A couple of years after we got married, Danny and I packed up our hand-me-down couch, dinette set and mattress, and moved from Edison, NJ to Nashville, TN with a notion to eventually make our living as songwriters. We had at least thought ahead enough to have saved some extra money to open a savings account, and had acquired employment to give ourselves a steady income in case the “songwriting thing” didn’t happen right away. Big dreams can take awhile, as you might imagine.
Most nights we’d head out to “writer’s nights”, often to the infamous Bluebird Cafe, to listen to songwriters sing their original songs and tell the stories behind them: “Well, about a year ago my co-writer and I got together and he was telling me about his wife’s grandma and grandpa and how after 60 years of marriage, they’d been separated in a nursing home on different floors. She’d stopped talking until one day they wheeled him into the room and she asked, ‘where have you been’, and we just started writing a song about it.”
Night after night the writers would start strumming their guitars and singing a few bars until the audience realized they were listening to one of their favorite songs recorded by Kathy Mattea or Garth Brooks or Reba McEntire or Tim McGraw or Bonnie Raitt and so on. There would be an audible sigh and an eruption of appreciative applause. There’s really nothing more breathtaking then hearing a hit song sung in its simplest form by the person who wrote it.
It didn’t take long to realize that singing one’s original songs at open-mics and writer’s nights was a right of passage in Nashville…whether or not you were a performer. There were opportunities to “play out” for every level of writer from those who were fresh-off-the-turnip-truck to those who were polished and perfected. As newbies, we’d go out to listen and support the other newcomers, our incoming class, as it were.
The first time some friends asked us to perform at a writer’s night they were hosting, I was TERRIFIED. It took some serious self-talk to step up on that stage. But when it was all over, after I had heard my shaky voice coming back through the monitor and I kept going, after Danny played the last chord on his keyboard and I heard some clapping, after I had not spontaneously imploded, I had my “aha” moment. Great songwriting requires you to be at your most vulnerable and your most courageous at the same time.
Those writer’s nights were a big part of my songwriting education. They forced me to face my fears and time and again push beyond my comfort zone. They allowed me to test out new material and get better at what I was trying to do. Most importantly, playing out gave me the opportunity to interact with my peers in a supportive and constructive way, as well as to meet co-writers and friends who have lasted a life time (Shout out to Carol & Dale, and Nancy & Fett).
On August 14th, we’re inviting our SongU members to take part in this same kind of educational experience with a virtual open-mic experiment, hosted by long-time member, Mitch Townley. Whether we’re experienced or aspiring, whether we’re singers or vocally “challenged”, ready or not, here we come!
Today, I have the pleasure of talking with one of SongU’s long-time mentors and coaches, two-time Emmy Award winning songwriter and producer, Michele Vice-Maslin.
Michele, I’ve got to start by asking what’s helping you cope during this time of Corona?
Well I am a complete hermit so besides my lack of a hot tub to slip into I’m doing just fine and feel blessed! Also I really aspire to be a “Happy Girl” as one of my songs is called. That always helps one c ope, finding and holding on to their “happy”. A little “hippy dippy” I know but it’s true!
…But first off what helps me cope are my amazing Students at SongU and in my FROM SONG TO SYNC course! I am so busy coaching, mentoring, teaching, guiding, hand holding and seeing “light bulb moments” go off!… It is beyond rewarding and fulfilling!
I’ve actually never been busier so I think I am too tired to have to cope. LOL. In addition I’ve been writing with my favorite artist smooth jazz R&B legend Jonathan Butler for his new album and writing /producing songs for my own little pet artist project (2 of the songs appear on the Mpath PHENOMENAL WOMEN album series), plus other productions so I’m busy with that. I’m busy guiding my new intern Jeremiah. I’m busy pitching. I’m busy participating in tons of webinars mostly about all things music biz like Neighboring Rights, The MLC, Music Licensing, and so forth. I’ve been speaking on a bunch of webinars too… and so on and so on. All a great distraction from the difficult “mess” at hand that we all share.
