The Magazine of the Australian Songwriters Association, Victoria, Australia
Note - At the time of this article's publication, the National Academy of Songwriters (NAS) was a fully functioning, autonomous organization in Los Angeles. It has now amalgamated with the American Songwriters Guild and therefore any programs I have mentioned that the NAS were running at the time may not be running today.
Note that those who read this article and who feel they are looking for such an organization to support their songwriting can now contact Songsalive!, through www.songsalive.org. It is with much passion that I say that the NAS inspired Songsalive!'s inception and development and the NAS will always be held in the highest regard, especially during my time with them in 1996/7 - "the joyous years".
I should also point out that this very publication inspired quite a few songwriters to leave the Aussie turf and venture to L.A, and whom I now call my friends and songwriters associates. It's nice to see that they are all doing well in their endeavours.
gilli moon has been spending some time in Los Angeles. She finds that being in the right place counts.
Being a songwriter has always kept my creative urges satisfied, but recently I have been spending a bit of time in Los Angeles, among the big pigeons. It really is an interesting scene over there. Australia is a great place to get up and do what you want but, as we all know, the so-called market for our music is somewhat small. It was therefore a relief to find that there is an industry called 'the songwriters industry' when I was over in LA.
Having a population a big as our country, LA attracts artists, musicians, songwriters, actors, and film and TV production people from all around the world, seeking fame and fortune. It is no wonder that they can specialize in their fields and not have to rely on the age-old understanding here of having to diversify talents. Whereas we artists need to stick our finger in many melting pots to keep monetarily afloat, over there specialization is easy, and somewhat necessary.
So I spent some time getting to know the LA songwriters business, and this is what I am up with. To start, I noticed that the wealthiest and most in-demand songwriters are the dark ones -the ones we don't get to know about in Who Magazine. You see, they are part of the driving force and success behind America's biggest selling artists, yet those songwriters don't necessarily have public fame to their name.
Consider Diane Warren, one of America' s biggest selling songwriters, who has penned for Celine Dion (`Because You loved me') and Michael Bolton ('How am I supposed to live without you'). Now, to the ordinary Australian, she is as known as the girl down the street, but she has won Grammy after Grammy, and every month has at least one to two top 10 hits.
So there is big money in songwriting, if you are in the center of the action. And guess what - Diane goes to the office every day, 9 to 5, and has a secretary and all the mod cons of a business office. But what she does is writes. She forces herself to write every day, like it is a normal job, and that is the key to her success - discipline.
The interesting thing about LA is that not only is the creme of the business doing well, and making it big time, but there is a sub-culture of semi-professionals and 'on their way' type individuals, with a huge support network. Songwriters in LA have a lot going for them, even though they bitch and complain that it is hard getting to the top.
But it is much easier than here, I reckon. For example, did you know that LA is an 'original's heaven'? What I mean by that is, artists sing original/self-penned tunes in the clubs and bars around town. It is not a covers scene, unlike here, where it is hard to get the opportunity to play and sing your own music.
Many songwriter artists choose the coffee house circuit, which Jewel played and was discovered by a record company. It basically means playing at the local cafes, like in Santa Monica Beach, or up in Hollywood. Many cafes set up their whole space in a cozy situation with coffee machine percolating while the singer performs on a little stage in the corner, with intimate lounges and the like. It is a very nice way to develop a following and practice your repertoire before the Hollywood Bowl...
So, in LA, getting your songs out there is possible. When I mentioned to a musician friend over there that I began developing as an artist singing covers in the clubs, he laughed. He couldn't believe I had had a hard time playing my original tunes.
The only down side to the LA music scene is that it is hard to get performance fees for playing. Most clubs will see how you go first time round (you playing for free) and then if you bring the numbers in the door, they may give you a percentage of the door next time. It is very hard to get a paying gig unless you are Sheryl Crow or Alanis Morisette.
The network of support is encouraging too. Shop upon shop along Sunset, Hollywood and Santa Monica Boulevards in Hollywood cater for the latest musical instruments, music writing supplies, costumes, photo reproduction, and everything you could name, to satisfy the ever-working musician/songwriter. And it is a11 comparatively cheap due to the competition and large market.
There are also great organizations which support songwriters. One is the American Songwriters Association, which is mainly a union with some side benefits like cheap books and insurance (for Californians).
