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Lorenzo Policelli

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Recent Songwriters Hall of Fame Gala

_48108056_009572690-1[1] Last weekend, singer Phil Collins received the prestigious Johnny Mercer Award at the Songwriters Hall of Fame gala.  The singer, who has sold over 100 million records as a solo artist and with the band Genesis, said writing a popular track is "a complete accident".

This year’s inducted songwriters included Leonard Cohen, Jackie DeShannon, David Foster, and R&B band Earth Wind and Fire.  Singer Taylor Swift received the Hal David starlight award.  The link above has all the awards and inductees for 2010.

Speaking on the red carpet, Collins said: "For a songwriter, it’s a huge honour. I was very surprised when I got the news."  The musician revealed that when organizers contacted him about the award, he had originally assumed he would have been presenting it, instead of receiving it. "That’s something that I never thought I’d be qualified to get, I still don’t think I’m qualified to get," he said.  The award is the second major honour this year for the 59-year-old, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March.

Phil Ramone was given the hitmakers award, which is given to songwriters who have written a number of hit songs over an extended period.  Billy Joel, who cited the producer as a major influence on his music, presented Ramone with his trophy at the ceremony in New York.

Paul Simon’s Bridge Over Troubled Water was also honoured to commemorate its 40th anniversary.

May the Muse stay with all the worthy inductees…

Ray Charles’ copyrights a lucrative business

A very interesting article from Reuters about Ray Charles’ effect as a performer on both the songs he interpreted (helping out those songwriters’ catalogues) and his own publishing catalogue that he owned or that he wrote while under Warner/Chappell Music.

Ahead of the 80th anniversary of Ray Charles’ birth on September 23, 2010, the Ray Charles Marketing Group is working with partners on numerous projects including a new documentary on the Biography Channel and the debut this fall of "Unchain My Heart: The Ray Charles Musical" set for November.  So get ready for a lot of Ray Charles in the near future (hurrah!).

But while he helped other artists/songwriters with his interpretations of their songs, the same didn’t work out for Ray Charles since his reputation sometimes proved daunting to other singers. In other words, because Charles often did the definitive versions of his songs, nobody will record/cover his songs.

Ah, to have that problem one day!  But I won’t, ‘cos I’m a “non-performing” songwriter for good reason… I can’t perform… but I keep the Muse with me…

Songpitch.ca To Launch Soon

songpitch[1]

The Songwriters Association of Canada and Astral Media Inc. recently announced the launch of a brand new Web portal for songwriters and composers across Canada.

The portal will revolutionize the music industry. It enables songwriters across the country to share their compositions, receive advice from industry professionals and offer their creations for sale to music buyers for television, film and other media. The new portal will also make it possible to replace the traditional practice of mailing CD demos to songwriters, musicians, agents and distributors.

Songwriters Eddie Schwartz, Jim Vallance, Greg Johnston and Marc Jordan, known for their songs performed by artists such as Pat Benatar, Diana Ross, Hilary Duff, Backstreet Boys, Bryan Adams and Olivia Newton John, are just some of the prominent industry members who will provide free, personalized feedback to songwriters who upload their songs to the platform.

"The launch of this new portal is in keeping with Astral Media’s creative and innovative spirit. Thanks to our work over the past few years with the Songwriters Association of Canada, we can have an immediate and significant impact on the careers of thousands of songwriters, aspiring and emerging artists and music program students across the country," said Jacques Parisien, Group President, Astral Media Radio and Astral Media Outdoor.

"When aiming to have a significant and immediate impact on emerging talent, aspiring and established artists, you must start at the bottom of the Canadian radio industry’s food chain. That is, to start with the songwriters. The Songwriters Association of Canada and Astral Media both know that it all starts with a song. Thanks to this partnership with Astral Media, a songwriter from any region of the country will have access to the industry’s senior decision makers as well as the advice of Canada’s most prolific songwriters," added Don Quarles, Executive Director of the Songwriters Association of Canada.

To learn more about the new portal and how it works, visit www.songpitch.ca.

The Songwriters Association of Canada is dedicated to the advocacy and education of Canadian songwriters and devoted to developing and nurturing songwriting communities across the country. Astral Media is one of Canada’s leading media companies, active in specialty and pay television, radio, outdoor advertising and interactive media.

