’ll make a call and get you a publishing deal so everyone has some money by next week. That should keep everyone happy.”

He goes on to explain that Oliver will write many hits and will be rich beyond his wildest dreams. He shouldn’t begrudge his band mates a piece of the pie. In many ways the manager is correct as well. What to do?

Now oliver goes to see me, the retired Indy manager that has seen bands implode for ridiculous reasons and for good reasons.

And I say “Oliver, thanks for reading my blog. Here’s some advice from someone who has no dog in the fight, me. Your instincts are good. You should make some provision for the guys that play in your band. It is, after all, your band and your songs. Lots of the people who you will play with will forget that or never learn that fact fully. This members will become problems and you cannot be tied to them forever.  So this is the practical solution that I would suggest.

1. Start your own publishing company Artful Dodger Music.  This company will publish EVERY SONG YOU WRITE.  This company can collect your radio, tv and movie royalties directly without any other middleman. Choose one of the performance rights societies, either BMI or ASCAP and join as both a writer and as a publishing company.  Of course at any time this company can choose to sublicense some or all of the songs to a large established publishing company in return for a cash advance and a commitment to land soundtracks, commercials and tv spots.

2. Offer the band members a publishing contract. It would work like this. They must publish all of their songs through your company. At any point they can opt out of this requirement in which case they lose all FUTURE payments on FUTURE work. They will still retain any income or rights earned up to that point.

3. As the second part of this deal they will receive part of the publishing company’s income. It will work something like this.If they write a song and publish it with Artful Dodger Music they, of course receive all of the writer’s shares and also a share based upon the main writer’s deal (oliver’s cut) This makes it so they cut the same cut for their songs that you get for your songs.

4. The longer that they stay in the band the more interest and ownership they will gain in the publishing company.  Each year will add a set percentage until they reach a maximum cut. They will never lose this, the company will pay them royalties in perpetuity (forever or until Ronald McDonald is elected president whichever comes first) The percentage of these cuts is open to discussion  although I would suggest that  you enter into the discussion with two numbers in your head. An ideal deal for you and a compromise that you’ll except in order to do the deal. Remember ONLY WEAK PEOPLE DON’T KNOW WHEN TO COMPROMISE. I might suggest that you shoot for 50% of the publishing company and settle for 40%. This would leave 50-60 percent for them to split up.  If they stay in the band 4 years they get their full cut  of the band’s piece of the publishing company.  Each year they are in the band they receive 25% of the total amount they might get if they make it four years. As the band builds up their cuts the unassigned money goes to you.

5. If they leave they retain payments on everything published up to the day they leave.  They never lose this percentage. Any new member starts out at the bottom and has to accrue his cut as he goes, once again he maxes out at four years.

So what would this mean in the real world. OK let’s say that your write a hit “Beat’s the Dickens out a me”. It is published by Artful Dodger and released on your band’s major label record.  The record label pays mechanical royalties, radio plays it and sends in royalties and it appears in a bad kids sitcom where Miley Cyrus goes to 19th century london. For each $100 the song generates this is how it splits up.

1st year    $50 to oliver directly as the writer

$2.50 to each of the four band members that own 1/4 of their potential cut of 4/5ths of  50%

The balance of the $50, $40 goes to oliver so he earns $90 in the first year.

2nd year  $50 to oliver directly as a writer

$5 to each of the band members that own 2/4 of their potential cut of 4/5ths of 50%

the balance of the $50, $30 goes to oliver so he earns $80 in the second year

3rd year

$50 to oliver directly as a writer

$7.50 to each of the band members that own 3/4 of their potential cut of 4/5ths of 50%

the balance of the $50, $20 goes to oliver so he earns $70 in the second year

4th year The band members reach full shares

$50 to oliver directly as a writer

$10 to each of the band members that own 2/4 of their potential cut of 4/5ths of 50%

the balance of the $50, $10 goes to oliver so he earns $70 in the second year

If they bitch about such a small cut explain to them that they are free to write their own hit records at any point and publish where ever they like. Also tell them that you do not have to give them anything and this is most commonly what is done.

