I saw a wonderful new documentary last night titled, BANG! The Bert Berns Story. He was one of the greatest songwriters/producers you never heard of, responsible for hits like "A Little Bit of Soap," "Twist and Shout," "Tell Him," "Hang on Sloopy," "Here Comes the Night," "Brown Eyed Girl," "Under the Boardwalk" and "Piece of My Heart."
He died at age 38 almost 50 years ago exactly, on Dec. 30, 1967, of heart failure. The list of interviewees in the film include Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, Ben E. King, Wilson Pickett, Van Morrison, Cissy Houston and Brenda Reid. Some interesting lessons emerge from his success and this film:
See your projects all the way through. He wrote "Twist and Shout" but felt that young producer Phil Spector didn't give it the right tempo for the recording by the Top Notes. So Berns took control in the new version sung by the Isley Brothers. That huge success led The Beatles to record it, becoming the only million-selling Beatles single that was a cover.
Create from your experience. It's amazing to piece together now, but Berns—who contracted rheumatic fever as a child that damaged his heart—wrote hit songs titled, "Cry to Me," "Cry Baby," "I Don't Want to Go Without You," "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love" and "Piece of My Heart"—most famously sung by Janis Joplin—with the lyric, "Take another little piece of my heart now, baby." These were sad songs delivered with tons of emotion.
Work with a diverse group of people. Berns' colleagues may have been a bit too diverse, with a gangster or two in the mix, but he reached out to cross many bridges. He made his way to Havana before the Cuban Revolution to learn mambo. Erma Franklin, Aretha's older sister, was the first to sing "Piece of My Heart." His partners included producers Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegün. Collaborators Ben E. King and Solomon Burke offered only the kindest words. Berns also worked with Neil Diamond ("Solitary Man") and Dusty Springfield.
Find what everyone is best at, including yourself. In the film, Sony Music CEO Doug Morris laughs at an early recording that Berns took on himself. "He was not a good singer," Morris says. That might have been the last time Berns recorded a song. The only video of Berns we see is an extended take where he's producing a song, instructing the singer on tempo and style. It became another #1 hit.
Use testimonials. Okay, you might not be able to get Keith Richards ("one of the greatest songwriters of all bloody time"), Van Morrison ("The guy was a genius.") or Paul McCartney ("A lot of people think we wrote it."), but getting your customers to contribute testimonials will work just fine. If you can do it on video—at a live event you're holding—all the better. But put "get testimonials" on your to-do list right next to book speakers and send email campaign.
Use a version of trailers. I saw the film at the D.C. Jewish Community Center because two weeks ago we watched another great documentary there about Hedy Lamarr, and a trailer was shown of this film. Last night, we saw a trailer for Two Trains Running about blues music in Mississippi in 1964. Now I'll definitely see that. What about using trailers for webinars? I recall BVR was planning to do something to fill the gap between people logging into a webinar and the actual start. That makes a lot of sense. If that can be informational, then I don't think anyone would mind—and they might even pay attention. (Beats elevator music.)
Enter awards. Berns was inducted as a non-performer and given the Ahmet Ertegun Lifetime Achievement Award with the 2016 class to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The SIPAwards are not that, but they do add prestige and respect in our industry.