Saturday, August 09, 2014

Open Mic Nights: Training and The American Song Book

At an open mic night an older genteman asked me if my finger picking style was a gift or could it be learned. I told him it is the way I've played most of my life but that a year or so of classical guitar lessons clean up the left hand technique enormously. Thank you, Charlie Higgins.
A gift is just such, but there is much to be said for training. A gift given technique accomplishes what technique alone cannot and a gift will not. If somehow you were afforded lessons, that is a real gift. Thank you, Jimmy Carter.

Another thought looking back on the week was a joking comment from other songwriters that I use "too many chords" and it reminded me of Ronny Cox also making that same joke at me one night in the Bluebird. I know the rubric about four chord songs in pop and three chord songs in country, that a song must be commercial so dumb it down.  Yes, it is a gift to write a timeless song that is simple and direct.

I could not give a flying rats fat behind.

I was lucky enough to be born early enough to grow up listening to Jimmy Van Heusen, George Gershwin, Jacques Brel..., Burt Bacharach, all songwriters of the American songbook. They mastered jazz, blues, classical, folk, fused styles gloriously and did not shy away from a ninth, a diminished, a thirteenth, they embraced the colors and fashioned wonderful soarng melodies the likes of which cannot be sung well without some training and much practice.

Much of this is missing in writers who stop with Dylan, Cash and even the Beatles although Lennon and Mc Cartney were prodigious in their admiration of those masters. If you write with a beat box, tracks, loops you can quickly create a snappy song. Unless you learn music, unless you discover how harmony reallf functions past fundamentals and what that makes possible in melody, you have not wandered far from your front porch.

Whatever formulas you apply as songwriters never ever stop exploring the palette, the colors possible when you master more than folk songs and a beat box. Do it because in the range and colors made possible you can evoke more subtle emotions, emotions both rich and mature and timeless. Music is not meant to be simply a career and hopefully but sometimes only a sport. It is an adventure, a country meant to be discovered, seen and most importantly felt and experienced. Do not let the strummers and the chord police cheat you of that.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

No Covers! No Collections!

I send an email to a local room that advertises an open mic night to ask if they still hold open mic nights.  The owner's reply:

"Hi, I'm sorry, we do not. The licensing fees were just too high. The Foyer has a wed. Open mic."

The Foyer is the room I wrote about earlier.  It has a sign on the door saying "No Covers".  They tell me they've collected enough donations to pay ASCAP but not BMI yet.  ASCAP as John Cowan noted is the agency that collects fees according to a formula where the monies go to the highest ranked artists (by their estimate) and nothing goes to the indies.

The owner goes on:

"the problem is that there is still the fee even if all originals. Our singer/songwriter series was originals only and ASCAP came down on me like the wrath of God! After (Name deleted: ASCAP Rep) threatened me with jail and a $40,000 fine for letting local people sing their own unpublished songs in a 20 seat venue, I finally gave in and paid. Only then did I offer open mic. BMI rep was much nicer, but still never gave up, so I paid them too. :(  Mr (ASCAP Rep) is personally responsible for shutting down a number of small businesses across the region. He said we have to pay because if someone ACCIDENTALLY sings a line from a published lyric, I would be responsible for the fine."

And there you go, David Lowery of The Trichordist.  Another Sasquatch sighting.

It is time for the new generation of performers and room owners to say "No Covers. No Collections!"
They threaten.  They destroy.  They are the locusts of the old music business destroying the ground where the new music is taking root.  As with all locusts they don't care.  They devour and move on oblivious to the destruction to art and artists, caring only that they and they alone control access to markets, that they and their members collect fees, and that artificial scarcity is enforced where none exists.

Are these threats hollow?  No.  As Copyright Law exists today, if you play covers, they legally can collect fees regardless of how unfair their distribution formulas.  BMI is "friendlier" because you can join, but just like iTunes, you will find your self paying aggregators for the privilege.   No middle man; no pay.   Even if you pay all the production costs and take all the risks; you still pay to play.

I am not a lawyer but I think they threaten because legally they cannot collect if they cannot prove songs they collect for have been performed.  And like all bullies they rely on their victims not knowing that.  They use legal means to illegal ends.

Fuck 'em.  No Covers.  No Collections.

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