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Help! I’m Losing My Voice!

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Help! I’m Losing My Voice!

by Roger Burnley

Help! I’m Losing My Voice!

  Help! I’m Losing My Voice…

Respected vocal coach Roger Burnley has plenty of first-hand experience with voice maladies and he’s got essential advice for you on how to meet these challenges.

How can I save my voice?…

Many years ago, that was a question I had, because I suffered with severe vocal problems. When this was occurring, it was when I was only doing a few sets per month of about 45 minutes in length. I didn’t think that was very much time, so I should not have been losing my voice, getting hoarse, or having pain in my throat after a show. I knew in my heart that if this continued, I could never expect to tour or even do more than one show in a week! You see, after each show I would not even be able to speak the next day, let alone sing.

I was so frustrated that I began looking for help in any place I could. I went to many different vocal coaches, but none seemed able to even identify the problems I was experiencing. They couldn’t give me anything to correct it. As fate would have it, I happened to stumble upon a seminar on vocal health that was offered by an ear, nose and throat doctor in Beverly Hills, CA. It was a free seminar, and since I was desperate, I thought it might be a good idea to attend. The expert was Dr. David Alessi. He told us that he was doing this because he had worked with so many stars in music, acting and public speaking and saw first-hand the devastation that poor vocal habits could inflict on the voice––and these can end careers if they are not corrected.

At this point, I had begun to discover many things about the physiology of the voice, or how the voice is supposed to work. I struck up a conversation with Dr. Alessi, who was impressed enough with my knowledge to offer to take me even further. He began to refer some of his patients to me who had experienced vocal damage and were in need of rehabilitation. Most times, the vocal problems could be corrected with surgery or drugs, but those solutions might only be temporary if the patient does not change the vocal habits that caused the problem in the first place.

When a new client came from Dr. Alessi, they would come with a letter that described their condition. The letters were written in medical terminology, which I did not understand at all. Now this was well before the resources we have now on the Internet, so I had to go to the library to research these terms so that I could understand them and come up with an individual plan for each client.

One day, I received a client from the doctor who had been diagnosed with spasmodic dysphonia. I had someone in front of me who had completely lost their voice and could not speak. Now the real work began. I wanted to know how to rejuvenate the voice and keep it healthy.

I learned some critical things. There are muscles that cause the vocal cords to open and close for singing or speaking, and if they are not operating correctly, it can lead to major vocal problems. The great news is these habits can also be changed.

The above diagram gives you a visual idea of the workings of the voice. It not necessary to understand all of this, but it is helpful to see where the vocal cords are located. Imagine, beneath them, the muscles that cause the cords to open and close. It is possible for those muscles to lose their memory or simply forget how they are supposed to operate. This was the cause of the spasmodic dysphonia mentioned earlier.

These are extreme cases, but it is the same cause of other vocal problems I have seen, including fatigue after singing, loss of vocal range, hoarseness and sore throats. I have also seen that many allergies, as well as acid reflux conditions, can be related to poor vocal technique.

An important thing to consider is that every voice is different and unique, so any adjustments needed to maintain a healthy voice must take into consideration the specific techniques and vocal production of the individual. Some people have thinner vocal cords. Some people have thicker vocal cords, which will cause their voices to be lower in pitch but can also present other problems because. There is always a solution.

In the diagram above, you can see that the sizes, shapes, thickness or thinness of any of these structures are all individual and therefore must be adjusted to the individual’s body for proper vocal production and maintenance.

One of the biggest obstacles to maintaining vocal health is the use of the swallowing muscles while singing or speaking. Most people who are having vocal difficulties will discover that they are engaging these muscles.

To see if you are doing this, first locate your swallowing muscles by putting your thumb under your jaw and swallow. Now try to speak or sing with your thumb in place and notice if they are coming down or engaging. If they are, you might have just located a major problem for you.

I have found that over the years, retraining the voice with exercises to eliminate the use of those muscles has resulted in my clients no longer getting hoarse or needing to cancel shows. They also have less frequent colds, and in many cases their instances of acid reflux decrease. Additionally, they regain much of the range they thought had been lost. The biggest thing is they begin to feel much more confident in their performances, and know they will be able to sing for the rest of their lives.

 

[Permission reprint by Music Connection]

ROGER BURNLEY is a vocal, performance and life coach. He believes that everyone has talent and ability needing to be discovered and developed. He guides his clients to gain vocal control, freedom, and confidence. Many of Burnley’s clients have gone on to achieve major success in the entertainment industry. Visit his website at http://rogerburnley.com/

For more information on the 14th Annual IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), go to: http://www.inacoustic.com

 

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So You Want To Record An Acoustic Guitar?

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So You Want To Record An Acoustic Guitar?

