If you haven’t yet heard about it, Adam Levine, Dave Stewart and the executive producer of The Voice, Audrey Morrissey, will be teaming up to produce a new series called Songland.
The whole idea behind Songland is that songwriters will get a chance to pitch their songs to a panel, very much like vocalists vying for a deal on The Voice, and the winner will, I’m guessing, get their song recorded by a big name artist. Continue reading “Songland Could Be Good If…”
One of my favourite songs a couple of years back was the song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. I was grieving the death of my father who died at the age of 91 of Alzheimers just before than and that song just perked me up out of my gloom. I even wrote a post about it on my I Like Songs blog. Well, I didn’t write much, I just wanted to feature it.
It’s no surprise that the song was an enormous hit.
What IS a surprise is an article I read just recently about the income it generated from Pandora. There were 43 million streams. And what did it earn? A measly $2700. Yes, to some of you $2700 sounds like a lot of money. But 43 million streams?
This is why I removed my music from all of the music streaming services more than a year ago. Granted, I wouldn’t have expected to have 43 million streams, but I did expect to be fairly compensated for the streams I DID have, and that wasn’t going to happen any time soon.
Then I did a little research just for my own satisfaction. It costs $4.99 a year to join Pandora at the time of this writing. Let’s just round that up to $5. A website I stumbled across listed 37 “interesting” Pandora statistics, and they listed about 76.5 million active Pandora listeners. That comes to about $382.5 million bucks. But wait. There are actually 250 million subscribers, so Pandora is making $1.25 BILLION a year.
So who is getting all that money?
There have been countless other articles lately bemoaning music streaming services, so I’m not going to tell you anything new here. Those of us who grew up on radio got used to the idea of it being “free”. Well, it wasn’t really free, it was just paid for by somebody else. Advertisers paid radio stations to run their ads, and radio stations paid PRO’s (performer rights organizations) to play their artists’ songs. Why shouldn’t music streaming services pay the same per play? I don’t understand why fair pay was not implemented at the very beginning.
The fact is that it is really difficult to explain to non-musicians that artists and bands need to be fairly compensated for their work. All music lovers want is free music.
But it is not hard to explain to a music streaming service that they should be giving a much larger slice of the pie to the people who created their content. And no, that doesn’t mean charging listeners more. It simply means not giving so much to the fat, belching CEO’s who could care less about the music.
I remember the first song I plagiarized. It was “Leaving On A Jet Plane” by John Denver. I was probably only about 12 years old at the time because I had likely heard the song on the radio sometime in 1969 when it was first released. I didn’t know the word “plagiarism” then, let alone understand the concept of it.
I was in the middle of writing a song called “Home” (sorry, I took that title before you, Edward Sharpe and Phillip Phillips!). Instinctively I came up with a little instrumental bridge, but then I decided to hum over top of it. Part of the melody I was humming was the first two lines of the chorus of Leaving On A Jet Plane. I remember the subtle feeling that the melody wasn’t mine, but it didn’t bother me too much at the time!
Every songwriter has occasionally come to the point in the writing of a song, or after finishing it, when they’ve wondered if it isn’t something they’ve heard before. I remember a few times later on in my songwriting life, realizing that I had unknowingly plagiarized something and being utterly disappointed in myself. Damn! And I really liked that one too!
It might help to know that even the songwriting giants make the mistake of accidentally plagiarizing from time to time. One famous case was the Rolling Stones’ song “Anybody Seen My Baby?”, in which the chorus melody was pretty much exactly the same as k.d. lang’s “Constant Craving”. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards claimed they had never heard the song, and that might be true. But practically speaking, they would have only had to be somewhere where that song was playing to subliminally pick it up. You’ve all experienced how a melody can appear in your head, even when you don’t recognize the song or where it came from. Was it playing in the coffee shop when you were ordering your latte?
The result was that Jagger and Richards included k.d. land and her songwriting partner Ben Mink as co-writers on their song. That way, any royalties earned would be split between all of them. A nice, simple solution. But it’s not always so nice.
The case of Marvin Gaye’s family vs. Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke lead all the way to court. I wrote about this in an earlier blog. When Thicke and Williams were writing “Blurred Lines”, they were deliberately trying to come up with something that sounded the same as Gaye’s 1977 song “Got To Give It Up”. Well, it sounded SO much the same that they lost the subsequent lawsuit filed by Gaye’s family. Be careful what you wish for.
Bob Dylan was once called out by Joni Mitchell for being a plagiarist because of Bob’s habit of “borrowing” from earlier folk songwriters and poets to craft his own songs. There’s a good article all about that here. He had no shame, however. That’s Bob for ya. Actually, folk music songwriters young and old did a lot of plagiarizing, except the word used was “pastiche”. In the dictionary, pastiche is defined in one way as: “a piece of writing, music, etc., that is made up of selections from different works”. That’s the way Bob thought of it I guess.
Many of you remember the art of “sampling”, where a small section of a well-known recording was actually used in a newer recording. In the beginning, the original artists were not paid any royalties for that little snippet, but eventually the laws changed and they were compensated. Sampling didn’t continue on very much after that, needless to say!
The truth is that when first we start writing songs we tend to repeat pretty much everything we’ve ever heard before. Our lyrics can sound cheesy and boring, our melodies uninspired, all because we’re simply regurgitating our past playlists and nothing is new. How aware we are of that depends on the person. Many realize when their songs sound dull and boring, but they often don’t know why. Plagiarism, then, is as natural as speaking your first words when you were an infant. You repeat what you hear, and what’s the harm in that? It only gets sticky when the money starts rolling in.
My little song “Home” never made it any further than an old cassette tape, complete with the rip off section of Leaving On A Jet Plane. I’ll file that under “pastiche” :-).
The question today is: Has production become more important than songwriting in today’s music? It’s not a new question, but it’s important to revisit from time to time. I actually saw a discussion of this on Reddit and it got me to thinking about it again.
Let’s first separate production from arrangement. Arrangement involves the musical part of the song; who plays what where and for how long, whereas the production is the more technical aspect; volume, effects, mastering and everything in between.
The hardest part about writing a song is finishing it. Wouldn’t it be nice if they all just flowed out of us in one, sweet sitting with no editing necessary? More likely is the fact that we’ll have to work at it to get it done. When you find yourself struggling to finish a song, consider these five points: