Response to the Tag It/MusicDish Songwriters Report: "20 Questions With The Songwriting Community"
When I was approached by Tag It/MusicDish to sponsor the Songwriters Report (www.musicdish.com/survey/songwriter) I was somewhat dubious. I mean, here I am presiding over a non-profit organization deserving other sponsorships to keep us alive, and in turn we were asked to sponsor something else. It was the first sponsorship we have actively given and it was out of the sheer joy and enthusiasm to be part of a survey that was attempting to find truth among the corporate industry bullshit that NASDAQ, the Majors, the so-called Internet new age music advertising machine and unqualified music industry sources had created. Let me make this bullshit clearer: How on earth can an industry, once so reliant on bricks and mortar widgets and digit sales, once so engrossed in passion of music and melody, become so elusive by way of the introduction of digital streaming on the internet and internet start up companies? The years of 1999 and 2000 marked a tremendous growth in start-up internet companies which the music industry embraced most of all because of the new technologies. Music internet companies sprang out of nowhere offering artists new vehicles of promotion, marketing, sales, exposure and so-called artist self-empowerment. We all know that by early 2001 I would say about 70% (an unqualified guess but I reckon I’m pretty close) all crashed.
Where did that leave the artist? They were caught up in an illusive, imaginary industry, the so-called digital music revolution…. Napster, MP3.com, Farmclub, IUMA, and hundreds more sites offered alternative means to getting the music out there. Most of these sites have gone, the rest are now contracted to the original monsters of the industry, the Major Record Companies, who have once again successfully monopolized the industry.
But that’s ok. I wouldn’t have expected otherwise. One should never put all their eggs in one basket, and the internet should not be the only basket to rest ones poetry that’s for sure.
So where does that lead us? Back to the roots of the industry. Back to reality. What support structures do we have in place? And who is using those support structures? I feel that Tag It identified a series of questions that sought for the right answers so that "we", the people, the democracy of the music world, can create a new structure of support, marketing, promotion, exposure and fundamentally, sales. For we cannot ignore that if one chooses the path of professional music, it equates to making money. What do we need to make a strong industry that supports artists? We shouldn’t ignore the internet. It has certainly opened up the doors for a new way of seeing and doing. But we need more than that.
Who is the single person that is the basis of success in the music industry? I would like to suggest, in my defiant and outspoken way, that it is the humble songwriter.
Songsalive! (www.songsalive.org) spends it’s entire program year on supporting, promoting and nurturing songwriters. Why? Because without a song, there is no music industry. Simple.
Not surprisingly, the survey was male dominated. Not sure what to make of this. It was refreshing to note that whilst the survey brought the attention of songwriters nationwide (not just near or in capital cities) that most were performing songwriters (artists) who had been in the industry more than 6 years, some more than 10 years.
It is somewhat interesting to note that the survey says illegal downloading on the internet (Napster, Gnutella etc) did not affect the songwriter’s career. However, consider that this report surveyed a majority of new and aspiring songwriters and artists (58%), with 27% not earning from their music. More than half had not earned one penny from royalties (Performing Rights Associations), let alone from the Internet (more than half again.)
I would like to see how a Major selling artist was affected by the internet through a report like this. I don’t think they have time to fill out reports. Pity. Wouldn’t it be nice that the law suits and subsequent millions of dollars expended in fighting those law suits, identified and protected at least sales of music (!)
In any case, what does a ‘songwriting career’ really mean? In the eyes of the budding artist, exposure is just as much success as making money. I’m sure we can agree that Napster exposed quite successfully songs and artists, irrelevant to the money side. I guess the likes of Metallica could sue Napster for loss of income because, well, they already had a lot of exposure. They already had a lot of money too… However, I didn’t see any new artist (unsigned/indie) step up to the plate and sue Napster. That might have been biting the hand that feeds (exposes) them. Just a thought.
So going back to who had received royalties in their career (48% had not), it was interesting to find that nearly half again believe that digital royalties are the way of the future. Is this based on ignorance? Are we as artists still mystified by the hope of the all mighty savior (this turn of the century being – the elusive internet) to believe that it will replace record companies? Once again, speak up those who have really made money on the internet. Come on, where are you? Ok, some of you have. Ernesto Cortazar, the famous piano player who came out of retirement to gross $200,000 in his first year on payback for playback on mp3.com. Rare.
