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the realities of being a
professional songwriter

with BMG songwriter/producer Freakchild

Leo ChantzarasBMG songwriter Leo “Freakchild” Chantzaras presents a short, sharp and characteristically outspoken blog on the realities of pursuing a career as a songwriter in the modern age.

Chantzaras speaks from experience having contributed his skills to a number of top selling international albums, including Sakis Rouvas’ latest #1 multi-platinum album, and gold-selling albums by NEWS and Koichi Domoto, and he has also contributed songs to X-Factor.

If you want to get in contact with Freakchild with any comments then mail him here.

#11 | Five more favourite
publishing A&Rs

Oct 13, 2011

(1) HITEN BAHRADIA (MD / Founder, Phrased Differently)

Now what makes Hiten special? First of all he’s probably the best dressed publisher I know. Seriously though, Hiten knows the game and plays it to perfection, plus he’s a fantastic writer himself. He’s created one of the best companies of its kind worldwide, with great writers on his roster and so many great cuts all over the world. He’s just received a BMI award for the Miley Cyrus single ‘Can’t Be Tamed’. Hiten is a serious person with a great taste of music, and the writing camps he organises are always fantastic.

(2) DANIEL SOSA & PHILIPP ARENDT (Owner and MD/A&R, Catchy Music)

Despite being new to the game with their company Catchy Music, they’re already rockin’ the cradle big time. Philipp is also doing A&R for Warner. They are trustworthy guys that really get behind everything they do. I’m sure they’re on their way to becoming a real big player soon.

(3) OBI MHONDERA & TIM HAWES (Owners, Zebra1)

Tim and Obi were already fantastic writers and producers, but now they’ve become publishers they are killing it so bad that I’m getting scared. The amount of talent they have signed plus the creativity coming out of Zebra1 is just one of a kind. Here’s my guarantee, Tim and Obi will explode big time in the not too distant future.

(4) LIVIO HARRIS (VP A&R, Notting Hill Music)

Super guy and I’m very thankful for all his efforts. Livio knows what to do and when to do it. He has discovered super writers and is also responsible for the mega success of Adina Howard. He’s always looking for good music and even if you’re not published by him, he will try to get you a cut if he thinks you have a great song.

(5) SINA WAHNSCHAFFE (Repertoire manager, BMG Rights)

I’ve been working with Sina since the start of this year when BMG took over Chrysalis. I didn’t really know what to expect from my new partner but after a few months of working together I’m really happy to be with Sina. She’s very passionate, always reachable, always staying in touch, always pitching like crazy and always trying to get me into sessions. I can’t say anything bad about her and I hope that she’s part of a new breed of A&Rs at publishing companies. We need more Sinas!


#10 | My 10 favourite
publishing A&Rs

Oct 6, 2011

I want to give credit to a number of A&Rs from the music publishing world that I’ve had good relationships with and who, in my opinion, are doing great jobs.

(1) BEN MALÉN (MD, Air Chrysalis Scandinavia) - HQ interview

Ben was running Chrysalis in Scandinavia and Global Chrysalis in Germany before BMG took over. He’s probably the fairest publishing boss I’ve ever met. You can laugh and party with him but at the same time he’s deadly serious about taking care of the writer, the song and the creativity. As a rock star and hit writer himself in the 80s he knows all sides. He combines everything that’s needed to be a superb A&R in this world. Thanks for signing me Ben!

(2) ALEXANDRA ZIEM (Sr A&R / Creative Manager, Universal Publishing Germany)

First of all Alexandra is one of the nicest human beings I’ve ever met - always smiling always positive. She was hired by Universal Publishing four years ago and if you ask me that was the point at which Universal Germany started to live and breathe. She’s the only person there that really understands modern publishing and what’s needed to succeed as a writer. For her writers, she’s always passionate, and forever pitching, developing, travelling, and what’s more she’s a blast to be with. If Ben hadn’t come around the corner I would have signed with her.

(3) HIDE NAKAMURA (CEO & publisher, Soundgraphics)

Hide is the No. 1 Japanese song plugger. Never have I encountered a more passionate music lover than him. Polite, honest and true, he always gets back to you with any feedback on your songs and any advice on how things should be done. And if he really believes in your song then he’s a guarantee for cuts. I want to thank him for all his work on my stuff.

