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Monday, December 06, 2004

WHO WRITES THE SONGS

Barry wrote the ones that make the whole world sing, and what an amazing task that must have been. Songwriting is such an undefined process, there’s no one-way to do it. Many times I’ve been asked how we (Chris and I) do it, and often you battle preconceived notions created by how it has been achieved by others. With us, it’s never cut and dried, and I have a hard time believing that it would be for any partnership. Who writes the lyrics? We both do. Who writes the music? We all do. We certainly don’t follow the Elton/Bernie example, which is an extension of the old time Broadway method; one guy does the lyric, the other the tune. Both Chris and myself are capable of, and have, done the whole job by ourselves, but since we spend so much time in the studio together, that rarely happens anymore. More often a song will develop using the method I call ‘What About This’; simply tossing out ideas that compliment each other, patching them together, working up bits, chord progressions, lyrics, and stuff to tie them together. Digital recording has made this process very easy, as far as assembly goes, but it’s still a challenge to put up the antennae and receive the instructions from the Divine Center Of Cosmic Inspiration. Now, say you’ve done all that. You’ve mapped out your song, the chords, the lyric, the basic arrangement (verse, chorus, bridge, ect..), and now it’s time to show it to the band. Unless you’re a solo performer, your going to have to bang the work you’ve done around in a live room with a few other musicians. Ok, so your drummer worked up a cool bit using all tom toms in the chorus, which really brings it out of the verse section nicely. What has just happened is writing as well. Your bass player wrote a counter melody to the bridge that took that bit to another level, well now he’s a writer too. My philosophy is that these additions, these embellishments, qualify as writing, and should be credited as such. You will find many, and not surprisingly wealthy, artists who disagree. Roger Waters certainly does not agree. His ego, and zest for control, will not let him entertain the thought. Mick and Keith never gave Brian Jones, or Mick Taylor any credit, and the credit they have given Ron Wood has been for ‘inspiration’ not writing. I don’t think they make out royalty or publishing checks for inspiration. Now I’m not opposed to making money, I’d like very much to receive checks, I’d like even more to cash ‘em, but my motivation to write songs is not based in finance, it’s art, and for me, it gets better with collaboration, and I intend to give credit where it’s due. Sounds all nice and (excuse the pun) harmonious right? Not all the time. A writing partnership can be as frustrating or stultifying as any other relationship, and like other relationships, communication is key. Sometimes hard compromises are in order. Sometimes egos need to be stroked, and sometimes arguments are unavoidable. One should always believe in their vision, and be true to it. So what happens when visions conflict? Good question. Personally, I pick my battles. I’ve met those who don’t. It’s very hard to work with somebody who won’t compromise, and to that end, their shit must be worth their stink. I have been lucky to find, in Chris, somebody who respects and listens to my input, it isn’t always going to be like that in life.

Comments:
Had some great discussion with our good friend Dr. Mitch Turner over Thanksgiving on this subject and some related topics. I'm a big fan of collaberation and have always considered any idea contributed related to what might be translated to proper musical score, no matter how small, "writing". Your right about the Glimmer Twins transgressions as well. I completed "In Thier Own Words", the latest coffee table RS book and Rnny took up more than a few paragraghs carefully complaining about the tight grip Mick and Keith hold over this aspect of their band. Brian and Bill both have been ripped over the years.

Mitch and I talked about computer based recording as it relates to composition. Mitch is obviously a big fan of the latest technology in computer based recording. He does a great deal of composition on his own and I gather does little colabrative work writing songs, orchestrations, etc... He loves the POD "modeling" concept and while not wholeheartedly endorsing going POD over amp as a rule, would go the former before the latter if given the choice between the two in most non-live performance situations.

I made the case you make below as far as using the technology to it's fulliest during the composition phase, but held that once something is arranged, cutting the track as a band (as much as you can, track from beginning to end) is most desireable. He found no use for the "analog" sequential process. Of course, I disagree at least as far as recording pop/rock music goes. I can only imagine that the stuff he composes (entire classical movements) their is no substitute for all the computer aided recording benefits one can leverage, but for rock and roll, recording a song from beginning to end is still the best way to do it and it's because of what can potentially happen while recording the track itself that makes the case (i.e. composing on the fly during tracking). He looked unconvinced when I was telling about how cool my MS16 sounded and that tape shuttling time, while a minor annoyance, in comparison to hitting a spacebar to cue recording. My only explaination is that he hasn't been doing a lot of rock and roll composition or recording as of late (how could anyone NOT like the sound of analog tape?).

