Try Try…Try Again

Jul 15 2011

It’s become the ultimate music awards show cliché: a twenty-three year old pop star telling aspiring musicians in the crowd to “never give up on your dreams”, as if Joe Rockstar’s three or four year climb to stardom offered irrefutable proof of the inevitability of hard work leading to success.

Of course, such advice overlooks the simple statistical fact that the career dreams of most musicians and songwriters do not in fact come true. The reality is: many people play dead-end gigs night after night to make ends meet, sure that one day their labors will lead to a record deal or a publishing agreement, or a big breakthrough moment—and it simply doesn’t happen. Most people who get the major record label deal put out one failed album and disappear. Most songwriters with publishing deals don’t write a hit. That’s not negativity. It’s just the numbers, and it always has been. In many cases, people might have been better off to give up their music career and focus their efforts somewhere more suitable for them.

And yet…

And yet, those of us in the industry who come in contact with the success stories know that one of the most common defining factors among the people who find not momentary, but long-term career success in the music business is indeed a grinding, relentless, near-obsessive determination that simply refuses to accept defeat. Successful artists, songwriters, and producers do not give up. Neither do successful managers, A&R people, or label owners. It is the one common trait between a wildly diverse population of creative types and music weasels.

So how does a young musician or songwriter reconcile the need for determination in the face of overwhelming odds with the equally necessary need to face reality? It’s a question that has been in the back of my mind since the day I started in the music industry. I haven’t had a day since without it spinning around my psyche. In all honesty, I hope I never do.

That’s because the two qualities, determination and realism, are only helpful when they’re closely intertwined. Without a balance of both qualities, you can be assured of either rushing headfirst off a cliff, or throwing in the towel without realizing you’re only inches from the goal. It’s true that you should never give up. But doing the same damn thing over and over is not going to work either. You need determination all right. But you need to be realistic about what “determination” actually means:

Determination is an endless capacity for reinvention.

I thought of this yesterday, when I saw a particular new act break into the Top Ten of the Hot 100 for the first time. We’ll leave the name of the band out of it, to allow for more candor in recounting the story.

I first met the lead singer and chief songwriter of this band when he was still a teenager—he played and sang in my office, with unshakable confidence and undisguised ambition. He was clearly talented, but not yet ready to sign a publishing agreement. I didn’t sign him, and no one else in the business did either. Several years later however, he had grown both as a person and as a musician—and he did get that publishing contract, which subsequently led to him forming a band, toughening up his sound, and starting to record some demos.

Fast forward another 12-24 months, and those demos began to attract interest from managers. Soon the young band was being represented by two major industry veterans, who were able to secure a major label record deal for their clients. Now this project was off to the races—only about four years after that initial office performance in my office.

Once the band had finished recording their debut album, the label sponsored another showcase, this time at a major venue in NYC, and I had a chance to see the band a second time. While the depth of talent in both the songwriting and performance were obvious, the show didn’t sell me on the group. I felt they were a little too derivative and not terribly convincing, and definitely not packing a breakthrough first single. When the single came out several months later and quickly disappeared, I felt confident I’d made the right call.

Given the current propensity for record companies to drop an act at the first failed release, I was surprised to see the band get a second chance with a follow-up single. Most of this I attributed to their high-powered management team, who had clearly pulled some favors and issued some threats to give their act one more opportunity to grasp the brass ring. Still, even that power-base wasn’t enough, as the second single did even less than the first, garnering almost no radio action and little label support. Right around that time, I was given another opportunity to get involved with the band on a publishing level—and once again, I passed. When the president of the label and the Sr. VP of A&R, who signed the act, both left the record company, the demise of this particular band, after five or six years of local gigs, recording, showcasing and touring, seemed inevitable.

So imagine my surprise when several weeks ago the group’s new single, a third attempt at breaking through to radio, suddenly leapt onto the Hot 100. I was even more surprised when I heard the record. The band had radically shifted their sound and visual image toward a younger demographic. It worked immediately, and continues to build into one of the major success stories of the year. The band’s success is not only a testament to their talent, but also to their determination, and the determination of the business team around them. They never, ever gave up.

But they did adapt. In fact, their determination did not result in a refusal to change—their determination was expressed through their constant willingness to change. I’ve seen it through personal experience with artists and songwriters ranging from The Script to the Jonas Brothers to Stargate to Billy Mann. The kind of determination that wins in the music industry is the kind that never stops looking for a new angle, a new approach, or a new audience. Playing the same songs in the same city to an ever-dwindling number of the same people year after year is not determination. It’s futility. If you look at the careers of show business icons like Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Madonna, Tom Jones or U2, they are filled with an endless capacity for reinvention, and a conviction that there is always another way to get to the top.

The Jonas Brothers

Every artist or songwriter meets obstacles along their career path. Many of them vow never to give up—and don’t. Unfortunately, most of them fail, because they simply repeat the same mistakes again and again. The ones that succeed are like the best competitors of any kind—they simply refuse to lose, and will try everything until they find what works. Here’s four tips to keep in mind:

1. Keep an eye on the scoreboard
Anytime you’re on the playing field, you better know the score of the game, because you play differently when you’re behind and when you’re ahead. The most deadly danger is to tell yourself that you’re winning when you’re not. It’s easy to convince yourself that you’re making progress–gaining fans, building a network of contacts, refining your sound—when you’re simply standing still. Set measurable goals. Monitor your results. And be honest. If it’s going nowhere, admit it. Just because you’re behind, it doesn’t mean you’ll lose the game. But it does mean that you better be prepared to change something.

2. Change the team
Almost every great band has a member who never quite made it the distance (right, Pete Best?). If one member of the team, whether it’s a musician, a manager, a publisher or a record executive, is holding everyone back, then there has to be a change. Sometimes even the best people get stale, especially after a run of success. Look at how Madonna has switched producers or how songwriters like Billy Steinberg or Max Martin have found new collaborators. It’s never easy to do. But you have to find the chemistry that will make magic.

3. Change the field
Music is fashion, and like all pop culture, it’s constantly changing. Production sounds come and go, whole genres of music transform themselves, audiences grow older or are replaced by a new generation of listeners. Whether it’s Elvis going to Vegas, Darius Rucker going from Hootie to country star, or Rod Stewart transforming from rocker to crooner, you have to be willing to meet your audience where they are. Sometimes that means changing styles, genres, or geographical territories. Go where the grass is greener.

