Steve Vai: The Simple Advice Frank Zappa Gave Me That Saved Me Millions of Dollars

"When I did it 37 years ago, it cost me $12."

Ultimate Guitar
Steve Vai: The Simple Advice Frank Zappa Gave Me That Saved Me Millions of Dollars

Steve Vai discussed top word of advice he got from Frank Zappa when he was a member of his band between 1980 and 1983, telling Rick Beato (transcribed by UG):

"When I was around 20 years old - I asked [Zappa], 'Can you give me any wisdom about being a musician and all this?'

"I was expecting some esoteric answer how you gotta just play what you want, but Frank was very [direct], he just said, 'Keep your publishing.' I didn't even know what publishing was.

"So he gave me a number of an attorney. I went and bought an hour of that attorney's time, he explained the publishing to me and I have to tell you, it saved me literally millions of dollars through the 37 years I've been a musician.

"Artistic people, musicians, they have different brain muscles than business people. Musicians are fascinated with notes, arranging the notes, finding the right chord and melody, they're very forensic about that. Whereas business people have that same kind of passion, but it's for numbers. And there's nothing wrong with that, you need both.

"But all too many times - not all too many times, every time [chuckles] - the deals that are given to artists are lopsided, a little pickled."

The guitarist continued: "There are a couple of little principles you really have to understand as a songwriter. First and foremost, you have to have a publishing company. Even the idea of the word 'publishing company' can be intimidating, but it's so stupid easy.

"You just go online and type 'how do I start a music publishing company,' fill out some papers - when I did it 37 years ago, it cost me $12, I had to drive downtown to fill out some papers and I had a publishing company, my music was protected.

"Everything I wrote, I owned."

Stevie concluded: "What I noticed over the years, one of the things that stood the test of time is the publishing. The technology of the way we make music, sell it, listen to it, it's changing constantly and it's gonna continue to change. But your intellectual rights will follow the evolution of technology."

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32 comments sorted by best / new / date

    This sons of a bitches are the perfect example of how every musician should be. Masters of music, masters of music business. Hail to Vai and Zappa! I'm gonna see Vai on june. I'm happy. =D
    Here's some more advice... Don't ever wear shorts like that again Steve.   LOL!!!
    Just listened to "Yankee Rose" this morning - what a tune 
    StarryEyes81 · Mar 30, 2017 10:08 PM
    He did well with those first 2 solo albums.  Better than people probably expected - since I am from Buffalo - obviously "....its 2am and traffic's slowwww, it's Ladies Night in Buffalo"  DLR yelled it out at the show here in 2009 
    StarryEyes81 · Apr 02, 2017 11:01 PM
    Wise words. Owning your own music is one of the most valuable things a musician can do. The downside is that 95% of musicians won't have the capital or resources to produce and promote their own stuff, at least not on a large scale. But if you can find a few investors, and maybe a manager who has a stake in the income, you have a shot at making the music YOU want.
    Spot on. It's near impossible for a pub to not take their 50%. Now, you can retain 100% of the writer's share (50% of the song), and assuming you're the only writer on the track, but the publisher likely has too many options to bend over for you and your chance of success without them is cut dramatically, even in the digital age because the pubs are keeping up too. Sometimes if you're a proven writer it's not uncommon to see co-pub deals where you retain the writers share and 50% of the pub share (so 75% of the total track). Final point: As fantastic as Vai is...his market is so niche comparatively speaking to Pop/Rock/R&B/etc. that he probably could create his own publishing and be fine. Most artists/bands will never have this luxury unless they get investors as eatfresh said, or prove to be better than Vai. So good luck with that.   
    the video's titled "stevie's spanking" *insert beavis & butthead laugh*. so there's no way i'm going to play it while i'm at work. can't trust the internet these days. 
    "His name is Stevie Vai and he's a crazy guy  Last November I recall he needed a spanking..."  Based on the lyrics that follow, waiting to listen until you get home is probably a good idea  
    Zappa knows a thing or two about being fucked over by record companies.
    Good advice. Just ask John Fogerty who got so fucked over on publishing he wasn't allowed to perform songs he had written, for years and years. Imagine writing something as brilliant as "Run Through The Jungle" or "Born On The Bayou" and then being told by some hack in a suit that you can't play those songs anymore... 
    Not only did they sue him for playing CCR songs, they sued him for writing his solo songs to sound too similar to CCR's sound.
    His Ex-bandmates are the biggest chumps ever - to this day still out there riding Johns work from 40 years ago.  
    Vai's gayest outfit by far
    No argument here.  He almost outdid Diamond Dave in the Yankee Rose video though.  That's very hard to do when your competition is riding a 10 ft microphone.
    I agree, same with Led Zep and Peter Grant, if you don't want to do it just hand it to right people who doesn't screw you. Damn, look at Backstreet Boys, Aaron Carter, and old Britney Spears.