|Roger Brown | Transcript from Pro Online Chat
Transcript from Pro Online Chat with Roger Brown on May 3, 2006
Welcome to tonight's NSAI Pro Online Chat, featuring hit songwriter, Mr. Roger Brown. Roger is here to answer your questions on the business and craft of songwriting. Let’s get started!!
[RBrown] It’s my pleasure to be here.
Q: Roger, how long did it take you to get your 1st cut, once you moved to Nashville and decided to make a go at being a pro writer?
[RBrown] I moved to Nashville in Nov of ‘82, got my first major cut in summer of '85, so about 2 1/2 years
Q: What was the song? Who cut it?
[RBrown] "Fool Fool Heart," was recorded by Tanya Tucker
Q: How do you deal with frustration?
[RBrown] Drink heavily! (just kidding). There are levels of frustration in any profession; I deal with it by looking at it that way.
Q: During that first 2 1/2 years, were you staff or did you have a day job?
[RBrown] Day job(s)...I got my first staff writing job based on the TT cut.
Q: How Many songs did you have written when you arrrived?
[RBrown] Well, I THOUGHT I had hundreds, until I heard the competition...I probably only had a couple dozen publish-able songs written when I came here
Q: Were you able to go full time after that first cut?
[RBrown] Yes, I got a staff writing job and have been full time since ‘85
Q: Can you talk about the advantages and disadvantages of being a staff writer?
[RBrown] Well, the obvious advantage is that typically you are paid enough to be able to write full time, as opposed to trying to do it on the side. The disadvantage is, of course, you're effectively borrowing your own money
Q: Do any staff writers you know telecommute?
[RBrown] I tried telecommuting/commuting for 3 years from 98-01...didn't work. My songwriting peers are here doing it 5 days a week...the competition is fierce, and it really helps to be here "in the mix"
Q: Do you have a regular routine when you sit down to a clean slate, and if so can you describe the steps that you take?
[RBrown] I wouldn't say I have a regular routine, other than a fresh pot of coffee...I keep every idea I come up with, good and bad, and I review those every time I try to write.
Q: What earlier musical influences do you attribute to your knowledge base as a songwriter?
[RBrown] My musical influences were Eddy Arnold, Bob Wills, Hank Williams, Johnny Horton, Glenn Miller & Tommy Dorsey...and then more that I picked up over the years
Q: Was there anything "different" about writing for "Urban Cowboy, The Musical" in terms of style, etc.? Broadway flair, etc.
[RBrown] The Urban Cowboy songs weren't actually written "for" the musical...they were pre-existing songs that were pitched for the project
Q: Do you think chat rooms/internet conferencing will change that? Telecommute?
[RBrown] I can see where telecommuting might eventually work once a writer is established, but I'm not sure how it would be possible to "kick doors down" without being where the doors are
Q: Did they get pitched in Nashville for that? LA? NY? Where is "home" for something like that.
[RBrown] The Broadway folks came to Nashville and publishers here pitched them. I had a couple of songs included, and they came from different publishers via co-writers.
Q: As a staff writer, do you ever write by yourself anymore? Or do you exclusively co-write?
[RBrown] I write by myself about 40% of the time, and co-write the rest
Q: I prefer to write by myself, and do some co-writing. But there seems to be such a HUGE push for co-writing in Nashville these days. Would you say that co-writing is pretty much necessary?
[RBrown] Not really...Tony Arata has done very little co-writing, and has been very successful...Hugh Prestwood also. I believe co-writing is helpful in keeping you motivated to write, though. Also co-writing is a great networking tool, and that's an important piece of the business
Q: Was there a period when you were searching for your own voice, and how long did that last? I for example have a lot of technique and musical knowledge, but I'm still trying to figure out how to connect it all for everyone to enjoy what I write.
[RBrown] I really think what I do is to write songs that speak to me, and that mean something to me...my influences were all pretty commercial, so my songs tend to lean that way.
Q: So, you came to Nashville and started kicking down doors--How? Which doors?
[RBrown] Well, keep in mind I came here 24 years ago, so a lot of the doors have moved :-)
Q: As a developing writer, I get lots of requests to co-write, but a lot of times there with writers who are maybe not quite as far along. At this point, I feel like I need to be challenging myself...both on my own songs AND on co-writes. Is it rude to turn down co-writing requests? Burning bridges? Bad attitude?
[RBrown] Turning down co-writes are something that we all unfortunately have to do, and it's never fun or easy. I always try to frame it as nicely and professionally as I can.
Q: Did you know your course before you arrived. Did you have some connections established?
