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
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!