13. No One Ever Wanted My One-Stop Shop
C is applying to a well known video game company headquartered in California, and, much to his delight, part of the application process is playing their flagship fantasy game. His character is "Lord Tampax" (he once worked for Proctor and Gamble in their tampon division, and thought this was the funniest username he could think of that wasn't overtly offensive). Lord Tampax just brought down an enemy turret and C turned to me with a proud look on his face. Job hunting can be fun sometimes.
I was 20 years old, in the second half of my first year in Nashville. Still new and not knowing many, I finally got a lead from contacts back at my previous college in Boston that the head of ASCAP was someone I could meet with, and might point me in the right direction. I shouldn't care about protecting his identity, but I guess I will anyway. His name was Bert.
I arrived at ASCAP, still as an untrained performer and with a squishy ego; but with what I considered to be some good--and one great--songs under my belt. I waited patiently in the lobby for him to call me up, and at fifteen past the hour I was summoned to his office. I knew Bert could tell how helpless and searching I was, like a baby in the rain, but also that it would garner me no sympathy. He had only a small, unweighted Casio keyboard with two octaves and no foot pedal for me to play on. I sat down, and gave him my best song.
I thought I'd done fairly well; I had the normal shakes of adrenaline pulsing through my arms and the sweet taste in my mouth of a few notes well-hit, and I turned to face him. He had an angry, stiff expression on his face carved out of stone, and stood, ready to leave the room as he began to speak:
"No one feels that way. The characters in your song, they're not believable. No one would say those things, because no one feels that way."
He kept saying it over and over, growing more agitated each time. It's like he wanted to be Nashville's gatekeeper, watching for new young songwriters to stomp on when they asked to come in. Absolutely flattened, I left a different person.
About a year later, I received a long-awaited reply from the Nashville Songwriter's Association about a song I'd submitted. Again, I thought this was the best song I had to offer at the moment. Not knowing that this was a judgmental submission process, and not just a contest-entry kind of thing, I was surprised to receive a stuffed envelope that read "YOUR RESULTS" on the front. I opened it up, hoping in vain that it would be word that the Nashville songwriting community had finally welcomed me in, having also possibly sent me a fat check. Instead, there was my song, and stamped across it was a large "C GRADE" in jet black ink. My song had been graded, and I had received the lowest score of any subject I had ever taken. I had been labeled an "average" songwriter.
As the years have gone by, I've shown my songs to many underwhelmed executives. Each one finding a new dig or a new angle from which to criticize, taking aim at an artist's fragile ego and firing with abandon. And now you may say: boo hoo, she wants me to feel sorry for her. You shouldn't be in the music business if you can't take the heat. First off all, thank you for reading my blog, movie producer from the 1950's. Second of all, I'm fine. I'm obviously still doing this, because it's the only thing I've ever felt a calling to. But this leads me to my current dilemma: Will this upcoming attempt be any different?
I've been spending the last few months learning the ropes of ProTools, an extremely complicated recording software that most professional producers use. It has been challenging, to say the least, but I finally feel like I'm days away from completing my first home-produced demo, and releasing it online, as is my plan with as many new songs as I can write and demo in the coming weeks and months. I'll have videos, and of course keep up this blog. And as soon as I've got new songs online, I HAVE to start performing again. Otherwise I risk all the momentum I've built up over the past two years just sliding away. But one thing at a time.
I've always been very comfortable doing things by myself, with the huge exception of booking and management help. I've just never been that great at socializing, and although I've gotten slightly better at the business side of things, the schmoozing side is an anxiety-inducing black hole for me. For all the things I've told you about me so far, maybe you could see why.
Because of my isolation, I've written mostly by myself, performed mostly by myself, toured, planned, etc. You'd think that a (mostly) one-woman operation would be appealing to an investor; less people to deal with, less employees to pay for. But unfortunately over these 12 years of performing there's been no record producer who's heard me and thought, "I should have a stake in that kid's potential!" And maybe this doesn't happen anymore in real life, just in movies and in television.
Last night, for the first time, I watched Rocky. C has been increasingly wanting to educate me in the glory of classic American dude movies that I have somehow never seen, and, due to our imminent separation, the urgency has increased somewhat. I've got The Godfather and Apocalypse Now on him, however, so those are coming soon too.
The great lines from Rocky are just ping-ponging through my mind this morning, so vivid and applicable to how I feel now. Just wanting to take the shot. Just wanting to go the distance. I felt the yearning in Rocky's heart to be great, but the jaded nature of his soul. And the love of the people around him helped awaken the contender inside. It doesn't have to be Apollo Creed picking my name out of a roster. It can be my song playing on the radio as the head of Universal is dropping his kids off at school. It can be my voice over the intercom at a writer's round that sticks to the mind of an A&R rep. And it could even be the piano I tune for that one big music publisher I know, who finally asks me to play a song on his piano. Until then, I'll be a contender.