Monday, April 23, 2012

ASCAP Expo 2012 -- Things seen and heard in Los Angeles

by Emmanuel Legrand

US performing right society ASCAP held its 7th annual ASCAP Expo ‘I Create Music’ event in Los Angeles April 19-21 at the Hotel Renaissance. The gathering is aimed as aspiring songwriters and artists who register to attend three packed days of seminars, workshops, panels, master session, showcases, in which professionals and fellow songwriters/musicians share their experience. Here are a few things seen and heard in LA.
Any piece of advice is good
For the 2,500 people who attend the event, ASCAP Expo is as much a networking and plugging opportunity as a learning experience, especially if tips come from other artists or business professionals. After sessions, industry executives are literally mobbed by the crowd trying to get access to people who could change their life to whom they could be in business with. So here we go, taken from the various session at the Expo.
From songwriters and performers:
“The musician is now in charge because he has the power to be re-tweeted. It’s exciting, the way it is going. You’ve got to do your thing on the internet, [but also] building a following live, even if you have to pay to play, which was unheard of in my days. If you are pushy enough, you can always find a way to get your music heard.” Peter Frampton, songwriter and performer
“Tools have emerged to streamline the process: we are all creators and about giving what people want. If you give people something they have a reason to share, they will.” D.A. Wallach, songwriter and performer/Artist in residence, Spotify
“We have a deep and meaningful conversation with [our] community around the world. It is inspiring.” Jared Leto, musician, songwriter, actor, performer (30 Seconds to Mars)
“A lot of musicians are enamoured with the sound and tend to forget about the song.” George Duke, pianist and producer
“We still like the musicians to play together: you can’t get that from a computer.” Lee Ritenour, guitarist and producer
“We have three minutes to tell a story, we don’t have the luxury of two hours. It needs to have a beginning, a middle and an end.” Bruno Mars, songwriter, performer and producer (The Smeezingtons)
“I like songs where less is more: these are the hardest ones to write.” Bruno Mars
“Every song has been a pain in the ass. So you just keep on. It’s the curse.” Bruno Mars
“My advice: be nice.” Ari Levine, producer (The Smeezingtons)
From professionals:
“It is about breaking down barriers: how do I get this particular production team, how do I get to know people. Make a name for yourself. And be perseverant.” Danny Strick, co-president, Sony/ATV
“Don’t kid yourself, we are for profit companies and our job is to find hits. You have to have realistic expectations. But if you are really serious, anything is possible.” Greg Sowders, SVP and head of A&R/USA, Warner/Chappell Music
“You will not fit with all companies. Do some research, try and find the company that might be of interest to you.” Greg Sowders
“You’ve got a little bit of a story to tell. It may not be a huge story but you have to have one like having a song recorded, have a co-write.” Greg Sowders
“If it does not grab you in the first few bars, forget it. Remember that we have to go and sell it to labels or music supervisors, so we need great hooks.” Lionel Conway, EVP, Creative West Coast, BMG Chrysalis
“If you are good we will find you. At in the end you will get your opportunity to present your music and if your are good you will get signed.” Monti Olson, EVP/head of pop & rock music, Creative, Universal Music Publishing Group
“Collaborative efforts, if you do it well, can be marvelous.” Monti Olson
“You have to have something that connects with people as a starting point. If you don’t have that, there’s no software that will allow you to connect [with the audience].” Ian Rogers, CEO, Topspin
“We all have more choice than ever in terms of what we have access to but the single biggest innovation is that you can build a direct relationship with fans. It is really powerful. And if people are interested, do not lose them.” Ian Rogers
“If you sell a $99c on iTunes, you may have lost the sale of a t-shirt. And you may have lost twice: you got $70c from iTunes instead of $17, and on top you’ve lost the data because the data stays with iTunes or Amazon.” Ian Rogers
“There are two types of music businesses: one who cares about radio and another that doesn’t. Having hits is very capital intensive, the other requires less investment.” Ian Rogers
Note to lyricists: the F*** word is no longer a no-go area
Thanks to a group of mischievous songwriters producers (The Smeezingtons, but more on them later), an unusual word heard a few times publicly was the f*** word, courtesy of Cee Lo Green. His smash hit called, err, ‘Fuck You’ (or ‘Forget You’ for the hearing impaired) did win a few ASCAP pop Awards, and therefore got mentioned quite a few times (and we assume with some delight by those who were doing so in public without being chastised). Even ASCAP VP or membership Randy Grimmett, in his interview with The Smeezingtons did use the word a couple of times, and managed to keep his composure. “We knew radios were not going to play a song with ‘Fuck you’, but we had to do it,” explained Mars. Glad they did it. Suddenly it became a cool word.
A message from Mars (and The Smeezingtons)
