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Thread: Nashville songwriters are like family.Here’s what happens when things get complicated

  1. #1
    Carrie Guru Claire2004's Avatar
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    Sep 2009
    the library. lol

    Nashville songwriters are like family.Here’s what happens when things get complicated

    Nashville songwriters are like family. Here’s what happens when things get complicated.

    A few years ago, country singer Tyler Farr was out listening to live music at a bar in Nashville when he heard hit songwriter Jonathan Singleton play a catchy ballad called “A Guy Walks Into a Bar.”

    Intrigued, Farr walked up to Singleton afterward. “Man, that’s a hit song,” he said. His next question: Does anyone have the song on hold? Meaning, did any other artist have plans to record it?

    Singleton wasn’t sure, so he introduced Farr to his publisher, who was also at the bar. Farr requested to put the song on hold.
    But as it turned out, “The Voice” superstar Blake Shelton’s label had already heard a demo recording of “A Guy Walks Into a Bar,” and executives liked it so much that they also put it on hold. And Shelton wasn’t thrilled to learn that Farr, a relatively new performer, was suddenly in the mix.
    Welcome to a side of country music that fans don’t usually see: Many of their favorite hits started out with a different artist. In an insular place like Nashville, where every deal is contingent on relationships, figuring out which songs should go to which singer can be a delicate issue.

    The country music songwriting community is competitive but uniquely close; a tightknit, supportive, fiercely loyal family. At the same time, everyone wants to get their hands on that next big song, especially as streaming services eat away at profits.

    The “hold” policy in song publishing has been around for decades, though it has become more complex as Nashville writing rooms evolve. While country songs used to be written by one or two people, now the norm is three, even four. If the songwriters are contracted by different publishing companies, who all technically own the rights to the same song and split royalties, there might be six or more people pitching the same tune around town.

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  • #2
    Obsessed Carrie Fan
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    Feb 2014
    I wonder how many great songwriters have actually abandoned the industry all together because of not being able to make a living.

    To me it seems like every artist has at least one song that they have written or Co- written for their album, and I wonder if that is part of the problem as well. I see no shame in having your album have songs on it written by people other than yourself, but at the same time it seems like they frown upon artists who do that.
    oldyfan likes this.

  • #3
    Ultimate Carrie Fan Farawayhills's Avatar
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    Jan 2009
    Citizen of Nowhere
    One reason why chart stars, and artists aiming at Mainstream airtime, like to include more of their own writing credits on their albums, in this era of falling sales, is that songwriters earn revenue whenever one of their songs is played on the radio. This system (known as "mechanical royalties") dates back to the early part of the C20 - various attempts have been made to change it, but it's stayed in force. Basically, it has meant that record labels have to get the bulk of their revenue from record sales, and performing artists the bulk of theirs from concerts. Recently, labels have been seeking deals with radio conglomerates and streaming services - but this is in addition to the songwriters' "mechanicals", not a replacement for them. Music publishers also take a cut. Artists who write generally begin with a major publishing company - several of which are subsidiaries of record labels (another way of getting revenue) - but successful artists often start their own publishing company.

    This would mean, for example, that Carrie gets mechanical royalties each time one of her own songs is played on the radio (shared, of course, if it's a co-write), and publishing royalties for songs published by Carrie Okie (her own company). However, she doesn't get that revenue when a track is played that she didn't write - in that case, she must rely on the airtime encouraging people to buy the album or download, or on it encouraging people to go to one of her live shows. (The cut artists get from album sales is relatively small - 10c on the dollar might be a fair guess in many cases - but successful artists can often negotiate a bit more from each sale than beginners get.)

    The bottom line is that the more an artist writes, the more avenues to earn revenue there will be. (A few of Carrie's songs that she didn't record herself have been cut by other artists - this also earns a bit - but, so far, I don't think any of these have amounted to well-known hits)

    I'm not sure why you say picking songs from other songwriters is frowned upon. I think it's generally rather the opposite - the labels would usually rather have professional writers on board, even if only as co-writers, because the expertise of a successful writer would be expected to increase the chances of album sales (their biggest earner). I would suspect that, if Carrie had not become such a major artist, her label would rather pressure her to pick "professional" songs - resulting largely in albums of "pitched" hits, with only at most a nominal co-write here and there. The fact that she typically co-writes more than half of her later albums is due to two factors - firstly, that she's a good writer (as several of the other songwriters have pointed out), and takes the activity seriously - and secondly, that her own songs have often been commercially successful, yielding hits that are as strong as those pitched from outside.

    "Singer-songwriting" has traditionally been seen as more of a niche market activity by Music Row - strong in Alt Country and Americana, in Texas music, and in Carrie's native Oklahoma, but much less so in the commercial Mainstream. Many of the big classic "Nashville Sound" hit makers seldom wrote, or co-wrote, more than a handful of songs, if that. Younger artists, and crossovers from, or influenced by, the Alt wing, are changing that tradition - and in that sense Carrie is more associated with the "New Wave" than with artists like Reba McEntire, Faith Hill, or Martina McBride - who, more typically, relied on "pitched" songs from specialist writers for most of their hit material.
    txacar, rainbow1, oldyfan and 2 others like this.


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