I woke up bright and early, strapped on my high heels, grabbed my guitar, and was feeling great! Until I realized I that it was class time (damn those early classes) and I hadn’t eaten! Thankfully my hotel room had a green apple and coffee. If you know me well, you’d know that I don’t do well on an empty stomach. I need to eat 5 small meals throughout the day, like a puppy, or I get light headed and sometimes faint! But I didn’t care, I was so excited to get to Darrell Brown’s (Songwriter, Producer, Composer, Arranger, “You’ll Think Of Me – Keith Urban”) Live Song Feedback Panel.
Mr. Brown had three back to back classes, and I stayed for all three (most people attended one)! SEVEN STRAIGHT HOURS ! They picked our names from a hat, allowing us songwriters to receive 15-20 minute critiques of our original songs. While they had a grand piano and guitar on stage for the songwriters to perform their song live, most opted to play a MP3 of their song under pressure. Darrell has an uncanny knack for using chord structures to build tension, release, and emotion within a song. I also learned that if we listen to our own album and have even a moment of discomfort, it signals something to fix. I was amazed at his engagement and excitement to help us, and he seemed to be very present in the moment.
After almost 7 hours of watching other songwriters get their songs critiqued, my name had not been called, and it was bothering me.
Maybe I was tired, influenced by the heavy pull of LA passion, or I was a little crazy from only having and apple and granola bar all day, but I decided to stop hoping for my name to be picked and take matters into my own hands. Brown’s manger was the one picking and calling out the names from the hat. I walked to the back of the room and kindly asked the manager if I could forgo the hat draw and be the next person to go up for a critique. The look he gave me was a combination of exhaustion, disgust, and annoyance – totally understandable. “You realize you’re like the 7th person to ask me that today…”, he said to me. I apologized, retreated, and walked to the back to my seat in the front row where I had set up camp. I joked with my friends around me at what I tried to do and they all giggled. Then like the sound of an angel, I hear the manager’s voice, “We have time for one more song, is… Jessica Lerner here?”.
I jumped out of my seat as if I’d just won the Grammy for Best Song of the Year. No joke! I was so excited and completely caught off guard. My friends around me cheered. It was ridiculous. I am still embarrassed about that outburst.
I then turned around and looked at the manager who I’d just had that awkward exchange with. His baffled face gawked at me.
I got up on stage on shaky legs, rambled embarrassing things about Brown needing to go to the bathroom (he didn’t take 1 break for the entire 7 hours), and sat at the grand piano to play my song “Under These Sheets”. The performer in me was ticked that there was no monitor, but I put on my tough face, wanting to impress Brown and my peers. I started the song, people were into it, Brown sang along, and it turned into a bit of a duet in the middle. It was everything I hoped for in that moment.
The most helpful critique I got from Brown and the class was to do a key change on the last chorus. I didn’t get as many critiques as I would have liked, it was the end of the day and we were all exhausted, but the positive feedback was very rewarding.
One of the biggest benefits I didn’t anticipate was people remembering me from the performance. I became the “Under The Sheets” girl and that enabled me to make strong connections with other songwriters.
The last class was Aloe Blacc (“Wake Me Up”, “The Man”, “I Need A Dollar”) interviewing Bill Withers (“Lean On Me”, “Ain’t No Sunshine”, “Just The Two Of Us”). It was the best interview of the expo, hands down. First thing you need to know – Bill Withers is so freaking funny. He can make an auditorium crack up with the slight movement of his eyebrow. They discussed a wide range of topics, talking about where they’ve both come from, how it’s shaped their music. Withers wrote his songs because they made him and others around him feel good. He wasn’t trying to write the most famous songs of all time. His inspiration was pure and simple, something that is probably less common in this massive content churning world we live in now. He encouraged us to study the ins and outs of the business so we are not taken advantage of. Many years ago, Withers was in a bad deal and to keep the record company from selling his music and not paying him properly, he destroyed the master copies. At one point, (randomly) he went on a 15 min tangent about illiterate people trying to interpret the bible — amazing. My personal favorite moment was when a lady from the audience asked Withers a strange question along the lines of “How do I know when I’ve made it big?”. Withers responded, “You must fake orgasms!” The audience erupted in laughter. Last quote from Withers from the interview, “Don’t bet your life on the music business”.
I stayed up late hanging out with everyone in the hotel lobby when someone pointed out to me that Mike Reid (Songwriter “I Can’t Make You Love Me”) was right around the corner. I got to meet him and chat for 20 minutes. I thanked him for the wonderful performance he put on the night before and we chatted about the expo and his experiences in the business. It was a huge honor meeting him. I’ll never forget that conversation.
This was by far the best day I had there. I finally stumbled to my hotel room around 2am and passed out with the lights on.