It was fitting that ASCAP president/chairman Paul Williams took the stage Thursday morning at the opening of the 14th annual “I Create Music” Expo to the strains of Kermit the Frog crooning “Rainbow Connection,” one of the many hits he’s written as one of Hollywood’s go-to tunesmiths.
“Someday we’ll find it,” go Williams’ lyrics. “The lovers, the dreamers and me.” That connection was precisely his message at the annual membership meeting for the three-day schmooze-athon taking place at the Loews Hollywood Hotel through Saturday. “If you have music in your soul and want to turn your passion into a profession, then you are in the right place.”
Williams’ theme was music as “a way forward for positive change through our shared humanity as songwriters,” urging attendee creatives to “write your truth, write your passion, write what you want to see in the world.”
Part of what songwriters would also like to see in the world, of course, is a continued path toward the profession being a livelihood. With this week’s announcement of record revenues totaling $1.227 billion, much of which is directly attributed to audio streaming, ASCAP is looking more robust than ever, and much of the Expo is devoted to enabling musicians, composers and writers to understand how to monetize creativity by asserting their intellectual and legal rights.
After introducing the new board of directors on both the writers’ and publishers’ sides, Williams touted last year’s passage of the Music Modernization Act and European approval of the EU’s Copyright Directive, both of which he insists will “narrow the value gap” between creators and digital streamers like Spotify, YouTube and Pandora.
To that end, Williams cited the MMA’s stipulation of a Mechanical Licensing Collective that will result in digital companies paying out millions in withheld royalties owed to songwriters and publishers.
While the delicate balance of art and commerce was the subject of many of the day’s panels, Williams ended his remarks on a personal note by remembering his late younger brother Mentor Williams, who struggled to follow in his more established sibling’s footsteps. On his last day as a staff writer for A&M Records in almost complete despair, Mentor came up with “Drift Away,” memorably covered by Dobie Gray. The ASCAP chief visibly choked up.
After touting the org’s positive financial results, CEO Elizabeth Matthews (pictured above) then discussed ASCAP’s ongoing campaign for diversity, including a new coalition with Alicia Keys and Universal Music Publishing chairman/CEO Jody Gerson’s “She Is the Music” initiative. Matthews introduced Atlantic Records signing MILCK (aka L.A.-based singer/songwriter Connie Linn), who sang her own “Quiet,” which turned into a viral anthem when she first performed it at the 2017 Women’s March in downtown Los Angeles.
Longtime membership EVP John Titta was next, introducing a new program dubbed ASCAP Wellness, designed to support music creators’ health in “mind, body and soul.” The performing rights org is joining with Aaptiv, an audio service for music-fueled workouts; Better Help, a digital service offering access to therapy and mental health resources; and Shine, a mobile app for “daily mindfulness and self-care.”
Tiutta then brought to the stage ASCAP client Portugal. The Man, who performed a two-song set which included “Live in the Moment” and their ubiquitous, much-synched smash, “Feel It Still.”
Later in the day, Variety executive editor Shirley Halperin moderated the “Publishing 101” panel with Kobalt Music Publishing creative GM Sue Drew; Sony/ATV Music Publishing’s SVP of A&R/head of research and analytics, Jacob Fain; Universal Music Publishing Group’s creative VP, Luke McGrellis; BMG’s co-head of A&R, Monti Olson, and Warner/Chappell Music’s president of A&R for the U.S., Ryan Press (pictured below).
ASCAP board member and film composer Joel Beckerman and colleague David Vanacore (“Survivor,” “Big Brother”) used the Expo to announce the formation of “Your Music, Your Future,” an education campaign designed to provide free resources for aspiring TV and film composers, while informing them on how to protect their rights in making deals with studios and producers. The initiative was revealed during the Beckerman-moderated panel “Synch Holes & Score Wars: Understanding Your Film/TV Music Contract,” which included Vanacore along with music attorney Bradley Shenfeld, producer/composer Joseph Trapanese (“Straight Outta Compton” and the “Need for Speed Playback” video game) and Alicen Schneider, NBCUniversal’s music creative SVP and head of west coast music operations.
The “rainbow connection” was never more apparent as attendees lined up to grill the panel members, including one eager film composer from North Dakota who asked the best way to get his scores — which he transcribes on paper, of all things — to the right people in Hollywood.
“Well, first of all, you have to move here,” laughed Trapanese, who offered an analogy that the odds of succeeding in the music business were somewhat akin to getting struck by lightning. “And to do that, you have to go to Kansas and stand in the middle of a corn field during a thunderstorm wearing a tin foil hat.”
And while it might seem that it takes a miracle to succeed in music, just last year at this very same ASCAP event, teen singer/songwriter Billie Eilish and her brother and collaborator, Finneas O’Connor, were modestly introduced as part of a panel … with little sense that Billie-mania would be greeting her every move a year later. Now, she’s 2019’s global sensation, and ASCAP will honor Eilish and O’Connor with its prestigious Vanguard Award at the organization’s annual Pop Music Awards on May 16 in Beverly Hills, given to those “shaping the future of American music.”
Sometimes there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.