This weekend I attended the 1st Annual Sunset Songwriting Festival here in Las Vegas. The festival featured the mixed talents and resources of online songwriting community SongTown and the hit Vegas show “Nashville Unplugged”. Many such songwriting festivals take place all over the country, and Las Vegas was blessed to have such an event take place in a town where (in my opinion) there is such a wealth of songwriting talent.
The weekend was an excellent opportunity to network with fellow songwriters and industry professionals, and for some the opportunity to pitch their music to an experienced panel of experts including hit songwriters, artists, music supervisors, publishers, and social media experts.
The first day focused on how to get your songs heard by industry professionals and tips for how to “pitch” your music. Some artists also had the opportunity to have their songs heard by the panelists of industry professionals and to play their music during a performance of Nashville Unplugged. (For more information on the backgrounds and resumes of the panelists, check out the Festival’s website or my previous post regarding the panelists).
The first panel was entitled “Getting Your Songs Heard In Today’s Market” and the panelists included “Nashville Unplugged” creator and songwriter Aaron Benward, music supervisors Jonathan Watkins and Frankie Pine, and publisher Suzan Koc. They discussed strategies for getting your music placed heard by music supervisors, the people who place music in film and TV. As I discussed in a previous post, this is one of the most financially lucrative options available to an independent musician in today’s market.
With regards to how to get a song “heard”, they stressed the importance of knowing someone in the industry. As an aside, this is one of the many reasons why songwriting festivals such as this serve an important function-they allow songwriters and independent artists an opportunity to network with industry professionals who can listen to their music. At one point Frankie said half jokingly that it’s better to know the assistants of music supervisors, as a supervisor can often be overwhelmed and look to their assistants for advice.
The panelists agreed that if you intend to pitch to a music supervisor you should be aware of what the supervisors are working on and state in your correspondence which project specifically the song would be good for. The panelists all agreed that the title of a song (include in the subject line of an email) is the first thing to grab their attention. One of the panelists joked that the title was like a “cute guy at the bar” who gets your attention at first. A running joke was not to call your song “Hold On” (unless you are Tom Waits) as that is apparently the most overused and clichéd title that music supervisors hear. Suzan typically finds music through social media, playlists, blogs, and fan comments, Frankie prefers Dropbox, and Jonathan said that he receives a lot music through email. Suzan suggests not having more than 3 songs on your soundcloud page.
My thoughts here-if you have the email address of a music supervisor, then make sure you send them a professional email containing your music. Do some research as to the formats he/she prefers and send music in that format. If you do not have an email address, most supervisors have a social media account where you can send them a brief, polite message with a link to a streaming account. Also, make sure you have copyrighted your work, and I suggest mentioning somewhere in your correspondence whether or not you own all rights to the work.
At one point Suzan stressed the importance of ensuring that the music you are presenting is “ready” creatively. I think this is great advice as she is saying (and these are my words here) don’t pitch a half-written song or a work in progress but rather a fully formed creative work. Also, have an understanding before you pitch a song of whether you are trying to present yourself as an artist/songwriter or just a songwriter.
In terms of the demo Jonathan says if you can afford a great producer that helps but don’t “overproduce” a work to the point where the song is lost in the production. They all agreed that the vocals are the most important part of the demo. With a TV show, the demo has to be of a high enough quality to use in the show unless it’s a show (like Nashville) in which the characters in the show will be singing it.
On overarching theme that all of the panelists agreed with is that if it’s a great song, then it’s going to find its way “in” somewhere. With regards to what makes a song great, Frankie said the “hook” or chorus is most important, and Suzan stressed the importance of the first line of lyrics.
The next session was a “pitch” session where the panelists had the opportunity to listen to a verse and chorus of previously submitted CD’s, played through the amazing sound system at the Sunset Station’s Club Madrid. In addition to Jonathan, Frankie, and Suzan, the panel included Music Industry Blueprint founder Rick Barker, who famously helped launch the career of Taylor Swift. I had met Rick a few months before when I attended one of his events in Las Vegas, described in a previous post.
One important point the panelists made was that if you are pitching as a songwriter then know exactly which artist(s) you are pitching to. For example, some of the artists in attendance would pitch their song as a “mid-tempo song for Billy Currington”, or an “uptempo Gretchen Wilson style party anthem”. Don’t just say “this is a country song”, have an artist in mind and pitch to that artist’s (or similar artist’s) representatives. To me some of the notable standouts of this session included an uptempo Country song called “Exit 83” (sorry I didn’t catch the artist, if you are out there message me!) and two excellent songs by Cozi Zuehlsdorff and Dani Poppett. Cozi and Dani were able to perform their songs later that night during a performance of Nashville Unplugged along with some of the other participants in the Festival. (Note-later this week I’ll do a post highlighting the artists and writers from the weekend, stay tuned!)
The evening ended with a performance of “Nashville Unplugged” at the Sunset Station’s Club Madrid. For those of you who aren’t familiar with “Nashville Unplugged”, the show was created by musician/actor Aaron Benward and features live performances by songwriters who have penned some of country music’s biggest hits. The two mainstays of the show are Benward and Travis Howard, who has penned tunes for the likes of Miranda Lambert and Dierks Bentley. This evening also featured Songtown Founders Clay Mills and Marty Dodson as well as songwriter Shelly Peiken. They played numerous hit songs which had been recorded by artists like Joe Cocker, Kenny Chesney, Billy Currington, Darius Rucker, Meredith Brooks, and Christina Aguilera (just to name a few). What makes Nashville Unplugged such a phenomenal show isn’t just the songs and the stories behind them but also the Rat Pack-esque interplay and stage banter between the performers. The entire evening has the energy and enthusiasm of a group of friends hanging out on the porch playing guitar, telling jokes, and singing their favorite songs. I highly recommend this show to anyone who enjoys live music.
To recap, if you intend to pitch your music to industry professionals have an understanding of whether you wish to be an artist or a songwriter. If you are pitching just your songs, then have a specific idea in mind of which artist(s) you think your material will work for, and pitch to those artist(s). If you are pitching for film or TV, know exactly which projects you think your music will work for and pitch to music supervisors on those projects. When pitching, send a short, polite and professional message including all the relevant information a supervisor will need (more on this in the next post, including metadata). My thoughts here-the music industry is a business and the same rules of professionalism apply as in any other business. Know your music, know your audience, know how to pitch your music, and when given the opportunity know how to properly pitch your music. Best of luck and I’ll continue with a recap of Days 2 and 3 of the Festival as well as highlighting standout artists later this week!