This week we’d like to introduce you to Academy/Golden Globe Award Nominated Songwriter Taura Stinson. In addition to songwriting, Taura has also written and published her book “100 Things Every Black Girl Should Know: For Girls 10-100” and “100 Ways to Love Yourself: Inside and Out.” You can follow Taura on Instagram as well as Twitter (X).
What was the inspiration behind becoming an artist? What do you enjoy most about the creative process?
I was the weirdest child, with a wild imagination. As an only child for the longest time, I had to make my own fun and most of it was hinged on story telling. When I was around 8 years old, my mother (the AMAZING Yvonne Stinson) bought me a black and white composition notebook. She gave it to me thinking, maybe, I would draw in it at church. I grew up in a Pentecostal church, so we had very long services. I only drew faces and idyllic landscapes for a short period, but those subpar drawings would soon develop into thoughts, world views, big dreams and poems. My older cousin found the book and against my pleads for her to keep it private, she shared it with her father. He was both my uncle and my pastor. I was so scared because all of my thoughts, even at that age, were not Gospel friendly, but he never addressed those things. He too was a songwriter and the lead singer of the quartet group, The Gospel Clouds, as well as a member of the Fantastic Violinaires. So, when he told me that my writing was far advanced for a child my age and that my ability to tell stories was crystal clear, I was both proud and relieved. He then asked me if I knew what melodies were… He said, “they would be the sounds that my words make.” Soon after, he dusted off an old cassette recorder and told me to put it at my bedside. I wish I still had those tapes! Anyway, that’s my story of “becoming” an artist. What I enjoy most about the creative process is speaking this universal language. I have worked with some incredibly talented people and we make beautiful music together, because we are fluent in melody and harmony.
Can you take us through your creative process? How long does it take? Does everything you produce make money?
The creative process varies, but mostly, I start with a story brief or script, then I collect thoughts, melodies and broad conceptual ideas. I almost always have a melody that carries my words, but when I have a specific assignment, I start with lyric soup, which is just a collection of words and phrases. When I write lyrics, I am the ladle that scoops from the lyric soup. Sometimes I use those specific phrases and sometimes they inspire others. My process also begins with me tinkering on guitar and Ableton, which gives me a feeling of accompaniment. Sometimes I write and arrange with my voice and hire musicians to replicate those chords. It really is a mixed bag.
Does everything that I produce make money? Can I curse? Ha… in short… H*LL NO! When I talk to young songwriters and aspiring artists, I chuckle on the inside when money is their motivation. Music is not a “get rich quick” scheme. It takes time and much more effort than one can fathom. If you love what you do, you will get back up after the setbacks and create again, even when no one supports your art.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about your line of work?
That biggest misconception is that it isn’t work. Sure, I love what I do, but when you earn a living for your passion, it’s a business! However, people don’t take music or art seriously. I can’t pass out free songs, just like real estate developers can’t gift free houses.
When did you first become aware of copyright, and why?
When I was growing up in Oakland, my uncles were singer/songwriters. The one that I mentioned previously is the late James McCurdy, and the other, Leonard Lothlen. They were both in The Gospel Clouds quartet group and were the lead songwriters… Also, I spent every summer in Birmingham, Alabama (my birthplace). There, my uncle Robert Tellis was also a gospel singer/songwriter. Between those three, I heard bits and pieces about copyrighting songs. When I was 16 or 17, I sent every poem and song that I had written as a collective work to the Copyright Office. I was so proud and felt an enormous sense of accomplishment. Then I heard copyrights weren’t so important, because of time stamps on recordings. Trusting that theory would prove to be a mistake. I had to sue for credit on one of my first releases. It was number one on the R&B charts for six weeks, and in the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. While the issue was settled eventually, I didn’t get what I really deserved. Had I protected that song with copyright, I would’ve had legal standing proof. I was also the kid that sat on the floor reading album covers from front to back, so the copyright symbol was something that I came to know early on.
What is the best piece of advice that you would give other creators in your field about copyright and how to protect themselves?
There is a resurgence of non-creatives using their influence to gain ownership of songs. So, I am urging songwriters to start copyrighting their songs right away. The process is simple: 1) Write your song. 2) Complete a split sheet. 3) Submit the work to the Copyright Office. This isn’t a foolproof solution, but you have stronger ground to stand on if someone infringes on your copyright.
What is your biggest copyright-related challenge?
Currently, the monster that I would like to slay is Artificial Intelligence (AI). Deep learning algorithms are trained by our music and should not be able to take pieces of everyone, build this Frankenstein-like data set and then pose as new creations. Humans are granted copyrights, as the U.S. Copyright office has asserted. Writers of all kinds should be able to rest assured, knowing that U.S. copyright law does not offer copyrights to algorithms. As AI continues to gain traction, people will see how important of a fight this is… I have said this before and will keep saying it until someone hears me! Copyright law asserts that “authorship must have been created by an actual human to receive copyright protection.” No human. No protection, right? If every license requires a copyright (which can only be obtained by a human), then, “IT” (the algorithm) should not able to obtain one.
End of story.
I never thought that we’d have to defend ourselves against algorithms that are blatantly stealing from Artists in every medium, yet here we are.
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