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Changes in Latitude

I’ve been through some trends, some fads, some swings of the pendulum in my 30 years as a professional songwriter in Nashville. One of my first mentors in town, Rory Bourke, told me in the early eighties that there were two distinct songwriting styles in Nashville. There was Rory, Charlie Block, Bob McDill, etc. who were more the “office” guys. They worked hard, often forty plus hours a week, but went home to their families at night, coached little league, and led (with the exception that your financial planning is less stable than a professional gambler,) a fairly “normal” life. Then there was the “wild” side of the songwriting world: hard drinkin’ hard rockin’, three days awake at the Floribama songwriters who were very reminiscent of my brief road stints with Charlie Rich and Jerry Lee.

I had two young kids and a beautiful wife and was just winding down from a decade of six nights a week in night clubs, late hours, working weekends and holidays, so Rory’s “Disney Dad” scenario was very appealing to me at the time. I went there, found my groove and found some success.

I just got back a few weeks ago from the Bahamas Songwriter Festival, sponsored by my publisher, Magic Mustang Music and BMI. It’s a great example of what is, to me, a terrific songwriting modus operandi. This was a luxurious example of the “retreat / bus trip” writing experience which is becoming increasingly popular. To my sometime curmudgeonly surprise, it’s also VERY productive.

On my first Magic Mustang bus trip, a three-day run chasing the Luke Bryan, Lee Brice, Josh Thompson tour, I went out with Phil O’Donnell, Kyle Jacobs, and Billy Montana. That’s the trip where my “one song a day” switch was permanently broken. I was in the habit of shutting the old creative flow down and going into relax mode for the day each time a good song got finished. Not on this trip. We all wrote with different artists and caught who we could when we could, but there were long late hours with nothing to do but write. And so we did – a lot –sometimes 2, 3, 4 songs in a day. Now I’m not saying there wasn’t some editing done later, but we got a Trace Adkins cut, a theme song that’s raise hundreds of thousands for Cystic Fibrosis, and one of my favorite Lee Brice co-writes ever “Too Big to Fail.”

Rosemary Beach is another wonderful retreat site, a four-bedroom house with a guest cottage and pool, non-stop writing with artists and great songwriters. I pedaled a bike to the beach at midnight after many two many cocktails and wrote a song with a major artist that he’s already cut for his next album – under the stars, lying in the sand. The loose camaraderie and the chance to really get to know some really talented folks is a real asset in the songwriting process. Blackberry Farms, Evans Mill, and the Broken Bow bus were all sites of some great writing retreats over the last year.

So even though all these songwriting immersion experiences are not as exotic as writing at the legendary Compass Point (the studio where Chris Blackwell cut AC / DC and Mutt Lange made some of his legendary records.) And even though climbing into a bus bunk isn’t as transcendental as listening to the waves roar through the open door of your cottage on stilts in Nassau, all these experiences have one thing in common.

Songwriters love to write and interact with each other. Most are in a constant quest for great songs that move people. Most are good, kind caring people you’d want to know even if you weren’t chasing a very elusive way to make a very elusive living. It’s a special life for which I continue to be thankful every day. Later ….

Category: General, Songwriting

Time well spent with our new U.S Register of Copyrights, Maria Pallante

Steve Bogard and Maria Pallante

As a part of a recent Copyright Forum event, I was fortunate to spend a day and a half of both public and private time with our new Register of Copyrights, Maria Pallante. Ms. Pallante works for the Librarian of Congress, but don’t think librarian. She’s an attractive, vibrant woman, a lover of music and art and a deep thinker when it comes to her role in the shaping of America’s cultural landscape.

I had sandbagged some prepared questions, digging deep into the inequities of the business / creator relationship, the future of music licensing, the fairness of the consent decrees and the relative values of the two music copyrights. Before the afternoon presentation, she read them, smiled, and with tongue-in-cheek, told me they were “too hard.” Instead she presented a wonderful, broad view of the political challenges and absurdities of running a government office of that size. (If you lose or fire an employee, you often can’t replace them because of arbitrary budget rules.) She also discussed impressive improvements and efficiencies and outlined the mountain of work yet to be done to get the Copyright Office up to her high standards.

To give us a sense of the culture at the office she stepped into, Ms. Pallante shared the fact that many staffers still refer to the two copyright laws, the underlying work and the sound recording as the “old” (1909) copyright and the “new” (1978) copyright. I’m a Papa (that’s gramps at our house) and even I don’t think anything from 1978 is new. That evening at the Bluebird Café, she was just another beaming music fan, especially enthralled, as are most female listeners, with both the artistry and the performance skills of my buddy Brett James.

But the most striking takeaway from my time with Maria was her deep understanding of the balance between the intention of the framers to reward the kind of creativity that makes this country a better place and the responsibility of legislators and the copyright office to make creative work accessible, available, and enjoyable to the American public. Just as any average Joe back in the day might have taken advantage of a black market free cable box, not understanding the impact on TV and movie writers and producers, or say, maybe a scrambling musician in Miami with a young family might slow down his electric meter to scam a couple of bucks from the power company, not understanding the larger impact on energy costs for others, the public can’t be expected to always understand and take responsibility for what, on the surface, seems “free.” Distinguishing long-term greed from short-term greed has always been a difficult thing.

So it’s up to the legislative system and the copyright office to strike (or some would say “restore”) that balance between what’s good for all of us as consumers and what compensates creators so they can keep making America the wellspring of the greatest music in the world. That balance is the new “deal we need to make for music in the digital world.

This is the start of what Article 1, section 8 of the U.S. Constitution says is one of the responsibilities of the federal government:

“To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;”

Later …


Category: Copyright
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