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the realities of being a
professional songwriter #2

with BMG songwriter/producer Freakchild

Leo ChantzarasBMG songwriter Leo “Freakchild” Chantzaras presents a short, sharp and characteristically outspoken blog on the realities of pursuing a career as a songwriter in the modern age.

Chantzaras speaks from experience having contributed his skills to a number of top selling international albums, including Sakis Rouvas’ latest #1 multi-platinum album, and gold-selling albums by NEWS and Koichi Domoto, and he has also contributed songs to X-Factor.

If you want to get in contact with Freakchild with any comments then mail him here.

#20 | Why am I not on the Rihanna record when my song
is so much better?

Mar 10, 2013

I wanna talk about the comparisons new producers and writers always make between their own music and what actually gets released.

You might have written a really good tune and decide it’s worth pitching it to Rihanna, for example. But then you don’t get any feedback from anybody and what’s more when you hear the record she releases you get the feeling, ‘Man, my song was so much better than this!’

Well, you could just be out of your fucking mind to think that – but equally you could be totally right.

Now since I know that there are a lot of writers that don’t understand why they can’t get a cut with a major artist like Rihanna, I wanna shed some light into the darkness.

If you look through the credits for the latest album by a major artist, you’ll see all the usual suspects. Sometimes a new name might appear but it’ll always be part of a familiar writing team.

The A-list top 5 artists of the world will never feature a song on their record by an unknown writer. It doesn’t matter if you’re have all the talent of Max Martin and Dr Luke combined – ultimately it’s not about your ability but because you haven't yet reached that level where you are recognized as a top writer/producer.

The “usual suspects” worked their asses off to get up there. They started with regular cuts, then they got bigger cuts and then they had the amazing cuts that qualified them for the champions league. You can’t expect to be in the champions league when you haven’t even won the championship.

Don't believe the bullshit about it all being “about the song” and that if a song is good enough then it’ll get on a Rihanna record. If the song is great and a co-write with Max Martin then yeah, it’s a cut. But if you’re a nobody, great song or not, the A&R will not bother even listening to it – they know they have their usual suspects who will deliver.

So work your ass off to get up the ladder with smaller cuts and you’ll eventually be rewarded with a big cut.


#19 | The Max Martin Formula

Feb 24, 2013

Let me talk about Max the innovator, the talent, the No.1. Why is Max Martin so revered? Why does he soar above almost every other A-list pop creator in the world? Why is Max Martin the king?

It starts with the talent: he’s an amazing writer, singer, vocal arranger and producer. Now you might say, “I can name several others equally as skilled.” Well, those are just the basics.

Max Martin first appeared in the 90s when he was discovered by the late Denniz Pop, Cheiron Records founder and a hugely talented writer and producer himself. It was when working with the band Max fronted at the time (It’s Alive) that Denniz spotted his gift for pop and suggested they collaborate together.

Max worked his ass off to learn everything he possibly could from Denniz, and even took his advice on changing his Swedish name to the snappier and more international, Max Martin. He also adopted his method of always having a hungry young sidekick, and with talents like Rami, Arnthor Birgisson and now Shellback assisting him in crafting pop hits, this has again and again proven to be a smart move.

The smart choice of sidemen has also shown that Max has Denniz’s nose for sniffing out the good guys. No better is this demonstrated than when meeting Dr Luke he immediately understood what the American songwriter/producer was all about and started collaborating at exactly the time when Dr Luke was exploding.

Dr Luke’s sound and Max songs fit together so well. In fact it has proven to be such a perfect match that it has helped Martin resist working with anybody and everybody and risk diluting his high standards and reputation with less ideal collaborations.

Another smart move was in not spreading his music too widely once he’d established his name with the likes of the Backstreet Boys and Britney, unlike most writers. He’s always made sure that his strongest songs go to the strongest and biggest artists so that they have the worldwide impact they deserve.

He has also invented singing styles. Have you ever noticed that Backstreet Boys, Britney and N Sync all sang with a “nosy” sound? Listen to Justin now – he doesn’t do it anymore. Max Martin came up with that and made it a trademark for those artists.

