The three day 2012 ASCAP Expo kicked off in Los Angeles on Thursday as an array of eager songwriters - novice, up and coming, and established - filed into the Renaissance Hotel in Hollywood, anxious to soak up advice from songwriting idols like Carly Simon, Peter Frampton, Brett James, and Dan Wilson. After strolling through the hallways of vendor booths - each one boasting the "latest and greatest" new songwriting technology, attendees scurried off to their desired panels.
We sat in on a few buzz-worthy discussions:
We Create Music: The "centerpiece of the event," as it was referred to by ASCAP Executive Vice President, Randy Grimmett, featured a panel of top-notch songwriters and composers:
Brett James - songwriter/producer - "Jesus Take The Wheel," "When The Sun Goes Down," "Our Last Night," "The Truth"
Lin-Manuel Miranda - composer/lyricist/actor - Musical Theater - "In The Heights"
Monica - artist/songwriter - "It All Belongs To Me," "The Boy is Mine," "Don't Take it Personal (Just One of Dem Days)," "Before You Walk Out Of My Life"
Heitor Pereira- composer/guitarist - Film - "The Smurfs," "Despicable Me"
Ryan Tedder - songwriter/producer/artist - "Rumor Has it," "Halo," "Apologize," "Bleeding Love
Moderator Ron Fair (producer/arranger/songwriter/veteran A&R executive) led the discussion as the panelists shared their trials and tribulations with creating songs. Tedder joked about getting into songwriting after his Gospel songwriter father told him that not all artists write their own songs. "It was like finding out Santa Claus wasn't real."
James discussed having a "silly nursery rhyme" pop into his head while driving which turned into a Kenny Chesney hit. Monica explained how she focuses on both her music career and being a mother, stressing the importance of finding balance. Pereira picked up his guitar and instructed the crowd to give him three notes, which he used to create the basis of an improvised song. Miranda explained that when he writes a song, he, like the majority of songwriters, has a secret audience in mind. He visualizes that person in his head and writes the song for them - "whether it's someone we love or it's someone we hate, they will hear this song and know how we really feel."
Peter Frampton, who was interviewed live by Nic Harcourt - Editor-at-Large, Music and Culture, LA Times Magazine, discussed his initial interest in music, moving to America, and performing with Humble Pie before deciding to pursue a solo career. He explained that his songwriting process involves "waiting until inspiration hits."
Frampton admitted to recently purchasing two turntables - joking about his DJ name being Fuzzy Frampton - being a big fan of Eminem, and not being at all concerned about the current lack of rock music in mainstream music. "It's just a natural progression. It never frightens me when music changes; I know it's going to turn into something else and I think the more new the better."
Carly Simon received a standing ovation as she walked on stage with interviewer, Randy Grimmett. She didn't waste any time diving into nostalgic memories as she discussed playing the Troubadour to open for Cat Stevens in 1971. She briefly touched on meeting James Taylor before engaging in a lyrical dissection of songs such as "Anticipation," which she admitted to writing while waiting to go on her first date with Cat Stevens, speculating about the future of the relationship.
Simon told the crowd that "You're So Vain," was initially a melody with different lyrics: "Bless you Ben / You came in where nobody else left off / There I was all by myself / Hiding up in my loft / Talking trouble / Took my time / Singing some sad songs / I had some dreams there were clouds in my coffee…" She joked, "And I didn't know anybody named Ben. I've always just liked the name." Simon addressed questions from the crowd, such as how to write intimate lyrics without divulging too much and finding inspiration in her everyday life. She revealed she's working on her autobiography and is holding nothing back: "No holds barred until an editor gets to look at it."
Every ASCAP member we talked to seemed to be benefiting from the conference in some way; either through networking, absorbing wisdom from a panel, or having their work critiqued. Biz caught up with a few who told us what they had taken away from the expo so far:
"It's been exciting to hear other people's experiences and what they go through - whether it's serious stuff about contracts or how they find inspiration writing a song." - Elyse Haren, Calabasas, CA-based songwriter/singer for Elyse and the Aftermath.
"I had an afternoon one-on-one with Jake Wisely of Bicycle Publishing. You have 15 minutes - you define the session. I brought a seven-song demo and I was going through all of the different styles trying to showcase not only on the production side but also my writing across country and pop and rock and all that stuff with an attempt to be able to maintain contact. I think it was pretty successful. We're actually going to do lunch in a couple weeks." - Jeff Zacharski, songwriter, Los Angeles, CA.
"Being here is a chance to connect eyes with someone and say, 'Let's write a song together and collaborate,' which is really key to being successful."- Matthew J. Doughty, Anaheim, CA.
"I wrote down a quote that Brett James said: 'Don't push so hard. Let go and write what you want to write.' That hit home with me as that was a decision I made about six months ago when I quit my job and started doing music full time. I said, 'I'm just gonna let go and have fun and if I make it, awesome. If I don't, at least I'm making music that I love." - Billy Schafer, San Francisco-based songwriter.
"So far I've talked to some of our partners here and some of the artists that we know and love. I'm here to network and follow up on relationships." - Mark Nguyen, Founder Planet LA Records.
"I went last year and I was a part of the Lester Sill Songwriters Workshop, which is a clinic for advanced songwriters. Coming back this year, I love that I know so many more people and I feel so much more connected to the community." - LA-based session keyboardist/singer Neara Russell.