Victoria Banks talks songwriting and her bid to get streaming services to credit the creators!
Many of you may have seen the petition doing the rounds on Facebook recently titled "Apple Music: Please Add Song Credits To Your Platform." I know some of my wonderful readers have already signed it and to date it has over 83,000 signatures! When it first popped up on my feed I signed straight away and was eager to find out more about it and to see the outcome. On further investigation I discovered that the writer behind the petition was none other than Victoria Banks who has co-written Daddy's Little Girl for The Shires, Saints and Angels for Sara Evans and Come On Over by Jessica Simpson as well as having her own successful artist career. I was eager to catch up with her and find out more about her songwriting career and how the petition came about.
Click the image to sign the petition!
Firstly, you are a prolific songwriter, writing hits for some big names, but you actually studied zoology at university? So how did you first get into writing songs?
I come from a musical family – many of my family members work as classical musicians – and my Dad is a collector of antique phonograph machines and cylinder records. So the only thing newer than the classical music I was exposed to was the old turn-of-the-century folk music Dad played on those cylinders, and Stephen Foster’s music in particular made an impression on me. My other love was science, because the area of Canada where I grew up was quite remote and I spent a lot of time outside observing nature. So when it came time to study something in university, I decided to pursue Zoology, because I thought I was more likely to end up gainfully employed that way. I explored songwriting in my spare time, often writing song lyrics in the margins of my calculus notes at school! I spent my summers working for the Fisheries Unit of the government in my hometown, and was hoping to work there full-time after graduation, but as fate would have it the unit was closed down during the spring of my final year and suddenly there was a scarcity of jobs in my field! In that blank-slate moment, I decided “why not just follow my heart, then?” I decided to move to Nashville, the mecca for the kind of songwriting I loved, and take a shot at trying to become a professional songwriter.
You’ve had your own artist career as well, so is songwriting your favourite aspect of the business or do you enjoy recording and performing just as much?
If I had to spend my time doing only one thing, it would be songwriting. Luckily, though, my career has given me the opportunity to also record, tour and perform. The process of writing songs is like the greatest magic-driven jigsaw-puzzle solving experiment, and being a staff songwriter for a publisher in Nashville allows me to spend my days in an office doing it daily. But part of that job is also taking the songs into the studio and recording them, producing them to make them sound like the records they’re capable of being before they are pitched to other artists. And when the songs that seem the most magical or personal to me don’t find homes with other artists, I’m able to give them a voice by recording and releasing them myself. I made my first CD to sell at little tiny songwriter shows I would play in a little venue in Nashville called the Bluebird Café, but it found its way to the ears of a Canadian record label that offered me the opportunity to sign a record deal with them, release the songs to radio and go on tour. So I kind of fell into that part of it by accident, but it has become something that feeds my soul as much as the songwriting does. After 20 years of writing songs in an empty room, even if hundreds of them are recorded by artists, there are thousands more that are unheard, and it’s good for the soul to be able to share those songs and the stories behind them as a performer too.
Growing up, what did your parents make you listen to and what are you listening to now?
We were an all-classical-music family (except for the cylinder records Dad played which were from the early 1900s), and we studied piano and voice. We only got one TV channel and there wasn’t much radio to speak of where I grew up, so my Mom, Dad, sister and I would sing Bach in 4-part harmony around the dinner table to entertain ourselves. When I need to give my songwriting brain a break I still listen to classical music, but these days I listen to everything from Top 40 to Country, Hip Hop to Folk, just about everything except Jazz which I don’t know much about. All other genres influence the Country music genre, so it’s good to listen to a bunch of different styles of music. Some of my favorites right now are Charlie Puth, David Mead, Shawn Colvin and the work of great songwriters like Matraca Berg and Steve Earle.
Is the songwriting process the same for you each time, do you like to start with the lyrics first for example or is it different with each song and does it depend on who you are collaborating with?
It totally depends on the day. I keep my antennae tuned for song ideas all the time, and I collect them in my phone. Sometimes the idea will be a title, sometimes a couple phrases of lyric, sometimes a melody I hum, or an entire chorus that just comes into my brain with music and lyrics simultaneously. Once I’ve got a piece of something, I usually hold onto it and bring it into my co-writing sessions, since ideas are in high demand when you’re writing daily (often with artists or songwriters you’ve never met before). We’ll toss some ideas out into the room and decide which one to run with, and from there the rest of the song kind of reveals itself, sometimes with chunks of words first, sometimes chunks of melody first, but often all at the same time, and usually in pieces (usually the chorus first, then the first verse, second verse, and bridge). I compare it to uncovering a dinosaur skeleton in the ground, you just dig at the little piece you’ve discovered and see what else it’s attached to. But I also write with track builders who will orchestrate and record an entire song before you get there, and you’re just adding the lyric and melody on top of the track. The whole thing is just about brainstorming and spitting out whatever your subconscious whispers in your ear so you and your collaborators can explore it.
