When it comes to holding onto a spirit of optimism in the midst of the music business jungle, no one compares to Peter Bliss. He is perhaps the most aptly named songwriter ever (with the possible exception of Denise Rich).
Peter has been making music, and helping others make music for a lifetime—he signed his first publishing deal straight out of high school, and released his self-titled debut album shortly thereafter. He went on to write songs for Barbara Streisand, Menudo, Paula Abdul, *NSYNC, and many more, as well as composing music for film, TV and advertising. Over the last several years, Peter has expanded his outreach, from inspiring, challenging, and (always) educating his co-writers (I know, ‘cause I’ve been one), to touching the whole New York songwriting community. Most recently, he was the Professional Activities Coordinator for the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Now, he is working on a new and very exciting project:
The New York Songwriters Collective
As I’ve said so many times in this blog, as well as in my classes and books: there is no way for a songwriter to make it solely on his or her own. There is not even a single example of such a phenomenon. Everyone is lifted to success by others more established in the industry.
If we are to bring the music business back to prosperity, it will inevitably be through bolstering and supporting the network of musicians, songwriters and producers that make up our local music communities. That’s what Peter is doing with his new organization, and I’m proud to be a part of it as well.
In light of that, I asked Berklee’s Jorge Oliveres to quiz Peter about his plans for the New York Songwriters Collective:
What is the New York Songwriters Collective going to be?
The New York Songwriters Collective is essentially a place where songwriters can come to work on their craft in a collective workshop environment, as well as attend networking meetings, meet and greets, and weekend workshops. For example, weekend workshops will be six or seven hours long all over the course of one day. Eric Beall has done them for us in the past and will be doing a special workshop again for us in November.
The whole idea is to have a community for the New York and East Coast songwriters. In the workshops I did at the SongHall, I found a significant number of people who were searching for a way to work on their craft and jump into the New York music scene. There really wasn’t a great deal out there. Other organizations provided showcase opportunities in the city but the workshops with the PROs (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC) weren’t a consistent presence. When there’s something missing, you try to create something to fill the void.
Will the New York Songwriter Collective attract seasoned writers or songwriters who are just starting out?
There may be more than one level of workshop. In the city, there are certain organizations open to all, where you can just sign up for either an intensive one-day or ongoing beginner classes. In the case of the Collective, I will probably have people submit music, so that we can put an effective group together. By listening to people’s material before we pick the groups, I can gauge everybody’s ability. By listening to a song or two, I know what the strengths and weaknesses of the person’s particular craft are.
The idea is to put people together who can help each other. Over the course of eight weeks, it’s very interesting to see how people gravitate toward each other just by listening to one another’s music. We want to create an environment where creativity is maxed and where songwriters spend their energy on the songs that really matter. That means focusing in on exactly what people’s strengths and weaknesses are. We have to show them how to maximize their strengths, and compensate for their weaknesses through collaboration with other writers or producers.
The first workshop is going to be for people who have already attended workshops in the past or show a certain merit or skill in their writing up front. Because we will be putting these people together with A&R and publishers, it’s important that these songwriters are professionally ready to have their music presented to the industry.
Is being in touch with A&R people and publishers an opportunity to learn from their expertise or is it also an opportunity to show them music?
If we bring industry professionals in as guests from the A&R, music publishing, and music licensing world; immediately we are breaking down the barrier between the artistic and the business side. As a songwriter, you can hear straight from the horse’s mouth what kind of songs people are looking for.
Everybody talks about how no one accepts unsolicited material. What we all need is an opportunity for songwriters and publishers to meet, so that executives can put a face and a personality to the music that they hear. In workshops where eight or ten writers are in a room with an A&R or a music licensing person, there’s an immediate contact and impression that is made. In some cases, I can act as an agent in between the writer and the industry person, to make sure that material gets heard, without the industry person feeling inundated.
I read that some big names, like Lady Gaga, were involved with the Songwriters Hall of Fame before they were famous.
Well Lady Gaga had been involved with the Songwriters Hall of Fame very early on. I’m not sure if she actually attended workshops. But, back in the day, Stefani Germanotta–that’s her real name–was an 18 year old kid who was looking for open mikes and places to play. The Songwriters Hall of Fame was active in sponsoring open mikes and showcases and she was part of that whole process. There are videos of her performances, and it’s interesting to see her progression. It’s very heartening to see that talent emerge over the years.
It’s also kind of nice to think that a superstar like her was like everyone else; an unknown songwriter just trying to be heard.
Songwriters are a strange breed. Songwriters tend to sit in their rooms by themselves or walk down the street singing to themselves. In the old days they might have put you in an institution for doing that.
Everything that was a hit started in a room with a single person or a bunch of people shooting ideas back and forth and seeing what flies. Every song that Barbara Streisand, Celine Dion, or Beyonce sings starts out with somebody coming up with an idea that just sticks against the wall and I think that’s the beauty of it.
Whether you spend a few dollars in a workshop or hundreds of thousands of dollars at university levels, nobody can guarantee that you’ll be a hit songwriter but everybody has the potential to gain the skills of the craft. We make no promises. Nevertheless, we’re certainly there to help you along the way.
If people want to find out more about the New York Songwriters Collective or are interested in signing up, where should they go?
I think it’s important for them to go to my website www.peterbliss.com so that they understand who I am and what I bring to the table. There will be a website coming very shortly at www.newyorksongwriterscollective.com and if they’re interested they can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The New York Songwriters Collective is very young, but by the last week of August, we hope to have a set of workshops already scheduled and we’re going to start by doing a bunch of free meetings.
Many people are announcing the death of the music industry–I am not at all on board with that sentiment. I’ve never felt more optimistic about the music industry’s future now that everyone is embracing the changes that are coming with streaming and digital sales. There are so many more channels on TV and more outlets where original music is needed.
Songwriters need to avail themselves of these new opportunities. You’re not going to find much old school thinking at the New York Songwriters Collective. It’s all about new school. But the song is still key. Everybody is still looking for something that they can listen to and love. That’s what songwriters do, and they’re always going to do it.
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