This is the Don Smith
Interview that appeared in Issue 2 of Big Time Music Trade
Magazine. This was published July of 1997.
: I'm 65 years old, and I started out many years ago. I
started out when I was 15, and I love country music. I got into
bands of my own, and I had radio station spots. As time went on,
I went into the Navy, and I had more experienced playing in
different places. I'm retired from performing on the road,
and all I do is write music. I was inspired to put my stuff out
to the public, by my wife Shelia. I've only been putting stuff
out to my publishers for 3 years, and I've had a tremendous
return. I've had 14 songs published, and six releases, including
my own two that I released back in '88, on Achievement Label.
BIG TIME : Can you let our readers know about your publishing firms ?
: There's a Texas firm that published some of my records that
went out on C.D. from BJD Wishing Away records. Tony Ansome from
Nena, Wisconsin released an Album with one of my songs : He only
wants love in return. It's a Country Gospel song and the album is
called : Mr. Bluegrass. My own songs I put our are
Anniversary Rose, and I think about the home, on my own
Achievement label. I got one our for Charlie Clark from Hollywood
Artists. It's no big deal to listen to the songs, but it's heck
of a deal to get any publishers to accept them. Most nashville
producers have their own song writers already. I had to break
into the Independent publishing companies, who catalog your
music. They are supposed to have the IN's and Out's of getting a
major cut for you. I've had two songs that were accepted by
Hickory Hollow record publishing company, in Nashville. Winning
awards for your songs and performing your songs, any publicity is good
BIG TIME : Would you
say that this helps you out more, than it did in 1946 when you first
started out at the age of 9 performing country music?
: When I started it was on a stage at Topsham Grange Hall, but
that was with my teachers accompaniment. I started picking up the
guitar when I was 15, and when I was 16 I had my own radio spot.
It was played over at W L A M and W C O U. I think
musicians are accepted more today than they were back then. You
can see by the turnout of many new artists. My music is a variety
of everything. I try to push the old time classic country, the
middle of the road stuff, gospel and the new up to date material.
One song I wrote was I take 5 steps to do the two step. It's kind
of a commercial arrangement about someone stumbling around the dance
floor thinking he can dance. Another one i just wrote could be
used for Pop or Country, called: The power of passion, which has
some real nice lyrics to it. If you want it to sound like Gospel
you use keyboards, sax, clarinet, and less drums. For country,
the guitar would have a twang sound to it. It would also have a
banjo, a mandolin, fiddles, keyboard, and a steel guitar.
BIG TIME : What's the process you use to get your songs published?
: It's a fairly easy process, to get a copyright. You get a
form and sent it into the Library of Congress. They will send you
a bunch of copyright forms to fill in and send it in with $20.00.
You can also send in a group of songs and put it in a catalog.
I've sent two catalogs in, to spent $40.00, on a half a dozen
songs. I've paid a lot of money to have my songs copy
written. It costs $75.00 for each song to be recorded. You
can go in and spend over $200.00 - $300.00 -$400.00 for a radio master
song ready to play on radio. That means they have enough good
sound to be played on the radio. Some of the lower priced demos
may just have a guitar with a voice on them, and it kind of sounds dead
on the radio.
BIG TIME : What's the process a local band would need to do, to get one of your songs recorded?
: I have a lot of songs that are ready to be recorded, and all
they have to do is ask. My address is PO Box XX South Gardiner
Me, 04359 and my phone number is 582-XXXX. I'll be glad to set
them up with something, It just depends on what they are looking
for. In fact I have got two 10 song cassettes with my own
label. Both are done by various artists using my original
songs. I don't have my own recording studio, and all I do is get
them re-produced. If other artists want to go on my label, all
they have to do is ask me, but they would have to go into the studio on
their own. If people like music, they should keep writing until
they can't do it anymore. That's the way I am, I didn't feel up
to being on the road, I fell back on writing. You have to have an
awful lot of patience for music writing. I've mailed more
packages than I can remember, there are thousands probably. I've
got stacks of refusal letters that are more in numbers, than I have
tapes. I was lucky to be quite persistent, and kept at it after
the refusals. I would suggest to song writers not to put all of
their eggs in one basket. For example, If you get one publisher,
don't send all of your stuff to him. Also, pride yourself out as
much as you can. Keep your nose to the grindstone, all the
time. Performances help me out a lot as well as listening to
other people's stuff. I add my own ideas to what I heard. I
just think of the words, get them typed up, sing it over a rough demo
tape and send it in to the publisher with the words enclosed with a
self-addressed envelope. Pick up a few of the publications out
there that have "Tip Sheets," on who to send music to.
Different publishers will list themselves as wanting to review music.
