Why songwriting is the key


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

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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

Jonathan Coulton and Creative Commons copyright….


Tonight’s blog is a complete change of pace. I have started to collect opinions and comments from established artists to add to this blog.  For the moment I am creating the questions and topics and deciding which artists to ask to comment. In the future I hope that some of the questions and topics will come from you, the reader…

Tonight’s blog which is just an interlude between longer postings about the inner workings of a recording contract, introduces the changing face of copyrights in the age of the web. Anyone with some sense of vision sees that the universal distribution of knowledge, music, art, writing, all of the various elements of the web, will bring about a complete redefinition of the artist’s relationship to the commercial exploitation of his art.

Certainly the question isn’t if change is coming, rather it is where will these changes take us?

I asked Jonathan Coulton to discuss his progressive attitude towards controlling his recordings on the web. For those of you who haven’t heard of Jonathon yet he is one of the more interesting Post Guided by Voices , Lo Fi musicians breaking through the inertia  of Nirvana and programmed pop.  His songwriting combined with a generous and healthy attitude about giving everyone access to his music helped him break out and create some purely web driven hits like “Code Monkey”  and “Still Alive” (A song released as the final dirge on the underground hit video game Portal).  In short Jonathan is a talented songwriter that is comfortable with the changes that the web has offered and has altered his approach to line up his personal musical strengths with the power of the web.

I asked Jonathan a question via email while a little bit altered and completely exhausted. As a result his reply is much better than my question. Thank god for catching a break some days……….

Jonathan – your music has spread through the web, first through association with gaming programs and then through peer to peer trading. You have been a vocal advocate of “Fair Use” copyrights, rather then the “I own it and you gotta buy it model” – how has this helped you succeed and how might it help others to build connections with fans? (I intended to ask about Creative Commons copyright. Like I said I was under the influence of stupidity that night)

————————

“I’d actually say that it went the other direction, first my music spread across the web through word of mouth, and that led to my association with Valve and the song for Portal. And I think that’s a really important point – for a musician who is just starting out there is nothing more important than exposure. That’s why I released my music with a Creative Commons license that allowed people to share the music freely, and to create new works using the music, as long as those things happened in the non-commercial realm. My plan was to let the music speak for itself, to let it find my fans for me, and then figure out how to monetize whatever success I had in that effort.

 
Of course, to my surprise I started making money directly from the music before I had to figure out how to monetize it. As I went through the year-long Thing a Week project releasing a new song every week, I would post each song for free to my blog but I would also put it in my online store. I made it clear that while it was fine if you wanted to get the song for free, I was trying to make a living as a musician, so I’d prefer if you bought it. Many people chose to buy it even though they didn’t have to. Many people chose to buy it later after they had downloaded it for free and listened for a while and decided they really liked it. And later when I started touring and selling tshirts and CDs, many people came to those shows and bought the merchandise. None of that would have happened if I had kept the songs locked up tight for fear of them being “stolen.” I figured, worst case scenario a million people hear my music without paying for it – that’s actually not a terrible situation at all, in fact it’s kind of awesome.
 
So I really think that whether you agree with the details of the Creative Commons license or not, it’s important to let your music get around out there. It’s important to make the process of people discovering your music as fluid and friction-free as possible. Once you are willing to leave a little money on the table and not worry about squeezing every bit of profit out of every interaction a fan has with you and your work, you are free to do interesting and fun things. Can I use your song in a YouTube video I’m making? Sure. Can I send a copy of my favorite songs of yours to all my friends? Absolutely. A great deal of energy comes out of transactions like these, and I believe that energy can’t help but translate into actual cash somewhere down the road.”
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I’ll take a moment to expand on one comment that he makes ” to create new works using the music, as long as those things happened in the non-commercial realm”. This concept, an idea that is the core idea of a good portion of hip hop recording is the future of pop. How long before musician start to play hot potato with musical ideas and pass them around, with each contributor adding a piece and passing it on until the music itself feels undeniably finished. How compelling can a collective piece of art be?  Certainly the power of a song is amplified once you free it from the bonds of being a commercially exploited CD in the mold of music from the 1990’s.  This is one of many ideas that are coming to the surface as the web reworks how musicians succeed at rock……………………………
©Creative Commons license Brad Morrison/ Billiken Media 2010. Portions of this blog may be used in part or whole to create another work of art on the condition that any and all subsequent exploitations and copies of this work are non commercial in character and bring no monetary gain or remuneration to the third-party involved………Let art rule and rise above……………

