In light of NSAI Membership Month, we asked a few of our members to share how they've utilized NSAI's community to become better at their craft and connect with other songwriters in their area!
“It all begins with a song….”
For my journey with NSAI, the song that started it all was called “Wasted Fantasy”. I first connected with NSAI two years ago when I entered their 17th Annual Song Contest. I had no idea when I submitted “Wasted Fantasy” to the contest that the click of that button would open up so many doors for me and my career in ways I couldn’t imagine. From getting the opportunity to open a show for some of my favorite writers at Tin Pan South to having a mentoring session with Charles Kelley and later travelling to Washington, D.C. to witness NSAI in action on the legal front – The last couple of years with NSAI have been an absolute dream…And to think “it all began with a song”….and a Song Contest.
I entered the Song Contest on a whim after seeing an advertisement for it and I had no expectation of making it to the Top 11…Much less winning it. I was starting the last semester of my Senior year at Belmont University when I entered the contest. During Spring Break, I was in Orlando waiting in line for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios when I got the e-mail that my song had won. I was quite literally surrounded by people, but when I saw the e-mail with the results, I could not contain my excitement. There was lots of screaming and jumping up and down and calling everyone I knew….People were looking at me like I was crazy. They must have thought I just REALLY loved Harry Potter….Ha.
Obviously I had seen the list of prizes that came along with winning the contest. Among other things, there were publisher meetings, performance opportunities, the chance to attend the NSAI Song Camp, a mentoring session with Charles Kelley, and a $5,000 cash prize….All of which a graduating college senior with no concrete plans, financial instability, and a dream of being a professional songwriter DESPERATELY needed. The prize that wasn’t listed but was the most valuable of all was the opportunity to build a relationship with the staff members at NSAI. Everyone in this organization works tirelessly to help songwriters improve their craft, make professional connections, and create a community of co-writers and lifelong friends.
Since joining NSAI, I have been consistently meeting with the representatives, getting song feedback, and talking through potential next steps for my career. Each of the reps I have met with have given honest critiques of my songs that have made me a better writer. One of the greatest advantages of meeting with reps is that they also meet with many other songwriters and can connect you with other NSAI members at your level to build your co-writing network. In Nashville, everyone rises together. Building your circle of co-writers and friends that you can trust, collaborate well with, and encourage each other is SO important and NSAI is there every step of the way to help facilitate those relationships with you.
One of the most valuable opportunities that NSAI offers is the annual Song Camp. I had the chance to attend the Advanced Song Camp last summer and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I found that attending this camp is like getting a songwriting degree from a four-year university in three days. I started writing songs just before I moved to Nashville and the whole business seemed pretty intimidating. It was hard to know where to start, if my songs were on the right track, or if I even had the heart for the music business when I didn’t know anything about the business yet and I had basically zero industry connections to go to for advice. This event is an incredible one-stop-shop for all of those things. It would take years of work in Nashville to get your songs in front of some of the industry professionals that volunteer their time for critiques at the camp. Each of the speakers were completely vulnerable and honest - sometimes brutally honest – about their experiences in the music business. You will leave Song Camp with all of the information you need to start out or to take the next steps in your songwriting career. You will learn about the true climate of the industry, you will get honest critiques of your songs from respected pro-writers and publishers, and you will make connections with more music business executives in a weekend than you typically would in ten years in this town. For a new writer craving to learn more about the music business – The Song Camp is worth every penny.
NSAI is one of the only organizations that exists solely to protect songwriters at every stage in their careers. I got to witness their best efforts first hand this summer in Washington, D.C. when I travelled with Bart Herbison and Jennifer Turnbow from the organization to advocate for the Music Modernization Act. I came along with them to meeting after meeting with Senator after Senator and was amazed at the passion, knowledge, and determination that they put forward for us. Bart and Jennifer are the superheroes songwriters have always needed. For the last several years, the two of them have tirelessly fought for us on the legal front and have helped negotiate this revolutionary bill – the Music Modernization Act - that is going to change the game for writers everywhere. NSAI is making historic strides on Capitol Hill and it is because of them that songwriters’ careers will still be able to flourish in the digital age that we are in. I had to witness it in person to truly understand the magnitude of the change that they are making for us – and they do it all solely because they believe in us and the songs that we create. I don’t know what we did to deserve them.
If you are new to NSAI, if you’re thinking about joining, or if you are an existing member looking to get more involved, I encourage you to take full advantage of the opportunities NSAI is offering and learn about what they’re doing for us. No matter where you’re at in your career – If you’ve just written your first song or if you’ve been writing for years, there is something here for you and they are ready to help. I also encourage you to enter the Song Contest this fall! You may think the odds of winning are against you, but take it from me…You NEVER know what can happen.
My best advice for anyone who is just coming to Nashville and jumping into songwriting: Write all the time. Write with anyone and everyone you can. Find your “crew”. Take time to write by yourself every so often so you don’t lose that skill. Figure out what you’re best at, but step outside your comfort zone from time to time. Go to shows. Network, network, network. Take first impressions VERY seriously – Know when you’re ready to make certain connections. When you do make those connections, keep them alive by checking in every so often. Always be respectful. Never burn a bridge – You’ll definitely have to cross it again. Take song critiques seriously, but also understand that they’re just opinions and everyone’s will be different. It’s a “ten year town”, know upfront that there’s rarely ever immediate success. Practice patience and be happy for other people when they get their little wins.
Your time is coming, too.
About Lauren McLamb
Lauren McLamb is a 23 year old country/pop songwriter from Erwin, North Carolina and a recent graduate of Belmont University. In 2017, McLamb's career as a songwriter catapulted when she was announced the winner of the 17th Annual NSAI Song Contest powered by CMT. Just last year, she showcased her songwriting at the Tin Pan South Songwriter's Festival, the Key West Songwriters Festival, and The Bluebird Café.