VERSED: The ASCAP Podcast / Ep. 12 - Sundance Songwriters

May 15, 2020



VERSED is a bi-weekly podcast illuminating the heart and soul of music. Featuring in-depth interviews with songwriters and composers, plus tips and insights to help you navigate your music career. Brought to you by ASCAP, home of the world's greatest music creators.


Just a few short months ago, ASCAP presented its 22nd annual Sundance ASCAP Music Café at the heart of the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. The Café featured eight days of performances from visionary recording artists and songwriters from across the musical spectrum. At the time, we spoke with all of our performers in the green room about their craft, career, inspirations and more. We thought we’d share just a few of these conversations as a reminder that creativity was in full force before the coronavirus pandemic began, that it continues to flourish, and as has always been the case in tough times, music is the thing that will help us all get through this together.

2020 Sundance Songwriters


To say that Ron Artis II plays music from his heart and soul would be a bit of an understatement. With his family upbringing and incredible early success, you may even say it has been preordained. So how does one of the great musical talents of his generation come seemingly out of nowhere? Well, that part of the mystery is easy to solve. He’s been paradise’s best kept secret for years and now he’s finally making big waves on the mainland and beyond.

Matt Berninger is the frontman and lyricist for Grammy Award-winning indie rock band The National, EL VY and Nancy. In addition to his work in music, he produced the documentary Mistaken for Strangers in 2013. In 2016, he co-founded 7-inches for Planned Parenthood, a curated series of records featuring music, comedy, spoken word and visual art released in support of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. He is also the co-founder and creative director of Lemon House Productions. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter.

It's not every day that the girl next door winds up being signed by one of the world's biggest pop stars, but that once-in-a-lifetime scenario is exactly what happened when Cyn, who was born and raised in Detroit, met Katy Perry during a chance encounter. Katy fell head over heels for her voice, and quickly signed her to Unsub Records. She has since moved to Los Angeles, where she has devoted herself to writing over 300 songs, touring both the US and internationally, and releasing her debut EP Mood Swing in September 2019. Cyn has big plans for 2020, including four original songs featured in three separate film projects and more new music on the way.

The passage of nearly three decades finally unlocked the creative floodgates for Rain Phoenix to craft her 2019 solo debut, River (LaunchLeft). Rain first re-visited her earliest foray into music alongside late big brother River Phoenix for Time Gone, a split EP which included her first single “Time Is the Killer” feat. Michael Stipe. From there, her record River flowed. Enlisting longtime collaborator Kirk Hellie, Rain forged a body of work that not only serves as a totem to her brother’s legacy, but also illuminates the depth and beauty of her own artistry.

Ruen Brothers went from playing pubs in their small industrial hometown in England to recording an album with Rick Rubin in Malibu. In addition to headlining shows across the country, they have played with Greta Van Fleet, George Ezra, ZZ Ward and Nikki Lane; festivals include Glastonbury, Coachella, Bonnaroo, ACL and Shaky Knees. Ruen Brothers recently wrote an original song for a Blumhouse film and are working on music for an upcoming Netflix Original. Their sophomore album arrives June 2020 - written, recorded, produced and mixed by Ruen Brothers in their Brooklyn home studio.

Aaron Lee Tasjan’s music is most often identified as Americana while critics point to his rock ‘n’ roll influences. The East Nashville based singer-songwriter and ace guitarist has made a habit of defying genre classification. Rolling Stone called his 2018 release Karma for Cheap “...a trippy stunner full of swirling, immersive rock songs that evoke both the effervescence of the ‘60s and the grit of today.” Touring relentlessly, with band and solo, Tasjan is known for his fiery live performances which combine blazing guitar work with first rate songcraft and witty storytelling.