And to top it off, as you and I discussed a little while back Sara…all the cooking. OH MY! Right now it’s after midnight I’ve been up working since 7am and I still have dinner to cook. Hahaha No time to think of coping
How has the current state of the world affected your writing, production, and pitching?
It hasn’t much affected the producing and pitching and solo writing. I am still doing that. Yes there are much less specific projects in production but still I always have backlogs of new songs that need to be pitched and brought to the attention of the “powers that be”. It has however very much affected the co-writing for me. I don’t like to collaborate virtually at all! In fact I usually have a strict policy of “in the same physical room at the same time from complete scratch”. The only person I write virtually with is my main collaborator Larry Treadwell whom I’ve worked with for 39 years and know so well. I’ve also made an exception with Jonathan whom I’ve worked with for 20 years.
Actually I’m always impressed by the Songu members I coach and their ability to co-write virtually even before the pandemic.
What qualities do you look for in a co-writer?
Of course if they are what I consider a good writer, which is subjective any way but after that mostly I look for someone I like, who is a nice human, a good human, an honest human.
As a coach and mentor, you inspire so many songwriters. What inspires you?
The songwriters I coach and mentor! They inspire me everyday! Some of them are soooo talented they could be teaching the class! In the last 2 weeks alone I have heard some really amazing songs from them! Life itself as well has always inspired me! Paying attention to all that is going on. Listening, watching, participating.
Do you have a favorite story you can tell us about one of your song placements?
I have so so many but probably it’s my first one. That is what is coming to mind. It was 1987 and I was the songwriter, producer, arranger, creator of a “performance art project”. I had films and slide shows and actors doing skits accompanying the songs. The songs themselves and the whole project made Bjork look “normal”. 🙂 The whole thing was beyond alternative and avant-garde. I had a friend who was directing his first feature film TAPEHEADS. It stars Tim Robbins, John Cusack and the R&B/Soul legends Sam Moore (Of Sam & Dave) and Junior Walker (Of Junior Walker And The All Stars) Sam & Junior were playing the fictitious duo “The Swanky Modes” in the film. The director(my friend) asked me if I had any friends that created R&B/Soul music and if so could they submit some tunes for the film. So I grabbed my writing partner Larry, whom I previously mentioned, and we wrote and produced up (after much careful research and listening) a song to submit. Now remember I am a weird “Performance Artist” who writes very odd songs, so what to do what to do… how to submit…? The director (who actually directed the films and slide shows in my performance art project) would never have considered any R&B/Soul song I might come up with so…I submitted it under a pseudonym… and voila!! In the movie. With the legendary Sam Moore and Jr. Walker recording it. My first cut and placement at the same time. In a major big budget film…and then haha I became knows as an R&B writer. Crazy stuff! I think the moral of that story is just go for it!!! Give it a try! Ya never know…
What music have you been listening to lately?
I listen to so much music. I’ve been listening to a lot of hip hop as I am producing a really cool hip hop/rapper artist. Khalid, Kanye, Money Can’t Buy, A.J. Tracey, Troye Sivan, and others. Also a lot of pop music. Katy Perry, Halsey, Dua Lipa, Sean Mendez, Jonas Brothers, Charlie Puth, Kim Petrus, Tov Lo, Hayley Williams, Ellie Goulding… so so many and the songs of my friends, colleagues and students. Every day I listen to new music. I subscribe to some online newsletters that are always introducing me to new music.
Thank you, Michele, for offering professional advice and songwriting education to our SongU writers ! You rock!
Thank you for these really great questions Sara and thank you so much to you for having me. It’s really an honor. This is my 14th at Songu and it has enriched my life beyond measure. I’m so proud to be a part of the Songu family! I love my students!
I can’t believe it’s been 14 years already! Time flies when you’re having fun (and learning new things all the time). Thanks again for your time, Michele!