Volunteers? Not the Jefferson Airplane song….


Ok readers I am looking for volunteers to submit a track or two of their music. It will appear on the site in my blog. I will then dissect the track and criticise ( or praise) songwriting, performing, recording etc.  If you decide to do this you should be thick-skinned and brave since I will most likely beat the stuffing out of your music before I am finished.  In return for volunteering to be publically humiliated you will get seen (actually heard) by a few thousand readers and get valuable advice from an old pro. I will also solicit comments from readers to round things out.

As I have stated numerous times I will not listen to demos since I would be deluged with music and have no time to do the blog which is the most helpful thing I can do for you. If interested send an mp3 that is less than 5 minutes long. The limit is one song per band or writer. In the email please make some sort of statement that says you are willing to have your stuff posted on the site and that you will not cry like a baby when I beat up your music. Send the music to ciceroqpublic(at)yahoo.com. I will collect songs for a few weeks then pick out one or two to post on the site. This should be a good way to wrap up the first series of blogs about recording. So everyone put their best Riff forward and we’ll all learn something about succeeding at rock…….

Brad Morrison

Lesson #12 Let’s talk about Royalties (pt 2)……..


In the last post I started to introduce the topic of Song Publishing. I explained a little history and I outlined the three basic kinds of publishing royalties.  I hope that it made the topic a little clearer. If you don’t follow any of the last post or this post PLEASE POST QUESTIONS IN THE COMMENTS SECTION. It took me a long time to understand  all the crazy terms that the music business uses. I was in the middle of negotiating a publishing contract for an artist when I finally convinced one of my lawyers into explaining it to me.  So don’t feel foolish if you don’t follow it all on first reading. Just remember publishing is important.

In the last post I mentioned that people pay royalties for the USE OF THE SONG.  The song itself is the property. This is not to be confused with the recording of the song. The recording is a different piece of property. Think of it this way. You buy a dvd of terminator 2. Does that mean you control the use of the movie Terminator 2. Of course not. You just have a copy of it. The company that paid for the movie owns the rights. Well behind those Hollywood dudes is a writer, the guy that wrote the script. He may still own the script. That writer is like the songwriter.

Here’s another way to look at it. You sit down and write a song. You decide to call it “Yesterday” . You look in the mirror and are happy to discover that you are now Paul McCartney of the Beatles. Lucky you. So your band, The Beatles, records the song. Then along comes two hundred other musicians and they record the song. They are not you, Paul McCartney. They don’t own the song. They own the recordings of the song.  They then make CDs with their horrible versions of your lovely song on them. These CD’s sell to morons with no taste. For each one they sell they owe you a royalty since you, Paul McCartney, wrote the song.  They pay this royalty to your Publishing Company and to you – 50%/50%. That’s the way the law says it’s done.  This kind of publishing royalty is called a mechanical royalty.

Now one of these covers (versions) by one of these other guys gets put into a film. It’s used in the overly nostalgic scene where Julia Roberts remembers her childhood of abuse.  The film pays the band for the use of their recording.  But wait, what about you Sir Paul McCartney? Don’t you get some? (Hey your one of the Beatles you ALWAYS GET SOME!) Yes, you get some because the film company must work out a deal with you, paying for the right to USE YOUR SONG.  This deal is called a SYNC license and the royalty they pay you is called a sync royalty.

