Monthly Archives: December 2014

How do I make it as a songwriter in Los Angeles?

Songwriting_1_CST Published 12/10/2014

By Chad Richardson

There are few questions that I’m more prepared to answer than this one. Having worn various hats throughout my career – as a songwriter, artist, publisher, manager and now performing rights organization representative – I’ve entertained this question more often than any other.

In 99 percent of industry meetings the person in front of you is not at the same level in their own mind as they are in yours. The industry expects you to be farther along in your career, on your own merits, than ever before. There’s no clear road to your success as a songwriter, of course, but I do believe that there are some things that greatly improve your chances. Nothing can replace talent, but talent alone doesn’t get you noticed in a sea of MP3 files floating around in the ether of music industry in-boxes.

So… in no particular order, here are my Top Five things you need to be doing to help you make it as a songwriter in L.A.

1) Write with published writers
This can be a game-changer. For the most part, writers looking for a publishing deal are not yet ready for one, suffer from a small catalog, have no money in the pipeline, are under-developed, etc. So how do you get a publisher to hustle your songs without being signed? Write with their writers. I recommend going through the rosters of publishers and at first, look for the names you do not recognize. Don’t shoot for the Max Martins. Think of writers that are probably on their way up and have landed a new deal. Reach out to them personally, or to the publisher, and be educated. Reference a song the writer has written, and why you think you would be a good fit. Once you have co-written a song with a published writer, not only are you now on the radar of this writer and publisher, but you also have the publisher shopping the song on behalf of their client, bringing you along for the ride. If good things happen in this case, they happen to you as well.

2) Collaborate
To do No. 1 above, you have to start by doing No. 2. So many writers (myself included, for years!) write their songs alone, or perhaps with one collaborator. I won’t muse on why this is the case, but for the most part (whispering) it’s because of insecurities. Working with other writers will make you a better writer 100% of the time. So why would you not do it? Less than 1 percent of 1 percent of all No. 1 hit songs were written by one person. Think about that for a moment. Collaborating is a great means to self-brand and get your name out there. Each session is like a ripple in the water of the lake of songwriters. If you show up on time, act professional, and try (all qualities of No. 4 below) people will take notice. Trust me!

3) Box or Mansion?
Ever think about what you want to live in? If you want to be a professional songwriter then you will definitely live in the box, and – if you’re lucky – eventually the mansion. The key is that either has to make you happy. In the arts, I believe that if there’s 10 percent of you that could do something else… you will. It’s the natural selection of the industry. You can’t do it for the money. It sounds so basic, simple and possibly unreasonable, but those who are the 100 percenters don’t read this statement as unreasonable, they read it as gospel, or just the reality of their life. What was your reaction?

4) It’s your job, it’s your gym
Every day, billions of people get up and go to work. Songwriting has to be treated the same way. It’s your job, and you go to work every day, come hell or high water. Like any other muscle your “writing” brain needs to be worked. You need to go to the song gym every day. In Nashville, they’ve mastered this to a level that’s almost uncanny. Most successful songwriters in Nashville don’t talk like their job is any more special than anyone else’s. They get up, do their two sessions, get home by six and spend weekends with the kids. Years ago, in a session I was in, I co-wrote a song called “No Words” with Julie Frost and Craig McConnell. Julie was very tired after a week of sessions, and felt she had no words left. We joked that that should be the inspiration for our song: a couple that had no words left. It was both our problem and our solution. We had a job to do that day, and did it.

5) Push for two-day sessions
This is a real pet peeve for me. L.A. has become a sea of one-day sessions, half-finished songs, un-developed relationships and missed opportunities. It takes time to make a song great and to feel out a new collaborator. Most hits on pop/urban radio do not happen in an eight-hour session. They happen over time, with multiple people coming on board to make the song great. Whenever possible, book a two-day session. You don’t want to lose out on the magic that can happen with someone on day two because you had bolted after day one, when you just “weren’t feeling each other.” You might have missed out on the biggest hit that you’ll never write.

These are just a few of the many different tools you can use to up your chances at making songwriting your career. In the end, you must treat it with the same professionalism and education as you would any job. As NBC says… “The more you know…”

Bonus
Things you should never say when discussing your songwriting with a music industry professional:

  • “I write in every single style.”
  • “I have written over 1,000 songs.”
  • “I write nothing but hits.”
  • “I have a number one smash that you have to hear.”

Why are Canadian songwriters the best?

CanMusic_CST Published 12/1/2014

By David McPherson

There’s a line from a songwriter friend of mine that goes, “Most of my friends have all moved on/Dollar bills have replaced their songs.” When I think of Canadian songwriters, this line resonates because most, on the contrary, don’t give up. Sure, many take another job (or two) to supplement their income, but the majority continue to toil on the unpredictable road of a professional singer-songwriter, ditches and all. Why? As another songwriter told me recently, “There’s nothing else I know how to do.” And Canadians’ lives are much richer for the gifts they give via their words and music.