ABOUT COACHING AT SONGU.COM
In addition to our 20+ live audio/video small-group song feedback courses each month, our members have the opportunity to forge creative relationships with any of award-winning coaches in the form of individual written feedback with detailed song (or lyric-only) evaluations and constructive suggestions emphasizing lyrics, music/production, originality, commercial potential, and even a chance to be awarded “Best of SongU!”
HERE’S WHAT OUR MEMBERS ARE SAYING ABOUT COACH #2245 (aka Michele Vice-Maslin)!
“I am really thrilled with your Best of SongU recognition – you had awarded that for [my other song] ‘Marisol’ as well – and it means a lot. Both were probably more work than I would care to admit so it feels great to be recognized. I’m so happy that you liked it and found it relatable – THANKS!” -J.M., CT
“Thank you for the feedback. Once again you’ve opened my eyes through your insight. I definitely want to get away from cliche writing and hope to look get better at recognizing it when I write. Thx again!” – D. Brown, GA
About Michele:This coach is a two-time Emmy Award winning songwriter and producer who has written hit songs in multiple genres for artists all over the world, as well as having several thousand film/TV placements. This coach is also a music producer and music publisher who is well versed in song pitching and placing, and business issues pertaining to the music industry. Specializes in evaluating Pop, R&B, Hot AC, Top 40, Dance, Alternative, Urban, Country, Singer-Songwriter, Film/TV/Songs for Sync Licensing.
Michele’s Coaching Philosophy:“My coaching philosophy is one of empowerment and inspiration along with some real and straightforward honesty about what I believe is important in the way of crafting a great song – for personal satisfaction of course – but also for commercial success.”
“Hello, This is a VERY competitive business as you know but it is encouraging to know that a song I wrote “Southern Life” is a ” Maybe” to get pitched for a major artist! Thank you SongU Team!! I know you are busy but wanted to let you know that I have several people pitching my Songs and YOU are by far the most Professional, Kind, efficient group that ALWAYS responds and clearly has a CRAZY work ethic! You know as well as I do that that is what inevitably leads to success! I LOVE IT!”
–Roger Brantley (LA) on 3/13/20
“I was a first time user of the e-classroom and enjoyed being able to participate in the course.”
— Alina V. (FL) on 3/18/20 For Diona DeVincenzi, FDBK 225-Indie, Film-TV, Production Feedback
“Many thanks for filling in, Sara, and also for the great feedback. Listened to the full transcript today and enjoyed it. Nice to see more Scots in Songu. I hope Lisa is OK.”
–Alex H. (Scotland) on 3/20/20 For Sara Light, FDBK 210-Song Feedback
“I’m enjoying getting ideas, feedback and inspiration as with the virus escalating now my co writers and I can’t meet to work on our new stuff so online is definitely a way forward and I’ve had some good food for thought from the coaching reviews and the two on line classes I’ve attended on the songs particularly the ones that need some work. I’ll look forward to another class soon. Kindest regards and stay safe.”
–Jane H. (U.K.) on 3/23/20
“Bob always brings his ‘A’ game. He has a very honest and passionate approach to helping. You can really tell he loves what he does. Even if I don’t agree with him on every point. I can still understand where he is coming from.”
–Shawn F. (NJ) on 3/25/20 For Bob Dellaposta, FDBK 315 Publisher Song Feedback
“Marcia has been one of my “go-tos” for a long time now. Really appreciate her take. I count her as a friend besides. Benn is always there to keep us straight. Sara, Danny, and Martin, the whole SongU community is an avid, major part of my writing track. Thanks so very much guys!!”
–Brad Y. (NY) on 3/26/20 For Marcia Ramirez, FDBK 140 Song Feedback
–Ricki B. (WI) on 3/27/20 Nancy Peacock & Queenie Mullinex, FDBK 330 Sync Licensing Production Feedback
“I wanted to share with you a copy of the note I recently sent to the UK Songwriting Contest: A big ‘thank you’ to the UKSC for the wonderful prize of a free trial membership to songu.com. Not only have I learned A LOT by participating in a variety of their online courses and seminars, but I have taken advantage of their pitching opportunities as well… and good news!… one of my songs was recently picked up by a publisher! Needless to say, I’m thrilled!”
