Raising the Bar

Next Level nurtures SoCo talent

At last year’s inaugural Next Level Music Conference, Sonoma County’s wealth of musical talent was treated to a full day of keynote talks, panel discussions from music-industry veterans and info on grants aimed to enrich and empower local bands to take their craft to the “next level.”

Hosted by the county’s artistically minded, economic development outreach agency Creative Sonoma, the conference returns May 7 with engaging speakers and another round of grant offerings for Sonoma County musicians.

The conference’s lineup includes local luminaries like Lagunitas Brewing Company founder Tony Magee and North Bay talent buyer and booker Sheila Groves-Tracey. In addition, Creative Sonoma is flying in professionals such as Glenn Lorbecki, a producer and engineer who has recorded everyone from White Stripes to Dave Matthews, and songwriter and producer Sam Hollander, whose résumé includes over 20 songs that hit the Top 40 pop charts.

“As a writer who’s dabbled in so many genres, there’s one unifying message that I want to get out there,” Hollander says, “and that is how important the shaping of a song is.”

Hollander grew up in an era of music that featured songwriting teams creating Motown and pop hits for other artists, and he says he always dreamed of pursuing that. However, he stepped into the music industry just as Nirvana changed the world, and suddenly no one was looking for songwriting teams.

Still, Hollander sweated away in the industry for a decade, and says things turned around when he worked with Carole King in 2001, co-writing the title track from her acclaimed album,

Love Makes the World. Since then he’s worked with Katy Perry, Weezer, Tom Jones and Michael Franti, to name a few.

“My job shifts daily based on who I’m working with,” he says. “The bulk of my time now is spent co-writing with artists, but that job is equal parts psychiatrist, editor or other heavy lifting.”

These days, Hollander excels at guiding the shapes of songs by knowing how to merge melody with lyrics, how to create sonic space and how to speak to diverse artists’ sensibilities.

He’ll share all of these tips and tricks with local musicians when he hosts a special pre-conference workshop on Saturday, May 6, and speaks at Next Level on Sunday.

“When I grew up, there was zero entryway into the music business,” Hollander says. “For me, any time I can go to a town where there’s all this undiscovered talent and inspire a dialogue is exciting.”

Sonoma County Library