For this week’s individual creator spotlight, we would like you to meet songwriter Amanda Williams!
1. What was the inspiration behind becoming a songwriter? What do you enjoy most about the creative process?
I watched my dad, Kim Williams, go from being a disabled construction worker to chart topping, Nashville Songwriter Hall of Fame Member, and thought it looked like a good thing to do for a living. Boy was I wrong! (Just kidding – songwriting is a wonderful, challenging career with lots of opportunity and reward even with our present day licensing and legislative challenges.)
The creative process is a way to get into the flow and feel connected. It’s like the pen is your antenna to the Highest realms, and you become part of the trained instrument to bring ideas down to physical form for others to share and enjoy. It’s a spiritual thing, and can be really fun especially with a great collaborator.
2. Can you take us through your process?
I actually created a product based on my process called the Write Brain™ Song Crafting Method.
Basically, you get in the big picture flow first, and pull down the song in as complete a form as possible, and then after you’re finished with your first draft, you go back through with your fine-toothed comb and do your revisions. Using this approach, you don’t start editing and revising before you’re finished creating.
I can write a song in about two hours now, regardless of what time of day it is, how I feel, or what distractions are happening around me. It’s just a function of exercising that creative muscle toward mastery.
3. When did you first become aware of copyright and why?
My dad was able to take our family from living off social security and disability checks to paying cash for a $500K house in the 90s with the proceeds of copyrighted work. But if you had asked me then to tell you what copyright was, I couldn’t have told you.
I graduated from Berklee College of Music with a magna cum laude degree in Music Business and Management, and if you had asked me what copyright was after I accepted my diploma from David Bowie’s hand in 1999, I would have told you it’s something you do to protect your song.
I worked as an intern in my dad’s office in Nashville and helped his office manager to pitch songs to all the major recording artists on Music Row.
Some of those songs were recorded, and the recording artists’ labels licensed my dad’s copyrights that repaid his draw at Sony, and paid for my twins’ to be born. I still didn’t really know what copyright was.
Not until I had written for four major and independent publishing companies over eight years in Nashville, while watching the industry I love and grew up in shrink down to nothing, losing 80% of our writers over 15 years, did I realize that it might be important to learn what copyright really is.
Nearly ten years later, meditation, soul searching, study and intensive deconstruction of preconceived notions, along with talking to a lot of people who used to be professional songwriters (as well as people who want to be professional songwriters), I am emerging like a butterfly from a cocoon to tell you that I finally know what copyright is.
It’s the essence of the ability of the creator to make a living with his artistic works.
It isn’t something you do with your art. It is the power that makes your art make money.
4. Have you experienced copyright infringement and, if so, how has it affected you personally and financially?
Yes, I think most creators have experienced copyright infringement of some sort in this day and age. The question is how they perceive this unintentional, unsanctioned usage.
I first became aware of my work being infringed when I traveled to El Paso with a band to play at Fort Bliss for the soldiers and their families, opening for the band Fuel in the mid ‘00s.
I had earned the gig by paying to attend a buyer’s conference in Atlanta, and after missing my twin’s birthday to go, I ended up getting screwed by the person who invited me to attend the event.
He had tricked me and two other people into sharing the expense of a booth with him, and he had accepted all the perks for the position, including taking the only opportunity to perform for the buyers for himself.
In tears on the final night, after missing my kids’ party and spending out of pocket for my travel, food, and lodging at the expensive conference hotel, I was able to win the favor of the woman who booked the Fort Bliss entertainment.
When I arrived at Fort Bliss, I was happy to see the audience singing along with some of my songs. I thought this was great, since I hadn’t been to this market previously, and knew the material they were singing hadn’t been played on the radio there.
After the concert, I excitedly went back to my merch tent to sell CDs.
Fan after fan came up and had their picture taken with me on cell phones, but no one was buying any music.
I finally asked one guy who had just told me what a huge fan he was why he didn’t buy a CD. He said, “Oh man. We all looked you up when we heard you were coming out here and got all your stuff off Limewire. It’s awesome!”
I was devastated. If those same fans had purchased music from me at the show, I would have easily tripled my take, and been able to recoup my costs and make a little profit. As it was, I was barely able to break even after paying back the advance to my publisher for the conference fee.
Now a big issue is the low payment to non-performing songwriters via legal streaming services. It’s the equivalent of taking your monthly paycheck and dividing it by 91. If you can take your monthly paycheck and divide it by 91, and still pay your bills and feed your family, good for you. Most people can’t.
That’s what happened to the songwriter over the past 15 years.
5. What do you do when you encounter someone stealing something you’ve invested your intellect, time and money into?
Usually nothing right away, because I’ve learned that anger is generally not the best place to be emotionally when you confront someone.
I usually take a proactive approach and educate people about why music is important, and the importance of paying for one’s music before I catch them stealing from me… or after.
Thanks to this kinder, gentler approach, I’ve actually had kids in the homeless shelter tell me that they will never illegally download music again. Not to brag, but I’d say that’s pretty effective.
My program is called Songpreneurs MAP (Music Ambassadors Program™) and I take it into K12 schools, foster homes and state psychiatric hospitals for kids. So far, I’ve seen thousands of kids with my lesson plans and program, and very soon that number will quadruple.
Teaching and being proactive is far better than staying angry all the time.