The Independent Runs My Songwriting Piece

The Independent Runs My Songwriting Piece

London’s The Independent is running my article on technology and songwriting on the front page of its arts section. They added a lovely infographic and everything. Check it out. The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music Here’s the online...
Everything in the Music Industry Has Changed Except the Song Itself

Everything in the Music Industry Has Changed Except the Song Itself

Outside my songwriting classroom at NYU’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, the industry is in full disruption mode. This semester alone, publishers continued to weigh new methods to take back control of their copyrights; a controversial judgment regarding “Blurred Lines” spurred debate on what copyright even is; Congress heard arguments regarding how artists and songwriters are getting paid; Pandora and Spotify and Grooveshark and Rdio all made headlines; Tidal launched (Jay-Z even came to Clive to talk about it); Apple readied a new streaming service… friggin’ Starbucks jumped in, and I’m just going to stop there, because you get the point. At times, I’ve wanted to triple-lock the classroom door for the brief fourteen-week period so we can focus on the art. But that hasn’t been easy, and in our final meeting, I left my students with a series of rhetorical questions, all of which added up to: With all this going on, what is the future of this thing — songwriting — we’ve been talking about all semester? And is it time for a disruptor to change what songs look and sound like? Read on at...
Gigging for God: My Time in the Church Folk Group

Gigging for God: My Time in the Church Folk Group

[Every other week, I’m releasing a new story that comes with music, playlists, podcasts, and photos. The whole archive is being collected right here. Check it out, and if you liked it, I’d appreciate it if you’d hit the RECOMMEND button at the bottom to let others know about it. (It’s just like a Facebook like.)] Gigging for God: My Time in the Church Folk Group I was an “at-risk” tween rock guitarist, so my parents sent me to a halfway house to play Dylan songs for God. Here’s how it...
Joni Mitchell is Not a “60s Folksinger”

Joni Mitchell is Not a “60s Folksinger”

[With attention turning toward Joni’s health, so too has a media shorthand that seeks to encapsulate an artist who has spent her life defying easy classification. But to call her a “60s Folksinger” is to ignore almost everything she’s done. New piece on CUEPOINT.] “If one more major media outlet refers to Joni Mitchell as a “60s Folksinger,” I am seriously going to lose. It.” — Julian Fleisher, via Facebook It took a second for me to register what my Facebook/actual friend had noticed — news outlets using shorthand to encapsulate someone who spent a life defying exactly that. I’m going to suppose that, to some extent, it can’t be helped, that people just don’t have enough time to see more than the easiest talking point. They have careers, lives, and a newsfeed that scrolls endlessly in both directions. “‘60s folksinger” is good enough for enough people. It’s all that people who don’t really care have time to care about. And in an age where the “power” of the sharing economy lies with the consumer and not the artist, perhaps Joni should count herself lucky to be remembered even for that one sliver of her output. But man, I wouldn’t say that to her face. She has been cantankerous with her legacy, scrapping biopics that smell shallow or expedient, eschewing stars who can’t yet hold a candle to the role they’re being lined up to play. Maybe some people are surprised by that — surely she knows the money she’s leaving on the table, right? The sales bump, the retrospectives and accolades she could fill her closets with? Read “Joni Mitchell is Not a ’60s...
Ground Rules for a Whisky Tasting

Ground Rules for a Whisky Tasting

With a head full of stones and a heart full of sand, I have returned from the Highland Park Record Club. The goal of this gathering was to establish that music and whisky are good friends, maybe even cousins: They both have dynamic personalities that unfold over time; they both are hard to do well; and both warrant repeat drink-listens. We were curated from the creative class and dispatched to a members-only basement where bookshelves swelled with thick hardcovers recounting retrospectives at the Whitney Museum. There were dark, overstuffed couches, and a gas fireplace with a thick glass pane in front of it that offered the dance of light with none of the extraneous by-product of actual fire. There were bowls of nuts with honey notes that whispered from the back of my palette, “How did you get invited here? You’re a fraud.” But I’m not a fraud, I whispered back to my nuts, within earshot of a vinyl technician who scratched garage rock into Plexiglas 45s on a vintage lathe. I am an aficionado, in that I have awakened next to empty bottles of Highland Park and hit play on recording equipment to hear a song that I couldn’t remember I even recorded. So. I’m a pro at this. It’s really something, to hear a song for the first time and know it’s you singing. It’s as close as I may get to inhabiting Keith Richard’s body. Scotch people, I report the following: Highland Park 12 remains a standard bearer, the one you’d hand the Olympic torch and let run down your gullet with trust, even pride; Highland...
Managing Change Without Losing Your Mind

Managing Change Without Losing Your Mind

“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” — Charles Darwin     I’m used to managing change, and if you’re reading this, I bet you are, too. My short story: My label debut was released in 1999, and my coming out party was a slot at Woodstock ’99, which, you may recall, went up in flames and took the legacy of a previous era with it. ‘99 was the summer of Napster, and the winter of Y2K…and it only got weirder from there. Luckily, improvisation has always been part of the job description. Today is no different, and though there are new challenges, there is also the same Darwinian need to adapt. As a songwriting professor who’s been in the trenches, I tell my students that my class – The Art and Business of Songwriting – is the most important one they’re taking. They laugh, but I remind them: The song is the spark for the chain reaction that ignites every subsequent section of the industry. The song gets the musicians paid, the studios booked, the promoters on the phone, the venues filled, the PROs collecting royalties, and straight on down the line. Songwriting is also the creation of intellectual property that can continue to generate income over time. I tell them that the people who say “touring is the answer” for musicians are likely people who a) have never toured themselves, and b) forget the fact that human bodies inevitably fail over time, whereas there are songwriters out there making a great living who aren’t even...
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