Tina Shafer and the New York Songwriter’s Circle
Tina Shafer needs no introduction. She’s penned songs for artists like Celine Dion, Sheena Easton and Donna Summer, she’s been a vocal coach for top artists such as Vanessa Carlton and Avril Lavigne and she has been producing and directing the New York Songwriter’s Circle (NYSC) since 1991. Shafer’s vision to create a community where songwriters could come to be inspired, share their craft and express their creativity with others seeking the same has become reality as the NYSC is now in its 19th year and has begun to expand to other cities around the country and overseas. Not only has the NYSC created a forum for songwriters to convene, but it has also exposed major talent throughout its two decades of existence including Norah Jones, Jesse Harris, Lisa Loeb, Gavin DeGraw and Chris Barron as well as many others. The NYSC began an annual songwriting competition which is currently in its fourth year and just as submissions were due in late October, Shafer took a few minutes to speak with Relix about how the Circle has evolved since its establushment, and what live music means in today’s digital age.
Can you can you give me some background of your history in the music industry and how you got involved?
Well I’ve been in the business since 1987, I was signed to Warner Chapel in 1989 and I went on to cut with Celine Dion which was on her Let’s Talk About Love album which sold 33 million records, the one with the Titanic song on it (“My Heart Will Go On”).
So you wrote songs on that album?
Yes. One song was called “Love Is on the Way,” also a song for Bette Midler’s film The First Wives Club, the montage piece.
I actually think I went to see that movie in the theater.
I love that movie. I can say that turned into a real life story for me—so many other people, Sheena Easton, Billy Porter. I’m also a vocal coach in New York City. I’ve worked with Vanessa Carlton and Avril Lavigne and that’s really how the Circle started. In 1991 when Kenny Gorka, who is the manager of that club, came up with the idea with a woman by the name of Randi Michaels of bringing the round in the Bluebird Café in Nashville to New York, because there was no community here. And so they started to do a couple of those circles, and Randi moved to Nashville, and asked if I could run the Circle while she was in Nashville and I said, “Sure!” That was almost 20 years ago, so she’s in Nashville and since then, the Circle has grown beyond my wildest dreams and a lot of these students that I teach start out at the Circle: Vanessa got signed out of there, Norah Jones started out there, Jesse Harris was also a vocal student and went on to write her big hit “Don’t Know Why I Didn’t Come.” It really started as me trying to go full circle and bring back inspiration for writers, and book the Circle with one really well-known writer and then some other up-and-coming writers so that people could see how it was done and could be inspired and learn from people that have had success. And for the up-and-comers, just to be seen and heard, but that’s a brief history in a nutshell on how the Circle got started.
What are some benefits that a membership to the circle can offer?
It’s a true brand of music; you think of John Mayer, Norah Jones, Neil Diamond, Joni Mitchell. When people come there, they know what they’re getting. It’s a real brand and they can always expect to meet other artists of like kind, to network, a lot of industry people come there. Also, there are now circles in major cities throughout the United States, when people go there they know what they’re going to be seeing and they know that they’ll be able to hook up and meet with people in that circle, in that home, that community.
The song writer’s competition is in its fourth year. Can you tell me how many entries you get and the quality of the submissions?
I haven’t told the count finally because it’s not the end of the week, but it’s roughly around 4,000 to 5,000 submissions. We have a wonderful team made up of songwriters and producers who I love and respect. They do a listening with me not only every day online and we rate, but we also come together in live meetings and we discuss and listen very carefully and often have very heated discussions about people’s favorites.
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