Weight of the Name

So, this piece is going to be informational – about what I’ve learned of publishing deals, the benefits (and consequences) of having one, etc., etc. As I go on writing and cranking out songs that I think have potential in the country realm – or even in another realm that simple isn’t my type of music – the idea of having a channel of selling and ultimately bringing these songs into being becomes all the more enticing. Enter the publishing deal.

Before I dive into what a publishing deal can offer, I’ll tell you what you’ve got to do without one: co-write with people who do. Sure, there are ways to be independent and sell your songs freelance, but at the end of the day, it comes down to getting those demos into the hands of artists or the people who make decisions for those artists. One major benefit of a publishing deal is having people called, “pushers,” on your side and willing to pitch your song to those aforementioned important people. Otherwise, you could have written the best song anyone’s ever heard, but with no one accepting unsolicited submissions and no one listening to the new kid on the block, it’s pretty likely that no one will ever hear it. Connections, connections, connections.

With that being said, one major downside of a publishing deal is the percentage the publishing company gets for their services – especially if you don’t lawyer up and have someone actually review the deal before you get involved. I’ve heard horror stories of people getting wrapped up into deals where all they get is an advance – which is stable income in an unstable financial market – and maybe a sliver of the royalties earned on a song, while the publishing company gets the rest. But, I think if you enter into meetings with the mindset that businesses are out for themselves, you can usually come out with a deal that benefits you both.

Money aside, there are things that publishing companies offer that are just simply unattainable on your own – the main one being those, “connections, connections, connections,” I mentioned earlier. I’ve heard a few cases now where artists are actually being developed by these companies, which involves everything from co-writes with big names to setting up shows in well-known venues, and it all comes from the weight of the name. It’s everything in Nashville – where number-one hits can be bought, artists can be produced, and pitch can be tuned.

I did try to keep this short and sweet, so I could highlight the benefits and the major consequences of having or not having a deal. As a sort of exercise for myself, it’s good to write through these things and view them in a tangible sort of way because it’s easy to get swept off your feet in this town by promises of fame, money, success – or whatever – and never see those things come into being. Clarity is key when contracts are involved, and whether you remain a freelance writer or sign up to be on a company’s payroll, it’s essential to know what you’re getting into and if it’s right for you – if it fits into your goals and your path through music.

Think About You

Well, things are beginning to pile up. Like the calm before a storm, spring break was the last period of no responsibilities that I’ll have this semester – maybe this year, maybe this life – and the barrage of emails concerning graduation, research, and even gig opportunities was like a splash of cold water to my face. I’ve returned to the real world – sunburn and all.

I’m a generally calm person. For those of you who know me personally, I think you’d agree when I say my emotional peaks are moderate, and my typical level of stress is low. And, I’ve never really questioned why. It could just be a characteristic, I guess, but I’d like to think it’s not in my genes. It could even be my work ethic, which usually forces me to get things done early – before the stress hits – but senioritis is beginning to show its fangs, and I find myself treading deadlines more and more. It could just be the fact that most of my stress-related tasks come from my degree – which I’m crossing my fingers I don’t ever have to use – so, accordingly, you might see a drop in performance, but again, it’s not the case. Then, if it’s none of these things, I think it comes down to how I manage my time and where I choose to invest it because, if school was the only thing on my list, I’m sure I’d be ripping my hair out right about now.

Time is like a currency – well, it helps me to look at it that way. So, when your to-do list seems to be never-ending, and the sticky notes just keep multiplying, it’s important to realize how you’re using it. For example, take this blog I’m writing: I could think of about four or five things off the top of my head that, by standards of academia, I should be doing instead – maybe a ten-page research thesis that’s due at the end of the month, which I haven’t even started and I really just imagine as a big black hole on my calendar. Maybe I should be writing one of the two essays that my lovely teachers assigned to be due on the Monday and Tuesday we get back into class. Whatever the case, I’m sure a weekly blog wouldn’t be prioritized on the majority of people’s lists in days of constant work like these. But, it is on mine.

It is on mine because these blogs have become a written answer to a thought that I’ve had during the week. Maybe they don’t directly answer a question, or maybe they end up being vague or confusing, but they do mean something to me. Yes, sometimes, I have to make myself to turn off Netflix or put down my textbook to reflect for an hour, but it becomes absolutely worth it to take a step back, take a deep breath, and say, “This is where I am now.” By looking at myself, I get to take break from the inundation of information that we constantly subject ourselves to as students – or more simply as people – and think about something that I know and something that matters: me. 

