Technically a blogger, Bob Lefsetz is really a leading expert on the music industry. His widely-read, independent e-mail newsletter, The Lefsetz Letter, features his lively, iconoclastic opinions on the state of the business of music. Lefsetz’s sharp, sometimes cutting scrutiny, and uncensored ideas, have established him as one of the most influential voices in the industry. He makes all of his writing available for free online, or via e-mail, earning a living instead through paid speaking engagements, and writing for other publications.

His recent post on “How to Promote” is a typical one – it’s brutally honest and realistic, but provides an excellent distillation of an approach that should benefit every SOCAN member as they pursue a career in music. In it, Lefsetz discusses how to incrementally distribute your music and build statistics, the importance of playing live and taking your time, and only building a team when it makes sense to do so.

You can read his “How to Promote” column here.

You can subscribe to The Lefsetz Letter (delivered to you via e-mail) here.

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Maylee Todd is a Canadian independent singer-songwriter, musician, performance artist, producer, and creative powerhouse. Her song “Baby’s Got It” reached number 10 on the Tokyo radio charts in Japan, where she’s had much success, performing at the Billboard Live Tokyo venue and performing at other prestigious international music festivals like Trans Musicales in France and the C/O Pop festival in Germany. Her music covers a wide variety of genres, including pop, indie-rock, soul, jazz, electronic, experimental and bossa nova. She has a taste for eclectic instruments and sequencers, while her performances demonstrate a flair for both comedy and the dramatic arts. On Nov. 3, 2017, Todd released her third studio album, Acts of Love. Here, she shares point-by-point advice drawn from her career in music.

Working as a multi-media conceptual artist, producer, and musician means I have to wear many hats. I produce my own work, and put on conceptual shows that highlight music, 3-D projection mapping, waccking, installation, and interactive therapy. My interests lie in personal experience and impacting culture in a positive way, with psychology, spirituality and self-awareness acting as the core themes of my shows.

What does it mean to be alive? Do I want to live my life by design, or default? If I’m to be realistic, I know I won’t be able to control my experiences, but I’ll be able to guide my life in a direction that feels purposeful and has meaning to me. With this in mind, I have to be relatively fearless on many fronts. I can’t be afraid of putting work out that isn’t “good enough.” Creative expression and authenticity is the future for humanity.

Here are some navigational tools that I’ve used for this industry:

Seeing Opportunities
There are opportunities out there, it’s just a matter of having the lens to see them. I joined the Canada Council for the Arts jury to better understand how the grant system worked. I worked in a music store to understand how music pedals work, and met with industry folks for coffee to hear their learned experiences, and maybe work/volunteer for them.

Be Your Unique Self
Your authenticity has value. There are a ton of people in this world, some are smarter, have more talent, and have more money than you. What will set you apart? Your unique experience, your unique style, and your unique perspective.

I think it’s important to understand your strengths and your weaknesses while developing them. I love that Michael Jackson got different writers for Off the Wall and still wanted to develop his skills by writing and producing a couple of tracks on the record. You can get help, you can be collaborative, and you can also develop yourself as an artist.

Contracts must be clear and concise, there’s no room for assumptions. I book, pitch, collaborate with many people, festivals, and venues. There can be a lot of miscommunication and assumptions. Best to draw up contracts. I always try to be clear in e-mails, but I’ve noticed even that can get messy. I’ve been in this business so long that I’ve found even between friends, sometimes there can be miscommunications. Everyone I’ve worked with has been incredible, understands processes, the bigger picture, and what’s best for the project. I’ve collaborated with hundreds of people, and yet I can count maybe five people on my hand that have been very challenging and take up mental space. With contracts, it’s clean and clear; job description, term, and payment.

Gender/Race Bullshit
This one is so real it makes me want to puke. Some people have decided on their own type of hierarchy. They will discredit years of experience, talent, and hard work for their own issues with race and gender. Get outta there. It’s not worth it.

