Professional Music Brief 1: Variety Is That Songwriting Spice
Updated: Apr 8, 2020
Professional Music Brief 1 has been an interesting module, providing us with briefs to work to - with a surprising amount founded in community/social arts. As such, whilst my focus is based in songwriting, I also created a few business and workshop plans throughout the module – one of which I have included in this portfolio. To keep things brief, I will be focusing on two contrasting pieces which I believe provide the greatest variety of work – as one focuses on commercial songwriting, and one on community arts and youth work. I am doing this because I have found that 1000 words is not enough to even graze the surface of this module, so for more information please go to the portfolio section of my website, where more in depth breakdowns of each brief can be found.
Piece of Me – 48hr Turnaround Brief for K-Pop Girl Group
I began this module with the ability to work to songwriting briefs in intensive and time sensitive settings – thanks to songwriting workshops throughout both the Masters and the undergrad. I am a huge advocate of writing to deadline, both because it is “is a vital part of moving from amateur to professional” (Ewer, 2015) and because it is a proven motivator that helps overcome creative block (Scott, 2017). Approaching a brief like this – as it had a 48-hour turnaround – provided me with a challenge in the form of genre (as I rarely write pop never mind something you can dance to) but familiarity and motivation in the time constraint.
However, working to a songwriting deadline that also required a level of recording was an obstacle I had not accounted for. My biggest regret from this module is not taking the time to learn more production elements. Whilst it is not my intended area of focus, every song in my portfolio could have been greatly improved by even the most basic knowledge of mixing. This gap in skill-set was most apparent during writing this response. Whilst the brief itself did not require lyrics, it did require melody – and although I could have potentially sent it away with a synthetic voice (had the brief still been live), it would definitely appear more professional and play to my favour had I had a decent standard of vocals in the mix. As I decided to continue the song with English lyrics to challenge myself (as pop vocals are also something I do not have a pre-existing skill-set in), the vocals I have settled with are acceptable enough for a demo – however, considering the time it took to get them to that level, I cannot help but be frustrated at how they sound. I have no aspirations of this becoming a focus of mine, but I would likely to be able to produce demos I actually like the sound of and can share with producers and other collaborators. BMI released an article listing the requirements needed to be a successful songwriter, and stated that the ability to communicate how you want a song to sound to collaborators is one of the most important aspects to creating a hit (Blume, 2018). This has been a practice I have always used, yet I have found it immensely difficult at times to convey what I want through dialogue alone. Being able to produce a strong demo to use as a basis for collaborators (and indeed my live band) would make this process much, much easier. Furthermore, it would allow me to be self-reliant during these very rapid briefs when there is no time to collaborate on the fly.
In contrast, this brief also provided my biggest success: writing two raps! (Although whether I succeeded in performing them is up for debate.) As a self-professed arrhythmic, I was frankly ridiculously determined to prove to myself I could do this – despite the brief not requiring it. It was a strange process, as nothing came naturally so I resorted to tapping out a flow on a woodblock and adding lyrics over this to fit. The entire process of writing lyrics for this song was unnatural to be honest, and possibly the first time I have ever felt inauthentic in writing a song! Still, it is useful to know that I can in fact write in this genre if required to, even if it does feel like more of a stretch from my natural abilities.
Multimedia Youth – Workshops for Young People in Linwood and Johnstone
The Linstone brief has been from the very offset the most I have engaged with a class in PMB1. As an initiative that works with underprivileged young people, it harks back to a lot of work I did as a volunteer throughout my teenage years and then professionally in my early twenties. As I founded and directed Song Factory – a series of workshops for young people in Dumfries & Galloway designed “provide young musicians the opportunity to write, record, and release their own tracks” (Adair, 2017) – during my time working for Blueprint100, I wanted to challenge myself further with this brief and approach it from an even more multimedia standpoint, as it is an approach I actively try to encourage wherever possible due to the future of music becoming increasingly cross-pollinated with other arts industries (North, 2014). For this reason, I decided to pitch the idea of having the young people create and produce both their own music and also their own music videos, using and reinventing spaces in their communities. Speaking with Laurie Duffy – one of the key people behind Linstone – cemented this idea in mind, as we agreed it was something they couple potentially do using their smartphones, which would in turn mean they could continue to use these skills and be creative after the series of workshops had ended. This is vital, as both arts and education are rife with the “sedimented privilege [against] and alienation [of]” (Addison, Burgess, Steers, and Trowell, 2010) disadvantaged young people – so whatever we go into Linwood to do must be accessible to all.
It was interesting returning to work similar to what I have done before but with a more underprivileged target group, as the amount that has to change is surprising. Indeed, “more facilities for the kids and teenagers” was a primary concern found by the Linwood Community Development Trust (2012). In doing more research to compile a workshop plan (instead of simply the pitch made in class), I was once again reminded of how important this type of work truly is, and as such I really enjoyed creating a plan for something that could potentially do a lot of good.
I approached this portfolio with the want to experiment and push myself out of any existing writing habits – which I think can be exemplified by the fact I only wrote one song on ukulele. I chose briefs that I was not fully comfortable or indeed knowledgeable in, so I am not entirely sure how to evaluate the quality of what I have created. However, I am incredibly thankful I ultimately did take this approach, instead of doing what felt natural, as I feel I have learned far more this way that I would have otherwise.
Even if, at the end of the day (and much to my chagrin), I still can’t really rap – at least I tried!
Adair, A. (2017) Song Factory. The Stove Network. [Online] 14 August. Available: https://thestove.org/song-factory/ [Accessed 29 November 2019].
Addison, N., Burgess, L., Steers, J. and Trowell, J., 2010. Understanding art education: Engaging reflexively with practice. London: Routledge.
Blume, J. (2018) What Skills Do You Need To Be A Successful Songwriter? BMI. [Online] 28 November. Available: https://www.bmi.com/news/entry/what-skills-do-you-need-to-be-a-successful-songwriter [Accessed 28 November 2019].
Ewer, G. (2015) Why Songwriting Deadlines Work, and Why They’re A Crucial Part of Getting Better. Secrets of Songwriting. [Online] 14 May. Available: https://www.secretsofsongwriting.com/2015/05/14/why-songwriting-deadlines-work-and-why-theyre-a-crucial-part-of-getting-better/ [Accessed 27 November 2019].
Linwood Community Development Trust (2012) Linwood Community Action Plan. [Online] Available: https://www.linwoodtrust.org.uk/files/action-plan.pdf [Accessed 17 October 2019].
North, A. (2014) Music is becoming a multimedia experience. Sounds Interesting: Music, the mind and modern life. [Online] 18 July. Available: https://theconversation.com/music-is-becoming-a-multimedia-experience-29402 [Accessed 27 November 2019].
Scott, J. (2017). Defeating the muse: Advanced songwriting pedagogy and creative block. The Routledge Research Companion to Popular Music Education, pp. 190-202.