Freedom Rock

Friday, June 17, 2011


Show of hands…how many of you can remember the first time you saw or heard The Beatles?  I was a child, sitting in the living room watching The Ed Sullivan Show.  It was something we did as a family every Sunday night right before Perry Mason (my Dad was a lawyer and never missed that show).  We all gazed with wonder as the mop-headed four came out and sang “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah; she loves you….” on black and white TV.  I can still see the girls in the live (not taped) audience wearing their shirt waist dresses and cardigan sweaters, screaming, shouting and crying.  The screams grew louder as each band member's name was written on the TV screen.  Even Lady Gaga doesn’t evoke such a reaction. I still remember my Mom turning to us and saying, “It’ll never replace the ‘Blue Danube Waltz!’”  Boy, how wrong was she?  Paul McCartney is the most successful songwriter alive or dead…by virtue of the amount of money made on his music.  Quick…who wrote the “Blue Danube Waltz”?  You get the gold star if you said Austrian composer Johann Strauss II in 1866, but I doubt that many of you had the answer.

Songs are time machines.  Better than Dr. Who’s Tardis, (Time And Relative Dimension In Space), songs catapult the listener back in time to an exact second in life.  You immediately picture what you were doing, smell your surroundings and experience the emotions you were having when you heard that song.  You remember the instant you first fell in love, your first kiss, or the moment your lover ripped your heart out of your chest, threw it to the ground and stomped all over it…in cleats!  Music has great power…songs have great power.  They can make you laugh or cry, be happy or sad, boost you up or take you down.

With something so powerful, shouldn’t we protect it?  I heard this week of another big Nashville publisher having to let go of some employees.  More jobs lost and not replaced in our business.  There are only a few major record labels left here in TuneTown…such a loss.  Not only for the friends who are now unemployed, but for the loss of new songs and the memories they will evoke to someone down life’s road.  Downloading songs for free…downlooting, or stealing if you prefer, is hurting us all:  the record companies, the artists, the musicians, the producers, the studios, the engineers, the songwriters.  Sure, there is music all over the Internet, and every garage band out there can make their own CD and sell it at their concerts, but not many have the knowledge or the money to really promote that music to the world.  Not many can make their song a hit so that many people hear it, and it throws the listener back in time.

As a writer, I am fortunate to be able to live in my fantasies.  And, I’ve got a photographic memory.  I can be in another place in seconds, just by hearing a song.

So, back to the story…still in the ’60s, and another regular Sunday night with the family sitting around the TV and watching the weekly Ed Sullivan Show again.  The pop group, Gary Puckett And The Union Gap, came on and sang, “Woman, Woman.”  We watched as they performed that song and “Young Girl,” dressed in Civil War Uniforms in glorious black and white.  I was smitten.  Later that summer, and still in high school, I wanted to go to Central Park, NYC, to see the group in concert.  It was only a half hour trip by bus into the city, but my Mom still wouldn’t let me go see them.  She mumbled something about being too young to start those shenanigans.  I was crushed and had to miss The Union Gap‘s concert, unlike the other 100,000 people who came out to watch them play.  All through college, I followed their music, but was never close enough to go see them again.  But, like all happy endings…years later…through a mutual friend and a blind date, I met and married the group’s bass player!  We’ve been making music together for 25 years.  Guess I showed her.

Friday, June 3, 2011


Last week I was in Toronto, Canada, as a guest speaker at the Music Row North Seminar, and I headlined two shows at the Tin Pan North Music Festival. Toronto…what a huge city…I had no idea! Three things were made perfectly clear: Toronto has eight months of winter and four months of road construction; gas prices are sky high ($1.89 a LITER, multiply that by 4 and you roughly have the price per gallon…they pay tax on TAX!!!); and songwriters are songwriters everywhere.

Songwriters…we all face the same problem: The Internet. Ah, that sweet blessing and that horrible curse. A blessing because it is so easy to get our songs heard worldwide, and a curse because it is so easy to get our songs heard worldwide…for free. Canadian songwriters are facing illegal downloads just like American songwriters are facing, and none of us are being paid for our music.

During the seminar, we heard the same concerns from our brothers and sisters to the North: how do we get our songs played, how do we make money from our creations, and how do we stop the stealing? During the song critique session of the seminar, it was clear that the next generation of Canadian songwriters is ripe with talent. The world is in for a treat, but only if they can support themselves with their music, which is getting harder and harder to do.

Music is everywhere on the Internet: You Tube, Pandora, PressPlay, Rhapsody Internet, XM Radio, Live 365, Project Playlist, Digital Audio services like PlayNet, Dish CD and Sirius XM and Digital Video outlets like Touchtunes, AMI Entertainment and E-cast. Songwriters are paid in MICRO PENNIES. Here’s an example. One of my songs, “You Go First (Do You Wanna Kiss),” was downloaded well over a 1000 times on Rhapsody Internet last quarter. That sounds great until you see that amount of downloads netted me $.25 (note the decimal point is to the LEFT of the numbers). Another song “I Meant To Do That” (#1 and Song Of The Year nomination in Canada), was downloaded well over 600 times last quarter, and I made $.07 (again, note the placement of the decimal point). That’s not $.07 per play…that is $.07 for all 682 plays. Awesome!

Before the Internet, songwriters were paid in full pennies for performances. The same songs, with the same number of plays, would net me over a hundred dollars if played on conventional radio. Add up all of my songs, played on conventional radio each quarter, and I could have a moderate income…enough to live on and write another day. As it stands now, with only 1 out of every 30 songs downloaded being paid for (the other 29 are stolen), those micro pennies net me a cup of coffee…if I don’t go to Starbucks.

So, what do we do? We appeal to you, the consumer. Please do the right thing and don’t steal our music, our creations, our livelihood. We want to make a living doing what we love, and I’m sure you want to continue hearing great music from songwriters around the world because, after all, songwriters are songwriters everywhere…and you, wherever you are, can be the solution.

Tuning up before the show

Introducing the next song

Singing In Toronto

Kerry Chater, Lynn Gillespie Chater, Summer March, Andy Kim