The GRAMMY Pro Summit: Women Making Music

This post is embarrassingly overdue – especially since it’s about one of the most important experiences I had in NYC. Back in March, I attended the Grammy Pro Summit: Women Making Music event at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. It was my second visit to the iconic theater (I attended Nona Hendrix’s workshop a few years ago), and I have to say… if you’re an up-and-comer in the music industry and living in NYC, you’d be a fool NOT to go to at least one of the Apollo’s educational events.

As anyone close to me knows, it’s my lifelong dream to win a Grammy award for songwriting. So when songwriting royalty – Andrea Martin, Emily King and Kendra Foster – walked onstage, I was incredibly thankful just to have the opportunity to learn from these three artists. While some of you probably haven’t heard of their names, I guarantee you, you know their music. Andrea Martin, for example, penned hits such as Vogue’s “Don’t Let Go,” Leona Lewis’ “Better In Time” (she told a hilarious story about that one), and Blu Cantrell’s “Breathe.”

I could never sum up the amazing wealth of knowledge and information these women provided us within one blog post, but here’s some of the best takeaways I received:

  1. Don’t be a one-trick pony.

    When it comes to singing and songwriting, Andrea says, “I don’t think one moves without the other.” The more skills you have – singing, lyricism, and instrumentals – the more validity you have in the industry.

  2. You need to be willing to give away freebies.

    With Emily’s sweet, unassuming nature, I’d never have guessed that her big break was writing and singing the hook to “Reason” by Nas. That being said, she wasn’t actually paid for her initial work – it was more about building that business-to-business relationship and making the connection. “Some things, you kind of give away,” she says.

  3. It’s hard being a woman in the music industry.

    Based on my personal experience in NYC (and without revealing too many shady details), I can tell you this much: If I didn’t have my particular set of morals and level of self-worth, a lot more of you would know who I was by now. I was shocked, however, that these Grammy-winning songwriters experience the same crap on a regular basis. All three ladies were candid in revealing how many women sleep around in the industry to get ahead, and Andrea makes it a habit of wearing size XXL sweatsuits to work if she’s collaborating with a male. “Somebody is always trying to have sex with you,” says Andrea. “They just say it in a different way.”

  4. You must have an unshakable level of confidence.

    Before attending the Grammy Pro Summit, I thought being a songwriter meant that you were safe from the superficial aspect of the music industry – in other words, “I can look less than perfect and be okay.” Apparently, I was wrong. Even Emily, who I think looks as beautiful as ever, received a phone call telling her that “they” would pay for a nose job if she wanted it. I’m happy to say she declined. “Physical appearance is such a distraction from music and what you want to do,” she says.

  5. Always be ballsy.

    Christina Aguilera wasn’t lying when she said it’s a man’s world. If you’re not willing to be proactive and aggressive, it won’t work. “You need to wear extra armor,” says Kendra. “I won’t get a chance if I don’t take it from them.”

  6. Don’t let a bad performance ruin you.

    Left to Right: Andrea, Emily, Kendra

    I’m almost ashamed to say, after a few bad performances – due to lack of rehearsal time, musicians who don’t take cues, and poor sound systems – I’ve basically developed a crippling sense of stage fright that I never had before. Hell, I used to perform in front of crowds of 1,000+ people with no problem. So it was comforting to hear that Emily – a singer/songwriter who Justin Timberlake asked to perform at his birthday party – has experienced the same thing several times over. “I thought the world was over after a bad show,” she reveals. “I’ve had more bad performances than good. I gave up so many times.” Clearly, she bounced back.

  7. Get rid of your quest for perfection.

    This lesson hit me hard, since I’m a perfectionist who relentlessly picks apart all my performances, no matter how much the audience liked it. But as Kendra said, it’s important to “be fearless enough to be vulnerable.” That’s what sets apart true artistry from the contrived.

  8. Your struggle isn’t special.

    Basically, if you’ve struggled along your way to the top… join the club. “Everyone has suffered in this business,” says Andrea. It all comes with the territory. So if you’re in the entertainment industry, know what you’re signing up for.

  9. Desperation can pay off.

    There’s a reason why some of the most iconic names in music are those who have suffered the most in life. And by “suffered,” I don’t mean, “I only had a bowling and pizza party for my bar mitzvah, because the economy crashed and my parents had to sell their beach house at the Jersey Shore.” It’s more along the lines of, “If I don’t get paid tomorrow, my ass will be out on the street.” Andrea has written some of her best work during the times when she was simply trying to get a paycheck. “When you NEED a job, you’d be surprised what you can do,” she says.

  10. Don’t bank on talent alone.

    I’ll never fault the people who have told me I’m talented throughout my lifetime. But when it comes down to it, talent isn’t what makes you successful in today’s music industry (I believe it did back in the day, but not anymore). “Talent is overrated,” says Kendra. “You have to apply skill as well.” In other words, you need to back your talent up with an overwhelming level of grit and relentlessness. A successful music career isn’t impossible, but it’s far from what you may assume it to be.

I could go on and on about the lessons I learned from these three women, but I think it’s important for every aspiring artist out there to learn from experience. That’s the best way for any knowledge to truly sink in. I’d also like to thank Andrea, Emily, and Kendra for an unforgettably inspiring night of music and business education. And to the Apollo – you’re the reason why NYC continues to crank out so much world-class talent.