What I like about a deal structured in this way is that it provides some incentive to stay in the band, do as they are told and not bitch too much. It also recognizes that they are helping your career in a substantive way.  This earns them money for good. And finally if you become stinking rich they become really rich. Most people can live with that.  Since a hit record in today’s market could generate about 1,000,000 in publishing in a year you can see how it would be a fair deal.

The band will secretly pray that you write lots of hits and hopefully help you do that by giving you the solid backing you need………with a deal like this you are on your way to succeed at rock…………………………..

©Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010

New Format and things I like…………..


Any old readers, returning to this blog, will notice that I have dumped the old format of Black and Red. It worked well for awhile but as the number of posts grew it became unmanageable. So I have trotted out a new format.

I haven’t posted in a dogs age. Instead I have been compiling everything I have written and expanding the material for a book. This, unfortunately is not as fun or easy as tossing a blog up onto the web.  Feel free to send comments on the idea of a book and what should be included.

Well that’s enough blather, on to today’s subject – listening to cool bands.

So far all of my postings have dealt with the mechanics of being in a band and promoting yourself up the food chain. I haven’t spent much time writing about music. Music, is, of course, central to the whole damn experience of being in a band. In some of my early blogs I posted what I was listening to as I was writing. I did that to, hopefully, turn people on to cool bands that they hadn”t heard.

A large part of being in a successful band is writing undeniably cool music. Even if you are gunning to be the next Madonna you need to understand cool music and have a good grounding of all the rock gods that have come before.  The more you listen to music the greater the spread of your tastes should become. For me this is certainly the truth. I have been steadily listening to music since 1966 and I am still finding cool things that are new to me.  If you only listen to your favorite band and the half dozen other bands that sound like them you are doomed to writing music that is derivative and likely boring. Your influences are like a color pallet is to a painter. You need many colors and influences in order to have depth and art to your music. You can argue that Picasso painted cubist masterpieces with one basic color scheme. You would be correct.  If you are the equivalent of Picasso in his blue period then you don’t need my advice on influences. Of course Picasso traveled through the history of painting and explored color and light and perspective masterfully before he decided to reinvent art by becoming a cubist.  If you ever had the great fortune to meet Picasso and ask him how to be a great painter, and he answered your question (he was notorious for being cryptic). He would likely tell you to teach yourself the history of art.  It’s the same in music. You need to know the past in order to forge ahead.

So my advice in today’s blog is to learn to listen to new things. Be aggressive about it. Dig into the info on bands you love and find out what their influences were. Then listen to those bands/artists. This will take you down new paths that will provide inspiration.

In my next blog I will post a list of some great bands that you may or may not know. It’s impossible to be comprehensive but the list may introduce you to a few names that you have never heard. I also encourage every reader to post band names in the comment section. DO NOT POST YOUR OWN BAND! That’s a cheap trick and we reserve cheap tricks for me.

© 2012 Brad Morrison/ Billiken Media

Pussy Riot, music as the voice of dissent………………


Those of you that have read my blog know that my main topics of discussion always relate to succeeding with your band. (or music) I write about the practical end of becoming a rock star and getting your music out into the world, or, failing that, the mechanics of making the music or firing your drunken bass player. I have never addressed a deeper, underlying question, why is music so damn important? This, in many ways, has been my motivation to be involved in music and to spend my life listening to or producing music.  Today’s blog will address that core idea and, because they have earned everyone’s support, discuss how Pussy Riot are important.

Courage under fire

Those of you that haven’t now heard of the Pussy Riot trial, yes there may be a few of you living inside an asteroid, orbiting Neptune, with only old MTV to watch on your steam powered wrist watch communicator, Pussy Riot are a Moscow based band. They sound like the Ramones but with Russian lyrics. They love to do outrageous things like fuck in public or, in the story that is taking the world by storm, jump up on the alter of the Orthodox church and shoot a video of them miming one of their songs. The song in question calls the President of Russia a tyrant. I have to assume that is what the lyrics say since I speak Russian a little bit better than I speak Elvish.  They uploaded the video and the shit hit the fan. They were arrested and have spent months in jail while the Russian government and Church fume over the fact that this band pointed out the tyrannical rule of the psycho Vladimir Putin. I am guessing that they picked the Orthodox Church since the Church, historically, has gleefully helped the Russian Rulers oppress and bleed the Russian Population.

