Monthly Archives: May 2017


Sheila Nicholls is a self-professed “post-atheist,” with an inner spiritual and socio-political compass that directs her music and her life. The former Brit, who now resides in Los Angeles, has put her time in with the major label system. She released three albums during the late ‘90s and early 2000s, had a deal with Hollywood Records, appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, toured with k.d. lang and had a big hit, “Fallen for You,” which topped college charts and was featured in the film High Fidelity. After a few years away from the business Nicholls is returning with her fourth album All of Nature, distributed by Dash/Go.

Music Connection: You recently returned to live performance, with a successful show at the Hotel Café in Hollywood. How’d it go?
Sheila Nicholls: We had a really good time. I feel really confident. I did take time off so I could get some perspective and then throw myself back in it. Because it’s really obnoxious to think you can sing songs and get a lot of people to listen and give a shit.

MC: Interesting perspective considering all the performance experience that you have.
Nicholls: Well, I came from a place where if you wanted to become a songwriter you might as well have said you wanted to be a lion tamer. It was considered to be arrogant. How dare you aspire?! We didn’t grow up with the American Dream. It was a lot more provincial where I came from. But I think this body of work is some of the best stuff I’ve ever done and I’m feeling really good right now.

MC: What was it that took you away from music? And what’s inspired you to return?
Nicholls: I was in a very complicated marriage that was a bit distracting. I had a child. There was a lot of contemplation. My songs are a reflection of my life, like a lot of songwriters, I guess. It’s important to me that my writing is not forced. Living in L.A., many people write so formulaic because they wanna make money from it. For me, music delivers itself from some ephemeral place and you are the vessel that’s sort of there to receive it and take it from the invisible and make it visible. For me it’s important to not force that.

MC: Your latest album, All of Nature, is very musically and lyrically diverse.
Nicholls: Thank you. … I took a lot of time on this. And I’ve been really lucky to be  surrounded by amazingly brilliant people. And you have a lot more freedom on the final piece if you know how to write, engineer and produce. And I try to stay in many of those roles as much as possible. In the end I have something I can love and deeply respect.

MC: Was this your first self-production?
Nicholls: Actually, my first record was self-produced before Hollywood Records picked it up, and we put some overdubs on it. I was very much schooled by the patriarchy of my own childhood. And then watching Ani DeFranco do what she did, I’ve really been determined to wear as many hats as possible. You end up with an experience where you’ve created something as pure as possible. That’s not to say you don’t want to collaborate with people. You can’t be closed off, and it’s good to get other people’s opinions. But to make final de-cisions is important to me because I grew up in an environment where women were not even allowed an opinion about certain things. So I push myself to make those choices.

MC: What can you tell us about transitioning from a major label or distributor like Hollywood Records to becoming an indie artist?
Nicholls: I think they always knew I was an indie artist from the beginning. The first record did really well on the Top 10 college charts. And I think that was something they really liked about me. But, when you get into the corporate element, the bottom line is money. That can, over time, play you a little bit. And you have to keep your wherewithal for sure.

The song important enough to add his voice to it

“G.H.E.T.T.O” (Greatness Happens Even Though There’s Oppression) weaves elements of Siedah Garrett’s personal history into an empowering new song. Joining her is Common. “I was giddy with enthusiasm and joy that he found the song important enough to add his voice to it,” she says.
With an illustrious career that includes two Academy Award nominations (“Real in Rio,” from Rio and “Love You I Do,” from Dreamgirls, which was awarded a Grammy in 2008 for Best Song Written for Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media), Garrett is an accomplished recording artist and vocalist who has recorded and performed with an illustrious roster including Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson and Madonna. This year marks the 30th anniversary of a monumental event in this history––the release of “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson, a No. 1 song that she co-wrote with Glen Ballard for Jackson’s massively successful collection Bad.

She never set out to write, Garrett explains. “I wanted to be an artist period. I wanted to have a record deal. That went by the wayside when I got so much in debt, having been signed to a couple of different labels, changing A&R guys and record companies, and them going out of business. It was not a smooth ride as an artist for me, so I had to lean on other talents. And the writing thing ended up in my lap.”

