Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Three Chords And The Truth

This month’s issue of Canada's Country Music News [November 2005] brings some noteworthy items in regards to the "old" song publishing business as well as some cold hard truths concerning the nature of "record deal" contracts & other inequitable, but sadly all too typical business practices of a usurious infrastructure collapsing now finally under the weight of it's ongoing self-denial and monopolistic greed.

In a segment called The Writer's Block, Canadian born Lee Bach, a longtime Nashville songwriter, reveals how the most significant change that he's experienced in his four decades as a songwriter has been the hard realization that the heart of the Nashville industry, traditionally beating in rhythm with the creative "song" culture, is dead. Killed and embalmed by a "bean counter" marketing culture.

That and the increased numbers of songwriters who have continued to stream steadily into Nashville since the country music business exploded a dozen years ago. These elements make the country music industry of today a much more difficult challenge for all songwriters to contend with in terms of securing record "cuts" solely on the basis of unique talent, deep experience and professional craftwork.

When there are few real opportunities to compete within a network system whose energy and momentum is determined mainly by mass marketing imperatives, then any real groundswell of appreciation for the creative focus found in artistic songs eventually withers and dies.

It's very clear that songwriters pinning their hopes today on major level big time production budgets, multi-million dollar promotional roll-outs, radio payola and other tele-media marketing costs and cross-promotional tie-in ventures, should not be holding their breath while waiting for that big break to occur. It will not be forthcoming. On the other hand, if you were to visit Nashville today with two or three million bucks in your pocket you'd likely receive a warm, inviting reception. They might even publish a few of your songs.

On the record deal side of the double-edged sword known as the music business, we have no less a legendary icon than the great George Jones relating his insights into the nature of his current "independent" status against his many years of indentured servitude to the major labels along Music Row in Nashville, Tennessee. Let's let George [The Possum] himself fill you in on how things are today with his 50 year career now winding down and being promoted through his own independent Bandit Records label: "It is marvelous to get the money that's due you. I just wish I was selling as big as I did when I had those monster hits. The labels made all the money and you were always owing them for sessions. I've already made more off two or three albums than I ever received from all the other labels put together." George’s case is not exceptional; it’s a common story.

One other record label item in the CMN issue points out how so many Canadian country acts have recently lost their big Nashville deals, been rudely dropped, fallen from Grace, been shown the door, etc.
To which all I can say is this...if your fellow Canadian Country star, Gil Grand, [a great singer/performer in the style of George Strait], can get dropped after selling Gold [500,000 CD’s] on his successful Nashville major label debut of a few years ago, then what do these people and their often neophyte management experts expect...?

Platinum Plus is the base standard for simply being acknowledged and recognized at lunch on Music Row in Nashville. Trust me on that ok. Canadian acts selling in the low thousands [or worse], in the USA, are generally not even going to be considered very seriously on anybody's radar no matter which “big label” they're signed to. Most acts are signed just to be shelved eventually anyway. But leaving a deal, as Canadian artist Carolyn Dawn Johnson reportedly has done recently, is very smart in my opinion and even absolutely necessary at times.

I know a thing or two about being stuck in a dead-end contract deal with a major music publisher. I too have politely requested to be released from contracts in my own career. Carolyn Dawn Johnson is an aware artist who knows Music Row well and is simply playing it smart on behalf of her own future career prospects. She and her obviously tuned-in management know the real score in Nashville.

Sadly, the rest and so many more newcomers now coming along with stars in their eyes are simply dreaming in Technicolor. You have to know what this business is really about in all its complex dimensions, you singers and songwriters, or you don't have a prayer. You are the absolute last consideration of the music business investor. It's a high stakes, high risk, upside-down-in-the-ditch, lousy numbers game you can't win any way you cut it. So beware. Money and your copyrights are the only things that matter to the business people you’ll meet.

Unfortunately, many small time music business investors also often function as artist managers these days which might be comforting to some newbies, but it is in no way healthy from an artist’s standpoint when your manager’s bottom line is the return on his investment.

Some reference materials I'd recommend which would be of great value to those of you desiring and willing to learn about the facts of life in the Nashville music business include the following: Get Hot Or Go Home, Dreaming Out Loud and Three Chords and The Truth. Also worth checking out is a great general music article from MusicDish this week called Defining The True Artist...another good resource is Nashville's Unwritten Rules: [Inside the Business of Country Music]

Talking Points: Bob Dylan in London is surpassing all expectations with firsthand reviews and links archived at The Dylan Daily.

Condolences to Susan Jacks whose husband, Ted Dushinski, a former CFL football star passed away on October 24th. Susan is surely well remembered as one half of the very successful 1970's pop duo team The Poppy Family. I toured with Susan and Terry Jacks back in the early 70's when they were still married to each and riding high on international pop charts with hits like Which Way You Goin' Billy, Concrete Sea, Where Evil Grows and That's Where I Went Wrong. Terry Jacks later scored as a solo artist with Seasons In The Sun.

Thanksgiving greetings and prayers this week-end go out to our friends in The United States of America and to our brave military service men and women stationed in Iraq and all around the world. We appreciate your courage and personal sacrifice on behalf of us all and we join with your families in wishing you safe return.

As a personal recommendation during this Thanksgiving Holiday, please take a few minutes to read the two excellent commentary links that are highlighted just ahead, both from The Opinion Journal. Rush Limbaugh and Peggy Noonan speak eloquently and from their hearts on what is vital and important in our world and in all our lives today. Take heed to these words and comfort from their expression in a free and vibrant society still leading the whole world to a greater destiny than we may be able to perceive at times. It's well worth it.

Personal thanks on this day [November 24/84] for 21 years of contented, uninterrupted sobriety and the sanity of God's Grace.

God Bless you all and God Bless America.


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