Songwriters united

The Baltimore Sun

Sheltered and reserved Baltimore area songwriters should break from the bounds of their bedrooms, basements and living rooms. Fellow songwriters want you to critique their songs and share your own -- if you're up to it.

That's the hope of the Baltimore Songwriters Association, an inclusive, genre- diverse community of musicians who think that a little constructive criticism can only help an artist in the songwriting process.

Long after the Baltimore Songwriters Guild -- a small group of songwriters with loose ties and sporadic meetings -- fizzled out, Paul Iwancio founded the BSA, hoping to create a community of eclectic musicians who were interested in communicating and collaborating regularly in an open and comfortable atmosphere.

Despite location changes, Iwancio and BSA members have managed to meet twice a week to share and critique each other's music for the past decade.

After moving their meeting place from various bars and coffee shops in the Baltimore area, the BSA found a home at the Creative Alliance at the Patterson, where the members will perform Saturday to celebrate the release of Songs From a Charmed City and the group's 10-year anniversary.

"The CD is a way for the BSA to put our best face forward," says Iwancio, who played a large role in the CD's production. "It was a more selective process than normal."

The BSA has already released four, 36-song double-disc albums of open-mike live performances. For those albums, BSA members' recordings only had to meet "a certain sonic quality."

Songs From a Charmed City, on the other hand, is composed of 20 professionally recorded songs including rock and folk that were chosen by what Iwancio calls a "jury" of session musicians, publishers and radio hosts, among others.

The jury had to listen to 80 recordings and choose only the best-written material. Iwancio says the jury decided on 20 songs because it was the most songs that could fit on the CD.

"The jury had a really difficult time," he says, "but I think they did the best job that they could."

Nicknamed the "Energizer Bunny of acoustic pop music" by his peers because of his high-energy live performances, Iwancio hasn't lost his enthusiasm after regular BSA meetings and collaborations.

A self-described extrovert, the singer, guitarist and bassist talks about the BSA like a giddy teenager after starting his first band.

He never wanted the BSA to become a clique or to be misconstrued as a hangout for likeminded, pretentious musicians. That's why Iwancio urges writers of all ages and backgrounds to be active participants in the association.

"We aren't just about Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell," says Iwancio, 50. "Anyone that comes to the first meeting would be surprised [by] how knowledgeable and diverse our members are."

Although he admits that the egos of some musicians can get in the way of good suggestions, Iwancio says that the members are respectful and urge new artists to share their songs regularly at meetings to get feedback. Not only will it build confidence, it will help hone the craft of songwriting.

"Songwriting geniuses are a small minority," he says, mentioning Sting, Smokey Robinson and Paul Simon as examples. "It's writers like these that can get into an anecdotal vacuum and still come out smelling like a rose."

Paul Iwancio and members of the BSA will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Creative Alliance at the Patterson Theatre, 3134 Eastern Ave. Admission is $10-$12. For tickets or more information, call 410-276-1641.

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