Combing creative forces with someone else is often a tricky exercise. It requires a bit of mutual trust and respect between the writers, and if not done wisely, can have catastrophic results both from creative and business points of views. We asked no.1 hit song writer, author and songwriting coach Mark Cawley for some tips, and he gave us 5 that he uses in his collaborative songwriting process.

1) Listen

Listening is probably the most important one and the hardest to practice. For me, I was always prepared with an idea, a title, a guitar lick, drum loop… something I was excited about and wanting to get it going. I found that if pushed on any of these I was gonna get my song done but it would not be “our” song. Big difference. Being open to the other writer (or writers) input can make a huge difference. It’s the only way you’re gonna get something bigger and better than yourself! Talk with a co-writer and listen.

2) Be prepared

I know I mentioned that in the first point but there’s a difference between coming in guns blazing with your idea and holding back for the right time to present it. Sometimes you hit a wall with a co-write and no one really has anything to offer. That is a good time to pull out your idea.

3) Leave Room

Be sure and leave room for the other writer. By this I mean if you present a full blown idea or track, the other writer has no room to contribute. In fact they may resent it. Another way to approach this tip is to look for a writer who does what you don’t. You looking for a ‘sum greater than the parts’ and the opportunity to learn from someone.

4) Discuss the Split

Whenever it’s comfortable discuss how the song will be split. I’ve written in lots of different situations with artists and other songwriters and what you think is a “given” may not be that at all. In Nashville it’s pretty much an even split with whoever is in the room. In other situations it can be different. It is good practice to introduce the topic as early as possible without sounding like a pain in the ass! If your song gets some interest later and you haven’t sorted out the split, it gets waaaay more difficult to sort out.

5) Your Attitude is important

Don’t be the ‘Pain in the ass’. The songwriting world is smaller than you imagine. People know each other and share the information freely. If you’re good, show up prepared and on time and you’ll have people seeking you out. If you’re precious and high maintenance you better be a genius.

About Mark Cawley

Mark Cawley is a hit U.S. songwriter and musician who coaches other writers and artists to reach their creative and professional goals. During his decades in the music business he has procured a long list of cuts with legendary artists ranging from Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Chaka Khan and Diana Ross to Wynonna Judd, Kathy Mattea, Russ Taff, Paul Carrack, Will Downing, Tom Scott, Billie Piper, Pop Idol winners and The Spice Girls. To date his songs have been on more than 16 million records. (Source idocoach.com).

Find out more about songwriter, music coach and author Mark Cawley here IDoCoach.com.

In 2019 Mark published his book ‘Song Journey’. Click here for more information on the book.

Song Journey – A Hit Songwriter’s Guide through the Process, the Perils and the Payoff of Writing Songs for a Living’.

The career of producer and engineer Stuart Epps dates back to 1967 and he has worked with iconic artists and bands such as Elton John, Led Zeppelin, Oasis, Bill Wyman, George Harrison, Robbie Williams, Paul Weller, Cliff Richard, Barry White and Chris Rea. We spoke to Stuart about his career that played a part in the history of popular music as we know it today.

From Working With Music Legends to the Next Generation

Stuart Epps has toured America with Elton John, produced and engineered records for Led Zeppelin, Elton John, Bill Wyman and Paul Rodgers and is now focusing on the next generation of up and coming artists:
With decades of experienced garnered from working with the very best musicians at the top of the industry, coupled with a real love for music, Epps has an intuitive knack for knowing just what will make each track sound most authentic. With a deep understanding too, of musicians and their needs, Stuart has a clear headed, dedicated approach to getting the job done.

Early Life

After what Epps describes as ‘a mad beginning in life’ and developing a passion for singing at just three years old, then listening intently with his father at the age of six to the first broadcast of ‘A Journey Into Stereo Sound’ (the first stereophonic record released, which he still owns), he feels that it was inevitable that he would end up in the music business. “I was hearing sounds for the first time and it just got my imagination going,” Epps explains. “By the time I was nine years old, I was experimenting with microphones and my Dad’s tape machine, so I grew up not only loving music and playing records, but recording sounds as well – which to me was just magical.”

Early Career

Stuart Epps’s ‘official’ career in music began in 1967 at Dick James Music (The Beatle’s first publisher) on New Oxford Street in London. Aged only 15, he’d been persuaded by his friend Clive Franks, who was the record cutter at DJM at the time, to leave school and apply to be a ‘runner’. Getting a job as an office boy, he found himself right in the middle of an incredibly vibrant and growing industry at one of its most exciting and formative times. “I was earning £6 a week but it felt like a fortune, it was an atmosphere of amazing music and extraordinary characters, I was being introduced to brand new music everyday, seeing and hearing new records, like The Beatle’s ‘White album’ for example, before its public release”

Always ambitious, Stuart worked his way up through being a disc cutter/tape copier to assistant engineer with Steve Brown, the ‘Head of Label’ at Dick James Music. This led to Stuart working with Steve on ‘Lady Samantha’ which was the first single for one of the aspiring song writing teams at DJM – a young Bernie Taupin and a 19-year-old Reg Dwight.