And If You Don’t Have The Choice, Use The Power Of Wit:
There was a workshop for women that I taught for 10 years, called The Power Of Wit. Historically I couldn’t call out misogyny, or I’d get fired, so I started this tactic. The trick is when you come across a misogynist in power that you can’t call out, you take a stab back with a witty remark that reminds them you still have your power, without absolutely making them feel threatened. It is the weirdest tactic I know. But it has historically helped me navigate through this patriarchal system. Seriously though, just call them out. It’s not the ‘80s or ‘90s anymore. Its 2017.

I’ll always try to invest in projects I believe in, and take more financial risks. It seems daunting, especially if you don’t have money to begin with. I started a savings account for artistic/hobby endeavors. It’s amazing how much money I can spend on materials that don’t bring meaning or substance into my life. Prioritizing has been helpful. For each gig I get paid, I put a little of that into that savings account even if it’s a small amount.

Use Credit Cards That Have Benefits
Point systems are great! I have gotten groceries, flights and a printer from my points card. I make a lot of payments on my credit cards, and pay them off right away so I don’t climb into debt.

Circumstances will change and sometimes things may not go according to plan. Just like in evolution, one needs to be able to adapt to the circumstances. You cannot control everything, and sometimes these changes are gifts. Use them.

Time Management
I was a personal trainer for 10 years and I used to hear this same line: “I just don’t have the time.” They were just not prioritizing the time. And that’s OK. But you can’t really use that excuse if you indulge in social media five hours a day, or watch Netflix. If you have two minutes a day, you could work on scales on your guitar. Or maybe spend one minute to tune and one minute to practice scales. It all adds up.

Patience and Perseverance
I know I will get there, maybe not next week, maybe not next year, perhaps it will be years from now. But I will get there. You can apply this to everything.

At the End of the Day
It’s all work. It’s producing over and over again. It’s writing 100 jokes a day and maybe one of them is funny. It’s a practice for a reason. Each show is a rehearsal for the next. Life is a work in progress. Data checking and aligning with your value system is important. My mantra is: Living your life by design, not by default, while balancing the art of adaptation.

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Known for her Canadian hit singles “Can’t Stop Falling” (2010) and “Unbreakable” (2013), Laurell has won both the Billboard Songwriting Competition and Pop Album of the Year at the Western Canadian Music Awards. Her work has been featured on MTV’s The Real World, NBC’s The Biggest Loser, and MuchMusic’s Degrassi, among others. As a professional songwriter, she now top-lines for DJs around the world, and works closely with signed artists on their singles. She’s currently featured on the hit single “Good Thing,” by Tritonal, which just broke the Top 50 on the Billboard U.S. Dance Chart. Here’s how she did it:

I live out of a suitcase and I’m still in disbelief.  A year ago I embarked on “the European leg of my songwriting hustle.” After relentlessly writing on the L.A. scene, my U.K. passport served as a gateway to more overseas collaborations, starting with an invitation, facilitated by SOCAN, to the famous Black Rock songwriting camp in Greece. The connections I made there evolved into me co-writing and collaborating in 15 countries over the past six months, with labels, publishers, artists and DJs. While the work is so much more than I ever would have imagined, thankfully so are the rewards. It’s pulled me out of my comfort zone, into an amazing journey I never would have expected. Here are some things that have helped my career and creative growth immensely over the last year. I hope they help you, too.

1. Manifesting
Even if it’s just a head game, it really works for me.  A year ago I read The Law of Attraction by Michael Lozier, and wrote down exactly what I wanted. I started training my brain to frame things more positively, and go into situations with more confidence and clarity. It increased the pace of my career development, and brought me so much more enjoyment along the way. I can just relax and deliver, rather than stress about who I’m with, and what’s riding on each opportunity. I often go into sessions thinking about how I want to feel at the end of the day. Usually all I want is for everyone to enjoy themselves, love the song, and ask me back.

