The one thing I will do over and over again is attend the Kaua'i Music Festival (now known as the Hawai’i Songwriting Festival) every summer, and this year is looking to be another amazing one! I’m just glad that this is a blog and not a song that I’m writing, because this will be a wordy one since I’ve been fortunate enough to attend the last eight KMFs - and a lot has happened in that time.
First, I’d like to thank Charles Michael Brotman for introducing me to this wonderful event. While performing at a gig he asked me this simple question: “Do you write your own songs?” and then proceeded to tell me all about KMF. That night I was given the hook and line, and after checking out the kauaimusicfestival.com website and seeing the list of staff (especially Jason Blume, who wrote the first book on songwriting that I bought), well, I was sold the sinker, and I now plan every summer vacation around KMF.
I am a singer and musician first, so my experience with songwriting at that time was very minimal. I registered for the festival, waited for summer to come, and finally, with a couple of song demos in hand, I got on my flight to Kaua’i to attend my first KMF in the summer of 2007. Since then, my life has never been the same. The amount of things I learned, the inspiration I got, the people I met, and the friendships I gained made attending this festival so very addictive. Here’s a glimpse at the past eight years:
My First Time
Before my first KMF, I had no idea what to expect. I went by myself. I felt lost, but I had this feeling deep within me telling me that this is where I needed to be to better my craft of songwriting and to gain a better understanding of the music business. Since the music festival is open to all ages and levels of songwriters who write music in different genres, you are able to hear a variation of songs. That experience can be quite scary, especially if you are a beginner, but the great thing about songwriting is that everyone was once a beginner. I went to every single workshop, seminar, and panel discussion, I did one-on-one meetings, checked out the demo derby, and enjoyed myself at the hotel bar where the open mic was held. I didn’t have the courage to get up and sing a song of my own at open mic, but I did add that challenge to my songwriting “to-do” list at the time.
That year I left Kaua'i with a killer hangover (which I suggest not getting if you have an early flight), a killer hook because of that hangover experience, and most importantly, the intense feeling of hope and inspiration. It was so strong, it made me believe even more that songwriting was something that I needed to do.
The Growing Years
During the next two KMFs, I was still trying to grasp onto understanding the business side of things while incorporating all the valuable lessons I learned about songwriting into my songs. I was like a sponge, soaking in the wealth of music information that is heavily dispersed at the festival. They say that “knowledge is power,” and by gaining more knowledge about the music business and songwriting, I gave myself the power to be the best that I could be. One of the songwriting instructors said “ no one is better at doing you, than you.” When I heard this, it opened an entirely different door for me. It made me question what can I do better than before. I was able to look at things more clearly and focus on what I wanted the songs I wrote to say and do to people. It also gave me a better picture of how I wanted my debut island music album, which I was writing at that time, to be like.
At the 2010 KMF, a lot of wonderful things happened. I finally gained enough courage to sit at the piano and sing one of my own songs at the open mic! Yes, it took me four years to scratch that off my “to-do” list, but it was a goal that I completed. It was quite a terrifying yet invigorating experience. So many thoughts flowed through my head at that moment, ranging from, “I better not forget the lyrics to my own song,” to “why is the room so quiet?” I’ll never forget that feeling, and now I look forward to singing at open mic.
The 2010 KMF was also the first time I collaborated with other songwriters. It was a new idea implemented at the festival that year, and I am so happy that they did so because I learned about the benefit of collaborating with others to create songs. After that year, I had gained so much more insight into songwriting. I made more songwriting friends and my musical network grew as well. But the number one thing that came out of that KMF was completing the song whose hook I wrote after my first KMF.
When KMF 2011 came rolling along I thought hey, I’m going to enter the songwriting competition. Why not? It won’t hurt and you never know. Well, that year was a game changer for me. My song “One Too Many” came in second place that year. =) I received a little Martin guitar to remind me of that time, and I was beyond stoked about that experience, but the most important part about that happening is knowing that if you work hard enough at something and you believe in yourself, something good will come out of it. I’ve been fortunate to place second twice in a KMF Songwriting Competition. The second time was in 2013 with a song called “End of the World.” With that win, I received another acoustic guitar…and all I need now is to learn how to play them so that I can accompany myself at open mic, lol!
