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Jimmy Lloyd: Building Music and Media From the Grassroots Up

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Jimmy Lloyd prides himself on two skills: "the ability to recognize an opportunity when it comes along," and "the ability to create one." As executive producer and host of The Jimmy Lloyd Songwriter Showcase (JLSS), a nationally-syndicated staple of NBC's digital programming, Lloyd has forged a reality of his own making -- a world where musicians can telegraph their voices to the widest possible audience, where art and message, instead of connections and credits, loom large.

Often touted as "Inside the Actors Studio for songwriters," JLSS is in fact a totally unique enterprise, based around the concept that good music with meaningful lyrics will ultimately build a community. Performers run the gamut from those with a sizable following already in place -- Canadian band The Sheepdogs, folk-rocker Jonatha Brooke -- to those you might not know yet but soon will, like sultry storyteller Mary Beth Doran.

The show's association with the NBC brand is a huge boon to artists searching to pair genuine talent with a legitimate platform. But, while Jimmy keenly appreciates the power of that branding, he also realizes the need to keep things simple. "Audiences today are even more sophisticated than they used to be," he says. "People don't want to be told by some bigwig that this is [an artist] you should know about. The entire paradigm has shifted almost 180 degrees to where it has to come from the bottom up."

To that end, performances on JLSS tend to be of the Spartan variety, stripped down to the songwriter(s) and an acoustic instrument or two. (Lloyd, who describes himself as "very lyrically-driven," wants viewers to concentrate primarily on a song's sentiment and narrative when they tune in. He quotes the show's tagline: "When the tattoos fade, it's just you, your song, and your soul.")

Alex Coletti, producer of MTV's Unplugged series, regards Lloyd's no-frills acoustic presentation as a smart choice. "It's a great entrance way to a new artist's sound because you can focus on the voice and the words, hear them just as bare as possible. Jimmy does a great job of that."

Songwriter and guitarist Adam Levy, who's been featured twice on JLSS, agrees with Jimmy's emphasis on lyrics."Every little detail counts -- It's like you're laying tiles in a mosaic," he notes. But Levy believes the best thing about the program is its, and Lloyd's, unstated mission: Do For Others.

"Jimmy wants all the artists on his show to succeed," Levy asserts. "There's a lot of movement toward sharing and talking, and it's an incredibly powerful tool, invaluable."

Coletti explains, "Jimmy's got a song that I love called 'You're With the Good Guys Now.' And it's truly who he is. He's looking to help you and connect you to an audience and hopefully gain some traction [so] your career will go a little further. He's like a shepherd... He acts as a curator in a sense 'cause he's cherry-picking this talent that he feels strongly about."

One reason Lloyd champions the underdog is because he effectively engineered his own rise from obscurity, admittedly without any professional training in the field:

I'm totally self-made, coming up from my bootstraps. I've been songwriting since I was fifteen, but I don't have a natural musical ear and I've never had any lessons. But when I [first] got a guitar, I'd just build up the dexterity knowing that I had a story to tell, that I could deliver a song. All this other stuff, I'll figure it out. I've always been this somewhat insightful, introspective person with the drive to learn things I wouldn't necessarily have learned through education.

Actually, everything Jimmy knows he learned through some rather astonishing experience. Back in 2008, Lloyd was a one-man operation, an unknown singer-songwriter just trying to do what he loved. He decided to make a music video for his song "Cop Bar" and deluged the Craigslist job boards with attention-grabbing links, a move that caused the footage to go viral. Within two months of its posting, "Cop Bar" drew the attention of an NBC executive who promptly emailed Jimmy, "Nice video. Who are you?"

That's where the whole thing gets really weird and kind of New Age-y. I knew at that moment, 'This is it.' I knew I had to make that video, that it would lead to something, and when he contacted me, I recognized it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Several conversations later, Lloyd's network sherpa raised the opportunity bar with another fateful question:"In a perfect world, what would you want to do?"

Jimmy was ready with an answer: "In a perfect world, I would love to executive-produce a serious show about songwriters." Immediately the two began sketching out a pitch for the project that became JLSS, which launched under NBC's digital banner in late 2009.

Levy, who met Lloyd shortly after the show premiered, says, "Everyone else works in baby steps, almost like a video game where you have to progress through each level before you can go slay the big dragon. Jimmy's just like, 'I think I just want to go slay the big dragon.' That's part of his path to success."

Mike McCready, CEO of digital music company Music Xray, immediately recognized a fellow entrepreneur in Lloyd and a synergy in their goals. "What Jimmy did was figure out a way to create his own vehicle for the exposure of his music and others," says McCready. "[JLSS] is high-quality content, very compelling... He's got great ideas and he's pushing them forward personally every day."

Music Xray, an online platform that matches artists with industry professionals, has a fruitful partnership with JLSS, which has featured a few of its subscribers on the show (songwriter Brendan McCahey for instance, whose country-tinged sound completely belies his native Irish accent). Both Lloyd and McCready are anxious to help gifted musicians up the ladder; earlier this year JLSS and Music Xray collaborated with Soundcloud to showcase twelve selected singers in private, live auditions with casting directors for The Voice. (McCready reports the three-way promotion was a success -- not only did a handful of the twelve make it to the next round of casting, one performer got picked for an upcoming season. Do For Others, indeed.)

For Lloyd, it's just another marker of great things to come. He speaks frankly about wanting to cultivate JLSS as a brand and business -- "My goal is really to have a credible platform in all forms for talented songwriters to garner attention" -- and continues to push harder than ever. Over the last few months Jimmy has presented two large-scale live events at New York's High Line Ballroom featuring guests from the TV show, and notes with deserved satisfaction that JLSS "has produced more content in the past year than the previous three [combined]."

Lloyd also recently signed a major online syndication deal with a Comscore 100 website, an arrangement that purports to take JLSS to an even farther-ranging audience than the program's original greenlight from NBC.

According to McCready, the biggest challenge for Lloyd now is "not losing momentum on what he has. It's is a tough climb, but I wouldn't bet against Jimmy. He is determined, and everything just keeps getting bigger for him."

Coletti believes Jimmy's strength lies in "not being a slave to the old model [of the music industry], and he's not compromising the show for a broader audience."

Longtime viewers will note that JLSS's format continues to evolve; initially there was an even split between performances and artist interviews, then came a series of interview-only episodes, and now there's a trend toward purely performance-based installments. The show may still be finding its wings, but that could very well be its biggest attraction.

"People don't watch TV the way they used to," Levy notes. "It's not unusual for you to watch ten hours of a show in a row. With that in mind, changing the format over time makes even more sense -- keeps it fresh."

At the same time, Coletti adds, "You know what you're going to get [with JLSS]. Jimmy's got the ingredients, he's just playing with the mixture and the recipe."

With diverse artists like Acey Slade, Peter Cincotti, Hank and Cupcakes, and Sylvana Joyce looking to share their music, it seems Jimmy's collection of kindred spirits is destined to expand ever further.

"I always live in the world of 'things are possible,'" Lloyd sums up. "And when things are possible, it's anyone's guess what can be achieved. I don't even feel like I've started yet."

Perhaps, but as he hits the ground running his message can be heard loud and clear -- it's a brave new Jimmy world out there, and boy will we have fun playing in it.

The Jimmy Lloyd Songwriter Showcase airs on NBC digital programming and Comcast OnDemand. Check here to see local listings available in your area.