Writing Up: Interview With Canadian Singer/Songwriter Shelly Jacobson
Jacobson Lands Staff Deal With Full Court Press Music Group in Nashville
Artist: Shelly Jacobson
Current CD: A Little Painted Stone
Genre: Country Singer/Songwriter
Label: Self Released
Shelley Jacobson is a Canadian-based songwriter who has also been a lead singer with successful touring bands in Canada as well as a successful solo artist in her home region. She’s just been signed to Full Court Press Music Group in Nashville (Hyland Hills Music) as a staff writer, at a time when people claim that you can’t get a publishing deal if you live outside of Music City. I caught up with Shelley recently as she’s preparing for yet another trip down to Tennessee.
[Doak Turner] Shelley, you just got a publishing deal in Nashville and yet you’re based not just outside of Nashville, but outside of the USA! How did that come about – especially when the famous saying in Nashville is “must be present to win” ?
Shelly Jacobson I've been making trips back and forth to Nashville for the last five years. For the first few years I kept a low profile ... learning as much as I could with my craft from the song camps at the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) and other music conferences. I was like a sponge soaking up as much as I could. I just kept my head down and concentrated on building my writing chops.
I didn't start making appointments with publishers until other industry pros told me that I was where I needed to be to hook up with publishers. One of those people was Sara Light from www.Songu.com . I joined up with Songu and took every lyric writing course they offered. Sara Light (SONGU) told me that she wanted to hook me up with Pat Rolfe from ASCAP. A meeting was made with Pat and it was amazing! She listened to every song that I had on a 10 track CD and when the last song finished, she looked at me and said, "You're ready to shop around ... let me make some calls." I almost fell out of my chair!! I was trying to play it cool ... but I was so excited I felt like jumping up and down.
Pat made some calls on my behalf and I was set up for my next trip back. That also gave me the confidence to go out there and make other appointments on my own. I met up with the publishers Pat had set me up with, and the meetings went well. Two of them wanted me to keep sending them everything I wrote after that and the other companies set me up with their staff writers ... so again, I was set up for my next trip back.
When I came back into town I met up with another publisher and played them my material. They listened all the way through and said that six of the songs on the CD were ready to fly out the door. Then they asked what I was looking for in a staff deal ... I had to stop myself from looking over my shoulder to see where the reality cameras were set up ... It was an incredible feeling.
After that meeting, I met up with another publisher that has a co-venture with Warner Chappell. He listened to my catalog and asked me not to sign with the previous publisher until he spoke with Warner. I was so excited after that meeting I could barely speak!!! A couple of weeks after that I was informed that he would like to sign me, but Warner only had one slot for him to sign a writer/artist. It was very disappointing, but I really appreciated him going to bat for me.
The deal that I just signed came from Mike Hyland at Full Court Music Press. I was introduced to Mike through my co-writer, Lorna Flowers. Mike was pitching Lorna's catalog on the Row and Lorna asked him to take a listen to some of my stuff. He agreed to take a listen and I guess he liked what he heard.
[Doak Turner] How do you think your publishing deal will work on a daily basis, given that you’re still going to be based outside of Nashville, at least for now ?
Shelly Jacobson It would be pretty difficult for me to get my material to the right people without a staff deal. My publisher is based out of Nashville, which means he will be able to get my material to the A&R reps and producers that he knows are looking for material for their artists. Mike has also emailed me to set up co-writing appointments with other writers when I am back in town. So that's a big help.
Eventually we (my family and I) will end up moving to Nashville, but for now I'm making frequent trips back and forth. Again ... I'm just keeping my head down and trying to come up with fresh ideas for my co-write sessions when I'm back in town. My daily schedule consists of writing and demoing my material in my studio.
[Doak Turner] Can you describe a typical day for you, for your songwriting ? Do you write every day?
Shelly Jacobson I have to write everyday otherwise I get cranky. I usually wake up early and write for a few hours before my family gets up. I'd say a typical day consists of me writing 3-5 hours a day. In the evenings I record the demos in my home studio. So it pretty much fills the day. When I’m not writing, I’m checking out material from other writers and trying to find new music that inspires me.
[Doak Turner] If there have been days when you’ve felt discouraged, how have you managed to work through those? What have been the main obstacles and challenges you’ve faced, and what can you tell me about how you’ve overcome or worked through them?
Shelly Jacobson The most frustrating thing for me is not being in Nashville. Sometimes a co-writer will call or email me and say..."Guess who I just wrote with,” or, “You won't believe who I ran into at the Bluebird!” The other thing is people forget who you are if you're not in their faces all the time. That's very discouraging.
The way I try to over come my frustrations with that is by keeping my head down and focusing on the song and working even harder. Everything else is an illusion. The staff deal, the cut ... the hype ... it's all a major distraction that can suck you in and end up taking your time away from the main goal ... writing a great song! Don't get me wrong - I'm very grateful for my staff deal and the support I've received so far, but I really need to stay grounded. I think the best thing about living in Nashville is that there is so much going on around you, but the downfall of living in Nashville is, there is so much going on around you ;-)
[Doak Turner] Songwriters have different ways of getting their creative juices going. How does the songwriting process work for you?
Shelly Jacobson I collect hooks and phrases that I hear in conversation or read, and write them into my pocket Casio. I usually go through my list of hooks and then start writing the lyric from the hook. Sometimes I start noodling around on my guitar... I love rhythmical riffs... that usually helps me get the juices flowing.