(4) PELLE LIDELL (European A&R Executive, Universal Music Publishing)HQ interview

As arguably the only star in the publishing circus, what can you say about Pelle that the world doesn’t already know? His fame follows his reputation as one of the best pitchers in the world. He’s the guy responsible for getting songs like ‘Toxic’ (Britney), ‘Come On Over’ (Christina) and countless other hits cut. Passionate like no one before or after him and a musician himself, Pelle is always open to hearing new material, knows a good song, and if it’s the right song then he knows how to push it like no one else. If Pelle believes in you then you’ll get further, no doubt about that. Plus he is one of the founders of the legendary Murlyn Music. If publishing is a movie then Pelle is the executive producer.

(5) THOMAS SCHERER (International repertoire coordination, BMG Rights Management)

Thomas is someone I really respect. First of all because Thomas will always listen - this guy has no ego problems – but also because he’s a killer in his job. He gets cuts, takes care of the writer and knows the business inside out. Thomas is with BMG Rights but also takes care of his management company. If he believes in your tune he will push it hard. Recent cuts have included Kelly Clarkson. I’m happy he was part of the BMG take over so that we now get to work together.

(6) FREDRIK OLSSON (CEO and Co-founder, Razor Boy Publishing)

I met Fredrik for the first time seven years ago when he was with EMI. I was travelling to Sweden for the first time for co-writes, and Fredrik managed to hook me up with people I’m still working with now. He has since set up his own company with Anders Bagge, called Razor Boy. You can judge how good Fredrik is just by looking at their roster. ‘Nervo’ girls for example, have written for Ke$ha, Pussycat Dolls, David Guetta, amongst others. Razor Boy may only have a few writers, but all of them are one of a kind and keep the standards high. A real music man, and a really nice guy with a great ear, and a super nose for talent, I would always sign with him.

(7) MARC MOZART (Director, Mozart & Friends) - HQ interview

Marc is the embodiment of what I call modern publishing. With just a few writers signed he is able to give them his undivided attention and make sure their every publishing need is catered for, whether in giving advice, he pitches, gets them involved in projects … With his level of dedication it’s no surprise that all of his writers had cuts in the first year of signing. Being based in a small German city away from all the major music centres has not stopped him securing major cuts all over the world.

(8) MAGNUS ÖSTERWALL (MD, Good Songs Publishing)

Magnus is pure fun - a great guy always good for a laugh. He’s started Good Songs Publishing in Denmark many years ago, and guess what? Universal is buying it. So that suggests Magnus has done a good job. Well, I know he has! He’s signed some great writers and works well with them. One such kick ass writer is Aura Dione, who’s a successful artist too.

(9) PAUL KENNEDY (Head of A&R & International, Eastside Publishing)

Not only does Paul know how to mix a good cocktail, but after all these years his skills in discovering great writers from out of nowhere and working the songs like crazy haven’t lost any of their fire. Lots of major records were placed by him. I admire his passion – if you’re ever at a music fair then it’s not an uncommon sight to see Paul with a ghetto blaster cranking out all the hottest tunes.

(10) LEONIDAS “FREAKCHILD” CHANTZARAS (Owner, Freakchild Entertainment) - HQ interview

Last but not least I count myself in this list. Yes, I know I’m the only writer I take care of but so far I think I have done it all right. I’ve got myself cuts all over the world and am a respected name. Should I ever start a publishing company then be sure that I will be there to rock the cradle.


#9 | All about the music? No, it’s all about the numbers!

Oct 4, 2011

If you ask an executive what the music business is about these days they’ll invariably tell you it’s all about the music and the artist. I say bullshit. It’s about numbers, quarters and profit.

We’re living in a world where a record executive, much like a broker, must reach certain targets by the end of each quarter at all costs. So if they need 200,000 albums sold and they’re 10,000 short then it’s not uncommon practice to sign something quick in order to reach that number. Whether it’s a hit or not doesn’t matter just as long as they bank that missing 10,000.

In a worst-case scenario their desperation in attaining their numbers might prompt them to release an album at totally the wrong time, which in turn could result in a record getting killed because it was released too early.

What the big players should all understand is that the music business isn’t like any other industry and they can’t run a record company by the same rules as the other companies in their portfolio.

