Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Songwriting Competition or Lottery?

Posted in music, musician, scam, songwriting by commorancy on October 1, 2008

If you are a songwriter, you want your songs to be heard. However, there are so many web sites and people out there that promise you the world and deliver nothing. This article will discuss songwriting competitions.

Is it a lottery?

Most songwriting competitions charge money for each song entry. Think of the song entry as a form. You might as well have just submitted this form into a barrel. Then, they have judges who are supposed to review the entries and pick winners.

Because listening to a song is based entirely on subjective likes and dislikes, there can be no objective methodologies to pick a winner. Thus, subjective criteria equals random selection. This means that, overall, this is tantamount to pulling a slip of paper from the barrel and choosing winners at random. Because you must pay to enter and because it’s a random selection, it’s a lottery. Don’t fall for lotteries disguised as contests. Worse, there’s no guarantee the judges actually listen to every song submitted anyway… which further makes this a lottery by random selection.

Don’t support pay-for-play competitions

If you are an independent artist, songwriter or musician thinking of entering a songwriting competition, think twice before entering. Many of these competitions are scams. They are there to take your money and leave you high and dry. Instead, use your money to further your career (buy recording equipment, pay for studio time, book gigs to make money). If you really must play the lottery, play the state lottery. It costs less and you have equal odds of winning.

Allegedly, one of the largest ‘competitions’ is the ISC (International Songwriting Competition). They boast industry seasoned judges and lots of impressive things, but overall it’s still a lottery. As far as I know, independent lotteries are still illegal in most states.

What you win

Should you win, let’s put a spotlight on this aspect. If you do enter a competition and by some miracle fluke the judges actually pick your song, what’s next? This is tricky to answer. You need to read the fine print on the competition. You might win a recording contract, but then you might be required to turn over all rights of your music to the contest. Are you willing to part with your music rights just to record or win? These are not necessarily lucrative contracts. On the other hand, you might win a small pittance of cash or some dinky thing and still be required to relinquish your musical rights. You need to read closely to find out what you might be giving up.

Turning over music rights

This is a tricky subject because there’s no right answer. However, consider this. If you’ve written what you consider to be an absolutely fabulous song and other people agree, then you probably do not want to part with the rights to this song. If you turn over all rights for this music to the contest, that means that any money made from that music is no longer yours. If the music, for example, gets licensed to Justin Timberlake or Britney Spears and they turn it into a #1 hit, you still won’t get any money from it. Of course, you can always try to sue, but the contest probably has a reasonably binding contract in place. Thus, you aren’t likely to get very far with a lawsuit.

However, there’s the flip side of that. If you are wanting notoriety, then perhaps it is worth giving up the rights. Meaning, if you’re hungry and willing to lose the rights to one of your songs in order to get your name on the songwriter line that does become a #1 hit, it may actually help your career. That is, of course, assuming the contest has any obligation to put your name on the song as author based on the contest rules.

Furthering your career

If you really want to further your career as a songwriter, you’d probably do better to list your music through an A&R service like Taxi (see below) or another placement service who can get your music out to artists, TV shows, movies or video games. It may cost money to place your music, but it’s not a lottery. It’s more of a ‘music store’ where entertainment industry professionals can find new music for projects.

How about free contests?

By all means, enter as many free contests as you can find. That is, if you can find any. But, ignore contests that charge you money. You have no idea where that money goes… and many charge as much as $25-50 per song! By comparison, you can put an entire CD on iTunes, AmazonMP3 AND Rhapsody for that same $25-35 (the cost of 1 competition entry) using places like CDBaby. So, save your money and invest it into equipment (instruments, recording equipment, computers, etc) or advertising. This will take you a lot further in your career by allowing you to produce your own music. You can self-publish or submit demos right to labels. You can also take out your own personal advertisements for your CD as well.

Careful with your money

Always be careful as there are many musician placement (A&R) services out there that will scam you before they give you any real level of service. Taxi is one of the few that appears to be reputable in this regard, but they will charge you money for each submission on top of a monthly fee (so be cautious even here). Broadjam is another, but they also charge to submit music ($5-15 per song on top of a subscription fee) for placement consideration. When businesses charge you money to submit music for placement, you should be wary. There is no real way to know that they are doing the right thing for you. So, if you submit music without response or get an unexpected (strange) response, don’t spend money for that again.

Bottom line, there are plenty of places out there that can scam you… if it looks like a scam, feels like a scam and acts like a scam, it probably is.

State of the economy

Posted in banking, bankruptcy, economy, tanking by commorancy on October 1, 2008

Unless you’ve been hiding in a cave, you’re probably well aware of the issues facing the banking and finance sectors of the economy. Here are my thoughts on this.

