BWW Interview: Taylor Louderman on This Year's Write Out Loud Songwriting Competition
How many opportunities are there out there for aspiring songwriters to have their music heard by one of Broadway's brightest stars? How many chances do you get to turn your creative dream into a reality? As Tony nominee Taylor Louderman likes to say, "Luck is when preparation meets opportunity." And she's the one providing the opportunity.
Louderman, best known for originating the role of queen bee Regina George in Mean Girls on Broadway, is currently holding the second Write Out Loud songwriting competition, which is accepting song submissions through January 31st. A passion project Louderman dreamed up with the help of her friends, Write Out Loud provides the chance for emerging musical theater writers to submit their songs to Louderman and her creative team, Ben Rauhala, Kurt Deutsch at Warner Music Group, Hannah Kloepfer and Sarah Glugatch. Louderman and her team will pick 3 songs to receive a studio recording and streaming release, and ten additional songs to be showcased at an NYC concert. Last year's Write Out Loud contest was an unmitigated success with around 500 song submissions, 5 winning songs, (one of which Louderman herself can be heard on) and a showcase held at Feinstein's/54 Below, premiering the works of the winners and runners up. The songs featured in the showcase were performed by some of Broadway's biggest stars including Caitlin Kinnunen, Isabelle McCalla, Teal Wicks and Jason Gotay.
With Write Out Loud, Taylor Louderman has created a spectacular springboard into the world of musical theater for up-and-coming songwriters. She is actively working to showcase new talent, nurture creativity, and provide the chance for voices of every kind to be heard. And if it weren't enough that she be outrageously talented and inspiring, Louderman is also incredibly lovely to speak with.
I had the pleasure of talking to her about the origins of Write out Loud, what she's looking for in a song, what inspires her, and much more.
She first described to me the organic way in which Write Out Loud came about.
"I was in the thick of my run at Mean Girls, and it was kind of around that six-month mark, you know, you're in a long running show, and you're doing the same thing every night... I was looking for the opportunity to 1. be more creative and 2. use this newfound platform I had through the show. The show brought on a lot of young people following my castmates and me, and that felt like a huge responsibility, or something I wanted to make the most of... But this came to mind as I was chatting with my friend Ben Rauhala, who is very involved in the musical theater community. And I was just like, 'Ben, is this possible? Is this something we could do?' And we sort of dreamed it up right then and there. And I made a call to Kurt Deutsch. He's with Warner Music now, but I knew him when he was with Ghostlight Records. And I just said, 'Hey Kurt, this is sort of something I'm thinking about, do you think you would be willing to donate us the space?' And I didn't really understand much about the music industry or what all it would take to make this come to life. So, he was a huge resource, along with Ben, in bringing these winning songs to Spotify and Apple Music and stuff like that. That's how it got started. It was really just a dream I never thought about until right then."
Last year's contest garnered a whopping 500 song submissions, something neither Louderman nor her team had expected, and I asked her about the process of making her way through all of the songs.
"It's so funny, last year when we started this, I had no idea we would have 500 song submissions. So, I remember they're coming in and I'm like, 'Oh my gosh, when am I gonna have time to listen to all of these?' But I did! ...Initially when we started this we were like, 'We'll have a concert and do it all in the spring', but I needed a lot more time. So we just create a spreadsheet, all the songs go into a spreadsheet and I listen to all 500 and I will rank them 1 through 5... 5 is the best, and then 4, 1 being something that isn't quite ready yet... and most of those I would send the 4's and the 5's to Ben or to Kurt and get their feedback...We would get together after that and narrow it down. I remember we narrowed it down to 150 last year which is still a lot! Each song is 4 or 5 minutes, so it's very time consuming and we're using a lot of resources and asking a lot of people to donate their time and talents, so that's why we're trying to raise a little bit of money so this can fund itself... I would love for it to be self-sustaining. We're considering making it a nonprofit. We're doing some research on that front."
Louderman went on to say that she is trying keep in mind which of the songwriters might not have access to the resources that she and her team can provide, and taking that into consideration, as her main goal is to motivate those young writers to continue creating.
"... [I'm] hoping to inspire and encourage young people to write. I feel like a lot of my career, I've been so grateful to have these parts, I'm excited to play these characters, but it never crossed my mind to write my own stuff. That just felt like something so unobtainable. So that's kind of what I want to encourage more young people to do, that it's possible."
When I asked what makes a song stand out to her, she shared with me what she looks for when she's listening to the song submissions, and what she tries to keep in mind during the process.
"...I wanted to really find new stuff. Something that felt sort of avant-garde, not too much like songs we've all heard in our musicals. Something that had a pop sound but was still story driven. So that's definitely something I look for, a really strong narrative. And then, of course, you want a fun melody. We also have to keep in mind, some of these songs we get from kids and all they've hashed out are a guitar and some lyrics. So, some of what we have to do is be imaginative and think about 'What could this song sound like?' ...As I want to create opportunities for young and new songwriters, I have to keep in mind that they may not have the resources to get into a studio and lay down a guitar track, lay down a drum track, and then also sing on top of it. That takes a lot. So sometimes we get a few recordings where they have been fortunate enough to have something like that done, or they're really resourceful themselves and know a lot of technology to make that happen. But other times we'll get a young girl in her bedroom playing ukulele and singing along, and it's so sweet and it's so hard to pick. There are so many great songs, and art is so relative, so it's tough! It's really tough. But it's really rewarding too."
Once the winning songs are picked, Louderman and her team will go on to decide who will sing each song. She walked me through her thought process, sharing what informed her decision to pick the singers of last year's winning songs.
"Ben and I just get together and think about voices and what we want it to sound like. At least for the recordings we did... With Erika [Henningsen] singing the tech song [Android Ashley], it just felt so her. The range fit perfectly for her voice. Bonnie [Milligan] was somebody where I had heard her championing publicly about weight and women, and so Brave fit her really well. I didn't want to give that song to just anybody. I also wanted to keep in mind who was singing it and what they stand for. I wanted to find givers. They also donated their time. We just try to be really mindful of that. I don't want to just keep choosing my friends either. I think between Ben and I we have a large network of musical theater artists. Last year it felt so 'We're so new at this, what do we do?' that I think this year we'll be able to branch out even further, I hope."
Louderman went on to tell me just how much it means to her to be able to give someone a jump start to their career through Write Out Loud.
"For me, I think it's just as rewarding if not more rewarding than getting an applause on stage. This is going to sound corny, but it's true, I feel like the most rewarding part of performing is inspiring people to do whatever, whether it's to go home and work harder on their homework or start their own nonprofit, whatever it is. I feel like with performing, I think sometimes spotlight can make it seem like we have more control over the art than we do... I like being in control of what stories are told... I like making sure the stories we're telling are pushing society forward or are about love and humanity and whatnot. I sound so cheesy and corny!"
Our conversation came to a close with Louderman expressing why Write Out Loud is the channel through which she is looking to make a difference, and her hopes for the contest moving forward.
"This just felt like an easy way to inspire new and young people to start thinking about writing. In a perfect world, eventually we can take on full musicals. Music is universal and there's a lot of different facets that go into storytelling through song, so it felt like the right way to do it."
Visit https://www.taylizlou.com/writeoutloud2020 for more information!
Louderman would like to give special thanks to her premiere sponsors: Jessica Lattman, the Collopys, and Micah Feingold.
Photo Credit: Walter McBride / WM Photos