13th Annual ASCAP "I Create Music" EXPO Highlights

Last week, Pop Disciple had the sincere pleasure of participating in the 9th Annual ASCAP "I Create Music" EXPO, an educational extravaganza that is the largest of its kind. Over the course of three highly interactive days of panels, workshops, seminars, and showcases, over 3,000 people from various corners of the music industry united to learn, network, and come away with divine inspiration. It all began with a warm and welcoming speech from the president, Paul Williams, who is a venerable Grammy and Academy Award-winning songwriter in his own right. He spoke on the potential impact of the Music Modernization Act, explaining that its passage and implementation would lead to improved compensation for songwriters across streaming platforms. He encouraged the crowd to reach out to the senators from their state to keep the momentum going.


The Billboard sponsored "We Create Music" panel featured film composer/music producer, Tom Holkenborg, also known as Junkie XL, Latin and pop songwriter, Claudia Brant, internationally recognized artist/songwriter, Jason Mraz, and rising songwriter/producer, David Brant. Over the course of the session, we were regaled with engaging and contrasting stories of their initial moves to break into the music industry.

The music I make is half based on math and half based on gut feeling.
— Junkie XL

Tom Holkenborg spoke at length about his path to fame as a producer, DJ, and touring artist. After gaining international acclaim with his remix of Elvis Presley's "A Little Less Conversation," he made the unexpected and risky decision to transition into film scoring and build an alternative career in music entirely from scratch. Swiftly working his way up the ladder, Holkenberg apprenticed under Harry Gregson-Williams (Shrek, The Chronicles of Narnia, X-Men: Origins) and later, Hans Zimmer (The Dark Knight, Dunkirk, Gladiator, Inception, Sherlock Holmes). 

Holkenborg articulated the immediate challenges he experienced upon entering the field of film music, explaining, "Coming from being an artist, it used to be your way or the highway. It was hard transitioning to becoming a film composer since you're now joining a complex team. They often don't talk to you in musical terms, so you need to figure out what they want". He later credited his ability to read people effectively as a reason for his success. A decade later, Junkie XL is one of the most in-demand composers on the planet, creating the sonic atmospheres of cinematic phenomenons, such as Deadpool, Mad Max: Fury Road, Divergent, and Tomb Raider.



At the Ari Herstand moderated panel named after his best-selling book, attendees were provided with a range of insider perspectives on the ever-evolving industry, where it was most evident that there is no longer a cookie cutter path to success. Andrew Leib of Red Light Management, who looks after the business affairs of Emily King, Luke James, and Lecrae, referred to his role as "The Grand Central Station of an artist's career." He stated that he was exclusively interested in working with artists who had developed an engaged digital presence on their own before seeking management. 

Hunter Scott of LaFamos PR spoke on the value of thinking outside of the box when it comes to publicity. He shared an anecdote about a client who claimed to have no distinguishing angle to promote. After she filled out his company questionnaire, he discovered that she had diabetes and subsequently, pitched a story about her methods of self-care while on tour to health magazines entirely outside of the music space. He suggested that independent artists focus their efforts on a combination of music based press, local press, and lifestyle branding, encouraging the audience to "figure out what the story is and go after it."

Sonnet Simmons, VP of Catch The Moon Music, delved into how financially meaningful music licensing can be for a rising artist's career. She explained that the earning potential for an independent artist is vast, starting from as little as $1,000 for a social media spot, all the way up to $150,000 and beyond for a major advertisement or a prominent feature in a film or television series. She stressed the importance of conducting proper research before pitching material and crafting universal lyrics for best results.



Ali Shaheed Muhammad of A Tribe Called Quest and celebrated producer, Adrian Younge engaged in a far-ranging discussion about their collaborative process for Netflix's Luke Cage. Initially coming together to produce for Kendrick Lamar's Untitled Unmastered project, the duo branched out from their respective music careers to enter the landscape of film music. They spoke on the adjustment to writing with creative constraints to support the storytelling of the action-packed series. 

Music supervisor, Morgan Rhodes spoke out on her desire to see more diversity in her field, explaining that black women are so few and far between that they all know each other personally. She credited Pilar McCurry, the recently deceased former senior VP of Sony Pictures Entertainment and veteran music supervisor behind Men In Black, Proud Mary, Set It Off, and Hitch, as an early inspiration.

I wish I could tell you how much I don’t care about what people think about my music... Do what you think is dope and that’s it.


Renowned jazz composer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist, Marcus Miller led a vibrant conversation on the role of a music director and the dynamics of the job. Learning about the amount of work involved in producing NBC’s The Voice was revelatory. Music director, Paul Mirkovich spoke on the importance of being able to function at the highest level with a minimal amount of sleep. He touched on the challenges of managing unprecedented levels of stress and remaining sharp throughout the filming process. Composer, Kevin Teasley spoke on the characteristics of a great band leader and noted that beyond talent, you have to be a nice human being to work as a musician or a music director in today’s competitive environment. Legendary session musician and band leader, Greg Phillinganes spoke at length about arranging for live performance, referring to his process on Stevie Wonder's Songs In The Key of Life tour. He also recounted his extensive work with the late, great Michael Jackson, re-enacting his famous moonwalk on stage.

Images courtesy of Lester Cohen, Maury Phillips, and Alberto E. Rodriguez.