PIRATES AND THE DIGITAL POLICE:
Songwriting, publishing, production and distribution in Y2K
Note: This article is divided into 5 sections and contains numerous
links to the organizations mentioned.
one more year to go before songwriting as we know it, ceases to
exist. Once all the computers crash, that spells Armageddon for
electronic music...and everything is electronic. So its back to
troubadours wandering the countryside playing acoustic guitars and
mandolins in beer-soaked taverns. And the only way your music will
ever get recorded is if people remember the melody.
days on the road, you drag your weary feet into "Tucks Tavern."
The keeper-of-the-tavern has a pretty good ear, and upon remembering
your melody, starts singing it accapella and before you know it
the whole place is singing rousing refrains of your humble little
ditty. Some bloke sittin half crocked on a stool, pulls out a mandolin,
lays down a few drunkin chords, and then claims the song as his
own. Next thing you know, its the War of the Troubadours: who can
play the most songs and claim them as their own, or even who can
improvise the wittiest ditties on the spot. Then word will spread
across the land (by horse) and thats how youll get your fame.
Welcome to the future of songwriting and music publishing.
the other hand, some 13 year-old whiz kid from Iowa just might solve
the Y2K problem with some simple code or software or something.
If so, then prepare yourself for the New Millennium; and you got
one year to do it. I get this impression (from too much media) something
magical is going to happen when the numbers turn a flat two grand.
I think the stars will realigned and music will become something
any of us have yet to hear. Or, maybe theyll misalign, become a
flurry of comets like in a big Hollywood movie and the only music
that will remain is music from an alien planet. Are ya ready?
Holistic Perspective: A New Approach to Songwriting Its easy for songwriters
to get lost or overwhelmed when trying to grasp the vastness of
the music industry. Its enough to hit the charts yet alone grapple
with the legal implications of copyright law or how global distribution
systems will affect royalty rates. But the more informed you are,
the more youll understand the social and global implications of
what happens as a result of your creative endeavors as a song maker.
A holistic approach--seeing things from all sides--might help integrate
your thoughts as you survey the contents of this article.
a more open, or holistic perspective, a songwriter can better understand
the future of songwriting from a micro-level to a macro-level, from
inception of idea to commercial release. The more a songwriter understands
how the creative process is connected to the business process, the
greater chance of success and the less chance of rip-offs, burns,
and bad deals. Seeing things holistically also means increasing
your awareness and understanding of the world around you, informing
the song creation process and opening new channels for inspiration
elaborate a bit further, a micro-level revolves around the creation
of melody, lyric, harmony, rhythm, structure and style. A macro-level
encompasses instrumentation (band and/or digital), recording, performance,
business, society and culture. The task of persuading a publisher
or record company to release a song commercially is as much a part
of the songwriting process as the writing of a catchy melody or
witty lyric. Also, the performance and marketing of a song is as
crucial to a songs popularity as the memorability of its melody.
So talent and skill is only part of the songwriting process. Its
not enough to produce a super demo. Once its finished, then what
do you do with it and what did you create it for?
songwriters, the new millennium might look something like this:
Imagine everything and everybody connected in a vast digital network,
like billions of synapses connected by billions of circuits in the
brain. Music is streaming in all directions through a maze of channels
with digital robots controlling the flow and rate. Approaching the
speed of light, people from all walks of life will be crossing digital
global boundaries, forming new bridges with each modem handshake.
From this, new songs will be born and new forms of music will merge
from old ones.
New Definition of Songwriter
The definition of a songwriter in Stephen Fosters day is a far
cry from the definition of a songwriter today and the kind of songwriter
entering the next millennium. Today, song creator, or song designer
is more accurate. Todays songwriter plays many roles: musician,
arranger, recording engineer, producer, performer and even entrepreneur.
