So the show at the Dance Parade After Party in Tompkins Square Park really kicked ass. It was my first one with just me, backing tracks, and backup dancers and was so much fun. Also it was the first show in a long time that I didn’t have to bring the damn crowd, which was so great. There were about 200 people crowded right around the stage watching and more standing around the park listening, so that was awesome. The sound system was great and the dancing went great and I really held it down. Through it, I met a few DJ’s who all said they’d like to work/perform with me and/or spin my stuff in clubs, so that is totally awesome. I’ll finally get the club play I’ve been dreaming of!!

Couple tips:
1. It definitely helps to have an identifiable genre/sound that you belong to. Though I’m specifically going for dance-pop since I want mainstream success, my music is similar to some House music, and people kept coming up to me after the Dance Parade show saying “So you’re a house artist, right? I love house music. I’m a house DJ, you should come play at this club…” etc etc. When I was doing other types of music and trying to figure out what direction to go, no one ever said, “So you’re a country/pop/comedy/dance artist? You should come play at my country/pop/comedy/dance show…” because no one has multi-genre shows and opportunities for the most part. Each genre has its own world and its own path to success. Singer-songwriters have the coffeehouses, college circuit, songwriter groups, rock clubs, etc, dance artists have djs, producers, club performances, etc, rap artists have battles, mixtapes, etc etc. So picking your genre will make it much easier to see the path you have to travel. Now that I know I’m doing dance-pop/house, I know I need to pursue DJs and producers who will play and improve upon my tracks and spread them around, and I need to perform in straight and gay dance clubs, not coffeehouses etc. Makes things a lot clearer and when you know what you have to do, it’s a lot easier to get it done.

2. At an AIMP song pitching event, one of the record label A&R guys explained that a hit song is really just a series of hooks. A great hook for the verse, a great hook for the prechorus, and then a series of a great hook, an even better hook, and the biggest and best hook comprising the chorus. Then, the bridge should be even better than the rest of the song. This is so true. Think of a hit song on top 40 radio right now, and it’s likely it will fit into that mold. Now that I know that, I think it will help me make sure my songs are hit material.

P.S. I’m getting a wee bit sick of doing all this self promotion, which is a hazard of this job that I never thought of before. It gets sort of boring and annoying to have your life be about you you you all the time. That makes me laugh though. And the simple fact is, if I don’t do it, no one else will, and it’s required for getting anywhere in music, and I am determined to be successful at this, so that’s life I guess. And now, back to twitter/myspace/facebook/thesixtyone/gmail. Barf.

Whoa, such busy times these are! Here’s what I’m working on:

1. Switching PRO’s. SESAC will actually help further my career with actual support and connections and opportunities. ASCAP is better for people who are already connected and making gobs of money than for people who need all the help they can get from all possible sources. Hoping this will lead to some great doors opening. It sure helped the woman who wrote “Womanizer!”

2. Trying to finish another new song by this weekend so I can give it to the band to learn before Wednesday’s rehearsal. Lyrics and melody are done but making the backing track takes mad time and thought.

3. Prepping for tomorrow’s show at the 2009 Dance Parade in Tompkins Square Park (on at 5:55pm tomorrow at the Main Stage). Just had a dance rehearsal with my childhood friend Yvonne, whom I’ve known since I was 7 and who’s now a pro dancer, and her fab friend Shyrelle. They are both amazing dancers. Was great to dance and learn choreography again. You know, I can really move. 🙂 Made me want to get in way better shape, because there’s nothing more demanding of stamina than dancing and singing and entertaining all at once.

4. Collabing. Gotta write songs for two tracks from a fab woman I met at the ASCAP conference, had a remix made of “Everybody’s Crazy In New York” by DJ Identity and am waiting for two more remixes of my songs, one coming from Germany and the other from England. That happened from Myspace friending. It really does work! Also writing with the producer I sang for for the AIMP song pitching event.