Powerhouse singer ZZ Ward's genre-bending music, onstage prowess and savvy style have been called out by the LA Times, FADER, USA Today, NPR, Complex, NYLON, Chicago Tribune and the New York Times. A multi-faceted musician, ZZ plays a mean harmonica as well as guitar and piano. Her latest album, The Storm, debuted #1 on Billboard’s Blues chart and features collaborations with Fitz of Fitz and the Tantrums, Grammy Award winner Fantastic Negrito and Gary Clark, Jr. ZZ’s debut album Til The Casket Drops, featuring duets with Kendrick Lamar and Freddie Gibbs, was a critical and commercial success. ZZ’s music has been featured in countless TV shows, commercials and feature films. Commanding the stage live, ZZ has launched multiple, sold-out headline tours as well as playing Coachella, Bonnaroo, Firefly and Made in America festivals as well as appearing on The Tonight Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live, The Late, Late Show with James Corden and Good Morning

Barry Zito had a career with Major League Baseball that spanned 15 years and featured a Cy Young Award and two World Series rings. In 2015, after retirement, Barry settled in Nashville, where he turned his focus to his family and music. As a songwriter, his songs have been recorded by other artists and have been featured in both film and television. In 2017, his first EP No Secrets debuted at number 15 on the Billboard Americana/Folk Albums chart and #39 on the Billboard Country Albums chart. In 2017 and 2018, Zito was a featured guest on LeAnn Rimes's annual Christmas tour. In 2019, Barry released his first book, a memoir appropriately titled Curveball.

+See full coverage of the 2020 Sundance ASCAP Music Café

John Titta

John Titta started his life in music as a musician, songwriter and music teacher. He began his publishing career with Screen Gems/EMI Music as Professional Manager, signing such acts as Surface and The Smithereens. He worked with legendary songwriters Carole King and Lou Reed, and had songs covered by Tina Turner, Grover Washington Jr., Alice Cooper, Joan Jett and Dave Edmunds.

He then moved to PolyGram Music Publishing as Vice President of A & R, signing artists Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora, Pearl Jam, Brian McKnight, k.d. lang, Billy Ray Cyrus and songwriter Jimmy Webb. He was also responsible for individual hit songs including “Save the Best for Last” by Vanessa Williams and “The Folks That Live on the Hill” by Tony Bennett. Titta was credited for his A&R work on the compilation album Two Rooms: A Tribute to Elton John and Bernie Taupin and multiple movie soundtracks, such as Young Guns II: Blaze of Glory, Days of Thunder, Scream, Bruce Almighty, Varsity Blues and more.

From 1993 - 2006, Titta served as Senior Vice President/General Manager of Warner/Chappell Music, Inc. in New York, where he signed such acts as Trey Songz, Fat Joe, Missy Elliott, Kid Rock, Collective Soul, India.Arie, Gavin DeGraw, Cassandra Wilson, Dan Wilson (Semisonic), Uncle Kracker, Shaggy, Simple Plan, Duane Eddy and Bruce Hornsby. He also scored success with individual hits such as the Grammy Award-winning “Smooth” by Santana, “Cry Me a River” by Justin Timberlake, “Lean Back” by Terror Squad,” “Waiting for Tonight” by Jennifer Lopez, “One of Us” by Joan Osborne, “I Love You Always Forever” by Donna Lewis, “Pon De Replay” by Rihanna and many more, including songs recorded by Celine Dion, Ricky Martin, Patty Loveless and Marc Anthony.

In 2006, Titta struck out on his own to become President and CEO of his independent company, MPCA Music Publishing and Recordings, that featured the catalog of blues legend Robert Johnson and songs by Sammy Cahn and Jack Wolf, among others, with songs recorded by Led Zeppelin, Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, John Mayer, Bob Dylan, Cyndi Lauper, Aretha Franklin and more.

He has performed on albums by Ringo Starr and Gizelle D’Cole and has played with Michael McDonald, The Doobie Brothers, Duane Eddy, Richie Sambora and Omi.

Always an avid supporter of songwriters and their rights, Titta moved to ASCAP in 2013, where he is currently EVP of Membership.

Other accomplishments include his work with Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan on the Tony Award-winning musical Memphis, and Producer and A&R work on albums by Dionne Warwick, Todd Rundgren, Melinda Doolittle, Smash Mouth and Donny & Marie Osmond.


Mama, I'm going home.

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