[Doak Turner] You’ve had the opportunity to write with some #1 and hit writers such as Roger Cook (300 hits including George Strait’s #1 “I Just Wanna Dance With You” and “One Night At A Time” and the classic songs “Talking In Your Sleep” and “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing”), Benita Hill (who wrote 3 Garth Brooks’ hits – “2 Pina Coladas,” “Take The Keys To My Heart” and “It’s Your Song”) and Joie Scott (who wrote Collin Raye’s #1 “Not That Different”), among others, and I know you have some other hit name co-writes set up. How do those come about and do you approach them any differently than when you’re writing with unsigned writers ?
Shelly Jacobson Lorna Flowers set me up with some of them. It's all about relationships in this business, and networking. I try to help out other writers and they help me out by introducing me to people they think I should be writing with. I was really nervous and intimidated the first time I wrote with a big name writer. I think the first big name was Roger Cook. But once we got into the session, the song took over and my nerves took a back seat thank goodness!!!
I usually try to come into a co-write with a verse and chorus. That helps ease the tension for me, and also takes a bit of the pressure off. It's easier for me to start that way than to just dive into a new idea from scratch. I really think that's a confidence thing ... I'm starting to feel more at ease and more confident, and I'm enjoying the process of co-writing now. At the beginning I was scared to death! I was always so afraid that I'd end up saying something stupid and loose all credibility. But it's kind of cool in a co-writing situation ... it's like a game of ping-pong once you get in your groove. The ideas just keep going back and forth.
[Doak Turner] Has the Internet been a useful tool for you to be able to work with people outside of your home area and to pitch your songs ?
Shelly Jacobson The Internet has been extremely useful. I co-write to this day with writers all over the world by sending MP3 files and word files back and forth. I'm also able to upload demoed songs to my web site and pitch them to different pitch leads that way, which helps cut back on supply costs and mailing.
[Doak Turner] Are there any organizations that you’ve found have been particularly helpful to you on your songwriting journey ?
Shelly Jacobson Songu.com helped me take years off of my craft. I've taken every lyric course offered and continue to study with them. Danny Arena and Sara Light are great people that have poured their hearts and souls into Songu, and I've benefited from all their hard work and labor. Sara is also one of the people that referred me to Pat Rolfe from ASCAP.
Pat Rolfe from ASCAP has been amazing! She got behind me and made referrals to companies that I wouldn't be able to get into otherwise. She worked closely with me when I was signing my staff deal. I know I wouldn't be as far along as I am without her help and support.
SOCAN has also been very helpful. Dan Kershaw and Lynne Foster have been very supportive and have helped me along the way. Dan informed me that SOCAN would like to get behind me and help me network with some of Canada's major artists.
[Doak Turner] When you were asked to open for rock legends Foreigner up in Canada last year with your own band, how did that feel? Did you use different songs in your set to accommodate that performance?
Shelly Jacobson It was such a rush opening for a band that I grew up listening to. Their music is responsible for most of my speeding tickets ;-)
We stuck to our original material and it went over well. We have a real Bonnie Raitt meets Sheryl Crowe kind of feel that we can add some edge to if we have to.
[Doak Turner] In the ‘90s, you were the lead singer in two separate successful touring bands in Canada, but what was it that made you want to be a songwriter as opposed to an artist?
Shelly Jacobson For me it's the writing. There's some kind of magic in writing a song that you just can't stop playing. I love playing out and performing ... but I have to balance it otherwise I get frustrated if my writing schedule starts to get sidelined.
[Doak Turner] When I looked at your website I saw how many great things have happened for you. For instance, how did your success happen in Europe? Where you had a #3 song on the European Country radio chart with your first release, “Get Gone,” from your CD A Little Painted Stone.
Shelly Jacobson Stuart Cameron from Hot Disc sends out a compilation CD to radio stations all over Europe. He put my song "Get Gone" on one of the CDs and sent it out there. I really wasn't expecting much to happen. It was a nice surprise when I received the indie chart with the rotation status.
[Doak Turner] What have been the main highlights for you in the last couple of years?
Shelly Jacobson The staff deal is at the top of the list. Having a couple of songs on hold with Terri Clark and one with Julie Roberts was a real rush. I'm just so blessed to be working with the amazing people I'm working with. It's all good.
[Doak Turner] I hear that you’ve just received a prestigious award from the city of Thunder Bay, Canada, for your songwriting achievements. Can you tell me a bit more about that? It sounds like musicians don’t often get this particular award – is that correct?
Shelly Jacobson To be honest, I felt a little uncomfortable with that one. When I received the call, I said to the person on the other end..."Why me?" There are so many talented people that live where I do...they deserve the same recognition.
[Doak Turner] So do you think your writing trips to Nashville helped you in achieving recognition and winning that award? How do you think your songwriting and work in Thunder Bay has helped you with your writing in Nashville ?
Shelly Jacobson Everything ties in. It takes one to fuel the other. Without the help from the folks in Nashville, my craft wouldn't be where it is now and I wouldn't be receiving the attention that I'm receiving here at home.
[Doak Turner] You make regular trips to Nashville. How often do you come here? Tell me a bit about how you typically prepare for a trip, and also a little bit about if and how each visit has made a difference?
Shelly Jacobson I try to come back and forth every couple of months. I have to do that until I get my 01 immigration visa in place. Every trip to Nashville sets me up for my next one. The publishing appointments that Pat Rolfe set me up with resulted in co-write sessions with their staff writers. So now I'm booking ahead with my co-write sessions. As far as preparing for a trip ... I guess I try to focus a little more on ideas to bring to the table for co-writes ... but everything's pretty much the same on a daily basis, just concentrate on writing.
[Doak Turner] Shelley, many thanks for taking time to talk with me. I wish you every success with your publishing deal in Nashville and look forward to hearing how that’s developing.
Shelly Jacobson Thanks so much, Doak.
For more information and to contact the author, click on the author’s name at the top of the page.