5. Still myspace friending as much as possible every day I can, up to over 9,000 friends now. Almost at the original goal of 10,000 set both to get new listeners and create the impression that my stuff is worth listening to because a lot of other people are listening to it, which is true. People are really loving the music and I’m getting about 150 plays a day. 50 times what I got when I wasn’t using myspace often.

6. Studying music internet marketing and going to revamp my operations to be more effective.

7. Made a music video for “Can’t Stop (Remix)” which people have been loving. So proud of it. Check it at youtube.com/jccassis

8. Gotta record vocals for “Obsessed” and “Hands Off,” the two totally kick ass new songs I finished about a week ago. Time flies.

On the horizon:

1. New music videos, especially for “Everybody’s Crazy in New York”

2. New songs. I’m in a writing frenzy and having monthly shows is making me want to have new material at every single show.

3. Street performances, hopefully in Union Square, during the summer. Hopefully both full band and me with tracks and dancers. Can’t wait for that. Will be such a challenge, will improve my live show, grow my audience, and make some change. So so so exciting.

4. Almost ready for seeking out gay dance club gigs. Got a connection at Webster Hall, but not sure if that’s the right place to start off, rather than go when I’ve got a bigger following. But they have a small basement space that could be perfect. Still, I know that Therapy in Hell’s Kitchen has live shows, and that is a medium sized gay bar, so I should prolly see if I can start there and at similar small gay venues to have more intimate shows and get out there and meet/make fans. My music seems to strike a chord with gay men, which is exactly what I wanted, so I need to go to them and show them what I’m doing and see if they like it enough to start helping to build me up to where I want to go. If you can get a strong gay following, it can really grow from there. See Bette Midler, Madonna, Lady Gaga, etc etc etc.

Non-music:

Am looking into getting Invisalign to straighten out my teeth. Sick of taking pics that are ruined because the angle makes me look like I’ve been punched in the mouth one too many times. Need teeth that can be photographed from any angle and look good.

1000 business cards arrived today. Went through 500 really fast last time, wonder how long it will take to run out of these guys. Prepared to hand out a LOT of them tomorrow. 🙂

So I just got back from LA, where I was attending the ASCAP I Create Music Expo, and yesterday I went to the second round of the AIMP song pitching event. Between the two, man did I learn some thangs! Here they are:

1. After attending numerous panels with songwriters, artists and producers, I got two take-home messages about how people get successful: you MUST write constantly and as much as possible, and you MUST be in the studio collaborating with others as much as possible. Doing these two things will mean that you’ll know and be working with people who can help you get your music into big projects, and that by the time that happens, you will have written so much that your writing will be good enough to be used on those projects. There’s just no avoiding hard work and networking if you want to get anywhere in this business.

