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Now, who sat you down and taught you all these things? Was it Frank Zappa? Or did you kind of learn the hard way through trial and error?
“I was a very practical thinker. I’ll never forget this time when I was 19 or 20 years old and I was sitting with Frank, and I asked him for some great wisdom about music. I was waiting for this profound response about being independent and making the music that’s in your heart and all this stuff. And he looked at me and said, ‘Keep your publishing.’ I didn’t know, so I asked him, ‘What’s publishing?’ He wrote down the phone number to an attorney and said, ‘Call this guy and go buy an hour of his time.’
“Jerry Rosenblatt – I went to see him, I spent the money. He explained publishing to me. He started a publishing company for me; he set up sub-publishing for me – to this day many professional musicians don’t know what international sub-publishing is. They throw away a tremendous amount – at least half – of their publishing income because they don’t understand the simplicity of some of these rules. Jerry did all of this for me. To this day, he’s my publishing attorney. I’ve made a lot of money through the years from having this done at 20 years old and protecting my rights.
“Through the years, that’s the one thing people try to take from you – your publishing – because they understand it and what it means. It’s so easy to give it away, but you don’t have to. People have come to me and said, ‘OK, we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna do this, but we want your publishing.’ And I would just tell them no, ‘cause Frank Zappa told me not to give up my publishing. And guess what? The deals would happen anyway – and I kept my publishing. It’s like they turned around, snapped their fingers and said, ‘Drats! We didn’t get him on this one.’”
Aside from teaching certain precepts – intros, verses, choruses, bridges – how can you instruct somebody to write a song? What makes a good song is so subjective.
“You can inspire somebody by showing them the way you do it, and you can talk about the way other people do it. So that’s pointing out various ways that a person can use to find inspiration. But if a person doesn’t have a songwriting mechanism in them, it won’t happen on any kind of real inspired level. And that’s OK – most classical musicians aren’t really songwriters; they don’t write anything. It’s a big mystery and a source of anxiety for kids who want to play an instrument but feel like they need to write a song."