If You Write Verses and Choruses, Songwriting Conferences are the Bridges to Career-Making Connections
by Dan Kimpel
Songwriters can often be solitary creatures: ensconced in claustrophobic rooms, hunched behind keyboards, poring over laptops. But consider this irrefutable fact of songwriting in the present tense: collectives of songwriters whose names read like law firms write the majority of hit songs. What this signifies for songwriters is that alliances within the music business––with artists, producers and potential collaborators––are essential building blocks for any songwriter’s career.
Sure, you can network on the Web, read message boards and collaborate with others long distance, but there is no better opportunity to make an impact on other songwriters than face to face at a conference. The trick is to zero in on the conferences that are geared to what you want to accomplish.
A Bit of an Overview…
The very first Songwriters Expo––envisioned by John Braheny and Len Chandler, co-founders/directors of the Los Angeles Songwriters Showcase (LASS)––was held in 1977 and continued for over two decades. Since then, many replications and variations on the theme of educating and connecting songwriters via multi-day events have sprung up, based on the original LASS concept.
Bigger is not necessarily better: some of the smaller conferences afford intimate personal contact with the industry guests and with the other visiting songwriters.
For readers who reside in the music capitals of Los Angeles, Nashville, New York and Atlanta, conferences also present a welcome opportunity to bond with other attendees when you meet them in the airport, on the plane and the hotel shuttles.
Conferences are an investment. Funds are required for transportation, admission, hotel rooms and incidentals. These can add up quickly, so researching events, talking to people who have attended in order to find the event that best matches your music, and planning a trip in advance to take advantage of early-bird admission specials are recommended steps. If you can attend more than one event, this is advantageous.
If you have to choose a conference, choose it wisely. You will also need to manage your expectations. Conferences are about opening doors to the future. And while you might not leave with a publishing or sync deal, you might be one step closer. In this exclusive feature, MC will spotlight, define and describe, in alphabetical order, some key career-making confabs that can educate, connect and inspire songwriters.
ASCAP “I Create Music” EXPO
Carly Simon, the Smeezingtons (Bruno Mars, Philip Lawrence, Ari Levine), Lindsey Buckingham, Quincy Jones, a conversation between Justin Timberlake and Bill Withers, John Mayer, Ann & Nancy Wilson (Heart), Jeff Lynne, Jon Bon Jovi & Richie Sambora, Jackson Browne, Steve Miller, Randy Newman and Tom Petty: The ASCAP “I Create Music” Expo is the most expansive and comprehensive of the songwriter conferences.
If you aim to attend, be aware that by planning you will save substantially on the admission fee. If you are arriving from out of town, staying at the Loews Hotel at Hollywood and Highland, where the event is held, will afford you maximum participation. Teaming up in rooms with visiting friends and new acquaintances can make for some fun networking opportunities.
With the riches of panels, listening sessions, one-on-ones and workshops, pre-conference research is essential in order to maximize a visit and tailor-make it to specific needs. Without a plan, this experience could be overwhelming.
You will be in the heart of Hollywood, and as such, there is much to experience. The EXPO is also excellent for connecting with music supervisors and finding out about the latest trends in the business for those creating music for film, television and games.
The EXPO is held the same week of the ASCAP Pop Awards, so the odds are excellent that the most distinguished names in the Society’s roster will be on hand for the conference.
There are 500 One-on-One Sessions made available, with an additional $30 processing fee. They are available on a first-come, first-served basis and every year they have sold out. The next EXPO is April 18 - 20, 2013 in Los Angeles, CA. Registration begins Nov. 1st.
Durango Songwriters Expo
With two events held annually––one in the mountains of Colorado in the fall, most recently just outside of Boulder, and a February event in Santa Barbara, CA, Wine Country––The Durango Songwriter Expos certainly qualify as two of the most scenic songwriter celebrations. The picture is even better inside the events, as a gracious community welcomes longtime participants and newcomers alike.
There is a distinct advantage to the more intimate scale. Both of the Durango events limit the number of participants, and if you’ve got the goods you will be noticed. This is a very social event (especially as wine corks pop in the fabled Santa Ynez Wine Country) and enduring alliances have been formed as a result.
The hotel halls breathe with music as co-writers conspire in suites, rooms and stairwells. There is no shortage of artists such as Mindy Smith; Shawn Mullins; and Michelle Shocked on hand, and serious songwriters: Dan Wilson (Adele); Jeffrey Steele (Rascal Flatts, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw); Big Al Anderson (George Strait, LeAnn Rimes); J.D. Souther (the Eagles); Chuck Cannon (Toby Keith); and many others who create the hits for major artists.
The listening sessions are intimate and real as publishers, music supervisors, label reps and many others spend quality time with the songwriters, giving feedback and suggestions. As befits the Expo’s congeniality, it is a supportive and nurturing environment.
There is also a looseness to the event that can seem laidback and spontaneous. The evening concerts featuring the hit songwriters are revelatory––especially for fans of solid nuts and bolts song craft. The partying opportunities are plentiful.
DSE also sponsors a Write With A Hit-Maker Songwriting Contest, where the winner collaborates on a song with a prominent hit songwriter.
The Santa Barbara Wine Country event is scheduled for Feb. 28 - Mar. 2, 2013.