"MAB'S MUSICAL STUFF"
(ADVICE AND INFORMATION FOR SONGWRITERS AND INTERESTED PARTIES)
DEALS, DEALS, AND MORE DEALS.
Everything I write on these pages, come from a question or comment someone makes on other posts that I know something about and feel it has some relavence to these dialogues. Once again, I apologize for their length, but I feel there are more issues than just a "yes or no" that most people trying to find out about this, usually get. Even in workshops, seminars, personal sessions, you rarely get a full look at these issues. So, I do apologize to the Administrators and all that find them too long. Please use the scroll feature and go past.
"ARE THERE ANYMORE SONGWRITERS DEALS ON MUSIC ROW?"
This is a HUGE question in songwriter circles because EVERYONE has some mistaken opinion that theyll just roll into town, the Heavens will part, the heavenly choirs start singing Hosannas, they'll get a "deal" quit their job, and the money will begin to roll in.
Excuse me a moment, while my sides stop hurting from laughing.
AIN'T GONNA HAPPEN AND HAS NEVER HAPPENED LIKE THAT.
"Deals" today, are very different than they were back in the days of Willie, Kristofferson, and Harland Howard ,when there were about 50 writers in town. And even THEN, they weren't what most people think they were. Even while Kris had a "deal" he still was a janitor at CBS records, flying helicopters out of florida and Lousiana, ferrying workers to oil rigs, and writing all at the same time. And most of his stuff DIDN'T GET CUT.
The writers "deals" never pay all the bills. They are just a small pittance to help you get through. IF you can live on $500-$1500 a month in todays world (and most are FAR FROM THAT) you are really living frugally. But go and get ONE DEMO,and you owe money past that.
There was a time, when there were a good deal of "staff deals" (writing for a particular company, and being paid something) but again, the people that had them also had other jobs. People who play in bands on the weekends or are even gone for weeks at a time playing in a road act. People that drive for Uber or Lyft (I know of three number one writers who do this.)
Or have totally UNRELATED businesses. On at least THREE occasions, I have had a songwriting session with some monster hit writer with Gold and Platinum records on the walls, awards out the ying yang, and songs on the radio charts, who had to STOP the session to go show property for their prooerty management company, deliver plumbing supplies for their plumbing company, or electrical supplies for their contracting business.
EVERYONE DOES SOMETHING ELSE.
And this is WHILE they have deals or even OWN THE COMPANY.
HOW MANY DEALS ARE THERE?
At one point, around 2004, there were about 1460.
(numbers are always hard to find out, writers NEVER TALK ABOUT MONEY, IT'S SUPERSTITION, LIKE BASEBALL PLAYERS NOT CHANGING THEIR SOCKS ON A WINNING STREAK)
Today, the last I heard, there were somewhere around 310. And not all of those are "full deals", (getting paid a salary to write. They are "development deals, open door deals, and "wait and see"deals intermixed with the fully funded deals. Much of this has to do with streaming and how music is making money (or NOT making money) today.
Get a HUGE HIT, that is heard and seen everywhere, on MAINSTREAM CHARTS (BILLBOARD), commercials, major motion pictures, merchandizing (The wall fish that sang "all about the bass) or my buddy and co-writer, Randy Brooks, who wrote "GRANDMA GOT RUN OVER BY A REINDEER", every year have a LOT of merchandise and memes on that one. Although a LOT OF UNLICENCED MERCHANDISE AS WELL (would cost a fortune to police all that) you can do quite well.
But get 200-300 million streams alone, and you might be able to make what a counter worker at McDonalds makes, and you have to SPLIT that with co-writers and publishers.
SO WHAT KIND OF DEALS ARE THERE?
There are limitless variations on a theme. Most deals start with an "open door deal." This is where various co-writes, social relationships, songwriters festivals, benefits, writers "Retreats" (usually weekend trips to some area, where a group of writers spend weekends pairing up, writing with each other, changing partners, writing other songs, and swap songs and stories.)
Those often lead to a publisher saying "Hey, when you write some more songs, come see me and play them for me.
This is usually a sit down, three or four songs, get some feedback, critiques and usually "Don't hear anything I can use right now, but Keep doing what you're doing. "
This can go on for years.
THE "LET'S SEE WHAT HAPPENS" DEAL.
This is often, where the publisher might find one or two songs they are really interested in, usually already demoed. (SONGWRITERS, YOU HAVE TO PAY FOR YOUR OWN DEMOS, UNTIL YOU CAN GET SOMEONE TO TAKE OVER THE JOB,) They might "hold"* on to a song or two (usually just one) and play it around for some of their publisher friends, potential artists, producers, etc. Very informal.
Just a "let me see what reaction I get."
*NOTE: This is NOT an "OFFICIAL HOLD" which is a Nashville term for getting solid response on songs. This is informal, "let me see what i find out."
THE "EXCLUSIVE REPRESENTATION" DEAL
This is where a publisher has seen enough potential in a writer where they say, "Don't take anything to anyone else before I hear it." They might start setting a writer up with appointments with their other staff writers, invite the writer to social events, parties, benefits, "guitar pulls" (where a group of writers sit around a room and swap songs, unplugged, no PA or audience. Just friends listening.
At some point they may offer to pay for one or a few 'Demos"
"DEMONSTRATION RECORDINGS" of one or more songs. Usually they might wait until there are three- four songs. Enough to get a feeling for how those songs will sound in the studio, with "THEIR PLAYERS, AND STUDIO." Everyone has their own people and sounds they like.
