No one said life would be easy, but they also never warned that it would also be so damn difficult, especially when making music, writing a song for the pure joy of it, and then, having that initial ego boost of people wanting actually wanting to pay money for the song via sync deals etc and realising that embarking on this journey could mean a bumpy ride ahead fraught with cautionary tales of greed, politics, false friendships and rip-off merchants.
And so it’s been with a song called “Home” which my friend Ben Semmens and I recently wrote and which he sings.
As I was telling Ben the other day when chatting about the song and what we want to do with it, if you need to get something done, do it yourself, and beware of strangers bearing gifts.
Depend on other people, and the work never gets done, or else it goes around in circles, travels between the moon and New York City and ends up on your your lap with extra baggage.
Ask for help, and even those who you’ve gone out of your way to help-and even paid for that free lunch- look at it as some weird “favour” that they store in their warped little memory banks and is produced years later as some ill-gotten IOU.
With Ben currently in Wales, myself in Hong Kong, and knowing- why be modest?- we have written a damn good song, what started out as a labour of love, has also grown to take on a life of its own, and where we’ve given ourselves a deadline to, as that classic blues track said, Bring It All Back Home- along with the trials and tribulations of safe-guarding our work while we try and get there- wherever this place might be.
As with any song that’s licensed to Third Parties, there are the usual dances to do with wolves in boffins clothing who seem to think they own the song as well as you without understanding Music Publishing contracts, and how the business side of Rights issues work.
When it comes to protecting your art, you take no prisoners, and nor do you suffer fools gladly.
But, to have things move along, these are hurdles one has to jump over while ensuring your nuts are not left on the track and that you don’t get screwed over.
After all, god is in the details-and so is the devil- and one just needs to read the fine print and be very sure nothing- and no one- tries to bite you on the arse.
Of course, while going through this publishing dance, there is that other annoyance when others see that a “little project” they passed on might actually have legs to lead somewhere more than a Facebook page, or a YouTube channel, and you’re suddenly having to swat away all the mother’s little helpers queuing up at your door waiting to be part of something for doing nothing.
It’s one of the oldest cons in the world where many show selective memory recall in what can be painfully long-protracted soap operas.
It makes one realise, understand and appreciate the business side to music and why Michael Jackson ended up screwing his then-friend Paul McCartney to purchase and own the Lennon-McCartney before Macca bought it back.
Ever read any tributes to “The King Of Pop” when he died from Paul?
It was business and Allen Klein and different teams of lawyers that broke up the Beatles and destroyed what Apple might have become.
It’s business and his war with Warner Music as to why Prince called himself a “slave”, recorded as a symbol, and is constantly at war with his recording companies.
Legal loopholes and lawsuits are why there are so many bastardised versions of bands touring because one member owned the Rights to their name.
Credence Clearwater Revival touring without the Voice of the band and songwriter of all their hits- John Fogerty, who, legally, can’t use the name?
Then, if you remember and have heard of them, realise the number of acts touring as various incarnations of The Platters, Boney M, those one-hit wonders- Silver Connection- and how, in November, Hong Kong hosts the Jackson 4- Marlon, Tito, Jermaine and some other brother from the same mother.
It’s both funny and sad while wondering about your little song and if it’s really safe up there on YouTube or on Facebook or tweeted around the world.
What’s there to stop anyone from claiming that song as theirs, which is the norm in Mainland China, and where many popular hits are currently “on hold” and in litigation as so many are claiming to own the original rights.
You wonder if those taking a percentage to “administer” your music know what the hell they’re doing.
You also realise how pointless it is to sign your music away to a publishing house who will readily admit that they don’t have the manpower nor the contacts to market your songs.
So what exactly do they do, and why are they bothering to sign new songwriters when the truth of the matter is that this beast lives only to manage a music company’s vast back catalogue of songs?
Guess it’s something that has been going on for years, and no one’s thought it through as those running music publishing companies keep their heads down and just hope to hell no one will shine a light on them and ask what they do and who they are.
To show how tenuous and grey laws are regarding content owners, I had a call today from a music company asking if I remembered who owned the rights to a recording for a track for which I had written the lyrics- the artist or their former label.
It all demonstrates the scary fact that no one is really sure of anything, and that signing contracts are meaningless unless you have the financial clout to hire a lawyer and do like The Beastie Boys said and “Fight For Your Rights” though that was fighting for your rights to party.
Gawd knows the horror stories I know, first hand, and those I have heard about artists hiring big name “entertainment lawyers”, listening to their “professional advice” and ending up costing them millions in losses- and legal fees.
Again, “the house wins” and the “entertainment lawyer” gets fat off the land and the misfortune of others- even their clients.
It truly is a jungle out there- especially when trying to make sense of this lawless online world where many make it up as they go as no one has the answers- with monkeys swinging from trees making loud grunting noises, and only you being able to see the forest and determine what works and what doesn’t add up.
It’s why I don’t subscribe to any musician giving any part of their art for free, and ignore the transparent shuck and jive by those who organise all those music conferences to “save the music”.
These are latter day hucksters whose posse of wannabe big swinging dicks in an industry on a steady decline, hoodwink naive young acts to perform at these events for free on the pretext of “being heard by some of the biggest names in the music industry”, who, truth be known, attend these con-ferences as Head Office has paid for their trips, and are either propping up the bar while trying to get laid as the ‘live’ music plays on, or, despite the title on the name card, have zero decision-making power as they are washed up never-beens adrift or drowning in a sea of mediocrity.
As Lennon sang on the brilliantly cutting, honest, brittle and bitter “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out”, it’s all showbiz, “it’s all…show…biz”. And it is. And it’s sickening.
As for Ben and myself, where will “Home” take us?
Hopefully to a Happy Place though the journey to get from here to there might mean having to just be cautious of various slippery slopes and long and winding roads involving the usual suspects, maggots, leeches and parasites who have plagued the music industry for way too long.
Having said this, what Ben and I are happy about is that we’ve not depended on the kindness of strangers to help us with “Home”, we believe in it with a passion, we’ll fight to make it a success, and after that, let Mother Nature and Father Karma take its course.
Chairman and CEO
We-Enhance Inc and
Fast Track Global Ltd