Note: I did this interview in November 2008 and it was published in American Songwriter Magazine, January 2009.
A native of Isola, Miss., Hank Cochran moved to Nashville in January 1960 after living in California and touring the country with Eddie Cochran and Lefty Frizzell. A staff writer for Pamper Music for many years, Hank co-wrote “I Fall To Pieces” with Harlan Howard, a song that shot No.1 when Patsy Cline recorded it. He’s credited with “discovering” Willie Nelson. A 1974 inductee into the Nashville Songwriter Association’s Hall of Fame (by unanimous vote, the only songwriter to receive such a vote), Cochran has received over 30 BMI Performance Awards for his timeless compositions. Among his many hits are: “Make the World Go Away,” “I Fall To Pieces,” “Don’t You Ever Get Tired Of Hurting Me,” “The Chair” and “Miami, My Amy.”
His songs have been recorded by a slue of other legendary songwriters and performers: Lynn Anderson, Eddy Arnold, Chet Atkins, Junior Brown, Jimmy Buffett, Tracy Byrd, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Elvis Costello, Bing Crosby, Don Gibson, Vern Gosdin, Ty Herndon, Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris, Joe Henry, Harry James, Waylon Jennings, Tom Jones, Loretta Lynn, Dean Martin, Reba McEntire, Wayne Newton, Buck Owens, Elvis Presley, Ray Price, LeAnn Rimes, Linda Ronstadt, Nancy Sinatra, George Strait, Carla Thomas, Ernest Tubb, Lee Ann Womack and the list could go on.
His contribution to the craft of songwriting is undeniable. AS caught up with Hank to catch up on some of his newer songs and a few of his favorite memories. Since our meeting Hank underwent surgery to remove to two tumors and six months of chemotherapy, and is recovering nicely.
Will you tell me about writing one of my favorite songs, “The Chair” recorded by George Strait?
Dean Dillon and I were on my boat working on songs my wife was laying down in the back of the boat and said, “Somebody already has a song with a title of a song ya’ll are working on.” Dean said, “Well. Excuse me” and I said, “I think you’ve got my chair” and he said, “We have the start of a song right there!” I said, “I’ve got the ending, the melody. You start at the beginning and I’ll start at the end and we’ll meet in the middle for the song.” I wrote the second, he started the first and we matched up lines. I had the line, “Can I drink you a buy and that matched up with a line that he had, “Awe listen to me can I buy you a drink?” He said, “Do ya know how great that is”? We sang it to George next time we saw him, and “The Chair” is one of his favorite songs he ever cut. He put it on his Fifty Number Ones album years later after it was a hit. He put it also on 22 More Songs!
I love your CD, Livin’ For a Song and the song “You Wouldn’t Know Love.”
The song is 35 years old-Ray Price had a hit in Europe on it. I wanted it on the CD.
Another song had the great rhyme “pickle” and “nickel” in a song.
“When coke was a nickel and people canned their own pickles!” That was the opening line in the song.
Somebody else told me I was their hero because I rhymed door and goat!
Do you have a “hookbook” that you use for writing songs?
I do not have a hookbook or rhyming dictionary. I do not know where the ideas come from. Some of those lines come through me. I tell the co-writers, “That’s God Given.” I do not have a book of lines. Sometimes when I am going to sleep and get an idea I write it down, but usually do not go back to them. A couple weeks ago I wrote a gospel song-had the idea before going to sleep one night. I wrote the song a couple days later without the notes that I had written. Last week, I found the tablet that I wrote the idea on as I was looking for a phone number. Those ideas were in the song, but I did not use that tablet for the notes on the song. When you are going to sleep, your mind relaxes and those lyrics or ideas come into your mind. You’d better write them down.
You have a song on your CD, “He Little Thinged Me.” Tell me about it.
I wrote it in 1975 as I was burned up and burned out. I said, “I’ve got do something” and went to California and bought a boat, 50-foot Grand Banks. I hired a captain; he was John Wayne’s captain and said he could only work for me for a couple months at the most. He stayed with me four years! We took it from San Diego to Hendersonville, Tenn.-took us a year-through the Panama Canal. We made it through some terrible storms. One of the storms that I remember was just horrific. There was a pump behind the wheel and at times the boat was gong over and you could hear one of the props going out of the water. I asked him if this is it. He said “We’ll know in a minute”. He (the boat captain) got it turned around and we made it. We made it to Columbia to survive that storm. When we found a marina and were glad to see land!
Did you write a lot that year?
I wrote “He Little Thinged Me” on that trip.
Did you take anything to write with such as recorders, notes, guitar or anything else?
I had some tapes I liked to listen to and my gut string Martin that I played. That guitar was about to give up when we arrived in Nashville from all that salt water. I took it to the Martin Guitar rep and they fixed that guitar back up for me.
“Make it short, make it sweet and make it rhyme” is a quote attributed to you. Where did you get that phrase?
Just my philosophy, such as nickel and pickle. It has always been with me. I’ve been in Nashville since January of 1960. As you can see, it has grayed me and scarred me.
“Magic in the Band.” Every artist should listen to that song every night!
I wrote that song for George Strait and do not know if it ever got pitched to him.
Tell me about your song, “The Pen.” That really touched me as I am a songwriter.
I wrote the song on the guitar that I took on the boat. I was trying to put down my feelings. I was just talking, not singing. My wife Suzi thought I should be singing instead of talking the song. The title of my CD, Livin’ for a Song is all I’ve done for 48 years and try to do what is right and try to help some others. I am just a pen in his (The Lord’s) hand. It was just the old man in me running through.
I signed autographs Sunday (North American Country Music Association International which gave Hank the Legendary Songwriter of the Year) for two hours-kids, teenagers, good looking ladies, older folks that told me they are glad we still have someone in country music that still has soul and feeling. I got a standing ovation-I cannot understand it as they stood as I was crying while singing, “I Fall To Pieces.” I was thinking about Patsy Cline as I was singing the song. I don’t know if I deserved it, but it was sweet for sure. That ain’t work, playing songs and talking to people and them asking for photos and autographs! It was a heavy load and I wasn’t accustomed to it. I’ve played for 20, 30 and 80,000 people and wasn’t as touched as I was on Sunday.
