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Chris Marion

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About Chris Marion

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    Chris Marion is an American musician best known as a member of Little River Band and for his contribution the gospel and country music industries. Although graduating college with a B.A. in Psychology, he is a classically trained pianist and has worked in the music industry professionally for over 35 years. As a resident of Nashville, he is involved in the recording industry working in the genres of Gospel, Country and Rock. Since 2004, he has toured globally with the classic rock act Little River Band as a keyboardist and vocalist.

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  1. Entertainment Health – Relational Now, I know that you’re about to take a moment to scroll back up to the top of this email to see if you have mistaken Gear Weekly for an email burst from Cosmopolitan Magazine. Relationship advice is not necessarily the status quo for music business publications. But, when the divorce rate for entertainers from musicians to dancers hovers at the astoundingly high rate of 43%, perhaps some relational health improvement is in order. I also shared a proverbial musician joke last week: “What do you call a musician without a girlfriend?” …homeless… Since musicians of all shapes and sizes comprise our readership, as a public service I present 8 “ates” that might improve your odds for a more successful relationship (and not being homeless). 1. Communicate – This “ate” is probably the most important component of any successful relationship. When one member of a relationship travels excessively, it makes good communication even more complicated. However, with smart phones, tablets and mobile communication, keeping in touch is easy. Communication keeps you and your partner on the same page and in sync even when you are separated. Be intentional in prioritizing time for conversation as well as focused conversation without distraction. Make your partner feel like talking to them is your priority. 2. Appreciate – Making your partner feel appreciated seems like a simple task. Often it takes no more than a phone call or a postcard from the town of the day. But it requires deliberate effort with a knowledge of what your partner’s specific love language entails. Take the time and expend the effort to make your partner feel appreciated and valued. 3. Affectionate – This “ate” requires some demonstration. The last thing you might want to do after you did four sets at the VFW the night before is get up early to give your partner some face time and physical touch. Sometimes showing affection requires you to overcome your own self interests or moods to prioritize demonstrable attention for your partner. But, there is no more impacting action in a relationship than showing affection. 4. Delineate – It’s important to draw lines and separate your road life from your home life. When you are out with the guys on the road for a period of time, it’s easy to fall into self-absorbed rhythms and habits only to have to completely readjust when you return home. Your partner is not a band mate and the follow spot is not focused on you when you are in home mode. Be willing to come down off the stage and just be a good and thoughtful partner when you are at home. Not knowing how to turn off the diva is a surefire stumbling block to relationship success. 5. Participate – You might be tired after a gig or distracted during a gig but it’s important to intentionally try to stay connected to what’s going on at home. For instance, every night my daughter had the routine of saying night night prayers. Even when I was on the road, we would try to keep track of bedtime hours and make sure that I participated in this great nightly ritual. It keeps you involved even when you are physically away. It also keeps your investment fresh in the day-to-day relationship components. 6. Intimate – The lack of or the diminishing of intimacy is directly related to many relationship failures. Of course it’s difficult to maintain intimacy when you are frequently absent. It’s also complicated when your return is variable and intermittent. This is another area where you must be deliberate and prioritize time for intimacy with your partner. This might just be as simple as taking the time to hold the person you love upon returning from the gig. Regardless of what the activity it is, be committed to making it genuine and thoughtful, not rushed or contrived. You might be tired or you might feel rushed but take the time to truly enjoy the physical bonding that is such an essential part of relationship. 7. Eliminate – I include this “ate” because it’s important to recognize and eliminate habits or things that threaten your relationship. For example, if it causes your partner angst when you come home after a gig under the influence of alcohol, cut yourself off early or abstain from use when you are headed home after the gig. If your partner places a value on hygiene before you crawl into bed, take time to take a quick shower or lose the smoky costume before you encounter your partner. Making the effort to minimize these habits demonstrates to your partner that the relationship is a priority and that you value their happiness and pleasure. 8. Date – I close with this perhaps obvious “ate” because it can be one of the easiest yet most effective ways to enhance your relationship. Remember how much you both enjoyed the squiring aspect of dating early in your relationship? Taking the time to schedule regular dates with your partner can still be a great relationship enhancement. They don’t all have to be $150 visits to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse – just a little run down for ice cream or brunch at your partner’s favorite café can be a powerful boost to relationship health. While these 8 “ates” are not the end all list of keys to relationship success, they all are indicative of an intentional approach to keeping your relationship healthy. They require attention! Long after the glow of the spot light has faded, it will be love that keeps you warm. It takes deliberate effort to keep love alive. As always, keep your relationships healthy, my entertainment friends. Chris Marion is an American musician best known as a member of Little River Band and for his contribution to the gospel and country music industries. Although graduating college with a B.A. in Psychology, he is a classically trained pianist and has worked in the music industry professionally for over 35 years. As a resident of Nashville, he is involved in the recording industry working in the genres of Gospel, Country and Rock. Since 2004, he has toured globally with the classic rock act Little River Band as a keyboardist and vocalist. For more useless trivia and minutiae concerning Chris or to contact him directly, feel free to visit his personal website www.chrismarionmusic.com.
