Fever…

“Fever”

In my last two posts, I have started explaining a little of what I’ve been learning in recent months about the music business.

My musical selection for this post is from a CD I recorded with fellow singer Bobbi Carrey and pianist Doug Hammer — which was then enhanced by arranger Mike Callahan as well as other local musicians.

“Fevered” might be one way to describe my current mental state as I recover from our recent — deeply disrespectful and dangerous — presidential non-debate and THEN make sense out of the news that our president and his wife and many members of his staff have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

At the very least, this is a stark reminder of how a virus makes its presence felt in every niche of human society — from the folks with (allegedly) daily testing and access to the best (and in the case of our political ruling class, FREE) health care to the folks who have to go to work with very little (or no) protection and very little health coverage in places like meat packing plants.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

Let us all continue — in this time of COVID-19 — to remain aware of our daily temperatures and to continue wearing our blessed face masks!

Now I will attempt to explain a little bit about performance rights organizations.

One thing a songwriter must do is affiliate with a performance rights organization (also known as a PRO).

In the USA, there are two entry-level ones — ASCAP and BMI — as well as two more — SESAC and GMR — which you can be invited to join when you are earning a fair amount of money from your songs and also a (new?) one called Pro Music Rights about which I know almost nothing.

Most other countries around the world only have one PRO.

This is just one example of how things are often done differently in the USA than in the rest of the world…

ASCAP was the first performing rights organization founded in the USA.

A group of composers, lyricists, and publishers (who were selling millions of copies of sheet music on behalf of the songwriters under contract to them) decided it was time for them to get paid for public performances of their songs — which I think was already the norm in many European countries.

It 1914 they formed a not-for-profit organization called the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP).

The founders included Victor Herbert — who according to an article in Irish America magazine wrote the music for “forty operettas, 23 musicals, two operas, and several Ziegfeld Follies; did musical scores for motion pictures; and composed for the Paul Whiteman Orchestra” from the 1890s through the 1920s.

Yowza!

Victor Herbert circa 1895

Herbert was himself a transplant from Europe, having been born (out of wedlock) on Guernsey island in the English Channel and raised in England and Germany.

His mother told, him, however, he had been born in Dublin, and he maintained a strong emotional connection to Ireland for his entire life (perhaps jumpstarted by his mother’s and his grandfather’s strong Irish nationalism).

Herbert was also a cellist, conductor AND long-time advocate for the rights of songwriters.

According to Wikipedia he testified before Congress and influenced the formation of the Copyright Act of 1909, which allowed composers to earn royalties from the sale of new-fangled sound recordings.

And then in 1914 he helped found ASCAP to collect money for public performances of musical works in cafes, hotel ballrooms, live-music clubs, and theaters.

Thank you, Victor Herbert, along with your fellow songwriters and political advocates!

As our technologies continued to evolve, public performances grew to include music broadcasts — live or pre-recorded — on radio and TV as well as in elevators, grocery stores, theme parks, and much more…

In 1940 there was a historical turning point.

During the 1930s ASCAP had been increasing the royalty rates they were charging to radio broadcasters for the use of their members’ songs.

So… for many months the radio broadcasters decided to STOP playing any songs affiliated with ASCAP — a period which is mentioned in the biographies of many famous songwriters such as Irving Berlin and Cole Porter as a time when many potential hit songs never got airplay and consequently languished…

In 1940 the radio broadcasters took another huge step and founded a competing PRO called Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI).

BMI signed up a very different cohort of songwriters, including people from the R&B, gospel, jazz, country, folk and Latin music communities.

And some degree of competition — and diversity — was introduced into this particular segment/function of the music industry (the collection of money due to songwriters and publishers for the use of their songs…)

These days BMI remains a bit more accessible than ASCAP — because BMI is free to join while ASCAP charges $50 to join as a songwriter and another $50 to join as a publisher.

I went with ASCAP partly because my fellow songwriter Steve Sweeting had already joined BMI, and I thought it might be interesting to compare his experiences with mine over time…

There is also a man who has been at ASCAP for decades named Michael Kerker who loves the Great American Songbook and is an avid supporter of new songwriters.

I met him many years ago when I invited him to a Boston-area songwriter showcase I co-produced at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education (where I worked for 16 years).

Then one of my guardian angels, Amanda McBroom — a delightful and generous songwriter whose biggest hit (so far) has been “The Rose” — recommended I reach out to him.

So very shyly, I did.

And he got back to me almost immediately.

We ended up having a long conversation on the phone — and when I had a couple of follow-up questions, he was equally prompt in replying to me.

So I am now an ASCAP member.

And on October 10th, my first recording is scheduled to be released to Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music, and a bunch of other online musical platforms.

I’ll be blogging more about that soon!

Now that I think about it, songs are kind of like viruses — they are not alive and cannot reproduce themselves without the assistance of a living host.

Hmmm…

I’ll also be sharing how people who do NOT write their own music collect money for the use of their unique recordings of other people’s songs.

And I will continue to give tiny amounts of money to as many political candidates who are in close races as I can.

And I will continue wearing a face mask.

And I will continue walking and riding my bike.

And leading my Music Together classes — both outside in a local park and online via Zoom.

