Non-Local Songwriter Groups - Are They Worth the Expense  

Non-Local Songwriting Organizations - Are They Worth the Expense? 

 

Now, don't get me wrong and think this article is bashing songwriter organizations as a whole.  There are many local associations doing a great job supporting the songwriting art form.  Yes, songwriting is an art.  Songwriters are very special people and should be proud of what they do.  But, they must also look at the art of songwriting from a financial perspective unless they have unlimited funds to be spent.  Maybe you can relate to this article, maybe not.  But, hopefully you may get something out it that may assist you. 

If you do an internet search for local songwriting groups, more than likely you will come up with one or two in your local area.  If you are not a member of a local organization and would like to be, contact the group coordinator or point of contact and find out a little about them before you commit.  Check out their website, how long they have been around, whether they are active in their community, if they are a 501(c)(3) non-profit, and more importantly how they will benefit you as a songwriter.  Ask to attend a meeting or one of their events.  Meet the members of the group and ask questions.  It is important to make an informed decision before joining and regretting it later.  

There is an acronym called "WIIFM".  It means "what's in it for me".  It is a perfectly acceptable human response when seeking out something new.  It is the same with any songwriting group or association.  You must honestly evaluate whether you will get something back for your membership fee.  I do not live in Nashville.  I live in Texas.  So, does it make sense for me to be a member of any songwriter associations in Nashville?  You know realization is a great thing.  One day you wake up and discover for years you have been paying membership dues for no return on your money.  

So, let's compare the benefits of the large association in Nashville to my local songwriting group in Texas that I have been a member of since 2006: 

The group is Nashville (which shall remain nameless) charges $225.00 to join, plus a $25.00 set up fee for new members.  Renewing members pay $200.00 per year.  My local group charges $40.00 a year for everyone.  The Nashville group offers 12 song evaluations per year.  I've submitted the same song to several evaluators and have gotten inconsistent opinions from each of them.  That is just reality.  I get unlimited song evaluations from my local group and many are accomplished songwriters.  Their opinions vary as much as the "pro", so you take it all for what it is worth.  

The Nashville group offers a video library I can watch on-line about songwriting.  Of course, videos about songwriting can be found on-line for free just be doing a basic search.  Some are the same ones being offered in the video library.  My local group offers person to person interaction, networking and co-writing opportunities without having to go on-line and is much more rewarding.  

The Nashville group offers workshops and events, sometimes at an additional cost and in Nashville.  My local group offers monthly workshops with guest speakers, some of which are award winning artists.  They also offer performance opportunities, a monthly newsletter, and free advertising both in the newsletter and on-line. The group in Nashville sponsors a yearly song contest, which I also get with my local association.  

So, if you do a cost comparison with the benefits received you can come to your own conclusion about which is best for you.  Being a member of an organization for the sake of being a member doesn't make sense.  The most important thing about being part of local association is giving back to the community. We have performed for the March of Dimes, the local homeless shelter, Wings of Hope Foundation, performed Christmas concerts at nursing homes, collected food for the local food bank, and each year participate in the Marine Corp Toys for Tots.  

I would rather invest locally and know the money is going back to the membership by paying for workshops, events, and making the world a little better in our own community through the gift of music.

The Truth in Music 

The Truth in Music

I heard this phase the other day while watching a documentary on the history and evolution of country music.  If you have not seen the program it is called “Country Music -  A Film by Ken Burns” on PBS.  The film is 16 hours long, in 8 parts, and takes you from the music of the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers to modern day artists.  Ken Burns is known for his honesty and accuracy in film making.  His series on the Vietnam War pulled no punches on the tragedy and suffering of war. 

These four words “The Truth in Music” really got me thinking about songwriting and what makes a song great.  We all know, or should know, songwriters tell the truth, stretch the truth or make up the truth when writing a song.  But, those words on the page or the story it tells is somebody’s truth.  As songwriters, we may have never lost a love because of drinking, abuse, or cheating,  but someone has experienced it.  

Sometimes we write about personal experiences and pain in our own lives.  This makes the song our truth.  No matter what the reason is for writing the song -  it connects us forever to the story.  When we play the song for others, they too may connect to the same experiences in the song - and it then becomes their truth. 

Songwriters take people on a journey with their stories.  Songs are nothing more than books in a condensed form.  The power of a great song cannot be underestimated and should never be taken for granted.  So, go  and write some “truth”; whether it be yours or somebody elses. The truth is out there,  so find it and tell the story.    

 

Be Smart 

Be Smart

If you have been following recent news in the music industry, you probably know it is in as much turmoil as the American Congress.  The streaming companies Spotify, Tidal, and Rhapsody are being sued for copyright issues and improper royalty payments.  Major record companies are imploding from artists replacing them with modern technology, independent record labels, and taking control of their own careers (DIY).  Performing Rights Organizations, who administers royalties for public performances of songs, recognizes   their own music tracking technology is outdated and leads to artists not being paid for their work.  BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC also charge a music venue separate fees, thus destroying the local music scene for original songwriters.  Technology pirates have a new system called “click bots” where they set up fake music sites on streaming sites, like Spotify, and the “bot” automatically streams plays of imaginary songs and the pirates cash in.  The music world has gone completely mad and many deny or fool themselves into believing everything is just fine, which perpetuates the existing problems.    

