to find out more about song-poems,
visit phil milstein's website,
the american song poem music archives,
where, amongst other things, you'll find
the largest collection of song-poem mp3s
available anywhere.

watch a 1980s made-for-cable-access
song-poem television show called
"america sings"
(via planet krulik)

A Preface to Phil Milstein's Doomed
"Are You Now Or Have You Ever (Been In Love With Me)" (2.5mb)

The song-poem begins with an ad in the back of a tabloid newspaper soliciting spare poems and lyrics. With their promise to set amateurs' poems to music in a professional recording studio, song-poem companies offer every day people the transcendant dream of creating smash hits with national distribution and heavy airplay.

In reality, the whole thing is a total scam. The song-poem companies charge the "poets" anywhere from $7 to $1,200 to have their songs recorded. Meanwhile, the studio musicians, who are often pushed like sweatshop workers to meet 12 song per hour quotas, crank out song after song, sometimes recycling their melodies and plugging in varying lyrics from one song to the next. The results can be spectacularly strange, which is evident in song-poem classics like "beat of the traps" (2.5mb) and "psychic cigarette" (2.2mb). But at other times, the music is just unbearably bad.

Such was the case with Phil Milstein's song, "Are You Now Or Have You Ever (Been In Love With Me)," which he paid $110 to have recorded "country and western style" by Tin Pan Alley Inc., a 40+ year old song-poem company operating out of Sarasota Florida. Although Phil chose Tin Pan Alley because of their satisfaction guarantee, he ultimately wound up threatening to take company president (and sole employee) Sal Covais, a.k.a. Ted Powers, to court over the fact that several key contractual agreements were not met. The main thing was, Phil hated the song, and Tin Pan Alley would not, as promised, redo it to his liking.

This collection of documents follows Phil's experience with Tin Pan Alley over the course of a year, and is an interesting tour of the song poem process. It also provides an unusual view into the seedy inner workings of a song poem label, as rarely seen by anyone beyond the song poets and hucksters who frequent them.

The Acceptance Letter

"Dear Songwriter,
After a careful study and examination of your song material, our Examing Board takes pleasure in announcing that your poem has been selected and found acceptable for a musical setting. We will be honored to compose an approved and beautiful melody to your poem."

Coupons of Contrasting Price Ranges

L: "ONE SONG...Regular fee, $175...Amount You Pay, $110"

R: "ONE SONG...Regular fee, $1,190...Amount You Pay, $690"

Songwriters Club of America Membership and Privileges Documentation

L: Phil's official "Songwriters Club of America" lifetime membership card

R: An insert proclaiming the special membership benefits (song rate...$50 per song, money back guarantee).

Radio Stations Affiliated with Tin Pan Alley

L: The original text I had here, which quoted one of the letters from a Tin Pan Alley's "Radio Affiliates," has been removed at the request of the person whose letter it was. He emailed to say that neither he nor his radio station had any affiliation with Tin Pan Alley, and that he never gave them permission to use his name in their brochure. Nor on my website, which he found by Googling himself.

R: From the record review section...
"The Melloharps; I Love Only You. A falsetto lead guides the Melloharps through a soft, slow romantic ballad. Deck has several vocal gimmicks and sounds that will catch the ear of the teener. Should command a fair amount of attention and sales."


L: (front) "Bless you for doing such a beautiful job with my song. The song on the reverse side is certain to be a hit and I feel very fortunate to have it on the same record."

R: (back) "I am very satisfied with the musical arrangement of my song. Your singer gives the song a real good interpretation. I like my record."

L: (front) "You did a great job. Now I hope the public will grasp the meaning of this song."

R: (back) "I have at my disposal a professional to play and comment on these songs and she said they are beautifully done with the right notes to bring out the beauty of the words. I want to thank all for this."

A Blank Tin Pan Alley Contract

L: A Second Acceptance Letter
"Today, more song hits are made by the 'unknown' writer than ever before. Recording sales total billions of dollars every year. Now a whole new avenue of opportunity awaits the songwriter who cares enough about the future of his song to finally do something about it. For those songwriters who indulge in 'dreaming' nothing will ever happen to their song, and they will continue to dream – perhaps forever..."

R: The Receipt For Phil's $110.00 Payment

The Sheet Music For "Are You Now Or Have You Ever (Been In Love With Me)" which was initially sent in lieu of a recording.

L: Approval Slip With Phil's commentary

R: Ted Powers' Refusal To Redo The Song
Although it was hard to get a recording out of Tin Pan Alley, Phil did eventually get them to send him one.

In an email to me, Phil described his dissatisfaction with the song they sent him this way: "My biggest complaint was that the melody was really flat. I didn't mind that the singing and playing were so detached, because I was treating it as just a demo. But I needed at least a half-decent melody from it, yet the melody they gave me was so boring that the recording was useless to me even as a demo. Furthermore, I'd checked the C&W box on the style checklist, but there was little in the demo that could be thought of as "countryfied." I wouldn't have even minded if it was hammed up a little in that direction, so long as it bore even a slightly convincing semblance of a country tune."

The "short note" at left is Ted Powers' response.

L: Phil's Fake Lawyer Letter
After going through a couple of rounds of Ted Powers' refusals to redo the song, Phil felt like he'd been had and decided to take action. Using the address of a friend for his fake letterhead, Phil wrote a threatening letter from a fictitious lawyer to Sal Covais (a.k.a. Ted Powers). "The reason I chose an Italian name for the attorney," Phil writes, explaining his lawyer strategy, "was to lessen the chance of him thinking of me as the enemy (believe it or not Covais is an Italian name). To further heighten the chance of Sal's identifying with me, and thus lessen his defensiveness, I gave my lawyer the same first name as him."

R: Sal's Surrender
Sal Covais succumbed immediately to the letter from the fake lawyer.

The Refund
After a year of resistance, Sal finally wrote Phil a refund check. Unfortunately, the check was written out to Phil's fictitious lawyer.

sharpeworld © 2002 jennifer sharpe