Personal Reflection from Colin Sher who was at the BMI Songwriters Camp 2017

Cape Town producer, DJ and owner of Cosher recording studios, Colin Sher (Cosher) was invited to be a producing songwriter at this year’s BMI songwriting camp in partnership with Music Exchange (MEX).
BMI (similar to SAMRO in South Africa) is the largest music rights organization in the U.S. and bridges the gap between songwriters and the businesses and organizations that want to play their music publicly. BMI represents nearly 13 million musical works created and owned by more than 800,000 songwriters, composers and music publishers.

Since 2016, the Music Exchange Entertainment Indaba (MEX17), has partnered with BMI and attracted various writing creatives for a five-day emersion and creative boot camp.

The camp was hosted in Camps Bay at the South Beach Luxury Hotel.

There were 7 songwriters who were invited from around the globe who stayed at the hotel while a further 4 other songwriters joined for 2 day stints.

The 7 songwriters including Colin Sher, were:

– Amanda Black from South Africa (3 times SAMA winner)

– Christian Wright from the U.K. (Abbey Road engineer)

– Jan Klose from USA (Grammy nominated singer songwriter)

– Alicia Madison from USA (Top EDM singer songwriter)

– Tony Grund from USA (Producer / DJ and lecturer at SAE in New York)

– Marcela Arciniegas from Columbia (Producer with many U.K. top charting tracks)

After being treated to an amazing welcoming event with more than enough food and drinks, the songwriting week began with breakfast and the day’s briefs.

Each day the process would be similar to this; John Fishlock, a music publisher who was one of the main organizers, was in charge of the briefs which were given to everyone each morning in order to inspire the songs for the day. The briefs were supposed to budge the groups into writing songs in a certain direction, but they were allowed to do their own thing if otherwise inspired. The briefs ranged each day and always targeted certain singers who needed songs for upcoming projects such as Idols participants, the Voice winners, established local artists and international artists looking for new songs. The briefs would contain examples of their past work and links to reference songs that were along the same direction they were looking for.

Once the briefs had been read, all writers were put into groups of 3, with one producer per group. They would then head off to their respective producers’ room which would be their studio for the day.

The songwriting process was different each day according to the briefs and to the different dynamics with the groups. The goal for each day was to produce one song ,or at least, one song idea. Of course this couldn’t be forced but it was a good target.

For most of the writing days, the sessions started out with chords and melodies after landing on an agreed brief. Depending on which writer was involved, and what their strengths were, the song either started out on guitar or piano.

Each day and each song brought along different challenges that were equally met by the songwriters.

The first writing session of the week was the birth of a pop, ‘happy in love’ song with South African elements.

The idea was to incorporate a chance for the vocalist to show off her pipes and have a bit of a fun feel. The starting point of the song were the chords that ended up being the verse chords, very classy feeling chords. The chords and song structure was spearheaded by Jann, while lyrics flowed out of Amanda. The production changed shape a few times between double time fast pop, verses the half time Hip Hop feel. However middle ground was found between the music production and percussion. The songwriting process developed through the song from verse to chorus to bridge and before they knew it, they were adding final touches. The song was called ‘He knows’ (for now).

Day 2 of the writing camp was an opportunity for new groups to formulate 2 new songs!

Colin, Christian and Nyote started with the first song, a future pop track with lyrics inspired by the view from their room. The inspiration took them to a concept of being stranded, or on your own, in the ocean, but being able to have a clear mind in this desperate moment where you finally find yourself and find your “release”.

The instrumental track had a few sections where rapping could take place, so one of the big talking points was where and how to introduce the rap. At first, the rap was placed in the first verse but then towards the end of the session it was moved to the second verse where the contrast had a bigger impact. Although spearheaded by Christian, the writing responsibilities were shared with good contributions coming from all parties.

For the second track, a light hearted pop/reggae feel came into play and the inspiration came from a vocal melody that Christian came up with. It was the starting point they needed, and headed in the direction of a love song. The idea was a metaphor of an addiction relating to the feeling of being with someone that you can’t be without as the melodies leaned towards targeting the South American market. One thing that took a lot of trial and error was how to use the hook line “under the influence”. The Melody was easy to find but placing it rhythmically was the challenge.
The longer than usual bridge section offered an opportunity for a chord change, and many different catchy vocal ideas. They managed to fit most of these ideas in and the only challenge was linking it back into the final chorus which got resolved in the last line leading into the chorus. The song was called ‘Under the influence’.

Wednesday was a deserved day off, where all participants were taken to Robben Island and the Waterfront for a day of history, culture and inspiration.

Thursday was back to work and after being inspired by a reference track that was played by EDM pop singer Alicia. Colin, Ebrahim and Alicia decided to tackle this tropical pop genre.

After spending a long time trying the best chords, they landed on a key and chord progression that worked. While Alicia started working on lyrics, Colin and Ebrahim started work shopping production ideas. Chords, sounds and musical rhythms were put in place and a basic structure was laid out. The lyrical concept was along the lines of a person in a hurtful relationship and the imminent decision that would have to be made in order for that person to be happy in the future. Because of the nature of the genre, there was a high priority on coming up with catchy and memorable vocal melodies which they struggled with at first, but after playing around with a few ideas they landed on what they felt worked best.

Different stages of production were worked on throughout the day while lyrics and melodys were finalized. Two of the most challenging areas in the production was the bass line and the percussion for the drop. Once they were happy with all of these aspects of the song, they went ahead with full vocal takes. The last thing that was added was the sing-a-long chorus chant which was a great finishing touch.

At the end of a great day everyone was very happy with the finished demo song – ‘Carry on’.

Friday was the last day of this incredible camp.

Colin worked with Christian Wright again and they were joined by local singer songwriter Wandile. The first song that was tackled was called ‘I try’ and was a mid tempo ballad aimed at the John legend type market as it was written for Craig Lucas, the winner of the Voice. The song has a clear mood and beautiful melody which all comes together to create one big build up and then has subsequent anti-climatic drop, which goes hand in hand with the song lyrics. The cinematic percussion added to the dramatic feel and the demo vocals were expertly sung by Wandile.

The second song that day was a Afro-house infused song with fun lyrical content calling out ‘enemies’ to come for a drink and celebrate the success of the person they were calling out in the past. The key to this song, besides the lyrics, was the guitar lick that needed to create the mood the writers were going for and after many attempts and discussions, the correct melody was found.

At the end of the week all songs were presented at a listening session hosted by The Academy of Sound Engineering and was attended by various press and other industry professionals.

Amongst the audience was Carli Myers who had attended the writing camp the previous year and had massive success with her chart topping single ‘Crazy’ which was produced and written by Ameen Haron. All producers came up to showcase their songs and each international producer had 4 songs to play respectively while Colin had 6.

Saturday was the Music Exchange event (MEX) where everyone was invited to speak on a topic of their choosing. This was well attended by variety of people and was a great opportunity for networking in the music industry. After the event, there was one final celebration as all participants were invited to the rooftop deck at Cosher Recording Studios in Cape Town to celebrate what had been a fantastic week of songwriting.

A big thanks to Brandon Bakshi from BMI who funded this week, John Fishlock for his incredible involvement, Martin Myers for his vision and organization and drive that made all this happen

Derek Geddes who handled all day to day logistics, South Beach hotel for hosting the songwriters, Mynt and( Bevan Trevor ) restaurant for feeding everyone so well, and all the song writers who participated and made the week so memorable and enjoyable.

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