February 28, 2020 | Courtesy of Music Industry Weekly
by Brandon Stein
Songwriting University, a new online platform, recently launched in Nashville, TN with the goal of honoring the great songwriters of today while nurturing the talent of tomorrow. The company is providing one-on-one access to Nashville’s hit songwriters via online video co-writing sessions. Songwriting University will also provide master-class content on a subscription-based schedule from Grammy award-winning songwriters like Wayne Kirkpatrick and Mike Reid. The new endeavor is headed up by former A&R Executive / Producer extraordinaire Michael Blanton (Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith) and entrepreneur Gary Glover (founder of “Nashville Arts and Entertainment Magazine”), along with prolific songwriters Billy Sprague and Joe Beck. We recently spoke with Michael Blanton to learn more about Songwriting University.
MIW: Songwriting U is such an innovative way to connect aspiring songwriters with some of the best-established songwriters in the music industry. What was the inspiration behind creating SongwritingU.com and how did it all begin?
MB: Songwriting University began with two songwriters (Joe Beck and Billy Sprague) who were basically studying the landscape and noticing that fewer and fewer songwriters could actually find legitimate publishing deals to make a living and support their families. And while they still had the desire and love to write songs and music, the idea of single song streaming was gutting the former publishing industry practice of writing and recording 10-15 songs per CD. Now only one song at a time is being released or listened to, so as the need for songs goes down, you wind up with some really good writers standing on the sideline waiting for someone to hear their music. Songwriting University was created out of an immediate way to reward these experienced writers as they write songs, and hopefully expose and develop new music and new artists.
MIW: Tell us more about you, your background, and how you got involved with Songwriting University.
MB: I came up through the music ranks as an A&R guy, always looking for new music, new artists, and new ideas. I have a deep love and respect for the songwriters and collaborators who create these incredible hooks through lyrics and melody that somehow seem to connect to our souls. I love artist development, and the song is the key to making any artist truly connect and be successful. Not all songs are equal, and I don’t believe the greatest songwriters only write hits, they continuously have to work at finding the pearl in the mud. Nashville is known for its hard-working writers, and they are our creative and iconic signature in this city. However, not all of the good songwriters are just here in Nashville, they can be found everywhere, and Songwriting University provides the opportunity for the undiscovered writer to be found without having to relocate to Nashville. When I was first told about the goal and mission Songwriting U, I was in. I thought this has to be one of the best new ideas to help fire the creative spirit in all of us. Whether in Topeka, KS or Birmingham, England, this is a chance for someone located anywhere in the world to write with another writer who has already had great success in the music industry.
MIW: In looking at your website, it seems like SongwritingU.com lists songwriters that have major hits and chart-topping songs. How do you go about finding these amazing songwriters to join as staff members and how many do you have now?
MB: We’ve got about 20 or so writers, and most of them have heard us talking about this for a good while. The majority of our staff have all had significant success but are not able to find solid supporting publishing deals today. So, with the idea that they can co-write with someone from around the world on a new song while getting paid is a double bonus.
MIW: The average person doesn’t know that most of the biggest songwriters either live in Nashville, Tennessee or have close ties to Nashville. Why do you think that is?
MB: Well it’s just a great little music secret that typically the best songs we ever hear are all co-written with someone. Of course, not all the time, because there are certain artists who ONLY record their own songs. However, most of the really great writers like to find co-writing partners that challenge them and through that collaboration is when they usually create a real gem. Over the years, Nashville has had this iconic creative signature that when you are ready to grow as a writer, you have to pass through Nashville, or you have to move here and build your network. There are lots of writers who live in other places, but the majority of those who have been the most successful usually have some collaborative connection to Nashville.
MIW: How does a prospective student book a session with one of your songwriters and what should they expect to get out of the experience?
MB: The process of co-writing is explained thoroughly on our website at www.SongwritingU.com. You can basically submit your information and payment, and then one or two of our faculty leaders will decide who to align you with for your co-writing adventure. I actually think that a person could show-up with one line of thought, and these guys can help that person develop a verse and chorus. They may not finish, but it’s the beginning. The miracle of finding a hit is in doing the work, not just in having an idea. Having others to challenge and push-back on us can only make us better writers. Iron sharpens iron.
MIW: What are the biggest challenges facing aspiring songwriters today?
MB: Just getting in the door! Even if you are a phenomenal songwriter, just getting to someone who cares or someone who can help open a door to someone who can help you take the next step is a difficult process. Typically, you have to move to a music center to go build your network and hope you’ll meet someone who will introduce you to the publisher, or artist, or producer who likes what you do enough to take time to help. Just getting noticed and for someone to tell you if you’re good or not is the biggest hurdle. Songwriting U helps overcome that hurdle a bit by connecting you with key industry people right away.
MIW: What is the best piece of advice you can give to songwriters who want to make a living as a songwriter?
MB: Songwriting is an art form…yes, but it’s also a business. It has got to be something that you are passionate about artistically. You’re creating art that might not be noticed, but you’ve got to write it and create it because of that driving force inside you. If you love this art form, then pursue it with all your heart. Even if you have to work another job to pay the bills, don’t get weary of what is in your heart. Write, write some more, then write with someone else. Just keep getting better and building this passion inside you.
MIW: It seems like music publishing companies were signing more songwriters in the past, and that it’s much harder for songwriters to get a deal these days with a music publisher. Do you know why that is?
MB: Yes, definitely. When you had CDs to sell, and CDs to download, it meant that you were buying the entire work of an artist. No judging someone by one song only, you digested a collection of songs that usually looked like 10 to 15 songs. So, when you bought that CD with one hit song, you were really buying 10 other songs with other co-writers, and publishers could help support those many writers. When you go to a single song stream, the income numbers just don’t support publishing companies keeping lots of writers on staff.
MIW: There’s an obvious benefit in being able to learn from and write with world-class songwriters. What other benefits does Songwriting U provide to their students?
MB: Discovery! We’ve already had one young girl participate in a co-writing session, and she actually opened the door to us believing that she really could be a significant artist. We’re working with her now to help move her into production and hopefully into a more significant music career.
MIW: So, what happens when a Songwriting U student ends up writing a hit song with one of your staff members? Does the student get any credit or income if a song becomes a major hit?
MB: As of today, Songwriting U is not taking any ownership of the co-written tune. We’re still working out some details for how we can support those special songs that come along, but initially, every songwriter gets to keep their part of the creative work. They just share the rights with the Songwriting University co-writer that they wrote the song with.
MIW: Your website promotes a songwriting competition with a $10,000 grand prize. Can anyone enter this competition, or should entrants have professional songwriting experience to even have a chance of winning?
MB: The competition is open to songwriters of all genres and all levels of experience. If you’ve got a song that you’ve written, and want to submit, then the website will give you genre options to place your song into, but we’re inviting any and all who actually write music be a part of this competition.
MIW: What does the future hold for talented songwriters who learn how to hone their craft and understand the importance of networking in the music industry?
MB: Well, anything can happen. I mean every day a new voice or new song pops into the world through YouTube, Spotify, or Apple etc. The opportunity to grow and improve your skills at Songwriting U only enhances the chance of success for those participating. Dreams are made every day.
MIW: How can our readers connect with you or your company on social media, learn more about your company, or jump right in and book a session with one of your staff members?
MB: Anyone interested in learning more or wanting to enroll can go to www.songwritingu.com
You can also connect with us on social media:
Instagram: @songwritingu Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SongwritingU/