Last but not least, however amazing a production might sound Max has never let it distract him from his primary focus of creating great melodies. As Max knows all too well, while a production style can go out of date or not work in certain markets, a good melody will always sound good.
So if you wanna learn how to create a great pop song, study Max.


#18 | New artists take note

Jul 10, 2012

If you get signed to a label as a artist then it’s likely you’re between 17 and 21 and as such know shit about life and the music industry.

It’s therefore important to seek guidance from people who know the business. But at the same time don’t make the mistake of putting too much faith in others and not thinking for yourself.

It is smart to rely on those with a lot of experience – no question. Those who think they can deal with it all by themselves or that their mommy or best friend know what to do are hugely misguided – they might have your best interests at heart but without knowing the business there’s no way they can direct your career to anywhere but disaster. But at the same time, industry veterans don’t always know what is best for you and can mess up your career. So if there’s a risk of damaging your career whichever ever way you turn, what’s the solution?

You need professional supervision but you’ve also got to take some responsibility for yourself. It is your career after all. Educate yourself about the industry so that you know the decisions being made on your behalf are the right ones for you – and whether you’re being ripped off or not.

By and large you can trust the managers or producers you work with because ultimately they share your aim in wanting you to succeed – that’s how they make good on their investment. And when they have advice for you they speak from valuable experience. That doesn’t mean you have to take what they say without question but you need to listen. You can teach yourself about how the music industry works but the knowledge that comes with years of experience ain’t easy to come by.

For instance, say you’re a great singer that decides to start writing your own songs. What if a producer tells you your songs stink and you should leave the songwriting to the professionals? Do you listen to their advice and decide your time’s better spent focusing on improving your voice and performance, or do you just ignore them and insist on recording your own material, destroying your career in the process?

So be smart, think for yourself, but be sure of what you can and can’t do – that’s the best way to ensure a great career


#17 | Shame on you Spotify, YouTube and all the sharing sites

Feb 9, 2012

Today it’s all about the thieves of music and the so called “freedom fighters” of the internet. To them I say, fuck you! Yes, I mean you Spotify, YouTube and all the many sharing sites – in fact just everybody who is stealing music.

There is nothing great about what you do; you are not geniuses. You are just scum. For us songwriters you’re killing our income stream and leaving us with scraps to survive on. You are getting rich by killing the breed that your sites feed off.

I’m the last one to stop freedom of speech or the freedom of being who you are. But this is not about freedom here, it’s about stealing and making the professional life of a songwriter a nightmare. Please help us whoever you are; you are enjoying our music and our talent so don’t let us suffer. Don’t think that a hit makes a writer a millionaire anymore. The millionaire writers can be counted on two hands. It’s the rest that are really starting to suffer.


#16 | Don’t “hold” back your songs

Jan 18, 2012

Let’s talk about an everyday happening in the life of a songwriter – the “hold”.

If an A&R likes one of the songs you submitted for their project but is not 100% convinced and still undecided whether to use it, they’ll ask you if they can put it on hold. If you agree to that then that means the song cannot be sent out to anyone else until the A&R makes a final decision whether to use it or not.

Well so far so good. But in today’s talk what a “hold” really means is, “Given that I’ve absolutely no respect for you, I’m just going to keep your song for as long as I like and not even tell you if I use it. If you lose a cut with someone else as a result then it doesn’t bother me because I still have my monthly income – who gives a shit about you?”

Now why am I being so hard on the A&R you might ask? Well, because they don’t really deserve any better. You know full well how many times an A&R puts a song on hold and then doesn’t get back to you for months on end, doesn’t even respond to your follow-up emails, and then you only really find out that they’ve not used the song when you’re holding the album in your hand and can’t find any mention of your tune. What a waste of time.

So the lesson to be learned from this is just to never stop pitching your songs, regardless of whether they’re on hold or not. Just keep on sending them out. If someone else expresses an interest when your song is already “on hold” then there’s enough excuses available to get out of the situation. You can always say the song was pitched prior to their involvement and they’ve only just got back to you.