  2. “Be careful whose a$$ you kick on the way up because you might have to kiss it on the way down…” You’ll have to pardon my use of coarse language to relate this old road dog colloquialism but it doesn’t quite have the street credibility without an edge. Never has there been a more accurate warning issued to a rising (or falling) star. Having been in the business for decades, I have watched this foundational street rule played out in both directions on the career ladder. Whether you call it karma, juju, or just human nature, reaping what you sow comes with phenomenal long term memory. It’s with this premise in mind that I will propose some general rules of etiquette that might propel your rise… and soften your fall. 1. Killing With Kindness Whether it’s pompous promoter, crusty crew, or even egotistical electric guitarist, they all have one thing in common – they’re human (although promoters might be more reptilian). Human beings respond to kindness and respect. I’ve seen roadies that could kill from 10 feet with their breath alone eventually crack a smile and go above and beyond to help someone that shows humility and sincere kindness their way. If you show self-deprecating respect all around, it demonstrates that you are likewise human. Sometimes it requires intentional effort but it always pays off. 2. Be Dependable Just like kindness, doing what you say you will do at the time you agree to do it is phenomenally impressive. It’s surprising to me how little regard some fellow artists show for event schedules, sound check time slots and even show durations. There is no better way to never be asked back as an opener than to insist on playing the extended version of Free Bird as an encore when you’re already 5 minutes over in your slot. This often ends up costing the production serious money since everybody from crew to janitorial staff has to stay longer after the show. Being late for calls does the same thing. If you make a commitment contractually or verbally, honor it. Keep a copy of contracts handy at all times to make sure you’re meeting your agreements. 3. Keep Your Conduct Professional This is a rule that should be applied from arrival to departure and from the greatest to the smallest in the organization. Although you love to lace your personal conversation with fluid conjugations of the “f bomb”, dropping a few of them at a family festival on an open microphone or during your performance in front of children does not make you look cool and give you street creds. It shows your lack of discretion and maturity as a professional. Touring is a business whether you set up at the VFW or Madison Square Garden. Successful businesses show thoughtful discretion to the potentially diverse tastes and convictions of all of their clientele. 4. Cleanliness Is Next To Godliness This is a simple concept but speaks volumes to people around you. Remember that your mother does not likely work everywhere you play. Someone has to pick up empty water bottles at your station on stage. Why not do it yourself? Cleanliness will also go a long way in your band rapport as well. Unless you have a maid on the crew, it’s great practice to clean up after yourself. 5. Generosity Pays You Back Waitresses will tell you that the worst tippers in the history of waiting tables are musicians. I suppose that if you’ve just worked for $50 in tips for four hours, paid for parking, unloaded and reloaded gear and you’re dragging in for slimy eggs and overcooked bacon, it would seem easy to justify being tight with all that loose change. The person waiting your table might have worked eight hours for even less in tips and is providing a service just like you. Why take your frustration out on someone in the same boat as you? I will guarantee that if you likewise tip the lighting guy after a good night of illumination, you’ll get an even better job the next time you play that venue. You will also get the reputation of taking care of people that take care of you. Paying it forward always pays you back. 6. Say Nothing At All … if you don’t have something good to say. I know that it’s a lot of fun to jump in on the latest rehab antics of so and so while eating dinner in the food tent. It’s even tempting to start the conversation if you have a juicy scoop. This might be the most egregious way to eventually reap what you sow. More often than not, rumors are not only 90 percent blown out of proportion, but they can damage you more than the subject in terms your own reputation and image. Be a rumor killer rather than a rumor miller. 