NO GHERMING, NO BALLADS, DON’T SUCK
NO GHERMING, NO BALLADS, DON’T SUCK
This is a phrase I have used for many years. I’ve had it on bumper stickers, quoted it in interviews and been asked about it. So it bears explaining here.
Pronounced “GURMING”, which means trying to exceed the nature of a relationship, or someone trying to elbow their way up the ladder in an inappropriate way. I first heard it used, and spelled, by Nashville’s granddaddy songwriter, Harland Howard. He used to use it frequently when describing certain people’s behaviors. And one hit writer friend of mine, was nearly “Ghermed to death” while being wheeled into a hospital emergency room by a nurse, trying to elbow her way into the industry.
Being a GERM, trying to INFECT someone is when a new or unknown writer or artist, approaches a hit writer, producer, industry exec, publisher, etc. and tries to shove a CD or business card in their hand. NO! NO! NO! It can cause a writer or artist to be shut out of any discussions on their career before they even have a career. “Ghermers” are well known and routinely shunned.
Aside from not having earned that place, and making the person they are “gherming” feel like a jerk, there are HUGE LEGAL ramifications to it. With the age of the “Lawsuit Lottery” everyone who has ever written a hit song is sued by someone claiming they “ripped off” that song. Look, while their might be some rare examples of that, the reality is that EVERYTHING SOUNDS LIKE SOMETHING ELSE, AND MOST EVERYTHING HAS BEEN DONE, often many times BEFORE YOU OR I WERE EVEN BORN!
I know, I know, everybody feels they have had some idea, title, melody ripped off. Usually it is quite unintentional, we hear things subconsciously and pick up on them. I have found myself using ideas, melodies, chord progressions, that I might have gotten from somewhere else, and then realized it. Very innocent. Even in the most famous lawsuit, George Harrison/Bright Tunes, “MY SWEET LORD/HE’S SO FINE” case, the ruling was that he innocently lifted the earlier song.
But when hit writers, publishers, artists, take CD’s or listen to someone’s work they have ACESS and they could be sued for lifting something. Even if they didn’t really listen that much. Which for the most part, they don’t. They have their own songs, their own writers, their own projects going on. Why are they going to listen to someone off the street? THEY DON’T.
Getting UP THE LADDER requires a lot more than just sticking a business card in someone’s hand. It takes building relationships, trust, earning your reputation. And earning the opportunity.
NOW, IMPORTANT CAVEAT. If you are just starting out, or making your reputation, you are EXPECTED to trade CD’s, business cards, etc. with people you come across, potential contacts, co-writers, etc. That is part of the “NASHVILLE HANDSHAKE.” But it is best in all cases to WAIT TO BE ASKED before you start GIVING OUT!!
Now, I’m being a bit hyperbolic here. Actually there is nothing like a well written, emotional ballad. But there is a HUGE difference in a POWER BALLAD, which everyone lifts the cigarette lighter APP on their cell phones, sing along with, cry to, and lift away with the emotion and melody, and a SLOW, DRONING, GRUDGING, song that just never seems to end. And in a world where more and more people are trying to be writers / artists, with more and more shows, more information on the internet, more of everything, BALLADS are everywhere. If you attend a regular writer’s night, about 70% of songs written performed are all slow ballads. They rarely have identifiable CHORUSES, where the audience sings along on every word. They are just….well….LONG SONGS.
The key to writing ballads, are that since it is a slower tempo song, there needs to be LESS lyrics. The chorus has to come faster, and it really needs to all come together very quickly. In / out, sing along, and get off. If you are planning on being a performer, make sure you time your songs and do everything you can, to get it under the Three minute and thirty second time frame. Skip solos, long turnarounds, DEAD air. In recording, as well as live, make sure it has dynamics, builds, flows.
DON’T BORE US, GET TO THE CHORUS! AND…an entire set of ballads puts people to sleep, no matter how good they are.
AS much as I would like to take credit for this, I didn’t say it. BILLY JOEL, was doing an interview with Barbara Walters once where she asked him, “What advice would you give to up and coming writers and artists trying to make their way in the music business? He looked very thoughtfully into the camera and said “Try very hard….not to suck.”
I’ve always tried to live by that advice. Be aware of others playing in your round (and those coming after you). Be ready to get up by having your guitar tuned or keyboard ready. Keep your stories short and interesting. Represent yourself and your product (song) the best you can. Follow up on relationships. Look for the everyday magic. Touch people’s lives. Have a great time and inspire others.
Marc Allan Barnette