Features August 15, 2018

9 things we learned at APRA AMCOS NZ’s SongHubs Sphere

9 things we learned at APRA AMCOS NZ’s SongHubs Sphere

Last week, APRA AMCOS NZ hosted a collaborative songwriting, production, and engineering program, which ran for six days at Roundhead Studio in Auckland.

The guests this time were all women, in celebration of Suffrage 125 (125 years since women received the right to vote in New Zealand).

The wonderful international guests were Susan Rogers (Prince’s audio engineer), Ebonie Smith (founder of Gender Amplified, and Grammy-winning producer based in New York), Laura Bettinson (producer/co-writer/artist based in London with a fascinating CV), and Wendy Wang (LA producer, co-writer, and multi-instrumentalist who works for Greg Kurstin’s No Expectations Publishing).

The program was curated by New Zealand artist/co-writer Chelsea JadeYou can read more about them and the SongHubs Sphere program HERE


1. Don’t hoard ideas, and don’t force a co-writing session if it’s not working

As Chelsea Jade explained about her recent experiences as a top-liner and co-writer:

“Something I learned when I moved to Los Angeles is that you can’t hoard ideas. You have to let them out and they will make way for more, and trust that.

“And you have to accept when they get rejected too… I’ve also only just learned that I can walk out of rooms if I don’t like them, instead of sitting around with my insides rotting, waiting. Co-writing can be a bit like blind date speed dating, where you’re matched by A&R people, and it’s not always romantic.”


2. The art of producing or co-writing takes a very particular skill set. It’s a psychological art, learning how to facilitate someone else’s vision.

Wendy Wang told us “Everyone has different communication styles – some people are steamrollers, others are more like deer caught in headlights, so you have to work that out and adapt to them.”


3. There’s no ideal set up or scenario for writing a song – the number of people in the room, how it starts, it’s all flexible.

However, Wendy and Laura both agreed that clearly defined roles are helpful – it’s good to know when you’re working with others who are taking on the role of producer, and who’s a session musician, and who is writing.

Then, everyone knows what they’re there to do.

BUT, contributing is definitely encouraged – if you have an idea, feel out the producer or the writer and make creative suggestions when you have them.


4. Storytelling is a powerful tool for change.

As local guest writer Coco Solid explained: “In all the work I do, the conversation and narrative and unfurling of things unseen, I like to bring that into the light.

“We have other people’s stories superimposed over our own all the time, and it’s important to let all the stories have a place alongside each other. That’s our job as artists, to uncover the untold parts of the story. And any privilege or attention or spotlight that I receive, I want to use it to support those less visible.

“Share your power and your resources, and make it a community affair. It’s easy for creative pursuits to be very individual, but make them communal. Pass the mic along.”


5. One day is a good amount of time to dedicate to writing a song.

All the guests agreed you want to make sure you give yourself a whole day without any distractions, but if the writing element is not finished or almost finished in a day, then don’t keep forcing it. 


6. Despite what the statistics say, female producers are invisibly everywhere.

Ebonie Smith explained that there are many females out there with great production skills, they’re just not always visible.

“We’re often producing, even when we don’t know we are. And women aren’t always credited properly for their work. Male producers who work with big artists, say Drake and Future, they’re given a shout out in their songs. But that doesn’t happen very much with female artists who are working with female producers.

“So it’s important for female artists to shout out the women that they work with.”


7. The role of motherhood is still a very prominent and real challenge in the industry.

It’s a complicated, potentially difficult issue to contemplate as an industry because balancing your creativity with the demands of motherhood is never going to be straightforward.

But, as Ebonie said: “We have to start envisioning the support system that we need in order to get it done, whatever that might be for you. And we have to admit that we need help.”


8. The fierce independence, strong artistic identity, and lack of cynicism in NZ songwriters is just as valuable as experience in big international songwriting hubs overseas.

While Chelsea Jade has made her home in Los Angeles now, and has absolutely found the experience of working in a big international music city to be valuable, she also believes that part of what makes NZ songwriters great is their distance from that world – and the rest of the visiting guests agreed.


9. Susan Rogers is a boss.

You know you’re in the presence of greatness when a lot of other exceptional and experienced artists are furiously taking notes.  

Susan told many wonderful stories about working with Prince, and shared insightful anecdotes about who he really was – the fun, free-spirited, demanding, workaholic genius. You can watch the video of her talk when it arrives on APRA AMCOS NZ’s Youtube channel next week.

But she also shared some great nuggets of wisdom about the process of songwriting, and the psychology behind it:

“When you’re in the studio it doesn’t matter whose hand touches it and brings it up, it doesn’t matter who is responsible for digging it up, you all have to dig around and see what you can find that might be great to bring to the song or the record.

“There is a psychological boundary between good and bad sound. To be a great producer you need to hone your understanding of why sounds fall on either side.

“What we hope for [as engineers and producers] is to be involved in something that’s bigger than us in our lifetime, something that will last longer than we do.”

She also recommended two books to check out if you’re interested in the psychology of music:

  • Daniel LevetinThis Is Your Brain on Music
  • David HuronSweet Anticipation

Lydia Jenkin is the New Zealand events & communications manager for APRA AMCOS NZ. She has also been a music journalist for the last decade across various print and digital publications, including the New Zealand Herald.

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