When producer-songwriter Dr. Luke started to deconstruct the nearly 200 tracks in Katy Perry’s “E.T.” at the end of day one (April 28) of ASCAP’s I Create Music Expo, the way in which he creates a song felt light-years away from the advice Van Dyke Parks and Rufus Wainwright were giving at one of the first sessions of the morning.
The definition of “a good song” rode pendulum at more than two dozen sessions throughout the Renaissance Hotel in Los Angeles, as music publishers and songwriters offered and shared experiences about their success. While there was unanimous praise for anyone who believed in their music and could find others who believed in it, too, there was a wide range of topics covered as to how to reach success.
Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald was grilled about breakdowns, analog synthesizers, the separation of kick drums and Auto-tune. He has started to utilize elements of dubstep in his songs. “Four on the floor dance music isn’t disappearing just yet,” he said, “but I’m not doing so much of that.”
Wainwright and Parks were asked to not only provide their theories on whether to create characters in songs or be extra-personal, but also perform songs that were prime examples of their art. Parks performed his Cole Porter-ish “Orange Crate Art;” Wainwright went with “Martha,” his ode to his dying mother that stemmed from a serious of phone calls with his sister.
An associate and producer of Randy Newman, Parks said Newman “completely avoided self-revelation. It was a very good decision.” Wainwright, who is working on a 19-CD collection of all of his music, spoke about the luxury of working in opera. “High culture has become a refuge to do music for music’s sake. There’s no commercial weight.”
Top 10 Tips From Artists, Executives
Every other panel, however, addressed the marriage of commerce and art. Here are the top 10 tips offered by Dr. Luke, Fergie, Kevin Rudolf, Trevor Rabin, Warner Bros. Records A&R executive and producer Mike Elizondo, Claudia Brant and the music publishing executives Jody Gerson, Kenny MacPherson, Greg Sowders and Tom Surges.
— The erosion of the album has meant music publishers have to pay closer attention to the balance on their rosters of developing and established writers and the genres being covered.
— The lines are blurred between producer, engineer and even songwriter.
— Writing for money has a time limit. You have to have a love for music and you have to keep listening to other music to stay current and get ideas.
— There is more room in music for less talented people these days. And as more and more people get credits on songs, songwriters need to decide how to divide royalties before a song is shipped.
— Songwriters need to care about business because publishing companies are going into business with them as partners.
— Executives and songwriters both need mentoring. And as they age, they need re-mentoring.
— Publishers’ jobs have changed over the last decade from providing inspiration and support to marketing and developing artists. They are also the ones who make the connections for artists with other artists.
— Budding musicians should learn to play anything and everything by ear and play along with everything — the radio, theme songs on TV and their parents’ music collection. Get as good as you can with what you have.
— Work with someone whose work you respect and who respects your work. More often than not, that generates results.
— Dig deep as a songwriter and be “rigorously honest.” Don’t be afraid to follow your heart.