Unpublished songwriters and producers will have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend one of five inaugural Song Discovery Camps presented by Good Vibes Music Group, a joint venture between 11x Grammy winner Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds and Jason Murray of Black Box Music. Spotify will be hosting these camps at the Spotify Secret Genius Studios in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Nashville, and London. The goal of these camps is to identify and mentor the hit songwriters and producers of tomorrow, and to present them with an opportunity to become part of the Good Vibes Music Group team. Thirty-two participants (four songwriters and four producers for each city) will work side by side with Babyface and his team of guest mentors for five action-packed days, writing and producing songs in the recording studio. The submission deadline for the first camp is coming up soon, so visit GoodVibesMusicGroup.com for sign up details.
We recently caught up with Edmonds and Murray to talk about the camps and to share some of their priceless insights about songwriting, producing, and the music business (Jason Murray’s interview follows Babyface’s).
[GTR] You’ve accomplished a lot over the course of your career. What was the impetus for doing the Discovery Song Camp now?
[Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds] A lot of things have been going on over the past few years. I’ve been doing a lot of writing and co-writing with producers, and some younger producers, which has been a lot of fun. Previously, I would just write by myself, or maybe pull in a couple of guys that I knew to write with me. But lately I’ve been going out and working with younger writers and seeing the way that they write and how they think. I’m always honored that they see me as a writer and look to me for advice on song structure, songwriting in general, and on how I wrote in the past and how I’ve done it throughout my career.
The idea of starting to do songwriting camps, especially working with Spotify and Secret Genius, it became really exciting to me. I went to one of the Secret Genius writing camps with other known writers, and the process was so much fun. I just thought about how amazing it would be for writers who haven’t had that chance to get to go to something like that. And I also wanted to discover good talent, and inspire them.
[GTR] In listening to the playlists for the featured songwriters and producers who are part of Spotify’s “Secret Genius”, it is pretty clear that stylistic diversity is key. In addition to being able to upload two songs for consideration, the Discovery Song Camp application form has a field for people to include their Spotify Profile link. How much weight does stylistic diversity carry in terms of what you’re looking for from potential attendees?
With the way that music is today, there are so many places to go and realms that you can go in, whether it’s radio, T.V., or film, there’s just so many places you can go at this particular point. So, the more things that you can do, and do well, the better chances you have.
[Babyface] It’s not the only thing that I’m looking for. Let’s say that we find someone who isn’t as diverse, part of the idea of going to the camp is to teach them that they need to be. Sometimes it’s hard to be diverse if you’re not around it, or around someone who can inspire you and push you to do that. I don’t want to only pick people who can do everything. I might pick someone who has a specialty, and then show them the importance of being able to do more than one thing. It opens up so many other doors for them. With the way that music is today, there are so many places to go and realms that you can go in, whether it’s radio, T.V., or film, there’s just so many places you can go at this particular point. So, the more things that you can do, and do well, the better chances you have.
[GTR] The camps are going the held at Spotify’s Secret Genius studios in L.A., Nashville, Atlanta, New York, and London. Can you tell us a bit about Spotify’s role in this project?
[Babyface] They have the studios, and the big name, which is helpful because so many writers already use Spotify and are familiar with it. Their studios are the first places that we’ll go, and hopefully we’ll expand it in the future. The idea of working with Spotify really helps us. It’s not that Spotify has a stake in the camps. Ultimately, what Spotify is pushing is creativity. They are really pushing for the writers. The more creativity there is, then the better it is for all of us.
[GTR] Noting the success of teams like Hall and Oates, Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam, L.A. and Babyface, would you suggest duos try and signup separately?
[Babyface] It depends. There are people that work better together. Sometimes there’s just this chemistry that happens. If I see that, I will try and help foster that. It’s great to have that second opinion and another person to lean on. Sometimes it’s not even that somebody says anything, it’s just that they’re standing there causing you to think differently about something just because they are there with you. It’s not always verbal, it can just be a vibe that’s there, which is purely about chemistry. It’s not something that you can force on anybody, but if it happens to be there naturally, then it’s something I certainly suggest writers pursue.
[GTR] In a gem of a video I found of Holland-Dozier-Holland, Lamont Dozier comments, “Everybody liked to keep their secrets to themselves. It was a friendly competition going on, but at the same time the early bird gets the worm.” Five day camps – that’s a lot of hang time. In addition to working on songs, what are some of the things that are in your personal arsenal of trade secrets that you’re wanting to pass on to the next generation?
[Babyface] More than anything, I think it’s an attitude of being open to everything, every idea, and to explore them to their fullest. It’s important not to get stuck on anything, but also not to just walk away from something too fast. You’ve got to learn to be able to walk away from an idea, and then come back to it. Too many times I think we get stuck on an idea, and it may be the wrong thing. I’m trying to help writers develop a sixth sense about when to walk away from something, and when to maybe come back to it. So many times, you can have writer’s block because you stayed too long on one particular song.
Another skill to develop is to be critical enough of yourself and being honest enough to discern which ideas are good, and which ones aren’t. Sometimes, as writers, our egos get in the way and we’ll get stuck on an idea. The best thing is to really just go for what feels good. It may not be the best idea, but it feels good. That can be a hard line to try to figure out, what’s actually feeling good, and what’s just the idea of a great idea. Sometimes it feels like a song should work. You’re saying all the right things, it should be a hit, but something about it still doesn’t feel right. And you end up beating yourself up about it and wasting a bunch of time on a good idea that doesn’t feel right. It’s really a question of learning how to go with what feels good and feels right, and letting that be the guide most of the time.
[GTR] Do you think people can learn to hear a hit in a bad recording of a bad performance, or is that something that just comes innately?
