Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Let Us Now Praise Mike Farris and Shine For All The People

I have known Mike Farris for more than 20 years, since he was the lead singer of the Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies, a kick‑ass blues rock band that emerged at the tail end of the late 1980s early 1990s Nashville rock scene.  All five members of the band were tremendously talented but it was Mike’s voice that grabbed you on first listen.  I remember spending time with the band early on and being impressed by the fact that they all had a deep knowledge of music.

The Wheelies had some success but never had a breakthrough hit and ended up running out of gas.  After the band broke up, I kept in touch with Mike and helped him with some projects but I didn’t really know what sort of personal demons he was wrestling with.  What I do know is that he overcame his struggles and I was happy to see him re‑emerge in a new Nashville music era where he was recognized by his peers and won awards from the Americana Music Association and the Gospel Music Association.

None of this prepared me for how good his new album is. Shine For All The People is the best example of the uplifting and transformative power of music that I’ve heard since Al Green became a reverend.  This is a big sounding joyful gospel album. Mike has made a bunch of albums and his skills as a producer are evident on this record. Every song on the album is good but the standout track to me is Mike’s re-working of Mary Gauthier’s “Mercy Now”.  In another time, the music press would be all over this record but in my experience, it’s getting harder and harder to find the good stuff these days.  This album, released today is worth searching out.  I am really proud of Mike’s accomplishment and the work that he and Tyler Pittman did to get this out there. It’s also nice to see the record coming out on Compass.

Friday, September 12, 2014

a Few Words About Jerry Cupit

I am saddened to learn of the death of my friend Jerry Cupit.  I know that Jerry had been sick for a long time but in the back of my mind I figured that if anyone could find a way to beat his illness, it would be Jerry.  He was a true Renaissance man and I don’t use that term lightly.  Jerry was a successful songwriter, music publisher, record producer, independent label owner, author of at least two books, an inventor (with at least one patent to his name) and a serial entrepreneur. 

About 15 years ago when the music industry first began this current slide, Jerry invented an innovative system of radio promotion and internet distribution which could have revolutionized the music industry if his funding hadn’t disappeared.  I was slow to realize it at the time but in hindsight,  his ideas were brilliant.

I had some great adventures with Jerry—from top ten records to a few bizarre lawsuits. I learned a lot about human ingenuity, creativity and generosity from him.  I will miss him. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Reprinting Lyrics in Literary Works

            A couple of weeks ago, I had the good fortune to be asked to be a panelist at Killer Nashville 2014, a convention of mystery writers and true crime writers.  The panel was called “The Letter of the Law: What Does Every Writer Need to Know About Copyright, Intellectual Property and Rights and Permissions” and I prepared by reviewing everything I could on the right of privacy and the right of publicity. 

            While these topics were vigorously discussed, I was surprised that a number of the attendees had questions about how to use music in their books, specifically how much of a song lyric could they quote without subjecting themselves to a claim of copyright infringement. 

            The answer was best summarized by one of my co-panelists, attorney Casey Del Casino who, if I recall correctly, rephrased a famous quotation “It’s easier to ask permission than to beg  forgiveness”.  In this regard, it is so  important to remember  that reprinting lyrics in a literary context is no different than reproducing any other piece of music.  The right to reproduce  is one of the exclusive rights that belongs to a copyright owner. 

            For some reason, people seem to misunderstand the concept of “fair use”.  Fair use is a statutory defense to copyright infringement and while the concept of fair use is robust and can cover a number of situations - it won’t help you until you get sued.  There is no magic formula in literature any more than  there is in music (e.g. you can use six notes but not seven…)

            This is not to say that a writer can’t quote a line from a popular song or discuss the song in the context of a work.  Just don’t assume that you can quote lyrics verbatim - get permission.  This brings up another important point.  If you are looking to publish a work and need to seek permission to reprint lyrics, seek that permission early; don’t wait until the last minute.  It can take some time to track down the appropriate person (or persons) and to get them to get your request on their radar.  Again just don’t assume that because you are using this work in a “literary” context that this provides any sort of ironclad defense to copyright infringement.  It doesn’t.