Songwriting Camps: Expanding Creative Connections for Commercial Success

2012SongworksVancouver.WebBannerBy: Vincent Degiorgio

Writing camps have become an increasingly important forum for songwriters to collaborate. In Canada, Justin Gray’s Creative Collective, and SonyMusic Canada’s Idol camps were among the first, both receiving support from the Songwriters Association of Canada. President of Tanjola Entertainment, Daniel Mekinda, remembers how the initial idea to stage a camp for Canadian idol turned out to be a great platform for launching the inaugural winner, Ryan Malcom.

“The first Canadian Idol Writing Camp was an amazing success. Every song on the album came out of that camp. It was an amazing experience to get more than 20 amazing songwriters congregating in one place for a week,” recalled Mekinda, who ran the camp while working for Sony BMG. While large-scale camps such as the Idol nine room extravaganza were common in Scandinavia, it was something new in Canada.

D-Pop is one of Europe’s most successful camps hosted by TG Management in Aalborg, Denmark. Held at various venues just an hour by plane from Copenhagen, the company that gave the world global superstars like Aqua has camped it up for more than 10 years now.

“I believe in doing what you love, and we love doing D-Pop” says organizer and partner Lotte Aagard. “We’re excited to hear every new song that’s been written. I truly believe as long as you have heart and passion in it, it stays fresh. For that reason, so has D-Pop.”

Thomas Wallen, the A&R head for Malmo, Sweden’s hyperactive Roasting House Music Publishing which has landed the No. 1 single in Japan, offered some advice on how collaborations should be put together. Spearheading a crazy roster of writers that has already conquered the Japanese market, he noted that it’s much more than throwing a few people in a room and saying “write!”

“I’d say you have to find a way of being both safe and bold at the same time”, says Wallen. “If you’re just one or the other, it gets boring and you don’t get the big songs you’re looking for. People need to get along, but the best result sometimes comes from when writers get together with skeptical minds and get overwhelmed by the skills of others. That’s when the magic happens.”

For the past seven years, the SAC has held its own professional camp called Songworks which has evolved from simply a “writer in the round” into one of our premier networking events. Held four times annually, Songworks has been introduced in Toronto, Montreal, Halifax, Edmonton, and Vancouver to date.

Songworks is a professional invitation-only songwriting camp hosted by the Songwriters Association of Canada. The three-day intensive songwriting retreat is designed to offer writers the opportunity to collaborate on artist driven projects, allowing writers to develop long-term relationships with other songwriters and performing artists. S.A.C. members have the opportunity to submit for open chairs at a select number of SongWorks camps. Click Here for more information.

Vince DiGiorgio is an accomplished songwriter with sales that have exceeded 30 million units. He is currently President of Chapter 2 Productions. www.chapter2prod.com

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One Last Song – The last day of SongWorks Vancouver 2012 proves to be just as productive

SongWorks Vancouver 2012 Participants: (from top left) Mario Vaira, John Pippus, Jeff Dawson, Laurell Barker, Dave Gaudet, Kate Morgan , Kaylee Johnston, Rachel SuterOmar Khan
SongWorks Vancouver 2012 Participants: (from top left) Mario Vaira, John Pippus, Jeff Dawson, Laurell Barker, Dave Gaudet, Kate Morgan , Kaylee Johnston, Rachel Suter, Omar Khan

Songwriting camps are an opportunity to tune out the world and get intense about songwriting – often with a group of strangers.  John Pippus embarked on this journey courtesy of SongWorks, an S.A.C. sponsored professional songwriting camp that brings together 9 professional songwriters.  Thanks to John’s play-by-play reports, we’ve gotten a taste of the pace and intensity of these kinds of camps, that are often held around the world to create the best environment for some of the best songwriters to write their best songs.  Here is John’s recap of his third and final day at SongWorks Vancouver 2012.

In John’s Words…

9:30AM I arrive with a dozen bagels and cream cheese from Siegel’s Bakery. Best bagels you can get, this side of Montreal. It’s the third and final day of SAC’s three-day songwriter camp. I’m tired but looking forward to see if we can make musical magic one more time. I’m assigned to write with Kate Morgan and David Gaudet. Kate is a 19 year-old writer, with a talent that belies her age. She’s spending a lot of time in Los Angeles these days working with well-known producer Brian Howes. Dave, our producer du jour is a skilled writer, guitarist, and singer, and knows his way around the recording gear. While we wait to get started, Kate plays me a song on her iPhone by Bruno Mars. She would like to try writing something along similar lines. His name is only vaguely familiar to me, but I like what I hear. Acoustic R ‘n B is the vibe I get with some pop ear candy. Right up my alley. And Dave’s too, as it turns out.

10:00AM By now it’s a familiar routine. We play around with a few chord sequences and within a few tries, we come up with something that we all like. The chorded riff evoke a sad or wistful mood, and Kate suggests a theme of knowing when it’s time to let go. Nothing stays the same. Kate and Dave get on a roll, I feel more like a third wheel for much of the writing process today. I come up with a few lines here and there, but they seem to have a flow going between them. I mostly play the riff over and over while they tease out the words, first for the chorus and then the verses. That’s OK with me. The ego has to be kept in check, the song is king. In other sessions, I’ll contribute more than my share, so it all comes out even in the end.

11:00AM We settle on a tempo, record a simple piano motif, and build the song from the chorus out. Dave lays down the acoustic guitar part. The tune slowly grows and we all like the direction it’s going in. While Dave loops and layers the sounds, I fill out my song camp evaluation questionnaire. Full marks from this happy camper.

1:00PM Pizza for lunch. Everyone is either bleary-eyed or giddy from lack of sleep and three days of intense creative work. We pose for a group picture. By now, we know the broad strokes of each others’ personalities and quirks. There is a lot of laughing and goofing around.

3:00PM Kate records her vocals. She has a warm, engaging voice. Dave adds some low harmonies. Then it’s time to build up the tracks with keyboards, drum sounds, hand claps, and a backwards guitar whoosh to kick off the first verse.

5:00PM Kate has to leave early, so Dave and I spend the last hour or so fine tuning what we have. The song is called “Ashes and Dust”. Vince comes in and has a listen and declares it ‘”great”. Music to my ears.

6:45PM SongWorks IV is over. It’s been a genuine thrill and an honour to be here with all these talented people. I’m exhausted but feeling satisfied. I’ve helped give birth to three songs, all solid, all in different genres, over three long days. Not only did we collaboratively write them from start to finish but we recorded them too. Each demo still has a few things that need doing – a guitar solo here, additional harmonies there, some extra whooshes and swirls to lift a chorus or make a breakdown more interesting. But they are, basically, done. And like any good song, they don’t need the extra bits to make them complete, it’s just nice to have. It’s exciting to know we’ve got songs that are going to see some serious pitch time!