The band has now been tried, convicted and sentenced to two years in jail for Hooliganism. For this act of oppression I hope, quite earnestly, that the feral dogs of Moscow get to feast on Vladimir Putin’s entrails. I hope that they get fed this megalomaniac’s liver real soon.  I have stated in another blog that this act of protest by Pussy Riot was a PR stunt. This is certainly true. The band does things like copulate publicly or stage a video on the altar of a church to get in the press, to get people’s attention, to succeed at Rock. There is nothing wrong with the young ladies in question being whores for attention. I expect it of them and their fans  certainly love it anytime they do something outrageous.  This is punk.  Punk, and I can humbly state that I am an expert on the purpose behind Punk, is an art form that at its heart is social protest. Of course the band pulls stunts to become famous, they are doing what any good rock band does to get their music listened to.  The important point here is that their message, and yes they have an intelligent, adult message, is that they are living in a country that isn’t free.  They are voicing the dissent of the young people of Russia. They have guts to do it and they deserve our support for having the courage to stand up and speak out.  They knew that they would get stomped on if they spoke out and that is exactly why they did it.

Music has often been used to voice dissent. Musicians are usually outcasts from everyday society and often see themselves as outsiders looking in on Mainstream life. They are, if they are any good, on the cutting edge of change.  They speak out using their art. They are uniquely qualified to do so. They are compelled to do so. This is the core reason why music is so damn important.  This is why Punk is the most important trend in the late twentieth century. (along with Rap)

The members of Pussy Riot could have chosen to play any style of modern music. They could have taken dance lessons and tried to be the Russian Britney Spears.  They chose to play Punk and Punk is, at its heart, social protest music.  They believe, as many young people in Russia believe, that they are living in an oppressive political system. They’re right. Hell, Vladimir Putin was the former head of the Soviet secret police.

This could be you………..

The band’s uniform, short dresses, punk boots and ski masks is pure genius.  The coming battle over rights will center in many ways around the fact that the world’s power elite are rolling out a complete surveillance system to oppresses us all.  In the years ahead masks are going to become an important part of standing up to oppression. The governments of the world are working very hard to identify, tag and track us all. We, on the other hand, have a right to be anonymous if we choose.  The members of Pussy Riot have made this an issue to fight over. We should all thank them for that courageous act.

The band has been convicted of Hooliganism. The power structure of Russia are treating the band as if what they have done is the equivalent of a drunken soccer fan setting a car on fire.  This is an artful lie. The band are destructive but they are out to destroy a system that is oppressing and controlling the culture they live in.  That is fundamentally different than random mindless destruction.

So please understand the message of this blog. Music has been and can be a powerful vehicle for dissent. It is an idiom that crosses boundaries of language and culture. It has a long history of putting pressure on the world to change for the better. When it moves in that direction I believe that we should all support its purpose.

And finally I will send a message to the scum at the top of the Russian Government. When the band Pussy Riot called attention to your tyranny you had a choice. You would have served your own interests better by ignoring them.  You took the bait and decided to make an example of the band. That was a big mistake since the band knew that you would be forcing the youth of Russia to choose sides.  Now you have a tiger in a sack.

I know that my blog is read by many people in Russia. To those readers I say -stay the course and support this band. They know what they are doing and they are acting as leaders and heroes for all of the youth of Russia……………

©Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2012

Pussy Riot, music as the voice of dissent………………


Those of you that have read my blog know that my main topics of discussion always relate to succeeding with your band. (or music) I write about the practical end of becoming a rock star and getting your music out into the world, or, failing that, the mechanics of making the music or firing your drunken bass player. I have never addressed a deeper, underlying question, why is music so damn important? This, in many ways, has been my motivation to be involved in music and to spend my life listening to or producing music.  Today’s blog will address that core idea and, because they have earned everyone’s support, discuss how Pussy Riot are important.

