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Rolling Stone Article on Hugh Presswood (songwriter) and His Bought W/ Near Homelessness


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Cause wise it sounds like a bit of a mix of reasons. Lack of action on his part, a change in buying habits, several industry changes etc. I know so many post 2008 that suffered significant income loss on top of losses due to piracy wars and eventual settlement between PROs and major internet companies, plus law changes and lack of law changes that consistently favoured internet businesses. It left so many songwriters in the dust with many contracts worth cents on the dollar.

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We'll all have a lack of action at 78. I can't really blame him too much there.

 

Part of me thinks gigging is the most lucrative direction for musicians these days. Trouble is that the while touring musicians can make pretty good money, the local bar bands are still making about the same bread I was back in the early 90's. But songwriting for a living these days is looking more and more like a thing of the past.

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2 hours ago, Danger Man said:

We'll all have a lack of action at 78. I can't really blame him too much there.

 

Part of me thinks gigging is the most lucrative direction for musicians these days. Trouble is that the while touring musicians can make pretty good money, the local bar bands are still making about the same bread I was back in the early 90's. But songwriting for a living these days is looking more and more like a thing of the past.


It wasn’t so much his inaction at 78, so much as the music industry has been changing in pretty large steps since the mid 90s, if not before. While we might not have seen the damage from digital piracy going quite so badly, or then stood by and watched Google take an active roll in the piracy debate when settling with PROs, industry bodies, labels and publishers as Google owned YouTube which had a massive bill pending… such that the deal that let so many internet businesses off the hook simultaneously started the kill off of the music industry, followed by the rise of talent shows, the 2008 global crash and ongoing evolution of the internet, underpinned by national governments repeatedly throwing entertainments industries under the bus in favour of the internet industry… it’s been one event after another up to and including law changes, Covid, and now a looming global financial crash. He was a much younger man when this all started. About  51 by my reckoning. I just mean there have been many, many signs.
 

That doesn’t mean I would be happy leaving the guy going homeless. However, I know for a fact he is not the only guy rendered homeless by changes in the music industry. That has been happening for a long time. One ex-writer for Songstuff, long term community member, a friend, now passed, ran a label & publishers with 18 jazz artists on the roster. He was also a respected lyricist. The changes wrought in the industry by 2008 had already seen him first working 3 jobs to keep the label afloat. He lost the label, lost his house, saw him living in his car. Of course he was too proud to tell anyone until he had been in that situation for some time. The stress affected both him and his wife. They both had numerous resulting health problems. They had no insurance by then. It wasn’t a nice way to go.

 

The reason I say all that is really, sympathy and charity might well be a safety net of sorts, but complacency would see us all destitute. None of us can afford it. When it comes to income, having multiple strings to our bows is a good idea. We have to learn to pay attention to, and to read the signs.

 

One if the key lessons for musicians, especially professionals, is that they need multiple income streams. They need to look at other ways of monetising their music and earning from their fanbase. I think you are right @Danger Man, the days of reliably earning from songwriting alone are gone. The chances of 360 deals are low. The chances of long term earnings of any scale, a passive income from songs, is pretty low. Sync rights are the only income stream remotely earning previous fees, and many production companies now use cheap library music and one time fees. They even remove bespoke music from established movies and tv series in favour of re-releasing using such library tracks. Just like every other income stream from music, musicians repeatedly undercut each other for their “chance to progress” and kill the income stream. A race to the bottom. Time after time.

 

Merch is going that way too. If you are already a name you might make money from live, but it is getting harder to get to that point. Many venues try to push play for free or pay to play on the little guy. Now, post Covid, many venues are shutting.

 

Different strategies work for different areas and levels of the music industry. The old ways just do not work. Ok, aspects of them do. Lessons can be learned. Yet, as long as musicians remain eager to put themselves first at all costs, other industries will keep taking all the ground we keep being prepared to cede. As long as we keep acting entirely as individuals the value of music and musicians will continue to plummet. Sad but true.

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"Yet, as long as musicians remain eager to put themselves first at all costs, other industries will keep taking all the ground we keep being prepared to cede. As long as we keep acting entirely as individuals the value of music and musicians will continue to plummet. Sad but true."

 

I don't quite understand this part John. Can you explain what you mean here for a dumb old geezer?

