Back To The 40’s Again

So I subscribed to Spotify Free on my desktop.  The number of choices of music is simply amazing.  Of course, being the free subscription, they aren’t streaming in high def but I’m OK with that for now.  And, being the free subscription, it’s only available on my desktop, not on my Android phone.  Still no biggie.  My phone doesn’t even come close to replacing my desktop at the moment.

I first started looking up people who had recorded with me to see if they were listed.  Claude Diamond’s albums are all there.  Jeff Talmadge.  Even Marty Nickel’s first CD is listed.  There’s a little graphic to the right of the song with a number of bars to indicate the popularity of the track. Initially empty, one of the bars lit up after my play.

Then I searched one of the more mainstream artists – Katy Perry.  All of the bars were lit on all of the songs listed.  Not only were there songs that she had recorded, but there were listings of people who had alternate versions of her songs.  For “Teenage Dream” there were dance versions, trance versions, club mixes, and acoustic versions as well as the original.  I listened to every one of them and deemed the original release as the best.

It really hit me that we haven’t seen this kind of thing in a long time. Back in the 40’s, the Tin Pan Alley songwriter would pound out a song on a piano for a publisher.  If it was accepted, the song would be transcribed to sheet music (melody line, lyrics, and chords only) to present to various artists. Because there was no recording presented, arrangers were free to adapt the song for their artist any way they chose.  As a result, the same song was recorded by multiple artists in a variety of styles and released for radio airplay roughly at the same time.

That kind of thing doesn’t happen on radio anymore, but cloud services like Spotify are bringing all of those versions together in one place again. It’s quite possible that the original artist release may be considered inferior to and ultimately not as popular as a later, better production by a different artist.  Also, if a song originally recorded and released by an independent songwriter/artist is covered by another more popular artist, those two versions will exist side-by-side on Spotify – each with an equally good chance of being streamed by the listener.

Google has a cloud music service – free.  Amazon has a cloud “locker” – $20/year.  Apple will be releasing iTunes Match cloud service with iOS5.  These are beta services right now and they’re still a variation of file downloads where your music is stored to your local device.

In the case of Spotify, these aren’t downloads – they are music streamed on demand.  They aren’t broadcasts – they are personal subscriptions.  They’ve worked out a payment deal with major and independent record labels of how much to pay for each stream or portion of a stream, and the artist is getting their cut of that money.  It’s not a lot, but since you’re talking about an audience the size of the digitally connected world, if you’re streamed an awful lot it adds up.

These large amalgamators won’t be making money on the music.  That’s like the admission price at Six Flags. They’ll be making it from the advertisers drawn to the large numbers of people who use the service. They’re accessing your Facebook info and passing your likes and dislikes on to the demographic number crunchers who can determine with an algorithm your likely purchasing habits.

The 40’s weren’t necessarily times of prosperity.  They were times of world war.  The long play (LP) record wasn’t invented yet.  Radio was in its infancy.  The boom didn’t take place until the 50s.  But the stage was being set, and I think that’s where we find ourselves today.  The media forces of the next decade are now emerging, using the attraction of music in the virtual space to drive the purchase of real goods.

Songwriting – the big picture

I’ve given a course on songwriting and presented a few talks on aspects of it to various groups. While I haven’t published anything formally, I wanted to use this blog to at least give the main points of my approach. Whenever a songwriter comes in the studio with a song that may need a bit of work, I always use these principles to guide my suggestions on improvement.

  1. The purpose of a song is to convey an emotion to the listener.
    Ask yourself what emotion you want someone to feel after hearing your song. If you get that emotion back from your listener, you have succeeded as a songwriter. I’m not talking about deep, heavy emotions necessarily. It may be that all you want someone to feel is light and carefree. Maybe you want them to be amused. There is a huge range of feeling and emotion between happy and sad, so try to be as specific as you can.
  2. Lyrically, a song should be about one moment in time from an emotional point of view.
    Without getting into a lot of lyric writing technique, this principle alone should keep you on target. This is not to say you can’t change scenes and go from one point in your life to another in one song. It’s that, if you do, each of those scenes should still be about the same moment, even though they occurred at different points in time.
  3. Musically, a song should have a balance of repetition and surprise.
    Too much repetition creates boredom. Too much surprise creates confusion. We need repetition to remember the song after it’s over. We need surprise to create a pleasant excitement for our ears.

Remember, there are no rules in songwriting, only expectations. We are used to hearing things presented in a certain way; however, the three-minute verse-chorus song is not the only way that a song can be done. No matter how you choose to write your song, if you adhere to these three overriding principles, you should be able to keep your listeners’ interest, deliver the emotion you were feeling when you wrote it, and connect.

Fun With Grooveshark

A friend of mine shared his Grooveshark playlist with me a few months ago. I spent about an hour with it just finding great music and adding it to my current song selections. Last night I signed up and started putting together one for me and my wife to listen to while playing our nightly ping pong game. Well, easily another hour went by. I would find a song I like, then find versions I’d never heard of by artists I’d never heard of, then I’d find artists that had a similar style to the ones I had found, and it just kept going. I’m sure these kinds of experiences will only be more frequent as time goes on.

The artists that the site chose were well known.  I wonder if something like that could be done for indie artists as well?  Hmmm, now that would be a pretty nice business model for someone.