Obviously, you still need to make a profit, but basing that profit on quarters just doesn’t work in the music industry. If you don’t reach your numbers this quarter then it’s still possible to clock up double the forecasted numbers the following month, but the pressures of certain sales targets and certain time frames would never allow that to happen. What it means is that projects don’t get handled correctly and ultimately that undermines their profitability – all in all somewhat counterintuitive.

A good example of how an accountant attitude can fuck it up happened in the UK recently. A great A&R guy who had signed a lot of major bands had a strategy whereby he carried £10,000 with him any time he went to see a band live. The reason behind this was that if decided he wanted to sign the band he could offer an advance there and then right after the gig, and potentially trump any other interested parties.

Now after a time the £10,000 missing from the company’s accounts attracted the attention of its accountant. When they went to see the A&R to ask about the money’s whereabouts, the A&R duly explained his ingenious scheme. Rather than applaud his ingenuity the accountant told him the practice would have to stop. The A&R got pissed and said if he couldn’t do it then he’d quit. And so he quit.

The accountant’s efforts may have restored the errant £10,000 to the company books, but in doing so they likely lost the label millions more on record sales the A&R could have attracted through potential signings.

This is what the music business is about today, and it is such things that are helping to kill it. I’m tired of hearing the blame solely being laid at the feet of illegal downloads. No, it’s also because record companies have become banks and A&Rs have become brokers.


#8 | How can songwriters survive if the future of music is streaming?

Sep 5, 2011

I wanna talk about the way I see the future of music going and how to plan if you wanna survive as a writer or producer.

Okay, let’s start with the here and now. The CD is dead and the mp3 is in coma. The only legal resource in consuming and paying for music is iTunes … iTunes … and iTunes!!! Obviously there’s more out there than simply iTunes, but, as the mother of all online stores, iTunes is the real relevant one.

For any writer, it’s proving very hard to generate money through iTunes. But even as we’re starting to come to terms with that threat to the songwriter’s livelihood, a new killer is on the loose - Spotify.

The deadliness of Spotify isn’t just in killing off the mp3, but also in dealing an addictive new drug to the consumer. With access to any song you want to listen to, anywhere you want, it seems like, in Spotify, the consumer has discovered the greatest place on earth.

If with Spotify I can stream any song I want in good quality then there’s just no need for mp3s anymore. It’s clear the future will be all about streaming. In 10 years time even iTunes might have become a streaming site because the new generation coming up will have been brought up on that way of consuming music.

As writers, we know that the idea of generating income out of streaming is a ridiculous one. You need far too many streams to make any real money out of it.

What’s more if, in the future, music loses all its monetary value and simply becomes a promo tool for the artist to get people to their concerts and buying their merchandise then what’s left for the songwriters? We can hardly move into jobs in live music and the merchandising industries, so what can we do?

There’s only one solution left. If you can’t make money by writing for stars then create your own star. Find artists, produce them, get them signed and get them out there playing live.

Trust me, that’s the only way to make it in the future. It’s not about you and me anymore; it’s about a new generation that don’t buy CDs.


#7 | What is a hit song?

Aug 18, 2011

How do you recognise a hit song, and how can I create one. What are the rules?

There are no rules. I can name you hit songs with long notes in the chorus and hit songs with short notes in the chorus, hit songs with a stupid lyric and hit songs with no lyric at all, hit songs with a great singer and hit songs with a lousy singer, hit songs that are cutting edge and hit songs that are totally out of date, hit songs that are created in million dollar studios and hit songs created at home …

Without any rules a hit song is impossible to define. So all the books that give you tips on how to create a hit song may be useful for info about song structure and chord progressions, and in telling you what types of songs have succeeded in the past, but they still can’t possibly define what a hit is.

In reality the only parameter we have is ourselves. But if that sounds unhelpfully vague then be reassured that if you’re a mainstream music loving person and you’ve written a good, catchy tune then chances are a lot of other people will like it too.

In fact I’m sure lots of us have written a potential hit. But what we’ve not been able to do is get it to an artist that was able to realise that potential. A good example is the song ‘Waiting For Tonight’ by Jennifer Lopez. No one gave it much attention when it was cut by little-known dance pop group called 3rd Party but with Lopez it became a worldwide hit. If it had stayed with 3rd Party then we wouldn’t know the song at all, but would that make it any less of a good song? No, of course not, it would still be the same song, but just with the wrong artist to help make it explode.