“Miami My Amy” was a breakout song for Keith Whitley-how did that come about to write and get to Keith Whitley?
I got to know Keith before writing that song and that song was Keith Whitley’s first hit. I got to know him. Dean Dillon and I were on my boat in Florida. Dean and I would go and sit on a boat in Palm Beach. My son came to see us. My wife introduced my son, Donny, to a good looking young woman. Donny had to go back to California. He asked if he should stay with that girl. I told him I didn’t know. I could look at him and see myself at that young age. Her name was Amy. I told Dean, “Did you see the way Danny feels about that girl?” What do you think about putting it together in a song. “Miami My Amy” loves me after all kind of song. We wrote it!
How did you get it to Keith?
I just took, “Miami, My Amy” to Keith as we were friends. He and I even wore the same size boot. A friend of mine in Oklahoma made me a nice pair of boots. Keith told me he loved my boots. I told Keith Whitley, “Give me a number one song and I’ll give them to you.” He tried them on and they fit perfectly. I told him we may have that song right here for your new boots and we sang it to him! He recorded it. Keith got a new pair of boots a little while later when that song went up to No. 1 on the charts! It knocked me out as he and I were great friends. It really got to me when he passed. The guy that lived next to him was a friend of mine. He called me one morning and said he has bad news. I said, “When you call in the morning it is bad news.” The neighbor said, “They just took Keith out of his house… I thought I recently talked to Keith. He was drinking, an alcoholic…
…I understand. Let’s talk about another friend of yours that you helped in the business-Willie Nelson! You said somewhere, “He was so different and so much better than anyone in town,” about Willie Nelson. What was it like back in those days in Nashville and what was it about Willie that made you say that about him?
We had a guitar pull on day about 4:00 with 4 or 5 of us upstairs at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge as someone had introduced me and Willie. After a couple of rounds of songs, Willie played better than anyone of us! I asked, “Whose songs are those?” Willie replied, “Mine.” I said, “You wrote those songs” and he said “Yes.” I asked about his publishing and he said everyone in town had turned those songs down. I told him, “If you can meet me the next day in Goodlettsville, you will not say everyone turned them down!” He said, “I can probably make it out there if you can bring me back to town” [laughs]. I said, “If you make it out there I’ll make sure you make it back.” He came out and sang me some songs and I went in to talk to Harold Smith, my publisher and told him I found this guy that he has to sign. He asked what Willie would have to have for a weekly pay. I said, “I’m getting $50.00 a week and reckon he has to have the same amount as he has three kids and a wife.” Harold said, “We were fixing to give you a raise, but I cannot give it to you and pay him too.” I told my publisher, “Give it to Will and sign him”! He said “Are you sure.” I said, “That’s how much I believe in him.” The publishing company signed him and we’ve been friends ever since.
The same thing happened with a record deal a little on down the road too-right?
Yeah, the record company executive said he cannot sign both of us at the same time. I told him, “Well, sign Willie as he is more of an artist that I am.” Willie got that deal!
I want a Willie story that hasn’t been printed?
OK-here’s one for you, kind of a road story. I was on the road with Willie and my boat was in the Bahamas. We had a couple days off and suggested we go to the boat. He called his wife and I made the reservations. We had to fly into Treasure Key and take a water taxi to the boat at Green Turtle. I told him “Don’t take any smoke or anything ‘cause there is a lot over there anyway. He put on a clean pair of jeans and put his dirty jeans in his duffle bag. I just packed three pair of jeans and bought T shirts on the island when I visited my boat. I told Willie not to check our luggage as I went to change my clothes. I came back and our luggage was checked with the airline. My briefcase was part of my luggage with my passport in it. I told him they will lose it for sure. Yeah-it got lost. They all knew me and Willie at customs, stamped some papers and let us go to my boat. After two days, Willie thought we should go get out luggage at the airport. I told the captain of the boat to take us to Treasure Key and wait for us to return. If anything happens send someone for us.
The luggage had come in and they guy sat Willies’ bag up on the counter. He asked Willie if that particular bag was his. He asked when pulling a bag out of Willie’s jeans that were in the bag, “Mr. Nelson, what does this look like to you?” Willie said, “Kinda looks like marijuana to me.” The gentleman then said, “Mr. Cochran, what does this look like to you” and I said, “Looks like I need a drink” [laughs]. They had to call the police from Cooperstown-only ten miles away. The customs officer said, “I didn’t know this was Willie’s bag and I have already called the police in Cooperstown. Well, they took us to Cooperstown. I asked if they were going to put us in jail. The policeman replied, “No, but you will have to make bail.” Neither Willie nor I had any money on us. We stood around outside and a friend of mine, Donny, went to the boat for me and got the $800.00. While we were waiting on Donny with the money we stood around and had a beer. Finally, Donny came back with the money. One of us made a mistake after they released us and asked if they would give us the marijuana back [laughs]! Willie jumped over a rail as we were going down the street back to the boat and sprained his ankle! The next day he was flying to the White House. He did a network TV show with Barbara Walters soon after the trip. One of the questions she asked if he had ever had a problem with smoking, Willie looked right in the camera and said, “No.”
Would you tell me about one of my favorite songs, “Make the World Go Away”?
That is one of my favorite songs too! I was at a movie with a girl, Fred Rogers secretary, when I was divorced and living in a little apartment in Madison, Tenn. I was intently listening to the lines in the movie, and the woman in the movie said something, “How do I look” and she said. The guy replies, “You look like you could make the world go away.” I grabbed my date’s hand and she asked, “Where are you going, the movie ain’t over,” and I said, “The hell it ain’t’ come on let’s go”! [laughs]. So I drug her out and we got in the car and I started to write the song and got my guitar out as soon as we got to my apartment. I thought I had a good one. I told my publisher, Mr. Smith the next day, “I think I got one.” He told me to play the song for him. He looked at me and said he thought it is the worst song that I had ever written. I told him, “Everyone wants to make the world go away and get it off their shoulders.”
