by Heather Hill
“…Through our music we bring order to chaos; we bring solace to suffering; we bring joy to heartbreak; we bring freedom to captivity; we bring hope to despair; we bring soul to the machines and meaning to the lives of millions.” Paul Williams, President ASCAP
A few weeks ago, I went down to LA with my friend Kat Leonard to check out ASCAP Expo (April 18-20). This was both of our first times to this conference. I normally hang out in Canada and partake in Canadian Music Week and Songwriters Association of Canada functions. I went because I just wanted to see what several of my American friends had recommended! The conference was big, a ton of fun, and while the music industry is in a state of flux, the music creators proved to be a passionate, positive and innovative bunch!
Paul Williams, president and director of ASCAP kicked off the conference. He is an amazing hit songwriter and incredibly inspiring. He is passionate about getting musicians (songwriters, recording artists) fair pay for their work. ASCAP is busy doing deals with the big players in order to get settlements from online streamers, congress, etc. “We do the work, pay us for our music. We are not machines…we need to be properly compensated.” He pointed out it all starts with the composer and the songwriter – copyright protection is critical!Katy Perry was a keynote presentation. She is an incredibly hard-working and resourceful woman. Even though she had been dropped twice by her label, she managed to be resigned — the rest is history. It was great to hear her journey from a Christian artist into the secular market. She was 100% committed to her career and to her music. She loves to cowrite and looks hard for artists that inspire her. The panel was full of interesting information and it was entertaining watching her change in persona from a shy, coy girl at the outset to the strong-willed, confident tigress at the end!
Holly Knight. I was fortunate enough to have a one-on-one session with killer hit songwriter Holly Knight (Heart, Pat Benatar, Tina Turner, Meatloaf, etc.). I learned that cowriting with writers is an essential part of your growth. She was a recording artist and then became a prolific songwriter. Being a performing songwriter is critical these days. You need to be able to showcase your songs to other artists you may want to write with. We also talked about rock…Holly mentioned the demise of rock, but that other categories has revealed themselves. I received some great advice for my own musical journey.
Steve Lindsey. In the pop/rock feedback panel, Steve was an incredible source of information for creators. He helped develop Bruno Mars (amongst other incredible things). He told us the importance of knowing at least three hours of cover material. His point was, it is difficult to be a great songwriter without extensively studying great music on a daily basis. He told us that he held Bruno Mars back for five years while they learned an extensive catalog of hit music.
1. Take YouTube Very Seriously. First we heard from several product folks at YouTube. The amount of content on YouTube is enormous and growing exponentially! We need to contentID and tag our music or we won’t get paid. We need a channel and we need to be part of larger Multi Channel Networks. The YouTube 100 may one day replace the Billboard 100. A&R and music seekers are following the success of musicians on YouTube as a primary source for selection.
2. Wait to record until you have fans and great songs. Several artists felt the recording process was too much money – maybe we are wasting our money. Time and time again we heard about waiting to spend until you have written a ton of songs, perform them, build fans and get fans to pay for songs. Novel concept right? It was great to hear this, because we all know that great songs are rarely our first ones.
3. COLLABORATE! Find people to learn from and write with others a lot. You may find an incredible synergy!
4. Focus on Writing and Learning Music – Naturally you hear a lot about working super hard on music and business. Every day you need time to write, practise, and work your business. It is a full time job!
About the Sponsors: the sponsors were also paid panelists promoting their software and services. Their products/services are not necessarily what songwriters and composers want/need to hear about. It was not worth sticking around for these panels. I understand that the expo needs money, but the people paying to be there want unbiased information about what will help them. I like the sessions where music was being reviewed (date with a tape). You really learn a lot from the comments of industry experts.
About the people. The best part of conferences is meeting the people. I met countless artists (thousands of singer/songwriters) and a few industry folks (note that I hardly saw any industry folks). Comparing notes and getting ideas from other musicians is invaluable. You hear the realities of artist development, recording, positioning, etc.
Tools. One great thing ASCAP Expo provides is the ability to:
– pay a low fee to have a one-on-one interview with an expert
– watch videos on all the sessions since you can not possibly go to all of them since they all take place at the same time
– you have the chance to be showcased on the last night. You don’t find out until that day if you are selected.
One suggestion I can offer to ASCAP EXPO is to open the city to the music!! I like that Canada Music Week is full of music. Bars are full of performances giving artists a chance to showcase their music. At ASCAP Expo there was hardly any music going on for a music conference (until the last night).