I’m coming up on my 60th birthday on Sept 14th of this year (don’t believe everything you read on Wikipedia). In reflecting back on my path so far, I can say that among the many other things I’m really grateful for, I really appreciate having had the ability to make my living doing what I’d be doing anyway—writing and singing songs. Although being a songwriter is hard work sometimes, it is passion that drives me beyond the futility and frustration that is inherent. Passion fuels my pilot light. The job comes with a lot of ups and downs and certainly a good dose of rejection. But my t-shirt says “Write Anyway!” More about that later.
So much has changed with this new paradigm shift to digital and streaming, it’s not an overstatement to say that it threatens extinction for the working songwriter. By that I mean someone who was born to just write and doesn’t perform or tour as an artist. Historically underpaid anyway, the working songwriter’s income is controlled and limited by the federal government and now it has gotten minced to fractions of cents.
Lost somewhere between the promise of what the technology can offer and the suffocating sticky bonds of antique laws that even further restrict the paltry trickle down, working songwriters more than ever find themselves in a world of confusion, misinformation and greed unable to live off of the drops coming out the other end of the hose.
This has been beyond disheartening for me and all those who can clearly see what is happening. Music has never generated more wealth than it does today. That’s right. Don’t ever think just because it’s “free” that it isn’t generating energy and wealth to the gatekeepers. The fruits of music today are harvested through a different paradigm now, and fair compensation to songwriters has never been more blocked, usurped, withheld or hijacked. Attention, eyeballs, clicks, data mining, massive use of ads and other stuff, is syphoned off, consumed and controlled by huge billion dollar companies with little connection with or concern for the damage that has been done to this creative community. The “old gatekeepers” meaning the major labels and publishers have done their best to land grab what they can, in some cases making under the table arrangements with the “new gatekeepers” from their position of power of ownership of large catalogs. Ok. Enough attempting to explain. To simplify, the creators are not at odds with the fans or lovers of music. As always there’s plenty of riches to go around. But while there are some new opportunities for creators, the working songwriter working through a publisher (which is the majority) has been trampled.
I do not have the answer. I want to believe good humans will prevail and this will get worked out. But in the meantime what can one do? It might surprise you to know that even in spite of anger and frustration about this, I still preach the gospel of “Write Anyway.” If you were born to be a songwriter this is no time to be practical. We need to hear your voice more than ever before.
Think about how certain songs inform our lives. In one of my favorite Joni Mitchell lines she describes time as “marked by lovers and styles of clothes.” She could have just as easily said that about songs, too. The way songs enrich our lives cannot be measured. Those with the gift to write the most brilliant songs have provided our culture and humanity with something that is priceless. Once a great song is sent out into the world it carries it’s own replenishment as it’s shared from heart to heart. One of my favorite moments working with the great Waylon Jennings was when he turned to me as said “a great song don’t care who sings it.” Indeed!
I have grown to love teaching so much because it helps to remind me of the most important reason to “write anyway.” Because we are all only here for the time we have. What mark do you want to leave on the inside of your cave? What leavings from your heart and soul can you gift to us, to those in your life and beyond?
The wonderful creative adventurers who come to my workshops are sometimes folks just burning to write songs for a living, and sometimes folks who never even tried to write a song but want to learn how to tap into that creative flow. The lesson is the same. You are the only one with your voice who can tell your story from your spot.
It’s wonderful to feel respected and fairly compensated for your work. But the irony is, in order to truly tap into creativity you have to let go of worrying about that and open fully into the flow. You are the CEO of your one-and-only unique point in all time and space, that one unique perspective—looking out from behind your eyes, through the filter of your heart and history. The sharing of your story and your life’s experience through creative expression is the most important work you can do as a human. Well, that and raising children with love.
I am actively involved in trying to be a part of the solution as far as how the business end can be sorted out. I’m working with a great organization called Content Creators Coalition (C3) made up 100% of artists and writers. Check out this link to become educated about what’s happening and what needs to change.
But when I sit down to write a song I want and need to stay free from the undertow of all that chaos and craziness.
I go to my happy place surrounded by my whacky tchotchke collection. I keep a picture of Van Gogh near my piano. I know no matter what insanity is happening in the professional world of songwriting I must “write anyway.”