I knew I was right and he was wrong. He told me I had proved him wrong before and I was determined to do it again. I proceeded and wrote the song lyrics on a big piece of paper and put a big one on each end of it put it on my desk so I would have to see that song every time I was in my office. I got it got cut in a week by a girl named Timi Yero [a minor pop hit] and then by Ray Price [a No. 1 song].
Billy Walker came in one day and said he is doing an album with Eddy Arnold and said he is looking for songs about the world, I told him I have one “Make The World Go Away” and he said that Eddy heard Ray Price’s version and could not sing that song with the high notes. I told him he has to hear the way that I wrote it. I had someone bring up my version that was recorded and Bill said Eddy could sing it like I had originally did it. A film crew from the Jimmy Dean Show happened to be in the studio when Eddy was recording the song. I told them it should be a single and they could put that part on the show, so they put it out as a single and the song quickly went to No. 1. Elvis Presley also cut the song. Timi Yero sang the song to him and he loved it. Elvis wanted the publishing and even tried to buy our company to get the publishing on the song and I would not sell it to him. He loved the song anyway and cut it!
Congratulations! You beat Colonel Tom Parker on a publishing deal!
You know a few years back they found a video of Elvis cutting it for a movie and they took it out of where they stored tapes. I worked the an Elvis celebration in Memphis a few years back and the radio personality from Sirius Radio asked me which one of my songs that Elvis cut as he was interviewing me on stage. All of a sudden they dropped a full screen and instantly “Make the World Go Away” with Elvis singing the song came on the screen! The 50,000 fans thought Elvis came back! The fans all rushed the stage and the radio guy said, “Run” and he didn’t have to tell me twice!
Who helped you when you came to town?
Billy Walker was the first person that I met in town.
Did you tour with Willie Nelson?
I was opening the shows for his fair dates in the ‘70s.
How did that happen?
Buddy Lee of Buddy Lee Attractions asked me if I could get Willie to play some fair dates for him. I told him I could call Willie. I told Willie that Buddy and I are working together for some fair dates and wanted to talk with him. Buddy Lee and I went to Houston and up to Willie’s room. Willie told Buddy that he wanted $51,000 up front for each of the dates, plus so much of the profit and he wanted me to open all of his fair dates for five years. Buddy said yes! I didn’t make the total five years [laughs]. I do not know exactly how long, but didn’t make it all those years. I’m 72 and spent the last 48 years in Nashville. I am very thankful and I am still writing songs!
What advice would you give to songwriters?
I wish I had a way of telling all the songwriters how to do it. All I know for sure that I would tell you what I did and what has happened to me and you can do whatever you want to with it. It’s a long, hard and rocky road-and even now after 48 years of being in this town. Do not ever let anyone tell you that your song is no good if you believe in it. I am determined to prove someone wrong if they do not like my song. Have the determination and you will do it!
Ballad After Ballad After Ballad After….zzzzz. NOT THE WAY TO HAVE a Songwriters round!
I recently attended a round at a well known venue and for about two hours, 95% or so of the songs were ballads or songs that never changed the melody from verse to chorus.
It was a story song ballad after ballad made everyone in the room just sit and stare, not react to songs. Some of the songwriters told as my friend, Rob Wolf has a song, “Ten Minute Intro For A Two Minute Song” which was the case, however some of the songs went on and on(Ten minute story for a 6 minute song) and you could just see the people in the audiences trying to stay attentive but loosing interest in songs they’ve never heard yet were told a long story to begin the song as it could have been half over by time the story was told about a song that was a ballad.
Unofficial rule – NEVER follow a ballad with a ballad. Thank goodness one of the songwriters had uptempo songs from time to time and he did not bore us with long stories about the song prior to playing.
As a friend in town, Marc-Alan Barnette says after hearing a couple ballads in a row, “I want to get a butter knife and cut my wrist”.
We all write ballads and love to play them, just do not follow a ballad with a ballad when playing to an audience, talk among your other writers in the round and ask when they are going to play their ballad, so you will not follow their ballad with your ballad.
I saw people nearly falling asleep in the audience, disappointed looks on their faces and most of them had been standing in a long line, traveled from many states and countries to visit this venue and had to listen to 95% ballads and long stories about the songs they have never heard of and will not hear again. zzzzzzz
Solution – If you are putting together a night with songwriters, think about their songs and you may not want two or three people known for their many ballads and sad songs playing in the same round, especially if it is at a venue or house concert and the round is a couple hour. Have songwriters that play uptempo songs to wake the audience up and keep up the energy in the room!
Songwriters and Venues – a great match – sometimes. I have been in Nashville for nearly (12) years and 100′s of songwriter nights. I’ve seen great things happen – such as hearing a great song for the first time and later hearing it on the radio to hearing rounds of ballads after ballads that make people leave the rounds.
As a songwriter I have noticed many times songwriters coming early, ordering food and beverages and supporting the venues – YEA, and sometimes songwriters that show up, play their songs, then leave soon after their round or just order water all night and not tip the staff – NOT GOOD.
Songwriters and venues need to work together to keep the venue open and providing a night of some songwriter rounds, networking, relationship building in our Nashville Music Community.
I recently had the opportunity get to know Dan, the owner of 360 Burger www.360burger.net near the Hickory Hollow Mall – in the plaza across the street on the hill. His goal is to build the best of the Bluebird and Puckett’s – providing good music and food and a place you look forward to playing and hanging out to watch your friends play their songs.
Dan asked me about songwriters, his prices on the menu and how he can work with the songwriter community to provide a great venue for the songwriters and those that support them. The prices for a GREAT hamburger and fries are very in-line with other restaurants. 360 Burgers are made from Fresh and locally produced, grass-fed beef, organic veggies and fresh baked bread.
Dan wants to do something special for the Songwriters who play and those in the music community. After a couple e-mails of ideas, Dan came up with (2) sliders and fries for $2.25. That is a great and affordable deal for all songwriters and not listed on the menu – you have to ask for the Songwriter Special Slide for ANY Songwriter playing or supporting a Songwriter! Those specials are for Tuesday and Wednesday Songwriter Nights at 360 Burger!
