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Philadelphia Songwriters Project: Enter the Songwriting Contest and Win a Chance to Perform at Firefly.

March 14, 2014

16964_219320752583_1664167_nCurrently embarking on its 11th season, the Philadelphia Songwriters Project is a grassroots non-profit arts and education organization that “is dedicated to providing local and regional songwriters a place to showcase their music, improve their work and advance their career.” Our Derrick Krom spoke with Dena Marchiony, the executive director and co-founder of the PSP, about the origins of the organization, the influence of the city of Philadelphia and this year’s songwriting contest’s world-class prize package. The deadline for submissions is today, so enter now! Final judging will take place live at Underground Arts on May 18th. More information about the songwriting contest can be found here.

Tell me a bit about the Philadelphia Songwriters Project and how it got its start.

PhillySongwritersPhilly Songwriters Project started in 2002. Basically, our concept was that there were, at that time, so many amazing songwriters that we knew but none of them had a chance to just kind of do their work. There were mainly two places where people could play. It was either The Point or the Tin Angel. That was it. It was not like you see now. There was just nothing, and you couldn’t really play those places unless you had a following. So it was just a bad kind of catch-22 where somebody was really good but they wouldn’t get the chance to develop an audience.

So, the original concept was that we would create a space where people could develop their fan base and develop their work. We would do these showcases and then we also began to have educational events because we could see that everything was moving more towards the do-it-yourself model rather than just somebody getting a record deal. There were a lot of skills that people didn’t have or things people didn’t know how to do—like, “how to I get in touch with a venue?” or “how do I know when to get a manager?” So we just developed this entire curriculum. We did these workshops for a few years on a monthly basis and that was kind of the beginning and where it all started. Then it evolved and we started doing contests and we’ve been doing contests now for the last nine years. We give people the opportunity to play these really amazing, high-level shows.

One of the grand prizes this year is a slot at Firefly Music Festival. That’s a really big deal for emerging artists.

It’s huge. It’s huge for anybody really. It’s such an amazing, amazing deal. Basically we have partners and our venue partners are our prize package. It’s been great. This year we have a very significant tour. A slot at Firefly is one of the stops and there’s also the Philadelphia Folk Festival, Bethlehem’s Musik Festival, Wawa Welcome America! Festival—that whole Fourth of July celebration that happens here—plus a bunch of other things that can all be found on our website. It’s pretty good. Of all of the prizes that I’ve seen in different contests—like someone will get equipment or they’ll get cash—it always seems to me, in my experience, that the thing songwriters want the most is to be heard. They want to be heard, they want new fans, they want to sell their merch, they want more exposure and this is a good way to do it. In our contests, people of many different genres are coming together, so it’s important to me that these artists are able to be heard by a significant group of people and have the opportunity to be heard, especially in our region.

You and your fellow co-founder, Stu Shames, are also songwriters and performers. How did you guys bring your own experiences into shaping the Philadelphia Songwriters Project?

Although I do write and hope that this year my debut project is going to come out, I think that my main sort of angle has always been marketing and PR and looking at how people get noticed. So from my perspective, and one of the drivers for me, was that I just had so many friends who were so talented and just incredibly gifted but they couldn’t figure out how to do it and make it in the business. I thought, “There’s got to be some way to help people move it along.” In 2014, there are lots of options and lots of websites and things that can help people move along, but those things just weren’t really around back then. So that was a big driver for me. And Stu kind of felt the same way because he was definitely one of those songwriters who had achieved a certain amount of success but there were certain parts where it was just, “Wow, why is this so hard?” So it’s all really about being a resource and trying to make it a little easier for people.

The Philadelphia Songwriters Project has been around since 2002. Are there any major highlights or favorite moments that come to mind when looking back on the past 11 years?

Yeah, there definitely are. I can think of two really major events. One event we did was in 2004 and it was called the VOTE Music Festival. Because we’re a 501c3 non-profit, we can’t really get involved in one side or the other or that kind of politics, but we decided to do a festival for voter registration. We did it in 50 venues in six counties, it was completely free, there were 300 performers, there were voter registration volunteers; it was massive. It was super amazing. That was one great moment. Another one was something that came out of one of our contests. The contest for this particular year was that we would choose songwriters of any genre and we would turn their pieces into choir pieces for either a small vocal ensemble or a big choir. It was actually a three-year project that started with the contest; we then had arrangers and partnered with around nine different choirs and put on a massive show and then did a record. That was amazing because it was genre bending and it was very unique to hear these kind of rock songs set for a choir. It was really cool. I’m also really proud of a lot of our educational stuff as well. We helped teach all of this information that kind of broke down the music business into little bites so that artists could start to get a grip on what they had to do. It’s a completely different universe now. But then, it was the beginning of that DIY paradigm.

What do you think makes the city of Philadelphia and the surrounding region such an important place to have an organization like this? What role does Philadelphia play?

I think that one of the things when we started was that we were really tired of Philly’s insecurity complex about itself and how there’s always kind of been this feeling of “Oh, we’re not New York.” So, I think that we just got tired of that. We just felt that we really had to celebrate what’s happening here. There’s an amazing scene that’s happening here and it truly is really, really amazing. There’s nothing lacking. So it’s the perfect place for us because we are a center of creators and amazing music. Of course it should be here. We’ve got a lot of great stuff going on, especially now. It’s exciting to see that as we’ve gone through the years, that now there’s an open mic every night and now there are dozens of venues that are all over the place. It’s not just in the city, it’s in the ‘burbs too. You know, bands like The Districts and The Vulcans. There’s just so much amazing stuff. There really, really is. I think your question was “why here?” but it’s more like “why not here?” It’s just an amazing damn place to be. There are amazing creators of all kinds of music. I kind of felt at the Tri State Indie Awards a similar sort of feeling to what I felt when I attended the Grammys. It’s that we’re really recognizing not just Philly, but New Jersey and Delaware and central PA and all the different types of genres of music. It’s really great.

Where do you see the Philadelphia Songwriters Project going in the future? How do you see it evolving with the changing music industry?

That’s a good question, and it’s a tough one to answer. I’ve had, at different points in time, different visions. It could be something that branches out to other cities or it could be something where we partner internationally so we’re able to give people not just regional opportunities to play, but national opportunities to play and even international opportunities to play. We’ve also moved into booking and a little bit of artist development. I’m sure that whatever labels are out there already do that, but it’s still not that easy to get signed and get all that support. So I’m hoping to just continue to support artists who are trying to develop and help them get to whatever their next level might be.

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