Highlights from the ASCAP EXPO 2013

S.A.C. members Heather Hill and Kat Leonard

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.

Key Takeaways!

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).

Touring with Kids: Really?

Well, prior to this summer I wasn’t sure it was possible – touring my album with small children, that is. I am still not sure, but I am having the time of my life. Because I am asked every day how I have been making out with my tour, I thought I would tell some tales.

Just some background… I launched my latest album in May. I have booked my own tour and worked on getting press myself, although I had some help from a publicist for a few months leading up to the launch. I have been playing solo at most gigs and if the night is a paid event, I bring a guitarist.

I started with a radius tour which means you radiate out from your hometown. I began in Toronto where I live and then started to travel a few hours in each direction. Of course, Ottawa and Sault Ste Marie were a bit farther away. Still to come in the upcoming weeks are shows that are farther away where I am receiving radio play or I have friends/fans: Vancouver, Victoria, Montreal and New York…

The radius tour is easier with children as you can hire a babysitter for the evening or ask a friend, family or partner to mind the children. The Ottawa, Sault and upcoming west coast tour is different. The kids were excited to go to Ottawa and have a look around. In the Sault, we managed to stay a while so the kids could enjoy the area – we had some close friends up there as well. In the west, we are renting a VW camper van and starting in Vancouver and ending in Victoria. I have booked a few dates and planned where we can go from some great mommy blogs in BC.

A friend of mine compared traveling with children to traveling with goats. While this image is quite accurate, there are a few things you can do to make it less crazy. Here is my list of “must think abouts” when on tour with kids:

1. Good Help. Whether this comes in the form of a mom, friend, husband/wife or partner, you need to travel with someone who can watch the kids while you are playing your shows, rehearsing and networking. My helper is my husband who loves to travel and venture out when I am working. In Ottawa, he took the kids to the amazing night light show. In Nepean, he brought the kids to the show because we had to leave for home after the show. At that show, I realized how excited kids are when their mom performs and they can help set up and can dance to your songs. However, it was a bit distracting when my son took a million photos of me while playing. Cute, but…you know!

2. Some Organization. While I am not the world’s best at this, I know that my kids need the snacks they are used to when on the road. They like the IPad filled with their movies, their books, some crafts and teddies. Sometimes I even pack a travel bag with things that are new to them. With all of their comforts of home, they are bound to be happier with the long car trips and new places to stay. In Ottawa, my son had a terrible earache while we were there. An unexpected illness may come up often with kids, which can ruin the trip. Fortunately, Advil was working for us!! Bring all of their remedies and be ready for anything. Know where the local clinics and hospitals are.

3. Rest up. I find traveling with kids and playing a show late into the evening quite tiring. My kids are both young and busy. They wake up early no matter what time they go to bed. When they are up, everyone is up. They are high energy so are ready to go as soon as their feet hit the floor. Doing tourist stuff is important for burning them out and ensuring they have a good time. While we have tried museums and tours, they prefer swimming, exploring, wandering, traveling on strange vehicles (amphibious buses). At the end of the day, you are tired and you have to pull yourself together to do the show4. Change gears. As the last point mentioned, you lead very full days managing small children, keeping them busy and happy, and riding their rollercoaster of emotions. I have learned that I need a half hour of alone time before I reach the venue to collect myself and focus on performing music. Since one of my children cries each time I go out, it takes me a while to recover. I like to get ready and then go a bit early to get my gear to the gig and get set up. Since I am a piano player this is no easy stunt and I need to do it on my own. Often I have to take a cab back to where I am staying and load in my full sized, weighted keyboard, merch, stand, and chair. I need to tip the driver well!

Funny story, in Ottawa, the cab driver was awesome. My friend Lily C was performing with me and she was in the car. She even sold him a CD. We unloaded all of the gear and I stored it in the hotel’s storage room. The person who took my gear said “isn’t it nice that you bring all of this gear to serenade your children while you stay at the hotel”. I looked at this girl cross eyed and said “actually I am a musician and I play in clubs”.

5. It is worth it. Well, it is true that touring as an independent female singer-songwriter with children is not for the faint of heart. I would love to do an article and interview the female musicians I love that do this and make the balancing act look easy. Often female musicians have to make the choice not to have kids if they want to continue to pursue their music. If they do continue to perform and have kids, there are many new and complex considerations.

As I just mentioned in the weird comment I got from the woman at the hotel, most moms are not touring. The upside is my kids see their mom doing what she loves and tyring to find a way. Kids are adaptable and love to be part of the journey. I love to have them with me because I would miss them otherwise. Should I ever be able to play on tour in which I am gone longer than my support system can deal with, you can see there would be a need for a nanny and infrastructure. For now, I will continue to play, take the kids and my husband, and love every minute. It isn’t simple or easy, but it is worth everything.

Click Here to visit Heather’s Songwriter Profile.

For more good reading about musical moms check out:

18 Musical Moms Talk Motherhood 
I Guess This Is Growing Up: How Musicians Balance Their Careers With Parenthood
Gwen Stefani and Madonna Are Musicians and Moms; Who Else Balances Making Music with Motherhood?