THAT is a venue working with and for Songwriters! In return as a music community, we need to support those venues by having our meals at the venues that serve meals. When going out for a meal, how about supporting the venues. If you are playing, eat at the venue – do not stop at another restaurant, have a meal, then go play at a venue that serves food!
If you are a host of songwriter nights, let your songwriters know they are supposed to support the venue – not go, play, sit down and drink water all night and expect the venue to support our community. Order beverages and tip the staff – hey some of them may be the next big artist or songwriter in town and you want them to like you – right?
There are many stories of restaurant workers having success after working in the venue business - Liz Hangber – hit songwriter that worked in TheBluebird, Kathy Mattea was working at Friday’s in the early 80′s, Heidi Newfield and also Josh Jones were people parking cars at venues and others that have had success in our world after working in the restaurant venue industry. Your waiter tonight may be the next great artists or hit songwriter!
WHAT ideas would work for all the songwriters and venues to work together with food, beverages and songs to build our Songwriter Community – keep the venues in business, make the hosts of the Songwriter Nights look good and everyone working together in Nashville?
By David M Ross
Scott Borchetta: Behind The Curtain PART 1 go to www.nekst.biz/behind-the-curtain/ for part 2.
Big Machine President/CEO Scott Borchetta spoke to an intimate group of business leaders on behalf of Capitol One at Inc Magazine’s Grow Your Company Conferenceheld in Nashville May 20-22 at the Omni Hotel.
Interviewed by Senior Inc. writer Burt Helm, Borchetta offered attendees an inside look at his successful BMLG label and artists, plus some extremely personal insights. Helm arrived prepared and asked the self-made entrepreneur a wide range of questions tracing his career trajectory from MCA in the ’90s to the present day. Borchetta offered inside details about working with his Dad, getting “unceremoniously” fired from MCA, working with Toby Keith, scrambling for funding to start Big Machine, finding Taylor Swift and recognizing her potential, sealing the deals with Clear Channel and Cumulus, why Big Machine holds new music back from Spotify and more.
At the start of the interview Helm asked, “Why form Big Machine in 2005 when sales were falling and it looked like a terrible time to start a new label?” Borchetta’s response reveals his competitive personality as he quietly replied, “It’s easy to say the sky is falling, and if enough leaders say it then everybody starts to believe it. It was absolutely an opportunity. Every time I saw these companies getting smaller and giving up space I thought, great, we’re going to take that space. Keep retreating because we’re going to keep charging.” And that’s just what he’s done…
The following questions and answers have been edited for focus.
Helm: Big Machine began with help from Toby Keith. How did you convince him to put in an equity stake?
Scott Borchetta:From 1991-1997 I was at MCA Nashville which was part of Universal Music Group. I was unceremoniously fired in March 1997. Literally the next day we started making plans for Dreamworks Nashville which started in 1997 and Toby was one of our early signings. He had some prior success, but never really went all the way. We got him at Dreamworks and reimagined what he was doing and what he should be doing. It was really us shutting up and listening to him, going out to his shows. We realized this guy is a redneck, badass, raucous, beer drinking guy, not a crooner like the prior label tried to image him. I remember my very first meeting with Toby. He didn’t trust anyone because the previous label wouldn’t let him put out the music he wanted. So I said, “Pal, we can continue like this or you can trust me. You lead, I will follow, I have your back. Run like hell.” We started putting out these raucous songs like “How Do You Like Me Now?” and “Who’s Your Daddy?” and Toby went from a B player to one of the biggest artists in country music. It was just us doing what we are supposed to do. Provide an arena for our artists to do their best work. We were having massive success at Dreamworks Nashville which was a joint venture with Universal, but in January of 2004 Universal picked up its option and Dreamworks became a wholly owned company of Universal Music Group. I literally was pulled back into the place that had fired me and ironically it was also the place where Toby had been unhappy. So we both returned with trepidation. Soon afterwards, Toby dropped the bomb on everybody and made a famous announcement at Radio Seminar in March 2005 that he was leaving Universal. I made it clear I didn’t want to stay. So Toby called me and said, “Why don’t we do this together?” I said, “You have more money than I do and I’ve got the staff building experience. Maybe it could work.” It was never designed to be a long term thing, just a great way for us to use each other’s leverage to get in the game.
Helm: What was your plan for the first year?
Borchetta: Just to stay alive. There were a lot of hurdles and broken promises. I had an investor who said he would fund the label with $10 million. On that handshake Toby and I started. Then I got a call in June 2005, (we were planning to open in Sept. 05), and he says, “Wanted to let you know I’ve invested your $10 million in Morocco.” “Does that mean you aren’t in?” I asked. “Yes,” he said. That guy is still around and unfortunately he lost everything on that Morocco deal.
Helm: How did you recognize that Taylor was star material?
Borchetta: My Dad has been a promotion guy from the late ‘50s to today. In the ‘60s he worked for Mercury, RCA and Capitol; then in 1969 he started his own independent business. I was always around him. I never realized until later in life how much I had learned from his successes and his failures. I got the most valuable education possible and didn’t even realize it. The answer is it’s a gut feeling. I can’t put it into words or tell you that a multiple of this number and this letter equals Taylor Swift. But when I met her, I knew.
Helm: No doubts at all?
Borchetta: Our world doesn’t allow for doubt. The minute you doubt is the minute you start to lose. Taylor is an absolute world class rock star, my Mick Jagger. I look at the crazy things I wrote down Nov. 2, 2004 like ‘Taylor takes Japan.’ It was kind of an odd Nostradamus moment. I knew this artist could be on the cover of Rolling Stone or host Saturday Night Live. I’ve been around big stars my whole life so whatever that chemistry is, whatever kind of juice they have more of than us mere mortals, I’ve been able to recognize it. Helm: Has technology changed your ideas about artist marketing?
