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Off the Cuff

Elvis Costello, Hindi pop and The Turtles

April 15 2004 - I've been watching some lyric news stories in the press recently. Funny how news-worthy they can be. Elvis Costello, for example, has grown up and signed a deal for a number of books. He promises a "series of intimate narrative chapters taking their cue from the styles, themes and characters found in a number of Costello's lyrics".

The Hindi pop and Turtles stories (bottom of the page) go well together. In the first case, the ruling party in India has been re-writing Hindi hits for their political campaign. In the second, an advertiser in the US has re-written "Happy Together" - without the knowledge of the original writers! Contractually, the publisher didn't have to ask them. So they didn't. Nah.

Writers, read those contracts carefully before signing!

File-sharing: time to change the tune?

Sept 23 03 - The debate around file-sharing is still dragging on - needlessly so in my opinion. Lots of people have no qualms about sharing their song collections with thousands of others. They tell me music is expensive. As someone said already, we're not going to change each other's minds on this one. But I'd like to throw in a few thoughts. How come kids are willing to pay $2 for a ringtone but not pay 99 cents for the full track? They do so more or less willingly, and in increasingly big numbers. Revenue from ringtones now outstrips singles sales in the UK.

How have we so diminished the perceived value of recorded music? i-Tunes shows that in the right format, enough people have no problem coughing up for something they like. Why don't we consider that rather than running flame wars and (the RIAA equivalent) crucifying music fans, the people that swamp the lyric sites with requests (n° 28 in word searches this week apparently).

The record industry tried to block the development of music on the web, and is paying the price. It deserves everything that has hit it (and I say this as someone that derives an income from it). It has been unable to respond to consumer demand by offering a valid product in an accessible format. It really is that simple. All the other debates are distracting us and wasting our time.

I don't condone massive file-sharing, but I understand it. For years already, it has been increasingly difficult to purchase music that I like - which is usually one-off singles or tracks or even old 30s stuff that I like. So obviously some bright sparks started creating systems to share files. There was a vacuum and - whoosh - no more vacuum.

Whether it is right or wrong is totally irrelevant. It's there and we're not going backwards. So personally I'd be looking to the labels and publishers that are willing to work with the downloaders rather than 50 year-olds that are still hankering for Ye Olde Record Shoppe and the Good Old Days of Radio. Those days ain't coming back, but there's a whole new dawn on its way. So please point me in the direction of the businessman that can monetarise this new generation. I'm up for it.

In The City deadline is August 1

July 2003 - Britain's In the City has set its deadline for applications for August 1, 2003. The event showcases some 500 bands in Manchester and New York. And the atmosphere is supposed to be electric. I quote from the website: 

"We believe that the only place to do this is the Midland Crowne Plaza in Manchester in September, the legendary home and time of "In The City", the UK's annual music convention. Screw Pop Idol and Piracy; the fight back starts here. Stop moaning start dancing; and talking; and chilling. In 2003 you have to be in the city."

For more of this (and application forms), click here.

Songwriter causes EMI shares to tumble!

November 2002 - Who would have thought? When it was announced that songwriter Guy Chambers was no longer going to work with Robbie Williams - currently the jewel in EMI's crown, the company's stock took a hit on the market. For this and other fascinating tidbits, check The Times Online. The article, "I was Robbied" is dated October 11.

Bunny Wailer reissues - without the approval of Bunny Wailer

August 27 2002 - It seems incredible, but at the same time you're tempted to just shrug your shoulders. Bunny Wailer, one of reggae's - and indeed music's - most respected musicians is angry. He discovered that Universal Music Group has re-released his masterpiece "Blackheart Man". Shouldn't he be flattered? Not really. It appears that UMG don't have the rights to the tracks, and what's more "he has not been paid for 27 years by Island Records, when it was under the control of Chris Blackwell." This is an extraordinary claim if it is true and more than a little scary. These sort of things don't happen in this day and age, do they (see below)? For the full story, see this report in The Jamaica Observer

Rosco Gordon RIP

July 12 2002 - It was another age, of course. But I can't help thinking about the blues songwriter Rosco Gordon who died recently. He and Jimmy McCrackin wrote "Just a Little Bit" in the fifties and played to to a record company who passed on it - but copyrighted the song just in case. It went on to be recorded by some 50 performers. More rough treatment followed. "When I found I had lost the rights to over 300 songs," he once said, "it felt like someone was choking me when I try to sing." He subsequently set up a dry cleaning business with money he won at poker. The moral? I don't know. But it can be a tough business, songwriting. Sure you still want to get involved?