Do you have favourite songwriters who you like to co-write with?
Yes! It takes a lot of exploring to find them, but every so often you work with someone and it’s just EASY…like you can barely keep up with how fast the song reveals itself. That’s what it’s like when I write with Phil Barton and Emily Shackelton, so we’ve written often as a team and we like to go on retreats together where we stay somewhere isolated and spend 2 or 3 days writing, coming home with 7 or 8 songs. Collaboration is about musical compatibility, each bringing something different to the table but fitting together in a way that allows the whole to be greater than the parts, so each writer is made better by the other’s contributions. Some of my other favorite “regulars” have been Tia Sillers, Rachel Proctor, Erik Dylan.
The petition you’ve started which already has over 61,000 signatures now, is incredibly important to songwriters, musicians and producers who work incredibly hard on these records and don’t get credited on platforms like Apple music, can you tell me about when you first realised the problem and how the petition came about because you did approach apple to start with and asked them to display who had written the songs and played on the record didn’t you before you started the petition?
Frankly, the petition came more from my experience as a music consumer than as a creator of it. When I find a song I love, I want to know who the songwriter is. I want to know who played that incredible bass riff, who produced this amazing sounding track, and where everything was recorded, so I can use that information to explore and find more songs I love. And like most consumers, since brick and mortar record stores are so few and far between, I like to explore music via streaming. But when I’m listening to Apple Music, the only way I can find that information is to leave the app, open my web browser and do a Google search. It seems to me that streaming services are really missing an opportunity here. I talked to my cowriter Mark Bright about it, who is one of the Board of Governors of the Recording Academy (previously known as NARAS). He informed me that NARAS is building a database to store standardize album credits, which could be accessed by streaming services. However, the trick is going to be to convince music streaming service providers that their clients WANT this information, because they are under the impression that we don’t. So that’s when I decided to start a petition to show that there IS a public desire for album credits. I aimed it specifically at Apple, partly because that’s the service I use personally, but also because they seem to be interested in leading technological trends and listening to user feedback. And we had to start somewhere…so that’s where I chose to start. Plus I think it’s maddening that even when album credit information or digital booklets are available on a song in iTunes song, there’s no way of accessing that information if you stream that same song streamed on Apple Music.
As songwriters we understand how important this is, but the writers, musicians, engineers and producers still get paid for their work so can you explain to the general public why this is so important that they are also listed and credited and why that should be displayed on these platforms as it is when you buy a physical copy?
I believe credit should be given where it is due. Sure, the songwriter creates the first incarnation of a song, but it also takes the creative interpretations of the musicians and producers, the equipment of the studio and the mixing ears of the engineers to create the final musical experience that the song becomes. Whether they are paid or not, each person that contributes to that final product should be credited. Books come with author names, publisher names, often with acknowledgements listed inside. Why shouldn’t music? But in the end, I honestly don’t think this is an industry issue. I think it’s a public issue, and it affects everyone’s experience as a music consumer. It’s gratifying to see so many people signing the petition and I really hope they’ll continue to help it grow so we can demonstrate the need for a solution.
This is hopefully going to make history and change the music industry and how it treats the creators of the music we love, who else is behind you, are fellow co-writers, artists, publishers and organisations such as NSAI standing with you and helping it gain traction?
This was something that started out very small. I created the petition online and shared it within my community on Facebook, which includes co-writers, fellow NSAI members, musicians and publishers. They shared it…and their friends shared it…and then within a few days, it went from a couple thousand signatures to 70,000. I think that many music industry insiders didn’t really know for sure whether the public cared about this or not. Hopefully the sheer number of music consumers signing it will help to continue its momentum, and with sites like yours helping to spread the word, real change can happen.
Besides signing the petition what can people do to help change the current situation?
If you’re a streaming music listener, reach out to your streaming service provider. Contact them through the Help option, find where you can give customer feedback, and let them know that you want them to provide songwriter, musician, producer, engineer and studio credits within their platform. Tell them how it would make your experience as a consumer better. If they see the desire is there, they’ll see the opportunity in it.
And what’s next for you, what projects have you got in the pipeline and do you have any plans to come over to the UK?
I’m still going to the songwriting office daily and writing with and for other artists for their records, so I’ve got a lot of songs in the pipeline that way that I can’t really talk about until they’re released! But I’m also maintaining an email newsletter that I like to describe as “songwriter oversharing”. I share emails with behind-the-scenes stories, unreleased songs, and sometimes even the evolution of a song from the initial 3am voice recording of the idea to the guitar/vocal worktape to the demo to the final record. (You can subscribe at victoriabanks.net/signup.) And as always, I’m slowly but surely saving up favourite songs towards my next project, which I’m sure will be in the works soon. I think a UK trip will likely come about within the next year – I want to get over there to perform and also to see The Shires play our song “Daddy’s Little Girl”! And do some songwriting too, of course.
So this petition is important for both the creators of the music but also for music consumers, that's everyone basically. You can find it here!