My Life Will Never be the Same
Everything I learned at all of the KMFs about the music business and songwriting and everything in between was applied to my music career. My life would not be the way it is now if I had never registered and taken that flight to Kaua'i in 2007 for my first KMF. Since then, I released my debut “island pop” album and received airplay on island radio stations from Hawaii to Tahiti for seven of those songs and a single. Three of those songs were the #1 requested song on a couple of stations, which was a crazy thing to experience. =) By using the networking techniques gained at KMF, I was offered a job as a midday radio personality at NativeFM (a local radio station here on the island of Hawai'i) and most recently, I started doing the afternoon drive time on its sister station, KBIG FM.
The most memorable and biggest thing to happen to me because of KMF is having one of my songs placed in an episode of an international network TV show called “Sleepy Hollow!” I became friends with the show's music supervisor after we met at KMF. I wore a smile on my face from the moment I got the message about having my song placed until the episode aired in January of this year, and every single time I think about it still. I will always remember the feeling of waiting to hear it in the background of the scene. It was truly the longest 60 minutes, but best 30 seconds, of my life!!!!!
I believe that all of this has happened due to my attending the Kaua'i Music Festival. It takes practice to develop the ability to pen a song that tells a story that takes people to another place and time, to write a song that conjures up emotions that can bring tears to another’s eye or a smile to their face. Like with a lot of other things, songwriting gets better with practice and putting yourself in a place that will provide you with the opportunity to gain more knowledge, experience, and exposure. The Hawai'i Songwriting Festival can do all of that and leave you with inspiration and hope. The key is putting yourself there in the first place. If you are on the fence about attending the festival, I truly hope that by sharing my experience with you, it will lead you to take that leap of faith.
The number one thing I gained from attending this festival is OPPORTUNITIES!!! The opportunity to learn about songwriting from some of the best songwriters in the world. The opportunity to be vulnerable and to strive to become better at the craft of songwriting. The opportunity to have your music be heard. The opportunity to gain a better understanding of the music business. The opportunity to grow your network and to meet and make wonderful new friends who love music and songwriting as much as you do. And most of all, the opportunity to celebrate the art and craft of songwriting.
Aloha and I’ll be seeing you at the Hawaii Songwriting Festival next week....because I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
A hui hou –
When the folks at KMF asked me if I would write a blog post about my experiences at the Kauai Music Festival, AKA The Hawaii Songwriting Festival (I love the new name BTW), I was more than happy to. I have been to KMF 2 times. The first time changed the way I approach songwriting. The second time changed my life!
The first time I attended the KMF was in 2005. I had just come off of a long hiatus from songwriting and performing and thought that attending KMF would be a great way to get back into music. Honestly, I really thought I was going to fly over to Kauai, play my demo for industry people, get “discovered” and be on my way to the big leagues. That did not happen - not even close. What did happen is that my idea of what it takes to write songs was spun 180 degrees by listening to, and learning from, the truly amazing songwriters and industry professionals that were there to share and teach. These folks are incredibly knowledgeable, successful and are really there to help.
The second time I attended KMF was in 2007. I had taken what I had learned from my first experience there and done my best to apply it to how I approached songwriting. I ended up winning the songwriting competition that year and as a direct result found myself with 2 publishing offers. One of the staff that year took my demo to EMI in New York, they offered me a multi-song deal, and I ended up having the opportunity to work directly with Jim Ed Norman - a relationship that ultimately let to a staff writing position with Sony/ATV publishing in Nashville and then to my current deal with Jim Ed Norman and Curb Publishing.
I’ve had songs cut by Nashville recording artists, I’ve written songs with some of the most successful writers in country music and I’ve made some life long friends along the way. Eight years in, I know I’m really just getting started, and even though it’s a tough business I feel like I’m on track to have some real success as a songwriter.
The Nashville Songwriters Association’s (NSAI) motto is “It all begins with a song,” and while I couldn't agree more, for me it really all began with the Kauai Music Festival - there’s truly nothing else like it anywhere!
Welcome and Aloha! This is the KMF Blog, and we hope it can be a source of information and idea exchange for songwriters and KMF attendees. Julia Brotman, our board member and director of social media strategies will be moderating and encouraging others to join and comment!