So work your songs and never ever hold them back.


#15 | Stop hyping the bullshit!!!

Jan 11, 2012

I want to talk about the hype of bullshit. What do I mean? You’re a writer and/or producer, and on finishing a new tune you flip out over how great it is and how it’d be perfect for Rihanna, Britney, blah blah blah …

Okay, you need to sit back, relax and listen again. But this time forget about the hours you’ve spent working on the song; forget the cool co-writer you had on board with a track record for hits; forget the great sounding mix – just listen! Listen and ask yourself, is this really any good?

It’s at this point that you can find out whether you’re really a pro or not. If the song is not as good as you want to believe it is then you have to be able to admit it. Alright, it may sound great, the mix may be fab, the singer did a good job, but the song … in truth, it’s just okay.

Now, if you’ve reached that point on your okay material you’re ready to create the big stuff. Why? Because you just reached a level of quality control.

You can’t make a song great just by believing it’s great. So many times it happens that you really want to believe from the heart something is a big record, and you blow the levels in the studio trying to make it happen – but it’s not.

So be true to yourself and listen carefully to what you do. If you find out too late that it’s not a killer then that might have taken up a lot of your time but at least you’re starting to understand and see through the hype. At the end of the day few people in the music business are able to resist the hype. Producers often can’t resist their own hype – they think something they’ve created is the shit when it’s nothing more than their own bullshit. A&Rs get fooled by names, sounds, and their own crappy taste. Singers get duped by their own voice – they just hear their terrific voice and not the song itself.

Stop the hype on bullshit! The minute you stop you improve, the material improves and your whole output improves. That’s what Max Martin is about – 80% of his releases are kick ass songs. I bet no other writer can reach that level of consistency these days. Max has sharp quality control. Like any smart writer, he knows that even the best writers can only write up to ten super quality records each year.

So be careful with your time and try to write and finish the super songs. This doesn’t mean you can’t place okay songs – I have placed a lot of knowingly okay songs myself, so you can still finish those – but don’t make yourself believe you have a big record when it’s not.

If you hype the bullshit then nobody is going to believe you when you created a super song. Start applying quality control and you will be one step ahead of everyone else.


#14 | Major/indie/own label? … or how to become famous worldwide

Jan 4, 2012

What are the most effective ways to get your ass out there worldwide?

One is to sign with a major label. Why? Because they have the money. At the end of the day if you make great music and have a unique image then the only other thing you need to conquer the world is money.

I know a lot of artists say majors suck; they don’t handle you right, they make bad agreements … well, go moan to your grandma about it. Major labels may not always have the artists’ best interests at heart but to make it worldwide you need money and so if you’re not a millionaire the only real option you have is to sign with a major – or at least a big indie label. Small labels may have more passion and be more artist friendly but that isn’t enough to make you famous; artists need money and power behind them.

With a major you may start out getting lumbered with a bad deal but who really gives a shit if it leads to success you wouldn’t otherwise have. Once you’re a huge star you can then negotiate whatever deal you like. A lot of major stars signed shitty deals at the beginning of their career – casting shows in particular tend to fuck you up the ass in their agreements – but ask any of them whether, given the chance to go back, they would put pen to paper again, knowing that what they were signing was a shitty deal … of course they would. Otherwise they’d still be unknown. Everything else you hear is bullshit.

Social media sites like YouTube are now giving unknown artists the platform to reach millions of people with their music but you can’t be rich and famous worldwide with YouTube alone; they might know your ass through YouTube but you still haven’t sold a single record.

So don’t let somebody bullshit you with one in a million stories where some unknown makes it all on their own without a deal and sells tons of records. It’s happening but it’s so rare that it’s not a realistic option for anyone. If you really wanna become super famous you need to attract a major label or win a casting show. That’s it!


#13 | America? No, Japan!!!

Oct 25, 2011

We’re all blinded so much by trying to hunt down a hit in the US or the UK that it’s easy to neglect the world’s second biggest – and arguably most stable – music market: Japan.

