Liz Hengber ('Forever Love" - Reba McEntire "Do You Love Me That Much" - Peter Cetera") is the author of a new book,The Do's and Dont's of Music Row. She is here to answer your questions about the craft and business of Songwriting. The web site for book www.musicrowbook.com.
Q: In your opinion, how many "evaluations" should I
get before demo-ing a new song?
LHengber: Good question... hmrnm let me think if in your heart you know its ready... go for it. just don't over demo simple guitar demos are enough
Q: Really, I get different opinions on that?
LHengber well.... its like belly bottons…i just feel if it's a good song... you know it...but get your opinions from nsai and ascap…let them be your sounding board
Q: What is your favorite song that you have written?? <LHengber> SHE MORE... hands down and why??
LHengber: its so simple and pure and the day was really good. first time i ever met rob crosby
Q: You've been in Nashville for quite a while now..how has the landscape of the biz changed around the row in the past few years from a songwriters perspective?
LHengber great question.... its a little more LA now... a bit more slick however...there's still alot of heart here.
Q: Is there a "sound" that nashville demo houses have that is recognizable to nashville publishers?
LHengber YES.. great players.... out of town demos tend to use reverb from hell….Less reverb please
Q: Along those lines….we get a lot of members from out of town logging in to these chats....what's the first piece of advice you would offer to someone trying to make inroads in nashville from out of tow?
LHengber: keep your membership up at NSAI and buy my book :-)
Q: I am new to all this. I've written some lyrics (only) and will have them evaluated by nsai. What can happen next?
LHengber: well you need to cowrite... come to Nashville for a song camp and try to hook up with a melody guy or lady
Q: Can you describe your publishing deal. And, what might a new writer expect $ wise, etc. if signed?
LHengber: a new writer can except these days to make under 25 grand. some are even getting 15 grand a year. Does everyone understand what a draw is? well...they love solo writers who wouldn't.
Q: Why is co-writing so popular in nashville??
LHengber: Co writing is what i do because I'm not a great melody girl. HOWEVER... If i could write them on my own, I would. My publisher would be impressed and I'd make twice the money. I'm a big fan of solo writing
Q:I live in Portland and travel once or twice a year to Nashville. I come to co-write, play, see publishers, etc. I've hac single song deals with 2 publishers there. My question is, would I be better off doing more Nashville trips and developing that, or do you think it makes more sense to focus on my scene at home and go with the 'if you build it, they will come' philosophy?
LHengber: they are not going to come to your home town unless you live in NY, Austin or LA I think you need to come to Nashville as much as you can. Dreams come true when they are earned.
Q: How do you know when to stop?
LHengber: when you’ve written the heart out of it. My pluggers want me to rewrite and often I tell them NO
Q: How did you get your start?
LHengber: My start... Reba's company signed me in 1991.... that was after 9 single song contracts. 9 single song contracts with Reba’s company.... I
never thought it would happen until that beautiful day they called
Q:If you just can't get to Nashville, then what?
LHengber: well Keep your Nsai membership up. Come to as many workshops as you can. Get your songs in the evaluation service at NSAI.... and just get here as much as you can. Thats what Barry Dean did
Q: I submitted a song to NSAI evaluator and got a very
positive, almost ready reply. Then I submitted the same song to
a differrent Eval, for another opinion and they trashed it . Dont they have to agree to send it to a publisher ?
LHengber: I am told that all the evaluators have to agree before they'll pitch it. However music is very subjective. If you really believe in your song, then you need to contact some publishers and see what they say.
Q: is the oppossite true... should I give up the scene here in Portland and really work on developing my network in Nashville?
LHengber: NO…do both Portland is a great music city. Just juggle both... like come here at least 6 times a year
Q:do you play out at songwriter rounds in town? What can people do who are NOT performers to help get their songs heard?
LHengber I play all the time.... this town is very forgiving for a bad singer like me.... I think they even kinda get a kick out of it.And its a great way to have the songs out there and heard.... Also... It's a great way to make cowriting contacts
Q:Should I note things like, "This song is supposed to be funny, not taken serously before submitting for an eval? I have had folks fail to hear irony and humor in lyrics.
LHengber: If the listener isn't getting your song... that's a problem... it needs to be universal
Q: How many songs a year do you write. And, of those, what percent are co-writes?
LHengber: I only cowrite.... i guess around 40 songs a year
Q: how best to use songwriting contests? Does a publisher care if a song has won a contest?
LHengber Not sure... guess I'll find out because I just entered one without my publishers permissions... whoops.
Q: How do you contact publishers? I hear that they don't accept unsolicited material?
