The first I heard of a “Secret Genius” was in 2017 via a billboard on Sunset Boulevard with a larger than life image of hit songwriter Ali Tamposi and a message of congratulations for being annointed “Genius” — a songwriter who received the most amount of streams on Spotify over the past year.
To honor all the Geniuses, (and understandably, to promote the Spotify brand) the digital music service initiated the Secret Genius Awards, to “shine a light on the people behind the scenes,” said then Global Head of Creator Services, Troy Carter.
1- Kudos to Spotify! So cool that songwriters are getting some real estate on billboards, not just the recording artists and DJs who make our songs famous.
2- I want to be a Genius. :(
Many writers however, boycotted the event in 2017 because they believed if Spotify really wanted to honor the unsung heroes they’d pay us our fair share of royalties instead of putting our faces on billboards and hoping we’d (forgive and) forget about the disenfranchisement.
That was before the Music Modernization Act was passed. Now it has been. So in light of Spotify coming to the table and negotiating a more equitable distribution of income with the songwriting community, Michelle Lewis and I, after receiving personal invitations, decided we’d go to the awards show this year. She called a babysitter, I got eyelash extensions, and off we drove to the Ace Hotel for what turned out to be an interesting evening.
Something you should know is that Michelle Lewis, creators’ rights advocate and executive director of SONA (Songwriters of North America), played a major role in making sure that historic legislation became law. She is one of the reasons why all the Geniuses being honored (and those of us with merely average IQs) will be getting a substantial raise in the future. As far as I’m concerned Michelle Lewis is Queen Genius. Oh and...I’m a pretty fierce advocate myself.
Upon arriving at the venue we were given “PREMIUM” wristbands. Alright! we thought. First Class! Priority boarding etc…Nice to be recognized and appreciated.
We followed the PREMIUM signs up the long staircase to the mezzanine level which separated us from the “other” gathering downstairs. Hey, no guilt. We’ve earned it.
But the mezzanine was curiously sparse and when we peered over the ledge, we noticed the buzz of a livelier crowd down below with cocktails and appetizers in hand. Why are we not with our esteemed colleagues? Strange. Let’s get a drink. We’ll figure it out.
“What kind of vodka do you have?” I inquired of the bartender. “Tito’s? Ketel?” He was pouring Seagrams and “the call brands are downstairs at the main party, where a sit down dinner would be served during the show.” What? There were no tables on the mezzanine!
Did Spotify invite too many people to this event? And because of some mis-planning Michelle and I wound up in The Overflow? With The Afterthoughts? Did they think we wouldn’t notice? We noticed.
We were going down to that main party. But an usher informed us that once we left the “2nd tier” we couldn’t return and kindly suggested we find solace in the photo booth. Fuck you. (I didn’t actually say that.) (But I thought it.) (Ok, it wasn’t his fault.) (And of course, we did take solace in the photo booth.)
And then…we descended the (PREMIUM, my ass) staircase as I texted my friend Adam who works for Spotify. Mid-descent, I spotted him holding his phone looking up at us. We waited on the PREMIUM side of the “rope” while Adam scurried about looking for a remedy for our displeasure.
In strolled more of our colleagues with “SUPER PREMIUM” wristbands. Adam found us a way in (bless you, Adam) and over the rope we stepped. The schmooze was already halfway over. Grrr.
So we hyper-schmoozed. I got my Tito’s. :)
Shortly, it was announced that the show was about to begin. Servers herded guest to their seats. And tables. Michelle and I had no table assignment 😡. So back up to the nosebleeds we ascended and sat our butts down in The Overflow.
The first act was Pop Goddess Bebe Rexha performing her smash “I’m a Mess” alongside her seriously talented co-writer and deserved Genius honoree Justin Tranter. Coincidentally, Meredith Brooks and I were allocated writing credit for “Mess” because of its interpolation of our song, “Bitch” (though it didn’t earn us Genius status). Michelle and I had some fun “mashing” “Bitch” with “Mess.” No disrespect. Nobody could hear us. EVERYBODY ELSE WAS DOWNSTAIRS! AT TABLES!
And then? We left. Hey, we were hungry. (No dinner in the nosebleeds.) And of course on the way home, we discussed:
1- Perhaps “Secret Genius Awards” in not the most appropriate name for this event. First of all, everybody knows about it now. So no secret. Secondly, you need not be a genius to write a hit song. There are a lot of brilliant writers out there who never graduated from High School. Perhaps a more suitable moniker would be the “Spotify Gifted + Lucky” Awards. Totally more truthful. Juss sayin’.
2- If Michelle and I were just starting out in the biz or simply fans of music we would have been stoked to be invited in any capacity. But why the 2 parties? Granted, at most Industry Awards events, for every year further away you are from your GRAMMY-Nominated hit, your table assignment is further away from the stage but at least everyone is at the same party and everyone gets fed! If Spotify can’t fit us all in one room I put forth they delve into their billions and spring for a larger venue.
3- They could also use to hire someone for guest vetting so that champions like Michelle Lewis are not naively relegated to The Overflow.
I’ll give the company a pass though because well, I don’t believe the party-planning faux pas was intentional. And, admittedly, there are a lot of moving parts when planning an event — we’re only 2 people. That said, for a company whose sole purpose is delivering music they were, in my opinion, ironically tone def. If our new friends are sincere about cultivating a mutually beneficial relationship with the songwriting community (and I believe they are), and not just interested in promoting their brand, they have some work to do. No biggie.
Ya know, there was a time I considered calling my book, You’re Not On the List And Other Indignities, because no matter how successful I’ve been I’m never über successful enough that these indignities cease. (See chapter “17 Minutes of Britney”.) On the upside indignities keep one humble and I have to admit, when I find humor in unfavorable situations, life is vastly improved.
If I’m fortunate enough to land a mega-streamed hit in the future and get dubbed a Genius myself, (or Gifted + Lucky) you know I will lay criticism aside, fire up another set of lashes and celebrate! I’m sure there’ll be a different story to tell and I’ll enjoy telling it. Hopefully it won’t be about being relegated to the PREMIUM seats.
One more upside — leaving early has its perks: I was in bed by 10 o’clock watching the season finale of Real Time with Bill Maher. Fully moisturized. Teeth brushed. Retainer in place. A happy camper indeed. Pass the remote.