Interview with ERIC BEALL, publisher and author of 'Making Music Make Money' - Apr 7, 2008
"If I were going to spend money on anything when I started out as a songwriter, I would put it into subscriptions to things like HitQuarters."
Eric Beall started out as a songwriter who wrote for stars like Diana Ross, The Jacksons, and Samantha Fox. When moving on to publishing he was therefore able to spot many crucial aspects to the business he would have wanted to know early on in his songwriting career.
Thankfully, he decided to share his knowledge, insights and understanding in a book, ĎMaking Music Make Money: An Insider's Guide to Becoming Your Own Music Publisherí.
Talking to HitQuarters, Beall shares absolutely invaluable information each and every upcoming songwriters should take note of. The strategy he outlines is simply crucial for every songwriter who wants to succeed.
How did you make your entrťe to the world of music?
I really came to it through the musician side. I was a guitar player and composer, went to Berklee College of Music, graduated and moved to New York. I got involved in the songwriting business.
I was a songwriter for about 20 years. I was a staff writer over at Zomba Music. I was a writer for Rondor Music for a few years. And for BMG. Then I wound up with my own label Class-X Music, which was a dance label out of New York.
After about 15 years of doing that, I wound up in music publishing. Interestingly enough, I wound up as the Creative Director over at Zomba Music, which is where I got my first publishing deal. My songs were still in the drawer there.
I started as a songwriter for Zomba when it was a tiny company with maybe four or five people. And by the time I left it, when it was sold to BMG, it was final sales of three billion dollars for the publishing company and the record company.
Why did you move to New York?
I was going to school in Boston. I felt it was either New York or Los Angeles. I was an arranging major at Berklee. I was arranging for big bands and orchestras.
I had a chance to do some arranging work in New York for some cabaret stuff and some theatre. I had the opportunity, took that and moved here. Then the arranging thing quickly passed into songwriting, and the career took a different course.
I really moved here because I had a couple of initial opportunities right out of school, and it seemed like a good place to get started.
Were you already writing songs?
Yes, Iíve always been writing songs. But I was really focused on jazz stuff and more traditional stuff when I was in school.
I realised after about a year of doing commercial arranging in New York that my heart was really in the songwriting as opposed to just arranging other peopleís music, and I started building on it from there.
What was key in finding your own musical vocabulary?
Being honest with myself about what I was really good at as opposed to necessarily clinging to the kind of music that I loved.
A lot of musicians love a lot of different kinds of music, and thereís all different kinds of music that I listen to and that I enjoy.
The key moment for me was starting to understand what I could do that set me apart and that I could do, if not better than anybody else, then certainly at least in a unique way.
One thing that songwriters have to do, and that I emphasise in both my book and the class I teach, is that itís important for songwriters to be objective about their work.
And to be able to see what is their strength and what their weak point may be. And to start compensating for that.
I donít think I was a great songwriter, but I was fortunate and I was able to see what I was good at and start to define my songwriting around that.
Compensate in the sense of shaping your direction?
I realised that I was a good jazz musician, but I was a far better pop songwriter. And thereís a much bigger business in being a good pop songwriter than in being a mediocre jazz musician.
Part of it was finding the direction that was commercially viable for me and where I could excel. Another part was finding co-writers and collaborative opportunities with people that could do things that I couldnít or that could add elements that I might be weak at. Some people were better melodically, some people better lyrically.
Also, finding collaborative opportunities with people that are more experienced and that can help you learn, and that have contacts within the industry that you may not have.
How did you approach the business with your first songs?
I really went and invested a fair amount in a couple of key songs. Songs that I thought were the strongest that I had at the time. I tried to demo them about as close to a record as I could possibly get. And I got pretty close. By doing that I was able to come up with at least one or two songs that were impressive enough to open doors.
Itís important for songwriters to understand they better have one or two songs that really stop people in their tracks and make them say: ďWow! What was that?Ē, then to have 10 songs that are just ok.
You really need those one or two songs that are at a certain level that will open doors. Once youíre more experienced, you may be able to get away with a rough demo or with: ďOh, itís just a verse and a chorus idea and I develop it later.Ē
Once youíve had some success, A&R people are willing to work with you at that level.
But that first meeting that you have, you really need one or two songs that you can put on that you know are going to show you as a professional and immediately establish you at that level. I didnít really know what I was doing at that time. It wasnít as strategic as it is looking back on it. But it was the right move to really put a lot into the first couple of things and to make sure that sonically as well as creatively they really stand out to people and get their attention immediately.
How did you produce that demo at the time?
I rented a studio. I was an arranger. Doing the arrangement and programming wasnít really a problem. I had all that stuff worked out.