Courage under fire

Those of you that haven’t now heard of the Pussy Riot trial, yes there may be a few of you living inside an asteroid, orbiting Neptune, with only old MTV to watch on your steam powered wrist watch communicator, Pussy Riot are a Moscow based band. They sound like the Ramones but with Russian lyrics. They love to do outrageous things like fuck in public or, in the story that is taking the world by storm, jump up on the alter of the Orthodox church and shoot a video of them miming one of their songs. The song in question calls the President of Russia a tyrant. I have to assume that is what the lyrics say since I speak Russian a little bit better than I speak Elvish.  They uploaded the video and the shit hit the fan. They were arrested and have spent months in jail while the Russian government and Church fume over the fact that this band pointed out the tyrannical rule of the psycho Vladimir Putin. I am guessing that they picked the Orthodox Church since the Church, historically, has gleefully helped the Russian Rulers oppress and bleed the Russian Population.

The band has now been tried, convicted and sentenced to two years in jail for Hooliganism. For this act of oppression I hope, quite earnestly, that the feral dogs of Moscow get to feast on Vladimir Putin’s entrails. I hope that they get fed this megalomaniac’s liver real soon.  I have stated in another blog that this act of protest by Pussy Riot was a PR stunt. This is certainly true. The band does things like copulate publicly or stage a video on the altar of a church to get in the press, to get people’s attention, to succeed at Rock. There is nothing wrong with the young ladies in question being whores for attention. I expect it of them and their fans are certainly love it anytime they do something outrageous.  This is punk. Punk, and I can humbly state that I am an expert on the purpose behind Punk, is an artform that at its heart is social protest. Of course the band pulls stunts to become famous, they are doing what any good rock band does to get their music listened to.  The important point here is that their message, and yes they have an intelligent, adult message, was that they are living in a country that isn’t free.  They are voicing the dissent of the young people of Russia. They have guts to do it and they deserve our support for having the courage to stand up and speak out.  They knew that they would get stomped on if they spoke out and that is exactly why they did it.

Music has often been used to voice dissent. Musicians are usually outcasts from everyday society and often see themselves as outsiders looking in on Mainstream life. They are, if they are any good, on the cutting edge of change.  They speak out using their art. They are uniquely qualified to do so. They are compelled to do so. This is the core reason why music is so damn important.  This is why Punk is the most important trend in the late twentieth century. (along with Rap)

The members of Pussy Riot could have chosen to play any style of modern music. They could have taken dance lessons and tried to be the Russian Britney Spears.  They chose to play Punk and Punk is, at its heart social protest music.  They believe, as many young people in Russia believe, that they are living in an oppressive political system. They’re right. Hell, Vladimir Putin was the former head of the Soviet secret police.

This could be you………..

The band’s uniform, short dresses, punk boots and ski masks is pure genius.  The coming battle over rights will center in many ways around the fact that the world’s power elite are rolling out a complete surveillance system to oppresses us all.  In the years ahead masks are going to become an important part of standing up to oppression. The governments of the world are working very hard to identify, tag and track us all. We, on the other hand, have a right to be anonymous is we choose.  The members of Pussy Riot have made this an issue to fight over. We should all thank them for that courageous act.

The band has been convicted of Hooliganism. The power structure of Russia are treating the band as if what they have done is the equivalent of a drunken soccer fan setting a car on fire.  This is an artful lie. The band are destructive but they are out to destroy a system that is oppressing and controlling the culture they live in.  That is fundamentally different than random mindless destruction.

So please understand the message of this blog. Music has been and can be a powerful vehicle for dissent. It is an idiom that crosses boundaries of language and culture. It has a long history of putting pressure on the world to change for the better. When it moves in that direction I believe that we should all support its purpose.

And finally I will send a message to the scum at the top of the Russian Government. When the band Pussy Riot called attention to your tyranny you had a choice. You would have served your own interests better by ignoring them.  You took the bait and decided to make an example of the band. That was a big mistake since the band knew that you would be forcing the youth of Russia to choose sides.  Now you have a tiger in a sack.

