Barry Hebert has dedicated the past year to encouraging and developing the city’s songwriting talent in new ways.
“There is so much talent in Baton Rouge,” Hebert said. “Slowly but surely, we have been raising more awareness of local original music and developing an audience for it.”
Hebert believes the best way to grow a community’s audience is to strengthen it from within.
After last year’s Third Street Songwriters Festival, Hebert began a weekly performance series at Jolie Pearl Oyster Bar and initiated the Baton Rouge chapter of the Nashville Songwriters Association International.
His goal was to give musicians a place to improve their writing in a supportive environment, build camaraderie and create a network for professional opportunities.
“We have around 20 active members,” Hebert said of the Baton Rouge NSAI chapter, one of the 150 national chapters. “Each month, the meeting includes a lesson, an exercise and a discussion. Then we do song evaluations, where we can play our songs and get feedback from one another.”
Lessons focus on techniques for songwriting skills such as rhyming schemes or melody creation or tips on how to make the most of a co-writing opportunity. All songwriters are welcome, regardless of experience.
“We have some serious songwriters looking to develop their craft and work toward publishing deals, and we have beginners too,” said Hebert.
Hebert also brought some prime songwriting talent to Baton Rouge to speak at NSAI meetings.
“We had Jim McCormick, who has written No. 1 hits for Brantley Gilbert and Jason Aldean,” said Hebert. “We also had Charlie and Dana Hunt-Black. Charlie has written 15 No. 1 hits. He was voted songwriter of the year three times and is in the Songwriters Hall of Fame. His wife, Dana, has written two of George Strait’s No. 1 hits.”
Hebert educates local NSAI songwriters on how to utilize the many services provided in Nashville to members of NSAI, such as song evaluations, one-on-one mentoring and opportunities to pitch your songs for publishing deals.
Hebert wants to see more local talent find success.
“We hope with some of the things we’re doing we will improve the odds for other talented songwriters hoping to make it,” Hebert said.
For Hebert, a well-written song deserves a listening audience. He tries to bring the ambiance of a listening room to Jolie Pearl Oyster Bar from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. every Sunday afternoon.
“We want an environment where people can listen — and we want them to actually be able to hear the words that we’re singing,” said Hebert.
The first two hours of each Songwriter Sunday showcase three to four established local songwriters singing short sets or taking turns playing songs in rounds. The second half of the show is an open mic.
“We’ve discovered some amazing talent from the open mic portion of the show,” said Hebert. “We quickly scheduled them for their own showcases. Some open mic performers are scheduled to play in the songwriter rounds this weekend at the Songwriters Festival.”
Hebert will host and perform at Jolie Pearl on Saturday during the Third Street Songwriters Festival showcase.
Anyone interested in trying his or her hand at songwriting is encouraged to attend one of the monthly Baton Rouge NSAI workshops. This month’s meeting will be on April 28 at the Red Dragon Listening Room on Florida Boulevard.