Q&A with SONA Steering Committee Member Pam Sheyne

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Where did your musical journey start?

I started out my music career as a singer and guitarist in London in a hotel band. I had left New Zealand at the age of 17 and emigrated to the UK as my father passed away and at the time my brother and sister lived in London. I freelanced in London for some years doing session work, back up singing and touring. I was fortunate to work with some amazing artists, among them; Daryl Hall, Cyndi Lauper, Elton John, Celine Dion, Tom Jones and Lulu.  I had several day jobs in between when times were tough but all in all, I was a singer for just over 10 years with a little songwriting on the side.  The Pet Shop Boys tour was the major turning point for me.  It was an incredible experience being on a world tour with them in 1991 but I realised I wanted to settle down and get an artist publishing and record deal.  The record deal didn’t happen as the trend was signing teenagers at the time and I wasn’t a teenager but I got my first publishing deal in 1992 and started writing full time.  In fact, at the same time I was asked if I wanted to go on the road with Pink Floyd but I turned it down (the tour was more money than the publishing deal but it was time to make some sacrifices).   After that first publishing deal, I signed to Hit & Run Music (Phil Collins/Genesis owned, publishing company) then Warner Chappell, which was when “Genie In A Bottle” was written.  I’d had a few hits in the UK up until then but never a worldwide hit so it was a game changer in terms of progress and it opened some pretty big doors.  We were really broke when I made that writing trip to write “Genie” with David Frank and Steve Kipner, but I’m sure glad I did.  It was the first song we’d ever written together so the stars were aligned in our favour that day.

What made you jump from performing to writing?

I wanted to be an artist from the very beginning but realised somewhere down the track after having some success as a songwriter, that this was an even better fit for me and where I really belonged. I’m a bit of an introvert and like my privacy so I’m happiest in the studio creating.   I’d been writing songs since the early 80’s but never considered that I could write for other people so when I started getting cuts I was hooked. Songwriting is my therapy and definitely my happy place. I think I’d be a basket case without it.

What would you say the difference is in industry between a publishing deal back then and now?

Publishers back in the 90’s were willing to sign and develop writers if they saw potential, they were mentors and career shapers. They took chances and invested on a hunch.  Sadly, few publishers have the big bucks to take chances these days or time to develop new writers, it’s more about a guaranteed return on their investment.  Also deals are tougher to fulfil for songwriters, they are stuck in publishing deals for longer periods of time and having to stretch their advance from what they thought would only be three years, to end up being more like 10.  I know many writers that have to get other jobs to pay the bills just to survive, it’s way harder out there.  The real biggie is that there is less money around for publishers and writers since streaming and the digital age blindsided us, none of us saw that train coming. We are all aware that there are huge profits being made today from music being used on so many more platforms but we are not seeing that reflected in our royalty checks.  SONA is lobbying hard for the MMA bill to pass so that laws are put in place and songwriters and artists are able to earn their fair share of those profits too.  (I’m so grateful I was part of that 90’s boom, you could earn a decent living just from album cuts, can’t live off album cuts anymore).

What would be your advice for a modern day songwriter just getting started?

Write with the artist where possible, pitching songs to outside artists is playing the lottery.  Write up! Get in a room with a writer/producer who has more experience and a better strike rate than yourself, find a champion or mentor.  Perfect your craft and learn everything you can about the creative and business side of music, knowledge is power, you have to be savvy to survive.  Get your face out there, nurturing relationships with A&R people/managers/artists, real face time matters so don’t sit in your studio or home expecting the world to come to your door.   Be reliable and pitch up to a session or a gig when you say you’re going to, your reputation is everything and this business is smaller than you think so respect everyone. You are your own best marketing machine so do as much as you can on social media but don’t be annoying! Join SONA, you won’t regret it and you’ll learn a lot!

What are you up to now?

I recently sold one of my song catalogues which gives me the freedom to get involved in the projects I’m passionate about. I’m working with Pen Music Group and have been writing a project to pitch for TV/film with UK writer/producer Robbie L’amond which has allowed me to get back to some singing.  Also working with new management, Pendustry and involved in writing and developing a couple of artists over the next few months with some other producers.  I’m also excited about my new venture, Song Writer Camps (www.songwritercamps.com) with my friend and collaborator Richard Harris.   We are both really passionate about the craft of songwriting, mentoring and passing on our experience to a new generation of writers.  Our first camp focuses towards aspiring artists and songwriters wanting to improve on their writing skills. It’s later in the year October 15th at The Ace Hotel in Palm Springs, people are already signing up from around the world so we are looking forward to it.

Tell us what you’ve got going on w/SONA?

I got back from Washington DC with our steering committee a few weeks ago, as we went to lobby the halls of Congress together.  We met with some Senators, congress men and women about supporting the proposed MMA bill and talked about what it means to us first hand. We also performed some of our songs in their offices which was a lot of fun, it was like SONA on tour.  It was an amazing experience and an honour to do this trip, something I never expected to do, especially coming from New Zealand.

I love what SONA represents and stands for and the group has grown steadily in the three and a bit year’s we’ve been going.  I personally, have learned a great deal, not only in terms of the politics of the business but about community spirit and what a change you can make if you band together.   I’m so glad to be a part of this passionate and selfless community of creators who invest their time to the greater cause and more than proud to be in the trenches with them.  We are doing all we can to support the MMA bill but we always need more members to sign up and get involved so we are that bigger voice.  The MMA passed through the House last week but it’s the Senate next, that we need to lobby hard for.  It’s crucial for songwriters and artists to be more engaged and unified than ever been before if we expect things to get better.

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” - Mahatma Gandi