Friday, April 27, 2007

ASCAP Goodness

Generally I post professional music news on my official composer site, but since the ASCAP conference is still fresh in my mind I thought I'd share some of that stuff here on CF. The "I Create Music" Expo is an annual event - begun in 2006 - that brings together music creators of various styles, as well as music industry professionals and a host of sponsors hawking their wares. Held for the 2nd year now at the Renaissance Hollywood, the 3-day gathering is a WHIRLWIND of intense panels, workshops and song listening.

The Capitol Records Building: from my hotel window

I'm a professional composer, but I've also been a songwriter since my teenage years. At the time I first went to college (1986! Whoo! '80s!) my reasoning was to "get a backup degree in case I don't make it as a rock star." Yeah. One of THOSE guys. But, it was the age of hair metal, and I wanted to be part of it. Of course, the only song I'd successfully written and recorded (with guitarist Mike Rule - hi Mike!) was a lovely little ditty called 1-800-HOT-LOVE. Good stuff. (*groan!*) The clever part - or so I thought - was that the chorus conveniently rhymed: "1-800-HOT-LOVE, 468-5683! 1-800-HOT-LOVE, h-o-t, l-o-v-e!" God, that's awesome. The rest of the song is kind of a throwaway: it's basically about a guy who sees a number written in a phone booth (which automatically dates it), calls and gets his OWN answering machine, then admits to having put the number there himself. Yeah. Like that. So, anyway, back to college...I thought that my prodigious songwriting and drumming skillz would SURELY propel me to the top of the metal world...but, you know, just in case, I'll get this degree. Problem is, a BM in Theory/Comp is NO kind of a backup! Seems you can't do anything with least not in music. So, I went on for the MM and PhD in composition, and by the time I finished up with those, I no longer wanted to be a rock star. (Well...that's ALMOST true.) I love creating the contemporary art music that I do, and I'm fairly successful at it. Granted, I'm no John Corigliano (an Expo panelist), but then again, I'm not quite 40 yet, so there are PLENTY of years left to win that Pulitzer. But through all that time, I've kept writing songs, generally of greater depth than the drink-&-fuck songs of my metal youth. I'm ready to see if OTHER folks have any use for these tunes, and that's why I went to the Expo.

So. There were writing workshops with HUGE songwriters. I'm talking, Holly Knight and Desmond Child. Folks who have written (meaning, co-written) some of my favorite songs for some of my favorite artists. Both Holly and Desmond have worked with Bon Jovi, Paul Stanley, Aerosmith, Meat Loaf, etc. etc. etc. Desmond wrote You Give Love a Bad Name, Dude Looks Like a Lady and Reason to Live. Holly worked on Rag Doll, The Warrior and Love is a Battlefield. Both were well-spoken, and during listening sessions had good, plain advice for the songwriters whose tunes were played.

Then there were moderated panels consisting of OTHER huge songwriters: Alan & Marilyn Bergman (The Way We Were), Hal David (Raindrops Keep Fallin' on my Head), J.D. Souther (Heartache Tonight) and Bill Withers (Lean on Me). They were all well-spoken folks, telling entertaining stories about some of their greatest songs and dispensing valuable advice about the songwriting process.

The "featured performer" on Thursday night was the legendary Randy Newman. I mostly knew Randy from his 70s hit Short People, but then realized that he sings that song played during the opening credits of Major League: "Cleveland, city of light, city of magic." Yeah. Here's the thing about Newman: almost ALL of his songs are pointedly political or otherwise associated with social causes. You know the title of that song about Cleveland? I had to look really hard to find's called Burn On. You know why? Because in 1969 the Cuyahoga River spontaneously BURST INTO FLAMES because it was so polluted. And - get this - this fire was the FOURTH in three decades! So, the words about being a "city of light," as well as the actual chorus ("Burn on, big river, burn on") are all about the fucking river catching fire. Most people don't get that. Same with Short People: it's told from the point of view of a guy who DOES hate short people, but the tongue-in-cheek nature of the song is to point out how ridiculous unwarranted prejudices are. He has a beautiful song called Sail's about a recruiter for SLAVERY, trying to convince Africans to "come to America" where they won't have to scuff up their feet running through the jungle. Great Nations of Europe details how colonizing European nations came to the west, killing and/or conquering everyone in their path. His froggy voice, so unusual when you first hear it, is so BEAUTIFUL once you settle in with it. He has a new-ish CD out: The Randy Newman Songbook vol. 1, and I can't really recommend this disc ENOUGH. It's at iTunes for $9.99, a complete & total bargain considering the number of tracks. Check it out. It's good shit.

All of this expo goodness took place at the Renaissance Hollywood hotel, corner of Hollywood & Highland. Right around the corner was Grauman's Chinese Theatre, and the walk of stars extended as far as I could see in either direction on Hollywood Blvd. The only downside of going was that I was alone; Miss Tessmacher, being at the beginning of 28 weeks, was advised long ago not to fly. So, I'm sure there were lots of things to do & see that I didn't, only because, hey, it's not much fun to go alone. I did eat at the Pig & Whistle, the oldest restaurant in Hollywood. And I took a quick trip through the Hollywood Wax Museum, also around the corner from the hotel.

Grauman's Chinese Theatre entrance

Judy Garland's star: south of Highland, west side of Hollywood Blvd.

Everyone I spoke with at the Expo was extremely friendly, and while I may not have made many lifelong contacts, I put my name out there and had many, MANY, great conversations about musical creativity. Lots of folks I spoke with were there for the second year in a row, and while the cost of attending made me realize that I myself won't make this an annual trip, I left the Expo feeling refreshed, with a new sense of purpose about my songwriting. If you're a music creator in general, and a songwriter in particular, you should go to this conference. It's worth it.


Blogger Jenn-Jenn, the Mother Hen said...

Sounds like Mr. Kilt in your previous post could do with downloading the Randy Newman Songbook, Vol. 1. Heh heh heh. To quote some one of my favorite Bugs Bunny lines "What a maroon!" Enjoyed both posts, by the way.

I'm curious about the number of "hits" showing up on your ClustrMap. Do you actually know people scattered all about the earth, or are some of the hits from teenaged boys web-surfing for the word "flatulence"? :-) The question had to be asked! LOL!

10:17 AM  
Blogger Animal said...

I actually have NO IDEA where all those hits are coming from! I could imagine that the littlest dots are folks who happened by mistakenly, but some are showing up as multiples of ten. *shrug?*

And, I'm willing to accept Red Kilt's assessment of the situation. Different folks have different ways of perceiving a situation; I remember an Akira Kurasawa film about a murder trial, and each witness remembered things JUST a little differently. Before that fateful bus ride I accepted him as a well-meaning, friendly and creative musician; if he apologized to Back Seat and genuinely meant no harm...well, my previous experiences with him indicate that I (or, "we", to include the blogosphere) owe him that consideration.

11:37 AM  
Blogger Kim said...

Why spend so much money for tutoring from greats like Randy Newman when you can pick up "Music Composition for Dummies" at Barnes-n-Noble? No shit, I just saw it last want me to pick you up a copy? :)

2:40 PM  

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