“Questions” by Steve Sweeting and Will McMillan

I mentioned in my last blog post that I’ve been doing a lot of reading and watching educational videos about how the music industry works.

Today’s song — which I wrote with pianist/composer/songwriter Steve Sweeting many years ago — is perfectly themed for my current state of understanding (and lack thereof…)

In case you are the least bit curious, here’s a little of what I’ve been learning.

As a singer and songwriter, I am supposed to file for two types of copyright: sound recording (also known as the “master recording”) and song composition (of the actual song).

Song compositions generate payments to songwriters and music publishers — and sound recordings generate payments to recording artists and record labels.

So it turns out I need to learn how to wear four business hats: recording artist, record label, songwriter, and publisher.

Actually I also need to learn how to wear a publicist hat, a business manager hat, a booking agent hat, a social media/advertising hat — and the list goes on and on…

I have learned that sound recordings are given a unique ISRC code so that they can be tracked around the planet as they are downloaded, streamed, enjoyed via satellite radio, played in elevators as Muzak, etc.

In theory this tracking leads to various payment streams for the artist who recorded the song, their record company, the person (or team) who wrote the song, and their publishing company.

Also each original song composition is given a unique ISWC code for tracking purposes.

For example, Dolly Parton wrote and recorded “I Will Always Love You” when she made a very difficult decision to leave Porter Wagoner’s TV show.

This song has a unique ISWC code as a composition AND a unique ISRC code as her particular sound recording of it.

I loved reading in a 2012 interview about how Ms. Parton came to write this iconic song.

Porter and Dolly

“I was trying to get away on my own because I had promised to stay with Porter’s show for five years. I had been there for seven. And we fought a lot. We were very much alike. We were both stubborn. We both believed that we knew what was best for us. Well, he believed he knew what was best for me, too, and I believed that I knew more what was best for me at that time. So, needless to say, there was a lot of grief and heartache there, and he just wasn’t listening to my reasoning for my going.”

She continued, “I thought, ’He’s never going to listen. He’s just going to bitch every day that I go in to talk about this.’ So I thought, ’Well, why don’t you do what you do best? Why don’t you just write this song?’ Because I knew at that time I was going to go, no matter what. So I went home and out of a very emotional place in me at that time, I wrote the song, ’I Will Always Love You.'”

“It’s saying, ’Just because I’m going doesn’t mean I won’t love you. I appreciate you and I hope you do great and I appreciate everything you’ve done, but I’m out of here. And I took it in the next morning. I said, ’Sit down, Porter. I’ve written this song, and I want you to hear it.’ So I did sing it. And he was crying. He said, ’That’s the prettiest song I ever heard. And you can go, providing I get to produce that record.’ And he did, and the rest is history.”

Since then her song has been recorded by a lot of other singers — most famously by Whitney Houston.

And each recorded version has its own unique ISRC code as part of its metadata (plus Dolly’s ISWC code for writing the song) so that it can be monitored — and monetized — via unimaginably vast banks of computers keeping track of playlists, streams, downloads, broadcasts, Muzak services, etc.

Right now the music industry is in the middle of a paradigm shift which began when digital recording technology and CDs arrived in our lives.

When I was first making music as a young adult — performing with a jazz pianist, in a folk duo, and as part of an original five-person pop/rock band — I earned money from live gigs and from the sale of cassettes and CDs.

That era is over…

Music has gone from being sold on an analog object — such as a piano roll, wax cylinder, record, or cassette tape — to being sold as a long string of zeros and ones.

The zeros and ones which encoded music onto CDs allowed us to make copies of songs using our computers… and then share those copies with the rest of the world.

We could share them with our other devices (such as an iPod), with our friends and family, and eventually — via sites like Napster — with anyone else on the planet who also had a computer.

And no one got paid for any of this free file sharing!

Since then the music industry has continued to evolve — with streaming platforms such as Spotify entering our lives — but revenues for recorded music are still way down.

And now we also have COVID-19 reducing opportunities for musicians to earn money from live performances.

In fact many small music venues in the Boston area have already closed their doors…with more likely to succumb in upcoming months.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

It’s hard to know what’s coming next!

My current plan, since the wonderful Doug Hammer is not yet welcoming customers back into his recording studio in person, is to work with him remotely (using Zoom) and polish some songs we’ve recorded in past years.

And write a few more blog posts explaining what I am learning about the music industry.

And continue to wear a face mask when I leave my house.

And ride my bike and walk whenever possible.

And lead Music Together classes — both outside (wearing a new face shield + wireless headset) and inside via Zoom.

And give as much money as I can afford to various political candidates and non-profit organizations who are doing their best to prevent our country from lurching into an autocracy.

Another deep breath in.

And out.

Thank you to Pixabay for their lovely images.

Thank you to Steve Sweeting for writing songs with me and to Doug Hammer for helping us record a bunch of them.

And thank YOU for reading another blog post!