So now let’s go back to your band The Beatles. You guys recorded the song right? Yes, you did and your record company turns it into a CD and download.  Of course you guys are rock stars and when your record sells you get paid royalties. So that’s where you make your money right? NO! Well I actually mean yes but I’ll cover that in another blog covering band royalties. Yes the label pays The Beatles but they must also pay you, Sir Paul McCartney, the Cute Beatle, for the USE OF YOUR SONG. Cool huh? You get paid for being in the band that makes the record and you get paid for writing the song.

Now the recording you made and all of the recordings that all of those other lousy bands made of your song “Yesterday” get played on lots of radio stations. These radio stations have to pay royalties for all the songs they play. So your Publishing company gets paid money for that. These payments are called Performance royalties. But wait, we’re not done.  All over the world bands begin playing your song live. Some of these clubs pay for music licenses. This makes more money. Some of that gets paid to you.  Also restaurants play various versions of your song, your recorded version and also the versions recorded by all those lousy bands as background music as mindless people chew their food.  To make the situation even better stores at the mall start playing recordings of your music as background as people shop for useless consumer items. Both the restaurants and the stores also have to pay money to play music so some of that money gets sent to your publishing company.  Holy Shit! You’re Rich!!! No surprise since you are Paul McCartney.

Since the song is so damn popular they even put out a songbook with guitar and piano music for the song. This too means money paid to your publisher.

These are they ways that a SONG makes money. Not the recording of a song, the SONG ITSELF. This is important to understand. If you are the one that writes all the hits in your band then you are in a great position as far as money goes.  That means you get the biggest Mercedes.

Since you’re Paul McCartney I’ll tell you a little story about you.

Paul McCartney was working with Michael Jackson on a collaboration, a song called Say, Say, Say. During the session McCartney explained to Jackson that the way to make money was to own the publishing rights to songs.  McCartney told Jackson that he was about to try to buy the company that owned the publishing rights to lots of Beatles songs. Jackson listened very carefully to McCartney. He then quietly outbid McCartney and bought the company that owned the Beatles songs thereby screwing McCartney out of some of the publishing money on his songs. Poor Paul huh? Don’t feel too bad. This is why………

The law says that ALL publishing royalties get split 50%/50% between the songwriter and the publishing company.  That means that the payment goes directly to you the writer. Now, you can be a complete idiot and actually sell the rights to the song to someone and then they will get that money.

Most bands that get signed to the majors get offered a publishing deal. That means that a publishing company will offer to give you some money right now, like 100,000 in return to the publishing rights to your song. A standard deal will say that you must write at least 12 songs a year and that they will pay you 50,000 each year. This money is an ADVANCE against money you might make.  The deal will go on to say that you will receive 60% of all publishing money that the company receives. (don’t forget that advance, that gets paid off first) The company keeps 40% of the publishing money. In return for their cut the company will try to promote your songs. They will try to get other musicians to record it. They will try to get film makers to use the song in a movie. They will try to get commercial advertisers to use the song. 

Of course, there is another option. You become your own publishing company.  That way you get all the publishing money. It’s easy to do. You just set up a business name. Register it. Open a bank account under that name and then inform the Publishing Rights Societies that you “are administering the publishing of all material written by _____________.” Fill you name in there. What are the Publishing Rights Societies? What do they do? Well that will appear  in a future blog………

Hey here’s a link to a poll. It’ll help me decide what to write about so please vote

What should I blog next?
(polls)

Copyright BradMorrison/Billiken Media 2010

Lesson #9 How to be in a great band…………..


[THIS IS A LONG POST, BE PREPARED]

So you’re in a band. Ask yourself is it a great band? Is it just OK? Is it a band that you’re just in for the moment? Is it your band? These are all important questions. If you are a musician and just want to play, make some music, and have some fun then this blog may teach you some things but it may not interest you as much as a blog about classic soul bands or a blog about the secret hair-band post shower hair tricks. I’ll assume that you have ambition. That you want your band to make it to the top. I started this blog to help out musicians and managers that wanted to make a big splash, to be, someday, maybe, rock gods.