Borchetta: There’s one thing we really can’t afford to do—what I call hope marketing. That’s where you say, “I hope they saw it.” So more and more we are investing in one-to-one engagement from band-to-fan. Justin Moore did almost 100k units first week earlier this year because his fans knew the record was coming out. Brantley Gilbert is going to sell well over a 100k units this week because his fan base knows. Brantley is going blow for blow against Coldplay for first week sales. ColdPlay will probably win, but they didn’t even see us coming. It’s our job to continue to build those individual data bases.
Go to http://www.nekst.biz/behind-the-curtain/ for the rest of the article! Thanks David Ross for the great article!
|How to Thwart Music Equipment TheftBy Randy Rudder© 2014 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.
From rock stars to up-and-comers towing U-Haul trailers, too many artists and musicians have been victims of equipment theft. Whether it’s Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers losing five vintage guitars during a soundcheck to a sticky-fingered security guard, or Country newcomer JJ Lawhorn being ripped off for $4,000 worth of gear from his band’s van while checking into a hotel in Valdosta, Ga., no one is immune.
But everyone can more effectively deal with and prevent equipment loss.
Step One involves purchasing replacement value insurance or, at the very least, adding replacement value riders to homeowners insurance as a safeguard against theft. “All my gear is insured for replacement value,” said veteran guitarist, guitar builder and former Lonestar tech Ricky Dodson. “I have detailed descriptions of my gear and any upgrades that were made to them, as well as model and serial numbers, obviously. I take pictures and mark them, sometimes overtly and sometimes subtly, where the would-be thief might not think to look for it. Also, I don’t advertise on my car that I play, with bumper stickers of brands or anything like that. And I always leave my gear in the trunk if I can’t carry it with me.”
Top-call bassist Dave Pomeroy, President of the Nashville Musicians Association, AFM Local 257, suggests another way for some musicians to minimize losses to theft. “Some players have ‘home’ guitars or ‘studio’ guitars and use other, less valuable instruments for the road or gigging around town,” he said. “But many carry their personal favorites on the road despite the risks. Those who are on the road know to be extra careful and the tech crews are ultimately responsible for the security of the band’s instruments.”
To keep the classic look while cutting down on the value of gear stolen on tour, Pomeroy noted that “more and more instrument companies are offering ‘relic’ or ‘vintage’ versions of new guitars that attempt to recreate the things that make a 40- or 50-year-old instrument desirable, with varying levels of success. Taking these to gigs does work for some folks.”
Regardless of whether the purloined item is a Gibson SG Junior ’60s, like one of the guitars boosted from Petty’s band, or a lower-budget knockoff, some gear will inevitably be taken. When that happens, there are ways to alert the community to be on the lookout. “We want to make it easy for musicians to get organized and hard for thieves to sell stolen gear,” said Molly Nagel-Driessen, who owns Gear Track (www.Gear-Track.com), an online instrument and music gear database. “Through the registration of serial numbers and other identifying information, users can simultaneously keep track of their own gear and be armed with the right details should theft occur. Our ultimate goal is to become the first stop for buyers and sellers of used instruments, as well as pawn shops and law enforcement.
“Our first recovery story is a great case study in how Gear Track works,” she continued. “A buyer of a mandolin near Seattle put out an inquiry about the value of the instrument to a popular mandolin forum. One of the users there searched our site and found that it had been listed as stolen. The buyer contacted the original owner, negotiated with the pawn shop they’d bought it from, and the instrument was returned, along with a second mandolin, to its rightful owner.”
Chris Stone, Founder of the Screaming Stone Stolen Instrument Recovery Project (www.ScreamingStone.com), has similar stories to share. “We just recovered a guitar that was stolen about 15 years ago,” he said. “It was a Les Paul Junior, and he had a picture of it with ‘Murph’ etched on the top, because his father’s name was Murph. Someone saw the picture on our website just after seeing the guitar in a pawnshop.”
There’s a lesson in this tale, Stone insists. “You could hire a professional luthier to etch your initials into the bottom of the fretboard. Or if you change the tuning keys, take a picture of that. And if you see an instrument that seems to be tampered with in a store, put a deposit down, write down the serial number, go home and do a serial number search on a stolen instrument site or Craigslist.”
WHAT DO YOU DO to protect your instruments? What insurance policy do YOU have – Homeowners or a Business insurance policy? That is IMPORTANT to have the right one!
“The Top 5 Lyric Pitfalls–and How to Avoid Them” by Jason Blume.
Many of the writers whose songs I listen to at my workshops work long and hard on their lyrics, striving to find unique, fresh ways to tell their stories and express their concepts. But they sometimes forget that we’re not writing poems, but songs—and if we hope to create songs that resonate with listeners, our lyrics need to be delivered on the wings of outstanding, memorable melodies.
It’s often easier to identify weaknesses in lyrics than in melodies. While it might be evident that a line of lyric is cliché and needs to incorporate a fresher, more original approach, it might be more challenging to diagnose the reasons why a melody fails to jump out of the proverbial pile or remain seared in the brain.
Following are some of the melody pitfalls I most often encounter—and their remedies.
1. Crafting Melodies That Sound as if They’ve Been Imposed Upon Predictable Chord Changes
Many of the songs by current pop and urban music hit-makers are crafted by creating a music track first. In these instances, a musical “bed” consisting of the keyboards, bass, drums and guitars is composed and produced prior to the melody that the vocalist will sing. A vocal melody is then crafted to work with the chord changes, beats and grooves that have been established.
While this approach to writing is not typical in country music, there are more instances of songs being created for the Nashville market by using this method. In country, Americana, roots and folk music, although a full musical track is not typically created prior to a vocal melody, chord progressions played on an acoustic guitar often precede the melody.
There is no “right” or “wrong” way to write a great melody, and countless successful songs have begun with a chord progression. The problem arises when the vocal melody sounds as if it has been imposed on those chords as an afterthought.
In my workshops, I, too, often critique songs with melodies that sound as if they were created as the result of writers strumming predictable chord progressions on a guitar—then imposing melody that works perfectly fine with those chords. There’s no “rub”—no dissonance. So, you might ask, “What wrong with that?”