A better name would be “Songwriter’s Dreamland” because while the Western music world struggles with low sales, Japan is selling downloads and CDs in huge numbers. One major reason for this is the fan loyalty that still exists in Japan. Japanese customers want an act they can love for the long haul, and they show their love by buying their CD, the special edition, the DVD, the concert ticket …

I mean, unlike the rest of the world, the whole boy band phenomenon never faded away in Japan. A Japanese friend explained to me the reason why boy bands that started 20 years ago are still going strong today. She said that when a Japanese girl goes to her first concerts when she’s about 12, she gets stuck on a group and then remains a loyal fan forever.

In the rest of the world sales numbers, particularly with albums, are being affected by the fading of such fan loyalty. I mean, do you really get proper LMFAO or Pitbull fans – fans that will remain faithful to them for life and buy everything they release? The customer of today is a general music lover. Instead of being stuck on one act, they love all kinds of music and just want the latest hit songs regardless of the artist. So LMFAO and Pitbull’s singles might work, but the albums …? I don’t think so. And will thousands of people pay money to keep seeing them live? No. They’re just not acts that generate devotion from consumers. The same goes for a lot of club and dance-based acts around the world.

Meanwhile, in Japan, the survival of proper fans means high sales. That’s why I always piss my pants when I hear I’ve got a cut in Japan. What’s even better news for songwriters in the West is that it’s much easier for a good Western writer to get a cut with a major selling Japanese act than it is to get on the next Britney record. This is because the Japanese don’t give a shit about name-dropping and who you are. It wouldn’t matter if Max Martin offered them a tune, if it’s not as good as one by an unknown writer then they’ll go with the unknown.

This is not meant to be in any way a slight on Max, but just to show that the Japanese value the song even above the king of songwriting himself. Unlike in the Western world, there’s no closed circles or usual suspects when they choose songs for their artists.

So my advice is try to get into those markets. It’s not easy to break in first of all – you need someone who’s already established there, like a pitcher or a publisher – but it’s worth the effort when you do because this is serious.


#12 | $10,000 for a maybe?!?

Oct 15, 2011

It’s a typical US thing. Over there if you want to be a professional writer/producer – or artist – then it’s accepted that one of the first things you do is hire a steady lawyer and manager. Welcome to the world of sharing lots of % for very little outcome. (Yes, I’m sure some people have gone down that road and had success, but let’s put aside those exceptions for now) In Europe it doesn’t work like that. You’d only go to a lawyer if you need one for an agreement that’s on the table, and as far as I’m concerned managers are totally useless in Europe when you’re starting a career (see #3).

People in the US try to tell you that if you want to be a professional then you need both a lawyer and a manager, and while it’s true to an extent it’s becoming less and less important; it’s now much easier to take on greater responsibility for yourself. Having made the world smaller by being better connected, the internet allows you to network, get to the right places and move things without the help of a manager. Plus you only really need to call a lawyer when there’s a deal on the table.

At one point I was looking to hire a manager/consultant to help me get jobs or an act signed. For such a service one guy asked for up to $10,000, and in addition to that wanted to be flown over to check out the working environment. Are you fucking nuts?!? I mean, with all due respect, I’m not judging how he makes a living, but from my side, $10,000 plus flight and hotel costs just to tell me what I’m doing wrong and maybe get me a deal is ridiculous. If he could actually guarantee getting me the deal then fair enough, but paying that much money for a “maybe” is just madness.

Now, as mentioned before, in Europe it’s not like that. It doesn’t have to be like that in America either. I have friends from Europe that have had major US cuts without management or lawyer representation. I’m connected to US labels myself but living in Germany and I haven’t needed them either. If I was living in the US then I’m sure I would be a target of every A&R around just because of my manpower and networking ability – and my talent, of course.

So with all that said the only reason why you would need a steady manager/lawyer in the US, or wherever, is if you’re just not a networker yourself. But to be honest, if you’re not a networker then you have no place in this business. You’re too crazy even for this crazy game!


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