By Paul J. Stamler

The basics of a successful acoustic recording, explained…

Recording Acoustic Guitar

Recording Acoustic Guitar

It’s actually simple, right? Just put the guitarist in a room with good acoustics, put a mic 8″–16″ over the fingerboard and aim it just above the 15th fret (see Figure 1), and you’re ready to roll. But, as usual, there are subtleties, and that’s why we’re gathered together today. Here’s a stream-of-consciousness look at recording this fundamental and wondrous, yet elusive, instrument.

 

Start with the instrument

The first step in recording a good acoustic guitar track is to make sure the guitar makes sounds that are worth recording. At the risk of repeating myself (I mentioned this in the last segment of my “First Steps” series in December 2016), you probably shouldn’t put on new strings at the start of the session; new strings hold their pitch well, yes, but on acoustic guitars they also ring and rattle like nobody’s business. If you change your strings 24–48 hours before you’re planning to record, they’ll have a chance to settle in and calm down.

 

You routinely use a humidifier in your case or inside the guitar, right? Unless you live in a climate with consistently high relative humidity (and never use an air conditioner or forced-air heating at home!), your guitar spends much of its time in a dry environment, and its tone suffers—the bass goes away, and the action gets troublesome. I routinely use a Dampit® humidifier, a piece of rubber tubing that contains a hunk of surgical sponge; you soak it for about 10 minutes, wring it out, and put it into the guitar’s soundhole. (Some people keep a slice of apple in their guitar case as a humidifier; it smells nice, but can attract ants.) If you’re not using a humidifier routinely, at least use one the night before you record; the tonal dividend can be remarkable.

I’m assuming your guitar is set up properly: no fret buzzes or rattles, comfortable action all over the neck, good intonation. If not, get thee to the town’s best guitar fixer and make it right.

 

Four categories

Now that the guitar sounds its best, what are you planning to record? There are four major categories into which an acoustic guitar recording may fall, and some of them need specialized recording techniques.

 

  1. Solo/twin guitar. Solo is self-explanatory, but the techniques used for recording guitar solos also apply when there are twin guitars interacting—the classic example being the longtime partnership between Doc and Merle Watson.
  2. Guitar accompanying a solo singer, such as a singer-

songwriter recording without a backup band. This may not work with the same setup as the solo/dual guitar recording if the musician sings and plays at the same time, since now leakage issues present themselves. If you play the guitar part first, then overdub the voice, obviously leakage isn’t an issue.

  1. Guitar as part of a small ensemble. This might be a bluegrass band, or an Irish ensemble, or a small rock combo, but the salient characteristic is that the guitar still counts as, and is still recorded as, a full-range instrument. (But for caveats, read on.)
  2. Guitar as an element in a dense mix. This is a whole ’nother ball game; when the guitar is part of a large ensemble (whether live or overdubbed), it’s usually not recorded/mixed full-range. Usually the ensemble includes a bass instrument that takes care of the nether frequencies, so the acoustic’s low end gets chopped off to some degree.

Obviously, there are intermediate or hybrid situations. One classic example is Elvis Presley’s famous Sun recording of “That’s All Right, Mama”, where the guitar is certainly accompanying a singer, but in the presence of a small group (electric guitar and bass fiddle). There, the engineer (Sam Phillips) rolled off the bottom of the guitar’s sound to avoid having the guitar’s lower frequencies overlap the bass.

 

Mics and guitars

Which mic you choose for the task depends to some extent on the scenario you’re working in, although not as much as one might think. Guitars have a lot of bottom (particularly larger guitars, like dreadnoughts), and directional mics—cardioid, hypercardioid and figure-8—have proximity effect. That acts like an EQ which boosts the bass when the mic is close to the sound source. Even for a solo guitar recording, you probably don’t want that; you want full-range sound, yes, but not a boombox.

That’s where the 15th-fret position I mentioned above comes in; on most guitars, in most situations, you don’t want to fall into the hole. Some people think that the soundhole is the place to put a mic because “it’s where the sound comes out.” But that isn’t really true; most of the sound from an acoustic guitar comes from the vibration of the top, with the strings themselves contributing a small amount (their main job is to set the top in motion).

 

The hollow body of the guitar forms a resonator, which boosts the bass frequencies to a lesser or greater degree, depending on the body size. The hole helps tune this resonator, and what comes out of it is not the wide range of the instrument’s sound, but a spectrum centered around the note to which the resonator is tuned. This one-note sound is sometimes called “jukebox bass”, and while the strong bass can help the instrument carry in a bluegrass jam session (that’s why the Martin D-18 has become the quintessential “bluegrasser’s guitar”), it can interact with the microphone’s proximity effect to produce the dreaded one-note boom. One solution, if leakage from other instruments or voice isn’t an issue, is to record the guitar using an omnidirectional mic, which has no proximity effect. Even so, keep the mic away from the hole.