How do we as songwriters rise above the madness?  It is called education.  Don’t become a victim of the system.  Know who you are as a songwriter and what goals you want to accomplish.  Use technology to your advantage and in a positive manner.  A lot of songwriters get bad advice from other songwriters because what works for one does not work for another.  Nobody knows you better than yourself.  If you want to do a CD and sell it - go for it.  People still like CD’s.  If you want to bust out a single and sell it on your music site - go for it.  People love to download singles.  Or, you may just want to write songs and perform at open mics.  The choice is yours.  Don’t let anyone discourage you from what you want to do with your music.  There is nothing wrong with writing music just for the simple pleasure of writing music.      

One major advantage of being part of a songwriter organization there are artists out there willing to share their knowledge and experience with you, good or bad.  You can take it for what it is worth and apply it to reach your goals.  The bottom line is - it is what will work best for you.  Welcome to the new world order where you can follow your own destiny.  Be smart.           

 

Prepare and Succeed at Open Mic Night 

Prepare and Succeed at Open Mic Night

 

Many musicians have their opinions about open mic nights.  Some don't support them because the artists receive no monetary compensation for their performance.  Others find the opportunity a valuable tool to hone their skills as artists.  But, let's face reality.  If you are a musician, songwriter, and/or performer, you have more than likely played at an open mic night.  Most of the major artists out there selling out stadiums probably began performing at this type of venue.  Open mics are a important part of the learning process and they give us a chance to gain some stage experience and share our music. 
 

There are websites dedicated to listing all the open mic nights in your area and nationwide.  If you are traveling on the road, it is easy to locate one.  But, as a performer there are certain things you should know before putting your name on the sign-up sheet. 
 

1)  Do your research before showing up to the venue 
 

Some open mic nights are genre specific, but most are not.  Make sure before you play your classical masterpiece, you are not at a grunge metal open mic.  This is the same for a simple plug and play venue.  Don't bring your entire band, including a drummer to an open mic venue that is set up for one or two artists.  Plus, if you are limited to only 2 or 3 songs your set up time just used up your performance time.  Simply go on-line and check out the event.  Call the venue hosting the open mic and get the contact information for whoever coordinates the open mic and ask them questions. 
 

2)  Be prepared when your name is called 
 

If you haven't heard this before - take note.  Tune up before you go up!  I have personally set up and coordinated over 200 open mic nights with our songwriting organization.  Every night there is always the person who is unprepared, walks to the stage, and begins to tune their guitar.  We realize changes in the temperature, new guitar strings, or any other factor can cause guitars to go out of tune.  But, if you know where you are on the list and the sound person gives you a 5 or 10 minute warning you are next, why wait to tune on the stage?  Cell phones are a whole other issue.  Before you go on the stage, there is a function on your cell phone called mute or vibrate.  Use it.  I have actually witnessed a person go on stage, her phone rang, she stopped and answered the phone, and carried on a short conversation with the caller.  You can't make this stuff up.        

3)  Introduction to the Audience 
 

Before your first song, make a connection with your audience.  They may still be talking because of the break in the action, so bring them back to the stage.  Introduce yourself with the first song, give the title, and a brief background on the song's creation if it is an original.  Remember the 20 second rule!  I have dealt with some talkers that would go on and on explaining every aspect of the song.  Let the song speak for itself.  The more you talk, the more time you take away from others waiting to perform.  But, give the title and background with each song.  It will help you connect with the listeners and make them vested in your performance. 
 

4)  Time is Precious When Performing 
 

When you take the stage and begin your performance, know your time limit.  If you are at an open mic and you can perform 3 songs during your time slot, keep those songs under 4 minutes each including the introduction.  An 8 minute original or cover song cuts your performance time down to 2 songs and the audience will begin to lose interest as the song progresses.  In addition, the longer the song, the more time you are taking from the performers who follow you.  I have heard of some open mics that limit time slots to 10-12 minutes and once you hit it, they will cut you off - whether you are still performing or not.  So, be courteous and have respect for the other artists there to play. 
 

5)  Support the Venue and Other Musicians 
 

Many businesses are realizing the advantage of hosting live musical performances.  The more successful the event, the more people will come and support local artists.  Again, you can argue the businesses are profiting from open mic performers.  But, if the performance leads to a paying gig for the artist - it is a win/win.  As musicians at any live music event, we must support the business by purchasing food and/or drink.  Purchasing power is a great thing.  This  will show the business how important live music can be to their bottom line.  In addition to supporting the business, we must support each other.  If possible, arrive at the beginning of the open mic session and stay until the end.  Provide support and encouragement to those performing at the event.  It's hard to get up on a stage and put yourself out there in front of a crowd of people you may or may not know.  Someone once told me - friends don't let friends play to an empty room. 
 

6)  Make Connections and Network 
 

I make it a point at each one of our events to walk around and talk quietly to other artists.  Whether I know them or not, each one is an important part of the evening.  As musicians, we must overcome the habit of sitting in the corner and waiting for our name to be called up to play.  Networking is a strategic part of the music business.  Be the person that goes around the room and talks to other artists.  BE RESPECTFUL!!  If you must carry on a conversation, keep it low as to not disturb other patrons or those on the stage playing.  Always have a business card to pass out when you make a connection with another artist.  You could meet some great people by putting yourself out there and this meeting could lead to a co-write situation, jam session, or musical collaboration for future performances.  You never know who may be sitting in the audience.