There may be nothing “wrong” with these melodies, but “nothing wrong” is a far cry from melodies that are unforgettable, fresh and original. No one walks down the street humming chord changes, guitar licks, drumbeats, grooves or bass lines. While these are all important components of successful songs, they aren’t enough.
Giving more attention to these components than to the melody that sits atop them is analogous to a builder spending the majority of his or her time and energy on a house’s foundation, then haphazardly slapping together the actual home. The foundation is crucial—but not more important than the house. Chord progressions, drum patterns, guitar licks and bass lines need to be paired with fresh, original, can’t-get-them-out-of-your-head melodies and rhythms for the singer to sing.
It can help to assess your melodies by singing them a capella, to be certain they stand up on their own. They should be memorable, easy to sing and should not sound as if notes are missing—or extra notes have been crammed in—to accommodate lyrics.
Remember your melody is critically important to your song’s success. Regardless of how a song is begun, when it’s finished, it needs a vocal melody that compels an artist, publisher, producer or an A&R executive to say “Yes”—and an audience to invite it into their hearts.
2. Settling for Predictable Rhythms in the Vocal Melodies
With the unprecedented amount of music available to listeners, it’s more important than ever to separate our songs from the competition. Songs with melodies that rely on stock, less-than-exceptional rhythms are unlikely to command a listener’s attention.
One of the best ways to elevate songs from “good” to “WOW” is to write vocal melodies that incorporate fresh, hooky rhythms. Taylor Swift is a master of this tool. A listen to the verse and chorus of her GRAMMY-nominated smash, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” (Taylor Swift/Max Martin/Shellback) reveals the enormous contribution of the rhythms within the vocal melody.
This technique typically includes syncopation—placing the rhythmic accent on a “weak” beat—and it can be heard in countless hits. Some great examples are: Rodney Atkins’ recording of “Take a Back Road,” (Rhett Akins/Luke Laird); Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe,” (Carly Rae Jepsen/Tavish Crowe); and One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful” (Rami; Carl Falk; Savan Kotecha).
Including syncopation and catchy, unique rhythms that push the envelope are among the best tools you can use to help separate your songs from the competition—regardless of your musical genre.
3. Lack of Contrast
A common melodic problem is the failure to clearly differentiate each section of a song (i.e., verse, pre-chorus, chorus or bridge) from other sections. While melodic and rhythmic repetition within a given section can be the proverbial glue that helps melodies stick in the brain, in order to sustain listeners’ attention, ideally, each section should be rhythmically and melodically distinct from the parts of the song that surround it. In simple terms, you don’t want the verses to sound like the chorus, or the bridge to sound like either the verse or chorus.
There should be no doubt when the chorus begins. You can achieve this by choosing from several different tools. One of the most effective ways to announce the arrival of your chorus is to use higher notes. The chorus often includes the highest notes in the song, and in many instances, these notes appear in the first line of the chorus.
Two exceptional examples of choruses that “jump out” are Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” (Adele/Paul Epworth) and Jason Aldean’s “Fly Over States” (Neil Thrasher and Michael Dulaney).
Another way to be sure each part of a song is distinct from the song’s other components is to vary the rhythms in the vocal melodies from one section to the next. For example, if a pre-chorus is choppy and rhythmic, as a result of including a barrage of short notes (such as eighth notes), the subsequent chorus might benefit from longer notes (such as whole notes). Conversely, a verse that relies heavily on long, held-out notes might be best followed by a chorus that incorporates shorter notes for a more “rhythmic” feel.
While many pop, country and adult contemporary songs include choruses that “lift,” urban and urban-influenced pop songs often differentiate their choruses from their verses with a distinctly different rhythm—as opposed to soaring high notes.
To keep your listeners interested, be sure to vary the range and/or rhythms from one section to the next.
4. Introducing Too Many Melodic Motifs
We tend to remember that which we are exposed to over and over again—and this certainly applies to melodies. If you want your melodies to stick in the brain, repetition, repetition and repetition are the top three ways to achieve this. Your listeners can’t latch onto a melody and remember it if it keeps changing.
When I critique work from developing writers, I sometimes hear songs that establish a melody (for example, a 2-bar motif)—then bring in a new melody, and yet another melody—all within an eight-bar section. But when I analyze successful songs in various genres, I typically find that within any given section of a song (verse, pre-chorus, chorus, bridge) there are rarely more than two distinct melodic concepts.
For an example of a song that incorporates this tool, listen to Norah Jones’ GRAMMY-winning “Don’t Know Why” (Jesse Harris). You’ll notice that the verse is comprised of a 4-bar “call and response” melodic motif. The rhythm established in the first two bars is repeated in the second two bars. This 4-bar melody is heard four times; there is no additional melody introduced in the verse. The bridge also uses this tool by establishing a 4-bar melodic phrase—then repeating it.
Another excellent example of incorporating repetition by limiting the number of melodic ideas within each section can be heard in the chorus of One Direction’s career-breaking song, “What Makes You Beautiful” (Rami; Carl Falk; Savan Kotecha). The chorus is comprised of a 2-bar melodic phrase that is heard three times. It is followed by the 2-bar phrase that accompanies the title. This fourth phrase is a different melody and rhythm—thereby distinguishing the title from the lines surrounding it. This eight-bar melody is then repeated. With the exception of one line, every line of the chorus lyric contains the identical number of syllables, allowing the melody writer to repeat the same rhythm, and almost the same melody.
Listen to your favorite songs and you’ll likely hear the same rhythms and melodies repeated over and over within each section. By incorporating this technique into your work, you can write melodies that listeners can’t forget.
5. Failure to Rewrite Melodies
What’s the chance that the very first melody that pops into your head is such perfection that you couldn’t possibly improve even one note or one chord— even if your entire career were riding on doing so? Our careers are riding on composing songs that include melodies that are not just “good”—but exceptional. Your melodies need to edge out those written by the writers and artists who top the charts— the song crafters who have their fingers on the pulse of the current music scene.
