SXSW and ASCAP Bring Songwriters Together During Three-Day Song Camp

Written by Silke Jasso

Videos by American Songwriter

SXSW is well known for bringing in artists from all around the world. This year, The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, also known as ASCAP, partnered with SXSW to bring together musicians in order to partake in a song camp. ASCAP is the only US performance rights organization that operates as a not-for-profit and aimed to support emerging music creators. 

According to ASCAP, “The SXSW Song Camp is one of the many ways that ASCAP directly supports music creators that are building their careers. It is a great opportunity for us to bring US-based ASCAP songwriters together with foreign writers against the singular backdrop of SXSW, setting up some unique musical collaborations that wouldn’t happen otherwise.”

The camp brings together a group of 15 – 20 songwriters from all over the world for a three-day collaboration in order to create new hit songs that can be pitched to well-known artists and labels. 

Mark Gartenberg, who is the project lead in the SXSW writing camp, stated the most important part of the camp is the relationships that are made between artists, which is why the event continues to be a part of the festival. 

“We have writers who come from all over the world, this year it was 9 countries,” Gartenberg tells American Songwriter. “None of them have worked together before, so we tell them who they are working with that day and they bond. Professional relationships happen, personal relationships happen, and if they write a song that gets cut out of the camp and it’s a big hit, then that’s amazing.

“If they actually write the song that becomes a big hit six months from now or a year from now…they met here, this is where their relationship started,” he continues. “That’s actually what SXSW is really all about.”

Gartenberg states that besides the writers’ bonding, there is also industry networking with managers meeting each other as well as publishers who can take advantage and possibly start working together.

“Music creation exists at SXSW, which is exactly what this music camp is about,” he shares. “These musicians understand the craft of songwriting, the craft of commercial pop songwriting. It’s showing how people are doing songwriting all over the world, from Scandinavia to the UK to Australia and New Zealand. Everybody comes together here in Austin.”

Being paired up with five people from all around the world on a daily basis might seem nerve-wracking for some, but these writers were actually excited to produce a work of art with strangers since they each have their different strengths.

Speaking with one of the groups on the first day of the camp, American Songwriter asked them what the hardest part of working with individuals you don’t know was. Especially when it came to bringing all of their ideas into one room.

“We go around the room and see who has ideas, sometimes people have something and sometimes they don’t have anything. If that’s the case then we just write until something comes up,” producer James Lewis says.

“And it mutates,” Nashville-based artist Jack Newsome chimes in. “We had an entirely different chorus and decided to scrap it and then wrote the verse based on that. Then we liked that verse more so we came back and wrote a different chorus so now it’s totally different song. 

“We find ourselves in a maze of possibilities then it just reveals itself to you in time,” he adds. “As much as a cliche it is, it’s about trusting these strangers and the process and letting it [the song] guide us.”

The songs the artists produce can either be kept for themselves or can be pitched to other labels to see if a recording artist would like to jump on the song. “It becomes about pitching it to other artists. It’s sort of like the life of the song will evolve itself based on who in the room is feeling attached to it or not anymore,” Verskotzi noted.

“It’s a gut thing,” Lewis adds about knowing if they want to keep a song they wrote. “That’s the cool thing about being an artist, you can kind of make that call. If you’re like ‘oh this is my baby I’m not giving this up’ you can keep it. Then if you say ‘oh I have enough releases already planned this isn’t gonna see the day for another year’ then you can easily throw it around. And if no one takes it I can revisit it in a year.”

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