So why is it that none of the songs on the radio follow the “proven” methods for success in the books about songwriting?

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Mar 22, 2012, 03:15 PM

I recently did an experiment with the radio while on a road trip.  I listened to the first 5 songs on a station ... changed stations and listened to 5 songs ... changed stations and listened to 5 songs.  Out of 25 songs I heard on the radio (from 5 stations), there was not a single song that I heard that would be able to “pass” as what would be considered a “good” or “well written” lyric in the books that I’ve read so far about songwriting.  Every one of the 25 songs had issues that would have gotten some well deserved negative critiques, the writers would have been told to take them back to their collective drawing boards, the story lines were not well worked out, the imagery of the songs was missing key elements, sentense/line/rhyme structure was not conducive to flow or could have been done much better ... etc.

    So this leads me to a hypothisis (that I do intend to explore further) that it is entirely possible that books written about songwriting may just be another way for the writer of the “books about songwriting” to draw an income from the sale of such books ... and in reality may have no bearing on what actually works in the real world (I may have to write a book about it).

    If a proven method for the writing of successfull song types and templates exists, then I have yet to read it.  There are very good tips in all the books that can and will help you to become a better writer, there are very good tips that can help us all to become “less” ignorant to the workings of the music industry, there are very good tips on recording, and mixing, and mastering, and how to’s on any subject that has anything to do about anything music related ... but they were all written so that the author may receive an income from their sale.  It appears (from my simple experiment) that the publication and broadcasting of songs on the radio has nothing to do with how well written the songs are, how well written the lyric was, where the “hook” was placed, weather or not the rhyming scheme was the same in all the verses or weather the vocals were done by the best singer.

    So why did these songs get placed instead of soooo many others that are soooo much better ... it all comes back to marketing ... and not necessarily the marketing of the song.  It’s about the marketing of yourself and your ability.

 
     
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Duane Clancy Joined Dec 02, 2011
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Mar 22, 2012, 07:47 PM

Of those 25 songs, how many would you like to hear again?

How many of those that you WOULD like to hear again would you actually pay money to own, or buy a ticket to hear the artist do them live?

How many of them will fade away, never to be covered by any other artist, ever?


It’s true that the stuff on the radio can be flawed in innumerable ways, and yet, there it is; on the radio. It doesn’t mean it got there by standing out among all the competition and all the other songs fell by the wayside while this one soared to the top. It got there because people with a vested interest in it promoted it instead of other songs. They stand to make a profit if that song gets played instead of all the others in which they will not earn songwriting royalties, publishing royalties, synchronization license sales, artist earnings for concerts and merchandise. They’re pushing the ones they DO have an interest in, the ones that WILL make THEM money. They’re just like the songwriting-book writers. They’re in it to make money, not to ‘create art’ and certainly not art that will stand the test of time and become ‘classic’.

If you’ve got songs that are ‘soooo much better’ and you can get the insiders to hear them, they’ll let you inside, for a piece of the action. They may want to buy the song outright, and send you back outside. They may want 100% of publishing royalties. They may want to change one word and claim songwriting royalties. They may just want their artist to have that song. But they have to have some interest, some personal motive, something besides promoting you or even your good song.

A lot of songs are offered to the world and have all the flaws you mention, story and rhyme and hook, and more, and just don’t have the ‘it’ factor that makes them memorable, desirable to the consumer inside the industry, and so they don’t get promoted to the mass market of consumers outside the industry. There’s not much mystery to it. It’s the way of the world.

If you’ve got good product, and can market it, you can make a large splash in your small pond, and make a nice living, never needing to get ‘inside’ the biz. If your product’s not good, or you can’t promote it, you can knock on doors all day and never sell a thing. As they say, ‘Don’t quit yer day job!’

And you know, when they’ve got cliche’s about it, it’s been that way for a long time.

Keep writing. Keep exploring. You never know when something will pop wide open.