4. Change the strategy
Coaches put their game plan on a chalkboard, not a stone tablet. That’s because it’s inevitably going to change, based on how things are shaping up on the field. I recently signed a songwriter who had her first big cut in Nashville this week. She started as a pop singer, moved to Nashville as a country artist, got a few breaks as a songwriter and finally went with that. It doesn’t mean she’s given up her hopes of being an artist. It just means that she took her breaks where they came, and changed the plan as necessary. It’s only about winning.

5. Change the game
Kara DioGuardi went from songwriter to media personality to A&R person. Justin Timberlake went from artist to actor. Will Smith was a rapper once upon a time. Bono went from rock star to international political crusader. Sometimes the best thing to do with your musical talents is to blend them with your other skills, and use them to add a different dimension to a whole new field of work. Whether it’s in the entertainment or media business, education, music therapy, politics or technology, there are other places to bring your talents to the world, outside of the narrow definitions of the music industry.

In the end, the only mistakes I’ve ever seen that are career-ending are cynicism and bitterness. As soon as those elements set in, all is irretrievably lost. For most of us, no one suggested that we should get into the music business. In fact, most of our friends and family probably did all they could to warn us off it. We made the choice, and we continue to pursue the dream only as long as we choose to. There’s no room for bitterness in that.

I had three different chances to sign that band that I mentioned earlier—the one with the current Top Ten hit. I blew it every time. But tomorrow, I’ll pick up the phone and call the manager, who knows exactly how many chances I had to make an offer, and who is well aware of exactly why I’m calling now. I’ll tell him, in all sincerity, how happy I am for the band’s success, and what a testament it is to their determination. Then I’ll ask if the band has closed a publishing deal yet. Because real music business weasels never, ever give up.

Follow me on twitter @EricBeall

I had an opportunity this week to speak with two different groups of developing songwriters and producers, one at the ASCAP Songwriters Workshop, the other at NYU’s Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music at New York University. Besides the obvious benefit of getting out of work early and meeting a bunch of promising young songwriters, producers and aspiring music business weasels, these kinds of forums offer oldsters like me a chance to think for at least a minute or two (I’m not one to over-prepare) about what insight we might be able to offer to those preparing to build a career in the music biz, and what advice we might want to give.

Actually, the first thing I usually think when preparing for such meetings is: What the hell do I have to say and why should anyone listen to it? One of my favorite quotes about show business was from Eddie Murray– when asked what advice he would give to young people, his answer was “Never take anyone’s advice”. Which is actually pretty sound, particularly given the fact that everyone in the entertainment business seems to have an entirely unique path that led them to wherever they are.

But perhaps that’s the point. In pondering the relevance of anything I might have to say to a group of songwriters or students, I realized that the one valuable thing I can offer is a somewhat unique background, having spent fifteen or more years as a professional songwriter and record producer, then a subsequent decade as an A&R person for a variety of music publishing companies, from a mid-size publisher (Zomba Music) to a major publisher (Sony ATV) to a small independent company (Shapiro Bernstein). My sort of dual-track background, with a significant amount of time logged on both the creative and the business ends of the spectrum, does not guarantee that my point of view is relevant or interesting, or even accurate. But it does offer a perspective that is somewhat unique.

It’s not hard to find people ready to share a great deal of knowledge about songwriting who have never had the experience of making a difficult A&R decision: deciding which act should be signed and which should be dropped; which songs should make the album and which should be tossed off; if that new hot writer is really worth that high six-figure advance, and whether you’re prepared to bet your job on it. Say what you will about the foolishness of the music business weasel, but those kinds of decisions definitely have a way of clarifying your views about music and refining your judgment.

At the same time, there is no shortage of music business executives who are more than happy to offer their opinion about what you as a songwriter should be writing, or how a song should have been written, or what styles are in and out, or what seven hit songs (in entirely different genres) should somehow be combined into the perfect new song for their act, all without ever having had the experience themselves of sitting down with a guitar or piano and a blank piece of paper. Seems easy till you try it.

The one valuable thing I can offer is that I’ve lived on both sides of the street. In fact, since I moved from being a songwriter and producer to being an A&R person, much of my time and thought has been spent trying to reconcile the two experiences, and derive some kind of perspective that might be useful to other developing songwriters and producers. There are plenty of things that I see now, as a music industry executive, that I couldn’t see as a music creator, and I wish I could have. When I speak to groups like the one at ASCAP or NYU, all I can offer is a real-life, bottom-line picture of the music business, born of my own experience.

Whether it’s in my books, Making Music Make Money and The Billboard Guide To Writing and Producing Songs That Sell, my online class, “Music Publishing 101″ at Berkleemusic, this blogspace, or the various talks I give at industry events, my philosophy is built on two fundamental ideas, both of which grow directly out of my experience as both a songwriter and music executive:

1. Songwriters don’t need to look for a music publisher. They need to learn to be one.

Only if a songwriter learns to be a good music publisher, and actually creates a business around his or her music, will a larger company then approach the songwriter/publisher and look for an opportunity to partner, invest, and build the business together. It always starts with a songwriter taking control of his or her catalog, and learning to generate income from it. Until that happens, no publisher will be interested in getting involved.

The truth is, songwriting is not a job. Songwriting is just something you do. There is no actual financial transaction at the core of songwriting. Taking a song and generating income from it is the work of a music publisher. Until a songwriter takes on that role of creating a viable business, nothing will happen. No one is looking to sign a publishing deal for a set of songs that are sitting in a desk drawer. Publishers want to partner with people who already have something up and running.

This realization grew out of my experience as a publisher, particularly when working with A-level songwriters like Billy Mann, Steve Diamond, Gary Baker, Stargate and others. What I noticed was that the busiest, most successful writers often had less contact with their publishers than many of the less-effective writers on the roster. This was because the top writers weren’t looking for someone to run their business, or to create every opportunity for them. They had already built a successful company around their music. They wanted someone to help expand their business, generate new opportunities, and relieve some of the administrative burdens.

As a songwriter, you are your own publisher as soon as you complete your first song. The successful writers accept that responsibility, and learn to be effective at making their music make money. That was the underlying theme of my first book, and it is the foundation of “Music Publishing 101″– a class that actually takes you, week by week, through the process of setting up your own publishing company.

2. Songwriters succeed consistently when they learn to tell the difference between a good song, a great song, and a hit song.

