Annual festival offers high-level connections for aspiring songwriters

  • The Hit Makers Concert at a previous Hawaii Songwriting Festival. (Hawaii Songwriting Festival/Courtesy Photo)
  • Brett James performs at the Hit Makers Concert at a previous Hawaii Songwriting Festival. (Hawaii Songwriting Festival/Courtesy Photo)
  • A workshop conducted by Jason Blume at a previous Hawaii Songwriting Festival. (Hawaii Songwriting Festival/Courtesy Photo)
  • Charles and Joanie Brotman are pictured at the recording studio at their home in Waimea. (Elizabeth Pitts/West Hawaii Today)

WAIMEA — The Hawaii Songwriting Festival is back on the Big Island, bringing in songwriters from around the world along with local talent.

The annual festival will be held at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel today through Saturday, and includes songwriting workshops, lectures, a competition and open mic events for anyone looking to get a jump start in a career in songwriting.

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The festival ends at 7 p.m. Saturday with the Hit Makers Concert. The concert features the festival’s staff of professional songwriters, including Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter Kenny Loggins, best known for hit songs such as “Footloose” and “I’m Alright.”

Other songwriters on staff will be Pamela Sheyne, Andre Merritt, Shelly Peiken, Richard Harris, Chikk, Jason Blume, Streetlight Cadence, Katie Herzig, JoLi and Amy Stroup.

Founded in 2003 on Kauai, the festival moved to the Big Island three years ago with help from Charles Michael Brotman, his wife Joanie and their daughter Julia, who together now run the festival every year. They said having the festival on the Big Island allows it to be slightly bigger than when it was on Kauai, and makes it easier for the large number of songwriters found in Hawaii to attend.

“There’s a good group from the Big Island, and then we get people that come in from the neighbor islands, and quite a few people that come from the mainland — Nashville and LA. And this year, again people from Australia, New Zealand and Canada,” Charles Brotman said. “And over the years, it has grown and it has become known as one of the best of its kind in the country. And I think one of the reasons is because it’s small and these people really have access to professionals in the business that they normally can’t get a hold of.”

Charles Brotman won a Grammy in 2005 for Best Hawaiian Music Album (“Slack Key Guitar Vol. 2,” Palm Records) and has produced two other Grammy-nominated albums, just a few of the many accomplishments he has achieved in his music career. He hopes this year’s attendees will find the same success in their careers with the help of the festival.

“The music supervisors are looking for talent. They’re looking for great songs from indie artists that they can plug into film and TV,” Charles Brotman said. “The songwriting staff that comes over, they’re looking for young artists to cowrite with. …There’s a lot of networking that goes on.”

Joanie Brotman said they cap the festival at 200 attendees. This more intimate setting allows the staff to form a closer relationship with the attendees than they might be able to at similar events.

“We look for staff that’s going to be accessible to our attendees. If we know they’re going to hang out at the pool and they’re going to talk to our people, that’s who we’re looking for,” Joanie Brotman said. “We emphasize over and over again: nobody’s getting paid. They come here because they love songwriting and they love music. And it’s a way to give back to that community, develop relationships and mentor songwriters that don’t know how to make that connection to take their career further.”

The relaxed environment of Hawaii helps that connection too.

“A lot of these more high-powered executives, they let their guard down and have a lot of fun,” Charles Brotman said. “Over the years, there has been a lot of relationships developed between our attendees here and these music supervisors and executives from the mainland and a lot of deals have been made for song placements.”

Tickets for the Hit Makers Concert can be purchased for $30 in advance and $35 at the door. Joanie Brotman said the concert is unique because while not every songwriter’s name is recognizable to the average person, the songs they have written and will perform are all well-known.

“The concert is a showcase of our staff. Yes, we’re stoked that we have Kenny Loggins, but he is actually one of the staff. He’s going to play a couple songs at the concert, but it’s not a Kenny Loggins concert,” Joanie Brotman said. “We didn’t bring him here just to perform. We’re bringing him on board as a staff person so he can get in there at the workshops and actually share his wisdom and stories with the songwriters and inspire them.”

Charles Brotman said the songwriters and music executives that are making their way to the Big Island this year are looking for fresh talent from Hawaii’s pool of local songwriters, and he hopes that gives people the push they need to attend.

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“We have some really great, terrific talent here in Hawaii, and I think it’s very refreshing for (the executives) to hear because if they’re from LA they’re kind of hearing a lot of the same stuff, and if they’re from Nashville they’re kind of hearing a lot of the same stuff,” Charles Brotman said. “Here, it’s very open. There’s a lot of different kinds of music for them to hear, so it’s really inspiring for them.

This is a really unique conference, and we’ve got people from all over the globe coming to this. So if there’s a songwriter here on the island that does not come to it, they’re really missing out.”

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