On Thursday, after my return form my San Francisco trip I popped into the ASCAP “I Create Music” Expo at the Loews Hotel at Hollywood & Highland to put my hand on the pulse of the art and business of music. Because of my busy schedule I wasn’t able to dig in deep on a daily basis, but I looped in for a quick survey of what ASCAP and the music world had up their sleeves throughout the next few days.
I had a couple hours to spend checking out the 3rd floor of the Loews Hotel where all the ASCAP activity was happening. It’s the same place where I had covered the Academy Awards about a month earlier. The hallways were now filled with booths and vendors, unlike the Oscars, that were at that time buffeted by security guards and behind them, down the hall a ways, was an amazing assortments of goodies and delicious foods to sustain us photographers through the evening. I joined Karen and Julianna at the Lyynks both near the ASCAP registrations table to look over the Lyynks platform for Independent Music Artist. I learned that the Lyynks app allows indie bands to engage with their fan base in an immersive manner by creating individual channels that give them access to their favorite music artist’s playlists, tour information, music news. The Indie bands then can use it for content distribution, monetization, and branding for their band. Lyynks adds an enhanced personal connection for the fan to the bands they love. Lyynks offers an effective way for musical artist to reach out and connect with their fans in a meaningful way.
While I was circling about I met Josh Baze and ceased a chance to photograph this Versace model, come Hip Hop Artist, who was there to soak up some of the music industry vibe. We left Lyynks to stroll down the hall way to happen upon Phhhoto booth. We were first attracted by the ASCAP “I Create Muisc” banner, but then noticed this interesting photo set up that made GIF’s. Phhhoto had an i-Pad set up that makes very short, but very engaging GIF videos you can be targeted through Instagram, Vine and Twitter or as they put it, “it’s an animated social photo booth” linking you to your favorite social network. After some play with the Phhhoto technology I shot a few stills with Josh, and then Josh with his manager/label head, Griffin Guess, of Cartel Records for publicity. It was a good afternoon at ASCAP and I’d return for more on Saturday. On Saturday I locked in for a longer stent when I arrived for an ASCAP panel discussion called The Alchemist: How Hit Producers Turn Muisc Into Gold in the Dolby Ballroom. My friend Karen joined me, because we love the inside scoop and we both are huge fans of Steve Lillywhite. The panel was moderated by Erik Philbrook that afternoon. Beside Steve Lillywhite, the other members of the panel were: Rob Knox, Michael Knox and Rick Nowels. All notable producers in their own right were there to share their thoughts and experiences in the music business. It was an hour of humorous antidotal stories, production industry insights and stories of the art of creating hit songs. There were a many memorable moments during the panel discussion. Rob Knox comments on record label’s A&R people was memorable and spot on. Rob said, ” I think dealing with the business side of music, I’ve found, I don’t speak the same language as A&R. I just don’t understand what they are saying. Like when they suggest they want a hit that sounds like a Tupac mixed with a Celine Dion record. I wonder what the fuck is that?! My world is so much different from their world. They come form the world of the real song writers with the guitars, which I would love to do. But I don’t do that. In my world it’s so driven by, we need a record with this kind of direction. They want a top forty smash! Cool, what does that mean, what do you want? In my mind we don’t need a top forty smash! Steve Lillywhite interjected, “For the record, we don’t need a top forty smash. Don’t ever listen to them!” Rob continued, “I wont! I figure ways to remain true to myself and make them still kind of happy and make them feel like they’re involved. Because they really don’t know shit! I tell them, oh yeah, I took your advice and made the song sound like Celine Dion. hear that piano chord?! Then they are like, Oh yeah, I love that, I knew it was a great idea”. The Rick Nowels contributed to the mix with his insight on producing and working with the artists in the music industry by adding, “You have to care passionately but be able to let it go at a moments notice. You can work so hard on something and then they can walk in and say it’s done: Relationships end, records fail, things happen. So you have to care passionately enough to make something great and you have to completely let it go. You know, it’s painful when something fails or you get fired. You have to have a very think skin.” Steve Lillywhite chimed in, “There is always one thing you always say, is this a piece of advice: There is no winning, there is only “not” loosing”.