To unearth the very best melodies you’re capable of, challenge yourself to rewrite each verse and chorus at least three times. You might craft alternate melodies by placing emphases on different syllables, words or combinations of words. For example, if your title is “I Know I Can Write a Hit,” you could emphasize the words in boldface (below) by holding them out longer or assigning them higher notes:
I KNOW – I Can Write a Hit
I – KNOW – I Can Write a Hit
I Know I CAN – Write a Hit
I Know I Can WRITE a Hit
I Know I Can WRITE a HIT
Explore different note choices—try ascending or descending notes; try different rhythms within the vocal melody—including long, legato notes and choppier rhythms. You might also see how your melody works at different tempos.
Yet another way to craft alternate melodies is to repeat some of your syllables, words or combinations of words. For example:
I Know—I Know – I Can Write a Hit
Know I Can—I Can—I Can Write a Hit
You might also try using nonsense syllables to create an added melodic hook. For example:
Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh – I Know I Can Write a Hit
I Know EYE—EE-EYE-EE—EYE Can Write a Hit
For good examples of this tool being used in various genres, listen to Feist’s “1234” (Feist/Sally Seltmann), Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” (Stewart/Nash/Harrell/Beyoncé) and Jake Owen’s “Barefoot Bluejean Night” (Paslay/Altman/Sawchuk).
You can also try a variety of different chords to accompany your melodies. Sometimes, a new way of harmonizing your melody can be just the ticket it needs to bring it to life.
In some instances, the very first melody that flows from you will indeed capture the magic—but you can’t be certain of that until you’ve tried to make it even stronger. After you’ve explored a variety of melodies you can always go back to your first melody—if that’s the one you prefer.
Remember: If you don’t give the decision-makers and your listeners a reason to choose your songs over the competition—they won’t. Rewrite your melodies until they are distinctive, fresh and instantly memorable. Push the creative envelope while remaining consistent with the genres you’re targeting. Don’t settle for less than your very best. Your career is riding on it.
Jason Blume is the author of 6 Steps to Songwriting Success, This Business of Songwriting, and Inside Songwriting (all publishing by Billboard Books), and he has produced a series of instructional songwriting audio CDs. His songs are on albums that have sold more than 50 million copies, and he is among the few writers to ever have his songs on the pop, R&B, and country charts all at the same time. Jason’s songs have been recorded by diverse artists including Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, the Nashville Chamber Orchestra, and country music stars including the Oak Ridge Boys, John Berry (earning a BMI Million-Air Award for exceeding one million airplays), and Collin Raye (6 cuts). He most recently had two top 10 hits in Europe with Dutch star, BYentl, and his songs have been included in top television shows including “Scrubs,” “Friday Night Lights,” “The Guiding Light,” Disney’s “Kim Possible,” and “the Miss America Pageant.”
In addition to developing and teaching the BMI Nashville Songwriters Workshop, Blume has presented master classes at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (founded by Sir Paul McCartney), and in Ireland, Scandinavia, Australia, Canada, Bermuda, Jamaica, and throughout the U.S., in addition to co-leading the Nashville Songwriters Association’s annual song camps. His latest book, This Business of Songwriting, Revised 2nd Edition has just been released and is available at www.jasonblume.com, with e-books available at Amazon.com.
If you have not listened to an album in years and know someone that has a stereo with albums, go to their house, get out those albums that are the soundtrack of our (adults over 35) lives.
If you have an old turntable, it may not work because the belt disintegrated and is not there!! Order one on-line – I recently found one for my Technics turntable for $7.99. My friend, Tim Buppert came over yesterday and installed the belt, re-connected some of my stereo stuff – such as the Realistic Equalizer, cassette player, CD player and event the connects to play songs on my iPhone through the system.
I’ve been listening since yesterday to my old albums from the 60′s, 70′s ad 80′s. Memories came flashing back to listening to these albums, laying on the couch as a kid with those KOSS headphones cranked up at night as my parents slept. Turning up the stereo full blast when the parents would leave, making out to the Firefall album with a cute girl in high school, listening to Steppenwolf’s Greatest Hits and not knowing the song, “The Pusher” in which my mom heard one Saturday afternoon and said, “Do not play this when you grandmother is here”!
The same day I bought Steppenwolf, I bought Grand Funk Railroad LIVE which was recorded at the Atlanta Pop Festival. My friend, Kim Phillips told me I should buy those – at Turner’s Record Shop (no relation) in my home town of St. Albans, WV.
As I moved out of my home in my 20′s memories of listening to new music, Hiroshima in which Dave Pope’s wife at Budget Tapes and Records picked out for me and said it is perfect for date nights – oh yea! The turntable has a repeat button so it goes back and continues to play the album if you do not want to go across the room and switch sides of the album.
The 80′s when I worked in radio, after everyone left the office at 5:00, my boss, David Chandler and I would look on the top of the front desk, UPS left at least 5 or 6 boxes, David would get his pocketknife, cut the tape, open the boxes, and we’d each get one of the albums in each of the boxes from the record labels! YEA free music for that Monday night!
Reading the album credits on the back and on the sleeves, now I know some of those people that wrote, produced and played on those albums – since I’ve moved to Nashville. That is fun as I took a photos of the credits and sent them to a couple of friends last night.
GO back and remember why you love music, why you are in the business or why you just love music – it started with the albums and 45′s, the memories of those songs – the soundtrack of our lives!!
What were your first albums you bought and what are some of your all-time favorite albums?
The Greatest Week for Songwriters 2014 was AWESOME with so many great shows and networking – THANKS to NSAI and all those who gave their time and energy to make such a GREAT EVENT happen in Nashville!
From 2003 – 2010 I used to host on the Sunday after Tin Pan South – The Guitar BQ – for seven years. The first one in 2003 brought about 150 people to the house at 701 Brook Hollow Road, which was owned by Steven McClintock.
I bought 50 pounds of BBQ, buns and sides from my friend, Barrett Hobbs (and bought the items every year from Barrett) who owned The Scoreboard Restaurant across from Opryland. I asked those attending the event to bring a covered dish or beverages to share with those attending the events.
