Hollywood, CA | July 26-28. This year’s Women’s Music Summit added fuel to dozens of dreams—and even made some of them come true. The event was produced by Laura B. Whitmore, founder of The Women’s International Music Network (the WiMN), at Musician’s Institute (MI) in Hollywood. Almost 40 female musicians descended upon MI—both local and international—some from as far away as Norway, Chile and Australia. Thus began the intimate conference that brought together artists, students, composers, songwriters, coaches, business women, and Hall-of-Famers.
Attendees and Speakers
Whitmore initiated the workshops with a collaboration exercise that kept attendees on their toes, buzzing together during breaks throughout the weekend. She put together a premium collection of panelists—with guitar virtuoso Jennifer Batten; Songwriter’s Hall-of-Fame inductee and producer Holly Knight; award-winning film & TV composer and pianist Starr Parodi; professional vocal coach, singer, and Los Angeles Women In Music’s (LAWIM) president Leanne Summers; and Latin Drummer & Percussionist Valeria Sepulveda—this year’s winner of the Hit Like A Girl drumming contest—packing a lot of punch into a 48-hour period.
Composing and scoring from logos, to primetime to the big screen: Starr Parodi
Starr Parodi told us that she got into composing and scoring because playing Haydn made her cry. Well, what really happened (in a nutshell) is that her professor sensed her frustration and wrote a poem on a piece of paper. He handed it to her saying “play that.” Parodi saw the music in her head, and scored the poem. Since then she’s played keyboards on primetime TV, collaborated with top-grossing artists, and now has more than 300 of Hollywood’s most well-known film trailers, musical logos, and “character themes” under her belt (together with her husband and partner Jeff Fair). Scores ranged from awe-inspiring to laugh-out-loud moments like one, for example, during Parodi’s re-creation of the scoring process for the sitcom, “The Starter Wife” with Debra Messing.
Most people make the mistake of collecting people and names, but they don’t learn to cultivate “fans” in the business. Parodi had simple yet significant advice to anyone trying to “make it”: Build relationships with an eye to the future so you’ll have advocates in the industry for you and your work.
Latin Drummer & Percussionist Valeria Sepulveda: Incorporating Latin rhythms in your music.
Valeria (Val Drummer Girl) Sepulveda gave us a lively hands-on lesson on syncopation, switching between videos she prepared, to the drum kit in front of her. She had the audience clapping to each of the different rhythms used in a variety of Latin tunes: Clave, Bossa Nova, and more. Val also introduced us to some phenomenal female drummers that we hadn’t heard of—just “Google” Juanita Barra to see the Grand Dame of Latin drumming. As the session came to a close, Val played a recording of an acoustic pop song. She then showed us a video where she recorded Latin rhythms as part of that piece, and…well, the crowd went wild. It was a joyful eye-opener, to hear what is possible when you’re looking for fresh new ways to create engaging music.
The Technical Artistry and Perseverance of Jennifer Batten
Jennifer Batten, guitar legend for Michael Jackson, Jeff Beck and some other musical icons, spoke about “The Power of Nuance.” “Nuance in your music is what makes it your personality,” she said. Batten treated us to segments of her current multimedia projects where she shreds to vintage images and video clips based on a unifying theme. We saw and heard what makes up Jennifer Batten’s “nuance”: She’s an analytical genius, yet she’s down-to-earth and downright funny. Batten advised the shredders in the audience to learn riffs by transcribing the music, and slowing it down. When she was learning Jeff Loerber’s “ovary-buster material” she said she took his tunes down to 20% and then she had it. “When you learn stuff too fast, you learn mistakes,” she explained.
Batten said the Musician’s Institute is what “kicked her butt.” She knew scales, techniques, methods, and a wide variety of styles, but she didn’t know what she should have known–the tools or theories. After flunking the entrance exam, she got serious and studied the fundamentals with Peter Sprague in San Diego—getting “scientific with chops” for six months. To Batten, being “scientific about it” means using technology and counting—today she uses an app called “Transcribe”—and taking it slow, using a metronome, experimenting with scales, writing down the notes in accounting notebooks. She could visually see her improvement as she was training her fingers. Despite all that, she told us that you need to be well-versed in rhythms more so than riffs when you’re auditioning for a job with a star. “As a guitarist, 95% of your work is going to be rhythm guitar because stars need support,” she said.
How did she get started with Michael Jackson? Batten recalled vividly that her audition was “me and a video camera. I was told to ‘play funky rhythm’ so I played ‘Giant Steps’ tapping solo, and finished with a ‘Beat It’ solo.” She got the gig. She said the most important things she learned from her time with Jackson were the power of rehearsal (Jackson required 2 ½ hour rehearsals twice a day), and the power of entertainment: “The music is just the basis. The dance, the entertainment, the special effects—it all has to be like clockwork, and you’ve got to give the audience your all. You (should) rehearse so much that the synapses are connected.”
On a final note, Batten said everyone should read the book “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron, as it deals with feedback, connecting doubts, and the “wet blanket syndrome.” Every morning when you wake up, and at night before you go to bed, create a zone around yourself, surrounding yourself with visualizations (of how you want things to be in your life). If you are feeling doubts when you’re about to go on stage, take deep breaths and focus. Batten thrilled the summit attendees when she stayed and jammed with them.
