Hawai’i Songwriting Festival Opens Doors for Local Talent

May 26, 2016, 12:01 PM HST
* Updated September 8, 5:37 PM
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2015 Hit Makers Concert. Photo credit: Terry Warner Photography.

2015 Hit Makers Concert. Photo credit: Terry Warner Photography.

The next big break for local singers and songwriters could be much closer to home than expected.

In fact, that next great opportunity might be found at the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel when the Hawai’i Songwriting Festival gets underway in June.

Maelan Abran, a local singer/songwriter and radio deejay for NATIVE FM and KBIG FM, may be one of the best examples of how picking the brain of some of the top songwriters and music contacts in the industry can lead to increased exposure on a bigger stage.

“My life would not be the way it is now if I had never registered and taken that flight to Kaua’i in 2007 for my first Kaua’i Music Festival,” Abran said.

The annual festival started on Kaua’i in 2003, but moved to the Big Island in 2015, where the name changed to the Hawai’i Songwriting Festival.


Abran continued to attend the event after her initial visit nine years ago and kept meeting new contacts. Her passion, creativity, and networking skills led to work on her first “island pop” album. Eventually, seven of her songs made it to radio station playlists from Hawai’i to Tahiti, with three of them earning the top spot on listener-generated countdowns.


What came next took Abran’s music to a new platform: television. She met the music supervisor of Fox’s “Sleepy Hollow” at the Kaua’i Music Festival, and that connection landed one of her songs on the hit show.

“I wore a smile on my face from the moment I got the message about having my song placed until the episode aired in January [2015], and every single time, I think about it still,” Abran reminisced. “I will always remember the feeling of waiting to hear it in the background of the scene. It was truly the longest 60 minutes, but best 30 seconds, of my life!”

Had she never attended the event and made the connection, Abran believes that her music would have never received the recognition and reach it got.


Opportunities are endless to connect with songwriters, film and television music supervisors, music publishers and producers, and other influential people from across the country. Those who attend the festival get to participate in workshops, panel discussions, open mic performances, and speed mentoring sessions.

“I think that there is a ton of talent here in Hawai’i. Music is such a big part of the life and the culture here,” said Julia Brotman, KMF Board of Directors Secretary. “A lot of them don’t really know what to do with their music or how to get it out to the music community at large. The music community in Hawai’i is really strong and well connected, and we try to sorta bridge the gap across the Pacific Ocean, we like to say, and connect Hawai’i’s community with the mainland music community, because they really want to hear the music we have here.”

Some of the featured staff members at this year’s festival include KMF and HSF president Charles Brotman, Nashville Songwriter Hall of Fame member Gary Burr, popular local singer/songwriter Paula Fuga, Grammy winning songwriter/producer Brett James, and local producer Kenneth Makuakāne.

“It’s really amazing to hear people say ‘Your conference really empowered me to know that I could actually make a career out of my music, that it could be what I do for a living and not just a hobby.’ When you hear that, you get chicken skin because that’s exactly what we’re trying to do,” Julia Brotman said.

Several concerts at the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel will wrap up the three-day event. On June 17, an “Island Night” concert will bring together Raiatea Helm, Streetlight Cadence, Nathan Aweau, and others. On the next night, songwriters like Tom Higgenson of the Plain White T’s and “Kidd” Rich will get together to perform and talk about the songs they have created in a special “Hit Makers” event.

The Hawai’i Music Festival runs from June 16-18. Registration runs at $200. To register or purchase tickets for each of the concerts, visit the HMF website.

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