Sunday, May 27, 2012

Starstruck at SESAC

Well, not really, but the truth is better. A few weeks ago, I attended the 2012 SESAC POP Music Awards at the Skylight Soho in New York. I got to speak with a host of songwriters and producers, which actually excited me more than talking to POP stars, as I'm always curious to know what goes on behind the scenes. What surprised me most was how kind they all were. I was expecting some major diva-tude, particularly because I'm a new POP music blogger. I thought someone would say, "I see right through you, you wannabe!" And they'd be right, at least partially; they may not possess super-human vision, but I am a wannabe!

I'll chronicle the trip for you. I rode the commuter rail from my sister's house in Jersey to Penn Station, where I proceeded to take the subway downtown. When I got to Hudson Street, I passed right by the building. As is typical of Soho New York, the location was a converted warehouse with a small, innocuous entrance. Seriously - the entryway was the size of the door to my parent's raised ranch. I walked in, received my first ever press pass from the lovely assistant at Workman Entertainment + Public Relations, and opened my eyes to a shiny white interior, softly lit with blue and purple hues. Then I turned to my left and walked to the area where the pre-dinner schmoozing and red-carpet interviewing would take place. I saw the cater-waiters receiving last-minute hors d'oeuvres (or as my Belorussian father likes, to call them, whores devores) passing and dinner serving tips. The bar was straight out of Sex & The City, all glass and metal, with lights spelling out "SESAC" above the tenders' posts. I took my place in the press line, where I learned, according to the back splash, that the event was sponsored by Billboard (I love you, Billboard Magazine)!

Jacob Luttrell, Bryan-Michael Cox, Usher, Rico Love
People began to show up around 6:15 PM. I first spoke to Jacob Luttrell, who had a hand in writing Enrique's Tonight I'm F*cking You and Flo Rida's Wild Ones, featuring the adorable Sia. He said he "...doesn't care that other people sing my songs. They have a larger platform," which is very savvy. Referring to his creative process, Jacob told me that "sometimes I sing over my own chords, and sometimes I write over a track." Offering up advice, he stated that "songwriters should write anything, not just something with shock value." As sweet as he was, it was odd hearing this, seeing as Jacob had a hand in writing a song which completely capitalized on shock value (Tonight I'm F*cking You). He was my first interview, so I was a bit too nervous to remind him of this.

What I most enjoyed talking to Jacob about was his experience working with Sia. He said she was lovely, as expected, and that she didn't originally want to be on the track, which I also surmised. We all know that Sia's relinquished her desire to be a quirky POP tart in favor of becoming a mainstream songwriter, so it's quite exciting that she's having such a hot moment as a singer! Jacob told me her voice sounded so good that Flo and the others didn't want to replace it. Agreed! The success of the song goes to show that a solid, well-promoted track has loads of potential regardless of whether or not the singer on it is well-known. We can't wait for David Guetta's Titanium, on which Sia is also featured, to rule the airwaves in America. Currently, Jacob is working on his own project and trying to find a team/label that can properly back him. Check out his videos on Youtube; he's not just a talented songwriter, but a fantastic singer. (And he's cute to boot!)

Afterwards, I spoke to Mister Rico Love, who was being honored as SESAC's 2012 Songwriter of the Year. The next morning, I discovered that Usher was being hidden away to surprise Rico with the award!  Rico was as sweet as a teddy bear and incredibly informative. He's a frequent collaborator of Jim Jonsin's, with whom he wrote and produced Beyonce's Sweet Dreams and Radio off of I Am...Sasha Fierce. I forgot to ask him why Radio wasn't released as a single, as its Bey's best song ever. Oh well. Maybe we shall meet again, at which point I will bring it up.

Q-Parker of 112, Rico Love
Through my own research, I discovered that Usher's upcoming album, Looking 4 Myself, will be a bit more experimental, seeing as the POP star's worked with Diplo, Empire of the Sun, and Swedish House Mafia. I asked Rico how this came about, to which he responded, “We went to Coachella and he was telling me, ‘This is what I want sonically.’ He took me to see Empire of the Sun for the first time, and then I ended up writing ‘Looking for Myself.’ We featured Empire of the Sun on the record, so it’s just amazing to be able to grow, and I hope that people are accepting of his growth and realize that you can’t just stay the same forever.” Rico told me that he embraces the current popularity of alternative music within the mainstream, saying that it's important to embrace new sounds and experiment. I also asked Rico about his songwriting process. Like Jacob, Rico said that "every time is different. Sometimes I hear a track, sometimes I hear a melody in my head, sometimes it will just be a guitar or piano, so there’s no one way." When asked who his dream collaborators would be, Rico responded with "Kanye West and Rufus Wainwright." The latter shocked me! I was incredibly impressed that Rufus was on Rico's radar. Though Rico previously stated his appreciation for experimental sounds, I was still surprised.  Many mainstream songwriters and producers don't give the time of day to artists in the underground (*ahem*Dr. Luke*ahem...allegedly*). Though Rufus is certainly successful, his level of success is on a completely different scale from that which Rico ordinarily works in. Hearing the songwriter/producer acknowledge Rufus in such a big way made me hopeful for the fate of music. Let's make this happen, boys!

