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.

So yesterday I went to the ASCAP New York Sessions music conference (which I knew about and could go to because I became a member of ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) many months ago. Here are some helpful things I learned:

1. From the keynote interview with Rob Thomas (of Matchbox 20 and solo work):
-No matter what level you’re at in this business, you better be working your ass off if you want to get anywhere or stay anywhere. Rob talked about how he gets up at 8:30am every day (bet you didn’t think a self-proclaimed pot-smoker musician did that!) to take care of business emails etc, then writes for hours every day if he’s not on the road or otherwise engaged. This man has sold tens of millions of records. Financially he’s set for life. If he never did another thing, he’d still have the respect of almost everyone in the music community for his huge success and great songs. And yet he works for hours every day just like the struggling 17-year-old nobody, trying to write great songs. Because that process never ends.
-Getting a record deal is NOT the end of your hard work. It’s the beginning. Sure, it’s hard work to get enough people to come to shows that record company people start paying attention, but it’s way harder to make and promote a record that will sell millions of copies once that record company has invested a million dollars in you and is breathing down your neck for a great record that you don’t know if you know how to make.
-More often than not, being successful in music means touring your ass off. Thomas mentioned that for 3 and a half years after the first Matchbox 20 record came out, he was on the road. And you thought the 2-year Guns N Roses tour you heard about on Behind The Music sounded long.

2. From the Making a Great Demo panel:
-Make sure you have a great room to record and mix and master in, because if the room doesn’t sound great, your recordings will really suffer. There is a company called Auralex which will do a free consultation of your recording room and help you figure out how to maximize its potential.
-Success is about the song, the song and the song. If you don’t have a great song, nothing else you do is going to make it successful. If you have a great song and you put it out there, it will find success in one way or another. Case in point: the music publisher on the panel mentioned that he signed a songwriter with bad recordings and no record deal because his songs were amazing. The song is the most important thing. Make great songs. Period.
-Just like with everything else in the arts, those amazing songs must be submitted through a manager, agent or lawyer to get heard. Unsolicited stuff is not going to get listened to.
-One musician on the panel mentioned that before his record deal he survived off of licensing music. He started out with this by going to music supervisor conferences and meeting supervisors to whom he could submit his music. Smart guy!
-The A&R guy from Hollywood Records on the panel mentioned that he has kept in touch with acts who had potential but weren’t ready for a deal when he first heard them, so keep working on that craft and getting better, and you might get lucky even if you don’t start out being a genius who’s ready to be signed. He also mentioned that once he signs an act, he expects them to be writing constantly.

3. From the marketing panel:
-It’s more important to have a coherent plan for what you want to achieve than to be on a million websites and social networks.
-Clear Channel has a program called “New” which helps local acts get heard on major radio stations. Go to a Clear Channel radio station’s web page and search for the New program.
-It’s essential to gather the email addresses of people who are interested in your music so you can keep in touch with fans
-The best way to get written about in blogs is to perform and otherwise “do something worth blogging about.”
-LOGO TV channel has a contest where you can get your music video on the air
-On myspace, your page views are much more important than your friend count to record labels etc, because a high page view-to-fan-number ratio means you have avid fans who keep coming back. It’s true–I visit FrankMusik’s myspace a lot, because he kicks ass and I can’t get enough of him and I will support him for the rest of my life because he’s a freaking genius. But I am only one friend.
-bandcamp.com is an awesome site that is very helpful for musicians

From the songwriters and producers panel:
-You make your own opportunities. No one’s going to hand you anything (what have I been saying all this time!?!?)
-How to handle the eternal problem of people telling you you have to sleep with them in order for them to help you in the music business: Never give them any reason to believe you’re there for anything but to work, and if they hit on you, just let them know you’re there to work and nothing else, and they’ll hit on someone else and work with you. Or if they don’t, someone will.
-Jingle writing can be a good thing from which to transition into producing music for artists.
-One producer told a story of going to see a young band he loved that only had 8 people in the audience, 7 of whom walked out of the show. That band was Gym Class Heroes, they of the huge radio hits. No Doubt had shows like that too, early on. If you believe in what you’re doing, keep going no matter what. Do more shows. Find your audience. It takes a while, but they’ll find you and then you’ll have your big awesome shows.

A couple things I’ve thought about in the last couple days of doing open mics and networking with new contacts/fans:

1. When networking with someone, ALWAYS be the one to reach out first, because the simple fact is, if you don’t, they won’t. It doesn’t matter how much they said they want to keep in touch etc. My experience has literally been 99 out of 100 people do NOT contact you first. You MUST contact them first, and then oftentimes they will get back to you and your exchange will develop, but for whatever reason, people just do not initiate contact with new friends/contacts. So if you want anything to come out of meeting people, you have GOT to be the one to send the follow up email or make the follow up phone call. You don’t have to believe me, but if you test this theory, you will notice you aren’t getting any follow up emails before you ask the person for a response yourself.