“With history piling up so fast, almost every day is the anniversary of something awful.” – Writer & Artist, Joe Brainard
Recently, while cleaning out my closet, I happened upon a small book of Daily Meditations given to me by a friend a long time ago called The Promise of a New Day (copyright 1983). The book goes through each day of the year and offers a quote and a short spiritual reflection. I hadn’t opened this book in well over a decade, but last week I found myself turning to the February 7th meditation which begins with the quote at the top of this page.
At first I was surprised to read this quote from the 1980’s that felt so relevant for today’s world. But then I realized that in every decade, at every point in history change is inevitable, and with change comes discomfort, fear, anger, and as the quote says, “the anniversary of something awful.” Joe Brainard died in 1994 of AIDS. Can we take a moment of pause to reflect on how incredibly scary and sad that time in our history was until, thank goodness, we found a treatment for HIV? Our amazing scientific and medical community created an antidote to something horrific.
Obviously, as writers and artists, we have a responsibility to reflect the trouble in the world around us as songwriters like Woodie Guthrie and Bob Dylan did in the 1960’s. But can’t we also create an antidote to the daily assault of awful news? If history is comprised of times of trouble, war, disease, hunger, and hate, isn’t it just as important to highlight the love, compassion, simple moments of trust, help, hope, and success?
As a songwriting exercise, try making a list of the little things that have kept you motivated, inspired, happy, or brought you peace of mind, during these difficult times. Kissing your loved one good night, scratching your dog’s tummy, taking a walk near a stream, sipping on a hot cup of coffee, holding open a door for a stranger and exchanging a smile. Keep a section in your “title book” or idea journal specifically for a daily dose of positivity. See if you can practice a heightened awareness for the the good things that we often take for granted like a compliment from a friend, being in the fast line at the grocery store, having enough gas in your car, birds chirping when you open your door, or a warm coat when it’s cold outside. Write it all down. These specifics will inform your lyric with a universal theme of gratitude and provide a different perspective on our current events. Bring this perspective into your next song.
“Who will free me from hurry, flurry, the feeling of a crowd pushing behind me, of being hustled and crushed? How can I regain even for a minute the feeling of ample leisure I had during my early, my creative years? Then I seldom felt fussed, or hurried. There was time for work, for play, for love, the confidence that if a task was not done at the appointed time, I easily could fit it into another hour. I used to take leisure for granted, as I did time itself.”
— Bernard Berenson, Sunset and Twilight, from the Diaries of 1947-1958
I am finding that the older I get, the more difficult it is to feel unencumbered. I do not have the same sense I did in my 20’s and 30’s of having the time or energy to follow my muse, explore my own interests, or even rest my mind. The tasks that I commit to now, even the ones I voluntarily choose, come with a sense of heaviness; How will I fit that in to my schedule? What do I prioritize today? If I do THIS, it’ll take away from THAT.
I’m beginning 2018 pretty well. I’m back to starting most days with a yoga video and green tea BEFORE I check my schedule, answer my emails and walk my dog. I’m even on a streak with my Headspace meditation app and I’m finally able to turn off my brain at night and get some deep sleep. And, check this out, I’m writing a blog entry (an activity that I enjoy, but usually fits into the “how will I fit that into my schedule today?” category).
Some of the lessons I find that are working for me this year that I haven’t tried in the past are:
Doing a little bit consistently can be as satisfying as going “all in”. This is a good one for songwriters. If you only have a couple of minutes to work on a song today, do that. Don’t wait until you have half a day to devote to writing a whole new song. If you think one new title today call that your day’s work and let yourself feel accomplished.
Good is good enough. Perfection isn’t a mandatory requirement. Just get the job done the best you can in the time you have and move on. Don’t berate yourself for not doing something exactly the way you imagined. This frees up a lot of time.
Deadlines are often flexible. I have been noticing that a lot of the people around me also feel crunched for time. Because of that, they often are more than happy to move around appointments and extend deadlines. They, too, have a million other things they can fit into that slot. Flexibility reduces stress.