7. Golden Rules Finally, if there is no specific rule above that applies to your situation, the golden rule of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is tried and true. Sometimes this even covers recognizing when you are wrong and stepping up with an apology. An old proverb says that pride goes before a fall. While remorse might not prevent a prideful fall, it can certainly cushion the landing. I want to share a little personal story about a guy who reacted humanly but turned it around for a guy who held him in high regard. One of my first years in Little River Band, we were working Arrowfest, a huge rock festival in the Netherlands. This was one of my first big festivals and would be the first time I actually experienced 80,000 people in a crowd listening to me play. Unforgettable! The festival featured an incredible line up of classic rock acts from Styx to CSN to a closing appearance of Meatloaf. I’m not usually impressed with celebrities but there is something that is a bit disarming about eating overcooked chicken in the commissary with David Crosby and Tommy Shaw. Being an unashamed hillbilly and figuring that I might never see some of these guys again, I just walked up and introduced myself when I saw someone I admired. As a teenager, besides LRB music (shameless plug) I was a huge Crosby, Stills and Nash fan. So when I noticed Stephen Stills in the commissary, I took a moment to walk over to say hello. When I approached, I of course put my hand on his shoulder and started to introduce to which he responded, “Dude, can you take your hand off my shoulder”. I demurred and told him who I was and that we were playing right before them – no offense intended. He apologized and sheepishly admitted that he’d been on flights for 24 hours without sleep and didn’t realize that I was another artist. I am longsuffering and understand jet lag so we were cool; I went back to my table with the rest of the guys. Imagine my surprise a few moments later when I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned around to find Stephen standing there at my table apologizing again and asking us to join him and the band backstage at their show. We chatted for a few minutes and we did indeed visit backstage later at their show. He walked back our way and said hello during the solo of “Southern Cross”. That was a little surreal. It’s good when a childhood hero turns out to be a genuine guy. You can email me for the rest of the story as Paul Harvey used to say…(see point 6). These points are not necessarily earth shattering or being made for the first time. They are more common sense than anything. But in a business that is fueled by ego and tempered by agenda, following these fundamentals can have a huge impact on your career no matter which way you are headed on your ladder. As always, tour with etiquette, my friends. Chris Marion is an American musician best known as a member of Little River Band and for his contribution to the gospel and country music industries. Although graduating college with a B.A. in Psychology, he is a classically trained pianist and has worked in the music industry professionally for over 35 years. As a resident of Nashville, he is involved in the recording industry working in the genres of Gospel, Country and Rock. Since 2004, he has toured globally with the classic rock act Little River Band as a keyboardist and vocalist. For more useless trivia and minutiae concerning Chris or to contact him directly, feel free to visit his personal website www.chrismarionmusic.com.
  3. Before I jump into this artist interview with Wayne, I must digress a bit about exactly what “A View From The Side” is all about. Of all of the various series of articles and vignettes that I’ve undertaken, this is a writing journey that I am most excited to begin. The premise is a logical culmination of my varied musical career paths. Over the past 35 or so years, I’ve spent many hours on varied stages, sometimes as an artist, sometimes in support of other artists but always taken aback by the magical perspective you enjoy from the side of stage view. As a member of a globally successful rock band, I am afforded the continuing opportunity to share the stage with so many of the artists and performers that I’ve admired for years. It gives me a rather unique perspective and rapport as a colleague: a brother in arms if you would. That is coupled with the wonderful privilege of writing for Harmony Central about my encounters and insights. It’s like living the dream and being paid to write home about it. I try earnestly to never take this experience for granted. In the process, I will have many colorful and well-traveled stories to share with you in our mutual view from the side. It’s also apropos that my first view from the side features my band mate and real life rock star – Wayne Nelson, lead singer and bassist for Little River Band. For the generation x, y, or milennial who is unfamiliar with LRB, ask your parents – you might have been conceived to one of our songs. From 1978 to the mid 80’s, Little River Band provided a vocal band, guitar driven soundtrack to a plethora of teenage summers. With 30 millions units sold, 6 top 10 singles in 6 consecutive years, and multiple hits that have played millions of times on rock radio, LRB shares a spot in classic rock history with bands like the Eagles, the Doobie Brothers or REO Speedwagon. 