Reclining on couches in a spacious writing area at Black River Entertainment’s multi-use facility in Nashville, songwriters Tenille Arts, Lena Stone, and Jessica Roadcap are writing and rewriting lyrics, testing melody combinations, and throwing out bridge ideas. Guitar cases and laptops cover tabletops and floors. The creators make equal use of guitars and smartphones.
“What do you think of cursing, of using the word ‘damn’?” Stone asks her co-writers.
“What would CMT think of the word ‘damn’?” Roadcap quips.
For now, they keep it in.
A large sign emblazoned with YouTube’s logo hangs on the wall above. The video content giant’s logo is carefully displayed on pillows and other items throughout the intricately decorated room.
That’s because parts of the Black River Entertainment facility have been taken over, temporarily, by YouTube. On May 17, YouTube welcomed Nashville-based, all-female collective of singer-songwriters, Song Suffragettes, to the pop-up space. Fifteen songwriters, divided into five groups, participated in writing workshops to create original songs within a three-hour timeframe.
Later that evening, during a live taping, they will perform the songs in five separate acoustic performances, which will also be available on the Song Suffragettes’ YouTube Channel.
In one of the facility’s full-fledged studio control rooms, songwriters Kalie Shorr, Lacy Green and Emily Landis discuss their own country-flavored composition, accented with ‘90s pop leanings. It marks the first time Green and Landis have written together.
“It’s like speed dating,” Shorr says, describing the co-writing process.
Over the past few years, YouTube has become the dominant platform for distributing video-based content. As more creators have turned to YouTube for creative exposure, they also brought their need for education, as well as adequate space and equipment to create quality video content. YouTube has opened Spaces in nine markets, including Los Angeles and New York, to provide a space for creators to craft new content.
“YouTube is about creators, and songwriters are essential to the creation of music,” says Anjali Southward, Head of U.S Music Publishing Business Development for YouTube, and a former EMI Music Publishing employee. “We want to invest in the songwriter community, and show songwriters that YouTube can be a home for them. Nashville is a very natural place, being the songwriter capital of the world.”
YouTube previously worked with Nashville studio Ocean Way on a similar pop-up space, and has connected with the city’s top publishers to select participants in these pop-up writing spaces, with an eye toward curating long-term relationships with creators and educating them on YouTube’s benefits for creators, including Music Insights, Content ID and Vevo.
“It’s cool because I got my start on YouTube,” says Shorr. Celebrity blogger Perez Hilton found Shorr’s videos on YouTube in 2012. Her single “Fight Like a Girl” has since drawn the attention of SiriusXM’s The Highway. “I grew up in a small town in Maine and there was no place to play, so I set up my webcam in my bedroom and that’s where I found my first audience. So to see their support of what we do is really cool. It’s cool to challenge yourself and say, ‘Can I write a song in three hours that I would want to perform and have online?’ It’s cool that they re so innovative and it’s cool to see the tech-music crossover and pushing boundaries and finding new ways to create.”
Song Suffragettes, led by founder Todd Cassetty, was created to showcase the talents of many of Nashville’s rising female songwriters. Song Suffragettes launched in 2014 and has grown to become the biggest weekly show for Nashville music venue The Listening Room. Given the dearth of female artists and songwriters on the country charts in recent years, these participating writers note the value of both a group such as Song Suffragettes and the marketing platform YouTube provides.
“It’s an all-ships-rise mentality,” says Green. “What’s good for any of these girls is great for all of us in general, but especially because we all also collaborate. If any one of us does something with this song we have just written … for example, Kalie’s got ‘Fight Like a Girl’ out right now, and that’s great for Kalie, but that’s also great for her co-writers Lena [Stone] and Hailey [Steele]. “
Back in the writing room, Shorr, Green and Landis discuss how to divvy up lyrics for the song’s performance that evening, before deciding to stay with one lead singer and let the other co-writers sing harmonies, to keep the audience’s focus on the lyrics. “The cool thing for me, as the writer in the co-write, is to get on camera, even though I’ll be singing harmonies,” says Landis. “It’s appreciating the songs and the people who write the songs, not just the people who sing the songs.”
“That visual is also so important to us,” says Southward. “We really want to create an environment where songwriters feel creative, but also encompass what YouTube is about, which is having this amazing visual component. We believe there is value in songwriters having a presence in the digital world.
“I think the beauty of YouTube is that anyone can have a chance,” Southward continues. “All it takes is having a passion for something. It’s great that people go to YouTube and find these artists they may never have heard before. They become followers and fans. So we love that we are part of this process, helping people build their careers and business. I don’t think we ever substitute for what goes into the real A&R and development process, but it is such a great avenue, and for many — they can earn royalties even if they aren’t signed to a publisher. I actually have heard a lot of my friends in the creative community in A&R say they use YouTube to find talent. Then they go and talk to them and go on to the rest of the process. We love being part of this process. I hope this is a launching pad or an opportunity for these writers to continue on to more success. The tree of success has many branches, and we’d love to be one of the branches.”
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