I never did have a studio as a songwriter Ė it probably is almost impossible nowadays to survive as a songwriter without your own studio set up. But back then there were a fair amount of inexpensive rooms in New York. My thing was always planning. Because I was an arranger, I would come in with the arrangement very carefully worked out so that we could do something relatively complex and produce the duet in a very short time.
I would work with a keyboard programmer and different musicians, but I would have the arrangement worked out very carefully so we could just knock it out very quickly. Because once youíre in a studio it costs.
It did involve some financial investment upfront. It wasnít terribly expensive, but songwriters have to be prepared for at least that initial investment.
Itís daunting when you donít have any money and youíre starting out as a songwriter, but at the same time if you look at it on a business level, there arenít many businesses you can get into with an investment of a couple of thousand dollars. If youíre starting a factory or a restaurant, youíre looking at a lot more than that. As businesses go, this is one that you can enter fairly cheaply.
But on those initial demos you have to be willing to spend a little bit of money of your own and really try to get it to the level you want it to be.
Did you cover that financial part with a day job or a loan?
I covered it initially with the work that I was doing as an arranger. I was doing a lot of music copying, which is a truly dreadful task, but it did keep some money coming in.
If I would be doing it now, I probably would have invested in a studio rather than investing in the way I did it, because now you can build a studio much less expensively than back when I was a songwriter.
Was there a certain style your name stood for?
I did a lot of pop stuff. I did stuff for all kinds of different pop artists. From Diana Ross to The Jacksons to Joey Lawrence, who had a big TV show then, one of the first sort of boy TV idols, and I had a big pop hit with him.
I came out of the time when New York was a centre for the dance community. It was the mid to late Ď80s. A lot of exciting dance music was coming out of New York. House music, freestyle, Latin, hip-hop, early electro stuff. I wrote for a lot of those artists coming out of New York at the time. Brenda K. Starr, Safire, and Samantha Fox, who came out of London.
I always tried to be influenced by dance music but make it pop. My formula was to try to get in on the underground. Find out whatís happening in the clubs. Find out what the new sound is, whether itís the House sound or the Acid House thing. Try to find those trends in the clubs and then commercialise them into pop songs.
How did those artists find you?
It was really a combination of my own networking. Pretty early after I had done my initial demos I wound up doing a publishing deal with Zomba Music.
My publisher was David Renzer, whoís Head of Universal now. He introduced me to a lot of important co-writers. Steve Lunt, whoís now A&R at Atlantic, was an early collaborator. He taught me a lot about the business and we did a lot of records together. Alexandra Forbes, who did ĎDonít Rush Meí for Taylor Dayne and ĎToo Turned Oní for Alisha, collaborated with me a lot as well.
A lot of it was about building my own musical community. Songwriters tend to think too much about networking and trying to meet this executive or that executive, and: ďOh, if I could just meet Clive Davis, my life would change.Ē
The reality is that the best network is really the people around you. The other songwriters, the other producers, the engineers, the artists who are getting started.
As those people rise, if you built a network with them, then your career will rise as well. You have to put a lot of effort into building your own musical community and trying to be a part of that.
I was very fortunate. I met a lot of great songwriters that were about the same level that I was in New York, and we were all able to come up together. Shelly Peiken, who wound up doing ĎWhat A Girl Wantsí for Christina Aguilera and a lot of other big hits. Jeff Franzel, who has done stuff for *NSYNC and Taylor Dayne and a lot of other people, was part of the group.
We all tried to introduce each other to people and work together in various combinations. That was very important.
Are you still writing songs?
Not anymore. I stopped when I took the position at Zomba Music, which is about eight years ago.
As a publisher I never wanted it to be a conflict with songwriters I was working with - for them to see that I was hustling my own songs or using knowledge about projects to pitch my own material as opposed to theirs.
Iíve written a book thatís out now. Iíve written a new book thatís coming out. I re-oriented my creative impulse into writing books and plays as opposed to songs. Iím still pretty active creatively, but not on the song level. Iíve tried to keep that separate.
What inspired you to write ĎMaking Music Make Money: An Insider's Guide to Becoming Your Own Music Publisherí?
I wrote it in response to something Iíve seen at so many panels at different conferences that Iíve spoken at. And it happened to me just last week at the Winter Music Conference in Miami. I was doing a publishing panel and the person who was moderating it asked the group of people how many are songwriters, and every hand in the room went up. Then he asked how many of them are publishers, and only about one hand went up.
I was seeing that over and over again, and coming to the realisation that songwriters need to understand that as soon as theyíve written a song they are their own publishers. Until they give it away, they have their publishing.
Songwriters have to learn how to take control of their own publishing and act as their own music publisher, at least enough to get some things going in order to be of interest to the rest of the industry.