I know that my blog is read by many people in Russia. To those readers I say -stay the course and support this band. They know what they are doing and they are acting as leaders and heroes for all of the youth of Russia……………

©Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2012

How it works….getting to the top………


I spent last night with a new band that I will be producing. A bottle of good whiskey a couple of marginal vintage acoustic guitars and a good meal naturally evolved into a people taking turns showcasing new songs or playing masterworks of America’s rock history.  The band had just fired their most recent drummer for being an asshole. The new drummer, an old friend, of course, fit in perfectly. This band is playing Alt Country. The drummer rose to the occasion and shaved the middle part of his beard to create truly impressive mutton-chop sideburns.  He fit right in with the bands look and attitude. To take the gig he dumped a girl, walked away from a job he hated, put down the guitar and picked up the drumsticks. Those are the actions of a real musician.

It's a brawl motherfucker! First you better pay at the door!

Later in the night, as the band got remarkably drunk, before they reached the stage of sending me nonsensical text messages, the conversation turned to how to get ahead, how to get to the top, how to put on a better show etc. I of course, being an arrogant ass, gave them plenty of advice. If you are reading this blog some of the points that came up may be news to you.

The band are amped up. They’re flat-out excited. A producer had come to see them play, loved the show and agreed to produce some music for them. This is an exciting moment in any band. We hashed out the basic plan before the Johnny Walker ran out. Was this their big break? Perhaps. Time will tell. It also could be the wrong move. No one will know until years from now. One thing I have seen repeated with every band that succeeds is the series of small breaks that lets the band climb to the top.  This is the true system to becoming a star and a working musician.

Let’s use this band as an example. They have a manager/producer, a completed album that is released locally and a full gig schedule. All of this happened before I ever heard their name. How did they get that far? Hmm… it’s easy to guess. They all spent countless hours learning to play and listening to music. They fell in love with certain bands, particular songs and the stories they heard about other bands they admired. They all played in shitty bands. This taught them the difference between good and bad from the inside looking out.

Sure, this is how everyone dresses...right?

They all played in bands that were better. This is the winnowing process that every musician lives through. Some of them switched instruments as they realized where their true talents lay. They all played some local shows. Some of these shows sucked, bad. They learned how to get the audience engaged and how to make the girls shake their asses.  They all came to the realization that their heroes didn’t dress like the audience so they cautiously start to acquire stage clothes. 

As their set became a winner they started to branch out to new towns. Soon they won fans in these towns too. Then they heard of a studio owner/producer that seemed to have something good happening. They booked time and soon he was a fan too. They talked him into being their manager. This caused the local press to start to mention them.  He produced a brilliant but spotty first record. He dropped by my house for dinner with two of the band members in tow. By the end of the dinner I could see they had talent. I hadn’t even heard the recordings but I was interested. All I had to do was talk to them and I could see that they understood how it worked. I could see their passion and their ambition. So now they have a new producer.

The point to this little history is that you get ahead with mountains of little breaks. You create these breaks by working hard to make music, by getting yourself talked about, by not fitting in, by being a little bigger than the stage you step up on.  If you work hard enough and have lots of luck you make it to the top. At that point looking back down the mountain you will see that there is never a big break. There is never one thing that gives the band the attention of the world. You hear stories of big breaks because this myth is manufactured by the big labels that need people to believe that they create stars.  They never mention how many great musicians they bury.

Summing it all up – work hard for lots of small triumphs. Pile these up and you have a story of how a band succeeded at rock………

©Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2011

Songwriting, yes, that’s right songwriting…………………..


I just listened to “River Deep, Mountain High” by Ike and Tina Turner. This 60’s pop gem was written by Phil Spector, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich was Phil Spector’s attempt to put Ike and Tina Turner at the top of the charts.  It’s a masterpiece. How do I know this? Phil Spector said so. So did George Harrison and shit load of other people.  When it was released it rose to #88 in the US charts and then dropped out of sight. Phil Spector was so bummed he quit the music business for two years and slowly, thereafter, became a homicidal recluse. The fact that it went straight to #3 in England didn’t impress him. He still felt that he had failed.  I am now going to argue that he was right.

