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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

2018 Key West Songwriter's Festival is in the books

The 2018 Key West Songwriters Festival has ended and is in the books. This was the first year since 2010 that I was not in it. I considered it an honor to be in the seven I was, however!

What I did see here on Facebook were some comments by Key West residents who clearly didn't understand what happens with the festival on several different levels. So, I thought I'd try to clarify it for them.

One of the comments I'd read on Facebook went something like “Why are these Country songwriters playing here in this festival? Why can't we have our own songwriters in it?”. This was the gist of several posts I'd seen.

Answer: The Key West Songwriter's Festival is put on by BMI Nashville. BMI has several centers around the country including New York City, Los Angeles, and Miami (Latin) as well. BMI Nashville makes all of the decisions on who plays in the festival. Smokin Tuna does a lot of the legwork for them down here as far as organizing venues, sound systems, schedules, etc. However, it is BMI Nashville who makes the decisions as to who plays in the event itself.

As it is BMI Nashville who decides who plays in the event, one may want to look at the fact that Nashville's nick-name is “Music City”. As far as music production goes, it is one of the largest in the country, along with New York City and Los Angeles. Production is the business side of it, such as record companies, publishing companies, song pitching, a well as writing, among others. So, it's natural that most of the songwriters you'll see in the festival are from Nashville.

Having said that, there are also, many, many songwriters from NYC, Los Angeles, London, Austin, and around not only the country but around the world as well. As Nashville is also the home of Country music, it's natural that the vast majority of songwriters are Country songwriters, especially when one considers the percentage of Country songs that are written by songwriters and not the artists who make them famous.

What BMI Nashville is essentially doing with the Key West Songwriter's Festival is having an event in Key West that is a token of appreciation for their songwriters, as well as giving them a fun atmosphere to showcase their music. It's also a place where business deals can be done, be it a record contract, co-writing, organizing a recording session. The possibilities are endless.

Key West has many festivals and events throughout the year. There's Lobster Fest, various art festivals, there's the Hemingway Look-Alike Contest, Fantasy Fest, Beerfest, The Power Boat Races, MOTM, I could go on. Well, the Key West Songwriter's Festival is another Key West event. Over the last several years it's brought approximately 18,000 visitors annually to the Island. What that means is revenue for Key West business, just as it does with any other festival or event held on the island. Let's be conservative and say these visitors spend $400 a day, between hotel, meals, and drinks. Well, that puts the revenue to the city at $7,200,000. Of course, that's far, far below the actual figure, as there will be hundreds and hundreds spending $1,000 - $2000 per day. I'd guess that the revenue brought to the city over the five days of the event is between $10 - $12M, and quite honestly, that figure may be low.

The Key West Songwriters Festival is one way the island brings in visitors who spend their money in hotels, restaurants, bars, sunset sails, art galleries, you name it.

Regarding our own songwriters part of the question.

Let's look at the first part of the equation in regards to the festival being presented by BMI. Well, for starters, the reality is there are not many songwriters here in Key West to begin with. Additionally, there aren't all that many quality songwriters here, and third, as this is a BMI event, so if they are with ASCAP or SEASAC, they not in the hosting organization.

It really helps if the local songwriter is published, especially in Nashville. Personally, after myself, I only know of two other songwriters in town who are published. Don't get me wrong, there may be more than I don't know of, but I know only two others that are. I've been published in Nashville for eight-teen years with McClure and Trowbridge Publishing.

I got in initially by contacting my publisher up n Nashville in 2010 and asked him if he might be able to help get me in? He knew the head guy at BMI who handled the event and within twenty-four hours I had an invitation from BMI. Subsequent years both my publisher and local rep, DSH, (no longer affiliated with the festival) plugged me with them, for which I am very grateful! Thanks, George and DSH!!!

Nashville is a town which caters itself to songwriters. Key West isn't. Here we are more focused on the live performance, and that can be anything from hearing a guitar virtuoso like Caffeine Carl just giving a stupendous “Here it is!”solo, to Rick Fusco who can highlight the subtleties nuances of a guitar solo, to Brad Shaduck hollering out something socially outrageous, to Will Parker cracking everyone up, to the Sunday afternoon Jazz at the 'Parrot. For Key West performers, regardless of how they do it, it's the live performance.

In Nashville it's more about putting the nuts and bolts of a song and recording together that will become a recorded hit by an artist, After that, the song will be possibly covered by our performers on the stages of Key West, and around the world as well.

For the songwriters festival, it's a dissected anatomy of how a song was put together. The songwriter will explain how the song came about, what inspired it, perhaps an anecdote to go along with it. It's not “Give me another shot!”. Nothing wrong with either, but it's a different thing altogether.

For the audience, it's not a bar gig, it's a concert. There's a big difference between a bar gig and a concert. In the events I've both attended and played in over the years, the audience would often be sitting in rows of organized seats and their attention would be 100% focused on the artist. Yes, behind them would be the expected banter. I can't say how many times when someone in the rows of seats started talking though, those around them would ask them to be quiet.

Though related, the art and craft of writing a song is a very different animal than the performance.

I've seen some people posting on Facebook that they've lost gigs and others asking why do we have all of these non-locals playing?

The latter part is actually funny because I've never heard anyone posting complaints about the bands that The Green Parrot, Schooner Wharf, Smokin Tuna, Margaritaville, and The Hoggs Breath bring in from out of town every week, have you? That just sounds like someone wanting to complain and looking for a misery loves company companion.

Lost gigs? Well, I'll say this, the event has been going on for twenty-three years. There might be two or three who have been here longer than twenty-three years, but for the rest of us it's been going on far longer than we've been here. So, if after twenty-three years, if you are a performer and not prepared for it..... Well...

Think of it as being a good thing for the island and all its businesses. As local musicians, none of us can draw 18,000 and $10 - $12M. Do it for the town's sake

 I always say you've got to give back.

That's what this blog is based on. I don't make money off of it. I do it to promote the town. It has over 220,000 views, so I consider that a success and something of value that I can give back in appreciation to the island. Each blog takes between four to six hours to put together, for the most part. That's my way of giving back.

Remember, it's not a one-way street. We all have to give back. Call it Karma, call it reaping what you sow, but it can't take, take, take. You've got to give back as well.

Also, be reminded that MOTM is coming the first week of November, and though it's about 1/3 + the size of the Key West Songwriter's Fest, like songwriters, a lot of venues make room for incoming acts.

So, in closing what is The Key West Songwriter's Festival?

A) It's an another of many Key West festivals.

B) It's presented by BMI Nashville as a few things:

  1. It's BMI Nashville's s token of appreciation and annual gift to their songwriters, who are their bread and butter, where the songwriter's works are showcased, plus, they have some time to hang out and let their hair down with Key West as the setting.
  2. It's also a business opportunity for record companies, producers and people in the industry to hang out, listen to a lot of acts which pertain to what they do and possibly put a few deals together.
  1. The event brings in about 18,000 visitors to Key West who spend an estimated $10 - $12M over the five days that they are here.

So, summing up in a nutshell; BMI Nashville moves their key people and songwriters from Nashville and beyond, together with sponsorship and backing, to Key West for five days, along with an entourage of about 18,000 who come and spend $10 - $12M, possibly more, in Key West businesses.

The Key West Songwriter's Festival is the largest festival of it's kind, in the world. I don't know what this year's figures are, but I do know that last year there were over 230 songwriters on the schedule, not to mention around double that coming into town hoping to catch the ear of a publisher, producer, artist, or record company exec. with a song or two.

BTW, if you are a songwriter and want to be in next year's event, now is the time to start moving on it.


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