While it may be more blessed to give than to receive, it’s also a lot more work. Anyone stressing about where and when to find that last elusive holiday gift will understand what I mean. I came to the realization last week that it’s a very dangerous thing to be at the end of my Christmas gift list– it’s like being named Zucker at a college graduation ceremony that’s proceeding in alphabetical order. By the time your name finally comes up, everyone’s lost interest and moved on to the reception. At this point, if I haven’t figured out what gift to buy for you, I’m likely to just give up and vow to do better next year.
The bottom line is: it’s crunch time. So in the interest of public service (and of course, being a music business weasel, some self service as well), I’m offering up a bag full of gift ideas for your songwriter friends or relatives. Or, with the understanding that songwriters tend toward the reclusive, buy these for yourself and save your family from buying you the scarf with musical notes on it, or the new edition of the rhyming dictionary.
Here’s the Songwriters Gift List (or “What To Get the Guy Who Gets Only 9 cents Each Time Someone Buys a $20 dollar CD”):
1. A spot at the ASCAP “I Create Music” Expo
Granted it ain’t a cheap gift, but at this time of year, there’s some deep discounts on the cost of the registrations for an event that takes place April 28-30. And all things considered, there’s no conference as rich in educational, mentoring and networking opportunities for aspiring songwriters, whether they’re producers, performers, composers or lyricists. The Expo covers every corner of the songwriting business, virtually every genre, and brings superstars like Quincy Jones, Justin Timberlake, Dr. Luke and Bill Withers together with writers just beginning their journey in the music industry. There’s no other event quite like it.
2. A subscription to Billboard magazine.
This one is pretty generous as well, but it represents a world of opportunity for whoever receives it. My first gig in the music industry came from reading an article in Billboard, so I’m a true believer. There is no way to survive in this business without knowing what’s happening– it’s how you discover the openings in the marketplace, jump on the trends, find your business model, or identify the people who you need to turn into contacts. Whether it’s online or in print, every songwriter needs to be looking at Billboard each week.
3. “What They’ll Never Tell You About The Music Business” by Peter Thall
Peter is one of New York’s top music business lawyers, a clear and insightful author, and one of my favorite people to run into on the weasel Habitrail– he’s always dapper, funny and leaves me with one piece of knowledge that I didn’t have before. If you need a guide to the contractual, legal and practical realities of building a music career, this new update of his classic book is a great place to start.
4. “The Hit Factory”: Making Your Music Make Money”, a one-day workshop at Songwriters Hall of Fame.
I told you there was a little bit of self-interest at work here. This is my own one-day, six-hour, intensive class at the Songhall in NY, which I led last year as well. It’s a chance for me to help those songwriters attending the workshop to develop a strategic approach to their career– it’s part lecture, part song-critique session, and part open discussion, and I love doing it. Last year’s class was sold out, and we had people from all around the country. I’m looking forward to doing it again, and have a lot of new material to cover. The cost includes both of my books, “The Billboard Guide To Writing and Producing Songs That Sell” and “Making Music Make Money”, so it’s not a bad bargain. I think all of us from the last session, myself included, felt that it was a day full of discovery, good music and valuable new contacts.
5. A Tip Sheet of choice: Songlink International or myhitonline.com
There’s no greater challenge for most songwriters in getting their music out into the market than trying to figure out who’s looking for songs and where to send them. These are both very well put-together “tip sheets” that can clue you into both big and small projects around the world. It doesn’t mean your songs are going to get cut. But at least they might be heard. Every little lead helps…
6. The T.A.M.I. Show Collectors Edition DVD
It’s hard to imagine any pop songwriter or musician who couldn’t find something to love here. Filmed at a live performance in Santa Monica Auditorium in 1964, then lost for decades to legal disputes, this has just recently become available– it is a brilliant document of the energy and variety that made music the defining element of pop culture in that time. The mix of acts is simply a representation of what was, in the early 60’s, a Top 40 playlist. Now it reads like the roster of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. This was a time when you could have a concert bill that included: Chuck Berry, The Beach Boys (with Brian Wilson), Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Lesley Gore,the Supremes, The Rolling Stones, and James Brown, who gives what most consider his greatest performance of all time. The most remarkable thing is the consistency of the live performances. No lip syncing, very little rehearsal, and yet, no train wrecks. It’s a long way from Katy Perry or Britney Spears.
7. “Murphy’s Laws of Songwriting: The Book” by Ralph Murphy
A legendary country songwriter and publisher, Ralph is both one of the most astute students of songwriting and one of the most engaging teachers. He has analyzed hundreds of popular country and pop hits to understand the nuances of what makes them work, figured out what audiences want to hear, and what radio needs to play. Then he’s able to actually explain it– and be funny as hell at the same time. I’ve recommended his classes and workshops before, but now he’s got a book coming out, just in time for Christmas. Definitely worth studying and sharing with every other songwriter…
8. A consulting session with “Ask The Music Business Weasel”
So guess who the weasel is? This is my own hourly consulting service that I launched this year– it’s available to songwriters, publishers, or artists looking for specific advice for a career situation, some overall strategy, or detailed feedback about their work. Happily, it’s been a big success, not just on my end, but for the writers involved– there have been management deals, record contracts, and business partnerships that have grown, in least in part, from some of the discussions. I love the opportunity to really dive into someone’s business, rather than just offering up cursory observations or song critiques. If you don’t have a weasel on call, now you do…
As the phones in the office have gone eerily silent of late, I think we can safely say that the music biz is shutting down for the remainder of 2010, and I’m about ready to join everyone else in cueing up in the airport security line. So here’s wishing you a great holiday and all the best for 2011. It’s not always been easy out here this year for anyone, but the weasel’s greatest qualities are perseverance and resilience. You can’t kill this beast. I’ll see you all next year…