You don’t have to be in the songwriting game for long before you learn that everyone is looking for a “hit”. The problem is, no one seems to be clear as to exactly what a “hit” is. Most beginning songwriters think they write one every week. Most experienced, veteran songwriters think they write one per month. Most A&R people, drawing upon all of the top songwriters around the world, hope and pray to find one or two a year. The problem is that the beginning songwriter thinks that a “hit” means “a good song”. The experienced writer interprets it to mean “a great song”. Meanwhile, the A&R person is looking for something entirely different.

When an A&R person is looking for a “hit”, he or she is really talking about a “first single”. That’s the song that will traditionally be released six weeks prior to an album as a way of sparking interest in the artist and the upcoming release. If it’s an established act, the first single will re-introduce the artist into the marketplace and hopefully re-ignite the interest of the audience. If the single is for a new artist, it will be the primary thing responsible for taking a “nobody” and making them “somebody”. That’s a huge order, and it goes beyond something being a “great song”. It is a very specific kind of song, capable of fulfilling a very specific function.

A first single, by definition, has to do more than simply be a “catchy” song. Most of the time, it needs to work at radio, or at least in some kind of media venue. For that reason, it’s almost always uptempo, as most media outlets rely on energy and fast-pacing to keep their audience entertained. It has to fit a specific radio format, or at least target a very clear and specific audience. It must define the artist, giving the audience a sense of his or her individual identity, attitude, and musical style. It needs to be provocative, or funny, or surprising, or trendy or shocking enough that it cuts through all the other records being released at the same time. A first single is not only a great song. It’s a song that can make someone a star.

The Billboard Guide to Writing and Producing Songs That Sell is all about the challenge of creating those breakthrough first singles– it includes interviews with writers like Stargate, Midi Mafia and Darrell Brown, as well as industry execs like David Massey, Daniel Glass, and Hosh Gureli. There are plenty of books about songwriting, covering basics like rhyme schemes, song form, and basic harmony. This is not one of them. This is a book about discovering the difference between a song and a “hit”.

Of course, the great thing about offering up advice to developing writers and publishers is that one never knows how it turns out. Some will take the advice and prosper. Some will ignore it, and prosper nevertheless. Others will take all the advice that they can get, and things simply won’t work out. Unfortunately, career attempts in show business don’t come with a money-back guarantee.

I don’t offer much in the way of predictions, but I am confident of this: songwriters that learn to make something happen with their music by being effective music publishers themselves will be the ones most sought-after by A&R people like myself, and the ones most likely to be successful should they decide to partner with a larger publishing company. And songwriters who can learn to write “first singles” will always find more than enough opportunities, even in a shrinking business environment. A band with one sure-fire hit single will get a record deal long before a band with ten strong songs. A talented artist without a strong first single will see their album delayed, postponed, and maybe even dropped if they can’t come up with the one song that a label feels will work at radio or as the catalyst for a marketing campaign. And a songwriter who writes “hits” will be discovered, sooner or later.

It’s my birthday this weekend– and I’m gradually adjusting to the fact that I’m an industry veteran. Can’t say that I enjoy being the oldest guy in the room, but it does offer some security when offering up opinions.Take the advice if it’s useful– ignore it (like Eddie Murphy says) if it’s not. It may not be the world as you’d like it to be, but after quite a few years as both a songwriter and music weasel, I feel pretty confident in saying that it’s the world as I’ve seen it. Hope it helps…

So I’m back from Los Angeles, where I spent last week at the ASCAP Pop Awards (big shout out to my friends Mikkel and Tor from Stargate, who were named ASCAP’s Songwriters of the Year) and at the ASCAP “I Create Music” EXPO. If you follow this blog, then you know from last week’s posting that the EXPO is the songwriting event of the year, drawing thousands of songwriters, A&R people, producers and artists to three-day convention that is rich in information, songwriting star-power, and networking opportunities. Despite the economic woes, this year’s EXPO seemed bigger and better than ever– a great opportunity to see a lot of friends, sign some copies of my new book “The Billboard Guide To Writing and Producing Songs That Sell”, and pick up some new insights and information from the panel discussions I attended.

I also participated in a panel entitled “Publishing Songs In An International Market”, along with publishers Ben Groff, from Kobalt Music, Ten Ten Music chief Barry Coburn, and star songwriter (and an old buddy of mine) Jeff Franzel. It was a good group of industry people, well-moderated by ASCAP’s Sean Devine, and I think most who were there found it informative and maybe a little eye-opening. So for those of you who couldn’t make it to LA, I thought I’d offer a quick summary of a few key points. It’s not quite the same as being there– but then again, you don’t have to fight the LA traffic to read it. Here are four themes that emerged in our discussion about spreading your business beyond your home territory:

1. To be in the songwriting or publishing business in 2009, you MUST be part of the international industry.

If you want to put it bluntly, there’s just not enough money left in any one territory, even one as big as the United States. If the fish are getting smaller, then you have to catch more of them, and the only way to do that is to cast a big, big net. We live in a global universe, and America’s Billboard Hot 100 reflects that, with a presence from Norwegian writers like Stargate, Swedes like Max Martin, British bands like Coldplay and Snow Patrol, French DJ’s like David Guetta and Latin artists like
Daddy Yankee

or Shakira. In the same way, European, Asian, and Latin charts feature songs by US artists, writers and producers, often in collaboration with writers from those foreign territories. Panelist Jeff Franzel had recently written a song with an Italian composer, to a lyric by none other than Pope John Paul II, which was sung by Placido Domingo and Josh Groban and released in Italy, and now all over the world. How’s that for a cultural mix?

If you’re a classical cross-over writer, you can’t ignore international stars like Bocelli or Charlotte Church. If you’re an urban writer, you bring a unique skill that writers outside of America struggle to replicate– you could do a huge business in Denmark, Stockholm and Tokyo. Country writers, with their finely crafted lyrics, often find a welcome home in England, working with acts like Westlife and Gareth Gates. American metal bands may find more favor in Europe than in the US, just as some American DJ’s are better known in Asia than in the US.

Most of the challenge of music publishing is finding where your catalog fits in the marketplace– and it may not be in the country in which you happen to live. Don’t limit yourself. Be aggressive in exploring all options, around the world.

2. Do Your Homework.

You’ve probably heard this one before from me. But this point came up again and again from every person on the panel. There’s no easy answer to the challenge of international music publishing. You’ll need to analyze and identify the most active international markets for your style of music, and the ones that are big enough, and organized enough to actually generate income. For instance, if your biggest market would be China, you’ve got a problem– no one has yet managed to collect money out of that territory. You need to look at the international charts in Billboard, check out some of the radio playlists or broadcasts from various countries (available online), and start to learn what sounds and styles work in each market.