Staying with the aforementioned The Smeezingtons, a.k.a. songwriter/performer Bruno Mars, singer and songwriter Philip Lawrence and producer Ari Levine, they were the hot ticket in LA. Their interview session with Grimmett, before a packed audience of over 2,000 fellow songwriters was an amazingly funny piece of comedy and also a revealing exercise about the true value of creative collaborations. These three guys do have a wicked sense of humour and it was not difficult to see how they could interact in the studio by the way they behaved on stage with each other. They were taking the piss, making fun anything and delighting so the audience (and poor Grimmett was trying to keep some order in da house). I was not a great fan of Mars the singer, but seeing him with his pals cracking jokes but also taking seriously his songwriting, being so earnest, and obviously valuing the relationship with his creative partners (“These guys held my back”, he said about then after he got dropped from Motown) to a point that it made me seriously re-evaluate him. And boy, they rocked the house. Give them a comedy show!
Learn to say ‘No’
Peter Frampton gave a very open interview after receiving from ASCAP the Global Impact Award. The British guitarist and performer went through his career with Humble Pie and as a solo act. Of course, he talked about the life changing experience of having a multi-million selling album such as ‘Frampton Comes Alive!’ in 1976. When interviewer Nic Harcourt asked him how comfortable he felt when his career went into the stratosphere, Frampton was direct, “Very comfortable!”, adding: “Everybody wants you for everything over and over again. It is very exciting at the beginning.” 
But then Frampton was equally candid when he said that he should have not released the follow-up album ‘Im In You’ so soon after ‘...Comes Alive!’ because it was simply not ready. “We were so busy we did not stop for two years,” he explained. “There was a period when I wanted to stop touring and take time off and everyone in the team, management, agent, record company said you have to take advantage of this while your hot, and I thought that they know what they are doing. I did not feel good about going in the studio and do in three months what took six years to get on ‘Comes Alive’. I did not have good material. It was not time to record. I would have needed to take a year and do co-writing and stuff.”
Frampton was even more direct when he spoke about “that movie” (the dreadfully kitsch film version of ‘Sgt Peppers’ produced by Robert Stigwood, also featuring the Bee Gees). “In my gut I did not want to do that,” he told Harcourt. “The only reason was that Robert Stigwood told me that Paul McCartney was going to have the part that Billy Preston plays in the film. I said ‘If there is a Beatle, that’s OK for me and I’ll do it.’ Guess what? Paul’s not in the movie. A few weeks later, I went to see Wings at Wembley and then went backstage to see Paul, and said, ‘See you on the set then’ and Paul went ‘what?’. That’s when I realised that I had been lied to.”
There’s a lot to learn from these two back to back episodes in Frampton career, because he never really recovered from what appears now as major career mistakes. 
Registering with an authors’ society can be the start of a great career
At the ASCAP Pop Awards, Trent Reznor was present in the flesh, and without any of his stage histrionics, to pick up from ASCAP chairman Paul Williams his Golden Note Award, in recognition of his career. A tigthly edited video showed the different paths of Reznor’s career, from Nine Inch Nail to writing movie scores and was a reminder that Reznor was quite certainly one of the most challenging and innovative artists of the past 20 years. He may not be to everybody’s liking (I do!), but the way he carved his often brutal and disturbing sounds and visions is simply unique. Accepting his award, Reznor seemed genuinely pleased for the accolade. I just a few words, he recalled that his “first professional affiliation” was with ASCAP, and that it’s been “the longest one”. Something else to learn from: if you are a songwriter, your whole professional environment can change, you can switch labels, fire your manager, sign to different publishers, but your relationship with your author society will most likely remain the only stable fixture in your professional environment. 
A wardrobe malfunction will get you the right amount of press
If judging by the amount of stories her inches of skin have generated, it was a good PR move for Katy Perry to have a wardrobe malfunction... Check out her outfit on the red carpet before the ASCAP Pop Awards! Even the Sun talked about it (in a not so delicate way). It almost eclipsed the fact that she was there to pick up a few awards and to celebrate six No.1 hit singles in a row from her 2012 album ‘Teenage Dream’ (Capitol). Meanwhile, Carly Simon, Peter Frampton and Trent Reznor, who were also celebrated on April 18, got less media attention. So tip to the new generation: Take your clothes off if your are seeking for media attention. It also kind of works better when you have good hit songs too!

[Typed while listening to two brilliant electronic albums: ‘Iradelphic’ by Clark (Warp) and ‘Fin’ by John Talabot (Permanent Vacation)]

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  2. Nice post. It's very interesting, I will come back later and read more.


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