2. Now for the breakdown of what I learned and what was said at each panel:
First Panel, with Natasha Bedingfield, Wyclef Jean, Ryan Tedder and others
-Just get up and make music every day. There is no such thing as writer’s block. Successful writers write through writer’s block. (I’ve definitely found this to be true. Sometime’s I’ll sit and bang my head against the wall before the synth line comes to me, but then, there it is.)
-Ryan Tedder (lead singer/songwriter for OneRepublic and also has written so many smash hits on the radio you would cry if I listed them all here) said he was signed and dropped 3 times from various labels and it took 8 years to get the OneRepublic album out, but all that time he was finding himself as an artist. And now look at him! The guy will be a billionaire in like 5 years if he keeps up the way he’s going now. Unbelievable.
-Inspiration for anything can come from anything else. Wyclef talked about how, one day in the studio, he was smoking weed and listening to Enya, when in one of her songs, he heard the melody line for his hit with the Fugees, “Ready or Not.” Wyclef was hilarious, by the way. He said something like “Isn’t it amazing how a kid from Haiti living in the projects in Brooklyn can be smokin’ weed listening to Enya in a New Jersey basement and take a melody from her and put it on a Fugees record? At that time I wasn’t thinking about getting her approval for it. You know, Enya’s sittin’ up in her castle in Europe somewhere, she ain’t never gon’ hear this.” So funny.
-At the end of the panel I rushed up to the front to ask Natasha Bedingfield how she made it, since that piece of the story is always skipped over in bios. To my shock and slight frustration, even she herself sort of danced around the answer when I asked her directly. I said, “So, how did you make songwriting into a job from being a hobby?” and she was like “I just wrote constantly,” and I was like, “Right, but how did you go from just writing to being signed and having it be your full time job?” and she was like “I just wrote as much as possible and passed it around to friends,” and I was like, “Right, but did you have a manager or something who helped you get a deal?” and she said, “Actually, I had a record deal before I had a manager, ” (at this point my brain almost exploded–why is it so hard to get people to answer how they got a god damn record deal??!?!?!) and I said, “But then how did you get the record deal?” and she said, “I don’t know really, I just wrote as much as possible and passed demos to friends.” I could feel that time was running out and I still wasn’t going to get a clear answer out of her without some nudging, so I said, “Oh, so probably your friends knew some people at labels and passed it on to them and then they contacted you?” and she was like, “Yeah.” Whew. Are you exhausted just reading this? Why can’t people understand how the most important thing that ever happened to them happened to them? It’s not that hard. She obviously wanted to do it as a career, since as she said, she “quit university, worked a temp job that was flexible, and wrote as much as possible.” So she wrote a lot, made demos, gave them to her friends, and her friends knew people at record labels who liked the demos and gave her a deal. Simple as that. Jesus. She was very nice though, I want to make that clear. I just cannot understand why people can’t tell you exactly how they got deals. It’s maddening.
-Going off of that, I was also reminded of the two main ways people get deals: you either work behind the scenes as a songwriter or musician/singer until you know enough people to finagle a deal, or you make demos and get them to people at labels through friends. You’ve got to either be in the scene or use your connections to get your music to the people in the scene.

The Networking Panel
-When networking, remember it’s about the person you’re talking to, not you. Don’t talk at someone about yourself, ask them about them.
-You can’t make things happen in your life, you can only put yourself in the position for things to happen for you. (Not sure I agree with the wording of this, but it’s like the being in the studio part. If you’re not there, someone else is going to get to write for the project.)
-Be present and open; don’t look around the room while the person is talking to you. (Amazing how many douchebags out there don’t understand this. If you just talk at me and name drop and look around like I don’t even exist when I’m answering you or you’re talking to me, I’ll understand that you don’t give a shit about me, you’re an idiot, and I won’t contact you again.)
-Network with people on your level and make it clear how you can help them. (So true. Britney Spears doesn’t have time to talk with you, but she does have time to talk to the superstar producers Stargate, who’ve made many hits for her and others. So don’t waste time trying to get to her if you’re not on her level. But the producer with the home studio down the street has time to talk to you, and if you guys do great work together, in a few years you could be the next Britney Spears and Stargate.)
-Make sure people know why they should listen to your music. (Hint: it’s not because it’s “awesome.” Get specific. Is it because they like artists similar to you? Is it because they review music in your genre? Is it because it will make them dance or laugh?)
-You’ll see the same people over and over again in the music world, so be aware of that when you interact with them. Don’t burn any bridges.
-Before networking in a room, circle the outside edge of the room 3 times so people subconsciously see you and then they will think they know you when you start talking to them. (Funny and fascinating. Can’t wait to try that one!)
-Always use positive language so people will have a more positive memory of you and experience talking to you. Even when saying little things like “no problem,” say “my pleasure” or “yes!” instead. More positive.
-Tuesday through Thursday before noon is the best time to reach people if you want to get them or get them to call you back.
-Make sure people know you’re always working and making progress.
-Ask open-ended questions like “What kinds of artists do you manage?” not “Will you manage me?”
-Wear things that let people know you’re in music so they can ask you about it. (Like an ASCAP shirt or something like that.)
Be the person people want to see succeed–relatable, humble, proactive, good sense of humor, doesn’t take self to seriously. I definitely feel like people who know me want me to succeed and that’s been a huge boost and help for me, and I know it’s been what’s made them support me.
“In music, there’s no one who doesn’t succeed. There are only people who stop trying.” This one was HUGE for me to hear from a dude who’s been around music forever.
-Get people excited about your music by being excited about it yourself, then they’ll ask to hear it. So true!