2. Relationships
This is the most important thing besides your personal vision. There’s no such thing as doing it on your own. This industry is made up of a small circle of great songwriters in each city, creating a network – one I’ve been able to access in a short amount of time, via introductions to amazing people by other amazing people. Like SOCAN’s Chad Richardson, who invited me to the third annual SOCAN Kenekt song camp in 2017, which allowed that kind of access. Most non-writers/non-artists in this industry are working jobs with less risk, but they’re in it for the love of music, and job stability. When they help me, it’s because they believe in me – they don’t owe me anything. We need people to enjoy the journey with… beer after sessions, couches to crash on, people to call when you’re down, them calling you freaking out when they hear your new song for the first time… that’s where life is at.

3. Pay Attention
Soak up every single thing you can from any collaborating situation: It’s the best education ever. Finding out the hot artists, the fresh production styles, how other people phrase differently than you, and co-writers’ songwriting tricks you haven’t used yet, only helps you become a better writer. When I was in L.A., I’d go to 14-year-olds’ showcases just to hear how that generation sings things. Start learning and you’ll have way more to lean on in your sessions. Also, knowing who you’re co-writing with (artist, producer, DJ), and paying attention to what they want, is really key. When I write for the Eurovision Song Contest, I lean towards epic, soaring, emotional phrases and specific “moments” to serve the live performances of that show. When I’m writing with urban Toronto producers, I’m channeling my best Rihanna swag. There are no stereotypes, and songwriting can break the mold, but paying attention to the kinds of writing choices that make songs different from genre to genre makes us more adaptable writers. Paying attention to pop culture is also important.

“Soak up every single thing you can from any collaborating situation: It’s the best education ever.”

4. Pushing buttons
I used to be a recording artist, so I’m often the singer on my demos. Learning how to track and comp my own vocal opened up my world. I’ve been able to collaborate with DJs and producers while I’m travelling worldwide, and it’s because of learning this most beneficial skill. Because I was a recording artist (and a voice major), I’m very picky, and can now track and comp more quickly than most producers. That makes me even more valuable, because they can bounce the song to me, and I can track while they’re working on the song. It also feels good to pull some weight in the production department. The first song I tracked and comped for a young Chinese DJ won a radio award in China, and they flew me back to perform on national TV with him. If I hadn’t known how to record that song, it never would have happened.

5. Expectations
I expected professional songwriting to be a tough hustle, and it’s been even harder than that. But… I also expected myself to rise to the challenges and become better along the way. Early on, someone said to me that whatever you put in is exactly what you’re going to get out of something – and I totally agree. There’s luck, there are breaks, there’s the law of attraction, and there’s balance. Everything evens out in the end. However big you’re willing to dream is measured by how hard you’re willing to work. I know this is true; I’ve seen it, both in others and on my own path.

6. Timing
I’ve learned to trust the timing of things more this year than ever before. I now understand that a year ago, I wasn’t ready for certain things, and I may still be a year away from being ready for other things. And timing can actually end up serving us. For example, I recently suggested a title during a co-writing session with two very successful songwriters, who both shot it down as cheesy. A week later I walked into a writing camp in Amsterdam with a very successful DJ, and when I asked if there was any specific brief, the two producers in the room literally said “Well, he is all about insert my title here”. We then wrote a song with that title, it’s been recorded, and it’s going to be his new single in September! I called the first set of writers and actually thanked them for saying ‘no’ the week before.

7. Persistence
A songwriting career isn’t for the faint of heart. Most of us got into it because of passion, and that’s what keeps us going. The one thing I’ve learned about persistence is that the only way to guarantee failure is if I stop the process. Just keep going. Even if you don’t know what you’re doing. I was a mess three weeks ago because I was tired and wanted results more quickly. I even wanted to go home. But I know that going home is the only thing that will stop this train. So I can’t. And you can’t. Show up, get the job done, and love the ride!


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