When it’s live and I try it… I’ll let you know how the Muse works within this site, but I am looking forward to it… may the Muse be with you.

Copyfight in Canada

Precedent, a magazine about the “new rules of law and style” for lawyers in Canada, had an article entitled “Copyfight” in its latest issue. There was a bill (C-61) that fell by the wayside because of the last federal election being called. Various lawyers discuss the merits (or lack thereof) of C-61 which was assailed by its critics for making most of the public into “copyright criminals”. As the premise of the article goes:

Not long ago, a copyright protest would have seemed like a piece of absurdist parody (“Actuaries of the world, unite!”). But the federal government has made it clear that it intends to rewrite Canada’s creaky copyright laws, and in a world awash with media, everyone has something at stake. Creators want to be paid for their creativity, while consumers want to enjoy, share, and re-purpose it. Copyright has never been as clear as property rights, and deciding what’s legal hasn’t always been easy. In fact, it’s turned into a very public, very bitter tug-of-war – an out-and-out copyfight.

One of my favourite writers/bloggers in the area of copyright/intellectual property matters in Canada is Michael Geist, a lawyer in Ottawa who is the “go to” guy for the media on these sorts of issues. I’ll leave the last words for him, but I have that good old-fashioned contradiction inside of me on this issue – I certainly make “fair use” of many songs out there (if I own the album, I don’t see why I can’t download the mp3 version), but if I ever do publish a song, I wonder how “fair” it will seem to me then… Oh that I would have such a problem!

“We ought to recognize that copyright is not the only incentive to creativity,” says Michael Geist, leaning over a table at a tiny, packed Second Cup on the University of Ottawa campus (“his second office,” noted a colleague).

Geist isn’t a free-everything activist (of which there are plenty on the Internet). But he has argued loud and long that overprotection can be as dangerous and innovation-stifling as underprotection.

Geist argues that users’ rights to use copyrighted works for fair purposes shouldn’t be restricted by contracts or digital locks. His vision recognizes that, like it or not, users are increasingly becoming creators in their own rights. With the advent of “Web 2.0,” the technological barriers to accessing, altering, and rebroadcasting copyrighted material have evaporated. And, adds Geist, “what used to be a relatively small community of geeks became us. It became the Canadian public.”

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New Songwriting Promotion – Songs of Salamon

Daria Salamon’s debut novel, The Prairie Bridesmaid, comes with its own soundtrack! What a wonderful idea…

Nathalie Atkinson of the National Post wrote yesterday in article entitled Songs of Salamon (cheeky title that) about the groundbreaking development put forth by the first-time author and her mid-size Canadian independent publishing company Key Porter.

It also helps that she has great music connections through her husband, Rob Krause, founder of Smallman Records. Anyway, great kudos for the idea and a little snippet from Ms. Atkinson’s most interesting article (after her remark that “Somewhere, Nick Hornby is kicking himself” for not having thought of this himself!):

It’s the kind of marketing campaign you’d expect from a big publisher like Random House, perhaps conveniently featuring artists chosen from Sony BMG, its sister company in the Bertelsmann media conglomerate. Except that it comes from Key Porter, one of Canada’s mid-size independent publishers. The soundtrack won’t make the artists rich: Wach received only a “very nominal” mechanical royalty, and Salamon is making a donation to Osborne House, the nonfictional Winnipeg women’s shelter mentioned in the book, as well. But in light of rampant downloading, shifting industry business models and the recently announced cuts by the federal government to arts funding, Canadian writers and musicians — two groups on the endangered list –have to think fast about ways to expand their audience.

And if there’s film option interest, Salamon’s already done the soundtrack work.

May the Muse stay with Salamon… and long live Canadian ingenuity…

What It Means To Be Published – Andrea Stolpe

From one Italian-American female songwriter (see today’s other post on Ms. DioGuardi) to another… Andrea Stolpe writes on the topic of Publishing Your Own Songs in a recent post.

Andrea rightly defines “published” as really meaning having our songs recorded by an artist and in the public eye… as she relates: “Being ‘published’ may seem like a goal, but it’s actually just a means to an end.”

And after equating any attention to get our songs public – playing them at any sort of function for others to hear – that’s what we need to do as songwriters to promote ourselves: “The end result is that our songs are out there in the mix, floating upon the ears of those who need the music we create.”