So a hit song is not just a good, well-produced song, it’s a good song that has been given the right opportunity to break through. So with all that said I’m back to my favourite topic - network your ass off, get your songs to the right people, work them …


#6 | How to deal with rejection

Aug 14, 2011

We all face rejection at some point. While some can’t handle it, some just don`t give a shit. If you’re a professional songwriter then you need to learn to adopt the second attitude.

If someone rejects your song then you just can’t give a shit. It means nothing. A lot of the very biggest hits were rejected in first place. Kylie didn’t want ‘Toxic’ and so Britney took it like a shark. Britney herself didn’t want ‘Umbrella’ and so Rihanna killed it. Nobody wanted ‘Genie In A Bottle’ but then an unknown called Christina Aguilera took it and kicked off her career with it. So if someone says your song ain’t good enough don’t take it too hard.

Of course, to maintain that confidence you still need to be objective with your tunes. If you know you wrote a killer and the production is superb then be confident and don’t give a shit. But if the song is just okay and the production is a little lousy then don’t become a joke by being too self-confident.

First be true to yourself and then don’t give a shit.


#5 | The mistakes made by publishers

Aug 11, 2011

It`s scary to be in 2011 and still see some major publishers behaving in a totally ineffective old school way. Maybe they would just rather focus on exploiting their big catalogues than generate new money with new songwriters. But then why sign new writers in the first place if you’re only going to treat them like shit?!

Okay, here are the major mistakes I see when I look at today’s publishers. First of all, instead of signing thousands of people and giving them very little money, sign a few great people and give them a decent amount of money. If you want a great writer or producer then they should be spending their time writing and producing, and for that they need to be given enough money to survive on through the agreement period.

Some of you might say, why give them lots of money when they’ve yet to prove themselves as hit songwriters. But if you’re not totally convinced they can write hit songs then why the f**k would you sign them at all?!? With money comes risk, and no one’s discovered a safe side to the music business.

Second mistake is when publishers sign a writer and then just leave them to become another number in their roster. Why sign somebody if you don’t want to use the company muscle to make them big?

Usually all a writer has is their talent – they have limited contacts and no power. So it’s your responsibility to get them into sessions; get them in with artists in the studio. You need to call them every couple of weeks to find out about their news; you need to give them detailed feedback on the songs they submit.

Hype them - this business is about creating a buzz and so let people know they’re the shit. When you, as a big company, insist that someone is the best then people will start believing you. Talk to the writer, show them how they can promote themselves.

Third mistake is that big publishers don’t pitch aggressively enough. Some will undoubtedly say, we have too many writers and so it’s impossible to work them all aggressively. But I will obviously respond by saying, why did you sign so many then?!

Listen, there’s only two ways about it: sign a lot of writers and hire a lot of pitchers; or sign a few writers and stay with one or two pitchers. So if you’re a publisher and you really want to work with great new writers change the way you handle them and you will have them succeed.


#4 | Writing a good song is only
half the battle

Aug 9, 2011

One of many mistakes songwriters commonly make is to just write a song and think that’s it. Wwwrrrooonnggg … writing the song is only 50% of the whole process.

After the song is finished, and you have a produced version ready to pitch, that’s when the work really starts. To make money out of this song you need to get it placed. To honestly think your publisher will do that for you suggests you believe there to be life on Mars. There are, of course, publishers that will get you cuts, but most of the time 9 out of 10 songs will be placed by yourself.

So build a network, get A&R email addresses from around the world, from New York to Azerbaijan. Songs can also be cut several times so don’t worry about sending the song out over and over again. The biggest hits have usually been first denied so keep on sending.

Let others send on your behalf. Find pitchers around the world, give them a percentage. It doesn’t matter just as long as they get you the cut.

Become a Facebook, Myspace, SoundCloud member, a SongQuarters and ReverbNation member. Create a hype, write a blog, make your name a brand like Red One, Darkchild did. Don’t hang on to your name Stiggardson Ulufffsssooon cause nobody will ever remember you.