There will always be another song to be written. Someone will write it. Why not you? http://www.garyeandrews.com

 
     
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Gary E. Andrews Joined Apr 12, 2005
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Mar 22, 2012, 11:08 PM

Duane,

I think your basic premise is flawed. You are confusing great song writing with commercial success.  Sometimes they intersect but they don’t have to.  Radio (top 40) music is “artist” driven, not songwriter driven. 

If you also say you listened to 25 songs and not a single one followed the “guidelines” to good songwriting, I would surmise that you probably don’t understand songwriting.  Eric Church is on the radio a lot nowadays and his songs such as “Drink in My Hand”, “Jack Daniels” and “Springsteen” are examples of mighty fine writing.

Since songs are artist driven, you have to learn how to write with artists.  It is a hands-on, personal relationship business.  They don’t need your songs—Nashville is awash with thousands of pretty good tunes that will never get “cut”.

Anytime I hear about folks complaining about how their songs are as good as any on the radio, so why don’t they get a cut, it tells me they have no knowledge about how the music business works.

Kevin

[ Edited: 22 March 2012 11:13 PM by Kevin Emmrich]
 
     
Kevin Emmrich Joined Feb 24, 2007
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Mar 23, 2012, 12:46 AM

Now Kevin ... at no time did I suggest that I have delusions of grandeur and believe that my material is a cut above anything I hear on the radio.  And since I only have about a dozen sound bites of my own material (and none with me singing and playing very well), then I also have never implied that I am a better anything than anyone (but I can cook a mean opossum).

[Since songs are artist driven, you have to learn how to write with artists.  It is a hands-on, personal relationship business.  They don’t need your songs—Nashville is awash with thousands of pretty good tunes that will never get “cut”]

Your point was also my point.  It’s not how good the song is ... it’s not how well written the song is ... it’s not how well a song is sung ... it’s all about how you market yourself ... how you network yourself ... the friends and contacts you make.  I started this thread because I was just making an observation about songs on the radio.  I really haven’t listened to the radio much since the 80’s until the other day, so I really don’t know much about artists or what songs they sing ... but it was a long drive and I was listening to see what was available to hear now-adays. 

@Gary ... Nope ... I’m afraid that out of the 25 songs there weren’t any that I was interested enough in to want to hear again ... and none I would be interested in learning to play for others (unless someone just wanted me to learn a specific song).  I was able to hear specific “things” in some of the songs that I thought were well done in many of them, but there weren’t any that I would consider to be “good” songs (and my bar isn’t really all that high either) ... but maybe if I could see them done live or with a video it would help to bring out what I felt was missing when I listened.

 
     
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Duane Clancy Joined Dec 02, 2011
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Mar 23, 2012, 05:32 AM

Duane, don’t get flustered, I grew up with a lot of the old time singers in Nashville, believe me it was so easy you could just give the a tape or pull out your guitar and star singing, if they liked it they would record it. Now day you have to have and agent or know someone , most of the time they write there own or a band member gives them a song so on and so on. Gary is right on almost everything he said. Promote yourself get on every web site download your music and just keep worken it. Who knows one day you might have that perfect song and someone will hear it. Good Luck
God Bless
Elaine

 
     
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Elaine Brewer Joined Jun 06, 2009
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Mar 23, 2012, 06:44 AM

Thanks Elaine for the well wishes.  No flusterage over here.  I also agree with Gary and took what he said as agreeing with me as well.  I did find the radio experiment to be very interesting (after having made it through “The Craft and Business of Songwriting”) that none of the songs I heard followed the suggestions in the chapters dealing with lyric writing.  On many of the songs, the vocals could not be understood because of the mix or the singing style of the artist.  On many of the songs, there was no story to draw me in.  On most of the songs that I heard, if you took away the music, there wouldn’t be much left at all.  I have seen very many lyrics posted here on this site and other sites that are what I would consider “much” better lyrics than what I heard during the experiment with the radio. 