 

So back to my question: which microphone to use on that 15th fret (which is away from the soundhole)? What you don’t want is a mic with a shrieking high end. I read a recent review describing a mic with a rising response through its range, culminating in a +12 dB peak in the treble. Yes, +12 dB; that’s not a mic you want recording an acoustic guitar, as it will sound thin and wiry, and exaggerate pick and fret noises like nobody’s business. Even in Scenario 4, the small-element-in-a-big-mix recording, a mic with such an exaggerated response won’t produce good results.

 

In class a few weeks ago we did a mic shootout between some mics renowned for their ability to record acoustic guitar. We were using a not-particularly-fancy plywood-topped guitar; when the student brought it out and started playing, we were all pleasantly surprised by its tonal excellence. Cheap guitars have gotten a lot better in the last 20 years!

 

We didn’t have a chance to make the shootout comprehensive or scientific; we only had the chance to try a few mics. The students’ favorites (and mine) were the ones I predicted: the AKG C451B small-diaphragm condenser, and the Microtech Gefell M930, which has a large diaphragm but a small body size. Interestingly enough, the published frequency response curves on these mics are surprisingly similar (Figs. 2 & 3—our thanks to AKG and Microtech Gefell for permission to reprint these).

 

Over the years, those mics have become favorites for recording acoustic guitar. Their prices aren’t comparable, though; the M930 goes for about $1200 new, whereas the C451B can be had for about $500 new. Of course, the M930 will do a lot of other things well, though, like drum overheads and vocals—it’s become my “money mic” for many reasons, not just its usefulness on acoustic guitar. (Interestingly, my limited experience when I was reviewing the Neumann TLM 102 suggests that it might share some of the M930’s strong points on guitar.)

 

If you prefer a flatter frequency response on acoustic guitar, two good alternatives are the Shure SM81 and the Oktava MK012. The Oktava has interchangeable capsules that include cardioid and hypercardioid pickup patterns… and therein lies a tale.

Way back in the Paleolithic Era I recorded a musician named Bob Abrams in a Scenario 2 setup—guitar and vocal. I had eight tracks available for the recording, and I decided to try a trick I’d read about: putting a large-diaphragm Neumann U 87 on the guitar, with a couple of small-diaphragm Neumann KM 84s flanking it. Everything sounded fine, right up until Bob launched into some blues shouting.

 

When it came time to mix these songs, I discovered that Bob’s voice had leaked into the U 87, and the leakage sounded terrible. He was seriously off-axis, and many large-diaphragm mics have squirrelly response off axis. (The M930 and TLM 102 don’t, but they hadn’t yet been introduced at the time.) The leakage into the small-diaphragm KM 84s, however, didn’t sound bad; their response off-axis is pretty uncolored.

KM 84s, however, have an odd interaction with large-bodied Martin guitars; they “woof out” at the bottom. I suspect that this is a combination of proximity effect and saturation of their minuscule output transformers; whatever the cause, it doesn’t go away with EQ. Fortunately it wasn’t too obtrusive on this session, but would have been nice to avoid altogether.

 

The nice thing about Oktava MK012 microphones, however, is that they’re transformerless, and they don’t woof out. For recording a Scenario 2 (guitar+voice) or Scenario 3 (small-group) combination, I might use an MK012 with its hypercardioid capsule; that allows a little bit of leakage from the voice, but less than the cardioid capsule, and the off-axis response is still nicely uncolored. The hypercardioid capsule has more proximity effect than the cardioid, but a 100 Hz rolloff will usually cure that.

If you’re looking for Oktava MK012s, by the way, you need to get them from the official distributor (oktava.com). I mention that because there was a rash of MK012s on the market about 10 years ago that had failed to meet specs, and they were followed by knockoffs that weren’t really Oktavas. Go to the official source and save yourself some heartache.

 

What about Scenario 4, the dense mix? I’d actually choose the same mic I’d use for the other setups, making sure not to use one that woofs out or screeches. A little gentle boost in mixdown around 10 kHz (no more than a couple of dB) plus a steep rolloff of the lows should make it fit in nicely.

 

Other voices

I’ve only mentioned a few mics above. What about some others?

In an article I wrote for Recording several years ago, I touted the Neumann KM 84 (hero of my session with Bob Abrams). Unfortunately, the KM 84 is long gone, and its successor (the KM 184) is a very different-sounding microphone; though I’ve liked the KM 184 on flutes and mandolins, I haven’t had much luck using it on acoustic guitars. The KM 84 occasionally shows up on Ebay, though, and deserves mention here. I’ve had excellent results using it on Taylor and Gibson acoustic guitars; it seems to get along less well with Martins and their imitators, as it tends to woof out on them.

What about the venerable Neumann U 87, which I also lauded in that long-ago article? When you’re recording solo or duo guitars, without a singer, it can do a splendid job on an acoustic guitar—the U 87 has an unusual liquid quality that imposes itself over the guitar’s tone. It’s a very 1970s sound. Unfortunately, the U 87 now sells for about $2400, not including shockmounts.