We’re familiar with the greats, all SOCAN members: Leonard Cohen, Bruce Cockburn, Luc Plamondon, Gordon Lightfoot, Serge Fiori, Joni Mitchell, Robert Charlebois, Gord Downie, Bachman & Cummings, Ian & Sylvia, Cuddy & Keelor and more recently, City & Colour, Tegan & Sara, Louis-Jean Cormier, Drake, Julien Mineau, Serena Ryder, Shad and deadmau5, among others. And that’s just a handful of the songwriting talent that exists in our country. Many have won JUNOs, ADISQ and SOCAN Awards, some have been inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, some have even earned the Order of Canada. And for every one, there are hundreds more writing great songs. Small wonder SOCAN has more than 120,000 members.

What makes their songs so good? The pride and passion they bring to their craft. Their ability to tell our country’s story, dissect our nation’s history, or tackle the eternal mysteries of the Canadian heart and soul. I see today’s song-crafting men and women playing at various Toronto venues every night of the week, testing their work on anyone who’ll listen. A good song can give strength in times of trouble, joy in times of despair, make you linger long on the lyrics and want to sing along. There are many such quintessentially Canadian anthems: Consider Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on the Wire,” Blue Rodeo’s “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet,” Robert Charlebois’ “Un Gars Ben Ordinaire,” Gordon Lightfoot’s “Early Morning Rain,” Gilles Vigneault’s “Mon Pays,” and Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” to name a mere few.

It’s a cliché that Canadian songwriters are attuned to nature because of the wide open spaces of our nation, but the seed of that idea is true. Those spaces, our cities, and our harsh winters and hot summers all affect the national character, making for the kind of memorable metaphors that so many Canadians can relate to. Think of Joni Mitchell’s line, “I wish I had a river I could skate away on,” from “River,” the vastness of the country portrayed in Ian & Sylvia’s “Four Strong Winds,” or the snow falling on the deep silent water of Lake Ontario in Blue Rodeo’s “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet.” Has anybody captured the essence of the frozen North better than Stan Rogers in “Northwest Passage”? Or the pleasures of life in a Canadian factory town better than Stompin’ Tom Connors in “Sudbury Saturday Night”? Or the vagaries of the road back from the big city to the small hometown than The Guess Who’s “Running Back to Saskatoon”?

Canadian songwriters don’t shy away from political and protest songs, either. The examples are endless. Buffy Sainte Marie’s anti-war song “Universal Soldier,” a hit for British singer-songwriter Donovan in the ‘60s; Bruce Cockburn’s “If I Had a Rocket Launcher,” which captures some of the helplessness of political action; The Tragically Hip’s “Wheat Kings,” which tells the story of David Milgaard, falsely accused of rape and murder, then freed after 20 years in prison; and K’NAAN’s “Wavin’ Flag,” an anthem of hope and inspiration for oppressed peoples.

Artists from around the globe have recorded songs penned by our talented songwriters. For example, Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is one of the most covered songs in history, having been recorded more than 300 times. Lightfoot’s songs – which have won 15 SOCAN Classics Awards, among countless other accomplishments – have been covered by Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand, Johnny Cash, Sarah McLachlan and Bob Dylan, who’s called Lightfoot one of his favourite songwriters. Homegrown songwriters have placed innumerable songs in countless popular TV shows and movies, too.

Canada’s songwriters have also written or co-written smash hits for others, in a wide variety of genres, and our songwriters’ success on the world stage continues to grow. Take Rod Stewart’s “Rhythm of My Heart,” co-written by Marc Jordan and John Capek, chosen to open the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Scotland; Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up,” co-written by Thomas “Tawgs” Salter; Gwen Stefani’s “Rich Girl,” co-written by Chantal Kreviazuk, who also co-wrote – along with fellow SOCAN members Adam Messinger, and Nasri Atweh of MAGIC! – “Feel This  Moment,” a worldwide dance smash by Pitbull featuring Christina Aguilera. Proud SOCAN member Stephan Moccio co-wrote one of the most successful worldwide hit songs ever, Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball.”

Judging by the collective of writers I’ve come to know – and sometimes interview as a freelance writer for various publications, including SOCAN’s Words + Music – there’s no reason to believe our influence will wane in the years to come. On the contrary, the number of SOCAN-member songwriters and composers who received royalties from outside of Canada doubled from 2007 to 2012.

Still need proof that Canadian songwriters are the best in the world? Go to your local live music venue tonight and hear one of them perform. Listen to the music. Absorb the words. And feel lucky that we live in a country brimming with the best songwriting talent in the world.