Ms. Stolpe is wise and encouraging and backed by the Muse… as she imparts: “But, it’s also true that with determination and creativity, and a shining personality, you can begin to connect the dots yourself. Don’t let a publishing deal or a label deal hold you back from the true goal – getting your songs to the artists who want to record them and the listeners who want to enjoy them.”

Seneca Imdependent Musician Program (IMP)

I think that this is a fantastic new program, but you decide for yourself… If you live in the GTA, you’ll be able to take a full-time two-semester Independent Musician Program at Seneca College geared toward establishing yourself in the Indie music scene. Maybe I’ll take a sabbatical from my daytime gig to do something like this one time… this is from promotional material:

The Seneca College Independent Musician Program (IMP) is a unique and intensive 8-month course of study, designed to provide musicians with the tools they need to succeed as “Indie” artists.

Today’s Independent Musician must be an entrepreneur, capable of performing a wide range of tasks, from recording and performing to financing and marketing. The IMP curriculum puts equal emphasis on musical, technical and business skills, taught by working professionals in the areas of recording, performing and music business. The IMP program can help musicians from all musical genres realize their dream of making a living doing what they love.

Follow the link to the program to see what courses are involved… you’ll find quite a wide variety, all relevant and interesting… it’s some Muse news you can use…

Criticism of SAC’s Music File Sharing Compensation Proposal

Saw this article in today’s National Post that criticizes SAC’s recent proposal for compensation for music sharing monetization, deemed by the author to mean a “song tax”:

National Post

Monday, February 25, 2008

Debunking the song tax

National Post Published: Monday, February 25, 2008

You probably read about the proposal put forward last week by the Songwriters Association of Canada (SAC) for a $5 monthly tax to be applied to all “internet subscriptions” and distributed to songwriters as compensation for illegal music sharing. As a sensible human being, your reaction was either rage, laughter or some combination of the two. But let us put on a sober face for a moment and enumerate everything we can think of that is wrong with this pitch:

-It would penalize those who engage in no legally dubious filesharing to begin with. Some internet users don’t care for music and may not have media files of any kind on their computer. Others have only music they obtained legitimately — whether purchased from a recognized online vendor like iTunes, downloaded from an artist who offered it free or copied from older media for personal use. Those legitimate online vendors, by the way, would immediately lose the Canadian market, crippling the hopes of musicians who believe that internet sales are a better path to viability for the recording industry.

-Some users may not download much Canadian music, or indeed any, yet the Songwriters Association proposes to reward only “Canadian music creators” with revenue from Canadian internet users. The anticipated income would be in the neighbourhood of a billion dollars annually; this is curious, considering that in 1999, before record sales began to slump, the total value of all recorded music (from any country) sold in Canada was only $1.3-billion.

-The proposal uses statistical figures from biased sources (citing a Canadian Recording Industry Association “news article” in estimating overall nationwide filesharing) and spectacularly tortures figures from independent ones.

-There is no suggestion that the decline in legitimate sales of recorded music over the past 10 years, whose severity is itself controversial, has been caused by anything but illegal filesharing. The possibility that the music industry might be the victim of suicidal marketing choices, or that popular music might simply be in a fallow period, is never considered.

-Higher prices for internet access in Canada would worsen the “digital divide” between rich and poor. Canadians already pay large amounts for bandwidth — according to the International Telecommunication Union, an agency of the UN, access costs twice as much per bit here as in the U.S. and easily 10 times as much as in Japan and Korea.

-A special tax on internet access for songwriters would inevitably be followed by demands for similar taxes in the interests of motion picture producers, authors and visual artists. The songwriters’ demand for the seizure of $60 a year can only be considered modest if one denies the obvious — that as groups with equally legitimate claims came forward, it would soon become $120, or $200, or $500.

-One of those groups might well be non-songwriting performers on music recordings, who enjoy certain moral and royalty rights under some regimes. What, after all, is so sacred about the traditional legal balance of royalty rights that weighs so strongly in the favour of the songwriter at the expense of other contributors? Who contributed more to the first hit version of I Heard It Through the Grapevine — was it Marvin Gaye, or the writers (Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong)? You can reasonably argue either side. But then you have to consider the unheralded sidemen who played those thrilling strings, or the backup singers, or the studio engineer who stuck a microphone in front of Mr. Gaye’s mouth. The apportionment of credit entrenched in 20th-century music law is quite arbitrary, and has led to abusive practices at times, such as when powerful producers or managers bullied artists into giving them false songwriting credits.

