The Top Ten FAQs On The Business Of Songwriting #1by Mary Dawson
The Internet Writing Journal, September 2002
QUESTION 1: Do I have to re-locate to a major music city like LA, New York or Nashville in order to have a real chance of "making it" in the Music Business?
Could I have a drum roll please?
For the last nine months we have been counting down the most Frequently Asked Questions I receive from aspiring songwriters and musicians through my songwriting columns and my radio show, I Write the Songs. We have covered many topics -- from legal issues like royalties and copyrights to very personal issues like co-writing and getting discovered. And here we are at Number One -- the very important question of geography in the journey to success in music.
OK! I need a show of hands here! How many of you aspiring songwriters have ever heard or read something that goes kinda like this:
If you want to prove that you are really, really, really serious about making it in the music business, the first thing you have to do is sell your house, pack up your stuff in a U-Haul, and relocate to LA, New York or Nashville.The reasoning is as follows: If you live in or near a major music capitol, you will have access to many music-related opportunities that will not only help you to learn the craft and business of songwriting, but will also give you access to industry insiders, "close up and personal," who can help you "get a deal" (meaning a songwriter's agreement, artist recording contract or staff songwriter position).
From the time I first entered the music business almost two decades ago, I have heard the Move-to-Nashville-NYC-LA Advice over and over again. It has become almost the Doctrine of Success for songwriters -- a qualification that really separates the serious and motivated from the "dabblers." According to this doctrine, if you aren't willing to pick up stakes and move to a major music city where you can work your way into the business, it simply proves that you will never really make it as a writer.
If you subscribe to this logic -- as many have -- you will either start immediately to pack up your U-Haul, or sadly decide that since other commitments require you to live elsewhere, you will simply have to give up your musical dreams. Before you decide on either option, let's just take a common-sense look at this issue.
The Music-City Myth -- The first question to ask yourself before
you begin to pack is this: What is a "major music city" anyway?
- The Credibility Component -- If you are a
songwriter living in Boondocks, Montana with no contacts at all in
the music industry, you have to face the fact that you have
absolutely no credibility when it comes to record labels and
artists in the Big Three music cities. They have never heard of
you and have never heard your songs. No matter how good a writer
you have become, you are a complete unknown to them.
If, however, you have a career and a social life and you are not a convicted felon, you probably do have a lot of credibility in Boondocks. People know you and you know people. You know your way around town...where to shop and the best places to eat. You have history in Boondocks that has taken years to build and which can be an amazing advantage to you as you begin to extend yourself as a songwriter.
As you get to know other members of your local music community, your name will probably "ring a bell" with those you meet because they know you from your daytime profession and you will immediately have a foundation of credibility. In fact, these music people will probably find it fascinating that in addition to your other career, you are also an accomplished songwriter. Remember: you have far more credibility in the city or town where you live than you would in a distant music city where you have no history or contacts at all. You also have much closer and consistent access to music people in your own community. Become a well-known and vital part of that group of people!
- Creating a Buzz -- Several times in our
FAQ Series, we have reminded you that the music and entertainment
industries are not so much looking for talent as for success.
When a music company begins to search for new talent, they scout
around the country to discover which artists and writers are
creating a buzz in various cities and communities. Those who
are selling lots of CD's and packing concerts and clubs attract
the attention of the industry.
Now just think about it: Where would it be easier to create a buzz -- in your own hometown where you are known and have credibility? Or in Nashville, LA or New York where you are simply one of thousands of talented "wanna-be artists?" As lyricist, Hal David, wisely wrote:
L. A. is a great big freewayOnce you have established a presence and a buzz in your own community, you can use your local accomplishments to open doors as you begin to make regular trips to the Big Three music cities. Your credits as a successful member of the Boondocks Artistic Community will create respectability for you and curiosity on the part of the music industry that will give you entrance to otherwise inaccessible music executives. As someone wisely has said: The definition of an expert is simply someone who is more than fifty miles from home. Use your out-of-town mystique to your advantage.
Put a hundred down and buy a car
In a week - maybe two - they'll make you a star
Weeks turn into years and quickly pass
And all the stars there never were are parkin' cars and pumpin' gas1
- Cream Always Rises -- I learned long ago as
I milked cows with my dad on the farm, that cream always rises
to the top...you can't stop it! You can stir it and shake it
down, but when the milk settles, the cream comes right
No matter where you live, nothing will take the place of excellence! You can have all the connections in the world and live right in the middle of Music Row in Nashville, but if your songs aren't the kinds of songs people want to buy, you will not last long as a songwriter. By the same token, you may live in the middle of nowhere and have no music connections at all, but if your songs are fresh and wonderful -- and you keep exposing them wherever and however you can -- somehow, some way, they will find their way to the world!
If, by the term "music city," you are referring to a city with deep musical roots and traditions, there are many communities that qualify. I recently returned from a music conference in New Orleans, one of the oldest cities in America with a rich music history in jazz, zydaco and blues. Or how about Memphis with its colorful background in Gospel and blues...or Austin with its tradition of folk, Tejano and Texas Country music...or Miami, where the vision of Gloria and Emilio Estefan have helped to make Latin music part of the American Music Tapestry.
Personally, I believe that every community is a music community -- many places have even a deeper and richer musical foundation than the Big Three. Before you start packing to move to Nashville, LA or New York, get to know the "music city" where you live. Attend music concerts. Watch the paper for local theater productions. Visit local college or university music departments. You may be completely astounded at the resources and opportunities that exist right under your nose.
But...the term, music city can also mean a city where major record labels, music companies and recording artists are located -- in other words, a city where music business is done. In America the three main cities meeting this definition have been New York, Los Angeles and Nashville, and they have pretty well dominated the business of music for much of the last century...but that was then, and this is now.
Over the last decade - especially with the rise of the internet -- the music industry has literally been turned end-for-end. Business-As-Usual is over -- new and creative music companies and communities are springing up all over the country. Internet technologies like Napster and MP3 have created huge new questions about music rights and how songs make money. Mergers of major music companies have created conglomerates that are often so big and cumbersome that making any kind of expeditious change takes about as much time and effort as moving a beached whale. As a result music sales in the US have already seen a 12% drop this year and many major household-name artists are choosing to distribute their recordings independently through innovative internet marketing programs.
As British producer John Ravenhall has so well said: "If one is to survive in this business -- better to be ahead of the changes than to find yourself in still air." Before you move anywhere...make sure you are moving with the winds of change rather than against them!
Wherever you go……Godspeed!
1Do You Know the Way to San Jose?
Writers: Hal David/Burt Bacharach
©1967 New Hidden Valley Music (ASCAP), Casa David (ASCAP)
**From her earliest childhood years writing simple songs and poems with her father, through her twelve years as an overseas missionary, to her present, multi-faceted career as an author, lyricist/songwriter and conference speaker, Mary has always been adept at using words to communicate her heart to others. She is the President of CQK Records & Music of Dallas, Texas, a company which creates and produces songs in a panorama of musical styles for a variety of audiences, She is the host of "I Write the Songs," a nationally syndicated radio talk show, especially created to inspire and instruct the more than 40 million aspiring songwriters in the U.S. Mary is a frequent public speaker and seminar lecturer and teacher of songwriting in her popular Living Room Seminars. She is a Contributing Editor for The Internet Writing Journal ®.