Take a break from social media. Yikes, lately, I have been seeing so many articles about the addictive (aka drug-like) qualities of those pings and likes and notifications. It wasn’t a coincidence that on my birthday this year, as much as I thoroughly enjoyed reading all the sweet notes and well-wishes throughout the day on Facebook, I also left my notebook with my favorite recipes on a shelf in the grocery store (never to be recovered), threw my dog’s leash out with the trash and generally walked around with fog-brain as if I were hung-over. This week, I resisted the urge to post a cute picture of my daughter hugging our dog in the unusually snowy day in Nashville. That meant that I also missed seeing all the photos of my friends’ kids. But the payoff was additional time and FOCUS.
“The days are long, but the years are short.” – Gretchen Rubin
It’s the first of November and sleigh bells ring…are you listening? I walked into the local bagel shop this morning and heard Winter Wonderland streaming through the speakers. I caught myself humming it all day long. The song itself makes me feel festive, but the idea that November marks the official commencement of the holiday season and the beginning of the end of the current year, well, that makes me feel a little…I dunno. Relieved? Accomplished? Anxious? Hopeful?
If you’re like me the last couple of months of the year are bittersweet. On the positive side, I can look forward to a little time off from work and school, a few days to sleep in, some shiny new stuff for the house, a chance to see friends and family. On the other hand, I’m running out of time to clean out the closet and bring those old clothes to Good Will. I’ll have to come to terms with the fact that I didn’t even start the book I was planning to write this year. I’ll notice that the extra pound or two or ten that I was sure I’d work off are still there and my bike is still gathering dust in the garage. Above all, the next two months will be a time of reflection. A time to remind myself to practice gratitude.
As the year is winding down and the new year is almost here, how do you feel? What’s the first word that comes to your mind? Feel free to share it in the comments area.
Let me introduce you to my friend, Diona Devincenzi (isn’t that one of the lovliest names you’ve ever heard?). I met Diona, a talented singer-songwriter, in the early 1990’s when we were both fairly new to the “Nashville thing.” Perhaps she’ll remember the story about how back in the day, when we were all pretty broke, she invited Danny and me for a dinner at her place. Having gotten used to eating a lot of vegetarian Pot Lucks with friends, I was shocked that she and her fella, Jerry, served us a REAL meal…appetizers, main dish with meat, dessert…the whole kaboodle! She chuckled at my delight. Ah, those fond memories of being a starving artist.
Diona has remained on the cutting edge of the songwriting business, traveling back and forth from Nashville to the West Coast. I’ve always admired what a hard worker and go-getter she is. Here’s one of my favorite articles from her blog Savvy Songwriter. You can find out more about her (besides that it’s grand to be invited to her house for dinner) at her website dionadevincenzi.com
10 FACTS ABOUT MUSIC LICENSING THAT WILL PUT YOU IN A GOOD MOOD
I’ve been hearing and reading a lot of doom and gloom about the music industry lately. Articles which lament the demise of the value of music and the dwindling earnings from making and selling it. So I wanted to present a different perspective in an area of the music business that is actually thriving: MUSIC LICENSING.
Here are 10 facts about music licensing that will put you (or should put you) in a good mood.
1. YOU CAN ACTUALLY MAKE SOME MONEY AT IT Yes, you actually can. You’re not going to get rich with just one placement, but if you are a prolific writer with many songs that are placeable, you can make some decent money. BUT, be prepared to be patient because it won’t roll in over night.
2. THERE ARE MILLIONS OF OPPORTUNITIES TO PLACE YOUR SONGS IN FILM/T.V. AND MULTI-MEDIA EACH YEAR
According to IMDB (Internet Movie Database) there were over 2,000,000 opportunities to place your songs in film & television just last year alone.
3. YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE 20 SOMETHING.
Those years are past me and many others I know in the music licensing business, but that doesn’t matter because what people need desperately are songs to place with their visual production. And they don’t care how old you are. They only care how good your song is and how it might fit their project.
