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Event Review: Breckenridge Educational and Music Seminars
BEAMS Seminar, January 29-February 1, Breckenridge, Colorado
By Doak Turner
(more articles from this author)
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Six Female Hit songwriters from Nashville were the mentors for this workshop, from Wednesday evening, January 29, through Saturday, February 1, ending with a concert in beautiful Breckenridge, Colorado. June McHugh and her husband, Tom Gould, owners of Ash Street Publishing in Nashville, are the founders of BEAMS. They own a beautiful lodge in Breckenridge, and June and Tom's dream of hosting hit songwriters to teach aspiring songwriters in an intimate environment is happening there for the second time, as the first was in the summer of 2002.

Pro writers Karen Taylor Good ("How Can I Help You Say Goodbye" Patty Loveless ), Liz Hengber ("For My Broken Heart" Reba McIntire), Jenny Yates ("Standing Outside The Fire" Garth Brooks), Deanna Bryant ("Unconditional" Clay Davidson), Kim Patton-Johnston ("Beautiful Goodbye" Jennifer Hanson), and Devon O'Day ("The Big One" George Strait) were the mentors for the seminar. In addition, Linda Lawrence, Vice President of SESAC in New York discussed the publishing business as part of a workshop.

Aspiring writers from California, Connecticut, Virginia, New York, Colorado and Tennessee attended the event. The investment in the seminar was $525.00, which included all meals, except for Thursday and Friday dinner. The price also included accommodations in the local ski village condominiums, a short walk from June's lodge. A maximum of 25 aspiring songwriters that can attend any one event. It was a great value for this unique opportunity to spend the time with and learn from these hit songwriters.

The Seminar began Wednesday evening with a social time and dinner for everyone. During this relaxing time we got to know each other, and it set the mood for the rest of the seminar. Although all but one of the pro songwriters live in Nashville, they did not really know each other. By the end of the seminar, most of them committed to write with each other. They were all excited to be at the seminar, and all mentioned the fact they enjoy giving back and sharing their knowledge and experiences with aspiring songwriters.

Thursday morning, after breakfast at the lodge, the first order of business was to go around the room and introduce ourselves. We shared information about our songwriting, what we'd would like from the seminar, and what we do for a living. A couple of the occupations were an English teacher on Long Island, a personal fitness trainer in Pasadena, a publicist from Nashville, a Colorado College student, a former software developer who is pursuing songwriting full time, a former part time actress, an advertising professional and jingle singer, and songwriters from Ash Street Publishing.

Kim Patton Johnson was very thrilled to attend the event. She said she wants to teach and give back to aspiring writers, as she has learned from other hit songwriters. Kim has had 100 songs cut, and encouraged everyone to read the book, "As A Man Thinketh: The Wisdom of James Allen" (E-book), for inspiration. Devon O'Day said, "Education is very important, so you have something to give back." She added, "Continue doing what is in your heart." She also recommended the book, "Letters to a Young Poet," by Ranier Maria Rilke. Deanna Bryant, a former accountant, management experience with pro athletes and several hit songs, said it best "If you can't do anything else – you know you are a songwriter."

Kim and Devon, who have co-written several songs in the past couple of years, led a session on learning from animals and people. Devon is the author of the heartwarming book, "My Angels Wear Fur," which has stories about animals that she rescued and their stories of unconditional love. She discussed how she and Kim did "book singings," not book signings. Devan would read stories from the book, and she and Kim would sing songs that they wrote.

"Every day as a songwriter, you have a gift you can give," said Devon. "Whatever inspires you to write is not an accident." Devon talked about losing her first publishing deal in Nashville. She did not feel good about herself and then started writing about animals. She read several stories of how animals became her friends, and Kim followed up with a beautiful song that related to Devon's story. Devan read a story about the joy of owning one of her horses, and about when the horse passed away. At the end of the story, Kim played the beautiful hit song that is on the now charts with Jennifer Hanson called "Beautiful Goodbye." They shared these words of encouragement at the end of their talk, "Believe in yourself – when they [the publishers or music business people] say no, walk away and stay positive."

