Wednesday, August 15, 2007

She writes the songs that make the whole world sing...

...but you still can't quote her in your book.

This is what I've learned this week. (Last week was the em-dash, this week it's dashed hopes.)

I listen to a lot of music, and I've read Elizabeth Wurtzel's PROZAC NATION more times than I can count. This is, it turns out, a dangerous combination for a new memoirist. You see, Wurtzel used lots of song lyrics. Dozens, possibly even hundreds of little snippets from this or that song litter her chapters, capturing whatever mood(s) she might have swung through at the moment she was writing.

I liked this idea. So as I wrote, and my moods swung, I took note of what was getting heavy rotation on my playlist, and which lyrics encapsulated the precise question or dilemma or fear I was trying to describe from some section of my life. I found some gems. Cindy Morgan singing about the years she spent trying to find herself: "I put a call out to Buddha, but he never called back..." The Indigo Girls admitting, "Ran as hard as I could, still ended up here...." Nicole Nordeman asking God, "Help me believe, cause I don't want to miss any miracles..."

I love these songs.

Now I understood, when I sprinkled these lyrics across my manuscript, that I'd need permission to use them. And when the time came, I emailed the "permissions" people at each artist's label, confident that they'd be excited for the extra exposure. Unfortunately, though, I misunderstood how the system works. So here, because I know that some of you are writers too, I'll pass along what I've learned:

Quoting songs costs money. Sometimes a lot of money. This isn't the artist's decision; it's governed by the licensing division of the record company. And while everyone I spoke to at the various labels was extremely nice and helpful, that didn't change the fact that the way things work in that industry doesn't lend itself to authors quoting lyrics freely as we write, thinking, "Won't so-and-so be happy to see her song raved about in my book!"

So the songs are gone from my manuscript, crossed out by my freshly-sharpened purple pencil. They're still getting heavy rotation on my playlist, though, which makes me think that perhaps I could put together an official iTunes soundtrack for the book?

If the last year of YOUR life had a soundtrack, what songs would be included?

9 comments:

Sarakastic said...

A soundtrack for a book is definitely a great idea, more people should do it. Nick Hornby's "Songbook" which was all about music that inspired him came with a CD & it was wicked awesome. I'm sure your book will be as wicked awesome well, but sorry for the set back. You asked an excellent question about the soundtrack to the last year, I'm going to have to think about it.

L Sass said...

I saw Zadie Smith speak when On Beauty was published, and she had to change some song lyrics in that book because they were too expensive. For Zadie Smith!

I'd also recommend "Love Is a Mix Tape" for memoirs-that-use-music... although that book must have cost a fortune!

ellesappelle said...

My soundtrack for this last year - sounds like a blog post! :) Thanks for the idea.

Kit Frazier said...

What a great idea! Corrinne Bailey Rae is my girl for this book, although, in the homestretch, it's always the soundtrack from Love Actually. Good luck with the revisions.

Kit
*btw...mmy revision song is Etta James's Time for a Change*

LEstes65 said...

You can quote any of my song lyrics you want. Because I have no record label!! Oh...I doubt you've ever heard any of my songs. DAMN. I doubt any of my songs would fit your life story. I'll have to write an ode to you. Hmmmm....

Swishy said...

Bummer about the lyrics, but fun idea about the playlist! I've thought of that, too, because I CANNOT write without music!

Jane said...

music really moves me as well. Even though it's too costly to publish song quotes, you can still use them in your daily writings for yourself.

It never ceases to amaze me how much everything has a price!

appletini said...

My life would probably be a variety of songs.... a little from every genre :)

Alyssa Goodnight said...

I also think a songtrack for a book sounds like an awesome idea, and I appreciate you posting about this topic. I've gone back in forth on whether to include song lyrics in my WIP, but I think now I won't. I'll just handle them like Jenny Crusie does, eloquently including some prose about the song's lyrics, as if the artist herself is a character, singing just for that moment in the book. Of course I'll do that...