The other one, which I highly recommend as I am involved with them now, is the NAS, the National Academy of Songwriters. The NAS is a 20 year old non-profit organization which provides support to songwriters. Its membership has the creme of songwriter/artists in America, like Lionel Richie, Quincy Jones, Diane Warren and Joni Mitchell.
Because I had been involved in a songwriters association in Sydney, I felt it important to help out at the NAS while over there. They encourage volunteers to come into their offices and help out on whatever is going on. So that's what I did.
As soon as I was on board, I was fortunate to get involved in the 1996 NAS Songwriter's Salute, which was held at the Palace, in Hollywood (Judy Garland's old haunt).· This event was marking a tribute to Diane Warren (that's how I got to know so much about her). All the bigwigs were there, and it was a top night.
I was given the role of talent coordinator which meant that I had to deal with the likes of Diane and other famous songwriters (Jerry Fuller, Martin Plaza). I had to coordinate sound check and show and all that paraphernalia.
I was given the job because I had no clue who half the people were, and an American may have gotten intimidated in going up to these famous people and telling them what to do. So I was backstage on the night and had a blast. Ignorance is bliss!
Another event I helped with was the 1996 Lifetime Achievement Awards, which had special guests Joni Mitchell, Lieber and Stoller and Smokey Robinson. These songwriters are all members, and it was interesting to be able to mingle with them all, just because I wanted to give my time to support others in the industry.
The NAS also has weekly pitch-a-thons and cassette roulettes where your songs can be 'shopped' (that's a big LA term) to the industry For example, to music supervisors who place songs in film and television, record companies, publishing companies, producers and other songwriters. You don' t have to be there to pitch a song: it is a matter of sending your song in on tape, on time, and it will get played on the night.
The NAS also showcases songwriters on various stages, from coffee houses to the large clubs and concert theatres. I was selected to showcase my talents and songs at the `96 Songwriters Expo. I was picked out by an indie record company, which I soon recorded a song for and which is now getting airplay throughout the West Coast of America.
Being in the right place counts. I am now a fully fledged member of the NAS and I continue to support them as much as they support me. I highly recommend anyone getting more info on the NAS. You can be a member from Australia, and they send you monthly magazines to keep up to date and offer opportunities.
Producing your songs in LA is also somewhat different. Because of the competition, many producers are open to producing songs on a spec deal. That is, they take no up front fee, but go for a percentage of records sold, and/or first choice as producer to record with the major record company.
Getting the record company interested happens in varying levels. Either the artist or manager shops the material or sometimes the producer does the shopping, and he/she has a special deal with the artist in representing that artist to the industry. Many producers have a catalog of songs they produced for various artists, which they have done on spec (no up front fee). They take the control in finding interest, and then they can usually ask for whatever fee they desire. But each scenario differs from the next.
I noticed producers there are generally hungrier than the one's here - eager to work on spec for the possibility of fame or success. But getting a producer who is well known helps.
Look at Alanis Morisette. I was discussing with a Sony rep in New York about her rise to fame. She had been shopping fluffy pop music to the A&R reps for years. They say she sounded a bit like Tiffany. Well, her publishing company hooked her up finally with Glen Ballard (also an NAS member) and the rest is history. A controversial album which broke many production rules and which hit number 1 worldwide.
As I say, being in the right place counts.
Los Angeles is filled with wannabes, has-beens and made its. They all mix in the same circles and all have had to go through the same steps. It is very record company orientated, with deals done every day. A&R Managers are hired to go out and seek talent, and sometimes there are up to ten A&R managers in one company.
The interesting thing is that many songwriters choose not to shop for a publishing deal. In America, it is advised by BMI or ASCAP (like APRA for the States) to register your own publishing company - as a front - for collecting royalties. Hence, the songwriter doesn't have to give away 50% of songwriters' royalties once the songs are on the air.
Here in Australia, we don't have to create a publishing company of our own if we choose not to go with a major company Our names are enough to register with APRA to collect royalties.
Being a working songwriter in America is hugely different to not being a working writer. From the Diane Warren's to those who advertise their writing services in the LA Times (not a good recommendation to follow), the vast industry is as diverse as the people riding the buses. Some are shifty, others are pure honest and trying hard to do what they know and love best.
It is an interesting town, giving me much inspiration, especially for song subjects - homeless, the biz, the Californian palm trees, but I still love Australia and all that we have here!
We can do whatever we want here and it is important that all you songwriters out there keep up the writing and create your own niche in the world - there is a place for everyone on the world stage.
© 1997 gilli moon