Knowledge of math, science, and the like is one thing, but knowledge of yourself is another, and I’d argue that, between the two, it’s the more important.  Among other things, I think that’s why I’m drawn to music. As a songwriter, you are what you write, and with every song comes a new revelation – something that you’re forced to look at and play a thousand times over.  You may not like what you see, but once it’s out in the open, you have to look at it and take it for what it is. So, I encourage whoever’s reading this to step away from the business of whatever life you’re living and twist your own arm to just simply think about you. I say, “simply,” but with a seemingly endless number of other things you could be doing, the task is definitely not a simple one. You may wonder what to think about, and when the thoughts just aren’t flowing you may give up and say, “Well, I tried.” But, give it a second. It may take a moment to get the train of thought out of the station, but where you arrive, the conclusions you draw, and the clarity that results are undeniably worth it. 

My Side of the Table

This past Friday my band and I had the pleasure of playing for the first time in quite awhile – actually for the first time this year. It was a late night: we played from nine to twelve in Greenville, so between walking half a mile before and after the performance for parking and unloading/reloading everyone’s gear, you start tend to get a bit tired by the end of it all. Now, I’m not complaining, but getting home by 1:30 or so was the goal, and I don’t know about you, but that’s a bit past my normal bedtime. And we did make it – me and my bassist, that is – back to Clemson at just about that time. But we didn’t say our goodnights just then: we talked and talked and talked – about things that matter. It seems like late nights do that to people.

We talked about music, of course. What else would two musicians do? But it wasn’t about theory. It wasn’t about how we think our new songs are coming. It wasn’t even about how we thought the night went. We talked about music’s role in our lives, and it all began with the question: What do you think is the meaning of life?

Now, before you start to think I’m too eccentric, or that I’ve started to sound like one of those overzealous artists that has maybe done one too many substances, let me explain. It started with a conversation about Nashville – not next weekend for recording, but the next chapter of our lives – because he’s still treading the line about where he plans to end up. So, I told him how I came to my decision and how I resolved the issue of opportunity. I first answered that question: What’s the meaning of life?

And my answer was a general one, fitting enough to answer such a general question. It was, “The pursuit of one’s own happiness – almost to a selfish extent.” Though it may sound like a self-serving philosophy to live by, it really all depends on how you answer the next question in the series, which is, “What makes you happy?” Is it friendship, love, money, etc., etc.? And the answer doesn’t have to be – and, in my opinion, shouldn’t be – set in stone. For me, I expect the answer to change as the chapters of my life do. Right now, the world is at my fingertips: opportunity has presented itself in so many different forms that it becomes difficult to say which is the best, or better yet, which is the best for me now. But those opportunities will change as the years go on. Some will come and some will go, and that will be the last you see of them. So with that being said, which opportunity is best for me now? Which opportunity makes me happiest? And which opportunity may expire more quickly than the others? Music. Music. Music.

I just recently finished writing a song called, “Nine to Fives,” and I think it’s one of the best to come from me in quite awhile, mostly because of its honesty and relevance to this chapter of my life. I won’t dive too deep into it, but my favorite part of the song is the bridge when I sing:

“Don’t get me wrong now.

I see the beauty of settling down.

I see a wife with kids running around

Later on.

But don’t you think that I’m just

A little too young

To have my whole life planned at twenty-one?

Well, I do, I do.

It’s my favorite – for a lot of reasons – but mostly because it allows for change. It allows for fulfillment from different sources – just in different eras of life, which is perfectly suited for someone with tunnel vision like mine. So, I guess the moral of the story is this: Focus on what makes you happy now because you’re never in too deep to turn around or shift the medium that brings it to you.

So, shortly and sweetly, that’s the gist of it, my side of the 2AM conversation with a friend and musician. But let me offer you some of his. Probably his most significant piece of insight – because I’ve felt it, he’s felt it, and I’m sure the majority of you reading this have felt it – was this: “I just kept pushing back against [insert passion here (though is was music)] because I knew it wasn’t the smart thing to do.” Well, what’s “smart?” Is it settling for something because it’s safe? Is it denying passion or love for financial stability? Is it missing out on something you’d love to do because someone might ridicule your cause or laugh in your face when you say that you’re giving up a life of education for something that carries a bit of risk? I’ve done well in school. Like I said, I’m a bioengineer and have been pretty successful at it, so when I tell people what I plan on doing after college, the most common response is, “Well, at least you’ve got a good back-up.” Yeah, I guess, but it would inevitably and only be a means to an end – a means for making money and supporting myself to make more money. But music is the means and the end – the journey and the finish line – because it’s a self-sustaining cycle of fulfillment, happiness, and (fingers-crossed) financial stability. And I know people will laugh when they read that. I guess I would too if I sat on the other side of the table, where the food is plenty and the wine is good and when you look to the other side you see people like me and all you can think is, “You can have this too,” but you’re too busy eating and working to talk, so you forget why you’re at the table in the first place. Well, on my side of the table, the conversation’s good, and though I may not eat a lot, I’ll eat enough because when it’s all said and done, and you could pick two of those three things (fulfillment, happiness, or financial stability), which would you pick?