If I was going to have music playing here at home it would probably be light jazz or light classical ... I play classic rock in one band, latino rock in another band, and Mexican dance music in another band ... I seem to write with a backwoods country flare ... and I like to go to live shows where new material is going to be played (either amateur or a variety of different music).  With all that ... I’m probably not the target audience for most radio stations anyway ... I just found it interesting :-)

 
     
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Duane Clancy Joined Dec 02, 2011
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Mar 23, 2012, 07:45 AM

This is a very interesting thread and I kind of agree with a lot of things all of you have written so far. I’d like to add a few comments myself.

The songwriting books are extremely helpful when you start writing your first songs and you learn different song structures, rhyme schemes and many other things or if you’re a pure lyricist, someone who doesn’t play an instrument or compose music. The books contain a lot of tips and tricks and important rules of songwriting. But, and this is now my personal opinion, rules are there to be broken. Some of the best songs ever written did not follow any songwriting, composing or production rules. One of the best examples is “Bohemian Rhapsody” from Queen. Within the song they changed the tempo and even the genre. The song is way too long for radio airplay. They broke many, many rules and it became one of the biggest hits of the century. If everybody wrote songs according to the songwriting books music would eventually become boring because after the first few lines everyone would be able to anticipate how the song goes on.

In my opinion songs are not just lyrics. Many people, especially here at SW101, overrate the importance of song lyrics. Songs consist of music, lyrics, production work, the artist’s performance any a few other things. If you’ve got great lyrics but awful music and a bad production, my guess is that the chances of your song getting played on the radio are not too good. You’ve got far better chances with bad lyrics but a catchy composition and excellent production work. Why? You tell me. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that we don’t always concentrate on the lyrics of a song when we hear it because we’re doing other things while we’re listening.

Today’s top 40 hits aren’t much better or worse than they were 10 or 20 years ago. I think a few of today’s chart tracks are beautiful songs that will become evergreens. And in my opinion a lot of songs played on the radio are pure junk. I’m too old to understand why my kids love some of today’s hits that I think are awful. And they don’t like some of the songs from the past that I adore. Therefore I find it very hard to rate the quality of a song. Either the listener likes it or they don’t. When it comes to lyrics…there are really no rules for writers who know what they are doing.

All the best
Robert

 
     
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Robert Baitinger Joined Jun 01, 2006
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Mar 23, 2012, 09:52 AM

Hi guys and a girl,I enjoy this thread and you all are absolutely right.I remember the times when you probably were a spark in your father’s eyes,when I was a young vocalist,then still an amateur,singing and playing with a band twice a week.I sang popular songs and among them I started to place some of my own songs.I had the luxury to test these songs of mine on my small number of followers who ,fortunately,with friendly blandness told me about the shortcoming of the particular song.As the followers crowd grew I become more educated by them.
I realized ,that a repeated verse is something for people to remember and if it has a good melody the better.I also learned,that a songs with a strong serious message has a hard time to make it as an entertainment.For that you have to have a different kind of audience.But all in all I still am looking ,same as you, to find the key to “How to make it in song business”. If I could have stayed in the old country and bent to the communist regime and sing “their songs”,I probably would have been very successful ,but also very dead.Now I am still alive and looking forward to write a gooood song and enjoying every minute of it.Just look what success does or did to Whitney Huston and so many others.In this case I always remember the verse of Neil Sadaka’s song
“where are the hungry years once upon the time, when we were in love and never had a dime.”
Good luck to you all.Otto

 
     
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Otto Kristen Joined Jul 26, 2006
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Mar 23, 2012, 07:05 PM

Hi Duane, hello guys and girl (singular),

what a wonderful thread. And what a marvellously provocative title! I love it.

