|Posted by Deborah Orazi on April 14, 2011 at 7:34 AM|
It was three days into SXSW Music 2011 and I was on my way to the Driskill Hotel in downtown Austin on an unseasonably hot day to pick-up singer/songwriter/TV host Jimmy Lloyd for an interview.
His is a remarkable success story and I’m curious to hear the details of it from the man himself while he’s in town checking out artists, possibly for the NBC-TV show in New York that bears his name, ‘The Jimmy Lloyd Songwriter Showcase’.
“I came to SXSW for the first time last year and I said then that I’d never miss another one,” he had told me the day before at a BMI showcase. “I saw so many great bands.”
Perennially cheerful and positive, the towering Lloyd doesn’t flinch when he sees my tiny un-air-conditioned Miata - or when he hears the rattling noise it makes. He calmly folds himself into the passenger seat and we set off to find a quiet place to talk.
Traffic is horrendous and with one eye on my rising temperature gauge and the other on the beads of sweat forming on my passenger’s brow, I steer the car in the direction of a cross-town bookstore and its café. Only about 50,000 out-of-state cars stand between us and a cold Diet Coke.
The multi-talented Lloyd can write and record his own songs, turn one into an online video sensation, and then miraculously parlay it into a TV show on NBC, but he can’t make the sea of stopped cars in front of us part.
The video that launched his TV career was of a catchy tune he wrote called ‘Cop Bar’. It was from a 10-song CD he recorded three years ago called simply, ‘Jimmy Lloyd’.
“I knew there was something special about the video,” he explained once we were seated at the café. “I knew after all the effort that went into making the video, something would come of it.”
His hunch proved correct. Add to the mix Lloyd’s gift for marketing, a keen business sense, and a healthy dose of ambition and you begin to see why he has a TV show carried on NBC's digital channels in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C…..and we don’t.
It all began as an effort to promote his CD.
“Once the CD was released I realized the greatest challenge was making people aware of what you’re doing,” he said. “I realized that the cavalry wasn’t coming. I had to do it myself.”
Lloyd figured making a video and putting it online would be a good first step, so he assembled a cast and crew and set about making “my ‘Apocalypse Now’, the mother of all music videos.”
He put ads on Craigslist for actors and crew and was amazed at the response. Among those responding were professional actors from an Emmy-winning HBO series.
“I couldn’t believe there were actors from "The Sopranos" trolling Craigslist for work,” he said. “You’ll spot them in the video.”
Ironically, one of the lead characters on "The Sopranos", Michael Imperioli (who played Tony Soprano’s nephew,Christopher) would become a guest, along with his band La Dolce Vita, on Episode Seven of Lloyd’s tv show.
After some crafty marketing by Lloyd, the unusual video became a hit online (you’ll understand why if you follow the link to it at the end of this story) and two months and two days after it was posted, he got the message that would change everything.
“A person affiliated with programming at NBC e-mailed me, ‘This is really impressive. Who are you?’ ”
Next thing you know, Lloyd and his buddy Ashish Naik, now Co-executive producer of the TV show, were meeting with network executives and pitching the idea for the TV show. A pilot was ordered up, which the network liked, and Lloyd was set. He not only would be helping his own career with the new show, he'd also be able to help fellow artists advance theirs.
“In music today you cannot be just another person with your hand out,” he said. “You’ve got to offer something. I knew we were doing something for other people, and I knew it was good.
“In the fall of 2009 we started auditions. We had 4,000 email submissions that we whittled down to 100 after listening to everything that came to us. We had 80 songwriters come in to audition and then whittled it down to 25.”
Ten episodes have been filmed so far, in addition to the pilot.
Lloyd likes to describe the show as an ‘Inside the Actor’s Studio’ for songwriters. Filmed at New York’s Gibson Guitar Showroom, each of the episodes basically consists of a monologue by Lloyd, performances, and interviews, including a discussion of the featured artist’s songwriting process.
At a BMI showcase during SXSW 2011, one of the acts that have appeared on his show, Brooklyn-based band Hank and the Cupcakes, introduces Lloyd from the stage and performs a song they wrote for him, ‘My Name is Jimmy" (and I Have a TV Show)’.
They’ll be no hiding behind his Ray Bans now I think to myself as I watch heads in the audience turn. Sure enough, one of Austin’s myriad singer/songwriters approaches him.
“In the beginning we got about 500 submissions a week,” Lloyd said the next day during our talk. I ask if his time-consuming duties on the show haven’t been to the detriment of his own music. If anything, he insists, his songwriting skills have improved as a result of the show.
“First and foremost I see myself as a songwriter,” Lloyd, a Neil Young admirer, said. “I’ve been writing songs most of my life, but I’ve always been business-minded.
“The production is time consuming, but I think my songwriting has gotten better. I meet great songwriters all the time and it makes me ‘up’ my game. I’m a competitive person, so I try to write a song to compare with that person or songwriter I admire. The greatest thing that’s resulted from this experience is the people I’ve met, the songwriters.”
After our interview, we get up to leave the café and a young man rushes over to Lloyd, handing him an I-Phone. On the screen are notes he took after having overheard our conversation from a few tables away.
“I was listening to every thing you said and I agree with it all,” gushed the young musician. “It’s how I feel, too.”
And that’s exactly what Lloyd is counting on, people identifying with the songs and the people who sing them on his show.
Next on the horizon for Lloyd is a reality TV series he’s pitching about struggling musicians in New York City called ‘The Scene…L.E.S.’ Dozens of young hopefuls showed up at a casting call for it in New York on April 2. Here is a teaser for that show: http://vimeo.com/19667835
“It’s a spin-off,” he explained. “I became fascinated by the back-story of all of these songwriters I was meeting.”
My favorite character in the trailer Lloyd is pitching to TV execs is ‘Cheeseburger Don’ Ryan, a witty and insightful New Jersey-based troubadour. He, too, is at SXSW this year and I meet him when he shows up with Lloyd at the Saxon Pub for Texas singer/songwriter James Hand’s showcase.
Lloyd also has plans to expand his original show, taking it on the road (could Austin be on a future itinerary?) and taping at music venues such as the Highline Ballroom in New York.
But one thing won’t change.
“The show will always be by a songwriter, for a songwriter,” he insisted.
To see the risqué video that started it all forLloyd, follow this link: http://vimeo.com/10747104 .
You can watch episodes of his TV show here: jimmylloyd.com
If you think you’ve got what it takes to be on Lloyd’s show, contact him at [email protected]