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Performing Songwriter Cover
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The Performing Songwriter Articles
My History At Performing Songwriter

by Janis Ian

Lydia Hutchinson asked to interview me sometime in 1993. I didn't realize it at the time, but it was her first. It was also one of the best interviews of my life, and that's saying a lot. (You can read it here, or just Google "Janis Ian Lydia Hutchinson interview".)

We got along well, and I resolved to keep an eye on her. She seemed like a young woman with a lot of great ideas, so I called her a few months later to check in. We met at a local coffee shop sometime that winter; Lydia recalls that it was one of those rare Nashville snow days, and the room was cold. She told me excitedly about her magazine, Performing Songwriter, geared toward songwriters who also performed and toured. She felt there was a real market for it. She was creating it with money she'd borrowed from her folks, on a real shoe string. She wondered if I'd be willing to write a column. "Your name on the masthead would give us so much credibility!" she flattered me. Well, flattery will get you...

I spoke with Pat about it, and she reminded me that Stella Adler had told me to start mentoring. I didn't have time to mentor one on one, so this seemed like a perfect solution. At the least, I could tell other artists about my own mistakes, and hopefully help them avoid the same pitfalls.

It would also be totally different from The Advocate. There, I had a thousand word limit; at Perfsong, there'd be none. I was totally free to write about whatever I liked, a pretty broad canvas. Lydia was even prepared to run longer articles over several issues if necessary. We were both newbies, which was exciting in itself - she as an editor-in-chief, and me as a regular columnist. I said yes, and continued with her right up until 2001.
The first thing I discussed with Lydia were the standards I planned to set. First, my standards as an observer: I wanted to make sure that whenever appropriate, my articles weren't just about my own experience. To that end, I sought out not just performers and songwriters, but managers, publishers, publicists, agents, business managers - even people in the healing professions, for Staying Healthy On the Road. To bolster the credibility of my work, I always asked if I could attribute the quotes, and when I could, I'd thank all the contributors at the end of each article.

Second, the standard I wanted to set as a journalist: I knew of several performers who wrote the occasional magazine article, but none approached it with a journalist's eye - and ethic. I planned to write about some volatile subjects, and I didn't want my sources hamstrung by the fear of retribution within our industry. From the first, I solicited opinions from my peers with the assurance that any source who wished would remain completely anonymous. After about a year, people began trusting that I'd keep their confidences, and I heard an amazing amount of behind-the-scenes stories. Some made their way into articles, and occasionally, people would demand to know who'd said what. I never betrayed a confidence.

Some of the articles were just for fun. Some were deadly serious. Some just scratched the surface; others, like The Internet Debacle, took weeks of online research, phone calls, emails, and interviews. By the time that article was written, Perfsong articles like Care & Feeding of Your Acoustic Guitar or Stage Fright 101 were taking up a full week per issue, more time than I could possibly continue to spend. I didn't feel I could leave without answering the hailstorm that had come after the publication of The Internet Debacle - I didn't want to leave Lydia and the magazine in the lurch, or have it look like I'd been fired when she was so supportive! - but after writing the companion piece, Fallout, I took Lydia out to our favorite Vietnamese restaurant and painfully gave her my resignation.

I turned in 37 articles over those seven years, but the figure is deceptive - lots of them were 5,000 + words, some of them 8,000. There were even a few so long that they had to be broken up over three issues. I'm extremely proud of the work I did with Lydia, because those articles have gone on to be used by songwriters, singers, and teachers all over the world. I've posted many of them here for your enjoyment, and I hope you find them helpful!

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