I felt that so many songwriters view publishing as something someone else does for them. And I really wanted to try to help them understand that publishing was the way you make songwriting into a business.
What is the balance between talent and determination on an aspiring songwriterís road to success?
The talent issue in music is a touchy one. Itís a very hard thing to define exactly what talent is. There are people that have been immensely successful where you might say well, thatís not a great talent, but it may be a very specific talent. Sometimes thatís very useful in this business.
In this business you donít have to necessarily be able to write every different kind of music or have a huge musical knowledge. If you do one thing that people really like, that can be enough. And it may not be a wide talent, but itís enough talent to be successful.
You just have to take talent for granted. You hope that you have it. Most people probably have enough of it to be at least moderately successful.
What really holds most people back is a lack of strategy. The determination is often there, but there is no direction to the determination. Itís just a desire to succeed, but itís not a plan of how to succeed.
The struggle for most creative people is to come up with that plan. That ability to look at the market, to see opportunities.
To say, this is what Iím good at and this is how Iím going to focus my talent so that I can take advantage of this specific opportunity here or there.
Thatís where most people miss out. And thatís where a lot of maybe lesser talented people succeed, because they may not have the huge talent but they found the place in the market where they can use the little talent that they have very effectively.
Itís really the planning and the strategy that differentiate the people that are successful.
When is an aspiring songwriter ready to open the doors to all the other parties who will help to develop his/her career?
I really began with maybe one or two songs. Some people have 300 songs. Publishers donít care about that. They care about whether you have one song that means something. One song thatís great.
As soon as a songwriter has one song that they really feel like theyíve nailed it, and that theyíve at least taken it as far as they can demo-wise, at that point itís time to start getting it out there.
You better start early with that, but put your efforts into making one song that opens the doors rather than wait until you have 50 songs and then try to figure out how youíre going to demo all 50 songs, because thatís going to be so expensive.
Once you have 10-12 songs that you can play on the guitar and sing, just rough ideas, at that point itís time to start running them by other songwriters, other creative people, other musicians, friends. Even if you play live as a singer/songwriter to get them out there in front of an audience, and then start to be really critical about which ones rise to the top.
And once you discover those one or two songs that really rise to the top, then put your effort into that and try to take those all the way so that they really open some doors for you.
How should songwriters present their material nowadays?
As far as demo quality goes, Iím a big believer in trying to get it as close to a record as you can. Especially now with ProTools and Logic, thereís just not a lot of leeway to accept things that are not of that quality. Demos can get ruled out now because the drum sound is wrong. The irony of course is that everyone is working hard to create these great sounding demos and then sending them as MP3s.
Generally speaking, as an industry person, thatís the easiest way to receive stuff. A link or an MP3 file is certainly easier than the old stack of CDs that used to mount up on the desk every Monday morning.
Where do you source the funds you need for pitching, developing and administering your catalogue, protecting your copyrights, and constructing a solid business team?
I donít think that it should take a great deal of money to get things out and start pitching them.
When I first arrived at Zomba Music, I wasnít replacing anybody. So there wasnít really a position there. They basically gave me an office, an A&R guide and a telephone. That was pretty much all I had for the first three months. It doesnít take that much to get going. It does take some money to start demoing some things. Thatís something where you just either have to borrow it or you have to try to find some kind of steady gig that can fund it.
How much money do you need to establish a presence for yourself and your publishing company in the industry?
I donít ever think of it in terms of money. Thereís enough stuff that you can do at almost no cost that I donít think the money should be that significant. It used to be like having to have a letterhead, and envelopes. Now youíre sending it all on MP3.
You get a good graphic logo that will brand you a little bit, which is probably $1500 or something like that for a decent graphic artist unless you can pull in a favour.
If I were going to spend money on anything when I started out as a songwriter, other than the actual demos, I would put it into tip sheets or subscriptions to things like HitQuarters.com or the Music Directory, the A&R guides. Outlets that will provide you with phone numbers, access to people, ways to contact people. A Billboard subscription.
The real battle is to know whatís going on in the industry, and to know who is doing what, and to find some way of getting in contact with them. Thatís the biggest challenge.
If you can do that, then itís really just a case of having a good looking Myspace page that you can refer people to and some MP3s on the computer. I donít think it should be such an expensive endeavour.
Another thing I actually learned from Tom Silverman at Tommy Boy Records, which is where I started my first gig in the business, was that people love to be in the music industry.
Probably the one thing we have left in the industry is the sort of illusion of glamour about it. And you can pull in a lot of favours from people just for the opportunity to be in the music industry. You have to use that sometimes.
You can get a lot of interns to help you that will do it for nothing just to be able to be in the music industry. You can get graphic artists who will do things just because they want a credit in the music industry.