Hits are very hard to call because there are so many things that come with that, and you can’t always figure out what the masses are going to go for. Something really stupid can really win sometimes, and it’s exactly because it was that stupid that it won.
[Babyface] I think that people can learn what a good song is. Hits are very hard to call because there are so many things that come with that, and you can’t always figure out what the masses are going to go for. Something really stupid can really win sometimes, and it’s exactly because it was that stupid that it won. In hindsight you can say, “That makes all the sense in the world!” but you can’t always call when stupid is going to work.
I never like to say that you can always pick out a hit. You can certainly pick out a song that feels good, whether it’s a love song, or a groove, or dance, you can certainly have a sense of that. But you can’t really call whether it’s going to be a hit or not. With a hit, the artist that performs it also makes a difference. You could have a hit song that is sitting around and waiting to be sung by the right person, but if it doesn’t get the right person then it never becomes a hit.
[GTR] Meghan Trainor got her start by attending these kinds of events. Noting that one of the goals is to put together a team of writers and producers for your Good Vibes Music Group, will all the attendees need to be “ready for prime time”?
[Babyface] There’s no question that it’s about those that come with something that is kind of unique. I’ve seen that in writers throughout my career. I’ve helped out young writers where I’ve seen something or heard something that, even though they weren’t quite there yet, they kept coming up with these interesting ideas that, while they didn’t necessarily know to jump on, I could point out to them and help highlight the parts to focus on and develop. Then, suddenly, they could see it. From their raw energy of maybe even doing it wrong, that was part of what made it right.
It isn’t about the person that can come in with the complete song and already have everything all together. Sometimes it’s just that the person is unique and has something special about the way that they do it wrong… that makes it right.
[GTR] What advice would you have for a pre-success Babyface if he were to come into one your camps?
[Babyface] I think the one thing I would tell him is that you’re going to have more losses than you have wins. You’ll come up with far more ideas that don’t work, but it takes going through those ideas to figure out what does work. It takes going through rejection to find acceptance. I’ve learned that a lot of writers think that they’re songs are so amazing, and they get defensive and upset when people critique their work or it isn’t widely accepted right away. You have to be open enough listen to people about what they did and didn’t like about a song, and to try and learn from that. That’s where the ego comes into play. Many times your ego can knock you off a good song because you didn’t want to listen to someone else. But then sometimes it’s the opposite way. Sometimes people just don’t hear what you’re trying to do. Maybe you haven’t found the right artist to do that song to make it come alive. There’s isn’t one particular way to go about doing it. The only thing I can say about it is that you just have to keep trying. Don’t give up. You have to keep trying.
[GTR] Thank you for your time today. Is there anything else you’d like to share?
[Babyface] Bruno Mars and Philip Lawrence have this one joke… they say, “You know, the best ones, they’re unsigned.” It’s funny, but there’s a lot of truth in it. There are so many people who are talented, and have so much to share, but we just haven’t met them yet and heard them yet. I know that they’re out there. I learn from even the little things, like stuff that my son Brandon will come up with sometimes, or my 9-year-old daughter will write something that sounds kind of catchy, and it reminds me of myself when I was young and coming up with little ideas. They seemed like very elementary ideas, but they may have been hits.
There are so many unsigned writers and producers that probably have the ability to be the next big thing. There are so many playlists and music sources that we can listen to and be inspired by today. Not just radio, but everything that’s available on the Internet, I can’t help but think that there are some incredible young writers and producers out there who are being inspired to write and create great music.
[GTR] As someone who manages successful songwriters, what types of things do younger writers and producers need to know about?
The most important thing young producers and songwriters should understand early on in their journey is that they must love the work. They have to be in it for the love of the craft.
[Jason Murray] The most important thing young producers and songwriters should understand early on in their journey is that they must love the work. They have to be in it for the love of the craft. Once that fundamental piece is in place, it’s about networking with other songwriters and producers – finding a community of like-minded creatives that you enjoy creating with. Write from your heart and your own personal view on things. Don’t chase the sound or concepts of other songs filling the charts, find your own voice and your own sound.
[GTR] Did “coming up” in Canada influence your decision to host the camps in different cities rather than having people make a pilgrimage to L.A. or New York?
[Jason] It was more about the vibes of those specific cities, and what those cities have contributed to the musical landscape over the years.
[GTR] What lessons did you learn about the music business in Canada that are true no matter where you’re based?
[Jason] The most important lesson would be to never give up and take time to enjoy the journey. Failures allow you to gauge if you’re pushing yourself to new places. After you’ve failed and gotten up a few times, you’ll realize that it’s not so scary and inevitability there is something to be learned from each fall that’ll strengthen your next steps.
[GTR] The demo submission policy on the Black Box Music web site is a nice affirmation of an “artists welcome” perspective that is not always found in this industry. What are some of the norms you’d like to see change for producers and songwriters?
[Jason] I think that “business” should always follow “art” – sometimes the industry loses sight of that. The art leads. It’s what creates the opportunity for people like myself to have a career in the industry and that should never be forgotten.
[GTR] One of the things I love about Lisa Scinta is that she can sing and write “other’s people’s songs”. In the post-American Idol world, do you believe that singer-songwriters like Meghan Trainor are resonating with audiences because they also write?
[Jason] I believe it’s about merging a great song/story with the right artist that can deliver it with the most authenticity. That is something that comes easiest when the artist and the writer are the same person. That being said, oftentimes a great performer can interpret and deliver the message of a song better than the song’s writer. That is why you see such a long history of matching great songs from great songwriters with great performers, it’s the best of both worlds.
[GTR] Is there anything else you’d like to share?
[Jason] I’d just like to thank all of the songwriters, producers, and artists out there who are sacrificing so much for their craft. We need you, the world needs you.