Music! After months of trying to juggle EVERYTHING about my music career at once–songwriting, organizing my band, setting up rehearsals and booking shows, making my website, recording, promotion, etc etc etc, it dawned on me that the key to all of this, the one thing I need above everything else, right now, is as many great recordings of great songs as possible. The single most important thing I should be doing, and should get done as soon as possible, is finish writing and making as many great songs as possible, and put them out for people to hear. No one will care how good my pictures or website or marketing efforts are if my music sucks or isn’t available to hear, but if I have great songs they can listen to and nothing else, those great songs will still make an impression.

So right now, I am doing everything I can to finish my album this month. So far I’ve got 6 recordings out, one more recording ready to go to the studio, two more tracks ready for vocals, and three or four more songs written and ready to be made. The goal is to have all the rest of the tracks for the remaining songs made by 9/10/09, when I go away for a few days, so that when I come back, I can just record the rest of the vocals over the course of about ten days, then take them into the studio to get finished so I can release them. Once allllll the work is done making the songs, I will pick the four best for my demo and get demo cd’s printed up to give out to industry contacts, as well as probably print up full albums to sell and give away at shows. Then I will focus my efforts sharply on publicity and shows, hitting up the music blogs hard, trying to get my songs licensed for use in film and TV, and making music videos. I hope that this will garner some positive press, which will bring more awareness of my music and more fans into the fold. Sitting here thinking about this is making me realize how much time it will all take, which is a little daunting to think about, but hey, every dream worth living takes a lotta lotta work, and I have no way of knowing what will come at the end of all this effort, but the point is that I’m making music I’m really proud of and excited about and I expect it to do really well once it gets out there. All the people I’ve showed it to have really enjoyed it, and I don’t see why bloggers and industry folk should be any different. I’m prepared for some harsh feedback from some people, but mostly I expect positive feedback.

Also, since I specifically started this blog with the intention of shedding light on how things actually happen for me, now might be a good time to mention how my networking is going. I don’t think it’s prudent to name names of people I’m talking about since they’re industry folk and I wouldn’t want to upset them in any way by attributing any comments to them that they didn’t want on a blog, so I’ll have to protect identities here in case things ever develop which would make that necessary. But in short, here are some networking things that have happened recently:

-At a music networking event, I met a lovely music lawyer as well as a fabulous DJ who helps select acts for SXSW, a very important music festival.

-I have a friend who’s signed to a major label and with whom I’m talking at length and in detail about this friend’s experiences in this friend’s position, which is fascinating and helpful.

-Through people being aware that I want to make music my full time career, I have been put in touch with a very successful and sweet music manager, and an awesome producer, and I’ve been hooked up with an awesome paying gig, and invited to do lots of cool shows.

The take home message about all this is:

1. Be as good as you can possibly be at what you do. Do whatever it takes to make your music amazing.

2. Talk about it constantly. Let people know you’re constantly working, producing and moving things forward. Then when they hear of things and people that can help you, they’ll hook you up.

3. People in the music industry are really, really nice and approachable and cool, so don’t be afraid of them or think they’re inaccessible. You just have to approach them the right way and you’ll be all set.

I haven’t entered into any working relationships with these people yet, but as I get ready to take things to the next level once I have my demo and album ready, these will be excellent people to know and talk to, and they could end up being extremely helpful, even pivotal, in my career. So in short, I’m feeling good about how building my contacts in the industry is going, and all it’s taken is some networking, chatting, making new friends, reconnecting with old ones, and having fun the whole time!

“Hands Off” has now been downloaded almost 1000 times! Thanks everyone!

I keep getting asked to do shows for people, and I keep accepting, so if you have a show/party/event you’d like me to play, just ask and I’ll do it if I can! That’s why I have my own equipment, after all!

