Instead of a rant, I thought I’d relate an amusing little anecdote (in 2 parts) about a time when I thought I’d suffer through the ignominy of trying to be a professional songwriter instead of the ignominy of trying to be a professional novelist…
Song writing – oh man, I really, really wanted to be a songwriter. I thought that it would have been a really cool profession.
You know, like if someone came up to you and asked you what you did for a living. I’d raise an eyebrow and say “I’m a songwriter,” and that person would be sooo impressed, right?
God, I can be such a knob sometimes.
I did write songs, actually. My cousin, Steve Casey and I used to have a band called “Network.” It was just the two of us. We played all the instruments and Steve did all the vocals and we wrote and recorded two CD’s that sold millions.
Nah, that’s bullshit. About selling millions of CDs, I mean.
Our friends bought ’em but that was about it. That’s not to say that there were terrible songs on them– on the contrary, many of the tunes were pretty decent, if I do say so myself. A bunch of ’em won a number of song writing contests over the years, including a New York song writing contest and the prestigious Nashville Songwriters Association International song writing contest (with a pop song, no less). The only problem though was that we just could never seem to connect with the record industry. Trying to pitch our stuff down in Nashville was a real eye opener too.
If you ever have the uncontrollable desire to be kicked repeatedly in the nuts, I would suggest trying to hawk your tunes on Music Row.
You’ll be icing yourself for weeks.
One time, many years ago, Steve and I were in Toronto for a songwriting contest (we were Ontario finalists in a national songwriting competition) and we decided that while we were down there, we’d take in a song writing critiquing session put on by the Songwriters Association of Canada called “Date with a Tape.”
“Date With A Tape” – sounds sweet, don’t it? What could be nicer than a date…with a tape?
It’s actually the musical equivalent of shitting your pants while giving a speech in grade school as everyone points and laughs…
If anyone has ever been to one of these soul-sucking events, they’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Basically you present your “hit” song to a panel of industry insiders who would then proceed to play the first verse and chorus.
They would then tell you in no uncertain terms why it was a piece of crap. Once, if the planets all lined up and if a tune was half decent they’d offer up advice as to how to make it better, but most of the time the songs weren’t all that good so the comments could be pretty devastating.
It was like “American Idol” about ten years before Simon Cowell made being a dream crushing dick a career choice.
You could only enter one song, so you had better pick the best thing you’d done. Of course, since Steve and I figured we were the Lennon and McCartney of Kanata Ontario, we had a multitude of sure-fire hits – the question was, which one do we pick? We narrowed it down to two but we could only enter one.
Steve came up with a simple, yet elegant solution – we’d each enter a song under our individual names – that way we’d at least have two songs entered and better the odds.
In our song writing arrangement, I usually wrote the music and Steve wrote the lyrics. And being the ignorant twat I was at that time (as if that’s changed…), I never paid much attention to our lyrics. I’m happy to report that I do now know all of our lyrics and can say without hesitation that they really are great, but at that time I was probably (definitely) a bit of a self centred douchebag who only marveled at what I thought were the cleverest chord changes east of Difford and Tilbrook (look ’em up…jesus…)
Steve duly prepared the two tapes. He also printed the lyrics on two separate coloured sheets so that they would stand out from the rest of the bunch and we would know if our tune (or tunes) were about to be played. Again, simple yet brilliant (it would never have occurred to me to do it).
Steve entered our tune “Shiver You Up,” an awesome, bouncy and catchy earworm that I still believe to this day, could be a hit, under his name with lyrics on a blue sheet and I entered “Alison,” a brooding Crowded House style ballad under my name, with the lyrics on a pink sheet.
Now for the first time since we wrote the song, I decided to actually take a look at the lyrics. After all, it was going up under my name.
Wow, I thought. This is really good – except…
There was one line that jumped out at me – “an anger of ardence…”
“An anger of ardence?” I thought.
What the fuck was ardence?
I turned to Steve and he explained that it was like “ardour.”
“Ardour? You mean like passion?”
“Okay, but ardence isn’t a word,” I said.
“Oh I know,” he responded. “But it sounds great when you sing it.”
He was right. “Anger so ardent” may be grammatically correct but “anger of ardence” sang so much better.
Oh yeah, I thought. Makes total sense. Of course.
The judges took their places at the head table and the bloodbath…I mean, the session began.
The first song I recall, was by an older gent and the only things I can remember about it was that it was about drinking whiskey and his whiskey soaked vocal.
At the end of the chorus the tape was stopped and one of the judges (I believe it was the Sony Music dude) said: “I’d really like to comment on this song but I can’t get past this terrible vocal.” He then pointed to the old guy and said: “Is this you singing? It’s pretty awful.”
Holy fuckin’ shit! What the hell was that? They were kinder during the Spanish Inquisition.
It was one of the most cringe worthy moments I’ve ever witnessed. The old guy scowled, got up and slunk out of the room without a whiskey soaked word.
I don’t even think he collected his tape…
Jeeezus…on to the next victim.
The carnage continued in this way for about forty of the longest minutes on record:
“If you think this is good, just what exactly do you think is bad?”
“Wow – this is the best you got? Really?”
“Jeez, I could go out and have a light lunch before that chorus comes in…if I’m not already asleep, I mean…”
“Hey this is great…too bad Jennifer Lopez wrote it first…you should look up the word ‘plagiarism’…”
“I hope you’re not seriously thinking of writing songs for a living…are you?”
At last it was time for the musical version of throwing Christians to the lions to take a break. As I stood up, a coldness suddenly slammed me. I felt a shiver glide up and down my spine.
I watched in helpless terror as a familiar pink sheet of paper inexorably made its way to the front table.
“Alison” was going to be the next victim when the session resumed.
After watching all those other songs go down in ignominious flames, I began to sweat.
(end of part one)