2015 will mark the band’s 40th year and it’s still going strong with an average of 85 to 90 shows per year around the world. Wayne Nelson started sharing lead vocal duties soon after joining the band as the first American member in 1979. He sang two of the bands mega hits, “The Night Owls” and “Take It Easy on Me”. His soaring lead vocals combined with funk bass skills distinguished him early in band history. He has now served longer than any other member in the band’s chronology. Nelson was working with Jim Messina of Loggins and Messina fame prior to the invitation to join LRB. It’s interesting to hear that he didn’t start out with the aspiration to front a band. “I started out just wanting to play bass and stand in the back. But, there were a lot of those guys around so I found that being able to sing and play bass enhanced my marketability for work. I also sold my Fender Precision (regrettably, he added) to buy the new Gibson Grabber with the sliding pickup. There weren’t many of those around so that gave me a bit of a visual edge as well. Probably didn’t sound as good as I thought it looked but anyway…” As Wayne mentioned, his ability to add vocals to a performance not only helped with that first pro road gig in ’77 but subsequently helped him land the Messina gig and enhanced his appeal to the members of LRB a couple of years later. Like many rock and soul singers of the day, it was those formative years around a church choir that developed Wayne’s vocal sensibilities. “I stood in the Bass section with my dad in the Episcopal choir next to the pipe organ. Of course, I was singing the bass parts an octave or two up but I learned rhythm, parts and even bar structure and intervals. Plus, even then, hearing the richness of those big pipes probably locked in my love for bass sounds and the bottom end of the sound spectrum.” Nelson started playing in bands in the Chicago area as a teenager. He initially sang bgv’s and played tamborine in a cover band. After spending more time teaching the combo sax/bass player the correct bass notes than playing tamborine, he and the drummer had the epiphany that it would make more economical sense for them to get their own PA and move Wayne out front to sing lead vocals and actually play the bass guitar for the band. 6 days later, he made his debut on bass and lead vocals. “It really was a real life version of the proverbial bass player joke where this kid learns a 1, a 4 and a 5 then fails to show up for the next lesson because he gets his first gig.” Although he is dismissive of the caliber of his first cover band as teenage boys trying to cover the Moody Blues with second hand guitars, he is quick to point out a rich diversity of musical exposure in his childhood home. “My Dad listened to military music, my Mom listened to Broadway and Classical music and I loved rock bands like the Beatles and Blood, Sweat and Tears. But, I think I was primarily drawn to quality, whether it was Tchaikovsky, Sinatra or McCartney.” His time working with both Jim Messina and Kenny Loggins (separately after their split) also represents being drawn to historical rock and roll quality. Although he enjoyed both gigs and refuses to dish on either artist, he recalls enjoying the diversity and depth of Loggins’ repertoire. “Kenny’s music definitely expanded from the Loggins and Messina days as he collaborated with Michael (McDonald). When I played with him subbing on bass guitar at various points, he really moved the arrangements toward a soul funk bass approach, really driving the music. There was also a great collection of vocal arrangements that made the show interesting and even challenging.” Proverbial dream gig – bass player for Earth, Wind, and Fire. “There is no way that I have the chops to be in that band with Verdine’s (White) presence but I love that music with the horns and the funk bass. But, being a Chicago boy, I also would have cut off my legs to play bass and sing in the band Chicago. I love Peter Cetera’s vocals and bass playing back in those late 70’s early 80’s records.” Fortunately for rock fans and specifically Little River Band fans, Nelson landed exactly where he was meant to be when he was invited to join LRB in 1979. In Part Two of this “View From The Side” of the Little River Band stage, we’ll take a closer at Nelson’s arrival in the LRB camp, his influence and contribution through the band’s years, and we’ll learn what’s in store as the band powers into it’s 40th year of rock history. Until then, “view” wisely, my friends! For more trivial information about Wayne and his motley crew of sojourners, visit the Little River Band home page. You’ll find bio material on each member, tour information and links to product galore! Chris Marion is an American musician best known as a member of Little River Band and for his contribution to the gospel and country music industries. Although graduating college with a B.A. in Psychology, he is a classically trained pianist and has worked in the music industry professionally for over 35 years. As a resident of Nashville, he is involved in the recording industry working in the genres of Gospel, Country and Rock. Since 2004, he has toured globally with the classic rock act Little River Band as a keyboardist and vocalist. For more useless trivia and minutiae concerning Chris or to contact him directly, feel free to visit his personal website www.chrismarionmusic.com.
