What we Dutch people can learn from the American music business
In October 2018 I was in Palm Springs for my first songwriting camp ever. Curious about what I can learn from the American music industry as a Dutchman, I flew all the way to the U.S.A. Here are the best tips I got from mentors Pam Sheyne, Richard Harris, Maria Lyons, Greg Holden and many more.
How did the camp start?
Although I had to come from far, I am the first on the spot. The day starts with getting acquainted. In my very best English I talk to songwriters from Denver, Fresno, L.A., New York, among others, but also from the UK, Norway and Switzerland. We are with 32.
Session 1: our mentors Pam SHEYNE & Richard HARRIS
After the joint lunch the first session of the camp follows: songwriters / producers Pam Sheyne (who wrote for Christina Aguilera, Sinead O'Connor, Seal) and Richard Harris (who wrote for Tyler Shaw, Greg Holden, Sabrina Starke) introduce themselves and tell about their world. The chemistry between the two is immediately noticeable. Here are two friends at work, who have teamed up to give us as inspiring and meaningful songwriting camp as possible. Pam has a cute smile and Richard turns out to be a great joker who knows how to keep the atmosphere in good shape.
Where I as a Dutchman look up against people of such stature, they appear to be very down-to-earth with a great passion for songwriting. I feel a step closer to the real work: if ordinary, hard-working people with a great passion can live as a songwriter, then I should also be able to succeed.
Session 2: the music business in a nutshell
In the evening, manager Maria Lyons (a.o. Usher) and publisher Michael Eames talk about their work. What does a manager or publisher actually do? What are they looking for in a songwriter? Where I was inclined to think that you need a manager to advance in the music world, it turns out that you as a songwriter have to take matters into your own hands. You just have to be a good businesswoman.
The advice they give me: know your business, understand your copyrights and be careful with them. And: be a valuable business partner for your manager / publisher. You need them, but they need you too.
Session 3: melody and rhythm
The second day starts with a masterclass by Richard Harris about melody and rhythm. The biggest challenge in writing a song is to use repetition in such a way that it does not get bored, but still ensures recognition. Richard talks and shows examples. I love the tips he gives to write more catchy songs.
Session 4: inspiration from pros
Then two men come in as you imagine them to be in the music world: longer hair, beards, shabby clothes and a relaxed look. Chen Neeman (a.o. Miley Cyrus) and Drew Lawrence (wrote, a.o., Jar of Hearts) are songwriters and producers. Drew Lawrence comes across to me as the brother of Taylor Hawkins with a lot of positive energy. Chen Neeman reminds me of a Norwegian from Scotland with a long beard, white skin and warm hat. I mainly learn from them that it is good to train your creative skills with daily patterns. For example, starting every day with 10 minutes writing metaphors or creating 10 titles. I immediately intend to incorporate those patterns into my daily life.
Songwriter Greg Holden is also there. A tough man full of tattoos, but with a small heart. He’s a songwriter to my heart, who writes songs that mean something to him. He’s not a typical commercial writer and this is what he keeps repeating: 'if you want to get your songs on the radio, do not do what I do'. I feel my challenge growing, because I too want to write songs that have meaning to myself.
Session 5: co-creation
In the afternoon a creative session with two participants follows: Vance and Sarah. Together we write a song in 5 hours with the title 'Those Three Words'. Since I am not used to writing a song with several people, I find it very exciting. I am delighted to see that they like my melodies and that they are being used in the song. With an open mouth, I look at the freedom with which Sarah let’s lyrics pop out of her head while she hums the melodies. I imagine that I also want to develop that freedom. Then the real work follows: making it a real song. After a few hours of labor, we have finished a beautiful song that I’m proud of.
Session 6: performing and listening
In the evening we listen to each other's songs. Since we are with 32 people, we get to listen to 11 songs. You immediately hear the differences between powerful songs and less powerful songs. The songs Fire and Socks stay with me the most. Ours is also well received.
The evening starts with two songs from the pros: Drew and Greg give everything with two beautiful songs. Go check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rcZLMtWEcF0 and listen to the text. Superb.
Session 7: about concept and lyrics
The next day starts with a master class on lyric writing by Pam. She continues to emphasize the importance of a strong concept with a surprising angle. I am happy to hear this because I believe in this very strongly. To hear this from a pro with world hits, keeps me positive and keeps me on the edge of my seat.
Session 8: strong business woman and born producer
Then Melanie Tinkermel Schulz and Lindgren Schulz tell their stories. A producer couple who have met each other on a songwriting camp. Melanie comes across to me as a strong businesswoman who knows exactly what she wants. She interrupts the story of her partner so often that I realize that dominance must be a helping characteristic for a songwriter. I doubt that I have that characteristic, but I think that at least I should be very clear about what I actually want with my songwriting. That will help me.
The two are clearly born for producing. Lindgren says he got Cubase for his seventh birthday. Both create their music with the computer. From this moment on I know for sure that this is not my path. The market for producer music is great, but it is not mine. So I am a step closer to knowing what I want.
Lindgren is from Germany and moved to Los Angeles to make it over there. Also Pam (New Zealand) and Richard (UK) left their homes and families for their music. I see this as great sacrifices. I am happy that I live in the Netherlands: standing out in the Dutch music industry is a lot easier and perhaps a great first goal. Another step closer to knowing what I want.
Session 9: co-creation again
After lunch we will write together again, this time I am in a group with Jesaiah and Octavio. The basis of the song comes fast and easily to us and we also find the title quickly: Save Yourself. We are delighted. But the interpretation of this concept with exactly the right lyrics is a heavy burden. Especially with two non-native speakers in the group. We work on the song longer than we have time and eventually end up with an excellent first version of the song.
Session 10: performing and listening
The same recipe in the evening: performing together. Jesaiah throws everything in the fight as a singer and Octavio (guitar) and I (piano) support her musically as if we have been playing together for years. Our performance is well received. In particular the song Whispers takes my breath away: that such a song can be written in an afternoon! I stand in awe.
After the last words, I thank Pam and Richard for the great 3 days. I am so glad I came all the way to Palm Springs. A rich experience for ever.