Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Whitney Houston remembered

Posted in itunes, music, musician by commorancy on February 13, 2012

Pop Diva

As a pop star turned Diva during the 80s and 90s, Whitney Houston’s star and talent was immense and rarely faltered.  At the height of her recording career, she seemingly could have had whatever she wanted and could have written her own ticket. She had the look, the style, the smile and, most of all, the voice. She had an immensely powerful voice that was at once strong and powerful and sultry and smooth which could easily carry any song she put her mind to performing.  She was definitely the Diva in every sense of the word.  In her untimely passing on February 11th, 2012, she has left us with a legacy of number 1 hits, but more than the fact that they were number 1’s, they were just plain great songs with soaring powerful, passionate and often amazing vocals.  Vocal performances that very few people can actually match and even fewer performers want to perform on the heels of her stellar performances.  Despite the fact that I had never purchased a Whitney Houston CD until last week, I had heard most of her songs anyway.  There was just no way not to have heard them on the radio, in stores, in restaurants or just generally out and about at her peak.  You just couldn’t not hear her songs during her reign as Diva.  Last week I purchased her Greatest Hits CD because I had decided I wanted to hear her catalog again as it had been quite a long while.  I had no way to know that in less than a week she would be gone and I’d be writing this article.

2000’s

Fast forward to the 2000s when her veneer starts to crack and her star begins to fade (with fewer and fewer releases). Like many musicians, she had succumbed to her own vices which lead to her down the path of drug and alcohol abuse and that, unfortunately, took a toll on her voice and her body.  This may or may not have contributed to her death, but it didn’t help her career in her last decade or her own health.  It’s unfortunate too because she could have had a very long, strong and prosperous career if she had been able to get out from under her own vices including her rocky tumultuous relationship with Bobby Brown.

Unfortunately, Whitney’s is not the unfamiliar tale in the entertainment industry.  A bright shining star with huge talent bringing in a lot of money is always attractive to those who wish to leech from that talent (and money) to keep the party going.  Unfortunately, these leeches tend to do things that they think help the star remain a star.  In fact, they are actually doing just the opposite by enabling such behaviors as drug and alcohol use. They do these things to help keep the Star ‘happy’, but, in fact these leeches are destroying the person behind the star and then leave the person to fend for themselves after the veneer cracks and the money dries up.  After all, these stars are still people just like you and me with insecurities, frailties, personal vices and emotions.  They are not just sources of cash or talent. Whitney’s final story is not unfamiliar and yet people are always surprised when a musical artist dies too early in life. It’s a sad refrain that seemingly repeats as often as a pop music hook.  However, it’s a refrain that we definitely do not need to hear more than once and Whitney’s death is proof of that.

Whitney’s Legacy

Even with all of her vices and personal demons, she still managed to release a formidable catalog and rack up a large number of hits. And, that’s no small feat. This is how we should remember Whitney.  As the Diva who amassed a large number of hits with her spectacular voice.  We must celebrate her career, her talent and most of all her vocals.  Let’s remember her as she was, the Diva with soaring high power vocals and not what her vices had led her to become.  Even though her life ends both sadly and tragically right before the Grammy’s, she leaves behind a legacy at a poignant time when her career and her talent can be both celebrated and remembered perfectly by everyone.  If there is such a thing as a perfect timing, she couldn’t have chosen a more ideal venue for us to celebrate her life, her works and her talent, ironically the evening just before the music industry celebrates the best and most talented musical artists, the Grammy Awards. Whitney definitely stole this show in her final curtain call.

We’ll both remember and miss you Whitney.

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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.

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