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Sure, no problem. As long as we undercut each other in the pursuit of success, and collectively we seem unable to do anything else, the old music industry will cherry pick only a handful each year to make money. Ok, if you want to be in a wedding band you can make money, but the idea of residual income is all but meaningless to the majority of artists and songwriters.

 

A venue or booker offers you crap money/bad terms/low percentage to play an event. They know that even if you turn it down some other artist else will be desperate enough that they will take the low pay and play the gig to get the exposure. Someone will always take that hand. So the next time the venue or booker offers you less, and maybe now you are desperate enough to take it. Eventually they are offering no money, or even asking for money from artists to play. It happens.

 

The same works on any deal artists or writers are offered. They all know that artists and writers are so desperate to increase their reach, to meet new listeners, that they consistently undercut each other. This drives the market rate down until artists are giving it away. Even if they don’t necessarily ask for money, it costs the artists to pull a show together (rehearsal space, gear, recording time etc). Effectively the businesses around the music industry, from platforms like Apple Music, Google Play, Spotify, to the advertisers on their platforms, the venues, the merch companies, the distributors etc all know that they will make money off the back of the artist’s or songwriter’s work, and that while they might or might not get their profits squeezed, they will squeeze the artist or songwriter down until the artist or writer is the only entity not making money off of their music.

 

Those that once protected the artists and writers as assets gave in, settled for less and less profit, and used those lower profits to justify worse and worse contract terms. 
 

It isn’t just the pros or signed artists. Even in indie land there were plenty semi-pro and amateur artists (even some pros) giving way their music for free in the hope of growing their fanbase (usually because they don’t know how to grow their fanbase or have confidence that they can.) Now it is the standard for indie music. Of course, the vast majority of those willing to work for nothing earn their living via a day job. They have the luxury of being able to give away their work for nothing and still be able to feed their family. They often don’t realise the damage they inflict on professional music, don’t care or they believe that they are powerless to effect change and so go with the flow. They may say they do it for lofty ideals of “art for free” but I notice those that do often have good, high paying jobs!

 

The public has learned to expect free or very, very cheap music. They value music less than their parents or grandparents did. The net effect is poorer music, cheaper recordings and a smaller professional industry with less and less professionals able to earn a crust. So much in the way of skills and talent has walked away to find other careers. Less session musicians. Less studios. Less producers. Less labels with less signed labels, less publishers, smaller rosters. Smaller productions. It’s been somewhat of a perfect storm.

 

There are ways still to make a living, but you have to be actively creative, learning the business of music, internet leveraging multiple streams, monetising what businesses cannot take away from artists or otherwise steal. For a while that was live performances, but that is changing too. The truth is there is a way forward but artists and songwriters need to evolve, at every level in the industry, because other industries are busy pocketing the money that artists and songwriters and a load of other music professionals used to.

 

We can sit around and complain that the old ways don’t work, look for someone else to solve the problems for us, or use our creativity for more than just making music. Once upon a time artists needed labels and songwriters needed publishers… and while there is still room for a small percentage that will work that way, the new industry demands that we are better educated and more resourceful. More self employed than we ever were.

 

I will add this. It doesn’t matter if you want to charge for your music or not. If you would like to have an audience for your music, you still have to know who makes up your audience, how to reach them, how to get them to hear your music a few times with an open enough mind to give your music a chance. You have to know how and when to engage them to encourage them to listen to more of your music and keep coming back for more. Ideally you need to reliably reach them without breaking the bank. Luckily all these skills can be learned. All this is needed to grow an audience online, or in the real world, giving your music away for free, or somehow earning from it directly or indirectly. I do know if you can earn from it you can have a higher budget for your music overall. It’s also better to evolve and still be enthusiastic that to be resigned or bitter. Resigned and bitter doesn’t put food on tables or put a roof over our heads either. :(
 

One of these days I won’t get on a soapbox lol 😝 

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That's a lot to take in John. I understand it but I'm not sure what we can do about things. It would be nice if some of the musicians at the top, the Paul McCartney's and Brian Wilson's etc. would invest their scads of money into owning radio stations, record and publishing companies and so on instead of it being in the hands of the mobsters that we all know have run the entertainment industry since the days of vaudeville. But trying to cut in on the mob's business is bad for your health which is probably why no one has done it.