And then you have to try to return those favours and make sure that people get their due. Make sure that people are invited to your gigs. Make them feel like theyíre in the industry for having helped you. You need to call in those favours.
Can you give an example of a strategy for placing your music in money-making situations?
They are all over the place. It really depends on the style of music. Letís say youíre doing a lot of instrumental dance music, you look at things like video games right now that are a great place to try to place some of those things.
If youíre a singer/songwriter, the strategy right now seems to primarily be to target TV. Try to get that key TV placement and a good homemade video on YouTube.
Thatís what really has done it for Ingrid Michaelson, Colbie Caillot and Plain White Ts.
Thereís a bunch of them that have basically broken that formula of getting a key TV spot somewhere and then really building on that effectively through YouTube video and a very active Myspace page.
For pop songwriters the game still seems to be very much trying to get those key cuts. Thatís really the case of trying to get contacts with the key A&R people. Obviously, people like Steve Ferrera and Pete Ganbarg, who are doing the American Idol projects that use a lot of outside songs.
Itís different for each person with different kinds of music, but it can really range from television to film. Weíve got an alternative indie band here at Shapiro Bernstein called Oppenheimer that has been very effective in advertising.
If youíre an alternative band, advertising is probably where youíre going to earn the most money initially. A lot of our pitching efforts are directed towards trying to get into the advertising community with bands like that.
What should you do once you wrote a song and want to protect it? How do you get a copyright?
You can do that in a number of ways. You can individually copyright your song by sending it in to the copyright department. Thatís certainly viable, and it will do what you wanted to do. The costs are not exorbitant but itís not cheap either, especially when you write a lot of songs.
I wouldnít necessarily copyright everything I wrote. I would copyright the things that I was getting out publicly. The key songs. I usually recommend that people do it as a compilation. You can record a group of them and submit them as a collection of songs and copyright the whole thing together. Thatís what most publishers do, and what I would recommend most writers to do. Itís more economically efficient. It does mean that some things go non-copyrighted for a few months while you get this collection together, but generally speaking thatís the best way to copyright them.
The other thing I emphasise with people is that the most common cause of problems for songwriters in terms of losing a portion of the income on their songs is not copyright issues but arguments between songwriters about splits or about who did what. Theyíre about bringing in this engineer to mix it and now he wants a piece or an artist whoís going to cut the song and demands 25% in order to record it. Those are the every day problems that effect songwriters.
You have to take care of your paperwork on the song. You need to get signed split letters. Once you completed a song with your co-writers agreeing on the splits, getting their contact information, their publishing information, so that you can register the song at ASCAP or BMI or Harry Fox Agency or wherever you need to.
You need to get all that paperwork information. Itís very important, because most problems with songs are not things that werenít copyrighted and stolen by someone, theyíre usually disputes between the people that created the song.
Regarding Ďsplit lettersí; what are the rates of publisherís share and writerís share?
It can vary, and thatís one of the things that has to be agreed upon. Generally speaking, the publisherís share will correspond with the writerís share. If you and I wrote a song together and we decided we were each to have 50% then publishing-wise you would have 50% and I would have 50%.
But there may be an instance where if I have an active publishing company thatís very active in pitching the music, I may come to you and say well, let me publish your share as well.
And that might actually be a better deal for you as in fact youíre not set up at all to be a publisher.
The shares donít have to correspond. It is possible for one writer or an outside publisher to take 100% of the publishing with three different writers. You have to agree. The split letter should show the writerís percentage for each writer and the publisherís percentage for each writer.
Generally speaking, if there hasnít been any discussion about it one would assume that whatever your share is as a writer would be matched by your share as a publisher. But it is possible to make deals where you would take more publishing or less publishing.
What is the total income of a song?
The total income of a song is a combination of all the different streams of income. There are millions of individual small streams, but they really fall into about four categories.
Thereís the mechanical income, which is the income you receive every time a record is sold or some kind of physical product that has that song on it is sold, a CD being the most obvious one.
And the mechanical income is dropping because weíre selling less and less physical product.
The actual mechanical rate for one CD sold right now is 9.1 cents. So when you have one song on a CD, theoretically every time a copy of that CD is sold youíve earned 9.1 cents.
Thereís performance money. And thatís paid to the songwriters each time the song is performed in a public setting.
That could be anywhere from a live performance to a nightclub to a restaurant to the radio and TV, being the biggest earners in that area. Those are collected by ASCAP, BMI and SESAC.
Then thereís sync income, which is income that you would get from a movie or an advertisement, which is usually some kind of flat fee.
And then thereís other income, which could include anything from karaoke to videogames to Billy Bass the Singing Fish. All those kind of products fall into special income.
A song will earn a combination of all the above.
What are the average advances (interest-free loan against future earnings) for a young writer and an established hit-maker?