Back to the original industry monsters. Between 30-40% surveyed have had no experience with either music publishers, indie labels or major labels. That indicates that we still have a large independent scene. The fact of the matter is that most feel dissatisfied with publishing companies. Long gone are the days when the publisher would come along and offer a great deal to push, pitch and pay writers for their works. One reason is that the market for the songwriter has narrowed because so many artists write their own songs. The other reason is that artists are much wiser. Who signs 50/50 or 70/30 (70% the publisher) deals these days when you can set up your own publishing company?
So let's get down to the nitty-gritty…. The part I focused on in the survey - support for indie songwriters. As much as there are Performing Rights Associations in every country, it seems that a lot of songwriters don't know about them. Don't they realize that this is the way one makes money? They pay royalties. I can't stress enough how you need to be a member of these organizations (Ascap, BMI, Apra, whatever…) in order to receive performance royalties. When I meet a songwriter who is not a member of one of these organizations, I can't take them seriously, because they are not taking themselves seriously.
So let's look at the songwriters organization, the humble (usually non-profit) servant to the music writer, such as the organization I preside, Songsalive! 60% surveyed knew about the likes of us and those who did find it either helpful or very helpful. Well that's a good start. It seems the more regional we get, the better we serve. The larger, the less support and the more disappointment. This tells me that in order to properly serve and support the songwriter, or any artist for that matter, it's about small clusters of organizations, meeting the communities needs, rather than fostering some kind of esoteric global vision. Let's see: workshops in your neighborhood, newsletters about services in the local area, a local phone call away for support - that's what I'm talking about.
The bigger the company, the more beaurocratic, the less face to face, and we start losing the artists. Anything to do with spending outrageous amounts of money (high membership, paid song retreats) don't work as well. We are talking about poor artists here. Let's not try and rip them off.
When I first arrived in Los Angeles I was flabbergasted at the copious amounts of services directed to poor artists.. I guess that's what makes the Hollywood machine. But it was sad to see artists being so hungry to 'make it', that they pay almost anything to get inside the 'inner circle.' From headshots, to demo production, to showcase gigs (yes venues here have a stupid 'pay to play' scheme [no, scam] going on…) artists answer the ads in Music Connection, LA Weekly, New Times thinking and hoping they are on a winner.
Mind you the survey indicated that most found music magazines adequate or even helpful. The Internet magazines cropping up seem also helpful. Yahoo Groups has a string of music groups available to chat, network, post gigs and find resources and they are all Free. It seems that free Internet newsletters are the most favored - direct, in your inbox that very day. However, song tip sheets are very disappointing to most. "Quick, send in your song, for a hot signed Major artist looking for that next hit!" Why are they disappointed? Is it because the competition is so fierce to get that song heard? Or is there so much shit out there all the good songs have to swim really hard to get to the top? I think a little bit of both.
Finally, I am going to come around in a circle here: based on the survey it is apparent that the Internet does support, ultimately, the independent songwriter. Songwriters seem encouraged by not only creating their own web sites and uploading their songs, but also by hosting their songs on other sites. Now, this may not be translated into record sales (as I mentioned in the beginning of my response, it seems not,) but it certainly adds to the self-empowerment of the artist. The Internet has become a viable means for artists to take control of their music. They can decide (usually…. Bad boy Napster!) where they want their music and when. Sites like mp3.com, vitaminic.com, iuma.com and others, invite artists to upload their songs and usually they get their own web page to host their biography and photos as well. For the budding artist, this is a great tool.
I encourage all artists and songwriters to empower themselves and take control of their careers, waging guerrilla-lie tactics on the so-called mainstream music industry (whether that's major labels, publishers, national songwriter organizations that do little to appease the music masses.) Embrace your local community and small non-profit music organizations. Be wary of those just trying to suck your energy and your money. Learn, network, and perform. Good luck everyone.
"Revolution never happens suddenly on a global scale. Revolution happens on the streets. It’s time to unleash the warrior within."
© 2001 gilli moon