Linda Lorence Critelli, is a re-elected National Trustee for The Recording Academy and former New York Chapter President. Having spent two decades with the performing rights organization, SESAC, as the VP of Songwriter and Publisher Relations, Linda is a self-proclaimed O.G., an “Old Guard” of women in music. In 2014, Linda was recognized by Billboard as one of the leading women in performing rights. In addition to being a former President of Women in Music, she continues to actively serve on the board of the Songwriters Hall of Fame Board. With a strong desire to bring her music community closer together, Linda launched a grassroots organization, with co-founder, Sharon Tapper, NYC Creative Community (NYC3). It’s a community made up of publishing professionals to help introduce new policies for the advancement of music and the creators of music in New York. Linda, while not shy about her views and opinions regarding the industry, remains passionate about music and for the songwriting community she has served for many years. She continues to be a strong advocate for women in music, songwriters, and helping create successful business opportunities for music industry professionals in New York City and around the country.
What was the moment when you knew you wanted to work in the music industry?
As a kid, I always loved music, especially Broadway music, and would go see shows with my dad. I loved it. While I did do some singing and acting in high school and college, I found I was really a better singer, and realized I could actually make money as a singer. After attending Berklee College of Music, I landed a job at SESAC, and while I sort of faked my way into it, I knew this was my ticket to New York City.
What did your job at SESAC look like?
I got to work with talent. Because I was a musician and actively gigging, I knew a lot of talent. I started signing a lot of my friends and before I knew it, I was learning the business. I found I really liked being on that side of the desk. So now, I had this job during the day where I was working with songwriters and musicians. They would come in and I was like, “Wow! These people really have it together!” Even though I wasn’t writing my own music or putting out CDs, I was able to understand and have compassion for them because I was one of them. For me, this has been a key to my being really good at my job and becoming a successful music industry professional. I have always said to those in my profession, “Be careful, because you never know. The artist you meet may not be popular now, but the next person he or she meets might be. And, there may be a time when this artist does become successful and comes back to you.” That’s what you want.
How can we continue to support young and emerging music business professionals and artists, helping them get to a place where they can get the mentorship and support they need to continue to grow and evolve?
This is a dilemma that women in music have been fighting for many years. When I was president of Women in Music in the 90’s, this was one of our issues, and it continues to be an issue we struggle with even today at The Recording Academy, which I am a trustee of. It sounds so horrible, but when some reach a certain level in their career, they find themselves wanting to only be with people at their level. They are less interested in talking to the underlings, but there are still many are very receptive and friendly to helping those less experienced. Bringing together high-end women in VIP events is one way to help feed their appetite to be around musicians and industry professionals at their level, but it’s also important we continue to create events that are for beginners. The challenge here is that you have two agendas going on and twice as much work to do. At the end of the end of the day, we are all in this together and while at different levels, we all want to be served and supported.
Do feel part of this is a response to how people choose to communicate and engage with industry professionals?
I have engaged with a lot of young talent and continue to do so in my new consulting role. I would say that many of the millennials I have met are very bold and ask for a lot. It’s both interesting and challenging for those of us who have been in the industry for a long time.
There are a lot of artists and songwriters who feel they have not gained much in their relationship with their respective PRO. What advice would you give to artists to best leverage this relationship?
I think people used to think that the Performing Rights Organizations were the first step for an artist but that’s changing now. The PROs are becoming a bit more selective because they don’t have the time. ASCAP and BMI have roughly 600,000 members and it’s impossible to serve all of these members. And SESAC has on average about 35,000 members. With this many members, it is really hard to service everyone, have them happy with what they are doing, and be satisfied with their relationship. Nashville is different than New York because there are so many songwriters. My guess is in Nashville, many of the reps have had to prioritize who they think are the important writers, and investing their time with them, which means spending less time with the underlings. It’s a shame. Having been with SESAC for twenty-seven years, I have watched this trend evolve over time. The PROs are just overwhelmed, and you can’t just sit around giving free advice. There is no business there. So while back in the early days of SESAC, it was about reputation and treating artists and songwriters great, with the hopes it would bring their writer and artist friends, now, it’s a lot different. This is where it gets a bit touchy, but with organizations like Tomato Sass, hopefully, you can help fill in that gap in the community to help education and provide a place where they can be heard.
