My first West Coast Songwriter’s event. I was a "winner". Whatever.
One of the things that appeal to me about trying to become a successful songwriter is that it is not easy. If I make it, even in a small way, I will have achieved something truly meaningful. Advertising, my other career, is the same way. To come up with an idea a client will buy is murder. So whenever my idea has made the grade, I walk on air -- you know, for a minute or two, then it's on the next assignment.
In adland, one of the crucibles an idea must survive is the scrutiny of a creative director. You and your partner (in advertising, you are always part of a team, either as a writer or an art director) present your idea as best you can, you show your humble drawings or, these days, vibrant color printouts that look for all the world like finished ads, and mostly, mostly, your hours of work, your endless debates, your lost evenings and weekends and your growing paunch and pasty skin from being couped up inside for far too long are all for naught. In minutes, the creative director slaughters your idea, calmly explaining why it sucks.
Music is very much the same way. You kill yourself to write a great song, then play it for someone who "knows" and FAIL. Only rarely, if ever, do you succeed in convincing someone to buy your song. And this is the way it should be. Because passing this test is only the beginning. Then it's on to the dreaded market, where fickle consumers could care less that some A-list producer loved your song. They think it sucks.
Probably the closest a nobody songwriter like me can get to someone who "knows" is via events such as the one I attended last night, which was held by West Coast Songwriters.
For those who have never heard of such events, they basically work like this: a bunch of hopeful songwriters enter a room, hand their dreams to a person behind a table, and take a seat. A "big time" record industry dude (usually an A&R type, but sometimes a producer or even noted songwriter) then plays the songs in they order in which they were submitted and critiques them. If he REALLY likes something, he will take it for further consideration.
The event I attended took place at Fort Mason, which is an old military base and is constructed on piers that reach into the bay. It's a beautiful setting, but entering the buildings means leaving all beauty behind. Inside, they are drab, cold, a little rundown. I look the echo-filled metal staircase to the second floor, found room 210 and as I entered, wondered if I was in the right place. Yes, there was a sign and yes there was the requisite table with an attendant, but where was the killer sound system and who were these all these OLD people? Turns out, there would be no killer sound system, and the people were the songwriting hopefuls, most older than me. Honestly, it was depressing.
As I took my seat in a folding metal chair, I overheard one man talking loudly about the songwriting competitions he'd one, while someone else was confiding that her songs drew a lot of interest but had no takers. Others, like me, kept to themselves. Also, I was a little concerned. I can't sit in metal chairs for long periods of time, without becoming twitchy and risking a headache (weird, I know, but true), so as the evening wore on, I considered moving to sit on the floor against the wall. In the end, I stayed put.
Will Griggs from Music Umbrella, a small, but apparently noteworthy entertainment management, music publishing, licensing and media consulting company based in Santa Monica, was the visiting Music Dude. Will looked to be in his mid-30s, and affected a cool vibe, but in no way did he come off as arrogant. And he was serious about the task before him. As each song played, he scrutinized the lyrics, and, per usual at such events, he typically listened to 3/4 of the song before signaling the woman manning the boombox (yes, the "sound system" was a crappy boombox) to hit Stop. But I was staggered by his critiques. I was fully expecting him to say, and not even in a polite way, "This sucks." Instead, he accepted well over half the songs he heard, and couched all of his negative comments so thoroughly they really didn't sound very negative. By the time he got my song, Here Comes the Weather (which you can hear via the player in the upper right on this blog), I was only worried about one thing: nothing. I mean, who cares about passing a test 3/4 of the takers pass? Not me. As I said at the outset, I come from the ad world where virtually no ideas live to see the light of day, and the very few that do, are then beaten mercilessly for days before being considered "winners". Your feelings do not matter.
So, yes, my song passed muster. Will had nothing bad to say. And as I walked home, I felt very little satisfaction. None really. There was no air beneath my feet. Only pavement.