There are usually a LOT more things involved in this. As writers are more and more known, their music and reputations precede them. Other publishers start wanting to put them with their own writers.
And most NOTABLY THEY ARE PARED UP TO WRITE WITH NEW AND UP COMING ARTISTS.
AND THERIN IS THE RUB. These writers are getting to know the ARTISTS OF TOMORROW TODAY! They are working with these new artists (also in deveopment) MONTHS AND YEARS BEFORE other people even know about them. A new artist may come seemingly out of the blue, but they might have been in DEVELOPMENT for one, two or even three years for some record company and might even have hits of their own on other artists.
They are also lIVING, GROWING and SHARING the same things AS THESE ARTISTS, so they are great friends long before anyone else ever even knows about them. When you've been the shoulder some new artist cries on through the death of a parent, a break up of a long term relationship, or money problems, forcing them to be homeless, you are going to have an inside track that no outside writer can get close to.
THE "FULL MONEY" DEAL.
This is what it says. Where a publisher is paying a weekly check (or Bi-monthly) for a writer (or now artist) to develop, write songs, and learn their craft. But again, even at that, the checks rarely pay all the bills for a writer. Many (myself included) suppliment their income by singing or musicians playing on other writers demos) playing in bands, going out of town for gigs, or totally unrelated businesses.
Where it used to be "DON'T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB" now is "DON'T QUIT YOUR THREE DAY JOBS."
TODAYS STAFF WRITER.
Since the end of the 90's ( I started seeing it in 1998) we've watched enormous changes in the business. The money started deckining, first due to illegal downloading and theft, now to streaming and changing goalposts in music.
So we started seeing another phenomenon, as the de-emphasis on songs themselves and the transition to THE ARTIST-WRITER. Publishing companies became the "A&R" departments that record companies used to have. They started developing artists.
While there were still "PURE WRITERS" the POTENTIAL ARTISTS" became the focus, due to their ability to have record deals, merchandising, and a "presence" in the market place.
Much of this harkened back to the RAP days, in the 80's, 90's, where an artist would become famous (Dr. Dre) and then bring other artists into their inner circles, create their product with their writers, producers, on their labels, and their marketing department. So you have things like Def Jam records and others that did eveyrthing in house.
This had happened in rock. Starting on Feb. 9th, 1964, when four guys from Liverpool England, did a television show called THE ED SULLIVAN show, and changed everything in the music world. THe BEATLES were mostly a self contained act, and from then on, the labels looked for the ARTIST WRITER. This continued through rock, pop, rap, folk, and now, country.
And these artists that are signed are pretty good writers, or happen to know how to help experienced writers write exactly FOR THEM. By the time, this kid, TAYLOR SWIFT, came along, it was already starting to go completetly SELF CONTAINED.
And BEFORE the "Taylor haters" start chiming in, let me say THIS. I had some private conversations with LIZ ROSE, the woman who worked with Taylor on her first two records. I asked "How much of that was you and how much was it Taylor?
You see, we are used to younger artists, being surrounded by experienced, established and hit writers" and those people writing the songs.
That is no longer true. These younger artists are writers at very young ages. They may not have the years of experience it takes in my opinion, but they bring their own vision into songs.
But with Taylor, Liz said "THAT WAS ALL TAYLOR. I WAS JUST AN EDITOR." I've heard that with everyone I've talked to regarding her.
She is a VERY GOOD, VERY CAPABLE WRITER, and has an ability to speak DIRECTLY TO HER AUDIENCE AND THOSE WHO ARE NOT EVEN HER FANS. She has won too many awards, sold too many records (in a time where NOBODY is selling records) and has just done too much to discount her. CAN'T FOOL ALL OF THE PEOPLE ALL THE TIME.
So I have to give her the props I feel she's earned. She did things I DIDN'T SEE and I missed MY CHANCE to work with her because I didnt want to "write with anyone under 18." Hey, I'm the brilliant guy that turned down a chance to have a song considered by Garth because "I was HANGING ON TO IT FOR MYSELF AS AN ARTIST!"
Do what I say, NOT WHAT I DO! I'M AN IDIOT!
So now, you see these younger artists,having more to do with their careers and everyone trying to capture that lightning in a bottle.
The key is "co-writing and who knows you. " YOU can know EVERYBODY and it still want matter, because its' who knows YOU and HOW THEY KNOW YOU.
So that is basically how todays "SONGWRITER DEALS" work. THere are vatiations on everything ,a few phenoms here and there, but most of the artists coming out also have cuts on OTHER artists, their contemporarys and people in their "CLASS" they moved in with.
If you are "looking for a deal" better understand the OTHER ELEMENTS INVOLVED WITH DEALS. And you BETTER BE RECRUITING THE ARTISTS OF THE FUTURE TODAY. That goes for the pure writers AND the possible artists of the future. And it all goes the same way:
CREATE GREAT SONGS IN UNIQUE WAYS.
MAKE SURE THEY ARE ALWAYS PRESENTED WELL.
NETWORK AND BUILD FRIENDS CONTINUALLY.
BUILD YOUR OWN BUSINESS AND NICHE. ACT AS IF YOU WON'T EVER GET A DEAL, BECAUSE YOU CAN DO ALL OF THIS AND STILL NOT WORK. Sometimes it NEVER DOES. All you can do is RAISE THE LEVEL OF YOUR ODDS.
Marc Alan Barnette