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So you want to be in a rock band?: Indie vs. major labels

Rose Cora Perry | Interrobang | Lifestyles | March 10th, 2008

It is possible for musicians, without representation to both license and write songs for various purchasers, but as Simon Wilcox, a highly successful songwriter for EMI Music Publishing notes, signing a deal with representation helped her enormously.

In terms of finding appropriate opportunities for Wilcox music, expanding her portfolio, and allowing for collaboration with industry veterans, Wilcox's EMI more than helped her get her foot in the door. With projects including writing for Juliette Lewis, Three Days Grace and The Trews on her resume, EMI presented Wilcox with breaks she likely wouldn't have been able to muster on her own. But in saying that, she most certainly credits her perseverance, and hard work as factors in her success. After all, if it wasn't for her already established impressive song-writing portfolio, she likely wouldn't have grabbed EMI's attention.

According to Michael McCarty, Managing Director of EMI Music Publishing Canada and a graduate of Fanshawe's very own MIA program, EMI only signs about one out of every 1000 artists they review (and keep in mind artists are ONLY reviewed if they have been recommended through a previously established connection). However, Steve Thomson of Backstage Productions offers more of an optimistic view with his new talent recruitment protocol.

Unlike the majors, Backstage Productions, and other independent music publishers, are willing to accept unsolicited material, and even provide funding for the recording of a demo, if they truly believe that the songwriter has got what it takes. Take David Baccha, for example.

Starting out as a controversial radio disc jockey in Cleveland, Ohio, Baccha migrated to Toronto to elude government authorities that weren't too happy with the satirical content of his show (to say the least). Again, through the magic of connections, he was able to hook up with Thomson, then the manager for Ronnie Hawkins, who instantly recognized Baccha's potential and contracted him as a songwriter for his company. Throughout his career, Baccha has had the privilege of undertaking many song-writing endeavours including writing for numerous commercial campaigns and movie scores. Maintaining his American roots, Baccha also initiated a writing deal with Jimmy Inner, drummer for Lighthouse, and the composer behind the Dirty Dancing Soundtrack. Through Inner, he obtained the opportunity to write for pop-band Dejavu, which spawned for Baccha, a series of billboard charting hits.

Despite the fact that both Wilcox and Baccha have carved out successful song-writing careers for themselves, they continue to compose their own original material, and participate in various gigs on the side.

“A successful song in Canada is worth about four figures on average, five, if you're lucky,” said Wilcox, “but that can vary greatly depending on [the song's genre] and where it is being played.”

In general, it would seem that pop songs, because there are more outlets for distribution, tend to generate higher revenues, and instrumental tracks, especially if intended for synchronization use, are easier to sell.

Although, as Wilcox indicated, a single composition can allot a songwriter a substantial chunk of change, Baccha quickly pointed out that because royalty payments are issued annually, budgeting one's expenses carefully is absolutely essential. Elaborating on this point, Baccha also explained that song writing does not earn a writer a consistent pay cheque because there is no way to guarantee the success of a given track. In fact, he has personally had tracks that weren't “discovered” (or profitable) until TEN years after their initial release!

From my own personal experiences with licensing, I can tell you that I have had a moderate amount of success including having ANTI-HERO's album featured on MTV's hit TV series, “Next,” WITHOUT being signed to a music publisher.

However, the opportunities with which I've been presented are sporadic at best, and are usually “exposure deals” in which there is little or no monetary exchange. In addition to music publishers, there are several licensing agencies whose job it is to solicit the work of independent artists to various music buyers, but after two years of being signed to a handful of these agencies, I'm still waiting for something to come into fruition.

This experience indicates to me (as I hope it does to you) that if you're serious about music licensing and song writing, approaching a music publisher is likely your best bet.

Next week's topic: Jingle writing and session musicians
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