From the Management Panel
-The music business is global so keep an open mind about where your music can go and what it can be used for.
-The record business is suffering, but the music business is fine.
-The relationship between artist and fan is based on trust and communication, just like all relationships. Fans should trust you’ll make a great product, and you should communicate with them.
-Build a consistent reputation for good value and good product. Make a track record of making all great albums, not one single and nine crappy songs in an album. This is SO TRUE. This is exactly why I used to buy Dave Matthews Band albums as soon as they came out without hearing a single track, and why I never did that with 99% of the other artists who have songs I like. (P.S. DMB is still totally great, it’s just that I associate them with my middle and high school years and I’m more into synthy danceable stuff now. I’m sure they’re still making great albums these days.)
-Make your website a good experience that will keep people on it for a long time.
-When someone asked a question about getting a crappy deal as your first deal and being scared to take it, the managers responded, “All your early deals will be bad anyway,” so just jump in with both feet. Sad but true, but if you make great music with those crappy deals and work your ass off building your fan base, you can negotiate a better deal the next time around.
-Managers have great input into who you’ll be as an artist. (Didn’t know that!)
“Age doesn’t play a role in success potential, it’s all about what you’re doing as an artist.” I know I’m only 25 but I cannot even tell you what a relief it was to hear this. HALLELUJAH!

From the On The Radio Panel
-Ron Fair noted that Lady Gaga is bringing a dance, four on the floor movement back! Huzzah! Hoping to ride that wave.
-Clubs are still a great way to launch songs because it’s WAY easier than launching something on the radio. Again, HUZZAH! That was one of the main reasons I went in a more danceable direction. You can’t play singer-songwriter guitar stuff at the club for 400 people at 2am on a Saturday night!
-Don’t try to make music a science when it’s not. Just do the best work you can and network and cross your fingers.
-Tricky Stewart (a producer behind many smash hits) has a person who listens to everything that’s sent to him, so send him stuff!
-Many successful songwriters recycle old ideas all the time.
-Send stuff to Stargate’s management if it’s appropriate for what they do, since they said their management listens to stuff.
-Dr. Luke (producer/songwriter for Katy Perry’s hits as well as many other amazing songs) says everyone who’s successful now got taken advantage of early in their career (having songs stolen, not being paid, etc) and it’s just part of paying your dues, so don’t let that stop you from getting started. One thing I heard a lot is if your stuff is worth stealing, it’s pretty great, so take it as a compliment and keep going and eventually people will realize it’s you behind the hits and you’ll get your credit and due and money.
-Make sure your demo consists of 3-5 smash hit songs. In this biz, no one needs filler songs anymore. Everyone needs smash hit songs only.

From the Music Licensing Panel
-Music libraries look for a great hook in a song, songs that can be used for many different types of scenes in movies/tv
-Some libraries are exclusive and you can’t have the same song in more than one library, some are not
-If you submit music to some libraries they will critique it for you
-Personal recommendations are key to getting your music heard
-Do research on music supervisors and reach out to them knowing who they are, what they do, and what they’re working on. No blind submitting.
-Focus on your fans. Grow your fanbase and write music constantly and the industry will follow.
-Blog coverage can lead to licensing. Licensing people are paying attention to what’s on the blogs.

From my One-on-One meeting with Music Lawyer Wofford Denius
-His advice was to just have a great live show and build your fanbase and buzz. The cream always rises to the top. If you make great music and have a lot of fans, the industry will come knocking.

