“I really feel that as wonderful as the Internet is, there is nothing as great as live music,” says Tina Shafer, the New York-based singer/songwriter that has not only penned hits for some major artists, but helped found the influential New York Songwriters Circle. “The fact that we have live venues still creates a community of live music, and that never changes. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that could ever be replaced.”
Tina started out in Ohio, but eventually found herself drawn to New York City. “I’ve been in the business since 1987,” she recalls. “I was signed to Warner Chapell in 1989, and I went on to cut with Celine Dion, which was on her Let’s Talk About Love album, which sold 33 million records, the one with the ‘Titanic’ song on it.“ Besides Celine, other artists who have covered Tina’s songs include Sheena Easton and Donna Summer. And she’s also served as a vocal coach for Avril Lavigne, Jamie Lynn Siegler, and Vanessa Carlton, among others.
In addition, she’s actually become as much of a nurturer of new talent as she is a purveyor of the craft herself. “I love to develop talent, and the voice is a way of expressing that talent,” she muses. “Our true voices express our true selves. The same can be said for a great song. It is a bit of pure truth that can really transform someone.”
Indeed, the project that has blossomed into a nationally known event is the New York Songwriters Circle, which Tina started in 1991 at The Bitter End. Her vision was to create a community where songwriters could come to be inspired, share their songs, and express their creativity with others seeking to do the same. Some of the talent that has come out of the Songwriter’s Circle includes Norah Jones, Gavin DeGraw, Vanessa Carlton, and Kate Voegele.
“In 1991, Kenny Gorka, who is the manager of that club, along with Randi Michaels, came up with the idea of bringing the round they do at the Bluebird Café in Nashville to New York, because there was no community here. And so they started to do a couple of those circles, and Randi moved to Nashville, and asked if I could run the Circle while she was in Nashville and I said, ‘Sure!’ That was almost 20 years ago, so she’s in Nashville and since then, the Circle has grown beyond my wildest dreams. And a lot of these students that I teach start out at the Circle. Vanessa got signed out of there, Norah Jones started out there, and Jesse Harris was also a vocal student and went on to write her big hit ’Don’t Know Why I Didn’t Come.’ It really started as me trying to go full circle and bring back inspiration for writers, and book the Circle with one really well-known writer and then some other up-and-coming writers so that people could see how it was done and could be inspired and learn from people that have had success. And for the up-and-comers, just to be seen and heard.”
With success, comes expansion. And sure enough, the Circle is branching out into other cities. “We’ll be in Boston, where we’ve partnered with Berklee College Of Music, and that has been incredibly successful because it’s all singers/songwriters and they’ve been so embracing of what we’ve been doing. And then in Chicago, this will be the second Circle. It’s much younger. I find the group is mostly college kids because it’s such a college town. It’s been really successful. We’ve only had one show, we’re going to have our second show so the jury’s still out. Philadelphia has been amazing, that’s at the World Café. And that’s been a mixture of well-known writers and up-and-coming writers. Another one we have, which is a very different circle, is in L.A. and that’s run by Suzanne Cook, who is a publisher and she claims that the only way people come out in L.A. is if you have high profile writers. So the circles in L.A. are primarily top hit writers, and I went to the first one and it was true. It was very interesting and a very different vibe because people in L.A. travel so far to go anywhere. It’s not like New York or Chicago, so they do come out for a different reason, which I found interesting. We’re opening up in February in Milan, so I’ll let you know.”
Of all the artists that have come through, it seems like Norah Jones has become the biggest success. “As far as record sales go,” laughs Tina. “When I met her, she was on her second day in New York. I was teaching her co-writer, Jesse Harris, and we all decided to do a circle together. I asked her what her fears and fantasies were, having just arrived here from Texas. She responded by saying that she wanted to get in a Volkswagen van, sell 10,000 records and be a jazz singer.”
You can see the New York Songwriters Circle in action, and possibly catch the next Norah Jones, on Monday, June 7, at the Bitter End, 47 Bleeker Street, in New York. The show starts at 8 p.m.