 

Somewhere along the road, I had the pleasure of reviewing the Sennheiser MKH40, a small-diaphragm condenser mic. My memory of using it on acoustic guitar is that it had a unique ability to draw the listener’s attention. When it was on a guitar (say, in a small ensemble) you had to listen; the instrument just wouldn’t stay in the background foliage. That might be what you’re looking for or it might not, but in the right context it can be an enormously attractive sound. The MKH40 costs about $1200, the same as the Gefell M930.

 

Hear me in stereo

One alternative available for recording acoustic guitar in Scenarios 1 and 2 (solo/duo guitars, with or without a singer) is to mic the guitar in stereo. One way to do this on a solo guitar is to point two mics at the instrument’s body—one on the usual 15th fret, the other down by the bridge—panning them hard-right and hard-left respectively. This can produce a “bigger-than-life” guitar sound that spans a listener’s speakers—sort of like a 10′ acoustic guitar body. I’ve done this a few times; Julie Henigan’s album American Stranger has several examples. On that recording, I think I was using Shure SM81s on the guitar. When vocals leak into these mics from the side, their response is basically flat with a rolled-off treble.

The hazard in recording guitar with two parallel mics is that most guitarists move around a little when they play. (Julie doesn’t, luckily for me.) This changes the relative distances of the two mics, and two things can happen: first, the image of the guitar can shift drastically in the speakers, sounding like the guitarist just jumped across the room.

The other problem that can develop from the guitarist’s motion is comb filtering. If he or she twists the guitar so that it’s closer to one microphone than the other, cancellations and reinforcements will happen in the high frequencies—a 1″ difference in guitar-to-mic distances will produce a cancellation at 6.8 kHz and a reinforcement at 13.6 kHz.

For recording an acoustic guitar in stereo, therefore, I prefer to use an XY arrangement, using two cardioid mics (usually small-diaphragm) nose-to-nose, with their capsules angled at 110° and stacked one above the other (see Figure 4), and the whole assembly sitting—where else/—above the 15th fret.

 

The sound clip that goes with this article (downloadable from https://is.gd/RECJuly2017AcGuitarExample), used by permission of the artist, Phil Cooper, is one of my favorite acoustic guitar recordings. Phil was playing a small-bodied Breedlove C2 guitar, and I put an XY pair of cardioid Oktava MK012s over the 15th fret, panning them hard left and hard right. I think I rolled the bass off at 100 Hz to compensate for proximity effect, but there was no other EQ or processing used.

Can you do this when someone is singing? Yes, if you’re careful. If Phil had been singing on this track, I might have used the hypercardioid capsules on the MK012s; XY works with hypercardioids if you change the angle to 90°. And here’s something that might only work with Phil Cooper’s voice: I used to record him with an XY pair of KM 84s or MK012s at neck level (his neck, not the guitar’s), and I could change the mix of guitar and vocal by adjusting the mics’ angle. I did need to use a pop filter when I did that, as most small diaphragm condenser mics are inordinately sensitive to p-pops. The guitar was off-axis, but on the KM 84s and MK012s I was using, it actually sounded good that way… so much so that I occasionally recorded Phil’s guitar with the mics in that position even when he wasn’t singing.

 

Beyond the mic

The quality of your mic preamp matters a lot on acoustic guitar recordings. If the preamp is thin-sounding, or one-dimensional (flattening everything out until it sounds like a cardboard cutout), or hard and shrill in the high frequencies (the telltale clue is exaggerated pick and fret noise), your recordings of acoustic guitar will suffer for it.

I can’t emphasize this too strongly; too many low-priced interfaces include cheap mic preamps that won’t do an acoustic guitar justice. If you have a separate mic preamp, and can patch it more directly into the A/D converter, your acoustic guitar recordings can gain a great deal of depth, three-dimensionality and realism. Some interfaces have insert jacks; they’re worth their weight in gold at times like this.

Other manufacturers are putting better preamps into their interfaces—see, for example, Paul Vnuk’s June 2017 review of the Antelope Goliath. That’s good news for everyone, but especially for guitar players. Even if the recording’s destiny is to have its bottom chopped off for incorporation into a complex mix, you can make a track that fits more effortlessly if the preamp is good.

What about pickups? They used to be anathema for serious recordists; magnetic pickups made your acoustic guitar sound like a pawnshop-special electric, while piezo pickups often had a characteristic timbre that received the moniker “squacky”—if you’ve ever watched “Austin City Limits” you’ve heard it.

 

Well, pickups got better, and more important, the preamps used with them got better. It turns out that pickups (all pickups, not just piezos) really prefer to operate into a really high impedance, like 10 MΩ or more… that’s 10 million ohms. Preamps with input impedances like that used to be rare birds, but now they’re more common, and the “instrument” inputs on some interfaces have sufficiently high impedances too.

