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Local conference teaches the craft and business of songwriting

Last summer, nearly 200 songwriters from across the country, and a couple of folks from as far away as Canada, journeyed to the Queen City for the first ever Music Row to Charlotte songwriting conference and showcase. The Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) hosted the event, and Charlotte's local chapter and its members, who meet monthly for songwriting workshops, were instrumental in making the event a success.

This year, NSAI coordinators and local members are hard at work again preparing for another Music Row to Charlotte (MRTC). Two weeks before the event, longtime coordinator, Doak Turner (who recently stepped down from heading the local monthly workshops because he's in fact moving to the music city), is busy on both his cell phone and his home line, making last minute arrangements with sponsors and speaking with the press. During our interview, he shares many examples of how the group and these seminars can aid aspiring songwriters who are in search of a career in music. For instance, there's the story of a fairly new member named Skip. Through the local workshop, he learned of a seminar taking place in Atlanta. He attended the event and while sharing his experience with Turner, Turner suggested he follow up by sending an individual Thank You to the writers and publishers who participated in the workshop. After following that advice, Skip received a phone call from one of the publishers who requested more of his music. "He doesn't have a cut and this is no guarantee that he'll ever get a cut," Turner says, "but he learned the business and how to do it. The music business is a relationship business."

Relationships can certainly be established through networking. And networking is one of many things taught by the NSAI. "The conference is an opportunity for songwriters to learn the craft and business of songwriting and it's a great networking opportunity as well," Turner opines. "The pro songwriters we bring in, in fact, teach you how to network. They teach you what you can do from Charlotte and what would be your best approach. They offer insight as to how you can write better songs and what you can do with them once they're written...along with how you can network with other co-writers. For instance, if you just write lyrics, like I started out, then you need to be co-writing with people who play melodies," he continues. And as stated earlier, networking isn't the only thing the NSAI teaches.

"We also work very hard in teaching the business part to songwriting. We want them to write, but there are some dos and don'ts," he says. "Lots of people come in with songs and all they want are some contacts because they think they have the greatest song in the world, but it's not that simple. We have to teach them the business.

"We've been fortunate enough to have several one-day seminars with hit songwriters. We also have a mentor to our workshop: his name is Byron Hill. He's been to our workshops and if you go to Nashville, he'll sit down and meet with you and talk to you about the business and maybe listen to a song. Here's a pro writer with over 300 cuts, but he's there helping us because of the NSAI."

Hill is just one of many professional songwriters and industry panelists who will participate in the MRTC conference this weekend. Hill has penned songs for the likes of George Jones, Reba McEntire and Ray Charles, along with countless other well-known performers. In addition to Hill, songwriters Mark Selby and wife Tia Sillers will participate in MRTC. Together they penned the tracks "Blue on Black" with Kenny Wayne Shepherd and "There's Your Trouble" with the Dixie Chicks. Other professional songwriters in attendance include Dana Hunt, Charlie Black, Steve Seskin and Leslie Satcher, who have collectively penned songs for the likes of Tim McGraw, George Strait, Randy Travis and Pam Tillis, among others. Representatives from both BMI and ASCAP will also be attending the event.

Although many of the writers have worked with country music performers, MRTC isn't just for country music songwriters, Turner emphasizes. "These people write with everybody, not just country artists," he says. "And the songs we do at our workshops aren't just country. There's some R&B, rock, alternative and gospel. It's all over the place. Learning the craft of writing a song is good for any music genre."

Music Row to Charlotte will be held Thursday-Saturday, September 26-28. Registration for the Saturday Conference and Showcase is $125 for nonmembers. Tickets can be purchased separately for the Saturday night concert for $15. For more details, call 704-322-2227 or visit www.nsaicharlotte.com

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