I only scanned your contributions but will read them all more thoroughly over the weekend. Here are my first thoughts:
* I observed the same yet not only with regard to chart hits that I never analysed seriously but to titles that I love myself (from blues rock through hard rock), take Foo Fighters or Nickelback, for example;
* using the very same structure over and over becomes boring; my friend Holger (MotorPlanet) creates his music intuitively - you’d find hardly one song in 36 we’ve done together so far that follows ‘the rule’ (and I love them all).

Beside the chorus I found quite a few more repeated structures like lifts or pre-choruses, but also whole verses - that Otto mentions - in the songs that are commercially successful or that I love myself.

And of course the music - or the ‘beat’ - plays a crucial role, as does the arrangement. There are many more great songs with great music and lousy lyrics than the other way round.

It’s dinner time, a bottle of wine is waiting, I’m sure I’ll be back. I love this thread (you have to stop once you begin repeating yourself).

See you,
Bernd

[ Edited: 24 March 2012 03:38 PM by Bernd Harmsen]
 
     
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Bernd Harmsen Joined May 31, 2009
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Mar 23, 2012, 11:13 PM

No one knows what makes a hit and exactly why it’s on the radio. Listeners don’t have to listen to all the lyrics. They listen to the hook, the melody, and the vocalist.

If they enjoy it, they’ll listen to it and buy it. It’s as simple as that.  You can have all the components of a potentially hit song, but it’s the listeners that select them on who knows what.

 
     
Sylvia Semel Joined Mar 07, 2009
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Mar 24, 2012, 03:31 AM

Regarding the importance of a lyric; I read somewhere that most people can’t ‘carry a tune’. And few people, other than other musicians, can truly appreciate the performance on an instrument. They’re saying, “That’s great!” and maybe we are too, but if we could truly explore their opinion, without being annoying, or annoyed, we’d probably find out what WE think is great is not the same thing they think is great. Often, we’d probably find they weren’t really ‘committed’ to their opinion at all. It’s just a song to them, just a beat to bop to.

But everybody knows words, and can follow that element as the delivery-voice moves up and down in pitch, noting the prosody of how the words hit the beat, or syncopate among the beats, clipping notes short, or sustaining them. They ‘get’ the emotion, as the singer ‘explains’, ‘complains’, ‘cries’, ‘shouts’, appropriate to the ‘singer-character’s’ experience as he tells his story.

We can even relate, without words, to ‘emotion’ we perceive in an instrument, or arrangement, the mournful wail of a saxophone, or melancholy of an Irish dirge, or belligerence of guitar shredding and drumming.

The words, for me, have to have a coherent theme, and not go off it. I heard some songs today on Public Radio out of Northern Kentucky University and a lyric would be going along in a coherent story, and then suddenly there would be a line that seemed only to rhyme. It didn’t serve a function in the storyline. It didn’t advance the story, or turn the story, or explain anything about the story as it had unfolded so far.

That’s where they lost me. The song went on to its end but the story simply sputtered like a bad firework. It didn’t go on to a satisfying end, in my opinion.

I’ve learned not to trust other people’s opinion that a new song or new band is ‘good’; or ‘bad’ for that matter. What they see and hear and value is different from what I see, hear, and value. They may flock to the concerts and come back thrilled at the experience, while I am not ‘hooked’ enough to even want to hear the CD a second time, let alone travel to the concert. So there is that infathomable factor of ‘taste’. It’s not that they have it, and I don’t, or vice versa. It’s just that we’ve had different musical experiences in our respective lives, and what we want to see, want to hear, and what we value is different.

The more discriminating a songwriter is, regarding all the elements they combine to make their song, the lyric, the arrangement (instrumental accompaniment), the beat, the tempo, the pitch, the structure, the more likely they are to reach a broad audience. Just about any piece of music can find an audience if it can get heard by enough people. But some songs find that broad appeal. I just saw on a Tunecore post from the local NSAI chapter that The Beatles’ “Yesterday” has been covered 25,000 times. I don’t know if that was just a number pulled out of the air, or an actual count. I know it has been covered extensively. I remember reading in 1972 that Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” (I think) had been covered 57 times.

