From The Desk…Songwriting: An Industry Overview

Michael Snow and Brian WIlloughby  in the Studio (photo by JOtwell)
Michael Snow and Brian WIlloughby in the Studio (photo by JOtwell)

The landscape has changed radically in the music industry over the past thirty years, and songwriters have taken a particularly hard hit as the newer technological innovations have turned the old business models on their heads.

The days of signing bonuses from performance rights agencies such as B.M.I., and ASCAP  are long gone. The days of publishing company draws ( basically, indentured servitude to a company in return for a weekly stipend) are also mainly a memory, as operations become leaner and much  meaner, so a modern start-up songwriter has to be considered as an independent operative for hire, and, as such, needs to take care of  the early preparations independently. The days of walking into a publishing office with a battered guitar and a bag of songs are over, and have been for a long time. So, in the here and now, an aspiring writer has to be prepared in many areas.


If you don’t live in one of the major music centers, that have multiple open-mic opportunities to try out your stuff, find a local bar or venue where you can have a go. Sometimes that’s enough to make a person realize they ain’t got it. Sometimes it gives you confidence to go on.


Songs are not made in a vacuum;

Whether you are primarily a lyricist, a music person, or one who is inclined to bring the whole package, READ! Read books, histories, newspapers, magazines and on and on. Read all you can about the history of music in as many forms as you can absorb. LISTEN to as many musical genres as possible. You may not dig everything you hear, but you can learn from everything you hear! The planet is alive with musical styles, performers and artists…we are lucky that sound recording was invented long enough ago that the works of master songwriters of the early 20th century are preserved not only on paper, but in audio form. At the very least, go as far back as Cole Porter and the great writers of the 1930’s….you won’t regret it.

If you still feel up to the task, then it gets tough! Songwriting is a serious endeavor, not to be approached lightly, because your competitors are not approaching it lightly. You must be your own harshest critic, and also the hardest critic of your songwriting partners.


When you first start showing your wares, don’t display every song you ever wrote. Select three to five pieces only, and prepare neatly typed lyric sheets…..a hand-written lyric by John Lennon may be money in the bank, but your indecipherable scrawl will most likely be consigned to the waste basket.

A simple demo is still the preferred form of presentation, whichever format is acceptable to your target. If your own playing and/or singing skills are not up to par, there are professionals who can provide such services.

Very few reputable publishing houses still maintain an open door policy, and the designated gate keepers can now include music industry attorneys and managers, plus the various performing rights organizations, such as BMI, ASCAP & SESAC.

Unsolicited demos, lyrics etc. are almost universally discarded unopened. Don’t waste time and money on that approach.

Unless you have a strong support network with finances and faith in your talents (i.e. Taylor Swift, whose family came to Nashville with the express intent of launching their prodigy), or family connections in the industry (i.e. Key$ha, or any other of the offspring around the big music centers) your only realistic option is to get in the trenches with all the other hopefuls, network like crazy and work your butt off.

It’s unquestionably a mountainous endeavor, so be prepared for a ton of negatives along the way and have a bottomless supply of true grit.

From the Desk…Hello, Goodbye Part 1

The Long Goodbye by JOtwell
The Long Goodbye by JOtwell


Winding up 2013 with the final project at my home studio before re-locating to the new facility, I’ve been thinking about the 27 years I’ve spent in this room, and the people who’ve left their own impressions on this homely humble space.

In time-honored fashion it was a garage when we moved out here to the ‘burbs from the thick of midtown Elliston Place- the Rock Block, where I had my publishing operation My partner at the time, Bill Martin, and I also had studio space in Berry Hill, courtesy of our silent partner and booster Bob Todrank, at his Valley Audio headquarters, so we were well equipped with state of the art analog equipment and cutting-edge digital innovations. The only snag was that we had to record “ off-hours”, which made for long nights, especially when our jingle operation started having some success.

The suburban house had a huge , unfinished lower story which opened out to a pretty glen, complete with a babbling creek, so it didn’t feel underground, and there were garages at both ends. But previous owners had made both inaccessible to cars, for reasons best known to themselves, so the space immediately suggested a studio, with one garage as the control room. Bob and Bill were amenable to utilizing the space, so we set up shop in 1986.

After a couple of years the jingle business was wearing us both out, so Bill asked me to buy him out of the studio portion. It was scary for me to take it on, particularly as Bill had always been “the engineer ” and I’d been “ the music guy”, and despite having years of studio experience on both sides of the pond, the mixing board and outboard equipment were largely a mystery to me.
I managed to secure a loan from dear Brian Williams at 3rd. National Bank, with the equipment as collateral, and bingo…..I was on my own.

To Be Continued Next Thursday January 9th 2014