 

At least in the old days we could sell cassettes and records from a table at the gig. Now nobody buys music. They just steal it from YouTube. I guess if you get incredibly lucky you can have enough people buying legitimate downloads where you can make a good profit. I think though that for me just being a writer and not having the vocal chops to be a performer, that trying to write for publishers might be my only hope.

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VoiceEx, the only videos that do well for me are guitar reviews and how-to videos. And electric guitar stuff far out performs acoustic. I could make some bucks just doing that kind of thing and I may have to resort to it more one day. But try getting views as a songwriter. Taint easy.

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1 hour ago, Danger Man said:

That's a lot to take in John. I understand it but I'm not sure what we can do about things. It would be nice if some of the musicians at the top, the Paul McCartney's and Brian Wilson's etc. would invest their scads of money into owning radio stations, record and publishing companies and so on instead of it being in the hands of the mobsters that we all know have run the entertainment industry since the days of vaudeville. But trying to cut in on the mob's business is bad for your health which is probably why no one has done it.

 

At least in the old days we could sell cassettes and records from a table at the gig. Now nobody buys music. They just steal it from YouTube. I guess if you get incredibly lucky you can have enough people buying legitimate downloads where you can make a good profit. I think though that for me just being a writer and not having the vocal chops to be a performer, that trying to write for publishers might be my only hope.


Sorry. I know that discussing this is not why you made this post. It’s a subject I am passionate about.

 

I don’t think it’s about fixing anything, or putting it back the way it was. You are right in that. It’s not about anyone challenging the establishment. For most it is about adapting to the changes that have already happened.

 

Anyhoo, I’ll leave it there. It’s not my topic, I don’t want to do your head in any more than I might have already!

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1 hour ago, VoiceEx said:

 

If you are primarily a songwriter, than perhaps you should consider searching for performers. You could find people online, or even consider talking to a few of the talented performers and singers we have here on Songstuff. I could drop a few names off the top of my head, if you'd be interested. In private I mean, since I do not wish to derail your thread more than I have already 😅

 

As for your content. First off, I'm glad to hear that your Guitar Reviews and How-To videos are doing well! and, hey, if you got something hot that's worth sharing, than by all means, don't hesitate to send it my way, or even share it somewhere on the forum itself. I can't speak for others, though I'd love to check it out!

,

Speaking of which. I'm sure that your original work is also worth sharing! I mean, I'm sure that your tutorials and reviews are fantastic, though there is only one you, right? Perhaps that is an approach worth considering. I mean, if nothing else, a more personalized presentation and narrative, one which focuses on original material and taking a deeper dive into all sorts of facets (which are exclusive to your material), may entice the audience with more than just videos. Just my two cents of course.


Another popular format, that allows you to easily create a ton of content, is a mix between reaction videos and analysis videos. Just like instruction videos there is educational content, with engagement driven by follower suggestions, and you get to discover a load of new artists and new music alongside the older more familiar music. The fact that you have “first listens” on camera is the reaction element. It is a very popular up and coming format that largely qualifies as fair use if you stop start rewind etc to avoid continual playing for more than a song section.

 

Like VoiceX says, just my two cents… but this is partly what I mean about adapting to the modern marketplace, although this is out with the role as an artist or writer.

 

Drop a link to your channel and I’ll check it out and see if we can help you somehow.

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I've posted a few things here. It's not that people don't like my songs and arrangements. I typically get a thumbs up for every 10 or 12 hits. It's just that I seldom get more than 30 or 40 hits in a year with the vocal tunes. I got thousands of hits on guitar oriented videos, but those are what I started out doing over twelve years ago. I was always just a guitar player / side man. I only started writing vocal stuff a couple of years ago. So my entire audience was nearly all guitar guys to begin with.

 

 

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You might be a songwriter, but as individuals in the music industry the idea of having multiple income streams is hardly "out there" as a concept. Understanding your different audiences and how you can reliably reach them is a huge thing. That can clarify your content creation tactics, big time.

 

As an instrument teacher you target musicians. As an artist your target listeners and fans. As a songwriter who is NOT an artist, your audience is artists, publishers, managers, producers and musicians.

 

Addressing all of what might be needed is a huge subject. As @VoiceEx says, a big part of community is discussion and exploration of topics... it might be better splitting off into a dedicated topic to explore this further if @Danger Man & @VoiceEx would like to?

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