I will probably be jumping into hard disc recording at my studio this coming year and will no doubt find myself using all of it's benefits to compensate for my own lack of ability, but the volume of gem like tidbits that were the result of live, end to end, analog tape style sequential tracking process. This is how songs move from one demensional ideas to three demensional experiences whether composed by one individual or many colaberators.

My personnal opinion is first and foremost is that it's no fun unless you're writing songs with friends. I wouldn't have it any other way.
 
Well, Dr. Mitchell "Fancy Pants Diactic Voice Leading In A Two Dimentional Pitch Space" Turner can do what he likes, I bet Phillip Glass would say as much, you and me, well we like rock and roll, now don't we? Having said that, we do what we can with what we have.
 
Well them's some kind words, Mr. Wilson. I'm glad you feel that way.

I've gone back and forth many times on the issue of songwriting credit. I guess if a band works up a song together, even if the chord progression and lyrics come from one person, they all deserve a piece of the pie. However, your analogy begs a few questions.

Let's say you've written a song, worked it up with your band, released a record, and everyone's split those profits. Now the band breaks up. You form another band, and decide to play that song. In rehearsal the drummer comes up with a different part for the chorus, the bassist has a different part for the verse. Now, do you go back and re-register the song with BMI or ASCAP, including these new "writers," and thereby diluting the contribution of your former bandmates? What if that new band breaks up? Do you have to pay the drummer in the second band whenever you play a song you wrote with the first?

Or if you're recording with a session musician who comes up with a part (happens all the time). Or if you're doing a cover, and you write a new solo. Would you expect the original songwriter to recognize your "writing" contribution?

It's a slippery slope, and like I said, I've gone back and forth a lot. The fact is, within a successful band, these issues are simply worked out. Maybe the principal songwriters agree to share some of the credit with the guys who are working up the tune. But you can see how murky it gets when everything is considered writing. Coming up with parts is one of those things that's hard to define. "Come Together" could be a chord progression without the bassline, but the bassline is integral to the song, hence it's part of the writing. A lot of what we're talking about is arrangement, which is a different thing, and is often hard to understand.
 
Well, Chris 'Mr.I Can Finally Comment On Blogs' Pace can do what he likes as well, I quit the band anyway. R.E.M splits it down even, as does U2, which is very democratic. I believe that once a song is published then that's the deal. If your wasting your time working up old bits with a new band then call it Karate Ruler and be done with it. One thing is for certian, Derek Smalls wrote 'Jazz Odessey'.
 
Or call it "Happy Boy."

I seem to recall doing some work on a little tune called "Peace Chicken." Does my tremelo guitar intro warrant any credit? Of course, "Visible" was actually rewritten by Happy Boy.

This comment thing is a big ol' can o' worms.
 
....and when I became a man I put away childish things. You left out 'Sometimes The Dark', but your point is valid. I could have published those songs prior to even Sex Circus Star, and then pushed them on both bands in question, in the end I did neither, I was happy to play them, but I think you'll recall I was happy to retire them as well. Can we stretch this conversation out to an even more rediculous length? Hey, Tony, where's Hue's credit for "I'm With The Band" ha ha ha
 
OK fucktards, (and I say that with much love), I take exception to the "wasting your time working up old bits with a new band then call it Karate Ruler and be done with it" comment, and I'll tell you why:
1. Some people are prodigious song writers and crank out an album a week, which is great if you can/want to do that. Other people may have a more modest output of say a song every few months. In the latter case, you're more apt to want to hold on to your older material.
2. Playing styles evolve with time and diversity of company. A song you wrote years ago may sound completely different or revitalized after some time has passed & new people work on it; I like to embrace that.
3. Its not like these songs were being presented to massive audiences. This of course cuts both ways. On the one hand you don't want to bore the same people by playing your old tunes over and over; but, some people specifically like those songs and come to hear them (its not like they're all over the radio or something). Additionally, if you do get a chance to play a new venue/different audience; its all fucking new to them!
4. Personally, the longer I play a song the more nuanced it gets for me. Maybe some 'get it down' and that’s it, the creation is over; but for me, its an ongoing process. Especially since I experiment(ed) with so many guitars and effects combos that over the months/years, the song continually takes on new texture and nuance.
5. Lastly, MAYBE I JUST REALLY FUCKING LIKE THOSE SONGS. And just because one volatile band dissolves I don't want to lose those songs to the ether; which is essentially what happens because the releases are all home grown and small. That said, I'd probably be much more open to wholesale punting material if, say, there was a steady band with a record deal, where the music is memorialized and widely released to anyone who wanted to hear it, and it would serve no purpose to just play the same old tunes, but that just wasn't the situation.