Once you’ve picked your spots, then you’ll need to research possible partners to help you break that market. If you’ve already done a worldwide publishing deal with a major company, then it’s probably a matter of trying to contact the company’s local office in that particular territory. If you publish your own work, then you’ll need to reach out directly to A&R people in the foreign territory or find a sub-publisher in the region who is interested in representing you. You might want to attend an international conference like MIDEM to make some of those initial contacts, or check out MySpace.

3. You better be mobile.

Having identified a particular international territory where you think your music can work; you can pitch songs yourself, reach out to sub-publishers, or try to establish contacts with the creative community in that country. But if you really want to break in, the best strategy is to get on a plane and go there. There is simply no substitute for a first-hand understanding of a particular market, a familiarity with the production sounds and an empathy with the cultural sensibility of the audience. First, try to lay the groundwork by making a few contacts in the A&R or songwriting community via the telephone or internet. Then, think about scheduling a writing trip to actually spend some time collaborating with local writers and soaking up knowledge of the market.

Without question, the most successful example of conquering a foreign market in which I’ve ever been involved was Stargate’s spread into America, about four years ago. Already well-established hit makers in Europe and the UK, Stargate began their attempt to move into the US market with a trip to NYC, largely organized by Sony ATV Music Publishing. During that first trip, Stargate managed to work their way onto the radar screen of virtually every NY A&R exec– more importantly, they had a chance meeting with Ne-Yo, which resulted in “So Sick”, which would become their first major US hit. What made the trip work was (a) a small, but committed team on the ground in the new territory, combining the efforts of Sony ATV and Stargate’s amazing management team of Tim Blacksmith and Danny Poku, (b) the dedication of Stargate themselves to spending significant time in the territory, staying a month at a time on a regular basis (c) a studio “homebase” that was already a center of activity for songwriters, artists and producers, in this case a studio at the Sony Studios complex (d) a willingness to work with a wide variety of collaborators and to develop and adapt their “sound” to the local market.

Of course, the benefits to Stargate and Sony ATV of crossing Stargate into America are obvious. But there are similar stories every day, albeit on a smaller scale. US writer Jodi Marr bolstered her songwriting catalog by doing Spanish translations in the Latin market, and then hit it big by breaking her artist, Mika, in Europe. UK writer Steve Robson has become a Nashville songwriting star through his work with Rascal Flatts. Italian composer Leo Z has had repeated success with US artist Josh Groban. US urban writer Teron Beal has just launched his own artist career— in Scandinavia!

Somewhere there’s a place for your music– you just have to find it. A willingness to think beyond your own borders is essential to a successful songwriting and publishing career. It’s time to get out and see the world!

So I’m back from Los Angeles, where I spent last week at the ASCAP Pop Awards (big shout out to my friends Mikkel and Tor from Stargate, who were named ASCAP’s Songwriters of the Year) and at the ASCAP “I Create Music” EXPO. If you follow this blog, then you know from last week’s posting that the EXPO is the songwriting event of the year, drawing thousands of songwriters, A&R people, producers and artists to three-day convention that is rich in information, songwriting star-power, and networking opportunities. Despite the economic woes, this year’s EXPO seemed bigger and better than ever– a great opportunity to see a lot of friends, sign some copies of my new book “The Billboard Guide To Writing and Producing Songs That Sell”, and pick up some new insights and information from the panel discussions I attended.

I also participated in a panel entitled “Publishing Songs In An International Market”, along with publishers Ben Groff, from Kobalt Music, Ten Ten Music chief Barry Coburn, and star songwriter (and an old buddy of mine) Jeff Franzel. It was a good group of industry people, well-moderated by ASCAP’s Sean Devine, and I think most who were there found it informative and maybe a little eye-opening. So for those of you who couldn’t make it to LA, I thought I’d offer a quick summary of a few key points. It’s not quite the same as being there– but then again, you don’t have to fight the LA traffic to read it. Here are four themes that emerged in our discussion about spreading your business beyond your home territory:

1. To be in the songwriting or publishing business in 2009, you MUST be part of the international industry.

If you want to put it bluntly, there’s just not enough money left in any one territory, even one as big as the United States. If the fish are getting smaller, then you have to catch more of them, and the only way to do that is to cast a big, big net. We live in a global universe, and America’s Billboard Hot 100 reflects that, with a presence from Norwegian writers like Stargate, Swedes like Max Martin, British bands like Coldplay and Snow Patrol, French DJ’s like David Guetta and Latin artists like
Daddy Yankee

or Shakira. In the same way, European, Asian, and Latin charts feature songs by US artists, writers and producers, often in collaboration with writers from those foreign territories. Panelist Jeff Franzel had recently written a song with an Italian composer, to a lyric by none other than Pope John Paul II, which was sung by Placido Domingo and Josh Groban and released in Italy, and now all over the world. How’s that for a cultural mix?

If you’re a classical cross-over writer, you can’t ignore international stars like Bocelli or Charlotte Church. If you’re an urban writer, you bring a unique skill that writers outside of America struggle to replicate– you could do a huge business in Denmark, Stockholm and Tokyo. Country writers, with their finely crafted lyrics, often find a welcome home in England, working with acts like Westlife and Gareth Gates. American metal bands may find more favor in Europe than in the US, just as some American DJ’s are better known in Asia than in the US.

Most of the challenge of music publishing is finding where your catalog fits in the marketplace– and it may not be in the country in which you happen to live. Don’t limit yourself. Be aggressive in exploring all options, around the world.

2. Do Your Homework.

You’ve probably heard this one before from me. But this point came up again and again from every person on the panel. There’s no easy answer to the challenge of international music publishing. You’ll need to analyze and identify the most active international markets for your style of music, and the ones that are big enough, and organized enough to actually generate income. For instance, if your biggest market would be China, you’ve got a problem– no one has yet managed to collect money out of that territory. You need to look at the international charts in Billboard, check out some of the radio playlists or broadcasts from various countries (available online), and start to learn what sounds and styles work in each market.

Once you’ve picked your spots, then you’ll need to research possible partners to help you break that market. If you’ve already done a worldwide publishing deal with a major company, then it’s probably a matter of trying to contact the company’s local office in that particular territory. If you publish your own work, then you’ll need to reach out directly to A&R people in the foreign territory or find a sub-publisher in the region who is interested in representing you. You might want to attend an international conference like MIDEM to make some of those initial contacts, or check out MySpace.