[RBrown] I had limited connections when I got here; most I developed by hanging out and meeting people. In those days, a lot of music people hung out after work...I met people like Harlan Howard and Chet Atkins and met others through them
Q: Do you know of any unsigned writers recently that have been able get a staff deal with a draw in the 50k range? I assume this would only happen if the writer gets a big cut first?
[RBrown] 50k is on the very very high end...you'd have to be Rivers Rutherford-hot to get that kind of money in the current marketplace. Personally, I wouldn't take 50k if it were offered to me. It’s too much money, and I mean that. Seriously. Keep in mind, you're taking out an interest free loan...that's all a draw is.
Q: If you find a company that's encouraging you, giving you some assignment writing to try, etc., do you really want to hang with them? Or would you recommend trying as many avenues as possible. Loyalty?
[RBrown] Good question. I think loyalty is a two way street...and ultimately the loyalty on their end has to come in the form of "pay to the order of..." So if they aren't willing to sign you or move in that direction, I would absolutely explore other avenues
Q: How long does the average staff writer contract last?
[RBrown] They vary...usually it's a one year deal with a number of one year options. 1 year with 2 or 3 options is pretty typical. As a staff writer, you also have a quota per year of “accepted” songs. It’s a negotiable point and varies from contract to contract, but it’s in the 10-12 song range.
Q: At NSAI, we get a number of questions from members asking about getting their songs in radio/tv ads...does a publishing company help with that?
[RBrown] They are supposed to...usually that is driven by the advertiser...they hear a song on the radio, etc. that they think would be a good one to use for their commercial, and they track you down.
Q: When a publisher has reviewed a song and liked it, what's the normal step-by-step process from there to a staff writing deal?
[RBrown] Most publishers are going to want to hear several songs they like before they'll commit to a staff writing gig...if something were to get recorded, that obviously speeds up the process.
Q: Is it normal to have a single song deal 1st (or multiple single song deals)??
[RBrown] I would say it's a viable route...my first published songs were a series of single song deals...the Tanya cut was a single song contract
Q: How many co-writers do you generally work with in a year?
[RBrown] There are two answers to that...I have about a half dozen writers who I work with on a regular basis...but I also work in quite a few new co-writes as well...probably as many as 25-30 different writers a year.
Q: Did the odds against you ever frighten you to rethink being a songwriter, or did you always have the intention to try and keep trying no matter what?
[RBrown] True story: I was in a room once with about 50 aspiring writers and the pro writer said "of all the people in here, only a handful of you will make it"...I remember thinking "I wonder what these other people are going to do for a living?"
Q: Let's say you write Country and Christian, which are both fine in Nashville. But then you write other stuff too (maybe more TV, or film, or Broadway). Can you operate from your Nashville connections, or do you really need to travel to the other major music centers for that?
[RBrown] Nashville is a hub for a lot of different styles of music. Many commercials are recorded here, Michael McDonald lives and records here, Bon Jovi records here...there are all sorts of opportunities in many genres. I've also had quite a few songs in movies and TV shows, all from Nashville
Q: Re: a draw, and maybe asking for practically nothing because you don't want the pressure. I once heard that you DO want to ask for enough that you are considered to be "serious" about your songwriting. What would that amount be?
[RBrown] I personally think the least I would ever consider would be 12K a year...but the most I would ever take is probably 24-30k. Lets say you get 30K a year draw...in 2 or 3 years, if you haven't had any activity, the publishing company is 60-90K in the hole. If you have a 12K draw, you're 24-36K...quite a difference. Ultimately that can decide whether a publisher sticks with you or not.
Q: So if you have no activity, then you pay the draw back?
[RBrown] No. They absorb the $ as a loss. You just don't want to have the conversation where they say "we love what you're writing, but all this red ink..."
Q: If a publisher was impressed by an unpublished writer's work, is there any chance that the publisher might suggest that that writer co-write with their staff writers (as a way to have rights to those potential songs without having to take the risk of signing the new writer)?
[RBrown] Absolutely. It happens all the time.
Q: Do you think it would be wise to not take a staff job, and try to stay in the singles arena?
[RBrown] Hard question to answer…that's such a personal decision...I can't imagine how I could make it work for me without being on staff...but I know people who've had success going that way.
Q: So, you basically suggest following one's own intuition in all matters, correct?
[RBrown] Yes...it's important to learn as much about the business as you can as well
Q: If you are a member of ASCAP and your co-writer is with BMI, and you both write a song that gets cut...how does the collection and distribution of money/royalty work?
