Five Questions with Singer/Songwriter Katie Garibaldi by Copyright Alliance
This week we would like you to meet one of our Individual Creator Members, Katie Garibaldi.
1. What was the inspiration behind becoming a professional songwriter/music artist? What do you enjoy most about the creative process?
I’ve had a positive reaction and closeness to music ever since I was a baby, and I created melodies and sung them since I can remember. But it was when I learned how to play the guitar around age 11 that I was really able to take the melodies inside of me and bring them to fruition. The first day I brought home a guitar (a lesson rental at the time) I wrote a complete song, so it provided me with the inspiration that I needed to create songs. The guitar became my translator to relay the ideas in my mind to the outside world. After that, I decided at a pretty young age, about 16 years old, that music was what I wanted to do on a professional level. I dove into gaining experience performing live while deciding to major in communications and business at college to give myself a strong business foundation in order to run my own label as an independent artist. My absolute favorite moment in the creative process is when I experience a clear reaction to something I’m writing. If I’m playing out a melody on the guitar or create a set of lyrics in the beginning stages of writing something and that piece of music gives me a physical reaction, such as chills or tears or I get really excited about something, that’s my favorite part. I know that I’m on the right track to writing something meaningful and it’s a very healing experience.
2. Can you take us through your process? How long does it take? Does everything you produce make money?
There is no set of rules to my creative process and I always just follow the muse where it leads me. A song can come about in any way, but typically I’d say I start with getting a melody idea. Sometimes there are lyrics connected to it, but most of the time it’s just a melody. If it’s strong enough, I’ll pick up the guitar and find a chord progression to support it, meanwhile singing nonsense lyrics in the melody until the music pulls the lyrics out. Other times I’ll find the chord progression first and then the rest follows. Songs can range from taking under an hour to finish to several days, weeks, or even longer if I start a song, put it away, then return to it months or years later and finish it. But that’s rare. Usually if I start a song, I finish it within hours or days. If there’s one thing I don’t do, it’s schedule my writing time. I never say, “Ok, I’m going to write on Tuesday from 2:00 to 6:00.” That puts too much pressure on writing something. Sometimes I’ll think, I’ve got to sit down with my guitar—it’s been a few days. So I’ll plan to turn off my computer and phone and just sit with my guitar, and sometimes a song will come out. But usually I’ll get hit with some idea randomly, whether it’s while driving in my car or brushing my teeth, or I wake up at 4 AM with some melody on my mind. It’s inconvenient, but it’s also so exciting and I love it. Of course, this is only the first step in the whole release process. Songwriting leads to recording, which leads to the marketing and business plans. I think everything I produce makes money, it’s just a faster or slower process of making that money depending on the circumstance. In this day and age, you also have to give away a lot in order to gain things that will help you make money in the future. For instance, if I give away a free track in exchange for someone signing up on my mailing list, I didn’t make money on that download, but I made a new fan, who I can then personally interact with. In return, they may become a bigger support in coming to a future show or buying a future album. So sometimes a return on investment can be much more gradual. This can sometimes be challenging because I’m trying to pay my bills just like anybody else. So even if the money comes back to me that I invested in making an album two years later, I’m trying to support myself and my family during those two years. So a quicker return would obviously be helpful to me in order to not only live, but to be able to create more and make more music, in other words, keep doing what I love and what I’m good at instead of taking on other jobs to subsidize expenses while waiting for a return.
3. What do you think is the biggest misconception about your line of work?
I think the biggest misconception is that being a musician or an artist means you have to be a “struggling musician” or a “starving artist” financially. A lot of people outside of the music business have this misconception, and a lot of artists have it themselves too. I think this false view comes in part from the shift of the boom of the big record labels and the importance of getting signed to a major label, to the new music industry where independence is thriving, meaning independent teams working out various strategies as opposed to one set deal in one set place. Somehow, some people are still stuck on the old ways of the industry and not understanding the way it is now. So whatever is not the old way, they automatically see it as a failure, when in fact it could actually be a pretty valuable success for an artist. Maybe the artist is not on the cover of Rolling Stone or wearing gold chains and diamonds, but they’re making royalties off their songs being played on movies, which enables them to pay for groceries every month. You tell this to people and their response is usually something like, “Oh but why aren’t you on American Idol? Maybe someday you’ll get there. Good luck.” Because of this disconnect to the new reality of the music business, and other contributing factors like outdated laws, there is a low value of music—a lower standard for the artist in the economy. But imagine the world without art or music. It’s kind of frightening. I think the value of music needs to be reignited and with that comes a respect for the working musician and artist. If you hire a contractor to create an extra room in your house, you wouldn’t tell him, “I love your work. But why aren’t you building rooms for the White House? Maybe someday you’ll be successful, but go work five other jobs including running your construction business to help pay your rent in the meantime. Good luck until then.” No, you would value his independent business as the hard worker that he is. You also wouldn’t say, “I love the job you did, but I don’t want to pay you so this is only for exposure for your business. Thanks for doing all this work and putting your blood, sweat, and tears into it, but I have no money for you. Bye.” But as an artist I hear more often than not, “I love your music. I can’t pay you, but come perform and give a piece of your heart and soul for free just for exposure and maybe something will happen for you someday.” It doesn’t make any sense to me. There needs to be a larger value on music and an understanding that being an artist means you are a viable asset to society and can make a good living and support your family, just like anybody else. In order to get there, the value needs to shift so that we can level the playing field a little more in this business. Being a successful songwriter or artist in the music industry doesn’t have to mean touring the world 300 days out of the year at big arenas and living in a golden mansion with six other homes in other countries anymore, but it doesn’t have to mean that artist has to be broke and struggling either.
4. When did you first become aware of copyright and why?
I first became aware of the importance of copyright probably when I was in high school and started attending music business conferences and reading about the music industry. One of the first steps as an independent artist releasing music is to make sure you copyright your work. I also learned about the importance of having everything in writing, whether it’s a signed ‘work for hire’ agreement from musicians you hire in the studio or just keeping an email exchange from a booking agent who hires you for a gig and promises a certain amount of money or what is expected of you, i.e. how long your performance is, etc. When I became a member of ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers), copyright issues within the songwriter’s world became more apparent to me and ASCAP is a big component in educating me on the current issues.
5. What is your best piece of advice that you would give other creators in your field about copyright and how to protect themselves?
If you’re a songwriter or music creator I highly recommend one of the first things you do is become a member of a PRO (public rights organization, such as ASCAP or BMI). Register your songs as a member, which does document your pieces of music, though not a legal copyright, but kind of a quick, easy way to register your titles under your name in some capacity. Then go ahead and copyright your songs officially through the U.S. Copyright Office. It might seem like an afterthought when you have so much on your plate as an independent artist, but it’s just as important of a step, if not more important, than any other item on the list for releasing your music. Your PRO reps are highly involved with the latest copyright issues for music creators, as well as the Copyright Alliance, which is great. So get on their newsletters and read the articles, follow the Tweets, educate yourself with what’s going on. Protect your work and your future so you can keep doing what you love.
San Francisco, CA