It rained at the first Guitar BQ, the house of course was crowded with songwriters and friends. I remember telling everyone to get their food and there was room downstairs to eat and play, but no one was going to be the first downstairs. Gunner Nelson, who used to live in the house, proceeded to get a screwdriver, take the hinges out of the door at the top of the stairs, carry the door downstairs and all of a sudden, the pretty girls followed him down the stairs! Food and music – they go together in Nashville and all through the house till late at night – what an idea and little did I know I’d do the Guitar BQ for seven years in a row!
Following years, the event grew every year as more out of town songwriters would extend their stay to be sure and attend the Guitar BQ. Out of seven years, it only rained two times! I’d pray months in advance for good weather, as the crowds would add about 100 people every year in the yard, driveway, deck, rooms filled, I started buying 100 pounds of BBQ and sides of BBQ. I am trying to remember perhaps the last year a local restaurant catered the event in exchange for the advertising – THANK YOU!
The Music Row Show – with Scott and Hieno broadcast one or two years from the event – interviewing songwriters and artists on the radio at Guitar BQ!
Guitar BQ 7 was the final Guitar BQ as the crowd is estimated of about 600 to 700 people attending the event. Memories of meeting so many people, and through the years many have told me stories of networking, writing songs, meeting artists they ended up touring with, some met and even got married – Lori and Menno as I introduced them on the driveway by the big tree.
http://www.nashvillemuse.com/photo-gallery has photos of some of the Guitar BQ events through the years.
Please comment on your memories of the Guitar BQs through the years! THANK YOU for those great memories of the Guitar BQs!!
Tin Pan South – The Greatest Week For Songwriters. My first TPS was 1996 as I had visited Nashville a couple months earlier for the CRS Radio convention, was here a couple days early, drove down Music Row, saw a sign that said NSAI Nashville Songwriters Association International. THAT was the moment that changed my life, my future, my dreams and goals and ultimately, why I am living in Nashville and continue to write songs!
I drove around the block, went in the office and met Donna Michael, who was from the Greensboro, NC area. Donna was the person in charge of the local NSAI workshops – they had about 50 around the country at the time.
I was living in Charlotte, NC and had been writing lyrics since 1989. Donna told me about NSAI www.nashvillesongwriters.com and the local workshops and I asked if I could set one up in Charlotte. She said yes and the real journey of songwriting for me was beginning with people who cared that I wrote songs, they provided a guide to learn with resources and networking, workshops with pro songwriters and publishers, resources for great books to read about songwriting.
Tin Pan South week provided the opportunity for local workshop coordinators to come to Nashville, learn how to set up local workshops, meet the other coordinators and many of us remain as friends today. About ten of us that I know eventually moved to Nashville and have co-written songs and stayed good friends, helping each other on our songwriting journey.
Those trips to town as the local coordinator would inspire me, taking in the two shows a night in town, meeting the pro songwriters and music business professionals, which led to may of those I met starting in 1996 – hard to believe 18 years ago are still friends and have helped me on the journey of songwriting.
The local Charlotte NSAI workshop is still strong wit members who have become friends over the past years since I moved to Nashville in October 2002.Being a coordinator for the Charlotte NSAI local workshop kept me on the songwriting journey to continue to learn, bring pros from Nashville to Charlote three times a year and many of those pros are now my friends and some co-writers.
A great things about being a coordinator – as they all come to Nashville this week, is how you impact lives through songwriting workshops! The new friends made, the songs written on the local level, finding others that write songs in your area – makes lifetime memories. some of the members in Charlotte had not played their guitars in years, started writing songs. One couple met at their first meeting in Charlotte and got married months later and are still married – so ya never know how you can make a difference in people’s lives and your own life by becoming a NSAI coordinator!
Get to know the other coordinators from around the world and exchange ideas, co-write across the miles and make the most of Tin Pan South week!!
I learned the craft and business of songwriting by preparing for the monthly meetings to teach songwriting and learning from others in the local workshop. That led to the eventual move to Nashville and becoming a member of our Nashville Music Family.
THANK YOU everyone at NSAI and all you do for songwriters and THANK YOU local NSAI Workshop Coordinators for the difference YOU make in songwriters lives in your community!
Leave YOUR thoughts on the NSAI local coordinators and any great memories of past Tin Pan South weeks in the comment section!!
Today starts Tin Pan South 2014. I refer to the event as the greatest week for songwriters. This is the week that made me start realizing I wanted to move to Nashville as I’d watch the hit songwriters perform the greatest songs, network the week during the nightly songwriter shows and at the NSAI coordinator training as I was the coordinator for the local Charlotte, NC chapter of NSAI.
The Spring Symposium as it was called, now titled, Spring Training was where I would get critiques of my songs from pros, listen to pro songwriters and publishers educate us on the craft and business of songwriting and develop relationships with these great people in Nashville and songwriters from around the country that were my peers, coming to learn from the pros.
The two shows per night of listing to four songwriters in a round, telling stories of how they wrote the songs and how they became hits is always inspiring to me as a songwriter and everyone was always very nice to take time to talk to the events attendees after the shows.
I have memories of a yearly after party party that songwriter, Marc-Alan Barnette hosted in his place in Sylvan Park, usually on a Wednesday or Thursday night. Songwriters from all over the country would show up to the party, network, tell stories until the we hours of the morning.MAB as we call him, would have some of his hit writer friends come to the party which gave us an opportunity to meet and learn from those pros!
The next morning of Spring Training everyone would be half asleep for the event, yet excited to learn from the pros.
The party hosted by MAB was moved to The Parlor Studio, owned by Robin Ruddy and Larry Sheridan on 16th Ave and usually Jimbeau Hinson, great hit songwriter and long time veteran of Nashville, would share his songwriting wisdom toward the end of the evening, as we’d all get quiet and listen to Jimbeau talk about the journey of songwriting.
The next morning of Spring Training everyone would be half asleep for the event, yet excited to learn from the pros. Do you see a trend here?
A couple years ago, MAB was asked not to hold the party as the challenge of the late night part and the sleepy attendees just did not seem to fit for the week.
Thanks to all those I met at the parties, to MAB and The Parlor for hosting those great parties and making great memories with Tin Pan South Week!!
What are YOUR Tin Pan South Week best memories?