What started it all?

Clearly, this whole debacle started when the feds lowered the interest rate to 1% and the mortgage firms saw a field day.  One only had to listen to the radio for about 5 minutes to hear a commercial for some bank advertising stupendous mortgage rates.  During this period, this became known as the housing bubble.  This sector was primarily propping up the economy even when consumer spending in other areas was lackluster.

Government regulation (or lack thereof)

First, this whole debacle would not have become an issue if the government had been properly regulating the banking industry. Unfortunately, this presidential administration has been so pro-business that they would let anything and everything slide to let businesses do whatever they want. Is government to blame? Yes, but only partly. The rest of the blame falls squarely on the businesses.

Does AIG and Lehman Brother’s deserve to fail? Most certainly they do. Badly run companies need to go away. If a company can’t do the proper things to ensure continued success, then they deserve to fail. Unfortunately, the government and the stock market don’t see it that way. Because AIG and Lehman propped up much of the banking industry with their services, letting these businesses fail is tantamount to pulling the rug out from under you while you’re walking. The issue here is… putting all your eggs in one basket. Drop the basket and.. you get the idea. Government LET banks basically put their eggs into one basket by allowing bank sector consolidations (this goes back to letting businesses do whatever they want to do). Instead of raising an issue when it should have been raised, the government just sat there and said nothing. So, instead of saying.. no, there must be several insurers to prevent ‘eggs in one basket’, the banks’ insurance policies were not policed and were primarily underwritten by AIG.

Lending Practices

The banks, brokers and mortgage firms are clearly to blame for beginning this debacle. If they had been practicing proper loan practices, this issue would not have occurred. Instead, they were not only handing out loans to anyone and everyone, they were handing out risky loans. Loans such as interest-only loans for the first two years or adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs) that would also reset in 2 years.

Then, we had the speculators buying two, three, four or more homes all with multiple loans given by these ever-so-gracious banks. It’s not as if the handwriting wasn’t on the wall. But, again, no one stepped in to put on the brakes.

So, the foreclosures started, homes got devalued, more foreclosures ensued, banks began losing their interest payments and gaining properties they couldn’t sell… Banks tried to collect on their insurance policies for a bad loan from AIG.  The payouts forced it to bubbled up to the top feeders who’s bottom lines got severely hit (like AIG and Lehman). Then, bankruptcy…

Bailout

So, that’s all hindsight.. what do we do now? The primary issue at this point is the bailout. Should it be allowed? Clearly, congress didn’t think so in the form that it was submitted. Personally, I’m torn. As a taxpayer, I don’t want to be forced to help bail out a company that isn’t run properly. If a company chooses to use policy holder premiums to buy executives parties, cars, yachts, summer and winter homes, vacations and everything else that can be thought of instead of banking that money in the case of insurance payout or to help fund rough times. then they need to go away.

On the other hand, I don’t really want the economy to go into the toilet. However, I think this issue is inevitable. The bailout is simply a bandaid. If the bailout does anything, it will just delay the economic issues until a few years out. Perhaps the bailout will smooth it out a little more than without it, but I don’t see the economy getting tremendously better with a bailout than without.

Tip of the iceberg

Worse, we are only seeing the tippy top of the iceberg. There’s way much more under water than we can’t see. How many other banks or financial institutions will fail before it’s all said and done? This is still unclear. There is also a trickledown here that just hasn’t completely trickled down yet. For example, local cities and municipalities will feel the crunch come property tax time. Now that so many homes are in foreclosure, the tax base is probably 75% of what it was… perhaps even less. Banks won’t pay the taxes on properties and the former owners won’t either. So, come 2009, and these municipalities will be struggling for budgets. This leaves police, fire and even education in the lurch again… and we haven’t even gotten there yet.

Stimulus Package given back

Since Bush has taken office, he’s given out two stimulus packages of around $500 each. That’s a total of $1000 to each person. However, if we are forced to bail out AIG, all of that stimulus will be wiped out and we, the taxpayer, will be forced to double that again (around $2-4k per person) to cover the bailout. We’re just going to give our stimulus package right back to the government and then also hand over additional cash.

So, where from here? The path is definitely not clear. But, the US certainly needs dramatic help both in government and in corporate businesses. How that’s supposed to happen, again, is not clear. But, we are certainly not on the path to success with skyrocketing deficit combined with financial debacles such as this. One thing is crystal clear, government needs to regulate corporations that cannot regulate themselves… and they need to regulate them BEFORE the issues become debacles.

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