Diesel "new talent" hunt now open

Dec 14 2001 - Bands/DJs/producers in the UK should throw an eye at the Diesel site. They have just announced the launch of the Diesel U-Music award. I quote from their site: "Diesel U-Music offers aspiring DJ's, producers and singers a platform to be heard and recognised. All you have to do is send your entries on either: mini-disc, DAT or CD to Diesel HQ. Entries should be no longer than 6 mins in duration per track, (unless entering the Scratch/Vestax scratch DJ genre), with a maximum of three tracks." Prizes include releases and - hey, hey, - exposure. For more details, surf over to Diesel U-Music.

Dewars are looking for indie bands

Dec. 5 2001 - The rather luscious magazine Maxim is currently running a competition with drinks manufacturer Dewars. "Outstanding" US bands have a chance of being featured on Dewar's page, which is pretty neat as it happens. As well as being profiled on the site, you might be invited to Dewar's party in Miami - along with Maxim's models. For details, click here.

Last call for the NSAI Song Contest

Nov. 9 2001 is the closing date for the NSAI Song Contest, organised by and CMT (guess what style they're looking for). The prizes are tasty: an all expenses paid three-day trip to Nashville for introductions to music industry executives, a radio appearance on Nashville 95, a live Bluebird Cafe performance, a mentoring session with an award-winning panel of professional songwriters, and last but not least, an appearance on CMT Most Wanted Live. But you best write country - and have that demo ready right now. For details, click here.

The future's not ours to see

October 30, 2001 - Not many people noticed the fact, but one of the world's most prolific songwriters just passed away. Few people outside the business know the name Jay Livingstone, although everyone has sung his hits which included "Que Sera, Sera", "Mona Lisa" and/or "Bonanza" (yep, the cowboy series). All of these were written with lyricist Ray Evans, a partnership that lasted an incredible 64 years. It'd be nice to think his music will be remembered, but as Evans put it: "Whatever will be, will be".

Ever posted your music on a site - even your own?

August 13, 2001 - I don't want to scare you, but the RIAA has everything worked out. How you should (not) get paid. What people (broadcasters/ - in fact anyone) can do with your music. It's a technical issue, very legal. But you must read this news review from the people at Earthlight Productions. Click here to read it. And if you're in the States, please react.

Another dot.bomb and an angel in the morning

July 30, 2001 - Coincidence is often a handy thing. I just got news that after 5 years struggling to provide indie labels with an effective platform on the Internet, will most likely close.

Things are stacked against websites of this nature. But just by coincidence, the indie organisations AIM (UK) and Impala (Europe) recently signed deals with Napster. Ironically, Napster represents everything these same organisations have been fighting for the past few years: a former blatant copyright infringer and now a shopfront for the major BMG. As is now also in the hands of Universal, the stranglehold of the majors on Internet distribution is almost complete - with the active support of the independent labels. The message to e-entrepreneurs is clear: get your market share by hook or by crook and the industry will reward you handsomely.

There are still independent outlets, of course. But their prospects are bleak. One of my current favourites is AtRecordings. Great choice, nice interface, and you can listen to everything (helps if you buy something occasionally). If there are any other sites you think are exceptional, let me know and I'll post a link.

Shaggy's dubious Angel

I love Shaggy. For me, he comes in a straight line from performers such as Cab Calloway and Kid Creole. My big problem with Shaggy is his hits, which have been so dull of recent years it makes me cry. The latest, "Angel", is probably the worst. How can such a tepid mock-toast actually reach the charts? What happened to the bombast of "Boombastic?" If you want to hear what Shaggy can do with a duo, check out "Big Up" with Rayvon from the 90s (it's on a compilation called "Dancehall 101, Vol 1").

"Angel", of course, is nothing other than "Angel in the Morning", a track written by Chip Taylor. He is perhaps best known as the writer of "Wild Thing". It has survived several changes over the years, including versions by Merillee Rush, PP Arnold, Olivia Newton John and a gentle ska version by Joya Landis in 1966. Chip Taylor, a notorious gambler, recently made a comeback.
Michael Leahy

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