27 January 2016

Chapter 18 – Songwriting sessions: The good, the bad, and the ugly

So Windswept had just offered me a generous publishing deal which I accepted, and while my lawyer and I continued to thrash through the various contracts, Windswept got straight to work and began setting me up with other writers. The first of which was with the hugely talented, and well-respected singer-songwriter and record producer; Boo Hewerdine. Boo collaborated for several years with Eddi Reader, as producer, songwriter and guitarist in her band. His song “Patience of Angels” (which was originally written for his band The Bible) went on to be a Top 40 hit for Eddi. As well as producing several solo albums, he also produced records for the The Corrs, Heidi Talbot, Laurie Freelove, and has written songs for many artists and films. Boo was such sweet man, and so very easy to work with. We wrote two great songs together that day, one of which Muff absolutely loved, called ‘Blown Away.’

Before songwriting sessions like these, I’d often find out about the writer, about what they’ve done, who they’ve worked with etc which often resulted in me arriving at the session feeling (in the words of Bill and Ted) totally unworthy, and in absolute awe. Thankfully those feelings would usually last all of 10 minutes because it turns out they were all just really nice, normal people (who’d have thought it?!)

My next session took me down to the beautiful Lewes (not far from Brighton) where I spent a few days writing with the Swedish record producer and songwriter Tore Johansson. Tore had gained much recognition due to his production work with The Cardigans (5 albums in total) and with Franz Ferdinand. But he had also collaborated with the likes of Aha, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Suede, Tom Jones and Martha Wainwright to name just a few. I really enjoyed working with Tore Johansson. I thought him quite serious to begin with, but like most sessions, you simply need a little time to get to know each other before you get stuck in … you can’t just roll in, crack open a beer and let one go, it’s a dance of sorts! We wrote and recorded 3 songs in two days, one of which I went onto record a couple of years later called “The strange of the day.”

I only ever had two sessions that went belly up (badly). One was with a very well known successful writer – who on arrival I found to be really quite cold and distant. We attempted to get to know each other and write a song but we just couldn’t! Nothing came. It’s the only time that I’ve ever walked away from the session with diddly-squat. We even called it a day half way through the session – which has never happened before or since. For whatever reason, we just didn’t click. Later I discovered the reason for the possible lack of warmth was actually due to a severe lack of communication. Said writer was told our session was going to start around 10am, but I was told 1pm … so when I swanned in without so much of an apology 3 hours late, he must of though I was a real diva-esque knob. I meanwhile just thought he was a bit of a miserable old sod, so we trundled through the session both unaware of the mix-up, waiting for it to end … not a great way to start a session to be fair and with vibes like that it was never going to result in smash hit, lets be honest.

My only other failure of a session was with a writer who shall remain nameless (primarily because I can’t remember his name) so for now let’s call him writer X. I turned up to the session and writer X asked if I had any ideas with me. I said I did, but it was a fully formed song – I had written all of the words and music, except for two lines of lyrics in the middle 8 (see notes below for description of what a ‘middle 8’ is). Writer X was keen to move forward with it so we recorded the song, and he helped me write the two lines of lyrics in the middle 8. We had a great day, got on well, recorded the song, and at the end of the day came a rather awkward conversion about song splits … writer X wanted to split the song 50/50. While I was relatively new to this game, I didn’t feel that was quite fair.

Discussing song splits can be awkward for songwriters … rather like the moment you ask your new boyfriend / girlfriend if they’ve got any STD’s or skeletons in their closet you should know about – it can completely wreck the mood but it’s a conversation you need to have in order to forward. Songwriters get paid in royalties each time a song is played, so if two writers split a song 50/50, you’re basically splitting the income of the song down the middle (after everyone else has taken their piece of the pie of course). But lots of musician just aren’t business types (that’s why they became musicians!) and as we known, the British often loathe awkwardness and confrontation, so much so that when eating a steaming pile of dung in a restaurant many of us will happily lick the plate clean and report to the waiter that “oh yes it was delicious thank you!” So discussing song splits? not a favourite part of a songwriting session.

However, if you start a songwriting session fresh with nothing and you create something together, that’s nice and easy because regardless of who wrote what bit, you will often split it straight down the middle 50/50 and no such conversion need even happen. This is how a lot of writers work, and it makes the whole process clean and easy. If one contributes a significant amount more than the other, you can often work it out amicable in a quick conversion, especially if your co-writer is a fair and decent human being … you might split it 60/40 or 80/20. But for some, what should be a simple conversation can easily result in band splits, lawsuits, bad vibes and disaster – in it’s infancy who knows what could become of your song, and in many cases nothing actually will, but when a lot of ‘potential’ money is at stake, especially when it’s for a signed artists, or a well-known artist, it can get dirty. Where good decent folk are concerned, it rarely reaches such inhospitable greed-ridden territory. As for the situation I was in, I really didn’t like causing tension with writer X, but I also wanted to be treated fairly so I agreed to a 70/30 split. He eventually agreed but the experience had left a bad taste in my mouth, we didn’t work together again, and I never even used the song. Fortunately for me, he was the only writer I ever had a slightly confrontational experience with, and hopefully he will be the last.Meanwhile the contracts were close to being finalised, which meant I could at last move forward. Life was about change quite drastically for Andy and I …

*  A middle 8 is so called because it is a section in a song that tends to happen towards the middle of the song, and tends to be eight bars in length. The purpose of this section is to break up the simple repetition of a verse/chorus/verse/chorus structure by introducing new elements into the song.