Q&A: Specific Music’s Robert Conley on Australia’s largest songwriting event
Image: Specific Music’s Robert and Leonie Conley
Born out of a conversation at a Bali Songwriting Camp in 2010,annual songwriting event 50 Songs in 5 Days is heading into its fifth year. Originally founded by Leonie and Robert Conley of Specific Music, the event is the latest addition to SongHubs, an APRA AMCOS initiative supported by the Federal Government that encourages the growth and development of emerging and established Australian songwriters.
Gathering upwards of 75 artists, producers and songwriters and locking them away in Sydney’s 301 Studios for five days, 50 Songs in 5 Days aims to achieve exactly what the name suggests – an overflow of fresh songs written and produced out of an eclectic hotbed of local and international artists.
The event has produced commercially successful singles in the past from Guy Sebastian (Set In Stone, Candle), Tkay Maidza (Carry On), SAFIA (Over You) and Client Liaison (Off White Limousine).
This year’s 50 Songs in 5 Days will partner new artists Kota Banks, Evan Klar, Polar Heart, Thief, Mike Waters, Elaska, Mane, Woodes, Matt and Jess, Nat Conway, and producers LK (Tkay Maidza), Benjamin McCarthy (Gordi, Alex The Astronaut), One Above (Illy) with a bunch of established songwriters including Urthboy, Montaigne, Tom Busby, Johnny Castro (Parachute Youth / Yeah Boy), KLP, Ilan Kidron (Potbelleez), Rai Thistlwethwayte and more.
International songwriters and producers J Hart (US – Usher, Justin Bieber, Fifth Harmony, Keith Urban), Ryan Keen (UK), Dr R. (Japan), Ryan Yates (USA) and P Money (NZ) will also contribute to the collaborative process that is set to begin on December 12.
TMN chats to Robert Conley about the upcoming 50 Songs in 5 Days event, how Specific Music sets itself apart from the pack and why a good song requires a great team to prosper.
As individuals, a couple and as Specific Music, you have very established brands in the Australian music industry. How did it all begin for each of you?
Leo started in the music business over 20 years ago working at Chrysalis Publishing and EMI Records in London. She then worked with Nick Halkes (XL Recordings founder) when he launched the Positiva dance label in 1993. When she returned to Australia in 1996 she began working at Roadshow Music where she was the National Publicity & Promotions manager for the (then unknown) pop duo, Savage Garden. Leonie went on to work directly with the band, relocating to the States and travelling the world throughout their massive global success, before going on to co-manage lead singer, Darren Hayes, through his first couple of solo albums.
I started off as a Programmer / Engineer working for heavyweight Grammy Award winning Producer, Walter Afanasieff, based in his studio compound in San Francisco. Working alongside Walter, I had the opportunity to work with Beyoncé, Ricky Martin, Celine Dion, Justin Timberlake, Robin Thicke, Destiny’s Child, Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Lopez and many others. Walter was also hired to co-write and produce Darren Hayes first solo album ‘Spin’ which is where, at the studio in 1999, I met Leo.
Together we toured the world with Darren Hayes and I took over the reins of co-writer / producer / protools engineer and Leonie was the manager. We moved to Australia, from theUSA, in 2007 and starting over from scratch, we slowly began to build our brand, trying our best to stay afloat in a very difficult industry.
Predominantly a publishing company, Specific Music has a string of success stories forged from the dedication and passion you both have for artists and the industry. What sets Specific Music apart from the rest?
One of the key differences that sets Specific Music apart is our dedication to the ‘development process’. We have built an infrastructure around our songwriters that is not only very nurturing, but we also have the facilities to help them realise their goals and dreams. We have two small recording studios in a beautiful warehouse space in Redfern and ‘The Brilliant Building’, which contains a live performance space (with a beautiful sounding PA, piano, bar and great acoustics), a TV / Photography studio, equipped with green screens, curved walls, and lighting equipment (perfect for creating creative content), a recording studio, and an apartment.