They really differ depending on the deals and the potential, and also the genre. Some genres are very expensive, some are less so. The reality is that there are very few deals being done right now for what you might have called five years ago a developing writer.
In the sense of someone that doesnít have any income out there yet, but that youíre just advancing money and hoping theyíre going to get songs cut. Those deals are becoming very hard to do. They still do some in Nashville. Occasionally you have small companies in the pop business doing them, but not very often.
For those writers they could range anywhere from $25,000 to $100,000. This is for someone with really no track record and no actual income out there to collect.
For most deals now, people are looking for writers that have songs out that are earning money already. Those can range anywhere from maybe $75,000 all the way up to several million dollars if itís a proven hit-maker.
Someone that has a steady string of hits and a long string of projects that theyíre working on for the next two years that you know are going to be generating income.
The huge deals are probably a little rarer than they were a few years ago. But there will always be a market for the million dollar songwriters, because there are just so few of them. There are so few people that can actually produce hits consistently. People that can are very much in demand.
A lot of the times itís less risky to pay $150,000 to someone that has a song on the charts now thatís moving up and that looks like itís selling records, then it is to advance $20,000 to a new writer that doesnít have anything going.
You can do the math and you can see how much money is out there. If someone has got $180,000 already earned and youíre giving him 150,000, then thatís a lot less risky than giving someone who doesnít have anything 20,000.
In regards to royalty rates, should every writer get a standard contract or should they negotiate about every submission?
Thereís a standard royalty rate in terms of mechanical income, which is for every time a CD is sold or any kind of physical product. That royalty rate is set by the government, and thatís 9.1 cents. Sync income is entirely negotiable. If you get a song in a film or a TV show or an advertisement, then thereís absolutely no standard.
There are projects where they want a song for nothing, and thereís other ones where theyíll pay half a million dollars for it. Itís entirely negotiable.
Performance income is set by the performance rights organisations, ASCAP, BMI and SESAC, and they calculate that. So thereís not much you can do on that.
As far as mechanical royalties, unfortunately the standard royalty is nine cents, but the record companies play a lot of games with that. As a new songwriter, unfortunately you have to be a little bit flexible, because you often will not receive those nine cents.
Thereís something called the three quarter rate, which is where record companies pay three quarters of the full rate. So thatís about 6.8 cents. And then there are things called controlled composition clauses where your rate can go even lower.
You try to control the rates as best you can, you try to negotiate with the labels as best you can, but as a writer starting out sometimes your flexibility is limited.
Controlled composition clauses tend to usually apply to either singer/songwriters, people that perform their own songs, and a lot of the times it will be built into their artist or producer deal.
And a lot of the times a reduced royalty rate will be built into the production agreement.
So you have to watch out for that. If youíre an artist or a producer you have to make sure youíve checked your contract as to how itís affecting your publishing income.
As a not yet well-established songwriter, what is financially and administratively needed for your realistic target for your first year, like having a song recorded and released by a major label artist?
Thatís a reasonable goal if youíre the kind of songwriter that writes for outside artists.
If youíre not a singer/songwriter or a band, if youíre the kind of songwriter that tries to get songs cut by a Kelly Clarkson or whomever, then probably realistically if you could get one or two cuts within the first year that would be pretty successful.
Thatís not going to make you a lot of money, because itís unlikely that one of those two cuts is going to be a Kelly Clarkson or an Avril Lavigne or someone like that.
Itís probably going to be on a new up-and-coming artist or possibly on an act outside of the US. It may not make you a lot of money, but you may get lucky.
We have one songwriter here, whoís a co-writer on the JoJo song ĎToo Little Too Lateí. It was one of her first cuts, and it obviously was a huge hit. That doesnít happen very often. Most of the time, when you start, youíre looking at getting small cuts here and there, and if you can get a couple a year youíre doing pretty well. And you hope that those build on each other.
Obviously, every time you get a song out there it increases your credibility. It widens the amount of people that you know and that you work with. The person who produced that song is going to go on to produce other acts. The artist is going to go on to make more records. Hopefully, you will continue to build.
The reality of songwriting is that a lot of the times it takes a pretty big catalogue before you start to make really consistent money. Itís hard to make money on a catalogue of 50 songs. Only when you get to 120 to 200 songs and 10 to 15 songs that have been out there and are out there earning money, then you really start to see a significant stream of income.
Regarding the Ďpayoffí; youíve got to set specific targets in numbers (measurable benefits) in order to break that target. How do you know in advance what youíre capable of?
I donít think you do. You have to be flexible. You have to set targets, certainly. Itís useful to have targets that youíre aiming at; both in terms of income, just financial stability, and also in terms of how many songs are out there or what level of artists are cutting the songs.