Garrett first came to the attention of the legendary Quincy Jones as a vocalist when she auditioned for a group formulated by the producer called Deco. She remembers where, as an aspiring singer, she read about this opportunity. “In Music Connection magazine. Absolutely. That was my Bible.”
When her group signed with Jones, she had never written songs. “I didn’t want a songwriter deal. Quincy, in effect, said either you all get a contract or nobody gets a contract. So I ended up learning the craft of songwriting and that saved me.”

She learned from singing demos. “I guess the songwriters thought that if I sang it Quincy would listen. And it taught me different ways to write a song. Did it start with a chorus or did it start with a verse? Did it have an intro? Did it have a bridge? Does it have a double chorus at the end of the first verse? There was so much to learn about songwriting and arrangements.”

Garrett wrote “Carry On” to benefit The Race to Erase MS. At a Los Angeles gala where she performed the song, she revealed that six years ago she too was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. “I have a very mild version of a very deadly disease,” she qualifies. “I’ve blessed that this type of MS allows me to function normally 90 percent of the time. I came out because I could be an example to someone who is really dealing with severe issues. When I told the audience there was an audible gasp. I wanted them to think about me the way they did 30 seconds ago, not as a sick person on stage. I wanted to show that MS doesn’t look like Richard Pryor or Teri Garr, it also looks like me.”

Among Garrett’s new activities was a performance of “It’s Time to Listen” for autism awareness at a WNBA game at New York’s Madison Square Garden. She is currently writing a musical based on “Silent Night” with collaborators including Oscar-nominated composer John Debney, and is a co-writer and featured vocalist on “Aura” with Earth, Wind and Fire’s Ralph Johnson.

Anything until you have a lawyer check it out

It’s a show business warning that is as valid today as it ever was. By reading the following article, excerpted from his new book The 11 Contracts That Every Artist, Songwriter and Producer Should Know, entertainment attorney Steve Gordon will school you on how to proceed, what to look out for and what questions to ask the next time a sync deal comes your way.

Signing the Best Sync Deal Possible
This article focuses on the use of music in audiovisual works such as movies, television, TV commercials and video games. I will provide examples of the amount of money you can expect to make, explain the role of Performing Rights Organizations in collecting additional income on behalf of songwriters, discuss the key provisions in standard licenses, and describe the role of publishers, sync reps and other licensing agents.
This article also provides comprehensive comments on the following three licenses: (1) MTV’s “Music Submission Form,” (2) a license for use of music in a TV commercial, and (3) a license for music in a television movie. If you get a similar deal, you will know what to look out for, how to make the deal fairer, and how to decide if it’s still worth it if the company that wants to use your music won’t negotiate.

Two Types of Copyrights: Sound Recordings and Musical Works
“Sync” licenses are agreements for the use of music in audiovisual projects. In its strictest sense, a sync license refers to the use of a musical composition in an audiovisual work. The term “master use” license is sometimes used to refer to the use of a sound recording (sometimes referred to as a “master”) in an audiovisual work. While sync licenses can only make money for songwriters, master use licenses can make money for both songwriters and recording artists. It is possible for a license to include both a grant of rights in a song and a master if the same person wrote the song and produced the master.

Copyright law protects “musical works,” such as songs and accompanying words as well as orchestral works, librettos and other musical compositions. Copyright also protects “sound recordings”; that is, recordings of musical compositions. Indie artists/songwriters who record their own songs generally own the copyrights of both their songs and masters. But once that artist/songwriter enters into a music publishing agreement, she generally transfers the copyright in her songs to the publisher, and the publisher pays her a royalty from the commercial exploitation of the songs, including “syncs.” If the same artist/songwriter enters into a standard recording contract, any record in which she performs during the term of the agreement is usually a “work for hire” for the record company. In that case (as explained in further detail below) the record company owns the copyright for the recordings, and pays royalties to the artist for both record sales and master use licenses.