‘S Wonderful


It’s been many months since I have shared a blog post — although I’ve continued reading blog posts by others…

When COVID-19 became serious here in the Boston area, I started leading sing-alongs each night via FaceBook Live.

So the extra time which I had previously devoted to writing blog posts became focused instead on researching and practicing 5-6 new songs each day.

And then sharing them each night at 8:oo pm.

One hundred and twenty one of these sing-alongs are queued up on my FaceBook page in case you are curious to sample any of them.

In July I went to Cape Cod to write original songs, and my focus shifted from sing-alongs to composition.

Now I’m back at home.

And very grateful that folks continued to visit my site even when I was not actively sharing new blog posts.

I am also grateful for my fellow bloggers who reached out — via email and Facebook — during the past months to see if I was OK.

I happily dedicate the Gershwin Brothers’ song in the player at the beginning of this post to YOU.

George and Ira Gershwin…

As Ira once wrote, “(it)’s wonderful, (it)’s marvelous that you should care for me…”

As those of you who have read past blog posts may remember, I am someone who loves the spring and summer.

I do not like when the days get shorter and the nights get colder — and on top of that I hear from Dr. Fauci that we will probably be wearing masks until the end of 2021…

But accept autumn I must, as I must accept the mask-wearing and the lack-of-hugs and the increased-hand-washing and the ongoing sense of anxiety and loss during this COVID era.

Deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

Thank goodness for music!

It is can be a comfort, a balm, a tonic, an inspiration…

Ira and George at work together…

“‘S Wonderful” was written by George Gershwin and his older brother Ira for a show called Funny Face starring Adele Astaire and her younger brother Fred in 1927.

The Gershwins and the Astaires had been friends for many years — ever since they first met as teenagers when George was working as a song plugger and Adele and Fred were looking for new material for their vaudeville act.

Fred and Adele performing in vaudeville…

Funny Face was originally called Smarty, and the creative birth of Smarty was not easy.

Reminiscing about the out-of-town tryout period for Smarty, Ira later recalled, “Everyone worked day and night, recasting, rewriting, rehearsing, recriminating…of rejoicing there was none.”

Program cover from London run…

He and George ended up writing 24 songs for the show, the title of Smarty changed to Funny Face, and miraculously it ended up being a hit, opening in New York City on November 22, 1927.

Adele performed “‘S Wonderful” with a Canadian actor named Allen Kearns (who Wikipedia tells us also debuted another classic Gershwin Brothers song, “Embraceable You” in their 1930 musical Girl Crazy).

As they had done with their previous Gershwin Brothers’ hit — Lady, Be Good! — the Astaires agreed to perform Funny Face in London, where it was met with even greater enthusiasm than in NYC.

The Astaires — particularly Adele who was more outgoing and spontaneous than her hard-working younger brother — were the toast of the town and became friends with members of the royal family (even being invited at one point to meet the new princess Elizabeth as a baby).

Fred and Adele Astaire with their London co-star Leslie Henson…

In fact Adele stopped performing three years later when she married the Earl of Cavendish (whom she had met on the night of their final performance in London of Funny Face) and moved to a castle in Ireland.

You can click here for a link to Adele’s Wikipedia page with many more details from her fascinating life.

In addition to leading more sing-alongs and finishing more original songs, I have decided it is time to start releasing my original songs via a company called CD Baby to Apple Music, iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, Napster, and a bunch of other online music platforms.

As some of you may know, this is not a simple process.

I have registered my first collection of songs with the Library of Congress, have joined a performing rights organization (ASCAP), have done a lot of reading, and have watched a lot of helpful videos to learn about how radio play, downloads, and streaming generate different kinds of income — which are collected by a bewildering combination of organizations…

I hope to share more about this process in future blog posts.

George and Ira Gershwin…

I end THIS post with gratitude for Ira and George Gershwin, who have left us an extraordinary legacy of music.

And I am grateful for pianist/producer Doug Hammer, who recorded and mixed this uptempo version of “‘S Wonderful” with me before COVID-19 entered our lives.

I am also grateful to YOU for reading and listening to another one of my blog posts.

I am not sure if writing blog posts and releasing original songs is the best use of my time with the climate change crisis breathing down own necks…

The fires burning in California and Oregon and Washington are terrifying and extraordinary.

The hurricanes battering the Caribbean and Mexico and the southeastern United States are catastrophic and astounding.

Will my nieces and nephews at some point say to me, “Why weren’t you out in the street every day with signs protesting climate change while life as we know it on planet earth was irreparably being changed/altered/destroyed?”

We shall see…

I am glad to be back blogging and very grateful that folks continued to visit my site even when I have been focused elsewhere.

Let us continue to sing and dance and wear our masks and wash our hands and send money (if we can) to folks who need it and write new blog posts and record new songs and send postcards to potential voters and donate (if we can) to political candidates and remain engaged in the political process here on planet earth.

Adele and Fred Astaire…