Brightly dressed in yellow, the beautiful Angela Hunte strolled down the red carpet. She was so lovely, speaking to interviewers for over an hour. Yes, her own album will soon be out, so her hustle wasn't completely selfless. However, I got the feeling that she genuinely enjoyed meeting everyone, as she was so warm and personable. Though Angela has worked with a number of artists, including Amy Winehouse, she is most prominently known for writing Jay-Z's Empire State of Mind with creative partner Janet "Jnay" Sewell-Ulepic. The moment she started speaking to us, the song came on over the loudspeakers. "I never get used to that," she said.

Going through that time of the month while working in London, Angela was feeling homesick.  “Jay-Z always says this is his love letter to New York, but I say this is my love letter to New York.” Originally composed as a song, Jay-Z wrote the verses over. Initially, Angela was supposed to be on the chorus, but then suggested Alicia Keys, who she says "...is very New York, has never done a record with [Jay], and sounds like me!”

Angela Hunte
As previously stated, Angela will soon be releasing her own material, presumably through her own label, The Hunted Music Group. She told me that the transition from songwriter to singer was quite "...easy because I am doing music I love. Five years ago, I tried it...and it wasn't right. It's right now." Previously, Angela stayed away from solo projects because of a dissatisfaction with where music was heading. Now, she's inspired, saying "I was able to capture what I feel inside." She has worked with Steve McGreggor as well as Major Lazer members, Diplo and Switch. The fact that the latter two are in such great demand is purely coincidental. Angela always wanted to work with producers who fused alternative and POP sounds, though their recent rise in popularity is what convinced her to get back to recording. As is typical of work by Diplo and Switch, Angela's music will feature a fresh, island-like sound. She claims that it will be the most different thing you'll hear. Angela is so glad she waited to make her record. "When you write good music, you don't care if anyone likes it. You just feel good." I believe her. 

With regard to Adam Yauch's death the week before, Angela felt as though "all the people [we] looked up to are falling by the wayside, and you try to tell the [artists] of today that these are the shoes you have to fill." It was truly heart-wrenching to hear her speak these words. With such an understanding of what came before her, Miss Hunte will surely do the legends justice. 

Traci Hale
The last songwriter I spoke to was Traci Hale, best known for writing the lyrics to Rihanna's What's My Name. Unfortunately, the recording of our interview was lost, and my recollection isn't the best, so I'll mention what I remember. When asked how What's My Name came about, Traci said that Stargate and Ester Dean had come up with a super sexy track which necessitated some super sexy lyrics, so that's what she wrote! Easy Peasy. I also asked her something which I forgot to ask Angela - why are there so few female producers? Traci said that the opportunities are there for the taking. She thinks most women simply don't want to do it. She herself has no desire to make the beats. Traci enjoys poetry, so writing lyrics suits her just fine. I must say, she does a fantastic job at it. Miss Hale used to be a backup singer for the late, great Aaliyah, during which time she met a writer with whom she shared some of her songs, and that's how her journey as a songwriter du jour began! At the end of our conversation, Traci thanked me for taking the time to speak with her, and I was like, "wait, what? Thank you!" Once again, I couldn't believe how friendly everyone was. 

Soon after that, my friend Caity (who kindly took some photographs and recorded all my interviews) and I headed out, but not before spotting Joe Levy, the current Editor-in-Chief of Billboard Magazine (and former Editor-in-Chief of Maxim) who we recognized from the now defunct, but always enjoyable, Joy Behar show (hey, Joy!). Many influential people attended, including former Motown President, Sylvia Rhone. It's always encouraging to see women in power positions. I was a nervous wreck before this event, though I soon found out I had no reason to be. As the extremely effeminate gay man I am, I worried that my gay-ness would rub some people the wrong way. After all, the hip-hop community has a reputation for not being the most tolerant of us LGBTs. However, I was pleasantly surprised. Conversing with the songwriters and producers was such a pleasure. Everyone was relaxed and easygoing. Plus, it was an absolute hoot seeing who had a few too many facelifts. Overall, this was a great night. Thank you to Workman Entertainment + Public Relations, who invited us to the 2012 SESAC POP Awards, as well as to all the songwriters and producers we spoke with. We had a blast!

Unapologetically,

Gregory




1 comment:

  1. Great read! I'm glad you decided to go and you asked some great questions.

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