We spend A LOT of time and energy working with our writers, setting up sessions with the best producers and collaborators that we can get our hands on, which let’s face it, are most of Australia’s best and brightest thanks to our flagship song-writing camp ‘50 Songs in 5 Days’. With ‘50 Songs’, Specific Music has forged relationships with many of Australia’s top artists, writers, producers, managers, record labels and publishing companies which has helped to give our writers a fighting chance for a wide range of incredible opportunities.
We also focus on mentoring our writers to be completely ‘well rounded’, working with them on their song-writing technique, live performances, content creation, and helping them find great management and, at times, the right record label.
Tell us a little bit about 50 Songs in 5 Days and its difference from other writing camps in Australia?
One thing that sets ‘50 Songs in 5 Days’ apart from other song-writing camps is its size. It is MASSIVE.. we like to call it ‘Australia’s largest annual song-writing event’. There is usually anywhere between 75 and 100 artists, writers and producers spread across up to 20 recording studios, with our home base for the last 5 years being Studios 301 in Alexandria. The participants write songs for 5 days straight (which in reality gets us closer to 100 songs in 5 days.. but who’s counting?) We host 3 huge parties, one that invites a very large cross section of the music industry, including managers, labels, and publishers. We also put a lot of effort into curating each and every session, thinking about the Artist that is in that session, and then teaming them up with, who, we feel, are the perfect collaborators. We also focus on seeking out Australia’s newest, freshest up and coming talent, scouting out triple j Unearthed, listening to suggestions from the publishers and labels, and reaching out to the artists that we feel have the greatest potential. We then team them up with more established writers and producers, which has proven to be a recipe for successful collaborations both at the camp and lasting into the future. We actually care about building lasting relationships and friendships.. the musical outcomes are awesome, but what we love most is helping to build the community spirit.
Leveraging your wealth of experience and knowledge, what are your words of advice for emerging artists navigating the Australian industry?
The best advice is to focus on two things. The SONG and the TEAM. At the end of the day, every single artist on the planet is determined by their songs. You need to know how to write a great song, that can connect, that can spread like fire and reach as many people as possible. Every artist is ONE SONG AWAY from being a global success. You can never put too much focus or energy on making sure that you have the right song. The song is EVERYTHING … and once you have the song, you need the TEAM. You need to surround yourself with people that you trust, who will push you, and be honest with you, and tell you when you need to pull your head in and stop acting like you are suddenly Beyoncé. You need people around you that understand the music industry, and have the experience and the relationships that you will need to begin navigating, once you have your song.
It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that one other thing that is really important as an emerging artist is great social media skills. The labels are looking at them, and making decisions, sometimes based on your social media numbers. Building strong socials is both an art and a science that you can’t afford to ignore.
What does keeping the songs mean for the artists involved in the camp?
Hopefully it means they have walked away with a hit! All of the sessions are four way co-writes, which means the artist owns 25% of the Publishing. Other than that, there are no other obstacles or hurdles. The songs are co-written by the Artist, for the Artist and everyone working on the song is hoping that the Artist keeps and uses that song.
What prompted the decision to partner with SongHubs?
APRA AMCOS has been involved with ‘50 Songs in 5 Days’ since its inception, and has always sponsored the event. We are very happy that they decided this year to partner with us under the banner of SongHubs, which is their flagship song-writing program. They are the perfect fit for our camp. We have a great relationship with APRA AMCOS and work very closely with them over a number of initiatives, as I am also an APRA Ambassador and the current MD for the APRA Awards. We work particularly closely with Milly Petriella, who is a force to be reckoned with and a huge asset to the Australian music industry.
Are there any cross overs between the 50 Songs project and the way you run Specific?
Specific Music utilizes ’50 Songs In 5 Days’ to find new talent to either sign to our publishing company or to introduce to one of the majors. We are always looking for synergies and a lot of the artists that we have met through ’50 Songs In 5 Days’ have either performed at one of our ‘Brilliant Secret’ nights, or they shot videos / photoshoots in our studio. We are all about the synergy!