Monday, March 19, 2007

The Fate of the Good Ship Plentydough ... Part the First ... Whats A Songwriting Workshop Between Mates Anyway?

It was in the year of our lord 2007 on the 2nd day of March that my feet (actually the wheels on my vee-dub) brought me to the fair City of Bristol. At the command of the Musicians Union and the British Academy of Songwriters and Composers the Good Ship Plentydough had put into port for to instruct us landlubbers in the mysterious machinations of the music business. A faceless ruffian, I took my place amongst the throng gathered in the Colston Hall. Sweet innocent that I was, never in my wildest dreams could I have foretold the lessons I was to learn that fateful day.

As it happens my wildest dreams don't leave a lot of room for the scurrilous antics of music biz sorts. Any more than my even slightly wild ones do. I'm just setting the scene. OK? Anyway, back to the plot.

Cap’n of this barque was a very well spoken bloke called Dave who occupied pole position on the bridge. Dave was accompanied by First Mate, a sleek sea-lawyer, and the Bosun, a posh-and-hyphenated geezer from Bath-Spa-University amongst whose claims to song writing fame was once having been 50% of a duo that weren’t quite as good as the Eurhythmics. 'Hm, wild,' I thought. 'We're really going to rock this morning.'

My underwhelmedness remained undiluted as Dave, anxious to establish his own CV quietly referred to his own seminal works. Their titles rang no bells, nautical or otherwise, in my consciousness but t'was still a bright and breezy morn and I was not to be deterred. 'The fact that I haven’t heard of them or their work signifies nothing,' I told myself. 'I am nought but a scurvy wretch when all is said and done and have come to be taught the wisdom of the world by my betters.'

And my betters certainly knew a trick or two. Well they knew enough tricks to get their feet well under the music biz table thats for sure, as they were to demonstrate during the the days first 'Business of Music' session . A choir of angels could not have sung from a more focussed song sheet as they explained their arcane mysteries to us humble folks a-gathered afore them.

As you would expect from pros, their performance hit several Cs square on. They were considered, concerned and courteous. They stressed the difference between reputable and the other sort of music publishers. Then they pointed out that new songwriters really need to do their own legwork to find one of the latter who might want to listen to their sort of stuff. They also revealed the secret path to success, ie hang out on the big city scene and create a buzz about the songs. Which I translated as 'have some talent and be young and beautiful in London.' Not only true for songwriters I thought, and probably not 'news' in the usual sense of the word.

They went on to talk about moral rights, and the advantages or otherwise of waiving them, especially in the context of the USA market which apparently doesn't recognise them anyway. Copyright and the importance of retaining ownership of one's work were discussed. As was the recent court case over Matthew Fisher’s successful bid for a piece of the Whiter Shade of Pale action.

Sessioneer Raphael Ravenscroft’s sax solo on Gerry Rafferty's Baker Street also came under scrutiny. The excitement here for me being that now I knew the name of the guy whose introductory six notes still echo round my memory as they do around the world a good thirty years on. The boys were a little more pragmatic. Their eyes lit up as they indulged in some in-crowd banter along the lines of would he, wouldn't he, had he, hadn't he gone for a slice of the booty himself. Depends which bridge you're looking from I suppose.

On we sailed. Feigning a street wisdom that they hadn't had to scrape off their shoes since they'd scuttled up the gangplank themselves all those years ago Dave and the boys championed the vibrancy of the acoustic scene. They agreed that folk music was really rather jolly good stuff after all (even shanties probably) and referred to obscure uilleann pipers to prove they had done their research.

Suddenly we seemed to have run out of wind. Becalmed amongst artistic considerations the bridge didn't quite know what to do. They perked up on entering financial waters once more however, and got quite excited about how to charge YouTube for the use of Snow Patrol material in the myriad of teeny mimers’ posted video clips. (That'll teach the little bastards. Who do they think they are anyway?)

They were nothing if not comprehensive. But in their exposition of the intricate channels and bountiful lagoons of a music biz establishment they seemed to know like the backs of their hands, was there maybe one C missing? Were they actually convincing?

Not to everybody it seemed. ‘This is all old school,’ came a broadside from the woolly hatted mutineer in the front row. Sure enough there he was, five foot and a gust, and enough attitude to sort out a colossal cephalopod (thats giant squid to you) with one hand while packing the fathomles memory of his iPod with the other. ‘This is the internet age,’ he said, ‘I’m going to put my stuff on my website and make money from selling the advertising space.’

From a bridge who had already publically doubted the existence of an effective way of digitally tagging a song and had admitted that the music industry’s own system of digital rights collection was failing fast, there was a fair degree of cautionary huffing. Not a little puffing. And the unavoidable sense of nautical types pulling the deckchairs closer together as it got a bit cooler on the Titanic.

That young buccaneer definitely got up their Richter scale. It was just tricky to tell how far. Those intent on wriggling aboard didn't seem to want hear that their salvation might actually start leaking like a sieve at any moment. By contrast those who had already kicked, bitten and gouged their way up the gangplank, and who one might expect could read the wind better than most, looked mighty worried. Worried in the way that an opulent blancmange might look worried on hearing that there is a particularly malevolent tsunami heading right here, right now.

On the basis that the best thing to do when faced with something thats just too hard to handle is stuff your face, the morning's ‘Business of Music’ session hove to for lunch. Seeking shelter from the storm perhaps? But was there any? In the internet age things move fast. By the time the crew had started tucking into their tack (or tackling their tuck or whatever it is that matelots do when the rest of us are eating) the question blowing in the rigging had morphed into ‘Is There Going To Be Any Kind Of Music Business Left Anyway?’

..... continued below, shipmates.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I spent a couple of nights in Bristol last weekend and I can confirm everything you say - but worse.