From Tin Pan Alley tunesmiths to techno-pop programmers, songwriters
have clearly undergone a renaissance, but nothing like they will
experience as they collectively journey across the new millennial
From the 2 minute single in the 50s to CD full-length dance cuts,
from four simple lines of lyrics to elaborate rap, writers, artists
and producers will undoubtedly break many rules as the world turns
the millennial corner. With technological change, the art and craft
of songwriting itself will change, something, perhaps, like the
subtle re-placement of a hook or as dramatic as total abolishment
of the verse/chorus structure. Even the terms verse and chorus are
antiquated. Most of the changes will take place in the realms of
sound, production and delivery--with a heavy emphasis on digital.
From lyrical fragments like "ooh baby, baby" and "yeah, yeah, yeah"
to the enchanting poetics of a lyricist like Sting and many others,
pop lyrics cover the full range of literacy. Each style of music
has its own language, reflecting the culture from which it was
born. Words like "aint" still send grammatical shivers up the backs
of many English language experts, but when used in blues, country,
R&B and rock, no other word could be more dramatic. Not all lyrics
are gothic poems set to music, thats for sure. What may appear
to be offensive language continues to fall under the watchful eye
of the Parental
Advisory Program. Freedom of speech is one issue, but so is
the protection of children from slanderous, libelous or offensive
language parents deem unsuitable. Songwriters need to be ethical
in their use of language. Artistic expression carries with it a
responsibility. Artists and writers are leaders, and what they say
can affect generations.
No matter how hard critics try, they just cant predict the next
rising star. Shoot back to the 1920s for a moment, and theres nothing
in pop music that forecasted a Marilyn Manson or Boy George would
ever top the charts, yet alone flapper music hinting anything of
rock and roll, now past middle age. Music videos? CD? DVD? MP3?
Stephan Foster, break out those old piano rolls. Speaking to the
clouds for a moment: "Imagine Bach, working out your arrangements
on a Roland JX-305 Groovesynth. And by the way, thanks to satellite
transmission and a global distribution system, your last concert
was seen by 1.3 billion viewers and the live recording sold millions
worldwide...which people purchased off the Internet...one hour after
your concert was over." Now thats influence.
changes are taking place in the music industry, changes that will
affect every beat and lyric bit Demographics are shifting. The over
40 crowd is rivaling the youth market in music buying. Latinos are
the New Americans, and along with a new found political voice, Latinos
will influence pop and world music in ways they never did in the
past. And sadly, the deaths of a number of prominent artists and
industry leaders will leave legacies behind and the future in the
hands of the bold and brave. Just to mention a few who passed on
to the Great Stage in 1998: Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Carl Perkins
(founder of Rock and Roll), Frank Sinatra, Bob Merrill ("People"),
Phil Medley ("Twist and Shout"), Junior Wells, Carl Wilson, Tammy
Wynette, Sonny Bono, John Denver, and even Owen Bradley, who started
the "Nashville Sound."
you think troubadours is a farfetched concept, try pirates: the
millennial songwriters number one enemy. All the top industry organizations
agree piracy is a number one priority in the Internet Age. Meanwhile,
thanks to the Net, selling music online to buyers 5000 miles away
might be easier than trying to push a few self-produced copies at
your local record shop...ah, CD shop, or, DVD shop, whatever. It
might be wise to be aware that each song, collection of songs, track
or sequence you sell in no matter what format, i.e., CD or digital
download, it will all be coded with a standardized number. The industry
will be able to track and protect your piece of music as it travels
from creation to market, from licensing agencies to consumers, from
retail stores to digital downloads all over the world. (More on
the Highest Authority
Whats the word about pop musics future from the highest of authorities?
General consensus, is that things are lookin pretty good musically.
Give or take a few pirates, industry voices like the Recording Industry
Association of America (RIAA)
and American Society for Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP)
and dozens of others say sales are up, new music is up, world music
is up, technology is up...lots of up. However, initiating standard
digital security measures does have the industry on edge.
survey the industry and see what else songwriters have to endure
besides getting their demos to the right people and paying rent.