Listen to the current sound. Don’t produce New Jack Swing when the kids outside think that’s a style created in the 1930s. Use great singers on the demos and create a great production around it - cause that`s the standard these days. If you don`t produce then hook up with a producer. And if you`re a producer that can`t write, hook up with writers. Don`t stand still.

In today’s music world you need lots of cuts to survive - or one big million selling cut. So keep on writing and keep on sending out. Become a factory. Move your lazy ass.


#3 | Managers are useless
when you’re unknown

Aug 6, 2011

I don’t wanna say you don’t need managers and I don’t wanna say they all suck,, because there’s some good guys out there, but what I want to say is that, for helping get you jobs as a writer or producer while you’re unknown, 99% of them just don’t have it.

When you’ve made it and you’re famous you need a lawyer, and probably a manager, to go and negotiate the jobs you’ve got by yourself or attracted with your status. But at the beginning, the period when it’s so important to get jobs and placings, managers are almost all useless.

Of course, the manager can’t be expected to be the only force driving you - you have to move your ass too to make it work. But then if you’re putting in the effort and beginning to get all the jobs and the cuts by yourself, why give them 20% of your income?

Some might argue that the manager would get you the better deal. That may be right, but will the better deal still work out better after the 20% I lose when they get their %?

If you wanna be a manager, be passionate, love your client, create the hype, make them bigger than they are, get them attention - don’t wait in your office for them to call you to check the contract of a job they got by themselves. You make money when the writer or producer makes money - they’re your boss and not vice versa. Most of you act as if the producer or writer is your employee.

Don’t think I piss my pants cause you manage Timbaland after he became successful. I can manage Timbaland now too, what’s the big deal there? But I will piss my pants if you tell me you discovered him and got him in the studio with high-class people.

There’s some great managers out there who have created careers, but this is the minority. You don’t believe me? Okay, do this test if you have a manager and you’re unknown. When did he get you your last cut, when did he get you your last job, when did he get you a signed artist in the studio? Now judge yourself if you have a great manager


#2 | Don’t overlook the small territories

Aug 5, 2011

When we’re young most of us want to be famous, and become rock stars. And then as we get a bit older, we become writers and producers and then the dream changes into, how can we make a career out of this job? But the problem is that the ways to make money have decreased and there`s now only a little to go around a lot of people.

There’s two strategies you can follow. The first is to have a worldwide hit, or to get on a major record with a superstar in a big market. That’s very, very hard to do but if you can make it happen then it will certainly reward you with a lot of income.

The second, more realistic, option is to try to get into small territories and work the market there. Small territories might not give you many sales, or you might never even see any royalties come in, but they do at least usually pay for the production - and pay well. So you shouldn’t overlook opportunities in producing a record in, say, Croatia or Russia, or wherever.

The key point in all this is that you can still make money but you have to hunt down the job. You won’t get anywhere just relaxing in your chair and waiting for the big phone call. Once you’ve reached a certain standard it’s not about the quality of your songs or your productions anymore, it’s about the right time, the right place, and God’s help.

So start building a network across the world and once a song is finished send it out everywhere from Uganda to New York. It doesn`t matter where it happens, a cut is a cut. And even if you make nothing out of it, you’re still building up your credits.

You can’t treat your songs like your precious babies. We are a factory and need to sell our product. It sounds hard but if you wanna survive and not be listening to your music alone in your studio wondering why nobody is cutting your song then you gotta network your ass off. Send the songs out again and again, use other pitchers, kick your publisher’s ass. Do something!!!


#1 | Why can’t I get any cuts?

Aug 4, 2011

It’s the same old story, you sit satisfied in your a studio having finished a killer song, but then when you send it out nobody wants it. ‘Why oh why do I miss the cuts?’ you ask yourself. Okay, check this list and be true to yourself:

1. Do you have a Facebook account?
2. Do you have a Myspace account?
3. Do you have a SoundCloud account?
4. Do you have an A&R list with email addresses?
5. Do you set-up meetings with A&Rs around the world?
6. Do you spend more than one hour every week pitching songs?
7. Are you networking every day?
8. Are you making sure your demos are 100% finished sound-wise?
9. Are you using great demo singers?
10. Are you listening to what’s happening in the charts?

If you answer NO to more than half of these questions then you simply suck and should go get another job.

click here for part two