By 19, Jim Brickman was studying composition at the Cleveland Institute of Music, taking business classes at Case Western Reserve University and writing commercial jingles for clients such as United Way.
The Shaker Heights native had plenty of talent — what he didn’t have was someone to show him the ropes of the songwriting business.
“I didn’t know if I was good or wasn’t good,” says the 56-year-old. “I didn’t have a mentor. I was in this bubble by myself. It took me 10 years to get up the nerve to go to Los Angeles.”
Twenty-one No. 1 albums and 32 Top 20 singles later, the Grammy-nominated songwriter hopes to provide some valuable guidance for area musicians during his inaugural Brickman Bootcamp for Songwriters, held July 26-29 at his Brickhouse Network Studios in the Shovel Works. The three days of workshops and tips from Brickman, his frequent collaborator Luke McMaster and LA-based music educator Kathryn Lounsbery culminates with a songwriter showcase at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
“If this had existed in Cleveland when I was 17 or 18, I would have been the first to sign up,” says Brickman, who has collaborated with musicians from Johnny Mathis to Lady Antebellum. “Something like this would have showed me what was possible.”
The boot camp is limited to 50 participants, most of whom are age 35 and under, and welcomes artists across genres. Brickman hopes the event helps aspiring songwriters better express their ideas, through instruction in songwriting, demo production, performance strategies, brand building, social media and networking within the music world.
“The intention is to pair people together to collaborate,” he says. “So many amazing things happen through the common thread of music. I’m convinced there will be a handful of people who will become songwriting partners and friends.”
Brickman, whose Cleveland-based, nationally syndicated radio show is now in its 21st year, feels strongly about incubating talent in the area. “When I was writing jingles, certain agencies would never hire me because I was from Cleveland,” he says. “How could I be any good if I was in Cleveland? The message was to leave Cleveland and that was terrible.”
Whether the event’s attendees focus on jazz, country, rock or pop, Brickman stresses the importance of authenticity. “One of the biggest messages in songwriting is relatability,” says Brickman. “My whole approach in my career has been about the emotional connection I make with the audience. They come back 20 years later because they can see you’re really authentic.”
Brickman wants the boot camp to become an annual event, eventually helping put the city on the map for songwriters, alongside industry hotbeds such as LA and Nashville.
“Talent is not a geographical thing,” he says. “Not everybody’s end goal is to go to Hollywood.”