Went to an AWESOME music networking event this past Thursday where I met an awesome music lawyer and a wonderful guy who’s a judge for electronic music submissions for SXSW, so I really hope he’ll put in a good word for me when it comes time for me to submit to perform there. SXSW (South by Southwest) is probably the most important music showcase for emerging bands and I really hope to play there this time around. The networking event is called 20dot20 (google it) and if you’re in music, go to it! It has been greatly enjoyable and helpful for me each time I’ve gone.

Also, I’m in the running to win a performance slot at a huge music festival, but I need every vote I can get to move on to the next round. Please vote once a day from now through 8/31/09 from each email address you have (work, home, school, etc) for me here: http://www.sonicbids.com/voting/premium/BandProfile.aspx?c=10372&p=326, and ask all your friends to do it as well! I’m currently in the top 25 but it’s only the second day of voting and I need to stay there for another 27 days to move on to the next round!!

Finally, I have recorded vocals for 5 songs in the last 3 days, which means it’s finally time to go back in the studio and finish them off so I can put them out!! So looking forward to that!! The songs that will be coming out are “Hands Off” (with an improved vocal), “Obsessed” (with a vastly improved vocal, haha) “Dance Dance Dance,” (I think this one will be the next breakout hit), “Anything You Want,” (this one really sounds awesome)  and “Good Time.” Can’t wait to see what you think of them! Will be making tracks for 5 more new songs I’ve written, then recording vocals for those, finishing them, and releasing them, and then the album will be done and it’ll be time to start pushing it hard!!!

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.

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!

When you want to accomplish anything, in any industry or pursuit, you should tell everyone you know/meet about it. You’ll never believe how many people can help you out that you already know or that you will meet in your life. Sometimes the person you’re talking to has the power to help you him/herself, sometimes they know someone who can help you, or sometimes they just know something that can help you get where you’re going faster. But nine times out of ten, they’ll have something worthwhile to share with you. When I tell people I’m pursuing a career as a music artist, I never, ever get a blank stare. I always get one of the following responses (or something close to it):

“That’s awesome! It’s so admirable that you’re pursuing your dreams and not just settling for some lame job.” (This makes me feel good about myself and my decisions about my life, which gives me confidence to keep going.)

“Oh wow, I want to hear your music/come to a show!” (This also makes me feel good, and as though people give a shit about what I’m doing and are actually willing to support it or at least give it some of their attention.)

“Cool, you know, I know a music blogger/singer-songwriter/record label employee/manager/agent/booker/guitarist you should talk to–here’s his info…” (This helps me make a connection that is helpful no matter what–whether I just get a bit of advice out of it or a record deal.)

“Oh great, you know, I’m putting on a show and I’d love you to come play…” (That person just booked a show for me. Great!)

That’s why, when someone gives you an opportunity to tell them about yourself, you should tell them what you most want them to know, what you want to be true. You talk about what’s important to you, so they make a response that’s relevant to that part of your life. You’re basically telling them, “This is who I am. This is how I want to be known/seen.” So if you’re an aspiring screenwriter, don’t say, “Well, I’ve been noodling around with this movie script in my spare time, but it’s nothing special.” Say, “I’m working on a movie script I’m really excited about, and trying to figure out how to get it to the right people so it gets read.” Showing that you’re serious and are doing the legwork is what impresses people and makes them want to help you. When people ask what I do, I say I’m a singer songwriter who’s hitting a lot of open mics, doing shows with my band, making my own music videos, learning to accompany myself on guitar, and basically working towards a high-flying pop career. Now, do I also have a day job? Yes. But is that my ultimate goal and dream in life, with which I want help moving forward? No. I want help making progress in music, so I talk about how much work I’m doing on my music, and people are impressed and interested and offer to help.

Also, it’s important to know that people want to help you. People love helping other people. Personally, one of my favorite things to do is connect my friends with other friends and contacts who can help them do what they want to do. It gets them excited, it gets me excited for them, and it makes everyone happy. But, they have to let me know what they want so I know who to put them in contact with. If they don’t say anything, I don’t know how to help them. So don’t be shy about talking about your passions and goals, and ask people for the help that they’re just dying to give. They’ll give it, you’ll get it, and it will be awesome!