The damn record is a beautiful roar of overproduction.  He, of course, is known for creating the wall of sound style of production and this single is the ultimate example of that over-the- top style.  Unfortunately this buried the perfect song that should have carried the song into the whistling repertoire of every kid in america.  It’s interesting to note that the song later became a standard live hit for Tina Turner. This just proves my point. It’s a fuckin’ great song. It sums up obsessive love in a few verses and says it in a way that can punch holes in your heart.  Great song, overproduced = notable success without mega success.  Phil knew what he was writing about. He’s an obsessive guy. He once gave his wife twin five-year old boys as a christmas present. He didn’t ask he just got them and gave them to her.  Sure… that’s normal…. everyone gives other humans as Christmas presents.  So he’s nuts. We’ve established that fact without even exploring his recent homicide conviction.  Even so he knew how to write hits.  That talent is priceless and the true key to making it to the top. Let’s look for some examples that prove the point.

Bob Dylan -ugly fucker, can’t play, arrogant asshole that’s subject to maniacal obsessions, brilliant writer = superstar writer

Tom Petty – ugly bastard with weird voice, great writer =superstar writer

Lennon, McCartney, Harrison – pleasant people, hipsters, undeniably brilliant writers = changed the world for a generation.

I can come up with hipper and weirder examples but it all points to the same thing. Songwriting is the core of what makes bands breakout into the rarefied air of superstardom. If you want to succeed learn to write a great song. One will do. Tons of undeniably brilliant songs would be better but that may be too much to shoot for. 

Writing great songs is a combo of vision, some talent and lots and lots of craft. It is a process that can be improved and honed, polished and practiced. It rarely appears wholly developed in useable form.  All the great writers learn from those that come before them. They listen to other great writers and absorb their themes.  If you listen to a great songwriter, say Bob Marley, for instance you can see that he writes about universal truths…..”No Woman, No Cry”…Gee that’s simple and boy is it true.  Great writers also steal with no shame. They don’t steal songs..well Zeppelin stole all their songs but they weren’t great writers…they steal phrases from the world around them. A friend says something true that’s clever or sad or funny and a song is born. They see an old movie and hear a perfect phrase and boom a song is born.  Great writing is the process of seeing things clearly, seeing the truth, or hearing the ring of truth in the hubbub around you.

The inspiration for a song is a morsel of magic. There is no denying that. But the heavy lifting of writing is to work and rework until the whole song is condensed into a perfectly balanced slice of life. It doesn’t matter if the meaning of the song is lost on others, they will inject their own meaning, it still must ring true to the writer and this will come through to the listener.

So this week’s blog is short. It’s also of paramount importance. If you are the writer for your band learn your craft. Learn it from the great writers. Think about their themes and their tricks to reach your soul. That’s why they are great writers and that, if you want to succeed at rock, is what you must do….

© Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2011

How to release your own music…………


I asked for suggestions. I received quite a few.  I start by covering Dave’s suggestion that I provide a timeline for a band releasing their own music.

Let me start by repeating some advice I have proffered in the past. Releasing your own music is an excellent idea.  There seems to be an old wives’ tale that if you release your own music this will scare away labels. This is utter crap. Often people who have never worked in the actual record business will act as if they have all the answers. Invariably they will tell you “wait! shop the labels, wait until the market is ready…” – it’s all the same idiotic claptrap.  Thousands of worthy bands have expired waiting for their “big break”. The term “big break” points to the stupidity and misunderstanding that underlies this philosophy. Band’s don’t get a big break. They get ahead by hundreds of little breaks that bring them into a position to move to a large label and finally sell millions of records.  If you ever get to that point, don’t worry. The music business will go out its way to advertise the fact that the label created all the buzz and lifted you out of obscurity while ignoring everything the band and its fan base did to get ahead.

Think of any huge band. There are always “early recordings”, “demos”, “bootleg recordings” etc. These are all recordings created as the band rose to the top. You often can find members of any huge band appearing in unknown bands before they make it big. All of this illustrates that the path to the top is a series of small steps and the associations you build with other musicians on your way up.

One final thought on recording and releasing material. Just do it. Don’t fuck around. Don’t wait for that producer to find time for you next year. For any new band the first year should have fifty gigs and at least one full length recording.  Write the material, practice it and then record it. Certainly take the time to get it right but get it down on tape.  You can always rerecord material later.

Okay let’s move on. For this blog I will assume that you are recording a full length release and all of the sessions are worked out or complete.  Often bands concentrate on recording and ignore everything else. This works great if you are U2 but it causes problems if you are a little band. You need to be thinking about releasing the record as you record it.  You should be setting up a mastering engineer. They often are booked months in advance. Mastering is expensive and necessary. It often makes your material sound pro and much, much slicker.