The singer-songwriter and virtuoso guitarist Joel Mabus has, for his last several CDs, blended a track from his pickup (via a good preamp) with the microphones on his guitar. The result adds just a little edge to the sound, in an engaging way. Check out the guitar sounds on his latest, a gospel record called Different Hymnals, for some examples.

 

In closing

The acoustic guitar is its own universe; listen to a recording by John Renbourn, or John Fahey, or Joel Mabus, or Doc & Merle Watson—listen deeply, until you get lost in the sound. Acoustic guitars are like that; their sound is endlessly complex and fascinating.

A certain renowned guitar player once said in an interview that he thought the sound of an acoustic guitar had much more variety and depth than that of an electric guitar, and was just plain “more interesting.” This purist rock-hating retro-folkie was named Keith Richards. If Keith thinks the acoustic guitar has the most possibilities, who am I to argue?

In any case, I hope this article will help you to record the acoustic guitar more richly, capturing the interest that Keith (and all of us) love. Enjoy!

 

[Reprinted by permission by Recording Magazine]

 

Paul J. Stamler is an audio engineer, educator, musician, and collector of vintage and historical audio recordings, living and working in St. Louis.

For more information on the 14th Annual IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), go to: http://www.inacoustic.com

 

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Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone to Achieve Success

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Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone to Achieve Success

by Wallace Collins

Wallace Collins

Wallace Collins, Entertainment Lawyer.

Wallace Collins has experienced the music industry in many forms, breaking in as a music artist himself, and now represents numerous music artists as well as visual artists, designers, and media properties as an entertainment lawyer and intellectual property attorney.

 

In the most high profile court case Wallace was involved with, his client received the largest monetary judgment ever awarded for the use of a single “sample” in the rap song “Whoomp! There It Is”. He has written numerous articles for legal and trade publications, Billboard magazine, Entertainment Law and Finance and The New York Law Journal, and has appeared on many national television and radio broadcasts including Court TV and Hard Copy.

While it seems like Wallace had an easy road,  as the cliché goes, “looks can be deceiving”.  What first seemed like a monumental failure turned into a greater passion for life and ultimately, greater success.

Here’s Michael Nova’s inspiring interview with Wallace Collins…

 

Wallace, before becoming an entertainment lawyer, you were an artist yourself. Can you please share with us how you got your start and how you were able to get discovered by your first record label, Epic Records?

As a young teenager I was an avid songwriter inspired by The Beatles like so many others at the time. I formed bands to be able to perform my songs for an audience and to be able to record my songs.

It was a different era then where you recorded on a small cassette player at home then rehearsed in order to book time and record in a formal recording studio. We would save up what we could for months to afford to book a studio session and make the best demos we could.

For years we would send around our demos to record companies only to be rejected – until one day that changed. Long story short, one time we moved from a 4-track studio where we had started some basic tracks to an 8-track studio. There it turned out that our reel-to-reel master tape now had a lot more tracks, so we filled them up with overdubbed vocals.

We shopped that demo around and got interest from CAM, Jimmy Ienner’s production company that had worked with the Raspberries and he was impressed with what we had done vocally (even though we barely even understood what we were doing). That production company financed us making real masters in a real studio with a real producer, and when I was just 18, I was signed to a record deal with Epic Records.

 

And what happened after you were signed? This led to a second record deal with EMI?

Without getting into the nitty gritty of the record label shenanigans that went on in that world, our Epic single “Rock & Roll President” was not properly set-up and promoted so was not a hit.

Although it was released by Epic on the same days as Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” and Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music White Boy” – so we were in good company – when our single failed to get the traction that those other artists got, we were dropped.

We were heartbroken, but CAM believed in us as a band, and me as a songwriter, and so they financed some more recordings. They pitched us to United Artists records and we were signed again.

We were in the studio working on our album when we got the word that EMI had bought out United Artists. We soon realized that this was not good news since EMI stripped most of the artists off the UA roster, including us. So again we were without a record deal (in an era when you had to have one to be viable as an artist).

 

That’s unfortunate, but it seems like many bands were caught in similar situations around that time. Can you talk about dealing with the adversity you faced as a recording artist that led you in another direction?

After the Epic deal and the EMI/UA deal I was still just 20 years old, so I kept on working at my craft: writing songs, recording, and performing live at every club and venue we could play. The band line-up would evolve with other players over the years always in an effort to make it better and better.

We played New York clubs during the week and pretended to be a cover band on the weekends to make a go of it. In the early 80s we were playing double bills with The Smithereens at The Bitter End and Kenny’s Castaways in New York city – but when they got signed and we did not, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

It seemed we were relegated to playing smoky clubs until the wee hours for meager pay as a cover band, and I grew to resent it. I had hit a sort of glass ceiling that allowed me to play music, but not the way that I wanted to.

As I explained to a friend by analogy, I wanted to be a painter, but instead of painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel like Leonardo I was relegated to painting houses – not the level of painter sufficient to satisfy my ambitions at the time.