Thursday afternoon's first session was with Karen Taylor Good, who at one time was an artist who was nominated for "New Artist of the Year" by the Academy of Country Music. Karen's singing career ended when her deal fell through because the label thought she was too old. However, when the record executive heard Karen's songs, he called a publisher, and Karen ended up with a publishing deal. That deal helped her land her song, "How Can I Help You Say Goodbye," by Patty Loveless on the charts, and other songs, such as "Not That Different," performed by Collin Raye. Karen recommended that we read the book, "True to Form," by Elizabeth Berg. Karen shared, "Someone else has a plan," and, "Riches happen when you believe you deserve them."

Deanna Bryant spoke about how the songwriting would not let go of her. Although she would visit Nashville several times in about ten years, her mother did not encourage her to be a songwriter. After seeing her daughter's success, her parents are very proud of her. Deanna sang a new song, "You've Been Gone Too Long," that had everyone touched with emotion, drying their eyes. Her "Forever love" song by Reba was the feature song in a made for TV movie. Deanna's beautiful hit song, "Unconditional" recorded by Clay Davidson, took over two years to get recorded. Her publisher believed in the song, and kept pitching it to the A&R people on Music Row. It eventually was a hit song.

Jennie Yates started in the music business wanting to be a singer, and never thought she would be a songwriter. She ended up co-writing with a songwriter/artist before he had their record deal, and she discussed the value of developing relationships in Nashville. The songs that the two wrote together include "Standing Outside the Fire" (Jenny Yates/Garth Brooks), "The Red Strokes" (Jenny Yates/Garth Brooks), and several more hit songs.

Liz Hengber led a discussion on an upcoming book she has written regarding mistakes made by songwriters coming to Nashville, including herself: cornering hit songwriters coming off stage from the songwriting rounds, asking them to write with her, not taking the time to get to know the writers. Liz tried to rush the business, and would not have phone calls returned by industry people. Liz went home to New York for three months, listened to positive, self-help tapes, and then returned to Nashville with a positive attitude.

She eventually learned the value of networking, making friends in town, writing with people on her level, the value of joining NSAI and learning the business part of songwriting. Liz recommended staying away from "black hole" – negative songwriters hat do not want you to succeed. She advised that we get to know positive people and be persistent as we pursue our songwriting goals and dreams. Liz gave a handout that included a preview of new her book. It included five tips on how to get appointments with publishers, and seventeen things to learn when you move to Nashville. One important tip: start treating yourself like you're already a staff writer. Write all the time, any chance you get!

The topic of co-writing was the next discussion for the day. A couple of tips from the group of pro writers were: come in with an idea to write the song with your co-writer. Be respectful of the co-writer. Liz mentioned the fact that you do not bring a resume when you cowrite, everyone is and should be treated equal. They advised that we study all genres of songwriting and be open to any ideas. What the cowriters discuss in the room should stay in the room, except what goes on paper. Cowriting can be like sex: you want to get to know the person, develop the trust as a songwriter, and learn to share with each other, to write the best song possible. The pro writers all discussed their experiences, good and bad over the years. Sometimes when songwriters are friends and try to cowrite, it does not always work. And, cowriting well together does not always mean that songwriters have to be great friends. They can just be great cowriters! They also said to have fun in the process of writing songs.

Friday's first session was a discussion by Linda Lawrence of SESAC, called "The Publishing Pie." She explained how publishing income [royalties] are split between the songwriter and the publisher [if the songwriter is signed to a publisher]. She mentioned the first "co-publishing deal" [where the songwriter shares the publisher's share of the royalty, along with the songwriter's share] was with The Beatles and their publisher. Linda recommended reading the book by Randy Poe called "A Songwriters Guide To Music Publishing." She also said that songwriters should always ask for a reversion clause in their contract with the publisher [if it is a single song contract]. A reversion clause states that if the publisher does not get your song cut by an artist within a certain period of time, the ownership of song "reverts" back to the songwriter. She added that songwriters should always have an entertainment attorney review any publishing contract before signing it. She also recommended that songwriters ask professional organizations to check references of publishing companies that want to sign you and your songs to a contract.