3. You better be mobile.

Having identified a particular international territory where you think your music can work; you can pitch songs yourself, reach out to sub-publishers, or try to establish contacts with the creative community in that country. But if you really want to break in, the best strategy is to get on a plane and go there. There is simply no substitute for a first-hand understanding of a particular market, a familiarity with the production sounds and an empathy with the cultural sensibility of the audience. First, try to lay the groundwork by making a few contacts in the A&R or songwriting community via the telephone or internet. Then, think about scheduling a writing trip to actually spend some time collaborating with local writers and soaking up knowledge of the market.

Without question, the most successful example of conquering a foreign market in which I’ve ever been involved was Stargate’s spread into America, about four years ago. Already well-established hit makers in Europe and the UK, Stargate began their attempt to move into the US market with a trip to NYC, largely organized by Sony ATV Music Publishing. During that first trip, Stargate managed to work their way onto the radar screen of virtually every NY A&R exec– more importantly, they had a chance meeting with Ne-Yo, which resulted in “So Sick”, which would become their first major US hit. What made the trip work was (a) a small, but committed team on the ground in the new territory, combining the efforts of Sony ATV and Stargate’s amazing management team of Tim Blacksmith and Danny Poku, (b) the dedication of Stargate themselves to spending significant time in the territory, staying a month at a time on a regular basis (c) a studio “homebase” that was already a center of activity for songwriters, artists and producers, in this case a studio at the Sony Studios complex (d) a willingness to work with a wide variety of collaborators and to develop and adapt their “sound” to the local market.

Of course, the benefits to Stargate and Sony ATV of crossing Stargate into America are obvious. But there are similar stories every day, albeit on a smaller scale. US writer Jodi Marr bolstered her songwriting catalog by doing Spanish translations in the Latin market, and then hit it big by breaking her artist, Mika, in Europe. UK writer Steve Robson has become a Nashville songwriting star through his work with Rascal Flatts. Italian composer Leo Z has had repeated success with US artist Josh Groban. US urban writer Teron Beal has just launched his own artist career— in Scandinavia!

Somewhere there’s a place for your music– you just have to find it. A willingness to think beyond your own borders is essential to a successful songwriting and publishing career. It’s time to get out and see the world!

Strength In Numbers

Apr 18 2009

Maybe it’s too many childhood hours spent in solitude, practicing a musical instrument or listening to an iPod. But the truth is, many songwriters and producers are loners, with a dangerous tendency to disappear for days, weeks, or even months in the caverns of the recording studio, venturing out only for the occasional coffee or slice of pizza. It’s not a healthy way to live.

More importantly, it’s not a great career strategy. Of course, there’s no substitute for putting the hours into the music-making process– you have to make hits, and hits don’t happen without some effort. Sometimes there’s no choice but to lock the doors, disconnect the phone and try to get the creative work done. But it’s also worth remembering that very few hit makers emerge from total isolation into the bright light of fame and fortune without a little help from their friends.

Just like every other kind of artist or creative business person, songwriters usually develop out of a community. More often than not, they are helped along by an ever-growing support group of true believers; people who believe in their talent and who can provide some help, guidance, or even just moral support. It might be an older, more established artist (think of Prince nurturing Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis), a record label president or A&R person (like Jay-Z and LA Reid with Stargate or Clive Davis with Andrea Martin), a fellow songwriter (Ryan Tedder and Timbaland for instance), a publisher (Evan Lamberg with John Ondrasik), or a whole local scene of other bands, press and clubs (like the Seattle movement that helped
Nirvana

come to be the well know band they are or the current Williamsburg scene) who can provide the energy and insight to propel a new writer to success. Sometimes it takes a whole village to make a hit.

In case you haven’t noticed, you won’t meet those helpful people holed up in your home studio. Every now and then, it pays off to mix and mingle, maybe learn a few things from other songwriters, get the perspective of others in the industry, pick up some business hints for your publishing company, and find some strength and inspiration by being around people who are facing the same challenges that you are and surmounting them. You can call it networking if you want, but too often that implies a certain kind of self-interested, opportunistic, manipulative type of business card-distributing and glad-handing behavior that rarely fools anyone. I prefer to think of it as entering into the community of songwriters and publishers. It simply means coming to the realization that you are not in this alone, that you can benefit from the wisdom of your peers, and that you can help others by sharing with them your own experience.

In a business that is growing increasingly fragmented and isolated, with Protools systems and MySpace replacing the commercial recording studios and live venues that used to be the meeting places for the songwriting community, one of the most important events of the songwriter/publisher calendar is ASCAP’s “I Create Music” EXPO, which is being held in Los Angeles at the Renaissance Hotel next week, April 23-25.

Sponsored by ASCAP, which as the only performing rights organization governed and controlled by composers and publishers is in many ways the original and most fundamental of songwriting communities, the EXPO attracts thousands of songwriters, A&R executives, music supervisors, publishers, and educators for a comprehensive look at today’s music business. The list of panel discussions covers every possible topic of interest to professional songwriters; the array of superstar writers and artists that will be on hand is overwhelming. On top of that, there are exhibitors, showcases, song critique sessions, and plenty of opportunities to ask questions, gather knowledge, and meet new friends and potential collaborators. If you want to make a small investment in your business, this would be a sure-fire place to find some inspiration and jump-start your songwriting and music publishing business.

If you do make it to the EXPO, I hope you’ll take a minute to say hello to me– I’ll be around most of the day on Friday, April 24. From 10:40-11:10am, in the Hollywood Ballroom Exhibit area, I’ll be talking about my new book, “The Billboard Guide To Writing and Producing Songs that Sell”, and also signing some copies. If you haven’t picked up the book yet, I’d love to have a chance to tell you a little about what I think it can do for your songwriting. Later that day, from 3:15-4:30pm, I’ll be a panelist for “Publishing Songs in an International Market”, with a great group of songwriting and publishing friends. International sub-publishing is something that most songwriters don’t fully understand, and it’s something that is essential in order to take advantage of the worldwide market for popular music.

