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"One never knows what each day is going to bring. The important thing is to be open and ready for it." -- Henry Moore

Hi everyone,

Hope you've all had a great week. It's happily getting close to the end of my college teaching semester as we're about to head into finals pretty soon. I must say that even though it's a lot of work to create and grade the final exams, it still beats being a student and studying/taking exams ;-)  The other exciting news around our house of course is that the Easter Bunny is coming soon so Mia is eagerly anticipating coloring eggs and eating chocolate (Sara and I enjoy this part too so I guess this is still fun even if you're an adult). Speaking of which, there will be no Campus News next week due to the holiday.

Congrats Mary Haller, Lee Johnson and Scott Miller!

I chose this week's quote at the top of the campus news for the specific reason that it talks about being ready for a given moment to happen. What that in mind, I'd like to send out a big congratulations to three members, Mary Haller, Lee Johnson and Scott Miller who indeed were ready with the right songs at the right time. Their moment came a couple of Saturdays ago at the Nashville Songwriters Association (NSAI) Spring Training event in Nashville, TN [editor's note: NSAI is a great organization. If you're not a member, you should check it out].

Every year hundreds of songwriters attend this educational event to network, listen to hit songwriters discuss the writing process and attend educational seminars. The highlight of this year's two day songwriting conference was a chance to win a single song contract with one of the largest and most successful independent publishing companies, ole Music. Since the theme of the event is Spring Training, a group of songwriters were randomly selected to take their turn at bat with the music industry. At every base, writers would play their song for someone from the ole company. If the company representative loved the song, the writer would be waived ahead to go to the next base. If the guest didn't love the song or didn't think it was competitive enough, then the writer was "out". On first base was ole Catalog Manager, Matt Turner. Listening at second base was ole Senior Catalog Manager, Mike Sebastian. Senior Creative Director Arthur Buenahora was on third base. Any songs that made it to third base were played, first verse and chorus, through speakers for the entire room of approximately 260 songwriters to hear. Finally, guarding home was ole CEO and Chairman, Robert Ott along with current NSAI President, Steve Bogard. Anyone who rounded the bases safely and hit a "home run" would land a songwriting contract with ole.

The truth is that this setup actually mirrors the music business pretty well. The reality of the music business is that you need a few key players to all be in agreement and love your song in order for it get closer to being recorded. For example, you might pitch a song to an A&R rep. If they like it, they might play it for the producer. If they like it, they may play it for the artist. If the artist likes it, they play it for management, their wife and friends and so on. Anyone along the way can throw the song "out" of the running. When a non-artist written song makes it all the way from pen and paper to record, it's almost always because the song is strong enough to beat the competition.

Mary Haller tells the backstory behind her song. “'Instead of Roses' is a song that I wrote, appropriately, around Valentines Day 2011, although I came up with the hook and concept for it a few months before that. My decision to submit it for the Ole’ opportunity was due, in part, to the two positive evaluations I received through -- a Standard Evaluation followed by a Rewrite Quickie. Each time the song was nominated for a 'Best of' award. Through those evaluations, I got some suggestions that helped me improve the song with each rewrite. And certainly, the courses I’ve taken – particularly in Lyric Writing and Commercial Songwriting – also influenced my writing process and helped me get this song to a point where I felt comfortable demoing it and submitting it for publisher consideration."  For Lee Johnson and Scott Miller, their co-written song, "Tough Times Don't Last, Tough People Do" also came up through the Coaching ranks. Scott writes, "Lee and I used the evaluations to help sculpt this song. One of the coaches said about an early version of the song: 'Love your melody on the chorus very commercial. This melody could definitely attract the attention of a producer or artist.' But he also said we needed to work on our second verse and bridge. So we did. We dug a little deeper and came up with Image of songwriter Mary Hallersomething we liked a lot better. Those couple extra pushes helped us to make the song much more pitchable." And like professional songwriters, the song's story also reflected a truth behind their lives with both Scott and Lee facing personal struggles. Lee adds, "Tough times don't last. Tough people do. We are living the words in this song every day."

So one by one CD's submitted by the conference participants were drawn out of a big plastic box and each songwriter went to “first base.” Lee and Scott's song had no problem here. Lee says, "Matt Turner listened to the verse/chorus, shut it off and said 'cool hook, go to second base." But things got a bit harder as the writers tried to make their way around the bases. Lee reports, "At second base, Mike Sebastian listened again in headphones, more intently, and suggested there were some lyrical changes that might make the song better. I didn't blink before saying I could make any changes they deemed necessary. I have learned over the years through evaluations at how much better songs can get after re-writing. So he sent me to 3rd base on the condition that changes would be required." Mary describes the scene when she reached third base with her song - "I was sitting on a podium facing Arthur Buenahora while my song played through the speakers for the entire audience. Midway through the chorus, I turned to look out at the audience and what I saw took my breath away. Everyone in the room had their hands in the air and was smiling and swaying back and forth to the beat of my song. I knew then that even if my song didn’t make it on to home base, feeling that kind of support and experiencing such a positive reaction from my songwriting peers would be a moment I’d never forget."

By the end of the competition
, only two songs made their way around all the bases. One song was, "Tough Times Don't Last, Tough People Do" written by members, Lee Johnson and Scott Miller. The other song was  "Instead of Roses" written by member Mary Haller. Mary, Lee and Scott walked away with single song contracts offers that include a $500 advance from ole Music Publishing. As an added bonus, their story was featured in the Sunday issue of the Tennessean Newspaper.
Image of songwriters Mary Haller and Lee Johnson

So here's the thing. If Lee, Scott and Mary were not ready and prepared for that moment with great songs in hand, that opportunity would've passed right on by without anything memorable happening. Instead of contracts and advances, they would have been told that while their song was pretty good, it doesn't stand out among the rest. Instead, because of their hard work and focus on the craft and making their songs as good as they can be, their songs stood out from the pack. And that is what is made all the difference on this day. Scott writes, "I use the Coaching all the time. It has become a part of my writing process. I appreciate all you do and am grateful for all for helping me to grow as a songwriter."  Mary adds, "Thanks in part to, I’ve gotten farther much faster than I would have on my own. From co-writing to coaching, from courses in both craft and business to pitching opportunities, I can’t imagine getting a better bang-for-my-buck than I do from"  Lee sums up his songwriting work ethic this way, "You know, the harder I work, the more lucky I get! I really appreciate everything you guys do and look forward to many more years with!!!"

Way to go guys! We're really proud of you. Thanks for showing the world that talent, dedication and education go a long way. Wishing you all continued success! We hope great things happen with the songs and we know there are many great songs still to be written in your future.

By the way if you'd like to check out their member websites and/or send congratulatory notes, Mary's member website is, Lee's member website is and Scott's member website is

Have a great week. See you "on campus" ;-)

Danny Arena
Courses, Coaching, Connections

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