                                             (Beatles “Wait”) (Randy Newman “Underneath the Harlem Moon”)

One of the most common mistakes musicians make is joining the wrong band. The band you join is often decided by the world you live in. Is it a small town in the middle of Cowfuckville? If it is, you may very well have few choices other than to play with the guys you have been playing with since you were 13. If you’re in one of these bands I will get to some strategies later in this posting. If you live in a bigger town or better yet some excuse for a city you probably have some options when choosing the band to join. Which one should you pick. That’s easy. Pick the band that is led by the best songwriter you can find. This is the most important talent in rock and if you find someone that can write hits then tie yourself to him/her in as many ways as possible. If possible marry him and marry his father, uncle and piano teacher. If you are a great writer I will get to tips for you later in the blog as well. I am concentrating on good players that aren’t visionary writers for the moment since by far they are the largest pool of band members out there.               (Tito Puente “Cua Cua”)  (Pixies “Gigantic”)

If you have any question about being the greatest songwriter that ever lived then, I assure you, you are not a great songwriter. When it comes to songwriting there are two classifications, the great writers and everyone else. Great writers seem to know it. I am not sure why this is true but I’ve known quite a few great songwriters and there is some gene that allows them to know from birth that they are gonna write songs. Like I said if you have any doubts about your greatness, then you’re not great, so face up to it and depend on your other strengths. Do you have the killingest rhythm style in the world? Can you play a bass groove that makes the girls shake their butts? Take a count of your strengths and then look around for the best damn writer in your scene. Then go and get in his band. If you have to change from guitar to bass that’s fine. If you have to learn to play mandolin that’s fine. The only  bands in your local scene that are going to make it somewhere have one thing in common – they are piloted by a great songwriter.

                                                (Traffic “Light up or leave me alone”)(Buzzcocks “Whatever happened to?”)

So you believe that you’re in a band with the next Bob Dylan? Ok then get the fuck out of his way. Stop trying to force the band to do your three songs. Don’t fight him when he decides that clown shoes are the next experiment the band will try. I’ve seen more bands break up over stupid control issues than anything else. It was actually refreshing when as a manager I had a bona fide drug problem in one of my bands or an arrest or standard run of the mill manic depression. It was refreshing because I spent endless hours trying to mediate battles over little control crap like who gets to drive the van or why the drummer’s one song wasn’t on the set list for the past three gigs. (if that particular fight comes up you can show the drummer this blog ’cause I’m gonna explain it to him right here. Mr. Drummer the reason you are in the band is to play the fucking drums. The fact that you write songs is charming and if the band becomes mega-successful then you will use that song on your solo record. Until then shut the fuck up or the band will find a drummer that hasn’t written a song!)

Most really talented people are narcissists. That means they are self-centered to the point of being manipulative and destructive to the people around them. There is a word for this kind of behaviour in a band it is “normal”. The only question is to what degree is this deeply talented person destructive. Is it mainly to himself? That’s ok. Is it to other band members? That can be tolerated? Is it to the band’s career? If so you’ve got a problem.

I managed a band for ten years called Miracle Legion. You haven’t heard of them. The reason you haven’t heard of them is the lead singer/writer did everything in his power to be a controlling prick to all the promoters, producers, label people, managers (me) and writers he could. For example he would never give me a cut of his publishing money. I asked about three million times each time he said no and then demanded I get him a publishing deal. Is it surprising that I never found him a publishing deal even though I found one for many other, less talented artists. His lack of publishing deal translated into piles and piles of money he didn’t collect and scores of juicy deals he never got. Oh well. I could write a whole blog about the crazy things he did.. oh yeah that’s exactly what I’m doing.
                                                                                                                           (Gang of Four “I found that essence rare”)