[RBrown] I'm ASCAP, so ASCAP collects my share and BMI would collect my co-writer’s share. And by the way, I have a copy of Donald Passman's book that NSAI offers...it's my music business reference book. You all should pick up a copy of it if you can. It’s an awesome book. I keep mine at my desk at all times.
MODERATOR: ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE MUSIC BUSINESS by Donald Passman...available at your local NSAI Bookstore.
Q: As a continuation of my previous question, would there be any reasons why the publisher wouldn't want to have an unpublished writer co-write with their staff writers?
[RBrown] The only reasons would be business reasons...for example, if the writer refused to pay for demo costs, or make arrangements to cover them...if the writer was hard to deal with, unreasonable, etc.
Q: Do you think the staff writing thing could work if you traveled to Nashville maybe 3 times a year to "be there", write with other staff writers, etc., but then do the rest via long-distance technology. There's so much you can do these days...video-casts for co-writing, etc. Do you see that "balance" working? (I obviously do NOT live in Nashville. Denver instead.)
[RBrown] In theory it could work...I'm just not sure that a publisher would go for it...there are so many writers here looking for deals, their position is "why should I hire somebody who won't be here much when I can sign a writer who'll be in here working every day". Not insurmountable, but problematic.
Q: At what point do you know you're good enough to pack your bags and make the move?
[RBrown] In my experience, it's basically a leap of faith. I moved here in 82 with nothing...no job, no prospects, just believed that I could do it. I have been extremely lucky and very blessed...if it can happen for me, it can happen for anyone.
Q: Any other books you would recommend?
[RBrown] I think the Passman book is the standard others should be measured by...it doesn't try to tell you how to succeed in the business, just tells you how the business works.
Q: For someone who is visiting Nashville for the first time to get a feel for it, is it a complete waste of time to go door-to-door walking into Publishing companies?
[RBrown] It probably is...if you got past the receptionist it would be a miracle.
Q: Would it be better to stay where we are until we know for sure that we are ready, or should we go ahead and go in order to get to know and learn from others already there?
[RBrown] Here's how I view that...if you were a college football player, you wouldn't know if you could make it in the NFL until you went and tried out...at some point, I think you have to make that big step if you are ready.
Q: If you had nothing when you first got to Nashville, were you asked to pay for the demo? If so, where did you secure the funding?
[RBrown] The publishers offer options for that...as an unsigned writer, you are responsible for your half of demo costs...however, they often will sign the song and pay for the demo, and then give you the option to buy the publishing back for whatever that demo cost was
Q: If you can't get past the receptionist, what's the best way to get a publisher's attention? Make friends with a published writer who can connect you?
[RBrown] Network, network, network. I believe that you should meet as many people as possible...you never know who will believe in your work and want to help you out
Q: I often hear that guitar/vocals and piano/vocals are just fine, but I don't think I really buy it. Your thoughts?
[RBrown] Guitar/piano vocals work in many instances...depends a lot on the style of the songs. Up tempo country, possible...but let's say you wrote urban or rap .. in that case, probably not so much
Q: I was planning on using NSAI as a kind of self-taught songwriting college. When they say my stuff is publishable then I'll go, but do you think that if I keep handing them crap, what if the evaluators start talking bad about me...LOL
[RBrown] I wouldn't worry about it...people have been saying my stuff is crap for years :-)
Q: I have been a music fan for so long, followed Nashville musicians around the country so much...I've gotten to be "friends" with some of them. But at the same time, I'm still just a potentially crazy fan. I look up to them, but they are just people, too. Would it be appropriate to ask for their help?
[RBrown] Carrie, it's all in the presentation if you act professional, people tend to be receptive. You always have to be mindful that it's a business.
Q: I don't know if this has been asked, but which Kenny Chesney song did you write?
[RBrown] Chesney did a song of mine called "She Gets That Way"...it was on his I Will Stand CD.
Q: What about Barbara Streisand?
[RBrown] Barbara did a song called "We Must Be Loving Right," that she heard on a George Strait CD...one of those rare songs that got cut twice. Barbara actually used the same arrangement and most of the same musicians...even flew in Strait's producer Tony Brown to produce her cut
Q: If a writer gets a staff deal for the 1st time, can they keep a full-time day job or do they have to be available during the day?
[RBrown] You could, lately...it sort of defeats the purpose of having a staff writing deal though. The idea is to free up time to write.
MODERATOR: And with that, we’ll bring this chat to a close. Remember to come back the 1st Wednesday of every month at 7pm (CST).
RBrown: Good luck to you all!