Days 2 and 3 of the Sunset Songwriting Festival included more live entertainment and panels on a variety of music industry topics such as song placement, songwriting tips, and using social media to advance your career.

Jonathan Watkins (EA Sports Music Supervisor) and Frankie Pine (Whirly Girl Music) gave an excellent presentation about placing your songs in TV, film, and video games. One of the most important topics they discussed was licensing. Jonathan briefly discussed the differences between a master license and sync license. (For further reading on these types of licenses, I had mentioned music licensing for film and TV in a previous post.) A basic understanding of these licenses and their differences is essential if you are signing any contract to place your music in film, TV, or video games. He also stressed to check with your co-writers and/or publishers regarding clearances before you pitch your music, and do NOT pitch your songs if you do not know who all of the co-writers and publishers are.

They also discussed the importance of metadata, and stressed that you should put as much data into the song as possible. I don’t claim to be any sort of technological expert but I understand that metadata is essentially the information you can plug into a track that appears when someone plays it (artists name, songwriter, song title, etc). They even suggested that you encode the lyrics into the metadata if possible. If any of my tech-savvy readers want to chime in on this issue feel free to message me @lawyerrussell or post your thoughts in the comments.

One piece of practical advice they offered is to have the “stems” of your songs available. A “stem” in recording lingo is essentially an independent track, and I’ve heard other terms used to describe them as well such as “splits”, “submixes”, or just plain “tracks”. They explained the importance of stems in film and TV because they might need to adjust the volume levels of each track depending on the scene. This is especially important to Frankie, who is the music supervisor of the TV show Nashville. Depending on the scene, there may be the need artistically to lower or raise the volume levels of the guitar and vocals, depending on the sound needs of each particular scene. Thus it is essential that a music supervisor have individual track stems. If you are recording a song at home this is a good reminder to keep your tracks organized, and if you are paying someone to record your songs make sure you inquire about the status of the “stems” or master tracks.

The weekend also included a song critique session with music publisher Suzan Koc and songwriter Shelly Peiken. Shelly had performed some of her hit songs the night before at Nashville Unplugged, and the two of them brought a wealth of knowledge about songwriting and publishing. Shelly has also written a book about her experiences that I am looking forward to reading entitled “Confessions Of A Serial Songwriter“. Artists who signed up had the opportunity to play their songs live for Shelly and Suzan and get feedback from them. (Note: In addition to live song critiques, the hosts of the Festival also offer song critiquing services to their members online.)

Song critique with Marty, Suzan, and Shelly.

Overall I was very impressed by the level of songwriting talent displayed by the members, and the strength of their music illustrates just how difficult it can be to have a “hit” song in an already crowded field of talented writers. Shelly and Suzan provided a few pointers such as building tension in the first verse with a “bulls eye” set on the chorus. Both Suzan and Shelly put a great deal of emphasis on lyrics, and Suzan suggested that you should “emote” with your lyrics just as you do with your voice.

At one point Shelly made an excellent observation, stating that for every big song that is a “hit” there will be people who love the song and people who hate it. So don’t be discouraged if one person isn’t wild about your music. She also suggested that writers just write the truth, don’t think about rhyming, etc. just put the truth that is in their heart down on paper, then they can go back and edit.

The songwriting advice continued in a session with Clay Mills (Lady Antebellum, Darius Rucker, Easton Corbin, Reba) and Marty Dodson (Billy Currington, Carrie Underwood, Kenny Chesney, Plain White T’s). Marty suggested that you don’t need “furniture” in your songs, in other words don’t crowd the lyrics. Start with a good opening line, then “go somewhere”. One of the panelists (I will keep his/her identify anonymous!) jokingly referred to the verses as foreplay, and suggested that the chorus shouldn’t just be a “makeout session” but something more. (This comment elicited laughter from the audience as well as some humorous comments about men’s lack of knowledge in this subject area!). Also, grammar matters and they suggested you not change tenses, narrators, etc. as the song progresses. Suzan also suggested that if you are writing for others, don’t compromise the song just to fit your voice, since another singer will be recording it.

Marty and Clay give songwriting tips.

This leads me to a main theme I noticed throughout the weekend-it is essential that you know whether you are writing a song for yourself or others. Most of the attendees I spoke with already had an idea of whether they were trying to promote themselves as an artist or whether they were trying to promote their songs for other artists to perform/record.

Clay and Marty suggested that writers use “simple truths” to connect with their audience, although Marty cautioned not to get too personal otherwise you might alienate the listener. Another important point was not to sacrifice the emotion in your song by trying to be clever or funny. One specific songwriting tip they utilized was to ask every person to write down 5 things they would like to say to someone in their life, then use that as the basis for a song. This type of songwriting exercise is just one of the many that Clay and Marty share on their website

One of the most informative sessions of the weekend came from Rick Barker, creator of the Music Industry Blueprint. I had previously attended an event with Rick in Las Vegas this past August, which you can read about here. As noted in his Festival biography, Rick “was a pioneer in the Social Media world using it to launch Taylor Swift into superstardom.” He has also served as the Social Media consultant to American Idol and Big Machine Records. Rick explained how all the intricacies of social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube work. For instance, he described various methods to use the descriptions in Youtube and how this works with Google analytics to provide more views. One idea he proposed that I thought was great and outside the box was to approach a person who already has lots of Youtube viewers and asking him/her to record a video of one of your songs. If they agree you would essentially have a free demo that lots of people will watch online. He also discussed how to schedule Twitter posts so that viewers from around the world can see your posts even while you sleep, and he provided some interesting and entertaining ideas for posts that engage your audience.

Rick Barker shares his knowledge of social media.


As I mentioned I have seen Rick speak before, and I had the pleasure of speaking with him a few times during the weekend as well. I found Rick to be a wealth of knowledge, and the information he provided about social media marketing is equally applicable to small businesses and it is to musicians. As such I would recommend you check out his website whether you are an artist, songwriter, or even a small business owner.

The weekend concluded with a concert by Jason Michael Carroll, who performed some of his hits including “Livin’ Our Love Song” & “Allysa Lies”. After Carroll’s performance, there were more opportunities for writers and artists to perform courtesy of M Music & Musicians Magazine (“M” for short). M was one of the sponsors of the weekend, and I had an opportunity to speak with its super friendly Publisher Merlin David. I was fortunate enough to pick up a few M magazines and found it to be a very well written and thorough magazine featuring a variety of topical articles on musicians and the music industry. It is definitely a must-read for music fans, musicians, and “industry types” alike. A definite highlight of the evening for two Festival attendees was also the free giveaway of a Casio keyboard and a very nice Taylor guitar.

Merlin David discussing M Music & Musicians Magazine.


I hope to do one more follow up post specifically highlighting some of the artists who performed. If you were fortunate enough to perform and wish to send me any photos or information (song titles, websites, etc) please message me on twitter @lawyerrussell or leave a message in the comments!