Inside ASCAP’s 8th Annual “I Create Music” Expo

Katy Perry and ASCAP EVP Randy Grimmett during the panel Wide Awake: “I Create Music” Interview

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Katy Perry and ASCAP EVP Randy Grimmett during the panel Wide Awake: “I Create Music” Interview
Katy Perry and ASCAP EVP Randy Grimmett during the panel Wide Awake: “I Create Music” Interview

ASCAP’s 8th annual “I Create Music Expo” was held this past weekend at that Loews Hollywood Hotel (formerly the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel and before that, a Holiday Inn) in the heart of Hollywood. Once again, it brought in a vast range of musical talent, including hit songmakers of all stripes – producers, engineers, publishers, songwriters, singers and more.

As in previous years, the biggest attractions at the Expo where the big names, from current hitmakers like Katy Perry and Ne-Yo, to great musical legends of the past such as Judy Collins.

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But in addition to the signature keynote interviews, there was also a cavalcade of panels and showcases all weekend long, in addition to a profusion of opportunities for songwriters to get feedback on their own music, and to discuss issues on the minds of songwriters and other music creators, such as the differing royalties for vocal and non-vocal music ( a subject raising much ire), and copyright protection.

Katy Perry, who was interviewed by ASCAP VP Randy Grimmett, described her ascent from aspirant to star with much humor and humility. Her struggle was not atypical, she said, for any songwriter and singer these days, summed up by the word “depressing,” which she used often. Though she said her time collaborating with songwriter Glen Ballard was great, as was a liberating collaboration with Dave Stewart, the opposite was true about her time with the Matrix songwriting trio. But nothing was as bad as her time with Def Jam, she said, contrasting it with the ever-improving support of Capitol.

Asked for the highlight of her career, she said “’Firework’ is the most important song I’ve written.” As for the artists who had the greatest influence of her, she named Alanis Morissette, Queen, Patty Griffin, Jonatha Brooke and the Beach Boys.

One of the most lively panels this years was the “Confessions of a Hit Producer” panel, which featured Eman Kiriakou, ‘Drumma Boy’ Gholson, Dan Omelio and Brendan Benson. Eman, who produced Selena Gomez & The Scene’s hit “Who Says” as well as Hot Chelle Rae’s “Tonight Tonight,” said ASCAP was responsible for his breakthrough success when New Kids On The Block’s Joey McIntyre invited him to collaborate, after ASCAP introduced them. “I wrote with Joe,” he said, “and he asked me to produce his record. That was it for me.”

Eman offered sound advice on his to deal with problematic artists in the studio: “Get them drunk,” he said, to much laughter.

Brendan Benson, who joined Jack White in The Raconteurs and co-wrote “Steady as She Goes,” said he always preferred production to songwriting, since he started recording on two cassette machines back in high school. “I could perform a take,” he said, “and then switch tapes and mix in a harmony or another guitar part. I liked that much more than I did writing or performing.”

Though “Drumma Boy” Gholson was quite late to the panel, he did not hold back his excitement in talking about working with artists including Chris Brown, Wiz Khalifa and Drake.

A&R exec Teresa LaBarbera Whites moderated, and offered the advice that nobody should wait for industry support, simply post music on Youtube, SoundCloud and elsewhere and let the world find you: “You would be amazed by how many people are scouring YouTube looking for people to discover,” she said.

Similar advice was offered in many panels, especially the Music Supervision in the Digital Age panel presented by the Guild of Music Supervisors. JT Griffith, who is a music & creative licensing manager, said to post music for free, and be patient. The lesson, he said, for those trying to get their music in front of music supervisors is “do your homework, and talk to the right people.”

DanceOn music supervisor Jason Cienkus suggested finding out every place in town needing music, and then to aim specifically for their needs. “Find out what kind of music agencies or what TV shows are using,” he said. “The more specific you are, the better.” Nick Guarino, Director of Film & TV Music for Universal agreed that songwriters need to research, and find every opportunity there is: “If your song works for a hotel,” he said, “call a local boutique hotel in your town and see if they want to use it in a video. Don’t wait.”

One of the best and funniest interviews was with the producer Steve Lillywhite, whose work includes the first three albums by U2, as well as records by The Rolling Stones, Phish, Peter Gabriel, Talking Heads and more. Interviewed by ASCAP EVP of Communications & Media Erik Philbrook, Lillywhite was in good humor throughout,  as he told hilarious stories about famous colleagues such as Bono, Keith Richards and Morrissey. “Morrissey is one of the more eccentric people I’ve ever worked with,” he said. “He’s fearless in a lot of ways.”

Kevin Nassberg, a songwriter and aspiring film and TV composer from Staten Island, New York, said he enjoyed every panel and performance he heard, but especially the one with TV scorer James S. Levine. “He’s the guy who did the amazing music for ‘American Horror Story,’ which is some of the greatest scoring ever, I think. He also worked on ‘Glee’ and ‘The Closer’ – and he spoke about the different approaches he took to each. I got to meet him afterwards and he said he’d love to hear some of my instrumental music. So for me, although the entire Expo was great, nothing touched that! This could be my break.”

Missladybug, a colorful and vibrant songwriter-performer from L.A., said this was her second year at the Expo, and completely different than the first. “It was much different this year,” she said. “The first year I went was a little haywire ‘cause I didn’t know where anything was. It was better this year. But the biggest difference was last year I came just for self-promotion. But I sensed there are a lot of people needing support, needing direction. So I went there to pray for people. Because I wanted to give back.”

So she offered her prayers to a variety of people she met, both panelists and attendees, and with varied results. Some people – perhaps struck by her eccentric Imogen Heap-meets-Yma Sumac appearance – thought she was joking. But others were quite moved, no more so than Matheus Fernandes, a recent rejectee of American Idol. She told him she, too, had been a sad rider on the Idol train, and knew he was rejected – as was she – because he is unique.

“I told him I knew he had something special inside him,” she said, “and I wanted to pray for him. He said that was amazing – that he felt lost and had prayed that day to God to give him a sign. And here I was.”

She also said she was moved by Katy Perry’s words. “She’s spent time in the Christian music industry like I did,” she said, “which is problematic. People who say they love God, excluding weirdos who have faith like me, are not welcoming to an out-of-the-box approach. She was dropped by Christian labels, and said she found a lot of music outside of the church that was exciting, and I get that.

“What I do I hope brings more light to faith-based music, but with songs that are whimsical, and fun. I know people say ‘I cannot sing “Hallelujah” ever again!’ I want to represent the innocence of a child and not shy away from that. We are alike, so I prayed for her that there would be hope for her to do everything she hopes to do.”

The ASCAP “I Create Music” EXPO is considered one of the premiere conferences for songwriters, composers and producers. All music creators – not only ASCAP members – are welcome. For more information and to register for next year, please visit www.ascap.com/expo.

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