From the Richard Marx Interview
-Richard Marx is an unbelievable songwriter with hits like “Right Here Waiting,” “Hold on to the Nights,” and N*SYNC’s “This I Promise You” to his credit
-His story is that his dad was a hit jingle writer and composer, and had a studio Richard used to record his demos as a teenager. Richard then passed his demo out to friends, one of whom knew someone who was a photographer for the band The Commodores, which included Lionel Ritchie. Lionel heard the demo and invited Richard to come out to LA and be in the studio with him. Richard ended up singing backup on some of Lionel’s songs, and got an opportunity to write for Kenny Rogers from that, and that was the start of his songwriting life. He still had to fight a fair amount for a deal as a solo artist, but then had a hugely successful run as a solo artist, and now is a writer and producer for many artists.
-Just goes to show, it’s all about writing, networking, and passing your demo out to whoever will take it.

Ayayay so much has happened in the last few days! I got the new songs up on the myspace and my website, and people really enjoyed them at the show. I just finished the dance remix of “Can’t Stop” with Lee-Sean, will post it asap, and it sounds awesome. So now I finally have a nice little set of dance recordings ready to go, and it’s just gotta be nose-to-the-grindstone getting the rest of the songs I have in mind done over the next few months so we can have like two set’s worth of dance songs to play. I’m SO glad to be writing regularly again!

The problem is, I should really re-brand myself completely now as a dance-pop artist, which means taking down the old stuff and replacing it with the new. And redesigning the website and doing lots more music videos to replace the ones I won’t be promoting anymore and blah blah so in a way I’m back to square one. Yowza. But I’m so much more excited about the music and the shows this time around I really don’t care. This new music kicks ass and having danceable, fun music will be a big help. The music videos also now would make much more sense being weird or witty or really memorable because I’ll be able to dance in them and use more humor etc. It’ll be great.

In other news, we’re losing our fabulous drummer to LA and the glare of Hollywood. Nicole’s going out there to pursue acting and music opportunities that have arisen, so we need to find a new drummer stat. I’m working on it and it’s going ok. Wish me luck and put me in touch with any drummers you know!

Also, in exciting collaboration news, I have found some new collaborators in a songwriting and production team in New Jersey whom I found through a music biz event. Now because I always hate it when people can’t explain how they got certain opportunities, this is exactly how I got this opportunity: 1. I met one of my best friends, Elijah, at Harvard. 2. Elijah’s ex-roommate is a girl named Joanna who lives in Brooklyn and wants to get into the music biz. 3. Joanna is on an email list called Women in Music which you women should all get on. 4. Joanna told me about the Women in Music list because she knew it would help me out. 5. I got on that email list and someone emailed out something about a music publisher’s organization called AIMP which regularly holds helpful events for music makers in NYC. 6. I registered for an AIMP event a while ago and got on their email list. 7. They emailed me about a song pitching event where songwriters would receive instructions on what kind of music a few artist’s A&R teams were looking for, including Leona Lewis’ team. 8. I went to that event, where there was a sign up list for producers and songwriters in attendance to be able to talk to each other and work together on the songs to pitch to the artists’ teams. 9. I signed up and so did all the producers. 10. I went through the list and reached out to all the producers offering my skills as a singer. 11. One of the producers who got back to me had a great song finished for which he needed a demo singer. 12. We arranged a time for me to come in and sing the song. 13. We did that on Friday night and finished the song in 6 hours. 14. It was a great time and we were both happy to work with each other, and now the production team wants me to come back for future demo singing needs, and I want to keep working with them as well. So THAT’s exactly HOW IT HAPPENED. Now, everyone else who has cool things happen to them, can you please learn how to explain it like I just did and stop pretending it’s always some magical fairy tale with no explanation? EVERYTHING HAPPENS SOMEHOW. Ok.

So they’re going to pitch that song to Leona Lewis’ team, and if her team has half a brain they’ll take it because it’s awesome.

Now, I’m off to band practice and hopefully some more work on my new songs later tonight! Enjoy the new stuff on my myspace and website!