On Friday afternoon, the prosongwriters critiqued the songs of the participants. The session was one of the most impressive song critiques that I have ever witnessed. The hit writers would make statements about the songs, then another songwriter may disagree and say why, relating back to one of their hit songs. It showed how each professional has a vantage point from which they view a song, and their exchanges were a great learning experience. The average evaluation took a little over 15 minutes, with each hit writer making comments on the songs. A couple comments relating to songwriting from the pros on the evaluations:

The importance of having no typos on your lyric sheet. It is very important to have the correct lyrics, exactly as recorded on the CD. Have the most professional looking presentation possible when playing songs for publishers. Devon commented that she does not want the publisher to be reading her lyrics when listening to the song, and does not immediately hand them to the publisher her lyric sheets when she gives the CD to them. She wants the publisher to hear the song as a listener may hear it on the CD.

* Make sure every recorded word is understandable to the listener.

* The song should have a beginning, middle and end. Study artists that you like and ask yourself, "Would they sing this song?" Study the way they sing their songs and the lyrics they sing.

* Study great songwriters and great songs. Look at every single word in your song. Try not to rhyme every line in a song, as they get too contrived and predictable. Don't risk losing the real feeling and emotion when trying to keep a rhyme pattern.

* If you write a character song, includes details about the person.

* When writing a funny song, the last verse should be the funniest. If using a trademark name in a song, it must be cleared by that particular company.

One touching moment in the evaluation came with the evaluation of a song written in the rock genre. The writer wrote the song from her heart, the lyrics speaking about the challenges of being a woman. It touched on the way people look at women because of the media, the eating disorders that many woman struggle with, and her acceptance of herself. The pro writers all shed tears, touched by the emotion. One pro songwriter said and they all agreed, "I wish we could write songs like this in our format."

Saturday started with breakfast at the lodge, followed by another round of song critiques. The much anticipated "Fly on the Wall" session was set for the afternoon. This was a unique opportunity for the aspiring songwriters to watch how the pros write a song. Deanna, Jenny and Karen were selected to write a song, and chose to write about the day's tragic story of the Columbia Space Shuttle exploding. They looked for an angle to express thoughts of triumph and tragedy, an inspiration of what will help us through this tough time.

The session was like a theater. Only the pros could talk, no suggestions from anyone else. The theme of the song was going to be the families of the astronauts who were lost. The writers were given an hour to write the song. They began a process of exchanging ideas. Karen explored a melody on the keyboard, with Jenny on the guitar. They asked each other, "What is the point of our song"? Deanna said, "This is the part where I usually go out for a smoke," and then she went outside. We could see her wheels turning, her hands working on an imaginary board, coming up with lines that she brought back into the room. Then they started to work on a chorus, exchanging possible lines. Members in the audience were silently exchanging a couple thoughts among themselves on a legal pad, not saying a word. They wanted to see what the others would be thinking about the subject in the song.

After an hour, the pros decided to get back together later in Nashville to complete the song. Karen had a first verse for the song, and was still working on the melody. Jenny made the comment, "Songwriting is like making stew – throwing everything into it, and see what happens." Deanna made the statement at the end of the session, "The muse is like a fairy, sometimes she will or not come out to play."

Finally, we enjoyed a concert by the hit songwriters. They sang several rounds of hit songs and new songs, many that should be recorded in the future. Karen Taylor Good called everyone to the front of the stage to help her sing her great song, "Healing In The Hands of Time," at the end of the concert. We all joined together on the stage as we sang.

The overall feeling of the BEAMS seminar from the aspiring songwriters was that the week was the best time ever at any seminar: the way the pro songwriters poured their hearts out with stories and inspiration, and how they shared everything that they could with everyone that was in attendance. New friends were made that will result in future songs being written. The power of The Muse was so strong, that everyone was sad to see it end.

Networking was never so easy! The four days of togetherness that we shared will be hard to duplicate, and that fact was realized by everyone in attendance. Several of the aspiring songwriters said they are planning to sign up for the next BEAMS songwriting seminar, scheduled for June 18-21st for a repeat performance! For more information about the next BEAMS seminar, visit

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