Here’s a brief anecdote about this singer that ties in to some advice I gave a reader in a another blog posting. Miracle Legion toured extensively. I mean they toured all the time. Lots. Everywhere. They did very well often selling out the venues at whatever level they were working. The band had a booking agent Frank Riley. Frank is now one of the biggest agents in the country. Of course the singer didn’t trust him. When we decided to set up a tour he would call me and spend THREE OR FOUR DAYS on the phone explaining in detail, excruciating detail, obsessive, useless, detail exactly what he wanted. He would pick venues, hotels, outline deals, issue orders about the routing of the van etc. I would humor him and listen. Then I would visit the agent. We would have a two or three hour meeting to discuss the tour. Most of the singers orders and directions became humorous stories we would discuss. The agent knew what he was doing. I knew what I was doing. If the singer’s crazy commands pertained to musical or artistic things we both made sure he got what he wanted. He was, after all, a genius. The agent would then go off and book the tour. It would take him a day or two. Then he would fax me the itinerary. (that’s the list of clubs, theaters, etc and a list of the deals he had worked out)….

 (David Bowie “Panic in Detroit”)

Every time that I receive the fax of the itinerary I would stop and take a deep breath. I dreaded sending the fax to the singer and the rest of the band. Looking back I can now see that his craziness caused everyone around him to avoid contact, to duck calling him, to change tour itineraries to avoid finding yourself in the same town as him.

So I would send him the fax and call the agent and tell him that it had been sent to him. We had a running bet on how long it would take for the inevitable result to come roaring down the turnpike at us. I believe the record was fifteen minutes.  It always started the same way, an incoming call, usually from a promoter.

“I wanna kill this fucker!!” would be the usual greeting when I picked up the phone. It would be a promoter from St Louis or Chicago or Portland. ” Do you realize that this guy is trying to renegotiate a deal that I signed  8 days ago?”

The singer would view the tour itinerary as a good starting point. He would then begin calling promoters with additional demands and lists of obscure useless questions. Someone would offer him $4500 versus 80% of the door with a ticket price of $4,00. He would try to get 90% or a door price of $3.00 or $5000 upfront. On top of this he would always start issuing insane demands like “I want you to ship me a crate of fresh pineapple today and they better be fresh!” or “You better call the hotel listed here and make sure the towels weight at least 24oz., are at least 36″ long and 24 inches wide and that the hotel will provide sixteen of them each day.” He was, of course, stealing them and reselling them.  Within a day the tour would start to come apart at the seams. This was with a band that was selling out shows. His general attitude was that if he could get them to do it then there was no downside. Venue by venue, label by label, writer by writer he pissed them off and destroyed a brilliant career.  He once asked me to try and get MTV taken off the air in St. Louis on the night they played.

                                                                                                                                                                  (Big Star “Daisy Glaze”)

His main ambition was to get signed to a major label, in particular he wanted to be on Columbia Records. So after  ten years of managing his band I arranged a meeting with all the big wigs at Columbia. During the meeting they signed a deal memo which is a document saying that they intended to do a deal with you. On the way out of the building after this quite successful and momentous meeting he forced the band’s guitarist to explain to me that I was fired. “We don’t need you anymore.” was his cheerful explanation. I made a call and Columbia pulled the deal the next day.

               (Television “See No Evil”)

So the point here is that if someone is too nutty, too destructive then it is better to steer clear. Well, maybe I should say be cautious and always watch your back. The guys that were in Miracle Legion all used his talent as a springboard to bigger and better things.

You have to be honest with yourself. Where do you fit in in the band? Are you good at doing business? Then you should cover the management and booking duties when you first start out. If you do this job expect nothing but abuse as a thank  you. That’s ok, put up with it and use the experience to fill up your phone book.  If you’re a great drummer than be a great drummer. In the end everyone gets some say in the show you put on and if you do it right there is plenty of pie to go around. David Gilmour of Pink Floyd learned to write a great song. It took him years. For years as he was learning, he played amazing leads and solid backing guitar. If you are trying to learn how to write keep at it. Be patient. You’ll never be Dylan or Paul McCartney but there is a craft to songwriting that can be learned and if you master it you may write really good songs and the occasional great song.