BIG TIME : What are some of the pitfalls you have to look out for when signing a contract?
: Well the first thing I look for is the contract having a
termination period. This is the period so they don't hold your
song for too long. You see they're supposed to look for a major
cut for you. If in a couple of years, they haven't found a major
cut for you, and you don't have a termination of that contract; they
can hold that song, for as long as they want to. You're under
contract with no termination date on that. The second thing is
their terms, the standard price for lead sheets, sheet music, how many
things are sold in this country and out of this country. The
standard price for lead sheets is 5 cents a copy, for regular piano
copies. 50% of any net amount received by the publisher and
respectively manufacturing parts of intermittents with the title of
Twice a year you'll get a check depending on how
many copies were sold. They also have to sell a lot of copies to
get much of a check. They also have to play your song over and
over on the radio, so you will get a percentage from that rating.
It's how it stands on Billboard charts. B . M . I. is suppose to
keep track of all my royalties, because they are like a union.
They keep watch of all my songs and they get all the listings from
radio stations and any place that has anything to do anything with
music; every time they play it so many times. The radio stations
have to pay a fee for how many times they play your songs.
BIG TIME : Does the local country radio station give a lot of support to local musicians?
: I haven't had any good luck with the local radio
stations. They don't seem to want to do much with their local
talent. I think they could do more for their local
entertainers. I realize radio time costs money and they could
spend more time to listen to local talent, and play it on their
radio. They used to a long time ago, W K C G had a Sunday
show that started pretty early in the morning lasting up until noon
time. I thought that was great and I don't know why they
stopped. Bob Ellston and Rose Tash ran it. My music was played on
that radio station quite a lot and Bob Ellston played it quite
often. The DJs themselves spend very little on Maine
talent. Publicity is a big factor in music. If you don't
have the publicity, you're not going to get anywhere.
BIG TIME : Are there other ways to get publicity the old fashioned way?
: By correspondence with other bands, or an artist, or a
performer, or another writer. I correspond with other writers,
like Paul Hotchkiss from Cranston, Rhode Island. He's a very good
song writer and he sent me a tape with his music work. I sent a
tape of my music work and we collaborate every now and then. He
wrote a song for Dolly Parton and several top artists have recorded his
work. We write about anything; how we happened to be in the
industry. Pat them on the back with things that you know about
them and they do the same for you. You feed each other
information that you would think would be helpful. They might
ask: "How do you present yourself to a publisher? " I would
tell them and they would write back and say, "Well try this..."
TIME : Do you think it is harder to get your foot in the
door these days as it was decades ago, when you first started?
: I think it's a lot harder-yeah. They were accepting
things back then like Gene Autry, horse and buggy stuff. Today
there are so many differences in country music, whereas back then it
came under "Cowboy country music." Probably in the 1950's the
music got better in branching out more. During the 1960's,
country music had to compete with Rock, so of course they went into
what is called rockabilly; Carl Perkins, Elvis and them deals.
During the 1970's it progressed to branch out more and more.
I wrote to several of the band leaders and told them about what one of
the disc jockeys wrote to me. I said they want to help Maine
music out, but they hardly do any radio time. We ought to get
together and write in about getting more radio time. I never got
much out of that. Only 1 or 2 bands answered, because they
thought I was probably barking up the wrong tree. I would try to
make this effort if a bunch of musicians wrote to me, butI don't know
what would happen as a result. On W K C G , they have an hour on
Saturday mornings. They take one band at a time to interview them
and play some of their music. the way they used to do it on
Sunday is, Anybody could send in their material, and they would play
it. Most of the club owners hear the local talent, and they say,
"Hey I'd like to sign this guy up." That's part of the publicity
I was talking about.
BIG TIME : Do you think there are enough local country musicians to have a 3 hour radio program 2-3 times a week?
: Maybe not capacity; but they could put more than an hour or
two, once a week. They are putting on an hour once a week now,
where as I think they could go 2 or 3 times a week, and go a couple of
hours instead of one. Then again the stations are wondering,
"Well who's going to pay for the radio time?" They're not going
to give radio time away, and you have to get enough sponsors, who want
to hear Maine local talent.
: So instead of asking the radio stations to open up the
slots--it would probably make senseto ask the radio stations.
"Would you open up the slots, if we got enough advertisers to get our
songs on the air?" Then it would be up to the bands and
songwriters to go out and canvass individual businesses to actually get
the sponsorship to put somebody on the radio.
: Yeah, but then somebody would have to go around drumming up
businesses for the sponsors. That probably wouldn't be an easy
road either. I think the bands ought to get together and
talk. A spokesperson from the bands can go to talk with the radio
stations to see what the easiest way to get radio time; find sponsors
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