Saturday Seminar Sensation Success

By Ronnie Dee

Saturday morning, November 9, at around 8:30 in the morning, the fourth annual Songwriting Seminar presented by the Louisville Area Songwriters' Cooperative got underway. That's mighty early in the morning for the notoriously night-owlish music community, but everybody looked to be in pretty good shape as LASC President Paul Moffett called the meeting to order and tried to get a question and answer session going.

It was then that the early morning shock was obvious as the only questions being asked were, "Is there anymore cheese danish?" and "Where's the decaf?" So Paul got things in gear by bringing up the ubiquitous copyright question. If you were there, you were probably surprised by some of the answers concerning copyrights. If you weren't there, you should have been. Diana Black, who once again did a fantastic job of coordinating the whole weekend, helped out with the early questioning until the audience got into the swing of things.

If you wanted to know anything about the music industry, all you had to do was ask. On the panel, most of whom were from Nashville, were executives from Music Row companies along with independent producers, publishers and writers, as well as representatives from ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. They were by name: Walt Aldridge, Sherrill Blackman; Clay Bradley; John Briggs; Stephanie Brown; Tom Casey; Maggie Cavender; Ed Corley; Nelson Larkin; Chris Latham; Prince Phillip Mitchell; Hunter Moore; Clarence Spalding; Jim Stewart; Andrea Whitaker; Debbie Zavitson; Russ Zavitson; and Mark Hall.

After an hour or so, the panelists separated into smaller groups of industry reps and songwriters so we could ask specific questions in a more intimate atmosphere. I strolled into the "Industry Rep" section, which was hosted by Karen Le Van, to pick up some techniques, tips, tricks and taboos about the music business. We discussed making demos, pitching songs, music trends and a variety of things related to getting songs published.

After an hour and a quarter we adjourned to Derby Room "A," which was pleasingly cool. Derby "B" had become uncomfortably warm after a while and the change was therapeutic. Derby "A" was the writers' room, again hosted by Karen.

We talked about: copyrights (again); songs structures; what are the developing markets; writing for trends; Nashville vs. Los Angeles; choosing titles, and various writers' problems. No matter how many seminars I attend, I always learn something new. Besides that, these are the situations where you can meet, face to face, the people you travel to Nashville to meet, usually unsuccessfully.

We broke for lunch and came back at 1:00 for the most exciting part of the seminar: the critique sessions and - the big kahuna, the "Pow Ping" of them all - the pitch sessions.

The critiques are helpful because you can get comments on a working song by a legitimate pro instead of us poor goobers down at the LASC. My critique session was hosted by Karen Le Van. All right, so I was following Karen around. I've just got a thing for blondes, okay? Anyhow, the big change this year was the pitch sessions. These were held in two rooms and you could actually hand your tape to a person who, if impressed, could hand it to Garth Brooks, or Reba McIntyre or Randy Travis.

It was exciting to be in those pitch sessions because everyone was in the same boat. We all had our "babies" there to be judged acceptable or rejectable. I knew some of the people and never seen some others, but everyone sat around or milled around, sizing up the songs being played and secretly comparing them to their own while trying to act cool, like me. It was as if we were all auditioning for a part in a Broadway show.

That is what it's all about, right? That is why we write songs, isn't it? Well, it should be, but I don't know. I think that is what some nervous songwriters are afraid of. A pitch session is a place where you really find out if you are good enough and a lot of people don't want to face up to it. It isn't easy when you work and sweat and pour your heart into a song to put it up to rejection. But what about acceptance?

Nelson Larkin took a couple of songs with him and Debbie Zavitson took about ten songs with her including the Moffett, Metcalfe, Walls tune "Upright Lady," for a second listen "with a fresh ear." Good luck, guys!

I handed in "Pop's Overcoat," penned by Hedy Hilburn and myself, and received some nice comments: "Sort of folksy and a cute little song," and "Some real nice imagery, but nobody to pitch it to right now." You know, the old "Don't call us, we'll call you" bit. But hey, it was fun. It was disappointing, but not humiliating or embarrassing. At least I joined in the show and gave it the old college try.

Even if no one took your song, there were contacts to be made. Every one of the panelists agreed that recognition is a big factor in reaching them. If you call, write a letter or show up in person, you are much, much more likely to gain an audience with them if they recognize your face or your name from somewhere like the LASC seminar. Common sense tells us that a person will respond more readily to an acquaintance that to a stranger.

Last year, I wrote a review on the Songwriter Showcase and vowed, "Next year, I'm going to be in it." Well, I was and next year I'm going to try harder to get one of my songs accepted in a pitch session.