                                                                                                                     (Led Zeppelin “I can’t quit you”)

( I just put my I pod on shuffle with the Traffic catalog. Great band.I’ve been listening to them quite often lately. I’m gettin’ old)

Now to go back to musicians that I’ve left out so far. I’ll start with the deeply talented amazing writers/performers. There is a contract on a link to this blog please print it out, sign it and mail it to the address listed on page three.  I will be taking 15%.  I am, of course, kidding. I stopped doing that exact thing five years ago.  Here’s some real advice.

You’re in a band. Let me straighten something out at the beginning. It is YOUR BAND. Any bullshit about it being a democracy will only serve to cause heartache for everyone involved. It will hurt the other guys the most because in the end you will have to throw them out because it’s your band. If they argue over this point please show them this blog. Have them post a comment and I will explain it to them in painful detail. If by chance (it’s a real longshot) you are in a band with someone that can write great songs as well good luck. Try not to kill each other. Tape every note your play. And remember that hell is other people and life in hell is kinda like life on earth. The main difference is that on earth there is only one great writer in each band.

So now that I’ve straightened that out — it’s your band. Start to act like it’s your band. Step up and lead the band. This means you need to work out a show. You’ve got to provide the new material on a regular basis. You’ve got to explain to everyone what they need to do in order to make it work. It is your vision and although the voices in your noggin may tell you differently we can not see this vision. You have to tell us about it.

Here’s some further points. Are you an asshole? Think about it. You may be one and not realize it for a long, long time. (it took me years)If you are then you need, at times, to understand this and adjust some of your actions. You do not do business for the band when you are an asshole. You deal with someone else,, either in the band or a manager. This person understands your quirks.(that’s pronounced monstrous behaviour) This person waters down your personality so the real world can deal with it.

Since you are an asshole you have to give the non genius members of your band some slack. They can be valuable members with great talents and still, strangely, not be you. Give em some slack. Allow them the room to perform, and create in ways that fit with their slots in the band. Look at it this way –Did you scheme and lie to get the greatest drummer in town to join your band so you could tell him every note to play? (by the way the answer to that question is “no”. Just trust me on this one)

Don’t trust the business people around you but YOU MUST DO BUSINESS WITH THEM. If you don’t you will die unfamous, obscure, penniless and no one will sing your songs on the acoustic guitar while busking in the London Underground. If you cleverly work out a deal where your manager makes no money he will cleverly do nothing for you.  The people around you will put up with your charming personality (oh you can be charming when you need to be) in return for money and some of the fame.  Do not cut the other members of the band out of every dime. If you do you will end up playing with a bunch of hacks that smile at everything you say. Ask John Fogerty of Credence Clearwater Revival. Oh wait, he’s done all of these things and still doesn’t realize it.

When you hit your stride and the band clicks and you see some success, don’t change it because you are miserable. You will still be miserable. Torture your lovers, hassle your manager, say inflammatory things to the press, threaten to emigrate to Poland but keep the band gigging and keep recording tracks in that vein. Eventually your genius will get the better of you and you’ll destroy it all but later, when you want to go back you won’t be able to. I will discuss how to manage money within the band in a later blog. I will also address things like record deals, publishing etc. Stay tuned.

Look at some of the examples out there. Neil Young, treated Crazy Horse (his band) with respect. He kept them around. He made albums without them and then brought them back. He made sure they made out well. They are a well oiled tool and he has used them effectively for forty years.(!)