I did a lot of soul searching while I continued to play music in the club scene.  I was not sure what to do at the time, but I knew I needed to change course. Gradually, I gravitated toward the idea of law school, something that would take me completely out of the scene I was in and let me reinvent myself and then come back to the music business reincarnated.

 

So is it fair to say that you would never have found your passion in life as an entertainment lawyer if you had never experienced the disappointment you felt as a music artist? In other words did the setback in your journey eventually lead you paradoxically in the right direction?

Absolutely, although I felt that I had failed at my life’s goal of being a successful songwriter and recording artist, and I was devastated at the time, having the courage and fortitude to make the extreme change necessary to change course at the time proved to be a lifesaver.

I was stuck on a path that was not leading me where I had wanted to go, and there were certain enjoyable elements of the musician’s lifestyle that acted as a powerful inertia for me.  However, as hard as it was to leave the laid back life of a musician living day to day, and engage in the rigors of law school, the change functioned like a rocket launch in moving me to another path in life.

Had I not been brave enough to push myself to make the radical life change, (although there was still a bit of a rocky road ahead), I would never have found the passion I now enjoy as an entertainment lawyer.

 

So then your journey took you back to law school, but upon graduation, you couldn’t find work in the entertainment industry, so you had to take work in corporate law while looking for the right opportunity to get back into the entertainment industry. Was that a difficult process for you and how did you overcome that challenge?

Although many of my fellow students did not enjoy the rigors of law school, for me it was invigorating. It was hard work, but I was motivated and I enjoyed the challenges.

After graduating there were hefty student loans to pay off and no options for me to get a job with a record company or entertainment law firm since they all wanted lawyers with experience.

I had no choice but to take jobs with corporate firms to get that experience (and pay off some of those hefty student loans). For a few years the big paychecks at the corporate law firms were somewhat satisfying (and practical), but after a while the work seemed soul-killing for me.

I had no passion for the daily work. I was heading in the right direction toward my goal, but I realized that I still was not there yet. However, since some of my old musician friends and others I had known in the record business knew I was now a lawyer, they contacted me, and I started doing some work for them on their contracts on weekends. I found my moonlighting legal work and the music business contracts (and interacting with the music people) was more satisfying than what I faced at my day job at the corporate law firm.

 

And how did you eventually work your way into the entertainment industry again?

It took some time, but the music business work I did weekends and evenings eventually led to more and more.  Friends told friends, and eventually I was getting more and more inquiries – even though I still had my big law firm “day job.”

I kept hustling as best I could to make more and more contacts in the music business, both through musicians and through other people I met that worked at record companies. I attended music business conferences and started writing articles for Billboard and other trade papers.

Eventually, I was invited to speak at some conferences.  I came to realize that if I was willing to take another risk, leave the comfort of the big law firm life and strike out on my own, the risk might bring a reward – and it did!

 

So how were you able to build up your reputation in the entertainment industry to where you were able to reach a level where you felt you were achieving the kind of success that you dreamed of?

Lucky for me, when I struck out on my own as an entertainment lawyer it was the early 1990’s – still a boom time for the record industry. CDs caused many people to re-purchase the same music they already owned on vinyl or cassette along with new music, so money was rolling into the record business.

Rap music was burgeoning, and since some of the bigger entertainment law firms were overloaded with their rock star music clients (and did not necessarily see the future of urban music), solo practitioners like me could pick up business.

Again, luck and timing played a part once I moved myself into the right place. One day an unknown artist called me for a consultation, and we ended up doing a deal with Puff Daddy’s BadBoy Records (and then more and more artists that were going to get signed to BadBoy came to me).  A year or so later the same thing happened with Jay Z’s Roc-a-Fella Records: one artist came to me to do his deal, and once I did that deal, the word spread, and then many more artists and producers working with that label came to me.

To be honest, it just kind of kept going and growing like that, and I built it up one brick at a time, until I had built up an entertainment law practice of my own. All the time I kept writing articles and speaking at conferences to it all worked to reinforce what I was doing day to day.

 

So now as you look back on your journey, what have you learned about overcoming adversity in life, as in our phrase, “fall down seven times, rise up eight”?

The secret to success has certainly been “fall down seven times, rise up eight” for me. There are moments in life where you can stay on the path you are on, even if you are not satisfied with your life just because it feels comfortable and is easier than pushing yourself to make a change.

You need to trust your instincts, and use your mind to overcome the resistance around you. Pushing against the inertia of habit and lifestyle was not easy, but the reward has been great for me: from bedroom songwriter to Epic recording artist, from singer in smoky clubs to Fordham law school, from stuffy corporate law firm to entrepreneurial entertainment lawyer in control of my own destiny.

Each move required me to push myself out of my comfort zone to reach further for something more – but each time the new life turned out to be much more satisfying.  I believe that loving what you do and doing what you love for a living is worth a million dollars (no matter how much or how little you actually make doing it). The secret to having a good life is to be happy doing what you do.