There are no right people. As soon as you send your demo to Frankie
at Careless Records, he ups and takes a new position in Venezuela.
With global expansion riding the Millennium wave, it seems rec execs
will be available...only in transit. Not only are execs ridin in
the fast lane, but even their corporations are transforming like
insane chameleons. Corporations across all industry sectors are
converging and diverging, downsizing and expanding at such an alarming
rate, its impossible to tell who owns who and what telephone number
you should call if you want to get hold of one of those execs in
a handful of majors have already gobbled up just about every inde
in sight, but that wont stop the new wave Internet-entrepreneurs.
Besides hanging from a helicopter outside a 26-story window of a
top A&R execs office, the Internet promises to be an excellent
resource for making the right connections, artistically and business-wise.
even with the freedom of the Net, songwriters are still going to
have to be pretty savvy to cut through channels cluttered with digitally
transferred demos. It will be even more difficult to compete with
the distribution power of a global network like Sony
or BMG. I didnt say you couldnt
do it! I just said its going to take some savvy, thats all.
New Set of Tools
Songwriters have a whole new set of tools at their disposal. From
sound effects processors to digital recording software packages,
songwriters face the additional challenge of conquering the hi-tech
arena while trying to write the next Billboard
chart-topper. In fact, it is fair to say, that most music today
isnt written, its produced. The sound shaping tools of hi-tech
recording studios combined with vast libraries of digital and sampled
sounds are equally as important in the creation of a song as the
use of the old guitar or piano. Keep that holistic perspective open.
Musicians Are Connected to the Net: What is MIDI?
Introduced in 1983, MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface)
is the system that allows different electronic devices to talk to
each other, and what a conversation we got going in 1999. The MIDI
revolution has savagely unleashed a plethora of technological gadgetry
so overwhelming that many musicians are being driven digitally delirious.
One argument against the use of MIDI is that too much time is being
spent on developing technical proficiency rather than creating music.
However, the principle selling point of the MIDI revolution is that
through MIDI a musician can have complete control over the entire
music creation process, from composing to finished master recording,
and can then link directly to the Net.
Of The Future
Technology is significantly altering the very sounds we hear and
creating an entirely new palette for expression. Reproductions of
traditional sounds, usually in the form of samples, have become
a universal feature of synthesizers and other keyboard workstations.
Sound synthesis--the art and science of creating new sounds--is
taking what we hear far beyond the traditional sounds that have,
in some cases, been around for centuries. Sound synthesis is capable
of taking reproductions of these traditional sounds and altering
them in ways impossible by the original instrument.
one sound on top of another--a feature now standard with digital
keyboards--was taken to new heights via MIDI. Not only could proprietary
sounds for each brand name keyboard be layered via on-board multi-tracking,
but with MIDI sounds from different manufacturers could be layered,
without the use of multi-tracking. Almost every other sound effects
device is standard MIDI-capable, and the possible number of sound
altering devices combined with MIDI and a plethora of keyboards
makes the sound palette expand beyond imagination.
in the digital realm means staying current. Some analog gadgets
and devices still stand on their own, like tube amps. But the industry
forces music producers to upgrade their equipment faster than they
can get to the stores. Not only did songwriters just discover they
could burn their own CD, now they can burn a whole lot of em with
CD-RW. And just when most songwriters finally figured out what the
CD-RW letters stood for, MP3 and DVD
entered the scene and threaten to blow CD technology away.
MP3 MP3 means MPEG Audio 1 layer 3, and
although the file size is limited, allows near perfect quality sound.
It is the ideal format for uploading and downloading on the Internet
and offers unprecedented opportunities for reaching a global audience.
Entire albums or even just individual songs are available for free,
and 100s of MP3 websites are springing
up as fast as you can say the word "link." Most MP3
files on the Net are unlicensed and illegal. Later in the article,
a number of industry solutions are explored as an answer to MP3
piracy and unrestricted distribution.
