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.

I’ve been at this now for two full years. In late fall of 2006, I started writing songs with my friend Socrates Cruz. In January and February of 2007 we made the first terrible, awful, totally scratch recordings of some of those songs in Soc’s bedroom in Harlem with what he playfully called a “Mexican microphone” (he’s Mexican-American, so shut up), which was an old performance mic duct-taped to the long handle of a stand-up dustpan, which was perched on a rolling office swivel chair. Needless to say, those recordings didn’t come out too well. We didn’t spend any time on the production, and my voice just was absolutely not as strong as it is now. Plus, since the songs were new, I hadn’t had the time or opportunity to perform them and let them grow into what they needed to be. And I didn’t have a home studio or any production skills to fill out their arrangements. Anyway, in February of that year I appeared on an internet radio show which I booked myself on through Backstage magazine, where I met the sound engineer who became my sometime collaborator and the co-writer and producer of my songs “Lover” and “Lost/Found.” I was really excited about what we came up with together, but soon after we started working together he took a really serious job and was no longer able to devote any time to working with me. So I realized, if I wanted to get anything done in a reasonable amount of time, I was going to have to start being able to do things for myself. I started a full time day job (which I still have), which allowed me to save up enough money to buy an iMac that September. Over the next few months, I cobbled together the rest of the elements of my home studio and began to teach myself how to use it. I also researched how to get my music on iTunes and other digital retailers, and put the three finished songs I had together to form “The Lover EP,” which I put up for sale. In September and December I filmed my first music video for “Lover,” and put it on YouTube. In the beginning of 2008 I started teaching myself how to use the programs Reason and Garage Band to record and produce my music, and beginning in April, I finally started working on the recordings of the songs I had written a year before. It took me four months of daily work to fill out the arrangements on 11 of the songs on my first album (the other two had been on The Lover EP), and the full album went live on iTunes in September of 2008. In the spring of 2008 I bought a guitar, and in the summer I started taking lessons. By June 2008 I was able to write songs on the guitar by myself, and I wrote “Texas Boys” and “You Don’t Have To Worry.” Over the next few months I focused on finishing my album and practicing guitar. In October 2008 I got out to a couple of open mics, and now, in January, I’ve made a more serious commitment to that and have been doing it a lot more.

So, in two years, I’ve gone from being just a singer/songwriter who was totally dependent on others to being a virtually independent singer/songwriter, who can design her own website, write songs alone, perform them alone, make music videos, self-promote, have worldwide distribution, and on and on. I made a complete album and released it. I put together a live band and have started scheduling shows and will be performing regularly. I’ve gotten my music accepted by two music licensing companies. Now that I have all that under my belt, I can finally get out and really start pushing and promoting my music. It took me a while to realize what I needed to do to accomplish my goals, but now that I know what I need to know, there’s no stopping me.

So what’s my point? My point is that it takes a really long time to get where you want to go. I feel like I’ve been waiting forever to make this my full-time career, but really it only became my main pursuit two years ago, and I had to learn everything from scratch while keeping a full time job and maintaining friendships, a social life, and my health. They say that you become an expert at something after 10,000 hours of practice, which breaks down to four hours a day for about 7 years. So clearly I haven’t even put in half of my time yet.

So always remember, when you’re pursuing your dreams: be patient. And when you get impatient, get patient again. Because it takes a long time. But the longer you stay in the game, the more you’ll learn, the more people you’ll know, and the more competitors you’ll outlast, and eventually, you’ll be the last one standing, with the most knowledge and the most connections, and you’ll be in the position to do what you want. Opportunities don’t all come quickly, and they don’t all come at once. You’ve got to stay in the game so that when someone thinks of you for a project, not only are you still in the right line of work, but you’ve been in the right line of work for a long time, and you’ve built up your expertise and desirability as a player. Don’t quit before the game’s over. Stay long enough to be the MVP.

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!