Before I kick off this entry, a quick plug: if you’re going to Brighton’s Great Escape 2012 as a delegate, I’m pleased to say I’ll be a panellist again this year; contributing to the Focus On DIY panel. It’s on Thurs 10 May at 11.15am. Come down and say hello.
Two contrasting descriptions of songwriting / recording processes are doing the rounds this week (in very different musical circles), so I thought I’d post them both:
First, the New Yorker has John Seabrook’s fascinating profile of top-line hit songwriter Ester Dean, as she works with production duo Stargate to put together smash hits for pop superstars. Dean wrote Rude Girl and S&M for Rihanna and Turn Me On for David Guetta, so you can get a feel of her style; filth. Funnily enough, I’ve long thought of my friend Tim Victor (who wrote Ass To Ass and Juicing Down for Skins) as an undiscovered UK Ester Dean. Anyway, the piece really prises open the top-line process (adding melody and lyric to a beats track in the studio, sorting the arrangement at the same time), if you aren’t already aware of it. For example there’s a great story about how both Beyonce and Kelly Clarkson got the same basic track written by Ryan Tedder and each one added top line melodies/lyrics, resulting in Halo and Already Gone. Clarkson realised the error when she heard Beyonce’s Halo and tried to pull her own single, thinking people would accuse her of copying. Luckily fans didn’t notice, or didn’t care – well worth a back-to-back of those two tracks:
(clearly, one’s ‘just’ a hit, the other’s a smash…)
Some comments found the New Yorker piece disheartening, because it shows vividly how ‘box ticking’ (and carefully constructed) this kind of songwriting is, prioritising craft and arrangement over art. But I found it reassuring: you still can’t write a smash ‘to order’. You know instantly, as a feeling rather than a thought process, when you have one. And I especially liked how fragile these guys’ world is; that they end the piece nervous about Adele’s global success, fearful that it may usher in a whole new style to replace their multi-hooked R&B sex pop.
And funnily enough, on the latest episode of US musical series Smash (*spoiler alert!*), the Broadway director (Jack Davenport) proposes adding some of this Rihanna-ish songwriting style into the show’s Marilyn musical. It’s a disaster. Coincidentally Ryan Tedder plays himself in this episode (and I bet he wrote the song they use).
Secondly, Ron Aniello, producer of Springsteen’s new LP Wrecking Ball, did a US radio interview that unpicks the fresh production and cunning new sonic ideas that he brought to the project:
One gem from this interview is that Aniello added Clarence Clemons’ (final) sax solo to Land Of Hope And Dreams without actually telling Bruce, by transposing and subtly editing the solo from a previous recorded version. They reached the mixdown before Springsteen heard it. Must’ve been an intense moment.
He also addresses the key torture of being a Springsteen producer: working hard on a record, being very proud of it, then having to witness the E Street Band knock the songs into a different dimension live.
I’m very proud to say I have an essay in the first New Public Thinkers book, available now. Edited by Dougald Hine and Keith Kahn-Harris, the book is called Despatches From The Invisible Revolution and includes some breathtaking writing from the likes of Pat Kane, Keri Facer, Noah Raford, Vinay Gupta, Smári McCarthy and many others.
We were asked to write about 2011 as a fulcrum year. My contribution The Year Punk Broke seeks a connection between last year’s accelerated global changes and our personal ability to grow and change.