Bob Dylan mistreated The Band, one of the greatest backing groups to ever walk the earth. He treated them like shit. He cut them out of everything. They recorded his greatest material and went on to make amazing albums on their own. If they called him tonight he wouldn’t take the call. Instead he plays with HACKS like GE Smith.  Yeah he has survived and, at times, done some great things but imagine what he could have done on another half dozen albums with Levon Helm singing backgrounds.

The point here is that with great talent a form of blindness sets in and the only way to see the light and find your way forward is to remember that there is Karma and if something clicks and you have a hit be very careful about fucking with it.

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Sorry this is a long post but it’s a big subject. Maybe I shoulda split it up but I am gonna press on …

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Ok last section of this post. What about bands that live in nowhereville and try to rise up with a limited talent pool to choose from.

I think the key in that situation is to play to your strengths., What I mean by that is for the band to strike out on its own. Invent a new style, tear up the rule book, try to reinvent what a rock band sounds like. REM are a great example. They came from Athens and their sound was so odd at first that they stood out. They invented the sound of what tons of underground bands would become. Build your band up. Become really tight on a personal level. Get your own house. Do it 24/7, practice, practice, practice. Take lots of risks. You’ll know it when you finally turn a corner. When you do, pull up stakes and look for a place to move. The place you move should have these things: a large college, cheap rents, a club scene, a good,active college radio station. Some places like this – Amherst, MA – Minneapolis,MN-Austin TX-Spokane, WA – Chapel Hill, NC. Avoid New York and LA. Both of these cities are death to bands. (I guess Chicago as well). If you plan the move and the bassist decides to stay home because of his girl then he wasn’t the correct bassist anyway. There is a good reason that bands seem to come out of towns like these. These cities have all the things a band needs to thrive on a local level and are small enough that when the band starts to sell out clubs people notice.

Ok I’ll close tonight’s overlong post with a story. I will not be posting tomorrow night but I will try to do another post over the weekend.

New York State in the late 80’s had a few active music scenes. Albany and Buffalo spring to mind. ( New York City is on another astral plane) Potsdam, a little city in the middle of nowhere wasn’t on the list. It was three hundred miles from anything. A band started out in that town called the Gigolo Aunts. The band had two brothers on bass and guitar and a guy named Dave on lead vox and guitar.  The band worked their ass off in Potsdam and soon realized that Potsdam was going to take them nowhere. They pulled up stakes and moved to Boston. They were a talented power pop guitar band. In Boston they moved up a few notches and people started to notice that they had talent writing and, in particular Dave had that “star” thing.

I talked to them when they were still in Potsdam. I listened to their demos and decided they weren’t ready to make records. After they moved to Boston I decided that they were likely to turn out something good. I started discussions about them signing to my record label. Out of the blue a band from Rhode Island called the Velvet Crush contacted Dave and asked him to join the band as second guitar /background vox. This band had a deal with some big label, perhaps Mute, if it interests you look it up, but they had a deal and were doing major tours.

The band were really upset because Dave was thinking of doing it. They asked me what to do. I stood to lose since they wouldn’t be worth signing without Dave, at least at this time. I told them “Dave should join Velvet Crush. You guys should quit griping and be happy for him. Start rewriting the set for one guitar. Start writing ask quick as you can and see what comes out of it all.”  I think they must have felt a little betrayed by my reaction.  What I knew and they didn’t is that Dave was a star but Phil, the other vocalist and guitarist had it in him as well. He was just overshadowed by Dave. They fought for a week or so. Everybody stopped talking to each other and Dave left to tour with Velvet Crush in England. When the band started to work up the new set they relaxed. New things were happening and the new material sounded great. Dave stayed in touch.  A couple of weeks later they get a call from Dave. Velvet Crush had fired their opening band. Could the Gigolo Aunts do it? They flew to England and joined the tour as it went to France. Dave was doing double duty singing and playing in both bands. Now Phil was stepping up on stage and trying to outshing Dave. Everyone was winning.


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Copyright BradMorrison/Billiken Media 2010