Song Party!!

Jul 06 2008

Does anyone actually enjoy networking?

Everyone, even people with even a minimal knowledge of the entertainment business, seems to understand the necessity of it. In show business, “it’s not what you know– it’s who you know”, or at least that’s what the old adage says. Most songwriters who’ve actually started to try to make a business out of writing music have quickly learned the need for a circle of contacts and connections. But do most writers enjoy the process of “networking”– trying to meet new people, collecting business cards, hanging out at industry events, persuading friends to introduce you to their contacts? Probably not. It’s not exactly why you got into writing songs, right?

Probably because we spent too many of our formative years locked away in solitude– listening to records, practicing an instrument, or penning heart-wrenching poems of love and longing– most songwriters tend to be loners. Networking is not something that comes naturally. Of course, most of us are perfectly happy hanging out with our friends. That’s something else entirely. Unfortunately, most of us don’t understand that hanging out with our friends can often be the best form of networking that we do.

When I first moved to New York in the 1980′s to become a songwriter and producer, I had the good fortune to come into contact with a small group of other songwriters who were also in the process of launching their careers– the group included Alexandra Forbes (who wrote “Don’t Rush Me” for Taylor Dane),
Shelly Peiken (“Bitch for Meredith Brooks, and “What A Girl Wants” for Christina Aguilera), Jeff Franzel (who has written for everyone from NSYNC to Placido Domingo) and Barbara Jordan (former Berklee faculty and founder of Heavy Hitters Publishing). While none of us were in exactly the same musical style, we were all primarily oriented toward writing the sort of mainstream pop material in vogue at that time.

We all initially got to know each other through what we called “song parties”. We would meet at each other’s apartments and trade leads about who was looking for material, listen to and critique each other’s songs, and of course, trade industry gossip and horror stories. These get-togethers inevitably led to collaborations and friendships, and an ever-expanding network of other writers, musicians, singers, engineers, and record executives.

Before long, a fledgling musical community was thriving. If there were an A&R person that I hadn’t met yet, inevitably an introduction would come through someone else in the group. If someone else needed a recommendation for a demo singer, or some help with an arrangement, I might be able to lend a hand. This doesn’t feel like networking. It’s just what friends do.

Of course, we were all competitors– all chasing after the same cuts, working on the same projects, and cultivating relationships with the same industry contacts. This too is part of being in a community—competition inevitably makes everyone else raise their game.

How well did it work? Interestingly, out of a core group of ten people, at least eight are still working in the industry today. All of those people have had Top Ten hits some have had several. That’s a remarkably high percentage for a group of songwriters chosen at random. And yet, I suspect the averages would be about the same for many of the songwriting groups run by NSAI or others. It’s not that this was such a talented group of people. It’s the fact that when talented people get together, rather than trying to go it alone, it opens up opportunities for all of them. In fact, the song party worked so well that most of us who were part of it remember it as one of the key elements in the development of our careers.

The good news is “song party” is about to get a new twist. Partly at the suggestion of Shelly Peiken, music business veteran Suzan Koc, one of the top publishers in the industry, has launched a new venture, called “Songwriters Rendez-vous”, inspired in part by the “song party” and what it did for that small group of writers in NYC. This time around, the program is based in Los Angeles, and as it’s an actual business (there is a fee to attend), it’s considerably more organized. There are critiques, counseling, industry guests, and more– it’s a 6-week mentoring session, in groups of 12 participants. Check out the website:

The Songwriter’s Rendez-vous

As valuable as the technical knowledge is, don’t miss the real point. This is the way networking is done. By meeting 12 other songwriters, you are suddenly part of a songwriting community. You’ll be challenged, helped, inspired and educated by others who are doing similar things, and facing similar obstacles. If you’re lucky, you’ll find some collaborators. If you’re really lucky, you’ll find some friends.

Last night, I went to a party for a friend who was having one of those milestone birthdays. That friend is a very successful writer/producer, and was another of the original “song party” crew. Not surprisingly, the rest of the room was filled with people that I had known for more than 25 years. Despite all the ups and downs of this crazy business, everyone was happy (as much as songwriters or musicians can be), successful, and still making music in one way or another, more than two decades later. Whether or not you know it now, this is the goal.

When you’re younger, it’s easy to get caught up in trying to leapfrog over your peers, or finding that industry “power-player” that will open all the important doors. As you get older, you realize that the best part of surviving or thriving in the industry is the friendships that endure over what is inevitably a journey filled with highs and lows.

Networking won’t make you very many friends. But things like “song party” will– and they’ll give you a network too. There’s strength in numbers, and there’s company and support as well. Don’t miss opportunities like “Songwriters Rendez-vous”, if you want to find your way into the creative community.