Soon after this exchange, Erik Philbrook, the moderator asked everyone on the panel to play a song they produced and offer insights on the process of that production. Steve Lillywhite referenced to Jaunes, a Latin American GRAMMY winner, he produced. Steve produced the album “Loco De Amor” for Jaunes. Steve mentioned that Juanes liked to call him, “Mister Steve”. Steve said, “For the first time in my career I’ve done an album, not in English, and it’s in Spanish. I’m really proud of it! I was lucky enough to do the whole album: from beginning to end by the Columbian artist named Jaunes. I put it all together and gave him the sound. It is an album and I don’t know if albums are really important anymore. But I’ve very proud of it.” Steve was speaking of “Mil Padazos” off of Loco De Amor. Then Rob Knox spoke of his work with Justin Timberlake and T.I. The jest of the story is Justin had a reciprocal contract with T.I., from his “Future Sex album”, and Rob got hooked into the project through his manager, who is also Justin’s road manager. The Manager suggested they both work together to both produce T.I.’s song as a duo. Rob said, “The coolest part of the story is when, Justin said to me, when we go into the room, this is what T.I. is going to say. We’ll ask him what kind of record he wants to do and he’ll say, “You know, something like “My Love” or “Ayo Technology” or something that Justin did with Fifty Cent. Something for the girls, like a party and club record. So we went into the room and asked, “What kind of record you want?” T.I. said, ” I’d like something like “My Love”. Then Rob said later to Justin, “How’d you know that shit?!” Justin said, “It’s a natural reaction. He knew it worked one time so he wanted to work again. Whatever we do we can’t do that again. We got to do something completely different. At the Time T.I. was going through a lot. He was going to prison for a year and his best friend got shot, murdered right in front of him. So he was going through a lot! So it would be cool to do a Hip Hop ballad: something heart felt. It led to the making of “Dead and Gone“. And it was so unexpected. Justin’s whole thing and the reason he’s so successful, he loves doing what people are not expecting. It’s just the way he thinks! Michael Knox was next and his song was Jason Aldean’s “Dirt Road to Anthem“. It was a first in Country Muisc history. It was a song that Michael found on YouTube with a pop sensibility to it. The Youtube version had 10 million hits on it. Michael’s approach to it was as he said, “So we wanted to go in and cut it to fit our market. So it was cut as a Country Rap song. But we used no drum loops, we used all organic instruments. I hired percussionist and we made a huge effort that it was going to be believable. The lyric was a country lyric and that’s what’s great about it. That’s why it worked so well. So 5 million singles and 3 million records that elevated Jason to another place.” Lastly, Rick Nowels selected “Young and Beautiful” by Lana Del Rey as a favorite song he produced. Young and Beautiful is one of his more recent examples of his work. Rick played the version he produced. Then he offered the demo version for his explanation and didn’t enhance it with a story; which made for an abrupt ending for his segment of the panel’s program.
The closing out of the Alchemist panel followed with a Q&A, where various audience members fielded questions to the panel. The subject matter ranged from how to produce an artist to how an artist can a great song. All the panel members shared their thoughts and gave specifics and insights on these various subjects in a direct and intimate way. Every member of the panel gave out some marvelous insights that translated form their experience and unique point of view. Steve Lillywhite was smart, emphatic and manic about his perspective. Rob Knox had a great sense of humor detailing his experiences. Michael Knox was obviously the strongest business sense and delivering the experience. Rick was more driven in the song writing and creativity with his artist. All offered an excellent views from the inside working of making meaningful hit music and inspired the audience. The audience was mostly comprised of aspiring artist or producers themselves. This was an opportunity for them to refine their own craft with this download of information from the pros. When the panel closed each member were approached and were overwhelmed with demo CD and Thumb Drives of music form admirers. Steve, Rob and Rick were the most open to receiving these demos. I found both Steve and Rick mingling with the fan long after the session closed. They were eager to meet their fans. They actively answered question and offering advice of all of those who crowded around them. This panel was one of the best thing I’ve attended since SXSW. It offered genuine exposure to the real inside workings of the music business and the creative experience, I wont soon forget. It was an interesting, riveting and rewarding day at ASCAP’s “I Create Music” Expo.