 At the same time you MUST be working on cover art. It takes longer to manufacture the CD sleeve than to duplicate the CDs. I recently had dinner with a alt country band. They have tons of talent. More songs than they could ever use and a gig schedule that would make any young band jealous. They fought for months over the album art after completing the recording of their first record. This delayed them months and, in the end, they ended up with a lousy cover that has little to do with their music. Work out your cover art while you are making the record.  By the time you finish your mixes and are working on a sequence you should have your artwork locked in. Make sure someone is taking notes for the album cover. These notes are the classic choice to contain a few inside jokes.  Please remember that these jokes will not be understood by your fans. Do not make the whole cover an inside joke. This invariably leaves you with a cover that the fans hate and do not understand.

Now you’ve reached the point where you have a finished set of mixes and an album cover. Pick a date about four months in the future and decide that will be your release day. Book a date at one of your strongest venues.  This will be your release party. If you don’t give yourself a release date as a goal you and your band will likely stall and delay yourself into obscurity.  SET A DATE!

Once you have picked the date count backwards from this date six weeks. This should be the date that your promo copies (and your copies to sell) should be in your hand. Now that you know the production date (that’s what it’s called after all..) you can contact the CD duplicator and find out how long it takes them to duplicate the master and produce the art. It’s usually best to give both these duties to the CD duplicator. Yes you can save some money if you find artwork manufacturing separately but putting 2000 cds into their sleeves sucks so just skip it. At this point you will likely notice that you are already behind schedule. Try not to worry about it and just press ahead with mastering and setting up various things to promote this magical recording.  As you move towards the actual release don’t be surprised if you grow to dislike the recording. THIS IS COMMON AND YOU MUST LEARN TO NOT SECOND GUESS WHAT YOU HAVE DONE! If you do start to meddle and change things you will fall down the black hole that often consumes bands and leads to purgatory.

With all of this behind you it is time to work out how you will promote the recording. Here’s some standard ideas:

1. Book a tour that covers every market where you are known and any geographically related market where you can scam your way into a gig.

2.Collect lists of every magazine, E-zine, website and blog that writes about music similar to your band. These will all receive a press pack (see my blog on this) photo and CD in the weeks before your release.

3. Set up an account to upload to Itunes and other sites. (CD baby is quite popular) Design and arrange for your website to have a new look and copious verbage about the brilliant release, all primed and ready to go on the day of release.

4. Dig around on the internet for info on Indy distributors. Call other bands, ask how they sell product. Take notes. (product is one of those nasty music industry terms for music…)

5. Design a tour shirt and some kind of Choch-Kee (sp?). This is some small cheap item that has the album art or title or band name that can be given out to people to promote the release. (I have suggested fortune cookies that contain the band’s album title in some clever way. No one has ever used this idea so maybe it’s a tacky idea …hey you can be the first) Be creative, hand puppets? key chains? Kites? Hand grenades? This is your moment to shine.

6. Think of possible promo stunts…. the album is called Pig Fuckers? Hmmm…. what could you do? Creativity goes a long way towards getting people talking. When people talk CDs sell.

So now you’ve got the machine in gear. All of these things need to be timed to happen in and around the “Album Release Date”. It doesn’t matter much if you are a little early or a little late. You need college radio play (oh yeah get a list of college stations for mailing), press and local TV during the two months when your release will be new.  Don’t worry about shopping the release to labels. You can send out mailings if you like but the way to get signed is to get more popular. It’s a simple as that.

Columbia Records “discovered” Janis Joplin, the legendary blues rock singer at a show in San Francisco. She was given one of the most lucrative contracts up to that time. No one mentions that Columbia A & R guys first saw her at a 7000 seat theater show.  Those guys were a long way behind what every kid in Frisco had known for a year…Janis Joplin will melt your shoes….that’s how you get discovered.

I am sure I missed some points. Post questions, I’ll answer promptly….Oh yeah…if you are putting out a record you better be writing the next record or you will once again fall into the black hole……..

©Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2011