4. IT’S A RAPIDLY GROWING INDUSTRY.
In fact, it’s the only part of the music industry that is growing, besides touring. Need we talk about CD sales? No, already done. But as content is king, so are songs.
5. YOU CAN WRITE IN MULTIPLE GENRES.
If you want to, you can write in every genre imaginable, and even some that are new hybrids. If you want to write a pop/rock song, go for it. If you want to tackle a Bollywood tune, no problem. You get to write whatever you want, as long as it’s commercial.
6. IF YOU WRITE BOTH LYRICS AND MUSIC, THEN YOU BASICALLY HAVE YOURSELF TWO TRACKS FOR THE PRICE OF ONE.
Many times a music supervisor (decision maker) will ask for and use the instrumental track versus the vocal one. Well, no problem, you literally have 2 songs – one with both lyrics and music and one with just the music. You double your opportunities as well as your catalog. And that’s just a side benefit.
7. YOU’RE GOING WHERE THE MUSIC INDUSTRY IS HEADING.
We all see the writing on the wall when it comes to CD sales. It’s all about streaming these days. If you’re writing for the music licensing opportunities, then you’re at the forefront of where music will be in the future. Sure, no one can really tell the future. But with all of the cable channels and new networks and “screens” popping up to enjoy content, there is a growing marketplace for usage of songs. If you’re not thinking about music licensing then you’re out of the game.
8. YOU DON’T HAVE TO HAVE A PUBLISHING DEAL. Middlemen are disappearing in the music industry, much like a lot of other industries. There are more and more opportunities to pitch your songs directly to the gatekeepers, thanks to technology allowing for direct access. You couldn’t do this 20 years ago. So welcome to the directness. Just make sure you are prepared when you do pitch your songs though, because as the saying goes, “You only one chance to make a first impression”.
9. THERE ARE RESOURCES TO LEARN MORE ABOUT MUSIC LICENSING.
I scoured the four corners of the earth to find out all I could about music licensing when I started getting involved. I still consume all things music licensing in the way of books, blogs, articles, podcasts etc. In fact, I’m in the process of writing an e-book right now on it. And thanks to Google search and the like, all the stuff you need to know about music licensing is at the tips of your fingers.
10. IT’S A THRILL WHEN YOU HEAR YOUR SONG IN A FAVORITE TELEVISION SHOW, MOVIE OR AD.
We all write songs because we love it. Well, this part of the glory of your hard work is really gratifying. ‘Cuz you get to tell all your friends and family about your latest rockstar placement.
Diona Devincenzi is a songwriter/producer born in San Francisco and hanging her hat in Nashville. Check out her blogs at Savvy Songwriter .
“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” – Marcel Proust
Each May, I watch in awe as the flowering trees, shrubs and perennials that bloom in abundance here in middle Tennessee magically transform the landscape. Spring renewal – it really does seem to make everyone and everything in life just a little more tolerable. Unfortunately, I do not have a green thumb, but I’m trying (again) to plant and nuture a flower garden in the corner of my yard. I’m finding the task to be very inspiring, sometimes a little frustrating (where’d all those Canna bulbs I planted go?) and hard -yet rewarding- work. It’s pretty much the same way I can describe songwriting as a matter of fact.
In what ways will you let your creativity blossom this month? Do you have specific goals or are you going to let your muse guide you? Please share your thoughts in the comment area.
“3 A.M. is the hour of writers, painters, poets, musicians, silence-seekers. over thinkers and creative people. We know who you are. we can see your light on. Keep on keeping on.”
Usually at the beginning of each month I ask you to post your goals. But sometimes we can get so caught up in what we STILL WANT TO DO that we forget to acknowledge the GOOD THINGS WE HAVE ALREADY DONE. So instead of posting our goals this month, let’s recognize our achievements. In the comment section please take a moment to:
Share a positive thing or things you’ve done for your songwriting lately
Share a quote (or saying) that inspires you to keep on keeping on!