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July 21, 2011

"Good Music Is Its Own Promotion" and Other Pearls of Wisdom from John Mayer

Ten Years After! John Mayer and Brendan Okrent reunited
at the 2010 ASCAP "I Create Music" EXPO where John was one of the keynote speakers.

Bob Lefsetz is the author of The Lefsetz Letter, an e-newsletter that arrives rather frequently in the email boxes of his followers and mainly focuses on music and entertainment industry issues. Mr. Lefsetz has a lot on his mind and tends to send these missives rapid fire – so much so that you can’t keep up sometimes. But when one arrived the other evening with nothing but the header “John Mayer At Berklee: A Must Read," it took me no time to hit the link. Thank you for this one, Bob Lefsetz.

John’s candid and honest words of advice during his recent clinic at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, captured in this excellent write-up posted on the Berklee Blog, were a goldmine. John might have had some controversies in the press last year, but to judge him on that alone would be underestimating what a fascinating, articulate and brilliantly talented figure he is – on and off stage.

As it happens, when Lefsetz’s link found its way to my inbox I had just come from a discussion with a group of songwriters and producers where some of the themes he addressed in his clinic had been discussed. So John’s words of advice resonated with me for many reasons.

At ASCAP, we are in the business of collecting performance royalties for our members, but there’s much more than that to what we do. Membership reps such as myself are often quasi career counselors. We are called upon to read the industry tea leaves to developing writers who are seeking advice on how to navigate the choppy waters of the music biz. I’ve been at this a long time and certainly have some experience and a perspective to impart, but when John talks about the dangers of being too immersed in the social media, the benefits of discipline when learning the craft of songwriting and creating your own destiny (among many other topics), he brings with it the added credibility of someone who’s “been there, done that” in a way I can’t.

John Mayer at ASCAP's SXSW showcase in 2000

All of this got me to thinking about John Mayer and his relationship with ASCAP, which dates back over a decade. In 2000, our then regional rep in the Atlanta area, Courtney Hard, suggested John for the “ASCAP Quiet On the Set” showcase I was producing for that year’s South by Southwest. Courtney had been instrumental in helping John in Atlanta as he was starting to get some attention, right around the time of his independent first release, Inside Wants Out.

For me, it was really a no-brainer to invite him to appear on the showcase that year, even after hearing only a few tracks. My brush with John that spring in Austin was brief but memorable. I remember him being very present, very helpful and totally appreciative of being on the show. I sensed he knew he was on the brink of something big, and that a good SXSW platform would be key. There was a definite buzz about him, and the main floor and balcony at Stubbs that Saturday afternoon was packed, with attending A&R and publishing execs eagerly awaiting his performance. He did not disappoint. He was signed soon after, and his debut album Room for Squares on Aware/Columbia sold over four million records in the US alone, establishing him as a major star. I have no illusions that John’s career trajectory would have suffered had he not played our little show that day, but I’m proud that ASCAP is part of his amazing story.

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Read Berklee’s coverage of John Mayer's appearance right here.

Or, click here to listen to the entire two-hour clinic.