  4. Last week we profiled Ashley Gorley in Songwriting 201 – Profile of a Hit Songwriter. In the long and short of it, Ashley has penned 14 No. 1 songs for various country artists, was the 2013 ASCAP and Billboard Writer of the Year respectively, and has won the prestigious CMA Triple Play (having 3 No. 1 songs in one year) Award twice. He is still going strong and is one of the hottest, most in demand writers in Nashville period. Last weeks article detailed some of the ways Ashley got to this status as a writer and he offered some sage advice to the aspiring writer. This week we visit Ashley one more time to take a look at some hit writing technique. Obviously, there is no tried and true generic formula for writing a hit. If this was the case, you could read a book, apply the logic and catapult yourself into a 7 figure income and summers in the Hamptons like me (if you count 7 figures with a loose decimal point placement and summers in the Hampton “Inn”). Yet, there are some great ideas to follow from Gorley in regards to his writing style and practices that will help you take your own craft to the next level. They ultimately illustrate what it means to be professional. 1. Always be a student of the craft – In last weeks interview excerpt, Ashley spoke of spending hours daily listening to songs in various conditions from demo to master. He was able to gauge good songs from bad songs as well as recognizing style variation and what artists are looking for. Even now as a hit writer with over 100 cuts to his credit, Ashley still listens to songs and styles in various genres and absorbs this into his own style and technique. 2. Immerse yourself in the craft – in any profession, practice and application improve your skill set and proficiency. Ashley writes daily several days a week. He often has two or three writing sessions per day. Most pro writers treat it like a job, putting in the hours both writing and performing their songs. Ashley even learned how to play guitar in order to enhance his ability to contribute accompaniment and arrangement ideas in a writing session. Put the time into developing your skills. 3. Collaboration and Critique – Ashley admits that he really prefers co-writing with other writers. One of his favorite co-writers is Chris Destefano with whom he’s co-written several number one songs. Writing solo is difficult because you really get no feedback on how lyrics and ideas are gelling. Someone else in the room can give you feedback on an idea, improve your idea or present a better idea. Co-write and you double the creativity. Another application of critique is participation in writers nights or performing your own material live. There is nothing like a live audience responding either positively or negatively to give you ideas on what will or won’t work. 4. Don’t set boundaries on your style or abilities – Ashley spoke of feeling humbled being in the room with hall of fame writers who have way more experience or knowledge than he does. But it pushes him to bring a better game and think outside his comfort zone. He also works hard at keeping a variety in how he writes. Sometimes he brings a melody, sometimes a lyric or just a line, and other times he might have a chord progression or even a track to work with. This way you don’t get stagnant and bring freshness to the writing environment you are working in at the time. As well, Ashley intentionally tries to insert variety into his style approach. Sometimes he and co-writers might try to write for a particular artist who is cutting. Other times they might try to write a song in a particular style or format. Focusing on one style exclusively can often lead to stagnation or being pigeon holed as just a “ditty” writer or a ballad writer. 5. Make your work environment and approach fun – this was one of the first things that Ashley mentioned as a priority in how he approaches writing. Sometimes it might be the physical environment that you need to manipulate for your comfort. If you can’t concentrate because you’re too hot or cold, can’t hear over the ambient noise or don’t have the right tools at your disposal (ie: instrument, paper or computer) your efficiency and your productivity will be effected. Pro-writers often have writing suites that are provided by their publishing companies (something we’ll discuss in the subsequent article). However, controlling your environment should be something intentional and not an after thought. 6. Documentation and record keeping – One thing that Ashley collects constantly like many hit writers is ideas. He is intentional in the way he keeps up with ideas, lyrics or melodic ideas. When he comes to a writing session, he brings these ideas to be able to present and work on with co writers. This is so easy to do now with smart phones and note keeping apps. They make entry easy and even allow you to collate by key words or date of creation. Most of these apps like Evernote even allow you to create audio recordings and attach pertinent annotation. Don’t lose or forget an idea that could be your next hit! As well, making a work recording or demo is imperative for keeping up with ideas even if it’s a rough with just a chorus. It’s not always easy to get something back if you don’t save it in some format. 7. Be self aware of your values and keep a balance – in the last article, one of the key pieces of advice to aspiring songwriters was find a balance in life. Ashley is a Christian yet often writes about activities that are perhaps on the fringe of his personal values. He works at hard at honoring his values yet still writing material that speaks to issues and the real life that country music usually laments. You might say that he tries to keep it real. This sincerity makes an Ashley Gorley song very relatable and accessible. It remains the reason why artists are drawn to his songs time after time. They hear the genuine humanity in his lyrics whether they are about a small town Saturday night, the pride that a parent feels for a child, or just the pain and pleasure of raw emotion. As always, it’s difficult to provide THE comprehensive list of writing technique that will be the formula for your career success. But these suggestions and the previous article’s profile illustrate a craftsman who is diligent. Ashley has a great work ethic. While he might prefer a fun work environment, he and writers on his level are very serious in their drive and creativity to produce quality. It was a great pleasure to spend some time speaking with Ashley. I am proud to see how far Ashley has come from those early post Belmont days in a little publishing studio. Yet, it’s encouraging to see how he has acclimated his success into a thoughtful lifestyle that is fulfilling and will no doubt sustain through a robust career. As always and certainly in the example of Ashley Gorley, write and live wisely my friends. Chris Marion is an American musician best known as a member of Little River Band and for his contribution to the gospel and country music industries. Although graduating college with a B.A. in Psychology, he is a classically trained pianist and has worked in the music industry professionally for over 35 years. As a resident of Nashville, he is involved in the recording industry working in the genres of Gospel, Country and Rock. Since 2004, he has toured globally with the classic rock act Little River Band as a keyboardist and vocalist. For more useless trivia and minutiae concerning Chris or to contact him directly, feel free to visit his personal website www.chrismarionmusic.com.
