Red Letter Day for The Driver: a new record deal!

On the day the entire Driver 67 oeuvre is reissued and appears on iTunes, I’m arguing with the pop star who lives in my house.

She insists a publishing deal is essential to being a successful songwriter. I disagree. Music publishers in my experience are the least useful component in the artists’ toolkit. I’d go so far as to call them parasitical.

I hope someone sees this who can change my mind. I’m happy to post a mea culpa if you can convince me I’m wrong.

Meanwhile, the thing is, you know what record companies do. They finance, distribute, market and promote your music.

You know what booking agents do. They book your gigs, arrange your tours, ensure the sound is set up.

You know what managers do. They negotiate with everyone else, get the best possible deal for you (and themselves, naturally) and try to create an environment where you are protected from the daily bullshit so you are free to create and develop your music.

Music publishers – well, what do they do?

In my experience they mostly just collected publishing royalties and kept 50% for themselves. As I got smarter, I got this down to 25%, which today appears to be more of a standard.

But in 2014, you can spend an hour online, register your song(s) with PRS/MCPS and direct 100% of the money into your own bank account.

So what are they for, music publishers?

Here’s what I would advise the pop star who lives in my house to do: challenge any publisher who makes an approach to explain exactly what added value they will bring to her career.

They will say: Well, we’ll get other artists to cover your songs.

Ok, I would say, I’ll contract to assign you any song you get a cover on. But you’re not getting my publishing willy nilly on the basis that you reckon you can get covers on one or two of them.

They will say: We’ll introduce you to other writers and producers with whom you can collaborate.

Ok, I would say, I’ll contract to assign you any song that results from any such collaboration to which you introduce me. But again, I will not, willy nilly, give you all my publishing based on a nebulous possibility that may never come to pass.

In other words, make the publisher work for you, and let them benefit from the fruits of their labour.

This is all the more important to me because today, May 21, 2014, is a red letter day for The Driver.

It is the day that Cherry Red Records reissues the Driver catalogue. (Digital only, I’m afraid. You cd and vinyl fans are out of luck, at least for the time being).

It’s a good time to reflect on the mistakes I made and the contribution I made to the demise of my own career. I hope to be useful in helping the pop star who lives in my house to avoid at least some of the same mistakes.

In fact, The Driver’s career – such as it was – is an object lesson in how not to do it. It was a car crash (pun intended) more or less from beginning to end.

The biggest mistakes were that I handled my own negotiations (no manager) and produced my own records.

A manager, for instance, would have insisted that Driver 67’s one top ten hit would appear on Driver 67’s first album.

In fact, there never was a Driver 67 album. After the failure of the follow up, Headlights, and the third single, If You Were Going My Way, Pete Zorn and I reverted to our Tax Loss moniker, insisting that the album be released under the Tax Loss name. Worse still, we didn’t put the hit single on it. We replaced the Brummie controller with an American voice (Bill Zorn, Pete’s brother) and put that version on the album.

A producer, on the other hand, would never have let me (and it was me, not Pete Zorn) get away with the single version of If You Were Going My Way that more or less killed off The Driver as anything but a one-hit wonder. Listening to it now, it’s one of those “what was I thinking?” moments. Fortunately for my sanity and the song’s reputation, the original version remains intact on the album.

The album itself was at least 20% a career suicide note. It started with the song Hey Mister Record Man, which I wrote about here a couple of weeks ago. The record company didn’t want it on the album at all, let alone as the first track. To add insult to injury, we segued Hey Mister Record Man into the American version of Car 67, which seemed to suggest (given the satirical message of Record Man) that we thought Car 67  was a piece of pop crap.

Then, at the end of the album is a truly weird montage of end-of-the-world conspiracy theatre, rounded off with Pete Zorn and I lambasting cassette jockeys: “We liked your record so much, we taped it off the radio”.

Now, lest I am making the whole thing sound unattractive, let me say – without undue modesty – that in amongst all this career mayhem are some great songs. There’s also the one and only Tax Loss single, The Secret, which Capital Radio play listed because they suspected it was Bryan Ferry on a side project.

And then there are the Pete Zorn songs. If you’ve never heard Pete sing I urge you to listen to My Crazy Friend, Folk Like Us and Spare Me The Sad Eyes.

But this week I’m putting up another Driver 67 oddity, because there’ll never be a better opportunity.

Tail Lights was the B-side of Headlights. It’s a joint effort between Pete and his brother Bill and is a wonderful satire of a certain type of country song that was prevalent in the 70s. To my shame, I can’t remember who plays the fiddle, but the marvellously precise guitar is from Mart Jenner, and the short but very, very sweet banjo section is Bill Zorn himself, now fronting the legendary Kingston Trio in America.

I’m pretty confident the pop star who lives in my house will never make a record like it…

https://soundcloud.com/driver-67/rear-tail-lights

 

4 Comments

  1. Isn’t the answer to the question ‘What’s a publisher good for?’, the same as ‘What’s a label plugger/manager/publicist etc etc for?’ i.e. a good publisher can take your catalogue, place tracks in high-earning places, exploit exploit exploit while you’re making your next No. 1? while a poor publisher (of which there are many), can just sit on your catalogue and take their cut while doing absolutely nothing. In that respect a talented insider who is willing to work hard on you can make their cut back many times over. It’s just finding the right person…

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    • I don’t think the answer is the same, Jake. A record company owns your records one at a time. If you don’t succeed, they drop you and you’re free to go elsewhere. My question about publishers stems from the fact that they sign the writer and then, in my experience, wait for the artist, the record company and the tour manager to do their work establishing the artist and then watch the money roll in. If they had to work one song, or one record at a time – like the record company – the model would change. Maybe the model HAS changed recently. Thus my invitation/challenge to tell me I’m wrong. My songs, for instance, have changed hands over the years so I no longer even know who owns the publishing, and certainly it’s no-one who ever did any work to establish the catalogue, or even exploit it for my benefit.

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