By Lori Shube
Los Angeles, CA | April 17-20. Where can you learn everything you’d ever need to know about your music career—memorably, in one place, and in just three short days? Try the ASCAP “I Create Music” EXPO. If you’re a member, you probably know this. If you’re not, and you’re in any way interested in your success in the music industry, you should check out “what’s in it for you.” The EXPO is open to the public, and is well worth the price of admission.
The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers licenses and distributes royalties, and helps collect them too, on a worldwide basis through relationships they’ve cultivated with affiliated international groups. Every year, working musicians are surprised to learn that there’s help with the messy business of getting paid for your creations. Organizations like ASCAP also provide a community—and other benefits—to nurture those who aspire to a serious music career. ASCAP’s Website notes that previous EXPO attendees have experienced career-changing results such as publishing and recording deals, or finding collaborators, all from networking at the EXPO.
The event included more than 40 inspirational and eye-opening workshops, panels, celebrity performances, attendee showcases, music feedback sessions, software and online tools, networking opportunities, and plenty of good advice, all situated within a three-story space in the Loews Hotel (formerly the Renaissance Hotel) and shopping center in Hollywood. Attendees got the chance to present their music one-on-one to TAXI representatives—and this year there was even a spot where you could record a video message to ask Congress to protect the rights of music creators.
The Age of the Niche
While ASCAP is primarily an organization that protects the works of writers and publishers, the EXPO touched on almost every aspect of the music industry. We heard from the legendary to the contemporary superstars, as well as people in songwriting, producing, marketing & promotion, management, music supervision, law & legislative arenas, online services, software development, instrument manufacturers, and more.
And the news is all good: Never before have there been more opportunities to create, to collaborate, to gain a significant following, to find new revenue streams, to be paid, and to have a dynamic music career—all provided by the benefits of the Internet. It’s no longer a tightly controlled industry with a handful of decision makers at the top.
You now have direct access to audiences around the globe, and can make music, build your avid fan base (your “niche” that appreciates whatever projects you’ve got going on), and maintain a lucrative life in music all from your laptop. Producer & Multi-hit Songwriter and Panelist Antonina Armato called it “a level playing field—there’s no limitation except your ability to do the work.” The Age of the Niche has arrived.
In addition to the “Direct-to-Fan” and “Direct-to-Consumer” paths, there are expanded opportunities for the “middle-class musician.” This used to mean studio & session work, or scoring for Film & TV—but now it includes much more, like the global proliferation of internet podcasts, videos, commercials, presentations, logos, ebook scores, and more. Because of these new avenues, asset/rights management gets seriously important, and ASCAP EXPO attendees learned a lot from the panelists, about what you can do to protect yourself and get paid.
So much was going on every minute of the event, but in hindsight, a few themes surfaced: luck (or, talent/product, professionalism, and preparation); tools (instruments, equipment, tools, and online services); and women in the business. We’ll discuss the latter two in succeeding articles.
Getting Lucky—Are You Serious? Advice from the Expo
Let’s face it—most of the attendees were there to “get lucky” or to find out how (and for those in the business side of the industry, they were there to help, or to learn about helping, others “get lucky.”). We learned that in the pursuit of “luck,” you simply can’t skimp on any of these things: developing your talent, your product, your professionalism, your team, and your marketing. Most importantly, you’ve got to have a story.
Prep for Your Big Break
No matter which session or subject, panelists repeated advice to “show up every day, and be prepared,” which meant to always create, practice, rehearse, be in tune with your audience, be appropriately packaged (including with a good story), be helpful and empathetic with people in the industry, and just get the heck out there, should the opportunity to build your team or be discovered—just “happen.” That’s the “algorithm” for luck.
In the session “We Create Music” with Antonina Armato (Songwriter/Producer/Co-founder Rock Mafia), Film Composer Michael Brook, and internet sensation Mike Posner, we learned that Armato’s big break came when she met a producer, and he immediately loved her song. Brooks was working at a video editing facility, and he got his break when he bartered editing for help with a song from musician Brian Eno. Brooks said, “Luck is a big factor, but perseverance and lack of boredom in this area” are critical, because “you’re competing with people who it’s magic for and will be good at it.” He added, “It could happen a billion different ways – you have to put yourself out there.” Armato affirmed this when she said, “There’s nothing logical about how I got here.”
Posner told us that 90% of his stuff is left on his computer, and maybe 10% of it is good—you’ve got to keep writing, to “Show up every day because you never know which day you’re gonna do something great.” Brooks joked: “(It’s)…like monkeys hitting a keyboard every day will eventually write Shakespeare.”
Keeping It Fresh Every Day
Many find this type of advice as ambiguous as the songwriting tips they receive to “say it a little differently” or “be fresh” – but the best explanations were from this same trio of panelists. Armato said she thinks of a specific person when creating a song, “it’s good to have a secret person or audience in my head—someone who tells me if I do great work.” Posner said he keeps two people who are very different from one another in his mind. Brooks added, “You can be seduced by what you produce, but when you play it to someone else all of a sudden it sounds completely different.”
All three agreed that collaboration is very valuable—whether it’s a partner playing devil’s advocate or the energy a collaborator infuses into the process. Brooks explained, “With technology these days, it’s so much easier to do things by yourself, but (when you collaborate) things happen that wouldn’t happen if you were by yourself.”
Each discussed discipline and commitment even after success—they still take every opportunity that they can. Brooks quipped, “We must travel ten miles for every one mile we go.” Armato reflected on staying inspired and keeping it fresh: She said she’s always “excited, like a kid, about the next thing that’s gonna happen. When you give yourself that power, it becomes a kinetic energy to make it happen. Don’t ever be jaded. Every single day I want to create a masterpiece.”