Several generations of female musicians were center stage on day two of the ASCAP I Create Music Expo at Loews Hollywood Hotel, with a mix of relative veterans like JoJo, Lindsey Stirling, the Go-Go’s Charlotte Caffey and that dog’s Anna Waronker as well as fresh newcomers like Billie Eilish and Gizzle.
While questioners asked whether they should post their music on YouTube, Spotify and Soundcloud or wait for someone who’ll pay to release it, there wasn’t much question where the panelists stood: The DIY mentality held sway, and most said the ease of streaming and the lack of record label interference allows them the freedom to pursue their creativity in any number of ways.
On the morning’s Renaissance Women in Music panel, Priscilla Renea, who has been an outspoken enthusiast during several discussions, talked openly to ASCAP SVP Membership Nicole George-Middleton about being dropped by Capitol Records after the release of her 2009 album, “Jukebox”: “You have to learn how to survive on your own and follow your heart.”
During the same session, singer/songwriter Betty Who talked about parting ways with RCA, where she had been signed since 2013. “I’m so grateful for the time I had there,” said the Berklee College of Music alum. “I learned a great deal about the industry and myself. It was both terrifying and liberating to be on my own, because there’s no one to blame if something goes wrong. I had to trust myself and succeed and fail on my own terms.” The result was “Ignore Me,” her first song since leaving RCA, and a reflection on her time at the label.
Gizzle, an openly queer 29-year-old South Central L.A. MC who went from writing for the likes of Kanye, Travis Scott and Puffy to making her own mark as an artist, says record labels are more inclusive today, and that it’s much easier to retain individuality. “Some things have to come from your own voice,” she told the audience, concluding to much applause. “Create — don’t compete.”
Lindsey Stirling is probably the poster child for artists who broke through on social media. The electric violinist admitted, “It’s amazing that it’s possible to do it on your own, but I didn’t do this all by myself,” pointing to how she heeds her fans’ advice as well as the “dream team” she’s put together to support her career. “The gatekeepers are gone… There’s room at the table for everyone.”
JoJo listened to a recording of her 2006 Top 3 single, “Too Little Too Late,” when she was 15 and joked, “I sound like a chipmunk,” before giving credit to songwriters Billy Steinberg and Josh Alexander, working with both on her upcoming fourth album.
Charlotte Caffey and Anna Waronker sat with legendary producer/songwriter/ performer/ raconteur Peter Asher for Songs of Intelligent Life: A Master Session, in which they detailed their career transition from pop/rock songwriters to writing musicals on Linda Lovelace and their latest, “Hit the Wall,” based on the January 1969 Stonewall riots in New York’s Greenwich Village, which launched the gay pride movement. (In addition, a juke-box musical featuring the Go-Gos’ music, “Head Over Heels,” is currently previewing in San Francisco with a planned Broadway opening July 26 at the Hudson Theatre, where previews will start June 23.) The two have been friends for 23 years, and it wasn’t hard to sense their comfort with each other. Three songs from “Hit the Wall” were previewed, including the opening, “I Was There,” the closing “We Stay” and what sounds like the wrenching, show-stopping ballad, “What I’m Made Of,” sung by a cross-dressing character with the refrain, “You can tear me down/But I’ll get back up.”
“Doing a musical is even more of a collaborative effort than being in a songwriting room,” said Waronker.
Playing some of their songs from “Lovelace: A Rock Musical,” which had a six-month L.A. run in 2008 starring Tony nominee Katrina Lenk as the tragic adult film star-turned-anti-porn crusader, Caffey and Waronker explained the subtle difference between writing for the stage and making pop music.
“The songs have to move the story and be true to the emotions of the character,” Caffey pointed out.
Asher followed with his idea for a musical about a porn star in which a bad guy gets what’s coming to him and she lives happy ever after, calling it “Stormy” to much laughter.
Responding to a question about her father, the legendary former Warner Bros. Records President and producer Lenny Waronker, Anna concluded, “My dad’s whole focus was the artist, the song and integrity — which is unusual in this business. He tried to discourage me from doing this.”
Final session of the day offered a conversation between the sibling tandem of 16-year-old singer/songwriter Billie Eilish and 20-year-old producer/brother Finneas O’Connell, moderated by KCRW DJ and music supervisor Chris Douridas.
The pair described the giddy sensation of seeing their song, “Ocean Eyes,” score its first 1,000 listens on Soundcloud, eventually leading to a deal with Interscope Records, and subsequent collaborations with Khalid (“lovely”) and Vince Staples (“&Burn”).
The two home-schooled teens grew up in a creative environment surrounded by musical instruments and mixtapes, and were encouraged by their parents, who travel with them while on tour.
Eilish first heard Childish Gambino when she was 11, and it changed the way she listened to music. “It was different and it opened my mind,” she says, before expressing her admiration for 21 Pilots and a dis for their detractors.
“We’re making stuff to mosh to and cry to,” says the precocious Eilish, before answering an audience question about what it’s like to achieve success in music.
“If I thought about it too much, I’d go insane,” she admits. “I never want to be satisfied. I want to do more and get better at creating. We grew up as fans and we still are — this isn’t perfect. It’s draining, but it’s worth it.”
Eilish and O’Connell have come full circle, having attended ASCAP Expo two years ago as outsiders, and now onstage as “shining examples of what could be.”
Later that evening, ASCAP’s theme of inclusion played out on-stage, with the “She Rocks” showcase at the Ohm Nightclub next to the hotel, as Priscilla Renee led a quartet of women artists, including Melissa Polinar, the female-led bands French Toast and 76th Street.