Thursday morning (10/6), we flew into Albuquerque, NM (the closest SW terminal to Durango) on LaLa's frequent flyer tickets (Thanks chickola!). From there, we rented a car and spent the afternoon driving about 4.5 hours to the Lodge at Tamarron a few miles north of Durango where the Expo was to take place. It was a spectacular drive... breathtaking if I do say so myself.
Once we arrived at around 6:30 or so, we did the usual room check-in and expo registration. Our room was a 600 square foot studio condo with a great view. Of course, in the thin Rocky Mountain air, we practically passed out carrying our luggage up the three flights of outdoors stairs (one of them circular) leading up to the room.
As soon as we'd freshened up from the trip, we made our way back to the main lodge to see the first showcase of the weekend. The first person we said "hello" to when we pulled up was Jeffrey Steele... my favorite country songwriter. He'd just arrived as well and was making his way into the showcase.
The showcase was a cool event, but I was a little disappointed in the talent the first night. I guess I just expected a little higher quality of performer / writer. There were a couple stand outs though and the best part of the night was just getting to meet other writers, publishers, PRO reps and hook up with hit writers.
After the showcase there was an open mic. LaLa performed the song we wrote (it is her song really, I just helped tweak a couple lines and redo the bridge). She was great and everyone loved the song, including Jeffrey. Very cool.
Once the open mic concluded, we walked upstairs and spent quite a bit of time hanging with Jeffrey. Loved it. While I've talked with him before at shows in Nashville, this was the first time I'd ever gotten to spend an extended time with him. He is as cool up-close-and-personal as he is when he performs. Jeff really gets it, not just music, but life in general. He's very grateful and I really felt a connection with him on many levels. And, somehow, eventhough everyone seems to want something from him and through all the overwhelming demands on his time, he remains gracious to every last person that wants to talk to him and/or say hello. Jeff is definitely the kind of person I aspire to be. Anyway... enough of the JS love fest for now. Bottom line: I dig him as a writer and a person and hope to be able to continue developing a friendship with him.
All that happened on Thursday... and those are just the highlights!
Friday morning, we skipped orientation to catch an extra hour of sleep. Then, I went to a panel discussion on "Royalites" where I learned a lot. David Preston (BMI), Loretta Munoz (ASCAP) and Linda Bertelli (SESAC) were there representing all the big performing rights organizations (PROs) of the industry. Finally, I have some clarity on the role of the PRO, how royalties are determined and how I can start working on relationships with the PROs. It is all so complicated!
LaLa and I both had our first song critiques on Friday as well... those things make me anxious! Basically, you play your songs for industry people and they tell you what is right and/or wrong about them. For some reason, I find that nerve racking... I guess because I want them to be impressed and it is a little difficult to hear what they have to say sometimes. My first one was with Warren Sellers (3 Ring Circus) and Michelle Berlin (SonyBMG). They both loved my voice... alot... which was really cool. And, they liked the song but that I had a couple things they'd like to see me work on... which was also cool.
Friday night we went to the second showcase. Again, the performers were okay... but I was hoping for more. (I need to learn to set my expectations a little lower I think!) All LaLa and I had eaten all day was a roast beef sandwich. We missed supper at the Lodge because we were planning to go to dinner with Jeff in town, Durango, about 15 miles away from the lodge. Well... while we were waiting to go to dinner we made the mistake of having a couple drinks. Needless to say, they went right into our bloodstream and we were in no shape to go to dinner later on. Wisely, Jeff bailed on us and we proceeded to get drunk. HA. I never do that, so it was kinda fun. And, believe it or not, I didn't even have a hang over the next day. But I sure was hungry!
Saturday was the last day of the Expo. I had two critiques and went to two panel discussions. The first discussion was "Words & Music" by Jeffrey Steele. Of course, the room was packed and he really had some great things to say and insight into writing. Some of the points he made that really hit me were:
- "Do it your own way. Don't get too caught up in structure. "
- "Just say what you have to say."
- "You gotta go with what you know."
(meaning... write about the things you know about and / or have witnessed)
- "You gotta have people around you that believe in you. Find people that 'get' you."
- "You can't be afraid to bet on yourself."
- "Every single thing is a song to me."
The afternoon panel discussion was about Publishing with Julie Newton (Magic Mustang Music), Sara Kapuchinski (Chrysalis Music Publishing), Steve Markland (Windswept Music), Michelle Berlin (SonyBMG). My brain soaked up more really good stuff in this one. I found out that the only way I'd ever get a publishing deal would be to get a referral from a PRO and/or to write with someone who already was signed to a deal. Most publishing companies don't accept unsolicited material and/or demos from people they don't know. I also learned that a new writer with no cuts gets signed to a "schedule A" contract which means they bring their song catalog to the table and the publisher can start plugging them. An unproven writer (no cuts) will have a draw of $20k - $30K while a writer with cuts will have a larger draw... probably $45+. And, of course, if the publisher plugs a writers songs, they get cut and actually make money, the writer will get their writers share of that money on top of the draw. I really learned a lot at this discussion. It was great.
Then came the third and final critique of the weekend with James Slater (hit writer) and Danny Sheridan (LA Producer). They both loved my voice... which was very cool... and they loved the song as well.
LaLa was also in this session with me and played the song we co-wrote. Again, good response all around. They loved her voice and the song / idea.
We felt pretty good about all of our critiques and the feedback received on our craft. We definitely left Durango feeling like we were on the right track, but that we also had alot of work to do!
Another cool thing, after the last critique session was over, Danny Sheridan told me he thought I should consider being an artist... he told me not to worry about my age or my extra pounds. If he had a voice like mine, he wouldn't think twice about any of that. Isn't that cool. I was blown away. Then, his girlfriend came up and asked me for a CD and wanted to have her photo taken with me and him. It was wild. Talk about making my entire weekend! I felt validated. HA.
Saturday night was the big concert with all the hit writers. It is a story in itself that I don't have time to tell right now.
Watch for it either later today or tomorrow.