A friend of mine turned me onto a blog at ninetymilewind.blogspot.com, which is really very good. It's by songwriter Craig Bickhardt, who has had songs recorded by Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, B. B. King, Alison Krauss, Vince Gill, David Wilcox, Poco, and others.
One of the things Craig talked about recently are the "5 Lies of Music Row." And to bring all you non-Nashville people up to speed, Music Row is an area of town with all the music publishers, record labels, recording studios, and music business offices. It's not the only music business area here, but it's the biggest and most well known.
Here's the list of some times you might hear during a visit to Music Row...
1. "It's the illegal downloading, stupid."
"People are hip to how much it really costs to record and manufacture a great CD (under $20,000). Yet the major record labels continue to dump ridiculous amounts of money into over-hyped acts and then over-charge consumers for their product. Why spend $17 on a CD that sounds like a collection of Clear Channel jingles?"
Personally, I disagree with this. While it's certainly possible to record a great album for under $20,000, there is a lot more that goes into a great album than just getting it on tape. For one, the writers must be developed. And for another, great albums don't just sell on their own...people need to find out they exist before a purchase can be made. All of this costs money.
2. "We're looking for something really different."
"Has anyone noticed how quickly country music assimilates the latest sound into it's sea of sameness? Shania and Mutt put a banjo in a track and now you can't make a record without a banjo in it. I'm not knocking banjos, I'm criticizing producers for their lack of innovation. Most great songs in Nashville never get recorded precisely because they ARE different. Most of the best songwriters that I know have no publisher at the moment. They all write very fresh, wonderful songs. This lie pushes all my buttons."
I agree with this one...sort of.
Consumers don't like to be pushed and want something "new, yet familiar," which is why things sound very similar. But, if you've already got an act that sounds like Shania, why would you want to sign and develop another one?
Again, I feel "new, yet familiar" is the key here.
3. "It isn't a conflict of interests."
"Of course not. Sony publishing and Sony Records don't play favorites with each other. If a producer runs a record label, produces several acts, and owns a publishing company, he can be still be objective about songs. That's why artists like Faith Hill are shocked to discover that great songwriters also live in Massachusetts, because Faith is hearing the best songs her producer wants her to hear, right? Good work, boys."
Agreed. There is a lot of stuff like this going on. But it goes on in every business. Is it standard operating procedure or something fishy? You tell me...
4. "You have to live in town."
"Intrinsically there's NO reason why anyone has to live in Nashville. Many writers are collaborating over the Internet these days, and lots a great writers such as Hugh Prestwood and Jimmy Webb NEVER lived there. Living in Nashville is fine if you like it there, and I did for a while. But now I get regular emails and comments from writers who say that Nashville is ruining their writing. They can't be spontaneous, it's all done by committee, they fear being criticized for writing anything too artistic, and they must collaborate with artists, many of whom are not songwriters, never will be songwriters, and only show up for the money."
Agree that the business of Nashville can ruin a good song. Everybody has an opinion, which can make things muddy.
But with that said, it does help if you're here. There are a lot more opportunities for people who are able to be in the same room with each other on a regular basis. And can you be just anywhere and run into other music business people at the post office, the coffee shop, or the gym?
The Internet has helped things, but it won't get you the strong connection that being face-to-face with somebody will...especially with these good ol' boys in Nashville.
5. "Don't worry, I can hear the song."
"No you can't. If the demo doesn't sound exactly like what's on the radio, forget it. You're a musical illiterate. If I brought you guitar-vocal demos of the next Bob Dylan you'd pass. You useless sack of shit."
There are definitely people in the business who have gotten lazy and want to hear everything as a "finished product," but I still run into people on a regular basis who are able to work from just a raw guitar-vocal demo.
Music production, music publishing, A&R, and any other position in this business is like anything, in that some people doing the job which have more talent (or less) than the next guy. I've met extremely talented people who passed on what later became major hits, and I've met people who, in my opinion, "got lucky" and ended up finding something really great, even though they didn't have nearly as much talent when it came to picking hits.
Regardless, I appreciate Craig throwing this stuff out there and getting the discussion going. Again, I highly recommend his blog. Very witty and thought-provoking...