Songwritin' in the Smokies

Vacations can be like child birth. There's a lot of discomfort and sweating, but you come away with this amazing gift that makes you immediately forget the painful stuff. One such gift during our circuitous trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee brought us to this beautiful part of the country on the same weekend as the First Annual Smoky Mountain Songwriters' Festival.

Did I sit at the pool watching the kiddies? No way! I hot footed on down to register for this morning's "Art of Songwriting" workshop with Clay Mills and Marty Dodson who, according to the SMSWF web-site are responsible for penning the following:

Billy Currington's "Let Me Down Easy" and "Must Be Doing Something Right"; Kenny Chesney's "Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven"; Rascal Flatts' "While You Loved Me"; Darius Rucker's "History in the Making" and "Don't Think I Don't Think About It"; Trisha Yearwood's "Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love"; Diamond Rio's "Beautiful Mess"; Andy Griggs' "She Thinks She Needs Me"; Danielle Peck's "I Don't"; and Clay Walker's "Fall".

Yeah! These guys are some pretty heavy hitters! So imagine my surprise to their answer to my question, "how have the recent changes in publishing impacted songwriters... or has it had an impact?" 

What I took away from the workshop and answer to my question:
1) A songwriting "publisher" is the equivalent of a novelists' "agent", except this "publisher" takes as much as 50% of the royalties. That compared to a novelist/agent split of 85%:15% for essentially the same service. WhooWeee. That's steep.
2) The "publisher" negotiates contracts with a "management company". Some performers own their own management companies while others use an independent management company. I'm not sure this truly translates as the equivalent of the traditional novelists' publisher, but it's somewhere close. The song garner's royalties based on CDs sold and radio plays. How any of this is tallied is still a mystery to me, but it was a mystery to me in novel publishing too since I never saw a royalty statement or sub-rights disclosure until I went indie.
3) There is a songwriters' equivalent to the novelist genre professional groups, the "Romance Writers of America" equivalent in the "NSAI" - Nashville Songwriter's Association International. (The emphasis of this particular songwriters' workshop.)

Each of the writers were able to describe their process, which, again, I found fascinating! For Marty, he begins with an idea, encapsulated in a title that describes a universal truism in a unique way, while Clay prefers writing in the moment, (and treated us to a quick impromptu song about an ugly baby critique.) Both were in agreement that it was the synergy of the songwriting session, working with other writers as part of a collaborative process that brought the songs to life for them.

The Golden Chestnut I came away with: practice your strengths and find others who are good at your weaknesses - the equivalent of my long-held belief in surrounding yourself with people who are smarter than yourself. Love it! Whole heartedly agree with it.

Thank you, Clay and Marty, for sharing your expertise in this amazing field! I came away enriched. Don't know how I will apply it to writing novels, but I'm sure it will re-surface and I'll take this synergy home with me from vacation!

"Vacation is like child birth,
Lots of sweatin' and some pain
And you come home a feelin'
Like you been run over by a train,
But once back home
Your feelings are a mixture
of knowin' that you've been enriched
When you download all them pictures."

Okay, maybe I'll leave the songwriting to those people who are smarter than me.


  1. Thank you Sofie for the nice write up. I am so glad you found the Smoky Mountains Songwriters Festival and enjoyed your participation. We do hope you will plan to be back next year August 15 - 17, 2013. Please fan us on facebook and check out our web-site from time to time as we will routinely be updating it. Cyndy Montgomery Reeves, SMSWF Founder.

  2. Cool. I'm a fan! So anyone else reading this, go to that url - yeah, that one... up there. (Jumping up and down, pointing at the purple lines above.) Click.


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