From Songwriter to Hall-of-Famer: Holly Knight
Producer and songwriter Holly Knight delivered plenty of great tips for creativity and songwriting in her seminar. She gave new meaning to the phrase that songwriters (and writers of all kinds) hear all too often: “Write about what you know; keep it real.” “Take a 24-hour period and whatever you see: live, TV, radio, billboard—anything thought-provoking—say ‘this is a great title’ and write it down,” She advised. “You’d be surprised at how much you wrote. Then go through it and keep the keepers – the titles provide a roadmap of what you’re gonna write.”
For Knight there are two parts to the craft of writing: inspiration and musical/lyrical skills. You absolutely must have both. “Bernie Taupin can turn poetry into metered, but not many others can. If you just write music and don’t play, you’ll have to translate it to the musicians. If you don’t play, learn an instrument!” she laughed (but she wasn’t kidding). Simplicity is important too – “The simpler the tune is, the more you can do on top of it,” said Knight. She took us through some of her hits including Animotion and “Obsession,” Pat Benatar and “Love is a Battlefield,” and “Better Be Good to Me” (Tina Turner) each comprised of 2 chords with different inversions and rhythms. “If you focus on the melody, there are infinite combinations so you never realize it’s only two chords,” she said.
She told us how she sees the influence of each instrument in a song: “Instruments play roles in music education and writing. [You] start from the bass lines—the rest is embellishments. Drums basically instruct everything else – they’re the heart of the piece. Bass is the glue, guitar is the sex-appeal, keyboards are the colors…the stuff that goes on top and enhance everything that’s already going on, and vocals are the driver. They deliver the lyrics.”
Knight urged the audience to take the craft seriously—to create lyrics that will stand the test of time. She said, “So many great songs have been killed by crappy lyrics.” She added, “Lyrics must be thought-provoking, intelligent, and poetic, and that they must sound good, with good rhythm and hooks.”
Some of Knight’s tips: read the book “The Four Agreements” and don’t personalize anything with respect to getting rejected. You need to have tenacity, thick skin, endorse yourself, be prepared (for instance, learn to network on LinkedIn)—and once you’ve got a cover, then cultivate your relationships. She’s developing an App to help with many of the things a budding songwriter needs to navigate the music industry.
Holly Knight Part II: Natural Progression from Songwriter to Producer
Knight was also featured in the final session, a discussion about her role as a producer. She said that her progression to producer was a natural one since she always envisioned in her head how a song should sound. She added that she was not just a songwriter—she was also a visual designer in that sense.
When asked how she selects the artists with which she works, Knight responded that she learned a lot about the psychology of bands and understanding musicians, so she looks for bands that are tight and symbiotic; if you’re a solo artist, you need to want to make (a band) sound great. She discussed tools that budding musicians should use—she said that today’s generations are so lucky with all the resources out there—so you should find and use a tool where you can think about the music, not the tool.
As far as “getting your chance” – she said to remember that, “you’re always nobody before you’re somebody.” She said before she was a legendary songwriter, she was a “nobody.” In Knight’s early days the general consensus was “girls can’t produce.” Nobody was giving her the producer gigs—so she put her own money and time into recording with Tony Bennett’s daughter, and it became her calling card. “You probably won’t be given a chance, so make your chance with great demos, etc.” she emphasized. And last but not least, when collaborating on songwriting, “don’t be petty with percentages and credits,” she said, adding “there’s the law, but more than that, try to be fair. It will even out after all.”
On Publishing, Licensing, Management, PR, and Promotion
The industry panels were chock-full of valuable strategies, tactics, and tips—the kind of information that you don’t normally get to hear about until after the award shows and academics reveal how it was done. On the music publishing and licensing side, we heard from Briana Alexis (artist and publishing pro), Danica Lynch (Red Temple Music), Michelle Belcher (Universal Music Publishing), and Maddie Madsen (Current Music). From the Promotion and PR side, we learned from pros Pauline France (Fender), Evangelia Livanos (Synergy Artist Management), and Karen Webb (PR Squared Public Relations). They discussed their thinking behind promotional campaigns, relationship building, what to expect when you hire a publicist or work with a label; and above all they overwhelmingly encouraged everyone to do the homework, the due-diligence, the research, and the planning. They all agreed that there’s no reason or excuse to be unprepared or unaware in this age of instant communication and information abundance.
The nightly jam sessions Friday, Saturday and Sunday were the icing on the cake. Everyone that attended said they were very much looking forward to next year’s Women’s Music Summit. Check out videos and photos from the event here:
The summit featured giveaway prizes, scholarships and backline equipment from these sponsors: New Bay Media’s Guitar World, Guitar Player, Bass Player, Electronic Musician, and Keyboard magazines; Dean Markley, C. F. Martin & Co., Roland, TRX Cymbals, AudioFly, Girl Rock Nation, Casio, Guitar Center, and Electro-Harmonix.
Pauline France (Fender) and Leanne Summers (Los Angeles Women in Music)
Music Publishing and Licensing with Danica Lynch (Red Temple Music), Briana Alexis (artist and publishing pro), Michelle Belcher (Universal Music Publishing), Maddie Madsen (Current Music), and moderated by Laura Whitmore (WiMN) to the left.
Promotion and PR with Pauline France (Fender), Karen Webb (PR Squared Public Relations), Evangelia Livanos (Synergy Artist Management) and moderated by Laura Whitmore (WiMN).
The “speakers” photo: Holly Knight, Leanne Summers, Laura Whitmore, Pauline France, Jennifer Batten
Written by Lori Shube
Photo Credits: Lori Shube