LHengber: I CAN'T STRESS HOW IMPORTANT IT IS TO LEARN NAMES….ITS THE ONLY WAY YOU GET PAST THE GATE KEEPER. YOU LEARN NAMES AT WRITERS NIGHTS, THE BLUEBIRD, MAGAZINES.... DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Q: Does winning a contest better your chances of getting the song signed?
LHengber: well of course they dont... let me explain...they get 500 calls a day sometimes... the gate keepers have to weed them out. In my book I explain how to try to break through the gate.... www.musicrowbookcom
Q: Lets say I come to Nashville and find a melody person at a Songposium...do we then use your advice from you book to get a publisher to look at our material?
LHengber: Let me make this clear. I don't have any concreate answers on how to open the gates... only suggestions. I’m in the same boat you are in a way. You need to know names... Go to every workshop you can and write down the names of these guys and gals.... can’t get past the assistant if you don't know a name... and one more thing...be really really nice.
Q: Can you speak to the balance between wilting songs that have special meaning to you and how you might change your approach when trying to write for Someone else to sing for commercial viability??
LHengber: WELL I THINK AFTER 14 YEARS OF DOING THIS PROFESSIONALLY I'VE LEARNED HOW TO MAKE ALL MY SONGS COMMERCIAL. ..I MEAN SOMETHING THAT CAN HIT A LISTENER RIGHT AWAY.
Q: Have you ever thought about hiring a plugger and keeping 100% of your writing and publishing and just skipping the outside publisher altogether?
LHengber: LIKE WORKING FOR A PUBLISHER. IT HELPS ME CUZ LAZY
Q: Is it hard for someone living in Nashville to find success in genres outside of Country and Christian?
LHengber:Good question…you need a publisher like Sony or EMI…because they have LA and New York offices.
Q: How do you know when its time to move to Nashville? and is there ever a time when it may be too late to chase the dream?
LHengber:I don’t think so. A great song is a great sonf at any age. They don’t care what songwriters look like just as long as they can make money from your tunes. I can't tell you when a good time to move here is. I realize it’s a BIG thing to do. You just have to feel it in your heart.
Q: How did you get your first single song contract?
LHengber: AHHH.... ACTUALLY I GOT IT WHEN I WAS LIVING IN QUEENS NY…EARL THOMAS CONLEYS BROTHER SENT ME ONE...I THOUGHT I DIED AND GONE TO HEAVEN.
Q: What's different in your book than the myriad of other songwriting books that would make me want to go out and buy it?
LHengber: MY BOOK IS SHORT AND TO THE POINT... IT PULLS NO PUNCHES. YOU SHOULD READ MY BOOK ALONG WITH OTHER BOOKS AS WELL
Q: Do you know of any songs that went on to be the basis for a movie? One of my lyrics seems to want to be a screenplay.
LHengber: NOT SURE MAYBE YOU SHOULD WRITE A SCREEN PLAY AROUND IT
Q: I’ve never been to Nashville what suggestions do you have (to do list) that I could use to benefit my songwriting career?
LHengber: THAT’S A LOADED QUESTION... DON’T MEAN TO PUSH MY BOOK…WWW.MUSICROWBOOK.COM.... HOWEVER...I COVER LOTS OF THAT IN MY BOOK. FIRST on THE TO DO LIST.... BE POSITIVE AND GO TO THE BLUEBIRD CAFE...WATCH AND LEAR. ALSO GO TO OPEN MIC’s AND MEET FELLOW SONGWRITERS. ALSO ON THIS TO DO LIST MEET WITH BMI AND ASCAP AND SESAC.... THEY'LL LET YOU KNOW IF YOU'RE READY AND THEY MIGHT EVEN SET UP SOME MEETINGS
Q: Do you think CD's will go away and music will be sold via downloads, and how will that affect writers ?
LHengber:OH IWAN... I WORRY ABOUT THAT.... I HOPE THERE IS A FUTURE FOR US WITH DOWNLOADING
Q: Liz, would you like to leave us with any last thoughts?? Hey, I heard you have a book for sale. Is that true???
LHengber:FUNNY…YES THE DO'S AND Don'TS OF MUSIC ROW
WWW.MUSICROWBOOK.COM ID LIKE TO SAY... GOOD LUCK TO EVERYONE TOP TEN... YOU'LL FIND GREAT COWRITERS AND ONE DAY I'LL BE BEGGING YOU TO WRITE WITH ME. JUST STAY POSITIVE FOLKS. I BELIEVE IN YOU... DREAMS COME TRUE IN NASHVILLE