You have to be somewhat generous with yourself to understand that this business is not that controllable. A lot of the times itís feast or famine. You may have a year where you got a couple of songs that didnít come out and the project got delayed, and then the next year you get three or four things that come out all at once. Even big writers have years like that.
You have to be somewhat flexible with yourself, as long as youíre seeing forward progress and you continue to go down that road. If youíre not seeing any progress then you have to be realistic and say this direction isnít working for me.
You really have to look at the music first and ask yourself if the music is right. And if you really believe the music is right, then you have to look at your business approach.
The other reality is that you have to treat this as a global business nowadays. And you have to be pitching your songs all over the world, which you can do through the Internet, itís not that hard.
You never know. Sometimes you may not have gotten that big cut in the US that you wanted and that you set your goal at, but if you got two or three cuts in Europe and one of them wound up being a big act, then that may make up for it.
You have to be somewhat flexible and allow yourself to constantly assess and re-assess your career.
How can you establish your songs in the marketplace? Whatís the follow-up after a songís success?
The key when a song is successful is to make sure that you use that window of time to make as many contacts in the industry as you can. And to be ready with some songs to follow that up immediately.
Especially, knowing that the nature of this business is that if you had a hit in a certain style people are going to want more things in that vein. Thatís going to start to establish your name.
Successful songwriters have somewhat branded themselves within a certain style. If you want a Max Martin type song, you know what type of song that is; itís a big pop song. And heís become the brand that you go to for that, in the same way that The Neptunes or Timbaland is a brand for a certain kind of R&B sound.
Once you have a hit itís important to try to establish that brand and to have more stuff in that direction ready to go and to use that opportunity to generate as much publicity as you can and to meet as many people in the industry as you can.
Because, it is a window of time. While the song is on the charts and for maybe four to five months after it was on the charts, youíve got that window when doors will be open to you. But they will close again if you donít use it.
If you donít take advantage of it people will start to forget. This business is a new Hot 100 every week. You only have so long to capitalise on it. A lot of songwriters make the mistake of having one hit and then going off in a completely different direction.
You really have to use that hit to say Ok, thatís my brand now, thatís how people know me. So I need to be ready to show them that I can consistently produce in that vein.
Why is it recommended to focus on one particular genre?
There used to be a huge business for general magazines like LIFE magazine that was about every different topic. Now that doesnít really exist. Now magazines are about very specific topics.
The music and television industry is the same way. Itís a much specialised business now. There are thousands of specific small genres. And the people working in those genres are expected to be experts in those genres.
If youíre an urban songwriter, A&R people are calling you because youíre an expert in that particular style.
Youíre expected to know what kids in the urban community are listening to, what sounds are in or out of fashion, what A&R people are key. Youíre expected to know the key artists and what differentiates each artist from the other, what up-and-coming artists there are and what differentiates those too. Itís a lot of stuff to know. You canít be an expert in four or five different genres. Thereís just not enough time in a day. You need to pick one and learn everything that you can about it so that you can sell yourself as an expert in it.
Itís just not practical to build up an entire business network and the knowledge it entails in four or five different genres.
How does a Creative Director improve a writer? Can you give examples of constructive suggestions as to what can be done to make the song viable?
Thatís a really important thing that publishers provide. A certain level of quality control and a certain level of creative thinking.
It can range anywhere from very specific song criticisms like Ďthe bridge isnít workingí to Ďthis title wouldnít work because this artist would never sing thisí.
I find a lot of the times that itís more about general knowledge. I had one songwriter when I was at Zomba Music that was a brilliant lyricist but was trying very hard to break in the pop/urban genre, and that really wasnít her ability.
I finally told her, ďyou need to go to Nashville. Because there they will appreciate what you do lyrically. Itís not going to work here in New York.Ē And she did and sheís been very successful down there.
Some of it is being able to stand outside of something. She fought it. She didnít want to go to Nashville.
It was much easier for me to recognise that, because I didnít have to worry about the fact that she had to sell her home and all the other things that you have to do when you move. I could just see it on a musical level and say this is where this music belongs.
Another thing that Creative Directors can do is offer general guidance.
Sometimes itís saying, Ďlisten, your tracks are great, but your lyrics are killing it over and over again. Your lyrics just arenít strong enough. I want you to work with these three lyricists and see if we can come up with what we need.í
Sometimes itís a case of saying, Ďlisten, this sound is done. You need to re-orient yourself in this direction, because the genre that youíve been working in isnít really working anymore. You need to change.í
Itís offering those things and itís offering a network of people enabling you to suggest four or five people that would be appropriate for someone you tell they need to work with a lyricist.
As you have to build a business that turns your songs into valuable copyrights, how can songwriters stay true to their art with the knowledge that creating music is not enough?