-Remarkably, the proponents of the internet tax for songwriters seem not to have considered the possibility of widespread tax avoidance. They want $5-a-month tax on “internet subscriptions,” but what defines an “internet subscription”? If four people in my household have access to a wireless network, but there is only one bill, do we owe $5, or $20? How can internet cafes and public libraries bill their customers? What about users who let passersby piggyback wirelessly on their laptops as a matter of courtesy? Couldn’t any large group join together to buy one wide-band “subscription” from an ISP to beat the tax?

-How is the money to be distributed? SAC hallucinates an ultra-powerful, bias-free “collective” that “would track internet and wireless file sharing activity on a census basis. Virtually all sharing on the internet and wireless devices would be tracked,” they promise, and “Creators and rights-holders will be paid with a level of speed and accuracy never before possible.” Will this happen before or after pigs fly? And are you comfortable letting Eddie Schwartz and Randy Bachman monitor all the filesharing activity on your PC, or would you immediately click on the encryption option that peer-to-peer sharing applications already offer as a matter of course?

We know what choice we would make.

Don’t give up the Ghost: Singer-songwriter Amanda finally takes the spotlight

By STUART HUSBAND – More by this author » Last updated at 16:36pm on 16th February 2008

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She turned James Blunt’s ‘You’re Beautiful’ into a mega-seller and has written hits for the likes of Beyoncé and Whitney Houston. But success as a singer has always been elusive for Amanda Ghost. She tells Stuart Husband why she’s finally ready to take the spotlight…

Amanda Ghost is telling a story about a recent trip in a New York cab.

“I was on my way to see the music producer Mark Ronson,” she says, “but I had this bad back.

“When the driver suddenly slammed on the brakes I literally screamed with pain, and suddenly I couldn’t stop screaming.

“Everything came out – that I was thousands of miles away from my newborn daughter; that I needed to keep working despite a slipped disc – all the highs and lows of the past nine years.

Amanda Ghost

Amanda Ghost has written hits for Whitney Houston and Shakira. Now the 33-year-old is ready to take the spotlight for herself with new album, Blood on the Line

“It was incredibly emotional,” she says, “and as I sat there sobbing, the cabbie actually apologised, which is unheard of.’

Amanda has burst into the room like a force of nature, apologising for being late (her daughter Gia has been “playing up”), casting self-deprecating looks in the mirror (“God, I’m such a mess”), and enthusing about the clothes for the photo shoot (“So glam!”).

It’s a tribute to the 33-year-old’s vivacity that she has made it through a decade that’s been every bit as turbulent as she’s hinted.

She was tipped for a stellar singing career back in 2000, when she was plucked from Enfield-born obscurity by Warner Brothers’ Andrew Wickham, the man who signed Joni Mitchell and Emmylou Harris.

He claimed Amanda was better than both. She was fÍted accordingly, until her debut album, Ghost Stories (released in the U.S. only) failed to sell in huge quantities.

She was then left in hellish limbo, with Warners refusing to release a follow-up and trying to morph her into a Pink/Avril Lavigne hybrid.

“I think the reason it failed was because I wanted to do too much,” shrugs Amanda.

“I could write in any genre – pop, jazz, country, reggae – and I put them all on the album. The chairman of Warners said that I had a great voice but I couldn’t write hits.”

An ironic remark, considering what came next. Amanda had signed a separate songwriting contract with Warners, and in 2004 was asked to polish up a somewhat maudlin ballad.

Amanda Ghost and James Blunt

Amanda with James Blunt after scooping their Ivor Novello awards in London in 2006

The song was James Blunt’s ‘You’re Beautiful’, which went on to top the charts in Britain, the U.S., Canada and virtually any other place where soulful young men moon after hopelessly unattainable women.

Her co-writing credit brought her Grammy nominations and two Ivor Novello awards, and, with her writing partner Ian Dench, Amanda has since gone on to provide huge hits for Beyoncé (‘Beautiful Liar’, the duet with Shakira, which went to number one around the world) and the latest American Idol winner Jordin Sparks (‘Tattoo’, which has given Amanda her third US top ten song in 18 months).

