Online songwriting exchange helps bypass Row’s ‘politics’

Friday, December 20, 2013, Vol. 37, No. 51
By Tim Ghianni


Gerald Smith’s voice slips in after the fiddle, steel and snare intro of “Apart,” one of 21 of his songs that are being peddled internationally on the Irish (And International) Songwriters Guild’s web page.

It’s a bit different than demo-ing songs by dropping off CDs or sending mp3s along Music City Row, further still than the cassettes that were the standard issue for songwriters as they peddled their wares over the last few decades.

“People are doing everything online now,” says the veteran and ballyhooed writer who first began writing songs in Nashville back in the 1970s, when he was a member of the Hee Haw television cast.

“I was called ‘The Georgia Quacker,’’’ he says. “I did the noise of the duck character.”

He stops to demonstrate that quick-quacking sound he gave voice to while an animated duck crossed the stage on that classic country variety show.

“I was also on the show some myself, along with Mike Snider and Roy Clark and some of those guys. And I used to do some of the shows with the Hee Haw cast.”

And he’s had plenty of big hits for the likes of George Jones, George Strait, Johnny Rodriguez, Collin Raye and Lorrie Morgan.

To him the ISG is actually serving as a way to battle through the roadblock encountered by many writers on the Row.

“There’s a lot of great, great songs in Nashville that never get heard because of the politics involved in getting a song heard.

“It’s really hard. Even if you got a hit song, you got to try real hard to get it through the political routes of Nashville to get it heard.

“You’d think once you had a few hits and stuff, you could just call and play them something. Even though you’ve got credibility in town, it’s really hard to get your songs heard.” And in his case, this is a well-known writer with a hit-punctuated career who has difficulty getting in the front door.

What he likes best about the ISG is that it gives the songwriters a way to leapfrog the boundaries and perhaps get heard by artists themselves rather than by label execs “dictating to the artists or only letting them hear the songs their buddies write or going to only the hottest songwriters in town.”

“The only reason they are the hottest writers is because the labels keep going to them,” says Smith, who adds he’s been blessed to have success, but “the best writers don’t always win.”

In fact, he says, the best writers often are completely overlooked in a system known for cookie-cutter songwriting that limits even the well-known writers, let alone younger dreamers, from breaking on through to the other side.

That’s why he firmly believes in what could happen if the Irish Songwriters Guild model – with 1½-minute demos lined up like in an online music store – succeeds.

“If I was an artist out there that was really happening, I’d want to cut the best songs all the time instead of cutting the best songs that are given to them by people who wouldn’t know the difference between a hit song and a non-hit song,” he says.

“There needs to be a better way of letting artists hear the best songs in town.”

He believes the system today leads to the hit-makers hearing from a select-few writers, which does two things.

“They are cutting this stuff that’s not near up to par lyrically as what a song should be,” he says. “And the older people are just getting left out of country music, the older folks and the people who just like good music.”

And that’s one reason that he believes ISG is important.

“A lot of artists from overseas love country music. Over here they aren’t cutting any of it. Over here they are trying to call it country, but there’s nothing country about it.”

Those overseas artists are seeking tunes from guys like him as well as from country-loving Irishmen to satisfy the passion for the real deal that exists on the other side of the Atlantic.

While ISG is just beginning, Smith believes it could make a significant change in the music that comes out of the big Nashville labels by getting real country songs online and accessible.

He hopes Nashville artists will help control their own destinies by visiting the ISG site and listening to the demos that are posted and then recording some of the “real country music” that’s there.

“They could let country music come back into Nashville,” he says. “If they’d do it, they’d find out that there are a lot of people who really love real country music.”