When I graduated from college and moved to New York, the first weekend I spent in NYC was to attend the New Music Seminar, at that time one of the major music conferences of the year. It was a seminal experience for me, in that it allowed me to learn the basics of the business, while at the same time, making contacts that would become my inner circle in the music biz. I met the person who gave me my first publishing deal; I met future collaborators; I saw the Beastie Boys

in one of their first public performances. I worked at a party for independent record labels at the legendary Studio 54, and felt a part of an industry that I had previously only experienced from the outside. Sadly, the New Music Seminar is no more– but there are still those opportunities to find your way into the creative community. One of the best of those opportunities is ASCAP’s “I Create Music Expo” and it only happens once a year. It’s not too late to make plans to be there!

Alright—-I know I’ve kept you all hanging on a cliff all week. When last we left off, all of the “track writers” among us had just been hit with the newfound knowledge that by sending out their tracks to every lyric and melody writer with whom they’ve traded business cards, they may have unwittingly given away 50% of the final song to a dozen different writers. Lyric and melody writers or “top liners” were shocked to find out that they might not be the only ones writing to that track they received from their MySpace friend. They were also rather dismayed to know that their brilliant lyric idea was no longer their own, but now belonged to the track writer as well. Tension ensued. Nervous glances between once friendly writing partners were exchanged. Lawyers were consulted. What do we do now?

In case you missed it, the most recent blog addressed the issues involved in what is the now familiar method of co-writing between “track” writers, who compose an instrumental “track”, and “top line” writers, who usually write the melody and lyric of the song. This style of collaboration has become the most common approach to songwriting, particularly in the pop, dance and urban worlds– whether it’s Lady Gaga and RedOne, Justin Timberlake and Timbaland, or Ne-Yo and Stargate. The difficulty is that track writers are frequently sending their instrumental tracks out to several different top line writers (often without the knowledge of the top liners), and essentially auditioning the various writers, to see who comes back with the most commercial melody and lyric. At the same time, many melody and lyric writers are laboring under the idea that if for some reason their melody and lyric isn’t the grand prize winner over this particular track, they can simply take back that lyric and put it over a different, and hopefully, more successful track somewhere down the line.

First, let me say, despite my advanced years and traditional mindset, I do “get it”. In the early years of my songwriting career, I was primarily a composer, and “track” writer/producer. In the later years of my songwriting stint, I shifted roles and became primarily a top line writer. So I do actually know the realities at play here.

First, let it be said that there is nothing more difficult than writing a hit melody and lyric. Most track writers can deliver consistently at a B-level, and can probably nail an A-level track at least 20 or 30% of the time. The success rate for even the best lyric writers is far lower– it’s probably one in twenty ideas that really have “hit” potential. Therefore, it’s not surprising that most track writers like to have at least a couple of different writers take alternate approaches to any one track. Who wants to burn a good, commercial track just because one writer came up with a mediocre melody and lyric? Like I said, I get it.

In the same way, why would a top line writer, upon finding out that the song they’ve written is only one of fifty that share the same musical composition (and that their lyric is not the “chosen” one for that track) not take back at least a few of the best melodic and lyric ideas, and put them into a different song that might actually see the light of day? After all, great hooks or lyric concepts don’t come along every day. It all makes perfect sense.

Except that this is not the way that copyrights work. Copyright law, which is the law that defines ownership of songs, stipulates that once a copyright is created, each one of the creator’s shares in the full copyright. This means that once a new song is created, the track writer owns 50% of the lyric, in the same way that the lyric writer owns 50% of the track. No writer owns just the part that he or she wrote. They own a share in the total, complete song. You can’t remove one lyric writer from a song and substitute another, any more than you can take one lyric idea and separate it out from the track that lies underneath it. It’s all one thing.

So what do you do? How can a track writer find the best melody or lyric for his or her track, without giving ten different writers a 50% share of the same song (shades of “The Producers”)? How can top line writers avoid finding all their best work wasted on songs, which don’t even wind up using a note or a word of their writing? This is a very complex question, in an area where the lawyers, so far, have feared to tread. But here are three quick suggestions for protecting yourself as best you can, at least until this legal grey area is finally clarified:

1. Communicate.
Believe it or not, there are a few areas in the music business where honesty really is the best policy. This is one of those. If you are sending out tracks to several different top line writers, simply let them know that. A few may be offended. A few might refuse to write to the track if others are already working on it. But those are exactly the misunderstandings and bruised egos that you’re looking to avoid. Better to spot them sooner, rather than later.
Likewise, if you’ve decided that the lyric and melody you’ve written is being wasted on a track that’s going nowhere, a simple phone call may be enough to gain permission to take that lyric back, and put it over a more viable composition. Don’t let track writers hear for the first time the hook they thought was theirs, at the moment when it comes on the radio. That makes co-writers angry, it makes publishers angry, it makes other artists (who may have thought they were cutting the song) angry. That much anger can’t be good. Simple, clear communication can save a lot of headaches. 2. Clarify
It never hurts to have things in writing. Send a simple email or letter with your track that explains very frankly:
(a) This track is solely created by “Hot Track Writer” and no ownership in this track is being offered to the “Top line Writer” simply as a result of composing a melody or lyric to the track. Likewise, no ownership in the melody and lyric written by “Top line Writer” is claimed by “Hot Track Writer”.
(b) This track may be submitted to multiple writers, in an effort to solicit different melody and lyric ideas. None of these melody and lyric ideas, or the demo recordings that embody these melody and lyric ideas in combination with the track will, in and of themselves, constitute a new composition.
(c) Only upon the mutual agreement of “Hot Track Writer” and “Top line Writer” will the combination of this track and “Top line Writer’s” melody and lyric actually constitute a new composition. Should the existence of such a new composition be agreed upon by both parties, ownership of the new song will be shared equally between the two parties.
(d) Should one or both parties decline to create a new composition from their joint efforts, this track will remain solely owned and controlled by “Hot Track Writer”. Similarly, all melodic and lyric ideas will remain in the ownership of “Top line Writer”. Neither party shall have any claim on the work of the other.
You can attach a brief outline like that to an email, along with an mp3, or in an actual letter. But at least everyone knows what they’re getting into.  3. Keep things separate, but equal.
If you really want to play it safe, you could actually register your “tracks” or your “top line” as a separate composition with ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, HFA or the Copyright Office. At that point, you could take the position that whatever track you decide to put your lyric over is a “derivative” composition of your original lyric– which means you own the lyric in its entirety, and you own 50% of the new song that was derived from the original composition. In the same way, a track writer could claim that the track was a separate composition, which he or she owned 100%– any song created with a lyric over the top of that instrumental track would be deemed a derivative composition.
This method is probably the most thorough approach to the issue, however it generates a great deal of paperwork and is unlikely to be a favorite approach of most publishers (or most licensing organizations). Does ASCAP really want to register a track and a derivative composition for every different song? Does your publisher find that registration process to be a worthwhile investment of time? In the real world, it’s highly costly to treat every song as three different copyrights– the original track, the original lyric, and the combination of the two. Multiply that by every song submitted to ASCAP, BMI, SESAC or HFA and you start to get some idea of the scope of the problem.