That’s a testament to having done enough things right to have found approval in a broad range of people, and other artists enjoying the covering of it, and thinking their rendition can also find an audience. And, they’re probably right.

That public radio station I mentioned is in its pledge drive and is giving away a 3-CD set of “The Chimes of Freedom”, with some 78 artists covering some 73 Dylan tunes. They’re pretty interesting renditions, some following his original treatment, some going far afield to do it a new way. Dylan’s lyrical concepts, rhythm and rhyme, and arrangements do a lot of things right.

There will always be another song to be written. Someone will write it. Why not you? http://www.garyeandrews.com

 
     
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Gary E. Andrews Joined Apr 12, 2005
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Mar 24, 2012, 04:08 PM

As to the role of lyrics:

although I consider myself a lyrics writer rather than a songwriter I’m afraid that I have to admit that the music - the melody and the arrangement - play the predominant part in a song, hence in its success. I only need to observe my own musical taste: if it was for the lyrics I would not be able to love AC/DC, for example. Well written lyrics may add to my pleasure, but only after I’ve bought the song(s) (I still buy CDs).

Nonetheless a good hook (song title and prominent line in a song) can help a lot. I’m thinking of Adele’s “rolling in the deep”. What title! And I like the rhyming phrase “you played it (my heart) to the beat”. There is no official meaning or translation of “rolling in the deep”, but you can ‘feel’ its meaning (“we could have it all - rolling in the deep - you had my heart inside your hands ...”). I actually think that the lyrics, namely the hook, played an active role in making this song a mega hit.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t lie in my hands as a text-only guy to create a sucess like that. I need a great musician with a name and a great song first, who then would have to adopt my lyrics. That’s pretty unlikely to happen. But I’m still working on it.

Adele’s lyric have an interesting structure, by the way. Also non-standard ;-)

 
     
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Bernd Harmsen Joined May 31, 2009
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Mar 24, 2012, 09:11 PM

Thanks for your interesting and correct comments. I agree

About Adele’s song: ROLLING IN THE DEEP. I never understood what that meant and for a long time I thought the title was: WE COULD HAVE HAD IT ALL, which I think is the hook.

However, her voice is so powerful and beautiful I feel that carries the song. Of course, every other component of the song is important.

 
     
Sylvia Semel Joined Mar 07, 2009
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Mar 24, 2012, 09:34 PM

“to draw an income from the sale of such books” <—there is the answer! oh and—> (Money)...
There are no proven method’s and if there are, Why put it in a book and sell it??—->(Money)


Like Jessie J—> “Its not about the money, money money” Oh reeeaaaallllly… then why put the song out FOR SALE…—-> (Money!!!!!!!!!!!)

:-l rant over… kind of….

JD

 
     
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JD101 Joined Jul 03, 2011
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Feb 07, 2013, 02:15 AM

Hi,

I guess no one probably remembers this thread, since it was a year ago. I had a couple of hard drive crashes which wiped out some of my old web sites, passwords, etc. So I am just getting back here. Forgive me if no one is interested but I thought I might address it.

This is one of those questions that come up all the time, in that “How did that crap get on the radio, my songs are as good as that… how does this all work?” All these things have validity. Please bear with me.
 
To address the topic “Why do these things break the rules of songwriting books?” The answer is that you are not going to find hit songs in books, workshops, seminars, private lessones, etc. And in full disclosure, I have written a book, “Freshman Year in Nashville” which covers some do’s and don’t's of making trips, moving or just building relationships in the town and music business. And I do teach songwriting and music business workshops and do seminars. I did know John Brahaney, the writer of “The Craft and Business of Writing” (He recently passed away) and know Jason Blume, “6 Steps to Songwriting Success. I know most of the writers and teachers around.

