Butch Walker has an enviable music career. Lead singer and songwriter for the one hit wonders Marvelous 3, he’s now moved on to become a songwriter for some huge artists (Katy Perry, Weezer, Pink). Recently Harper Collins published a memoir of his life in the music business. I haven’t got my hands on a copy yet, but it’s probably filled with truth bombs like the 5 industry lessons he gave the Hollywood Reporter:
- Don’t think your first record deal will be the last: “Be cautiously optimistic and know that, when you get signed to a label deal, you don’t want to put too much precedent on that or rely on it too much for your future. Like most people have this timeline dream — you get signed to a record deal and all of a sudden, people think you’re rich and all your friends think you’re going to be famous and you think you’re going to be famous, so you go out and get your band name tattooed on your body and the whole nine yards. Cut to a year later, nine times out of 10, you maybe make about a grand, your band gets dropped and your tattoo gets covered up. That’s what happened to me. I’m on my fifth record deal.”
- Don’t get somebody’s likeness tattooed on your body unless they’re dead…“Because if they’re still alive, you’re going to run into them and it will get real creepy. Like I have Elvis Costello’s face tattooed on my left arm from way back in the 1990s when he got me through a very dark period in my life. And of course, one time I’m drunk at the Chateau Marmont, it’s midnight, I get into the elevator to go to my room and Elvis Costello walks on. It’s just me and him on the elevator, I’m hammered, looking at him and pointing at the tattoo. He’s, like, hitting the ‘door open’ button going, ‘Oh God’ and I realized at that point that I would never be able to just bro down with Elvis Costello….
- Beware of publishing deals.“Something I talk about in the book is publishing deals, which are basically banks: they give you an advance of money to own the rights to your songs. A lot of people get suckered into doing these deals early on in their career and they give up 50% of the publishing of every song they’re going to write for the rest of their life, basically for a small advance. When they say ‘half a million dollars,’ that’s a huge amount of money to a kid, but it’s hard to know what that really means until you do the breakdown — that taxes will get half of that, management is going to get 20%, the business manager is going to take 10% of that and your lawyer will get a big chunk of it. What’s left is the smallest piece of the pie, and if you’re in a group like Earth, Wind and Fire, where you’ve got 12 band members dividing the publishing equally, well, you can do the math from there. You’d probably get beer money for the weekend for basically losing ownership to half your song. So I try to tell people to hang on to their publishing unless they’re the only person getting the money and there’s not a ton of people taking a piece of the pie.”
- For every alcoholic beverage you consume, drink a glass of water. “I spend the first half of my day rejuvenating and replenishing everything that I’ve destroyed in my body. If you don’t drink the water, you could end up destroying your liver, becoming an alcoholic and then depression from there… Drinking is more of a celebratory thing for me, but if you use it as a crutch for when you’re sad that’s when the negative side effects come in… In my old heavy metal band, I drank a bottle of Jägermeister on stage — disgusting shit — and then afterwards, an entire bottle of champagne. Somehow, I ended up in the hotel room with the crew giving me a shower because I had caked on rotten cream pie in my hair. …”
- Realize that a lot of times, it’s not about the song; it’s about favors.“When I was worrying about trying to get my own songs on radio and being on a label that solely worried about that, I learned a lesson: it wasn’t about the quality of the song, it was about timeshares in Cabo and the Lakers season tickets…..That’s when I finally realized, it was not about the commerce of art, it was the art of commerce — what can you give me and what can you get from me in return? Not, ‘Wow this song is amazing!’ There are some good people in radio, but I didn’t feel comfortable selling myself that way. Whatever, if I can help somebody else get a song on, then they can go do the pie-eating contest. I’m not hungry for it anymore.”