Michael Peterson Interview Part 5

Michael Peterson

Michael Peterson

Welcome back to Part 5 of the interview with Michael Peterson. Here he talks about the pressures of being a staff songwriter and the negative and positive sides of online music.

Peterson: Is it a lot of pressure? If you’re making a pretty substantial draw and you don’t want to go back to your job, whatever it was before, because you like being a professional songwriter, well I guess there’s a lot of pressure there.

Yet, it’s a dream life if you get it. I’m so grateful that I’ve had a chance to experience that for a good number of years in my life. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Yet, there are a lot of nuances for sustaining that success. The frustrating thing is that often it doesn’t have as much to do with the quality of your songwriting as you would hope it would. There’s politics, there’s competition, there’s timing…

We all know that the music industry has been dramatically affected by digital file sharing. Digital file sharing, for better or worse, has changed the financial situation in the music business. Music publishers and record labels don’t have as much abundance, so the risks are higher for them. If it was tough in the late 90’s, it’s way tougher now.

But the good news is- and there’s always good news- digital file sharing, digital platforms, and the internet have leveled the playing field in terms of distribution. This has empowered artists, who for whatever reasons never got signed to a major label, to go out and build a fan base anyway. This allowed them to build a following and a touring platform. I’m aware of that on a first hand basis. I released a record that I was only allowed to give each record store five or 10 to sell on consignment. If I wanted to sell more, I would have needed to get a distributor. But the distributors weren’t willing to take me on unless I had a big manager, a record label, and that whole machine in place. I understood from a business perspective. But it was a “Catch 22,” that made it hard to sell records. Now you can sign up with someone like CDbaby and be available everywhere.

Peterson: So, that’s good news right? Yes, that is good news.

Peterson: I want to make sure, with some of the comments I’m making, that it comes through loud and clear in this interview that there are no sour grapes about where this is for me. This is life. This is the journey. There are things to learn along the way.

“It was the best of times and the worst of times” (Dickens)

It’s how you look at it. It’s a cliché, but there’s a lot of truth in this: One man’s praying for sunshine, and one man’s praying for rain.

So, you take it all in stride. For me, if I strip away all of the would’ves, should’ves, could’ves, I come back to: I’m a songwriter and I’m out writing songs.

Right before you called, I had just spent the last six hours writing a song with a friend of mine here in Vegas. He’s the drummer for Donnie and Marie, his name’s Joe Finger. Here I am sitting here today, lovin’ writing a song. I had a blast doing it, I like what we’re working on, I think it’s an interesting idea. I’m writing ‘cause writers write! I have had a few cuts, but I haven’t made a lot of money with this. So whenever I question myself as to why I do this, it’s because, as you said, writers write. It makes me feel whole.

Peterson: You’re also being an advocate for other songwriters with the work you’re doing. And I deeply appreciate that! Thank you.

Okay, so let me ask you about some specific songs. My favorite song of yours is, From The Grave To The Cradle. Where did that one come from?

Peterson: I was watching Seinfeld one night, and George was talking about what if he could live backwards, not forwards. Where you were born old and you die young.

I had a writing appointment the next day with Chris Wallin. He said what do you want to write about? I said I’d like to take this conversation that they were having on Seinfeld last night and try to write a song like that. That’s where it came from. I had never heard a song that talked about that before. Instead of going from the cradle to the grave, you go from the grave to the cradle. Once we had the title, we started shaping it. We wrote about 2/3 of the song. Then I had to go back on the road. I don’t think our schedules allowed us to write together for another month or so. I did some writing of it on my own. Chris did some. We got back together and hammered on it a little bit. If I recall correctly, on my next trip on the road, I had a breakthrough on the last verse. I called him up and said, I think I got it.

I started playing it out and people seemed to love it. It’s been put ‘on hold’ by a gazillion artists. It’s just never been cut yet. So you have a song like that and you’re asking me about it because you love it so much. I scratch my head and say, how come that never got cut? What do I gotta do, right? (laughs) Exactly.

Peterson: At that point, if you’re measuring your value as a writer by whether or not your songs are getting cut, you can start to miss the beauty of what it is you’re creating. That’s just a great song. So, somebody is missing out.

Peterson: It seems like people like it over and over when I play it. I’m not in charge of whether or not it gets cut.

Continued next week…

Write On-

Ron Shaffer

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