Walking along the main corridor in Salt Lake Community College’s Center for Arts and Media was like taking a trip to a major recording studio, as American Billboard Top Hits recording artists and executives mingled with attendees of Utah’s 2015 Songwriter’s Summit.
Graham Russell (Air Supply), Art Alexakis (Everclear), Chris Barron (Spin Doctors) and Nash Overstreet (Hot Chelle Rae) were some of the influential songwriting artists in attendance Friday, March 27 and Saturday, March 28.
SLCC’s music and recording educators Steve Sue and Thomas Baggaley served as moderators during several tracks of panel discussions. Sue encouraged discussion around the changes in the recording industry over the past decades, including the transition from analog to digital recording, and what pitfalls for which new artists should be informed.
“It’s so much easier to make a record,” says Chris Barron, known as the voice of the Spin Doctors. “Now you can buy a studio for less than what it cost for a demo … in the twentieth century a roll of tape was $200 … it was too expensive.” Barron says he’s moved away from the Spin Doctors’ sound and simply plays rock and roll, while teaching songwriting at the Pop Academy in Germany.
In contrast, Graham Russell says, “I always demo everything because I want an objective viewpoint.” Russell, a current Park City resident, says he regularly uses a cellphone to record original songs.
“There is some kind of magic in with it. I copy my phrasing, but, then you have to listen back to it to learn,” he says. “You can have a great song, but lose it in the studio. If it comes back, great; but if it doesn’t work, it wasn’t meant to be.” says Russell, an inductee of the ARIA (Australian Recording Industry Association) Hall of Fame.
When asked about Russell, Rock Canyon Studio producer and fellow panelist Gaynor Brunson says, “I can’t believe I’m sitting next to a legend.”
After the audience laughter died down, Brunson dispensed some serious advice about being unprepared with other musicians in a recording studio. “If you don’t have chords, then you [may] give up some of your royalties, as they become a co-writer,” he says. He also said most songs are ballads and to stand out consider writing “up-ity up” types of songs that are positive and upbeat.
While discussing Everclear’s first big break, lead singer Art Alexakis explains, “We got signed because Perry Russell loved my voice. It was that kind of belief in me that helped me write songs like ‘Santa Monica.’”
However, Alexakis says he broke away from the tradition early on in his career to produce his own art. He also urges new musicians to remain independent and to utilize social media to promote their music.
“Don’t pay anybody anything to work your song,” says Alexakis.
While he continues to produce and record his music and also teach songwriting at a California college, Alexakis describes touring as his “bread and butter” income. He performed his new release “The Man Who Broke His Own Heart” during his concert that Friday evening in Salt Lake City.
Other industry professionals agree that social networking should be part of a musician’s toolbox.
“Blogging is a big deal now, even if it is just feedback for you,” according to Gaylen Rust of Salt Lake’s own Refinement Records. He adds, “networking and knowing the circle you are working with” is vital.
Rust founded the Legacy Music Alliance in 2010 to promote music in education via a network of music teachers and students.
“Every building has to have a good foundation before it can rise,” says Rust. “Every mind has to be opened to learning both in the classroom and in society. Music builds that foundation and wires the brain for success in society and in learning.”
The event was a unique opportunity for students, as well as the community, to fine-tune their musical songwriting skills. The 2015 Songwriter’s Summit was sponsored by 103.5 The Arrow, FM100.3, BMI, KSL News/Radio, and SLCC, among a field of other partners.