Digital versatile disc (DVD) is a high-density disc with about seven
times the capacity of a CD. The extra capacity in the disc will
be used to achieve a high-quality, multi-channel surround sound
that is superior to CD. In addition, DVD can include text, graphics,
video and interactivity. DVD audio discs require new players, but
most, if not all, new DVD players will also play existing CD collections.
Audio CD Sony/Philips are separately developing
a high-density disc format called Super Audio CD (SACD). The SACD
is similar to the DVD but offers a different sound system, also
of very high quality. Like DVD, these discs will also have seven
times the capacity of the CD, with the same inclusion of multi-media
these formats will develop over the next few years will undoubtedly
continue to be astounding. To be sure, the idea is to store incredible
amounts of music data with lightning speed while maintaining perfect
quality sound in the smallest space possible. Chances are, whatever
speed and capacity we are at now, will change by the time most readers
finish this article. Hopefully, as industry experts vehemently advocate,
manufacturers will establish a compatibility standard for disks
and playback devices.
more LP, no more 8-track, no more CD...enough already. How about
virtual reality, where the consumer can tap directly onto the brain
waves of the songwriter as the music is being created, and here
it before it even gets into digital form! Whats the royalty rate
for tapping into someones brainwaves?
Does anyone still have those old pieces of sheet music grandma used
to keep in the piano bench? Does anyone still have a piano bench!?
Well, the image of the days of song pluggers standing outside Macys
in New York with a few dozen recently printed song sheets under
their arms--is but a faded photograph. Very few people sit around
the piano singing songs anymore. Everybodys got their own Walkman
music is still important, of course. Classical scores, band arrangements,
musicals and other musical manuscripts are used by schools, regional
theater and pit orchestras in Vegas. Even pop arrangements are committed
to manuscript--although not necessarily published--when string and
horn sections are used. Session players are prepared to go either
way, reading hand scribbled charts or playing by ear.
little sheet music is available in retail stores, with the exception
of specialty stores that focus on selling published sheet music.
Very simply, printed sheet music is just not the way music is distributed
to consumers anymore, with the exception of professional musicians,
marching bands, orchestras and the like. Stocking sheet music is
a bulky enterprise and recent attempts at providing in-store digital
kiosks for auto-printing of music was the first place publishers
and retailers started trimming the stockpile. Storing sheet music
in digital form is unbelievably more efficient than hardcopy storage.
Afterall, part of the computers function was to eliminate file
storage of both printed and recorded music offers the opportunity
to buy on-demand, without printing or manufacturing unused copies.
Being able to purchase printed or recorded music in digital form
also does not require a staff, just a well-designed user-friendly
website. Digital storage of sheet music means music never has to
be out of print or out of stock. The most space a single piece of
music will eat up is the number of bytes it takes to store on a
server. Music scores are closer to graphics than text files, but
color is not required and graphical representation of notes and
scores are not big memory eating graphics. With digital capabilities
of storing 100s of hours of audio files, which eat up tons of memory,
storing printed sheet music is not a big deal. If Im not mistaken,
the entire contents of the US
Copyright Office can fit right in a guys back pocket --just
hope he watches where he sits.
In fact, all forms of the song "writing" process are now possible
via digital means. The notes are entered into a keyboard or sequencer
digitally. A software program reads the sequenced music and stores
it on the computer. Another software program coverts the file into
a score. Whats frightening, is that not a single note of that sequence
needs to be played on an instrument. The digital keyboard or workstation
is really just a means of inputting data, something that can be
done just as well by sliders and buttons.
record company and publisher stores their catalogs digitally. Every
licensing organization maintains their catalogs through various
computer systems and databases. Sales orders are processed electronically.
Even copyright registration is done electronically. The music is
made available to the consumer through electronic means, and the
consumer downloads the music onto a disk. The music never once hits
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