As well as working with boy wonder Mark Ronson, Amy Winehouse’s producer, the in-demand Ghost has been asked to provide songs for Whitney Houston’s much-anticipated comeback album, and has been collaborating with musical legends Jay-Z, Mariah Carey and Lionel Richie.

All of which means that it’s a more propitious time for Amanda herself to venture back into the spotlight.

Her new album, Blood on the Line, provides a low-key acoustic showcase for her earthy, soulful voice to tackle a few of the songs she’s written for other people over the years (including ‘Time Machine’, penned for her best friend Boy George).

Later in the year she’ll be on the judging panel of a new American reality TV show that’s a sort of American Idol for aspiring songwriters.

Amanda credits Boy George with honing her own songwriting skills. She met him when she was 19 and working on the door of London’s then legendary nightspot, Mud Club.

“I was a fashion student, dabbling in journalism and pretending I didn’t want to get into music,” she recalls.

“I mean, I’d been singing and writing songs since I was eight; I’d sing them to my friends in the playground, and they’d go, ‘You didn’t write that!’ and I’d go, ‘Yes, I did!'”

Boy George took her under his wing. “What he gave me was an invaluable musical education.

“I was a pop kid at the time, and he introduced me to the likes of Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Nina Simone and David Bowie.”

(Mitchell has since become a friend, and credits Amanda’s song ‘Blood on the Line’ with reinvigorating her own faith in music.)

“George,” Amanda adds, “knows more about music than anyone I’ve met.”

The main thing he taught her about songwriting, she says, was to concentrate on simplicity and directness.

“Bob Marley said that the greatest songs can be hummed by a three-year-old, and it’s true.

“George would be saying, ‘Your voice and melodies are great but your lyrics are shit,’ and I’d go, ‘But they’re from my heart!'” she grins.

“He also taught me that it’s about two per cent talent and 98 per cent graft.

“I don’t think of myself as a professional songwriter – I hate them; they come in and write the ‘moon-in-June’ stuff and don’t add anything.

“To me, if I’m writing with someone, it’s important that their voice comes out in the song, otherwise there’s no point.”

This seems an appropriate moment to bring up ‘You’re Beautiful’, a song that’s become the ‘Lady in Red’ of its generation.

For Amanda, its legacy is more ambiguous: it’s set her up for life, but Blunt was curiously reluctant to acknowledge her as co-writer until he was forced to by the Ivor Novello triumph, hence her mix of pride and dismissal now.

“It changed everything for me,” she admits. “Until then I was a struggling artist.

“It took James Blunt three years of hard work to write, whereas for me it was ten minutes of polishing up the chorus at a kitchen table in LA when I was bored.

“I didn’t think it was very good,” she says with a smile.

“I said to my publisher, ‘Take my name off it.’ Thank God they talked me out of it. It’s a really childlike song, that’s why it did so well, but a lot of people still don’t realise he didn’t write it by himself.

“Everyone says, ‘Do you hate him, does he hate you?'” she continues breezily, “and we don’t.

“But there’s a lot of vitriol towards him, maybe because he got so successful so quickly with a song that’s so loathed.”

Amanda has always been grounded, a trait she attributes to her family – her father is Trinidadian, her mother Spanish, and she has two sisters, who are both bringing up families in New York.

But you get the feeling that success, now it’s finally come, is all the sweeter, not only because she’s a mother herself (her partner
, Gregor Cameron, is a TV producer; they live in Notting Hill, London, and are planning an April ‘flamenco wedding’ in her mother’s native Seville), but also because her new-found clout is happening on her terms.

“Being an artist, for me, isn’t about being famous,” she says firmly.

“Growing up with George, I got a crash course in how awful full-on fame can be.

“I’m doing this album because a lot of people have been asking me to do it, but I’m just as interested in my songs and my label and nurturing artists, bringing raw talent to fruition.

“The first time round, I wasn’t ready. I signed for £1 million and I was on the cover of a Sunday magazine before I’d sold a record.

“Immediately, everyone wanted to shoot me down. You have to earn it, and f****** hell have I earnt it,” she cackles.

“I’ve been plugging away for nine years, and I know everyone hates Madonna now, but one thing she taught me as a young, aspirational girl was that a quitter never wins and a winner never quits.”

And Amanda Ghost strides off with the exuberant air of someone for whom those words have been triumphantly vindicated.

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