A few weeks ago, we were fortunate enough to attend the New Music Seminar in New York's Webster Hall, courtesy of Workman Entertainment + Public Relations (thank you WE+PR!). While there, we went to a whole host of seminars on a wide array of music related topics, including blogging, songwriting, production, social media promotion, etc. The entire experience was incredibly informative. Here are some of our thoughts:
It was very interesting to see many well-known "personalities" both on and off stage. Many people were absolutely lovely. Those we most enjoyed talking to and learning from included Billboard Magazine President and Editorial Director, Bill Werde. Bill hosted a panel on blogging that included Daniel Petruzzi (President of Okayplayer), Christopher J. Kaskie (President of Pitchfork), Anthony Volodkin (CEO of Hypemachine), and Matthew Perpetua (Founder of Fluxblog and contributor to Rolling Stone Magazine). At the end of panel, Bill casually sat on the edge of the stage, welcoming people to approach him and ask questions. When we came up to him, he was incredibly kind and generous with advice. Real advice; not some fluffy lollipop follow the yellow brick road to your dreams advice. He also flattered us, saying that we had distinct looks and personalities that are marketable. Do you hear that, readers? We're distinct and marketable! (giggles - we can't help but laugh. We are still so flattered!).
The seminars on songwriting and production were particularly impressive. We wish that the executives and songwriters/producers could be placed on a single panel because every so often, they contradicted one another. The prime example of this was when the executives said that they look for artists with a clear hit single in addition to placing already signed artists with proven hit-making producers. On the other hand, the producers on the producers' panel claimed to not go into the studio with the intention of making a hit single. They were vehement about this. One of the producers went so far as to say that they wouldn't even go into the studio with someone if they know that his or her intention is just to make a chart-topper!
Interesting conflict of statements, isn't it? It's not like it isn't true in most cases. We believe this when it's stated by producers like David Kahn, who prove to value artistry and experimentation, and thus, work with singers who possess similar values (Regina Spektor). However, when someone like Benny Blanco, who is known for making radio-friendly POP, tells the crowd that it's all about the art, we don't believe it. If it was really about the art, he and his mentor, Dr. Luke, wouldn't charge extravagant rates that only hit-makers can command. Even Marina has testified to the fact that you don't go to Dr. Luke for an album track; he's too expensive for anything aside from a surefire single.
Another example involved Desmond Child saying that well-produced okay songs get more attention than poorly produced, great songs because corporate A&R have no imagination when it comes to spotting potential. Of course, the record executives spoke to the contrary the next day, saying they're more than willing to develop talent and match it with the proper production team if they sense that the artists' homemade demos possess that special something. Oy oy oy.
The people who we appreciated the most & our reasons why:
1. Bill Werde - for reasons stated above. You rock our world, Bill. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us!
2. Desmond Child - for being a successful gay songwriter, and thus, acting as a positive role model for anyone in the LGBT community hoping to break into this same profession. We remember him saying to bring lots of coffee and cookies to songwriters/producers we admire until we get the chance to work with them. We're currently on our way to pick up an order of 2 dozen choco chip cookies and 3 venti lattes. We may be broke, but we'll brown-nose till we're bleeding success!
3. Billy Mann - for being a genuinely sweet, kind man and telling us to never forget our love of music, regardless of how frustrating it may to be to get our break. Also, we love that he fearlessly produced P!nk's two most political, socially conscious singles: Stupid Girls and Dear Mr. President.
4. Ammar Malik - for convincing us that first impressions can indeed be wrong. He came onstage sporting a huge, grungy beard, hipster flannel, and a skateboarder backpack, so we automatically assumed he'd a be a total douchebag. Instead, our presumptions made us the douchebags. When Desmond Child said something along the lines of, "If you don't find any success or aren't the best at making music, don't waste your time. Go be a doctor and actually help people," Ammar responded, saying (in paraphrased terms, of course), "I don't agree with that. I went to school to be an English teacher and wasn't the best at music, but I loved it. As I kept plugging away, I found a way to do what I love." Since graduating from college, he's contributed to hits such as Moves Like Jagger, Stereo Hearts, and Payphone. Thanks for being such an inspirational sweetheart, Ammar!
5. Justin "Just Blaze" Smith - The hip-hop producer gave it to us straight. No, he wasn't all lovey dovey, which we'd prefer, but he didn't glamorize anything. When one of us asked how we little people should go about making music (to get our big break) without having access to the same resources he does, Justin said to not worry about it. A poor, Garageband copy is better than nothing, and that made us feel better, regardless of whether or not it's true. He emphasized that patience and loyalty are key, telling us stories of how various people he's helped along the way have betrayed him when they didn't find immediate success. Furthermore, he talked about finances and the business-side of things. In this world, real how to handle money talk (not "check out my new Maybach" money talk) is very rare and greatly appreciated. On both panels he contributed to, Just Blaze was the most upfront and the most memorable.
6. Michelle Vice-Maslin - for telling us her stories and also explaining the business from a pragmatic point of view, as Justin did. Like him, she also made a point to say that patience and loyalty are key. She advised that we never steal a songwriting job from a friend. Doing so will burn more bridges than it will build. If we wait, our time will come. There is more than enough work to go around. Thank you, Michelle, for being so warm and gracious.
7. Ron Fair - for asking smart, poignant questions to the executives on the A&R panel. He could have easily done the opposite, since they are his peers, but he wasn't scared to show the holes in modern-day A&R by asking challenging questions. Plus, he just seemed like an all-around great, approachable guy, much like Bill Werde and Billy Mann.
We're very grateful for the opportunity to have attended the New Music Seminar. It was certainly an eye-opening experience. Some people were as kind off the stage as they were on, while others immediately hopped off, reaching for their assistants and managers to save them from the swarm of approaching people. That's how you can tell the difference between someone who is genuine and someone who simply cares about detailing his/her Maserati. The juxtaposition between the struggling attendees and the super successful panelists with their chauffeured Town Cars and Cadillac Escalades waiting outside was made all the more palpable by the latter type of panelists, making us grateful for those who actually cared about helping us find our own success. Thank you!
Gregory & Minna