Originally published in Huffington Post
Several of my Facebook friends have private messaged me asking for my opinion: should they audition for Songland -- an Adam Levine driven songwriting reality show in the making? They want to put themselves out there but there's a voice in their head shouting "don't do it", telling them an audition will most likely end in disappointment. On the other hand there's Kelly Clarkson. Need I say more?
Recently, attorney Wallace Collins warned the songwriting community about a certain submission requirement on the Songland application form: "NBC will own all rights to use and exploit all of your songs involved in the show including the songs you submit in the initial application." Any applicant would be relinquishing his or her song even if they didn't get selected to be on the show.
Because of the outcry from songwriters and musicians at large, NBC adjusted the wording. Those who don't make it past the audition retain the rights to their material. It remains to be seen whether "selected participants" would still have to give it up.
It's interesting that this happened the same week I was asked to judge (along with Lisa Loeb, record promoter Skip Bishop, and producer Mark Liggett), another songwriting competition -- a TV pilot called The Song. Hmm, thought I. Would there be a money grab in that agreement? "No," the producers assured me. Applicants would retain rights to their songs. (We'll see if network lawyers concur, but for now, that's where it stands.) Would there be famous pop stars waiting in the wings to record the winning composition (as is with Songland)? I was told there will be no famous pop stars waiting in the wings -- The Song is a celebration of the song, performed by the songwriter who wrote it (or a surrogate of his or her choice). Plain and simple. And everyone involved is determined to keep it as such.
I realize I could easily be replaced by Kesha once the show gets off the ground. But at least for now, being involved will allow me to give voice to the concerns of the creative community. I got on a plane and headed for Muncie, Indiana, home of the David Letterman facility where the pilot would be taped.
En route, I logged onto gogoinflight and trolled, I mean -- scrolled -- my Facebook feed where I came across a post about reality show hypocrisies written by my colleague (and seasoned veteran), Billy Mann. He brought to light real life challenges professional songwriters face on a typical day -- challenges which have yet to be addressed on any talent competition thus far: "Is there a facet of theSongland competition that covers work ethic, networking, tenacity, collaborative skills, absorbing rejection most of the time, holds too long, cuts and drops, irrational circumstances, black swan change dynamics and equity cannibalization by random girlfriend/boyfriend types, the sometimes grueling filtration system that a song must endure from creation to presentation to the pyramid/maze of opinions and semi-decision makers, to mandatory writing (with) young artists who are learning as they go versus those who have put in their 10,000 hours to be in the room..."
Will these realities be acknowledged on The Song? I doubt it. I'm not naive. However real they are, they don't make for uplifting, entertaining, reality TV. But if Executive Producer Michael Braverman has his way, there will finally be a TV show that gives viewers a taste of what makes a song truly remarkable, regardless of whether it will go on to be a hit record or recorded by a superstar. I mean, of course these things matter to a songwriter. But first things first.
Platinum Hit had its shot on Bravo. I'm not sure what happened there. But why not give the idea another go in different clothes?
I've been saying yes to so many things lately -- putting one foot in front of the other not knowing where it will take me. Some of the 'yesses' prove to be non-starters but they open other doors; doors I never would have passed through had I not taken a chance. So Facebook friends, why not audition? My money is where my mouth is. I came to Muncie, didn't I? If nothing else, I'm going to have had an experience. I've met some remarkable people. I've gotten more comfortable in front of a camera. I played a local concert with Lisa Loeb. :) If you audition and are not chosen or you get voted off the island...you have an opportunity to take with you what you can from a situation: the experience. Life offers us learning moments all the time...many are in disguise. There's a very blurry line between winning and losing. Sometimes winners are the losers in the end...and losers win.
Like levels of education, I concluded that The Song, or The Voice or Songland are the equivalent of TV Songwriting Business 101. Anyone who passes the course will have to learn the harder stuff: un-televised Songwriting Business 201 -- which will inevitably expose them to all the challenges of which Billy speaks. And they'll deal with them just like Billy did, and I did, and if they can knock them down they'll survive.
For those of us who are inclined to embrace the possibilities, here may lie another opportunity to reveal the bottom line: before a new tune gets recorded by Ellie Goulding, synched in Fifty Shades of Gray and goes on to be nominated for a Grammy, it began with an unadorned idea, a three-minute burst of inspiration that is worthy of celebration and deserves it's hour upon the stage: The Song.