  5. In our first installment of this series, Songwriting 101, we explored the demographics and logistics of songwriting. I used a song entitled “I Write The Songs” as a demonstration of the royalties and revenues that can be generated by a hit tune. Before we move onto 201, I have some clean up and crow to eat. As a storyteller, I often find that my excitement in finding a story distracts me from accurately telling it. Specifically, when I found the back story on “I Write The Songs” written by Bruce Johnston, a long time member of the Beach Boys, it mentioned in one line his disclaimer that the song was not written about his band mate Brian Wilson. Sadly, that one line was all it took for me to hastily craft the back story exchanging Bruce’s first name with Brian’s. It was a junior varsity editing error that went unnoticed at the time of publication on Friday. Imagine my surprise and then my complete embarrassment when THE Bruce Johnston tracked me down by phone on Sunday to point out the incorrect name. He was actually very generous and despite the butchering of his name complimented the remainder of the article's content. He even graciously agreed to an actual interview. We will close out this series with an interview of this hall of fame rocker who does indeed write the songs. Today we will profile another hit songwriter by the name of Ashley Gorley. While you might not recognize his name, if you listen to country radio you will recognize his songs that play on a typically hour by hour basis. In any given week, he will likely be a writer on 3 or 4 songs in the Billboard Country Top 10. His bio is brimming with accomplishment: Two time recipient of the CMA “Triple Play” award for having three No. 1 songs in one year, 15 No. 1 songs to date (possibly more – this bio is a couple of months old…), Billboard’s No. 1 Country songwriter of 2013, 2013 ASCAP songwriter of the year, and multiple Grammy and CMA nominations. All totaled, he has had over 100 cuts by over 50 different recording artists including Carrie Underwood, Rascal Flatts, Luke Bryan and Brad Paisley. I first met Ashley when he was a new graduate from Belmont University and began writing for a publishing company where I worked and wrote. I remember this fresh faced kid from Kentucky who would vacillate from working on a country song one day with a cowboy from Texas to composing hip hop beats with college friends the next. This depth and versatility serves Ashley well today as he navigates the various music styles that make up modern country. Ashley started early preparation for his profession like so many have with a passion for creative writing. “I loved creative writing; it was a life changer for me in middle school. I had a great teacher who sparked an interest in me for words, writing short stories and poems even then.” Although there was no specific songwriting degree program offered at Belmont University, Ashley majored in music business with an emphasis in publishing. He took advantage of the extensive internship opportunities in the Nashville music culture very quickly. He points out that this is really where he learned the "craft" aspect of songwriting as he worked in the infamous publishing company tape room making pitch tapes and cataloging. “While interning at a publishing company, I was able to watch songs go from work tape to demo to coming back and being pitched, held (a term used for when an artist chooses a song as a possible candidate for recording and “holds” it to prevent another artist from recording it until the holding artist either records or releases), cut or released. I developed a gauge for a great song as I had to listen while making copies from beginning to end. I could see the science aspect of how hits are crafted both from a writing standpoint to how they are pitched to artists.” Gorley even went back to Belmont to give back to aspiring students teaching as an adjunct professor in the area of music business and publishing. He carried that desire to mentor and nurture other songwriters a step further as he started his own publishing company. He currently has three writers signed with plans to add more to the roster. It’s refreshing to hear a certified hit writer revel in the success of his writers when they beat him out for a cut or see the single success happen for them. “I get to know my writers on a very personal life basis and coach them through the process of writing or celebrating their successes. I want to grow that family of writers and rear of a different style of publishing company that’s even tighter knit than a corporate scenario.” In the current country music scene, there is some sharp criticism of one particular style of song that is loosely called “bro-down” or “hick hop”. It’s characterized by the blending of urban beats with country instrumentation and features