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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Insights on Holding Songwriter Events

Insights On Holding Songwriter's Events!

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Over the years I've had the pleasure of running Songwriter showcases. They've all been fun, however there have been many improvements made over the years through both trial and error, or just flat out learning from Nashville and how they do it. Keep in mind that Nashville has perfected the method, having done them for almost 100 years and literally thousands of events. Believe me, theirs is the template to use!

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I learned from them by being part of The Key West Songwriter's Festival since 2010, the largest songwriting festival in the United States. The way they do it just flat out makes sense. 

Besides, why try blazing a new trail with all the trial and error that goes along with it, when the tried, true, proven way is at our fingertips?

On some of my early events, I ran it pretty much the same as my open mics that I had held. I learned from the best here as well, but in the end, an open mic is not a songwriter's event. That was the wrong way to do it.

It's not a regular gig either.

The underlining point here is, it's a songwriting event. Big difference!

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The first thing is that a songwriter's event which showcases multiple songwriters, is held in an In The Round format.

One disaster I had was having the single artist up at one time. The audience was horrible! For them it was just a bar gig with someone playing. They were talking and carrying on just like any other bar gig. At one point C.W. Colt was on stage and stopped his performance, admonishing the crowd "This is a songwriter's event, not a bar drunk!" C.W. never came back after that.  For some reason, with the In The Round format, that never happened again. Maybe it's because there are other sets of eyes gazing back at the crowd from the stage? I'm not sure, but it works.

In the In-The-Round format you will have two, three, or four songwriters on stage at the same time. Five is too many. The performers sit in a row facing the crowd and go in sequence, one after the other. Here, they have the opportunity to address the audience on a one on one basis, explaining on how the song they are about to play came about.

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As the ringleader, you will want to explain to them beforehand to keep their exchange with the audience to around one to two minutes. Some inexperienced songwriters will go on and on just having conversations with the crowd. The issue here is they are taking time away from all of the performers if they go over. You don't want one songwriter to get five songs and another four when it's all said and done because someone got too gabby with the crowd. If someone in the crowd wants to ask questions, they can do so after the performers are finished. 

One disaster I had was with holding the single artists

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The In The Round formula works so well as performers play one directly after the other. It's not as though one player is up there for a half hour and is followed by another. Here, you have that two, three, or four sharing the stage and every next song is by the next artist in line. Ever get an album where the songwriter's songs all sound exactly the same? They can be at risk of putting the audience to sleep. If that artist is on stage, with an In The Round set up, you'll never have that issue.

Here's one of the true beauties of the In The Round formula: As an organizer, you set the artists up on stage and you're done for the next hour! Having single artists up at a time, with a laundry list of performers, you're like a dog chasing it's tail all day long!

For so many reasons, the In The Round formula is vastly superior to anything else.

What not to do at a songwriter's event? A couple of things to keep in mind.

A) This is a songwriter's event. It's an intimate experience with a songwriter, who is explaining how their song came about, then playing it, one on one. In a songwriter event you want people in the audience to feel that the songwriter is talking directly to them baring their soul about how the song came about, then playing the song in it's most exposed, vulnerable environment, which is their vocal and an accompanying instrument, such as a guitar, or a piano. Having a band at a songwriter's showcase is not a songwriters showcase, it becomes a bar gig. The intimacy is completely lost and it runs the risk of now a mumbo-jumbo free for all. Worst of all, if solo acoustic players play after a band, it sounds as though the bottom fell out. Before you had this band with drums, bass, maybe electric guitars, all of which are naturally going to be at a much greater volume. It's not fair to the performers who follow.

Having said that, often in a songwriter's event you'll have an artist who has an accompanist, say a second guitar, a violin, harmonica, etc, playing with them. This works.

B) A songwriter's event is a collective event. When you have multiple artists being showcased together in the In The Round setting, you don't have one set aside to do their own set solo. The by product of this is essentially saying to the other artists “You're just supporting So And So”. Songwriters events put songwriters on stage together. Let's look at Chuck Cannon at the Key West Songwriter's Festival. Chuck of course has a slew of hits! At the KWSF, Chuck will have his own event. He's the songwriter at say, 8PM at The Casa Marina on Thursday night. However, Friday afternoon, he will be one of three or four songwriters sharing the sage together. Same thing on Saturday. Point being, when he has his solo event, that's one event. When other songwriters are involved, he's one of featured performers sharing the stage with the others. It's part of the songwriters community.

I hope that helps those who host songwriter events!

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Be sure to check out my book “Bar Stories”

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