(left to right) Stuyvesant's Dr. Raymond Wheeler, SHOF's April Anderson, Sony/ATV's Rich Christina, Gregg Wattenberg, Mike Campbell, Billy Mann, ASCAP's Joe Abrams, Stuyvesant' s Harold Stephan, SESAC's Jamie Dominguez, BMI's Tim Pattison and Adam Epstein
It was a very special rainy afternoon on May 22 at Stuyvesant High School for the music and general education students who were treated to the inaugural SHOF Master Session, featuring the creators of some of their favorite songs, and each of whom has far more credits than are listed here. A panel of music industry hitmakers took the stage, including songwriters Mike Campbell (Say Something: A Great Big World featuring Christina Aguilera, Sit Still, Look Pretty: Daya), Billy Mann (God is a DJ, I Am Here: P!nk) Gregg Wattenberg (It’s Not Over: Daughtry, Gone, Gone, Gone: Phillip Phillips) and Rich Christina, SVP Head of East Coast A&R at Sony/ATV (a major publisher of, among many other hits, God’s Plan: Drake, Bad At Love: Halsey). The event was hosted and moderated by Stuyvesant's Vocal Music & Music Technology professor, Harold Stephan.
After introducing the panelists, Stephan called on four students who presented their original songs for a critique, all receiving valuable advice and encouragement. Their appreciation for this opportunity to "pick the brains" of these songwriters and music business moguls was palpable and "thank you for being here" was thematic throughout the event as questions were then taken from students in the audience. One asked how the collaborative process works with regard to the personal experience of writing lyrics and Billy Mann responded that sometimes it is almost like “speed dating,” and that you need to have a reality check with the person you are writing with. “You have to be fearless about what you do.” Rich Christina said it’s trial and error and most writers will find their people as they hone their craft. “You’re to not going to learn anything by doing nothing.” Responding to what one should avoid, Gregg Wattenberg said “thinking that everything you do is great. The key is to know what’s bad,” and to “find someone in your life with good taste to run songs by.” Referring to songs that have been rejected, Mike Campbell said “it’s a balancing act, and if you still believe in it after you’ve taken a good hard look, maybe they are wrong.” All were in agreement that no one should sign contracts “until you know what they mean, then pause and reflect outside of the heat of the moment to make sure it’s what you want.”
A medley of songs representing each guest panelist was then performed by students, including Gone, Gone, Gone, God is a DJ, Say Something, It’s Not Over, God’s Plan, Sit Still Look Pretty, Bad At Love and I Am Here.
Stephan proceeded to show a video concerning AI and the future of music, after which he asked the panel what they thought of it. Wattenberg said “the playing field is going to be the same for everyone and the most creative person will use it in the best and most interesting way.” Mann posed; “will AI be a part of our lives, and the answer is yes.” He went on to say “there isn’t artificial intelligence that can create a moment that captures a time, place and emotion like a human being can.” As an example, he referred to Wattenberg’s song Superman (It's Not Easy) by Five For Fighting that was released in the wake of 9/11 to honor the victims, survivors, police and firefighters. “Can you replace artists? You can’t. You have to speak from the most uncomfortable places in your human being self.” Campbell said “one of my great joys when listening to songs is looking at the story…why did this person write this song? In the future, maybe we will have to slap a sticker on it saying '100% verified human song.'” Christina said “you’ll always need a human to make it human.”
Students in attendance were paying rapt attention during the entire event and left with a better understanding of what it will take to embark on their journey into the craft of songwriting.
Also in attendance were the members of the SHOF NY Education: Special Projects Committee who, along with Harold Stephan, organized this event. They include committee Executive Director and SHOF Marketing/Communications Director April Anderson, ASCAP’s Joe Abrams, SESAC’s Jamie Dominguez, Adam Epstein and BMI’s Tim Pattison.
The Songwriters Hall of Fame Master Sessions at Stuyvesant High School is an educational initiative geared toward providing information and encouragement by example to aspiring young songwriters. Panels consist of songwriters, publishers and music business professionals who speak about their craft and profession in front of an audience of students from Stuyvesant as well as other NYC music and art high schools. A segment of the Session involves a few preselected students who play one of their songs for a critique from the panel.
These Sessions are filmed and edited into a workshop-style piece that will be featured on the SHOF YouTube channel and shared with Stuyvesant and other educational networks such as Little Kids Rock and the Department of Education.