Writing books is something we all do if we feel there is a demand for it. It starts with an idea and some people work on them for years. Some are published,most are not. Books are written from the perspective of the writer’s experience, and tips they have gleaned from experience they pass on. They give examples and are there to devise a framework of how things work. But there is a time to get out of the books, the classroom and get into the real world. At that time you find what you are whitnessing on radio. That most songs either bend the framework to work for themselves, or adapt a style to their own and build from there.

The question of “How do those get on the radio” is actually the billion dollar question. Everyone would love to know that, especially record labels, publishers and artists, because if they could formulate it down to perfection, they would only release the things that work, and not what really happens, that out of every 10-12 songs or acts, released only one or two will actually be successful. The successes pay for all the failures. Most of the time there is no rhyme or reason to it.

It can be a number of things. Last year Taylor Swift had one of the biggest records of the year. “RED” was a huge seller, gathering airplay, and it was everywhere. Taylor was partnered with Target, so her commercials were everywhere you looked. She was on all the awards, talk show circuits. She was on concert tour. “RED” was in every magazine, on billboards, and her songs were getting consistant airplay and her fans lapped it up. She peppered this with continuous information on her love life, dating Kennedy’s,etc. She was everywhere.

At the same time, there are many acts released on labels, majors, independents, etc; that get the same promotional money, (about $2.5 million to launch a modern artist) and pressed those artists to be played. Everyone doesn’t get played, doesn’t relate to the audience, and simply fails. Nobody can actually tell.

You mention about the songs “would get shot down in critiques, etc” and I can assure you, they probably were. Every act you see out there, every song, every singer, every writer, had things shot down over and over. One of the biggest groups currently is LITTLE BIG TOWN. They had a huge hit last year with “PONTOON”, their ode to summer pontoon boats. Was the perfect summer song and crossed into several charts.
But Little Big Town is on their THIRD record deal. They were dropped by two other companies because they didn;t sell. What are they doing now they weren’t doing then? Probably nothing. Just worked this time.

The same happens with a lot of things.  You find hit songs like “House that Built Me” for Miranda Lambert” that was 13 years old by the time it was cut. It had been turned down all over the place.

Likewise, if you are around music a lot, you will hear a ton of artists, songs, writers that are amazing, yet still don’t get out there. Or if they get out there, they just don’t resonate with the public. Yet you can release something like “Ghanam Style” by PSY or FRIDAY"S by Rebecca Black, which are pieces of crap, and they get cajillion of hits on You Tube, become electronic greeting cards, and are all the rage for their 15 minutes of fame. Go figure.

There are something like 12 billion songs a year released worldwide. Less than 500 sell more than 10,000 copies. So getting anything that is being played, particularly on terrestrial radio, is on the charts, and getting attention, is resonating with somebody. You might not like it, but someone sure is. Radio doesn’t waste time on things that don’t bring in advertising revenue. And major companies don’t remain major companies by promoting failure. They have stockholders.

So, to answer your question, you will probably always find things that “break (or bend) the rules. Your job is to hopefully find enough of the rules to fit what you want to do, then be able to adapt them to work for you.

Good luck.
MAB

 
     
Marc-Alan Barnette Joined Jul 29, 2010
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Feb 11, 2013, 03:43 AM

Hi ,guys and girls.Sorry I did not read all the posts,only the first few and I fully agree with my dear friend Gary. But there is one thing to beat the system.Let’s get together and build a recording studio and radio station and produce all our good songs and play them on the air.(I supply the construction drawings and donate my experiences I gained over the years in many recording studios in Europe and New York.)
What do you thing it wold take, one million,two or four? Peanuts.Just dreaming,OK?
One problem is left, where to build this huge studio,containing a sort of a hotel accommodations for all my friends and members of 101SW.
When I win a lottery,you will have it.

[ Edited: 11 February 2013 03:49 AM by Otto Kristen]
 
     
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Otto Kristen Joined Jul 26, 2006
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