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Guild Helps Writers Fine-Tune Compositions : The county group meets monthly so potential hit-makers can find critiques and collaborators.


Chances are you've heard the joke about everybody in Southern California working on a screenplay. But there are probably just as many tunesmiths hoping to score No. 1 with a bullet on the Billboard charts. And lots of them are, no doubt, writing country music.

But face it. The days of the Nashville Handshake--handing someone your demo tape during an introduction--are over. Lawsuits over copyright infringement have closed the option of submitting songs over the transom; now they go through legitimate music publishers, artists' managers and attorneys.

So how do you get your song across if you don't play an instrument or can't sing?

You might learn a thing or two about the biz at the Ventura County Producers and Songwriters Guild. About 100 members strong, this organization gets together the last Tuesday of each month, alternating its meetings between World Music in Simi Valley and Instrumental Music in Thousand Oaks. And you don't have to be a resident of Ventura County to join.

A typical meeting will feature a guest speaker's presentation followed by a question-answer session and critiques of some tapes of members' work. But this Tuesday, guild members may sign up to perform their compositions in the annual "Writers in the Round Showcase" at World Music in Simi Valley. And it's open to the public.

"It gives songwriters a chance to test their material," said Jim Best, guild president. "Some of them are not performers. But they have a chance to get up there and gut it out to get a response to their work."

Best, 46, is a Moorpark resident and has been a professional musician since the mid-1980s. A lead singer in Shiloh from 1990-91, he is lead vocalist for Buckshot, a local band that he and keyboard/bass player Gerry Collard formed almost one year ago.

About one-third of the guild members are country-oriented, according to Best. "And we're always encouraged by success stories like fellow member Dick Torst. He recently received a royalty check for a song he wrote for Jimmie Rodgers that was recorded in the '50s. And it was just put on a European 'greatest hits' release," said Best.

Members agree the guild is also a good place to meet a collaborator. In 1988, Best made a demo of his song "I'm Comin' Home" in Denny Martin's studio. "Since 1988, Denny has produced about 50 of my demos," Best said. "We've co-written approximately 10 songs. Two of those were published by Buckhorn Music and Robinsparrow Music in Nashville. And one of our tunes, 'Jenny's Love,' was presented to Shenandoah a few weeks ago. So we're just holding our breath."

Martin, who is not pictured because he left for Nashville after our phone interview, now lives in Canoga Park. But local residents might recall his solo club performances in the county during the '70s and '80s. Since the mid-'80s, Martin has concentrated his efforts on his demo studio business, Martin Music Productions. The producer-songwriter will be showcasing tunes in clubs including the famous Bluebird Cafe.

He averages four visits a year to Nashville to market songs, and has had 10 published in the last year.

Three of his songs will be on a compilation CD slated for release on Canyon Records, an independent label located in Chatsworth. The album will be distributed internationally for radio airplay.

Which delights Westlake Village resident Terry Sue Crawford, a singer-songwriter who performs two songs on the project. Crawford wrote her first lyrics in 1992 after meeting Martin, who encouraged her efforts.

"As writers, we work in a solitary environment," Martin said. "So we need to have our work heard by other writers because they can help to critique and prepare our songs for the marketplace."

Larry Vail of Newbury Park agrees. He just returned to work after dedicating a year to writing songs full time. And it paid off with a three-song deal with Cedar Creek Music in Nashville.

Vail said he writes everything from '30s country swing to the new country-rock. And he must have taken lessons from the George Jones hit "High Tech Red-Neck," because Vail likes to compose while seated at the computer with a guitar in his lap.

"The guild is a good place to meet a co-writer, especially if you are a lyricist or a composer," said Vail, who has collaborated with Best. "It's also a good place to network among guest speakers--I've met sound engineers, radio station program managers and record company executives."

"But the best thing about belonging to the guild is it motivates me to consistently write so that I have songs to play at the meetings."


* WHAT: Ventura County Producers and Songwriters Guild live showcase

* WHEN: 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday

* WHERE: World Music, 1826 Erringer Road, Simi Valley 526-9351

* ETC: Members may sign up to perform at this free meeting open to the public. The guild meets on the last Tuesday of each month at World Music or Instrumental Music, 772 East Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks, 496-3774. Annual membership dues of $18 includes a monthly newsletter; 529-7212, for details on the showcase or the guild.

* CALL: 526-9351

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