Staying true to your art really means just refining what you do as much as you can. You never want to sacrifice that. You have to do music that youíre proud of, even if itís very commercial stuff.
People that try to write down to genres and say well, I donít really like this kind of music but Iíll write it because I think it will make money, generally donít succeed.
Even people that write simple pop songs, love writing simple pop songs. Thatís their art, and they see it as an art. And theyíre very protective of it.
You always protect your art by making sure that the music is the best you can possibly make.
Once youíve done that, then it really becomes a case of putting on your other hat, your publisher hat. And saying Ok, how I can turn this into something that will make money.
You have to have the knowledge that itís that publishing function that makes the art possible. If no one turns it into money then the artist quits creating.
You approach the music on an artistic level as much as you possibly can. Once thatís done, you put on the other, publisher hat and you try to be as aggressive as possible, as a business person, about how youíre going to exploit that.
A lot of people donít like to take care of business administration, they leave that to others, and they just want to do the fun part. How can they get that work ethic without losing the hunger to create their art?
It is difficult. No creative person really enjoys administration. Itís a different kind of person that enjoys that. There are companies that will help you handle your administration. You may have to look at using some of those as your catalogue grows.
Initially, it wouldnít make financial sense. But as you start to have some success, you may well decide that it make sense to have a publisher that helps you either on a co-publishing level or at an administrative level to manage your catalogue.
You may also find the use of interns very helpful. Thereís a lot of paperwork that can be taken care of by college students who are looking to get into the music industry.
You have to be willing to farm that out to people and to try to develop young people who are interested and who are actually enjoy doing it as an experience in the industry.
The other thing I always emphasise is that you have to set up systems. The one thing I was terrible at as a songwriter is setting up systems.
If you donít have any system for cataloguing your songs, for getting split letters on every song, then as your catalogue is growing youíre still scrambling to handle the old stuff. You canít keep up, and it becomes unworkable.
If you start out early by setting up cataloguing systems and setting up a split letter form that you use and fill out every time. Making sure you have all your co-writers information, making sure you have a lyric sheet for every song, and then it becomes relatively easy when someone calls and wants to license something. You have all the information at your fingertips and you can deal with it easily. A lot of it is about setting up your publishing systems early on in your catalogue so that things run in an orderly fashion.
Can you define what makes a song truly great?
Itís always open to interpretation. One thing I do mention in the book and also in my class is that most songs, even some of the great songs, have flaws. If you put a checklist to them, not every smash hit song is going to get a 100 on the checklist. The Song Quality checklist is really just a means of forcing yourself to be objective about your own stuff.
The thing that keeps coming back in the new book I just finished, Hits Only, Please, is that a hit song is usually a song that is a little bit the same and a little bit different. It fits into a format.
Itís not so radically different that it doesnít fit into a format. The structure is something that people can relate to and easily understand, but it has got a little bit of a twist.
And usually that is a lyrical concept. A different idea - something like ĎLondon Bridgeí is a great example. Itís an idea for a song. Ne-Yo was great at coming with really fresh lyrical concepts. Things that either havenít been said or havenít been said in that particular way. Itís that combined with a great melodic hook. In the end, as important as tracks may be, it still comes down to a great melodic idea and a really fresh lyrical concept.
And those two things are really what established the great songs from the good ones.
Where and how do you find undiscovered songs or unique and special songwriters nowadays?
Probably through the same network that most A&R people use. Obviously, Iím always meeting with lawyers, managers and producers/managers. Iím watching other publishers and watching the charts.
But I actually find that a lot of the best stuff for me comes from recommendations from other songwriters. Other songwriters know the great songwriters.
Maybe because I was a songwriter myself, I find that the recommendations from other songwriters mean more to me than almost anything else. Theyíve usually stirred me right. If a good songwriter tells you that this guy is a great songwriter, then theyíre probably a great songwriter.
I try to network as much as I can within the musical community to find people as opposed to just through lawyers, managers and watching the charts.
You do lectures and consultancy covering all aspects of the art, craft and business of songwriting. What is the Eric Beall Method?
A lot of the stuff Iíve outlined here - being strategic in your approach, being very focused in your approach, and taking control of your own publishing situation and your own songwriting situation.
Iíve read something the other day where some company was saying, you do the music, leave all the rest to us. Iím not a big believer in that. Most successful songwriters Iíve known are very aggressive business people as well as being great songwriters.
Itís important for songwriters to take control of their own business and to know whatís going on, and to have their own business strategy so that other companies, whether itís a publisher or a record label can then help support them with.
But the creative strategy has to come from the songwriter. They canít rely on other companies to provide the basic strategy or the focus.
What does ĎMusic Publishing 101í, the Berklee College of Music online course, consist of?