Over the years, in your role as VP of Songwriter/ Publisher Relations, how did you determine who was a good songwriter?
It’s not really about being a good songwriter rather it’s more about viability. I think when you find a great songwriter who is also a great producer, you are more in business. For me, I am looking for songwriters who have product. What this means is they have records and have produced their music to a level where I can either pitch it or it’s impressive enough where another writer will hear it and want to write with them. This product shows they are working hard and hustling. It’s a different world now and writers have to be realistic.
I am interested in learning more about NYC3 and what inspired you to help start this.
I strongly believe in building communities. The purpose of NYC3 was to hopefully create more business by bringing our songwriters, publishers, and industry professionals together. NYC3 started with a focus on lobbying because of the crisis we have in the copyright office, as well as the fact that in New York City, we were having an issue with our songwriters and musicians leaving. During the recession of 2008, we lost a lot of our recording studios and as a result, people were moving to Nashville, Los Angeles, and Atlanta and cities who were offering more and were less expensive to live in. All of the PROs were seeing the same trend, and after doing some research, we realized we had lost over 30% of our writers. These people had either moved out of the city or were are no longer in the business. With NYC3, we share information on who’s coming to town, we help hook up each other’s writers for collaborations, and strive to be a viable professional networking group with the purpose of building up our business again here in New York City.
Have you seen a positive impact on the city since starting the organization?
The music industry is a challenging business. Here we are, all professionals in the business. We have connections with professional writers and studios all around the city and while we don’t have any great results yet, we are committed to our mission. One of the interesting things we have learned is that every legitimate publishing company has an office in New York, but that many of these companies don’t even have songwriters based in New York. Most of them are based in Nashville. It’s a challenge, to say the least, to keep this going. We host various camps, like Sync Camp, which includes three days of songwriters coming together and writing to briefs in hopes they will land a placement. We have been actively lobbying trying to get a state tax credit, like you have in Nashville and other cities. One of the really neat things that we have seen happen is through our monthly gatherings at different offices around the city, we are seeing more community than we have in a long time.
As you have risen to the ranks over the last twenty-seven years in the industry, have you seen the conditions for women change over the years?
In the world of publishing, there are a lot of incredible women leaders. As women, I think we are, oftentimes, natural nurturers and that is what a songwriter needs. That said, I think it’s very interesting that still to this day when I go to music events and look around the room, it is still predominantly men. Is there a boys club still? Absolutely. It’s unfortunately not that different than it was twenty years ago.
What can we all be doing collectively to move this needle forward, especially given what you just described?
I think women need to consciously make a decision to help one another and support one another. I think we have to be better, and that’s what sucks, but as women, we have to be really, really good at what we do. And, we are! Let me tell you, women rule the world. Women are smarter than anybody! I don’t want to be so bold as to say that women are smarter than men, but I really kind of do want to say that. (laugh) I have sat in so many business meetings, rolling my eyes and think, “What makes you think you are so much better and smarter than the rest of us?” Sexism is alive. I have had individuals who are a bit older than me be very sexist and condescending not only to my female co-workers, but also to me, and I didn’t put up with it. I didn’t have a lot of respect for those people. Being that person who isn’t willing to take it doesn’t make you very popular but seriously, are you kidding me?
Why do you think more women don’t stand up for themselves and call out these moments?
I find when you speak out and stand up for yourself vocally and publicly in a company, it doesn’t always come off very well. You have to be really diplomatic about it. A lot of times I would just let things roll off my back only because it was just easier, or maybe I was just lazy and didn’t want to be “Gloria Steinem” for the day. Reality was, I had to get along with my male colleagues and sometimes, as women, we just have to swallow a lot of things and roll our eyes. But honestly, this sort of aggressiveness comes from both males and females. The most important advice I would give to people who want to work in this industry is to know your stuff so that gender isn’t the conversation. Do your homework and be aware of things. Read Billboard magazine, blogs and learn as much as you can about the industry. Meet with people, go to events and network. Join organizations and give yourself a real shot. It’s a lot of work and isn’t always fun, but don’t let that hold you back.
Want to learn more about the efforts of the New York City Creative Community and ways you can get involved? Make sure to follow them on Facebook!