Needless to say, our efforts in this blog have been to shine some light on what is a dark secret, and a grey legal area, in the music business. There are no clear-cut standards here– only “customary ways of doing business”. What I can tell you is that silence is not golden (lack of communication leads to problems in this area), “don’t ask, don’t tell” will inevitably result in “don’t own what you thought you owned”, and playing a new game without understanding the old rules that still apply is a very dangerous venture. If you ask someone, or someone asks you, “do you wanna write to my track?”, it’s not just collaboration that’s being discussed. It’s co-ownership of a copyright, and that’s a much more serious thing. Keep an eye out for this one– this subject is going to wind up in the news in a big way, sooner or later. It’s a legal quagmire just waiting for someone to step in it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The Clique Girlz (who?!?) made the front page of the NY Times Arts and Entertainment section, but probably not entirely in the way they or Interscope Records might have wished. This was not a “hottest new thing” story. This was a “hot new marketing concept” story. There’s a big difference.

“Sweet Deal to Promote Tweeny-Bop Girl Group” by Brooks Barnes

As the article explains, the Clique Girlz are a fairly typical teen pop act– typical in their structure (three teen-age girls from Egg Harbor Township, NJ who sing pop R&B), but also typical in professional history (millions of dollars spent, countless videos posted on YouTube, and a handful of failed singles) all adding up to a career “in danger of washing out of the entertainment industry before their first full CD comes to market”.

Yet lo and behold, the situation is not so dire after all. Inexplicably, it seems that Topps, the candy and collectibles company, has chosen the Clique Girlz as commercial spoke girls for Baby Bottle Pop, a nipple-shaped lollipop top. Oh. That can’t fail. Surely, fortune will quickly follow.

I’ve heard this one before. After five years at Zomba Music and Jive Records, the epicenter of teen pop for much of the late Nineties, and two years at Sony Music, I’ve heard it all — artists linked with toy dolls, songs in cereal boxes, CD giveaways at McDonalds, sneaker endorsements, singing action figures, and girl groups sponsored by Ragu, the pasta sauce maker (never did understand that one). The idea is invariably presented as a can’t miss proposition, by a very bright, statistic-spouting marketing whiz kid or ad agency hype-ster. It’s usually quite impressive, and inevitably greeted as a stroke of genius by desperate record label executives. And then, after months of build-up, it fails.

Here’s one truism that you can put on the wall of your studio or publishing company office:

Hit Singles break artists.

Toy dolls, product tie-ins, and nipple-shaped lollipop tops do not. If you have an act with a great first single, then all of these marketing gimmicks will just add fuel to the fire. They’re definitely a positive, but not entirely necessary. On the other hand, if you don’t have a strong first single, all of those marketing ploys are a vain effort to put a bright gloss on something that simply can’t be shined up.

Of course, the problem is finding that standout single. It’s always been easier to find a gullible corporation willing to throw their money away on a meaningless marketing stunt, than to find a genuine hit song that can break a new artist. Part of the problem is that many people in the industry don’t understand what a hit single is. Here are three key factors:

1. Singles Fit The Radio Format.
This means that they’re up-tempo; they fit a specific market and reach a clear demographic; they meet the standards of decency and length. If you can’t get it on the radio, it’s not a single.

2. Singles Define Artists.
Ultimately, singles don’t exist to sell songs. They exist to sell artists. To do that, singles have to give artists a musical identity, an attitude, a cause, or a point of view. If you’ve heard “Satisfaction”, then you understand the Rolling Stones– their musical style and their whole way of looking at the world. That’s a hit.

3. Singles Cut Through The Clutter.
It’s one thing to put thirty different videos of your act on YouTube. It’s a better idea to put up just one video of one song so outrageous, funny, catchy, or controversial that it cuts through the thirty other videos and grabs the attention of an audience. Think Soulja Boy. Think about titles that push people’s buttons, subjects that surprise people, or things that are just irresistibly fun.
The grand challenge for every songwriter, artist and A&R person is to cut through the clutter of the marketplace.

I thought about all this after I finished my first book, “Making Music Make Money”, which was, among other things, a treatise on how songwriters can effectively market their songs. Marketing is great, and I’m all for it. But it’s essential to realize that it can only take you so far. To break through to success as a publisher or songwriter, what you really need is a hit single.

That realization led to my new book,
“The Billboard Guide To Writing and Producing Songs That Sell”

which is released this week and can be found at a bookstore near you. This book is all about how to craft that breakthrough song that will make doors open across the industry. It features interviews with superstar writers and producers like Stargate, Darrell Brown, and Midi Mafia, as well as A&R folks, radio programmers and record company presidents. It’s also got exercises to improve your hit writing, plenty of musical examples, and a peek at the key formulas for commercial success.

My suggestion is: before you start marketing, make sure you’ve got the goods. Check out “The Billboard Guide To Writing and Producing Songs That Sell”. There’s a limit to marketing. There’s no limit to what a hit song can do.

Hits Only, Please

May 24 2008

Having just attended the BMI Pop Awards in Los Angeles, an event so unique and thrilling it’s rivaled only by the ASCAP Pop Awards three weeks before it, and the SESAC Awards, sandwiched in between those two, I couldn’t help but look around the room at the award-winning writers assembled and wonder:

What do they know that the masses of struggling songwriters do not? Why can one writer create four or five BMI-award winning songs, awards that recognize the top-earning songs of the year, while most are hoping just to write one song that someday gets played on the radio?

This is the same question that lies behind my upcoming book, “Hits Only, Please”. I’ve spent the past year interviewing writers, publishers, radio programmers, music marketers and others, trying to understand “What makes a hit song?” and even more importantly, “What makes a hit songwriter?”. What is the key that allows certain songwriters to consistently create “hits”, and to show up on that BMI or ASCAP stage, again and again…

Of course, if I had discovered the magic formula, mine would be a very expensive book. But in interviewing a number of top songwriters, I have found several pretty good hints as to what’s needed to make it to the top of the charts. Here’s just one quick observation to start with:

Hit songwriters WANT to write hits.