 

For more information on the 14th Annual IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), go to: http://www.inacoustic.com

 

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USA Songwriting Competition Podcast 2017

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  1. “Criminal” by Jerad Finck
  2. “That Thing” by Due West
  3. “Fight to Death” by Jesse Blaze Snider& Freddy Scott
  4. “Half A Heart” by Gail Swanson & Willie Nelson
  5. “Horses in Heaven” by Terry Fator
  6. “Let It Go” by Trev Lukather
  7. “Only Fooling Myself” by Kate Voegele
  8. “Not Ready” by Frank Raknes Schonberg
  9. “Believer” by American Authors
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The Importance of Creating An Internal Band Contract

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The Importance of Creating An Internal Band Contract

by Wallace Collins

 

 

Andy Hill & Renee SafierOver the years there have been many lawsuits between and among the members of various musical bands. These lawsuits have concerned everything from disputes over the distribution of money to the right of departing members to use (or not to use) the band name in connection with ongoing endeavors. In most cases, it would have been better to be safe than sorry, and get the understandings of the band members in writing when everyone was in agreement just so all the parties remember what they agreed to at the start.

The internal group member contract between the members of a band is fundamentally important, but many musical groups ignore this crucial early step. When two or more people associate for the purpose doing business they create a partnership in the eyes of the law. General partnership law applies to the association unless a written agreement states otherwise. General partnership law provides, among other things, that all partners equally own partnership property and share in profits and losses, that any partner can contractually bind the partnership and that each partner is fully liable for the debts of the partnership. In the case of most musical groups, a written agreement setting forth the arrangement between and among the group members as partners is preferable to general partnership law.

A band agreement can address issues such as who owns the group name (and whether and in what capacity a leaving member can use the group name), who owns what property (including not only sound equipment but intangible property such as recording agreements and intellectual property such as the songs and the recordings created by the group), and how profits and losses are divided. Since it almost goes without saying that members of a band inevitably leave and groups inevitably disband, it is important to structure an inter-band agreement in the early stages of a career. It will function in a sense like a prenuptial agreement when matters start to disintegrate, and it can make the break-up process less painful.

Some bands may deal with this agreement among themselves and some bands may have a lawyer prepare a basic inter-band agreement. If it is a fairly equal partnership where all members are writing and performing and sharing equally, it is a fairly simple process. However, where some members are songwriters and others are not and/or where one member claims ownership in the name or another makes significantly larger financial contributions than the others, it can become a complicated process. If the band cannot work it out among themselves, they can either sign a conflict waiver permitting the one attorney to act solely as scribe (and not as advisor) on behalf of the group, or each member of the group may need to get his or her own lawyer to protect each respective member’s interests. Like it or not, as artistic and creative as forming a band can be, this is a business and it is wise to recognize that and deal with it. These inter-band issues are better dealt with at the beginning when everyone is optimistic and excited rather than later when tempers flare and bitterness pervades as egos clash.

A typical band contract will address certain fundamental group issues. One important issue is who owns the group name if one member leaves or if a group dissolves which group of members are entitled to use the name. Under partnership law the partners would be the joint owners of the name and any member would probably be permitted to use the name (or maybe no members would be allowed to use the name once the partnership is deemed dissolved). Trademark rights are determined based on the “use” of a mark (not on who thought of the name) so each of the members of the group would be an equal co-owner of the group name under trademark law. The end result under either partnership law or trademark law might be impractical.

In most cases, the band agreement will state that if a particular founding member was the creator of the group name then only a group comprised of that member and at least one other member can use the name. This will apply whether one other member leaves or if the group disbands and only the founding member and one other reform the group. There are as many different ways this provision can be drafted as there are different group names.  When a group member leaves, the remaining members are going to want to keep the group name and are not going to want the leaving member to dilute its value or confuse the public by using it in any way. The band agreement provision may say that a leaving member cannot use the name at all or that the leaving member can only mention that he was “formerly” a member of the group (provided that such credit is printed smaller than the member’s name or his new group’s name, etc.).

Rights in the group name may also concern revenues generated in addition to rights, specifically as they concern the sale of merchandise (e.g., hats, t-shirts, calendars and other products and paraphernalia). The band agreement should have a “Buy-Out/Pay Out” provision which would deal with this financial aspect of the group name.

The band agreement will need to contain provisions regarding the sharing of profits and losses. One provision may pertain to revenues earned during the term while each member is in the group and another may pertain after the departure of a member or the demise of the group. In most cases, a group just starting out will have a provision that all profits from the group are shared equally between all members with an exclusion for songwriting monies (which each of the respective songwriter members would keep for themselves). Where an established group adds new members the provision may provide that a new member gets a smaller percentage than the founding members.