And I will continue to be very grateful that I have a roof over my head, and electricity, and a functioning laptop, and food to eat on a daily basis.

Thank you to Bobbi Carrey, Doug Hammer, Mike Callahan, and the other musicians involved with our recording of “Fever” — as well as the original songwriters Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell AND Peggy Lee, who added several sets of new lyrics when she recorded her classic version in 1958.

Thank you to Pixabay for wonderful images.

And thank YOU for reading and listening to another blog post!

Let us all remained engaged — and vigilant — during the upcoming days and weeks and months!

ps: Have you gotten a flu shot yet?

22 thoughts on “Fever…

  1. I enjoyed your post very much. Thank you for the insight and history of performance rights along with your own journey. Good luck too as you roll out each musical endeavour. Also, Fever is one of the great songs 😊

    • Thanks for reading and listening and commenting, Sean! I usually understand things better when I have an historical perspective. And I agree that “Fever” is a great song. When I recently played it on a ukulele I was surprised to discover that it has very few chords — yet that does nothing to diminish its power/appeal.

      • My pleasure! Thats so true re Fever and so many songs. I dabble on the ukulele every now and then and find it not too bad as playing the guitar helps. We saw Paul McCartney in concert the year before last. He played “Something” on the ukulele as a tribute to George. So, I thought I would give it a go on the ukulele and was pleasantly surprised how well it went. It was a magical moment.

      • You saw Paul McCartney in concert!!!! What a great splurge!!!! I haven’t expanded my historical reading yet to include the Beatles (about whom MANY books have been written), but I think at one point they all may have had ukuleles in their lives (not just George). And the chords to many of their songs flow very easily from one to the other on ukulele — which makes me wonder if any of them might have been composed on a uke… Now I need to go and play “Something” in honor of your blog comment!

  2. What a magnificent voice! Listening to you I can appreciate the difference between a professional musician and all those who just think they are. You are, Sir, the embodiment of musical perfection. Admiration.

    Joanna

  3. This is a great rendition of Fever and an appropriate choice for political satire! We need to keep our humor and perspective to ride this wave of political and economic upheaval. I pray Biden will win and bring more harmony and kindness, but don’t really expect much to change. The corporations and elite run the show. Keep on singing and best wishes with your new album and promotions. Thank you Will.

    • I agree with your sentiments and prognosis about change. I keep wondering every time I hear a particular Biden commercial — which promises to pay for useful improvements to working people’s lives by reversing the recent tax cuts for the super-rich — how the super-rich are feeling about a possible Biden presidency. He must be friends and acquaintances with most of them by this point in his career — but I only hear a few (Warren Buffett, for example) talk about the importance of paying a fairer share of taxes. It seems like a lot of the super-rich prefer to leave their wealth to their foundations, rather than having it go to taxes… which of course pay for the roads we all drive on, the bridges we cross over, the schools which educate many of our children, the firefighters/police/sanitation workers who help keep our towns and cities liveable, etc. Thank you for listening to ANOTHER blog post — and for making time to leave a comment! PS: One of the things I have learned from my music-business-self-education-process is that the concept of an album is somewhat moot now that everything can be streamed on demand. So I will be distributing a string of single songs over the upcoming weeks and months…most of which have already appeared on this blog in a slightly less polished version.

  4. Hi Will! Why doesn’t everyone ‘get it’ when it comes to music? Don’t they realize it is the core of learning and emotion? Okay… now I feel better. I had to say that. Your posts are so wonderful, they make music come alive and give reason to the stories behind the music.

    I have learned so much. Thank you Herbert for starting ASCAP. And BMI was equally important. Can you imagine not hearing Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” on the radio? I rest my case.

    A big round of applause for your ASCAP membership, Will! And “Fever” was the perfect song for this post, along with your “I will” list.

    • Hi, Jennie! Thanks for finding time to read and listen and comment! I led two outdoor Music Together classes this morning under the glorious sun (with three hawks, numerous dragonflies, and the moon overhead…) and agree with you that music is fundamental to the human experience. And fun! And according to various experiments using 21st century brain scanning technologies, making music lights up and connects just about every part of our brains! Like fireworks… I hope you are able to slow down and re-charge your personal batteries during this long weekend.

      • You just expressed my feelings and words beautifully. Spot on, Will! Fireworks in the best of ways. Thank you for painting a picture of your Music Together class. It was a glorious day to be outdoors, as you know. I am recharging and enjoying the long weekend. I hope you do, too.

  5. Great rendition of FEVER! The song was written in 1956, but the version I remember (because it was a big hit at the time) is Peggy Lee’s 1958 recording:

    I also remember Victor Herbert (though he died before I was born) because of the many recordings of such hits as ITALIAN STREET SONG and AH SWEET MYSTERY OF LIFE, and the Jeanette MacDonald/Nelson Eddy films of his musicals NAUGHTY MARIETTA (1935) and SWEETHEARTS (1938). Those films were considered ‘cornball’ by some (including me), but their songs lives on and remain significant in American musical history.

    • Yes, those films — and the songs in them — may have been deemed a bit cornball by some, but the melodies are timeless! Thanks for sending me a link to Peggy Lee’s great version of “Fever.” She was a gifted musician/singer/songwriter!

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