Thatís really developed out of the book - Making Music Make Money. Itís a step-by-step process to setting up your own music publishing company. It covers all the different aspects of publishing, both the technical aspects and the creative aspects.
We spend weeks on learning how to pitch songs effectively and identify opportunities. Other weeks on calculating royalty rates.
The goal is to take the students to a twelve-week course that by the end they will have the information they need to really have their publishing company up and running.
Writers often complain about the big publishers because they sign them but then they donít do anything for them. What level of success is taken seriously for entering a partnership with a larger publishing company?
This is a problem thatís going to get increasingly difficult for songwriters as these major companies continue to grow. Some of them are growing huge to a degree that none of us would have expected a few years ago.
Thereís a dollar amount that gets attention at those kinds of companies, and another dollar amount where itís very difficult to get attention. Songwriters that are approaching a major publisher have to have their own business operating effectively.
They have to be approaching that major publisher as if saying, ĎI want you to partner with me in my business. And together we will accomplish this.í
But it canít be a situation where they are relying on the major publisher to jumpstart their business. The business has to be up and running and self-sufficient. And then theyíre in a position to be able to go to a major publisher and offer a partnership.
You have to come in as a business partner. You canít bring a major publisher in order to run your business. Theyíre simply not capable of that.
They have too many writers and they wouldnít do a good job of it, and when they donít do a good job of it, they will immediately lose interest.
Whatís the benefit of such a partnership?
If you have the right situation and the right publishers, they can be very effective business partners. They certainly can be effective if youíre trying to grow your business to a worldwide level.
Different publishers have different degrees of effectiveness in working throughout their worldwide organisation, but all of them are worldwide companies. They can be helpful in building your business outside of whatever country youíre in.
They can also offer networking opportunities just within the roster itself that might not be available to you otherwise.
Some of them, not all of them, do a very good job of working in the film and TV world. Sometimes that can be a difficult world to penetrate on your own, at least when the very top level Hollywood movies are concerned.
So they offer some effective things, and at times they can deliver a big cheque. And sometimes that might be what your business needs more than anything else.
If you get a big cheque, you have to realize that then they have done their part. You now have to use that money that they have given you and build your own business and make it effective, because they wouldnít do that for you.
How do you view the current music business climate?
Itís very difficult, no question about it. But I think that publishing overall is a much healthier business than the record business. You see a lot of investment companies right now buying publishing catalogues and moving into the publishing business. The reason for that is that itís a much more solid business than the record business.
Historically, the music business really started with music publishing selling sheet music, in fact before there were records at all. Ironically, we may now be seeing a circle going back to those days where music publishers really controlled the industry.
Because the industry is now becoming much more about licensing music to films, TV, advertisement, mobile phones and a million other places as opposed to creating an actual physical disc thatís sold and contains music.
That business is going to continue to be very difficult, and probably dissolve entirely at a certain point.
Is it still a challenge working in this industry after a 20-year career?
Oh, yes it is. That never ceases. Whatís challenging right now, especially for those of us whoíve been in the business for a long time, is that the model has changed so drastically, and the new media opportunities are just so immense.
Iím really focused right now on mobile music and on the gaming industry. Those are huge opportunities, but itís an entirely new business to learn.
It never ceases to be challenging in that respect. Especially in the next ten years, weíre going to be faced with a lot of things that those of us who came up in the music industry arenít really prepared for.
Are you still working with artists as Creative Consultant for Shapiro Bernstein?
Mostly with songwriters, but I do have a number of people over here that I work with that are artists as well as songwriters.
For example, Ruth-Anne Cunningham, who co-wrote ĎToo Little Too Lateí with Billy Steinberg and Josh Alexander. Sheís developing as an artist now. Sheís coming out with a record in Ireland, which is where she lives.
Weíve got a group called Saving Jane that had a big hit with a song called ĎGirl Next Doorí. Iím working with Marti Dotson, the frontwoman. Iím actually developing her songwriting career outside of the group.
Weíre helping songwriters become artists, and weíre helping artists write songs for other people, which is probably the nature of the publishing business right now. Itís trying to get as much mileage out of each writer as you can.
Whatís your new book about?
ĎHits Only, Pleaseí is coming out at the end of the year and itís on Billboard Press. Itís really a look at what people mean in the music industry when they say that theyíre looking for a hit. What is a hit? What defines that?
It includes industry interviews with people like David Massey, Hosh Gureli, Stargate and a lot of great songwriters and A&R people.
And what are your future plans?
Doing a lot of speaking, Iím speaking at the ASCAP Expo next week. Doing a lot of panels. And continuing to teach the class at Berkleemusic.
Interview by Kimbel Bouwman
Next week: Interview with Louise Porter