However, in most cases, during the term there is not a problem determining appropriate revenue shares. The more complicated problem of revenue division arises after a member departs. The agreement may provide that the leaving member is entitled to his full partnership share of profits earned during his tenure but a reduced percentage (or no percentage) of profits derived from activities after his departure – or the agreement may provide for a reduced percentage for a short period of time after departure (e.g., 90 days) and then nothing thereafter. This is an easier issue to remedy as it relates to live performances and sales of merchandise during those performances than it is as it relates to record royalties. The group needs to determine what happens, for example, when a group member performs on 3 albums but leaves before the fourth album is recorded. Although it might be acceptable to refuse to pay the leaving member any royalties on the fourth and future albums recorded by the group under the record contract the leaving member signed as part of the group, it might not be fair to refuse to pay that leaving member his share of royalties from the 3 albums that he did record with the band. Of course, this might vary in the agreement depending on whether the leaving member quit or was fired.

Another important financial issue is the question of the leaving member’s share of partnership property such as band recording equipment or a group sound system. Again, the agreement might specify a monetary payout to the leaving member if he is terminated but forfeiture if the leaving member quits. If merchandise with the leaving members name and likeness still in inventory is sold after the member leaves, a decision will have to be made about whether and how much the departed member might receive for the use of his name and likeness.

The issue of control is also very important to deal with in inter-band contract. In most cases, each member will have an equal vote and a majority will rule. However, there are as many variations as there are bands. For example, some acts might require unanimous agreement or an important member may have two (2) votes and/or the band’s manager may have a tie-breaking vote. The agreement may also provide that certain matters such as requiring financial contributions from group members or incurring debts on behalf of the band require a unanimous vote. Again, there are endless variations including situations where a particular member makes all of the decisions or where new members do not have a vote on band business. One interesting inter-band arrangement was that of The Beatles.  In answer to that age-old question, “no”, Ringo did not get less. In fact, my understanding of their arrangement was that it was what might be called a reverse democracy: each member had one vote but if any member voted against doing something then the band would not do it. In other words, their arrangement required unanimous consent to proceed with an activity.

Another issue of control that must be decided for the band agreement concerns the hiring and firing of band members: how votes are calculated (e.g., will each member get one vote or will a particular member’s vote count double) and how many votes are needed (e.g., a majority or a unanimous vote) to fire a group member and/or hire a new member. In most cases, a new member voted into the group will then be required to sign on to the internal group contract. It must also be decided how to vote on any amendments to the band agreement since this may materially effect the relationship between the members after the group has started. In most cases, a majority vote will be deemed determinative but some members may prefer a unanimous vote on such things as amending the agreement (as well as hiring or firing). This will have to be decided between and among the members of the group.

Finally, the group’s internal agreement should contain a comprehensive Buy-out/Pay-out provision that deals with departing members. In most cases, whether the leaving member quits or is fired the agreement will provide that the leaving member waives all rights in the intangible assets of the partnership (e.g., the group name, the group contracts, etc.). If the member quits, he might waive any right to and benefit derived from the hard assets such as band sound equipment. If the leaving member is fired, the agreement might provide that he or she is entitled to the pro rata percentage of the current value of the hard assets. With respect to this payout, the band agreement may provide that if the valuation exceeds a certain amount (e.g., $25,000.00) or would put the band partnership in financial distress, the payout would be in a certain number of equal monthly installments (e.g., over 12 months).

Again, this Buy-out/Pay-out provision can be as simple or as complicated as the band members deem necessary. There are as many variations in this as there are differences in personalities between the members of a group. Each member and each group must find its own balance.

Inter-band issues and disputes are many and varied. Recently, a member of the Eagles sued the remaining members saying he was forced out of the Eagles’ corporation by the other shareholders (and invoked provisions of the California corporate law pertaining to minority shareholders in close corporations). Years ago an ex-member of The Black Crowes sued his former band mates claiming that he was entitled to an equal share of all the money they made after they threw him out of the band. His contract claim was based on nothing more than a pie chart drawn on a napkin. Legend has it that, years before while eating at a dinner after a band rehearsal, each member had signed his name on his slice of the “pie” drawn on the napkin allegedly agreeing that they would stay together and share all of the money equally come what may. Of course, when circumstances changed the fired member used that napkin to assert his rights.

It is difficult to form a good band and to achieve a successful career in the music business. Any group of two or more musicians working together would be well-advised to create and sign a good Internal Band Contract so that the band does not later self-destruct over money and ego issues and forfeit its hard-earned career success. In a perfect world, each member could afford its own lawyer to quickly and inexpensively prepare and sign such an agreement. In the real world, that may not be the case. In any event, some kind of basic band agreement is a good starting point for any new band.

 

Wallace Collins is a New York lawyer specializing in entertainment, copyright, trademark and internet law. He was a recording artist for Epic Records before attending Fordham Law School. Tel:(212) 661-3656 / www.wallacecollins.com

 

For more information on entering IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), go to: http://www.inacoustic.com

 

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