2. Follow ups must be made in a timely manner–preferably as soon as you get to a computer after you’ve met the person. What I’m doing now is, performing at an open mic, going home after it, and, before I go to bed, even if I’m really tired, I make sure to take 10 minutes and reach out personally to each new contact via email before I go to bed and forget about it forever. People’s memories are only so good, especially when trying to remember someone they only met briefly once when they had a drink or two in them. So send that follow up IMMEDIATELY, and put their name in the subject line, and explain who you are. Example subject line: “Hey Dave, this is JC Cassis, the girl who met you last night at the open mic.” In the body of the email, remind the person who you are, what you performed, and what you and they talked about when you met. Thank them for their interest in you and ask whatever you need to ask them, and offer to help them with something you can help them with if possible, or offer them a free gift, like a free mp3 if you’re a musician. They’re a new contact and you’ve got to make a great first impression to get in their good graces. And a good first impression goes a long way. You never know where getting someone’s favor might lead…

3. When someone helps you in a networky way, pay them back equally. You TOTALLY owe them and you want to show them your appreciation by doing something equally nice for them. For example, last night at the open mic, a guy named Collin who’s in the band Victor Bravo saw me perform. I friended him on myspace and wrote him a personal email thanking him for giving me his email address. He wrote me back a personal message alerting me that he had mentioned me in his band’s blog. Look at what he wrote: victorbravo.blogspot.com. Now that is amazing networking on his part. He gave me an amazing endorsement to all of his fans, complete with a link to my website and a notice of when my next show will be. That is so fucking smart it blew my mind! What a brilliant guy. Because now I’m talking about how awesome he is in my blog. Because how could I not? Not only is it true, but it really meant a lot to me, and I TOTALLY owe him! So, by him taking the time to write a few sentences about the acts at the mic and letting them know he did it, he is earning blog mentions/endorsements from all of them (if they are smart, they will pay him back. Either way, he gets major musician karma points). If you want to help out this sweet and intelligent man, check out his awesome band, Victor Bravo, here.

So be smart, nice and prompt with your networking. Think about it from the other person’s perspective. It’ll go a long way!

I’m a pop star. I’d say “aspiring pop star,” but doesn’t that sound pathetic? It does. So I’m a pop star. A tiny, relatively unknown pop star making her way up the ladder one rung at a time, but a pop star nonetheless. I make pop music. I have fake blonde hair. I dance. I have music videos. What other credentials do I need?

Anyway, even before I started on the journey of making pop music my career, I always wondered: HOW DO POP STARS BECOME POP STARS??!?!!? How does a normal person become Britney Spears or Madonna or Janet Jackson? How do you get from rural Louisiana or Michigan or Indiana to Madison Square Garden with 20,000 people screaming your name? On all the E! True Hollywood Stories and artist bios, they always skip over the few moments or months in a person’s life that led to them reaching the level of success they have reached. It’s always “Britney Jean Spears was born on December 2, 1981 in Kentwood, Louisiana…then she took dance classes…then she was on Mickey Mouse Club…then she had a number 1 album!”

I don’t know about you, but I’m interested in what happened between Mickey Mouse Club and the number one album. Whom did she meet? What did they tell her? How many times did she fail before she succeeded? What did she have to change about herself to get where she was going? How did she feel about it? With whom did she work, and what did they bring to the table?

The purpose of this blog is to demystify the process of becoming a pop star. Not as it was for Britney Spears, but as it will be for me. My biggest dream in life is to make a living making music people love, and to do it in a big, big way. If people with no parents, no money, no support, and no connections can do it, then so can I.

Along the way I’ll probably get pretty self-helpy as well, simply because it seems that every time I doubt something about myself and my prospects, I find a reason (or ten) not to, and I want to share that.

But mainly, I’ll detail every aspect of what happens to me along this journey: who I meet, what they say, what I learn, mistakes I make, how everything feels, my successes, my failures, dreams fulfilled and hopes dashed and plans changing.

By reading this blog, you’ll learn a lot about how to make progress in the music industry and what you can do to further your own career and life. Whether you want to be a pop star or not, you’ll realize you really can do whatever you want in your life and there is simply nothing holding you back, because you’ll see me put those ideas into practice before your very eyes.

So buckle your seatbelts. Prepare for takeoff!