And of course, how do you gel your ethos of 'out with the old, in with the new', when you take a year covering the Wall?? Isn't that the ultimate 'working up old bits with a new band'?? And believe me, I'm not bagging on it, it takes a lot of skill & work to do (and to do it well I might add), I just don't see how it can be harmonized with the Karate Ruler comment.

OK, rant off. I think that maybe I just like holding on to the product, and Jackson & Chris like embracing the process. I think both are valid, and I don't deserve the slag.

Anyhow, it was a pleasure playing with you both. Jackson was an incredible performer and Chris an incredible musician and I'm happy to have shared time on stage and in the studio with both of them.

BTW, Chris's writer credit comments implicate some pretty interesting areas of copyright law, though not necessarily in the way he presents them. This is off the cuff, so it may not be 100% accurate, but it works a little like this:
Each recorded song has a copyright in the sound recording (the producers and performers) and a copyright in the composition (the author(s)).
Writing credit matters for broadcast revenue distribution via ASCAP/BMI and for mechanical licenses of an original composition. (i.e.; who gets a check if someone broadcasts your song, or someone else's cover of your song, over the air; or covers your original song composition on record). Note, digital broadcasts actually pay the performers as well as the composers, so it is moot there. There are also thorny issues that crop up with record label contracts as to who owns the sound recording itself, but that is an aside.

In the case of a new band re-using an old work where one or more old members are in the new band, it would work like this. The old work would be considered a work of joint authorship; meaning so long as 1) each person contributes some original element to the song and 2) the band intends for the work to be one of joint effort and 3) the authorship takes place at the same (or nearly same) time; then each person has a non-exclusive right to do with it as they please. So, if band ABC has members X, Y and Z, and then ABC breaks up, X, Y, or Z can individually do whatever they like with the song as they own it, but each would have to split proceeds with the others. If X, say, sells the song to a movie soundtrack, Y & Z can't stop him, BUT they can bring a suit for a share of the proceeds. And X, Y & Z all have an equal right to continue performing the song themselves, though I *think* that would result in a possible situation where a compulsory mechanical license is required for a cover if it was re-recorded, meaning if X covers his own song with a new band MNO, performance licensing fees to ASCAP and statutory mechanical fees would be split between X, Y & Z. (Which would seem weird that X has to pay himself a third, but that would seem to make an accounting of the joint profits owed to Y & Z). New members of MNO would get copyright in the sound recording of the cover, but NOT authorship credit, as they were not present at the time the original work was being authored, even if they contribute original elements to the new sound recording.

The really weird part comes in if MNO's version of the song is so transformative that it no longer qualifies as a cover of ABC's song, but is instead considered a derivative work. Generally, the presumption is in favor of considering the new work as a cover, but if it is different enough, a good argument can be made that it is a derivative work. The implications are as follows: a derivative work cannot qualify for a compulsory license like a cover can, so it can only be legitimately made by authorization of the original copyright holder. As X (now a member of MNO) has a joint authorship credit, he has every right to authorize said derivative work. The derivative work (unlike a cover) has a new and independent copyright in the composition, which all members of MNO may share in (if they meet the standard of joint authorship stated above), but Y & Z have no claim to copyright or exploitation of MNO's new derivative work. The tricky part is determining whether Y & Z have any claim to payments based on their joint ownership of the underlying composition. There is no firm answer to this, but equity would dictate that Y & Z get some form of compensation, just as they would if any other exclusive right of copyright ownership was exercised by X for profit (like selling it to a movie soundtrack). Likely, the compensation would be calculated as though Y & Z would have bargained for the right to create a derivative work with a neutral third party (like if they would have allowed any random band to prepare a derivative work for $1000, that’s what MNO would owe them, and then MNO would retain the copyright in the new derivative work free and clear of any claim by Y & Z).

Again, this may not be 100% accurate, but that is basically the idea. Isn't copyright FUN!!!
 
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Looks like I offended Rob when all I wanted was to offend Chris. It's all I ever wanted....
 
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