lyrics about cruising, drinking, trucks or picking up girls in daisy dukes and boots. It’s ironic that much of the criticism comes from artists who have nothing on the radio, songwriters who can’t write hick hop and can’t get cuts or music critics whose benchmark for country music died with Hank Williams. What kind of quasi-investigative reporter would I be if I didn’t query Ashley about this criticism since he has written several hit songs that get bunched into this category? “I write a lot of different songs with different writers and artists. But many of the songs that we have written in the past few years are intentionally not meant to be deep. They’re about having fun. Music is a diversion for people just like movies. You don’t want every movie to be an Oscar winning tear-jerker. Sometimes you want to see a mindless action movie and relax. Many of the music fans that are listening to these songs are living the life that we describe lyrically – they’re driving around after work, stopping at a bar to unwind with friends, dancing and having a beer. They want a musical accompaniment for having fun and living life.” It’s significant to point out that Gorley has a host of other songs that read like Oscar winning dramas forcing you wipe away a tear whether you have a heart or not. A good writer is able to float freely between styles and cater to the demographic or the artist in mind. Interestingly, when asked about his favorite writer or greatest influence, he’s hard pressed to name just one. He leans more toward songs that capture his imagination like a recent hit by Miranda Lambert, “The House That Built Me” (writers: Tom Douglas and Allen Shamblin) or “I Drive Your Truck” by Lee Brice (writers: Jessi Alexander, Connie Harrington and Jimmy Yeary). “Songs like these are awesome and I feel like I would never have thought of them. Then I hear songs by pop guys like Max Martin (writer of hit after hit from ‘N Sync, Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys) that pay so much attention to melodic flow. I try to weave all that together to craft my own songs.” Gorley’s success has certainly put him into co-writing rooms with numerous hall of fame writers and artists. He claims that it’s a humbling experience to know these writing masters have so much of a stronger composition and instrumental background (Gorley learned how to play enough guitar to be able to bring that to writing sessions). But, these situations challenge him to bring his “A game” and be a better writer. As to the best pieces of advice to the aspiring songwriter, Ashley offers this: 1. There is no Junior Varsity Songwriting league. You are in direct competition with every other songwriter in the world. So try to raise that bar and bring your best. 2. Try to write somebody’s favorite song whether it’s your mom, family, girlfriend or your pals back home. Keep that distinction in mind when you are writing a song. 3. Learn the difference between a good song and a great song. You have to write a song that makes an artist feel like they absolutely have no choice but to record it. 4. Life is more than writing songs. Keep a balance in your life. This last bit of advice is perhaps one of Ashley’s greatest personal priorities. As a matter of fact, as I interviewed him, he was driving out of town for an outing with one of his children. He says the demands are great and you’re always trying to keep songs out there. “My goal is to achieve balance and not make this career my life. I don’t want to be remembered as just the guy who writes catchy country songs; there’s a lot more to it.” While Ashley does indeed craft a catchy country song, it’s inspiring to see a young man who has accomplished so much in a relatively short period of time still marvel humbly at the process and the privilege. He might be one of the more balanced creative types that I’ve come across in this journey. In the next installment of this songwriting series, we take a look at the process and technique that Ashley applies to his successful craft. Until then, write wisely my friends! Balance… For examples of some of Ashley's hit catalog (all three week No. 1's): Chris Marion is an American musician best known as a member of Little River Band and for his contribution to the gospel and country music industries. Although graduating college with a B.A. in Psychology, he is a classically trained pianist and has worked in the music industry professionally for over 35 years. As a resident of Nashville, he is involved in the recording industry working in the genres of Gospel, Country and Rock. Since 2004, he has toured globally with the classic rock act Little River Band as a keyboardist and vocalist. For more useless trivia and minutiae concerning Chris or to contact him directly, feel free to visit his personal website www.chrismarionmusic.com.
