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April 13, 2008

ASCAP I Create Music Expo Report

Highlights from It’s My Life Interview with Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora 4/10/2008 Interviewer: Erik Philbrook

This week Researcher Extraordinaire and I checked out the ASCAP “I Create Music” Expo in Hollywood. Yesterday one of the events was a Q&A session with Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora. (That was me, furiously scribbling away on a yellow legal pad in the front row.) Here are my notes, in their raw form. Although I’ve arranged them by subject matter for easier reading, I won’t rewrite them into article form here, preferring to let Jon and Richie speak for themselves. For photos of the event check out our Snapfish photo album here. More reports on the Expo to come...

On Jon and Richie’s Writing process:

Richie said their songwriting process is the same as it always was: “a couple of guitars or a piano and a rickety old cassette tape recorder.” The audience laughed when he and Jon said almost at the same time, “Because we don’t know how to work anything else!”

(“Who Says You Can’t Go Home” was written at the kitchen table, with the above-mentioned rickety tape recorder.)

Richie went on: “I come from the adage that you can’t polish sh*t. If we sang ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’ right here a capella, it still sounds like a good song.”

Jon and Richie’s process is to come up with the song title first, then come up with a chord progression that fits the mood of the title, then go back and do lyrics last. Said Jon: “It was never about jamming for hours and saying, ‘I like that chord’.”

Richie said when he writes, he keeps the artist who will sing it in mind, and suggests beginning songwriters do the same: “I write for Jon. Think about what artist you’re writing for, and the demographic. See where you’re gonna put it.”

As an aside, Jon said he sometimes “regret[s] writing some of those high notes!”

Jon said sometimes they get lucky and a song “falls from the sky.” Other times, it doesn’t come so easily. Moderator Erik Philbrook asked how long they stick with writing a song when it's not happening. Jon said they're very stubborn about it because they “never want to be quitters, so even if the song will never make it to the band you try to finish it.” Then he said he'd always wondered if there's a notebook of unfinished Beatles songs, "because the Beatles were aliens from another planet." ...Jon related that he saw Paul McCartney at an event, and he told Sir Paul this--including calling the Beatles “aliens from another planet.” ("It was after a few glasses of wine," said Jon sheepishly.) Jon said to Sir Paul, "There's gotta be a notebook!" Nope, no notebook. OK, what about a song that you struggled with? Sir Paul thought and thought and finally said, "Oh! Yes, there was one! Finally I said, ‘Let's just say 'Beep beep beep beep yeah' and move on."

On Collaborating with other songwriters:

Jon said when he and Richie write together, the strength of their collaboration means “One plus one equals three.” And that adding another collaborator makes it grow even more.

Richie said one of the keys to successful collaborating is to “find the right people who are going to commit” and that it’s about always “working on relationships.”

On the collaborative process in Nashville, Jon said there’s very little ego involved there: “The process of songwriting there is like Chicken Soup for the Soul.”

Asked what producer-songwriter John Shanks brought to the table when they worked with him, Jon quipped: “A.D.D.! Shanks isn’t here because he’s running around the building.” (Richie added that John Shanks works very quickly, and that his studio set-up is complete and efficient, “like a factory. But a factory in a good way.” Jon said, “Maybe more like a mad scientist’s lab” and Richie agreed.)

Jon and Richie said “Bad Medicine,” which they wrote with Desmond Child, was written with Richie standing “in a nasty pool of water” while the band was shooting a Japanese television commercial.

On today’s music industry:Jon said Bon Jovi were fortunate in that with their first two albums they had the opportunity to grow a regional following and “form the voice of the band. The poor kids now, they come off Idol and if you don’t have a number one single out of the box? That’s it. That’s tough.”

Richie added, “Now you don’t get a second chance. The music business is cold…” (and got a huge laugh from the audience because of the face he made, and his timing when he said it).

Regarding Radio Formats and country crossovers in today’s industry, Jon said: “The big corporate entities that own the radio stations have this pigeonhole kind of mentality. And it affected the video era, and what’s happening on television, and then it ultimately takes away personality. What they’re missing there is that country people like rock and roll, and rock and roll people like country music. It’s just the people’s music, and people are affected by a lyric. Take the tag off of it and do the blindfold test and let people hear the music.” This probably got the biggest applause of the afternoon.

Asked what he thinks of downloading,Jon says, “That’s a very good question. But I couldn’t answer it without asking probably ten others that no one seems to have the answers to: How many records were actually downloaded? Did the records turn into hits because of it? If I write a song and it gets to the point where it’s on the record and I’m that proud of it, I want to share it with the world. I want you to hear it any which way you can. But do I know if ASCAP has collected royalties for every digital download? I don’t go crazy worrying about that. But I like to see people get the opportunity to get paid for the craft that they’ve worked so hard it, because it’s our job.”

Advice for songwriters: “Try to hold onto [your publishing]. Try not to take the short-term, first kind of deals that are given to struggling writers. And that’s not always easy to do. But it is called the music business for a reason.”

On whether a songwriter should move to Nashville (or another music industry center): Jon said it can be “helpful, but not a necessity. Bob Dylan was going to be Bob Dylan in Minnesota or New York.”

On the longevity of their careers:Jon said, “We’ve stayed true to who we were. We didn’t jump on fads or fashions. We’ve been around long enough to have seen the boy band cycle come and go twice…We’ve seen hip hop and grunge come and go. We never pretended to be something we weren’t. You can like it, you can dislike it. But it’s true.”

Jon also added, “The theme of our body of work has had a universal optimism. There’s faith in faith, and hope in hope.”

Asked for insight about how they stay current, Jon said, “It’s not about staying current. It’s about staying true.”

Insight into Jon’s aspirations, and what he wants to accomplish as a songwriter and artist:“I remember back in the 80’s having a conversation with a guy from a young band and saying ‘you don’t understand. Basically your aspirations are to be on the cover of Circus [a popular rock magazine at the time]. Mine are to be on the cover of Time.”

Posted by riesambo at April 13, 2008 08:13 PM