Doesn’t everyone? No. In my experience, I’ve found that the majority of songwriters might like to have one of their songs become hits, but most do not actually WANT to write hits. Most songwriters want to write what they want to write, in the way that they want to write it. They are not interested in writing what radio wants or the audience wants. Many of them don’t even think about how their song might fit into a radio format, or which group of people might like their music, or what kind of things appeal to that particular audience. Everything is left entirely to chance, and to the desire for creative expression.

As a songwriter, at some point in your career you must decide what motivates your creativity. Is it a desire for personal expression? Or is it a desire to communicate? They are not the same thing. Expression is an easily attainable goal, and utterly impossible to judge or critique. If you feel you’ve expressed what you want to express, who am I to inform you otherwise? Only you can determine the success of your own personal expression.

However, if your goal is to communicate, you’ve taken on a much larger endeavor. You’ve also attempted something that is considerably more objective. You may feel that you’ve communicated an idea or an emotion quite clearly. But in the end, someone else will be the judge. If I, the listener, don’t understand what you’re saying, or relate to it, then the message was not communicated with success. Like beauty, communication is largely in the eye of the beholder, not the creator.

By and large, hit songs are created by those who have an intense desire to communicate. Hit songwriters have a desire not just to express themselves, but to communicate those ideas to an audience– to reach them, to touch them emotionally, and to entertain them. To that end, they are willing to make their music fit into radio formats and marketing plans. They keep up on trends and fashions to stay one step ahead of their audience. They edit relentlessly, to make sure that only their best work is put forward, and that every second of a song engages the listener with something new. They listen to feedback– from the industry, from their peers, and most importantly from their audience. If something isn’t working, they change it. Hit songwriters want to win.

At the ASCAP Awards, the songwriter of the year, Timbaland, was notably absent, but sent a message to be read on his behalf. He apologized for missing the event, but explained that he was in the studio mixing a new record. Then he threw down the gauntlet. After winning a record-setting 9 ASCAP awards over the past year, he said that he was looking forward to the upcoming year, and winning 10.

The next day, I saw my friends Mikkel and Tor from Stargate, the production team that has been dominating the charts for the past year with hits like “Irreplaceable” and “Please Don’t Stop The Music”. They had been at the awards and had heard Timbaland’s message– and at breakfast the next morning, they were already raring to get back to the studio. “Timbaland made the challenge last night” they laughed. “Now next year, we have to beat him.”

Writing hit songs is never easy. But you won’t win until you decide to get in the game. Congratulations to the all the ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC award-winning songwriters in 2008. I look forward to seeing you there next year!

ASCAP
BMI
SESAC

Writing On the Road

Dec 13 2007

Maybe its the Kerouac thing– but writers love to hit the road. In the last week, I sent one songwriter from the Midwest out for a week of collaborating with artists and writers in Stockholm, another from the Midwest went to Nashville to co-write with some of the top Country and Christian music writers (both genres are centered in Nashville), another writer came from Dublin to work with urban writers in Philadelphia and New York, and still another flew in from London to work with some of New York’s best singer/songwriters.

This is part of what publishers do– helping their writers to find new collaborators around the world, and then getting those writers across the globe with the hopes of making magic and creating a hit. Not a bad deal for the writers, who get to see new places (albeit usually they only see the inside of a recording studio), meet new people, and even write a song or two in the bargain. Not such a fun thing for the publisher. We tear our hair out making the arrangements, deal with last-minute cancellations, hope we picked out the right collaborators, foot the bill, and then cross our fingers for one or two songs that make the whole effort worthwhile.

So what does make it work? What are the keys to creating a successful writing trip? Here’s some tips from a writer turned publisher. Just wish I knew then what I know now.

1. When In Rome…
Learn how writers and publishers work in different places, and adapt to it. In Nashville, everyone treats their calendar like it’s writ in stone, and people schedule 3-4 weeks ahead. In New York, no one knows what they’re doing until a week before. In London, writers like to spend a couple of days together in order to write a song. In Sweden, it takes about three hours. In NY, you work all night. In Nashville, you start at 10am.

We all have our ways we like to work. But the point of a writing trip is to try something new. So don’t cling to the old. Learn the local customs.

2. Don’t book. Overbook.
As a publisher, the one thing I learned quickly that has proven constantly true is that when planning writer trips, you can always expect the worst. Someone will get sick. Someone’s studio will break down. Someone will suddenly be approached to collaborate with a budding superstar, and you will be dropped from that very carefully arranged calendar in an instant.

When I book writing trips, I like to try to schedule two writing sessions a day– one in the day, and one in the evening. That way, if someone cancels, the day is not lost. Of course, if no one cancels, then the writer is doing daily doubles for a week, which can be pretty grueling. But that’s why they call it a job.

3. Never Arrive Empty-Handed.
Come with some ideas in your head. If you primarily write tracks, then bring some new tracks with you. If you’re a lyricist, come armed with some title and concept ideas. If you write melodies, have a few tunes in your head, in case no one knows where to start. Those first few minutes of a writing session, once the hellos and airport stories are done, can be excruciating. You always feel better if you’ve got a few ideas to break the ice. Even if you don’t wind up using any of them, you’ll be more relaxed with a few ideas up your sleeve.

4. Don’t Slight The Nightlife.
I know– after two writing sessions a day, who is going to want to go out at night? But if there’s an opportunity to go hear some music, meet other songwriters, hear the hot local band, or just go support an artist that you’ve been working with, take advantage of the opportunity to make the scene. Part of the value of writing trips is the chance to establish yourself in a new musical community. You need to take any opportunity to meet other musicians and writers while you’re in town.

The best writing trip I ever saw involved Stargate, now one of the hottest production teams in the industry, with hits like “Irreplaceable” for Beyonce and “So Sick” for Ne-Yo. When they arrived in NY, they were a well-established production team in the UK and Scandinavia, but almost unknown in the US. By the time they left a month later, they had written some of the biggest hits of the year. Much of the credit goes to their managers, Tim Blacksmith and Danny Poku, who not only set up the calendar, but also spent their day doing A&R meetings, while the guys worked in the studio. Much of the credit also goes to Stargate, whose strong work ethic had them turning out a song or two each day– for a month.

And of course, alot of credit goes to Luck. Stargate met Ne-Yo by chance at the studio– that impromptu meeting led to “So Sick”. But that’s the point of a writing trip. You put yourself in the right place, at the right time, with the right people. And then you write. And write. And write some more.