  6. Do you write “the songs the make the young girls cry” as Barry Manilow proclaimed in his 1976 Grammy winning #1 single “I Write The Songs”? Ironically, Barry’s song was actually written by Bruce Johnston of the Beach Boys. But, the song content really speaks of the power of a song in its relationship to the essence of love and life. While songs can certainly be identified and immortalized by the artists that record them, the ultimate beneficiary in the success of a recorded song is the songwriter. In the next series of articles about the anatomy of songwriting, we’ll explore the demographics of songwriting as a career, we’ll profile some hit songwriters biographically and then examine their technique and writing sensibilities. Songwriters are ultimately compensated through royalties - a sum of money that is paid to the creator of a work for each public performance or instance of that work. There are basically four different types of royalties that a songwriter can be paid: 1. Mechanical royalties or licenses: The songwriter is paid a mechanical royalty for each time a song is mechanically reproduced or downloaded in some type of online media at a rate of 9.1 cents for a three minute song (1.75 cents per minute of playing time with additional 1.75 cent increments per additional minute). These royalties are paid at the point of duplication (regardless of how many units actually sell) or periodically from download. 2. Performance Royalties: Each time a song is played publicly either on radio or television, the songwriter receives a royalty of around 8 cents varying slightly from a large market to a small less populated market. The number of airplays are calculated by reporting stations and tracked for royalty disbursement by performing rights organizations like ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. These royalties are usually distributed on a quarterly basis either directly to the affiliated writer or publishing company. 3. Synchronization Royalties - These royalties are generated from the use of a song in a movie, television or commercial. A writer could earn up to $300,000 dollars if the song is used in a film or commercial paid upon release. 4. Print Royalties – These royalties are paid if your song is notated and released either as a single piece of music or in a collection. With the demise of the print industry, this type of royalty is a bit more obscure. However, back in the day, especially in religious music, it represented a substantial component for compensation from songwriting. The standard royalty rate for print release is 12.5% of the retail price for a solo piece of music. Obviously, collections like a hymnal or songbook would disburse royalties divided amongst each songwriter or published song. Yet, if you consider the fact that the classic Baptist Hymnal has sold tens of millions of copies, the cumulative incremental royalty could be potentially substantial. Since we started this article with a tongue in cheek mockery of Barry Manilow, let’s just use his “I Write The Songs” as an example of what a hit song can generate in royalties. I guess the joke is really on us scoffers when you look at the hard numbers for Barry’s song. First, let’s consider the mechanical royalties generated: - Not only did “Trying to Get The Feeling” (the record that contained the single “I Write The Songs”) sell multiplatinum, but several of the subsequent greatest hits compilations also sold multiplatinum. All totaled, there were 18 million units sold that contained the song. 18 million times 9.1 cents comes out to a whopping $1,638,000 dollars. Not bad mailbox money… Then let’s calculate the airplay royalties collected: - According to estimates, “I Write The Songs” is in the 3 “million air” category. 3 million times 8 cents adds another $240,000 to Bruce Johnston’s bank account. I would suspect that Bruce probably made more income off of Barry’s recorded version of his song over a three-year period than he made as a member of the Beach Boys. Most artists will make more income off of songs they’ve written and recorded rather than their percentage of mechanical sales as an artist. With classic rock radio playing classic hits on a recurrent basis, many singles continue to generate considerable royalties on a yearly basis. In an interview with Don McLean, writer of “American Pie”, he reports that after 40 years, the song still generates in excess of $300,000 per year in royalties. Of course, not every song can be a “Happy Birthday”. Since 1893 when a couple of kindergarten teachers wrote that little ditty, it has generated over $50 million dollars and still brings in a cool $2 million per year. It costs $25,000 dollars just to use the song in a movie or television show. Obviously, not every song recorded is going to be a gigantic hit. In 2010, there were about 75,000 documented records registered and copyrighted. With an average 12 songs per recording, a rough estimate would be that around 900,000 songs were recorded on nationally released projects. For perspective, there were only 17 different songs that reached number one on Billboard’s pop charts. Every hit songwriter has to start with his or her first song. They all bring their own story to their tradecraft as well as varied examples of preparation or training. In the next installment of Songwriting 101, we’ll examine the profiles and backgrounds of several successful songwriters. While they share common success and have written a long list of hit songs over several decades, they each have different backgrounds and techniques that manifest in their respective catalogs. Until our next installment, write wisely my friends. EDITORIAL UPDATE: Two days after this article published on Friday, June 13th, I received a call from the aforementioned writer, Bruce Johnston of the Beach Boys. It seems that I had inadvertently credited him as a writer by the name of Brian Johnston. In the fast and furious effort to get an article completed, I was distracted by the byline that he had not written the song about bandmate Brian Wilson. Stupid oversight on my part. However, it was rather cool that Bruce took the time to reach out to me after reading the article and had kind words about the overall content. The Beach Boys had just played Wendover, NV where LRB will be playing in a few weeks. Bruce is a nice fellow. He also assured me that although the mailbox money for "I Write the Songs" was great, touring with the Beach Boys has it's compensatory benefits! Chris Marion is an American musician best known as a member of Little River Band and for his contribution to the gospel and country music industries. Although graduating college with a B.A. in Psychology, he is a classically trained pianist and has worked in the music industry professionally for over 35 years. As a resident of Nashville, he is involved in the recording industry working in the genres of Gospel, Country and Rock. Since 2004, he has toured globally with the classic rock act Little River Band as a keyboardist and vocalist. For more useless trivia and minutiae concerning Chris or to contact him directly, feel free to visit his personal website www.chrismarionmusic.com.
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