Epps meets Elton John

Epps described the young Reg as “a pretty strange guy with crazy hair who wore ‘Noddy’ character T-shirts”. None the less, during that time he became good friends with the still relatively unknown Elton and Steve Brown who was then acting as his manager. “I just took to him straight away.
We never called him Elton – it was always just Reg but when he first sat down and played us one of his songs, I had never heard anything like it,” he explains. “At the time I thought I could write songs, but after that I changed my direction there and then.”

elton stu kiki dee

Epps also began working in the demo studio at DJM and in a short time had learned everything he could about it. He was also lucky enough to be able to produce his first record with a band called ‘Birds of a Feather’, which he did at Trident Studios with Elton John as the session pianist and Rick Wakeman on the keyboards. Although it was a successful project, Epps was also interested in the business side of the industry so gradually things began to change. Elton’s next record, Elton John (The Black Album), was his ‘big one’ featuring huge orchestral scores for numbers like ‘Your Song’ and ‘Sixty Years On’. This project saw Epps take on a project management role away from the console working closely with now legendary Producer Gus Dudgeon – again at Trident Studios.

It was Steve Brown along with Gus Dudgeon (fresh from producing David Bowie’s 1969 hit, ‘Space Oddity’) who teamed up with Elton to set up ‘Rocket Records’ in 1972 which was one of the very first independent record labels. Stuart, still only 20 years old, was now part of the ‘Rocket’ team – not only as an A&R manager and co-manager for Kiki Dee but also as Elton John’s personal assistant throughout his initial US tours, most notably culminating some four years later in 1974 with John Lennon’s legendary appearance on stage with Elton at Madison Square Gardens – marking not only Lennon’s first concert appearance for many years, but sadly his very final one.

Back in the Studio – Working in The Mill – The 70’s and 80’s

On his return to the UK, Gus Dudgeon asked Stuart to join him working at his new studios, The Mill at Cookham in Berkshire, as head engineer. This was to be the best equipped and modern studio of its time with everything installed being tailored to Gus’s exacting specifications – with Gus partly designing its 42-Channel MCI mixing desk himself.

“It was an amazing experience,” says Stuart. “It was always Gus’s dream to one day build the best recording studio in the world. So when he discovered an old water mill property in Cookham, Gus realised it was just the place to build that dream”. Originally It was only supposed to take six months to build but ultimately, it took two years to complete. Initially an outline budget of around £200,000 was invested, however the build actually ended up costing nearer to a million, which would actually be closer to £15 million in today’s terms.

“Gus would run his studios like a Sergeant Major,” adds Stuart, “everything was meticulously planned and executed, it had to be in those days, because of the limitations in recording equipment”. This military approach has clearly rubbed off on Stuart and It’s this discipline and confidence in approach that every free-flowing artist needs, someone to act as an unobtrusive guide, to provide safe working parameters and perimeters, without setting negative or limiting constraints.

At The Mill, Stuart rediscovered his true passion for recording and producing. “To experience an album or a song taking shape from the demo version to the final master is a great feeling”,

Stuart engineered on many projects at The Mill throughout the 70s and 80s, working with Elton John, George Harrison, Bill Wyman and Paul Rodgers as well as ‘Lindisfarne’ and also notably Chris Rea:
“We’d listened to Chris’s demos and very much liked his songs and his voice,” says Stuart. “One of the first projects we did with him was the album ‘Whatever Happened To Benny Santini’ which was produced by Gus and engineered by myself at The Mill in 1978. There’s a song on there called ‘Fool If You Think It’s Over’, which I was lucky enough to sing backing vocals on, and that became a big hit.”

The biggest change came in 1980 when Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin bought the studios and appointed Stuart as the studio manager. “I didn’t meet him for 3 months,” Stuart laughs “The Zeppelin myth always painted Page as being a dark disciple of Aleister Crowley – he was a real Howard Hughes character though, I can tell you – I didn’t see him that often, he was a strange guy, a total eccentric.”

It was Stuart’s work on the very last Led Zeppelin album ‘Coda’ in 1982, that lead to him being asked to produce the debut album for the New York based band ‘Twisted Sister’ for Atlantic Records in 1983, giving Stuart’s craft a true, transatlantic, rock appeal.

It was Chris Rea who, following major successes with records like ‘Shamrock Diaries’ and ‘On the Beach’, took on the final ownership of The Mill before it closed, “It was an amazing time,” says Stuart “Chris could be difficult to work with at times, but then so can any artist.”

The 90’s – Oasis, Robbie Williams, Paul Weller and Chris de Burgh

By 1994 however, the whole operation was eventually down-sized to what became known as ‘The Garage’, but things were far from over. Having gained valuable experience at The Mill, Stuart took over Alvin Lee’s private ‘Wheeler End’ studio and turned it into a commercial residential studio facility. Among his customers were John Leckie (Beatles, Stone Roses, Muse) and Craig Leon (The Ramones, Blondie). Stuart also worked on projects with Oasis, Robbie Williams, Mark Owen and Paul Weller as well as mainstay artists such as Chris de Burgh.

“I would go in the local pub with Noel and Liam Gallagher, Robbie Williams or Mark Owen – the locals must have wondered “surely these can’t be the real people?’” – no doubt they thought that I had a lookalike agency or something!”.

“I remember we went in there with Liam one day,” Stuart recalls, “he only has to have one or two glasses of wine and he gets drunk. He gets extremely loud, swearing all over the place and very lairy but he was very loveable really and always chatty.”

On the Lookout for New Talent

In recent years, Stuart has continued to work with big name artists to great acclaim, as well as helping a host of promising new up-and-coming artists to sound their best, both on demo recordings and in full studio productions… and he’s always on the lookout for new talent!
Speaking about his career, Stuart says: “When we were all 18 you kind of thought music was something that you’d grow out of and that it was a young person’s game. The mad thing is that everyone’s still doing it.”

“I’ve been doing this for 45 years” Stuart explains, “I’ve met so many wonderful people you know, but the one thing I always try to remember is, that we are ALL just human beings”

Music and the Start of Social Media

Stuart embraces the social technologies so wholeheartedly as they began to emerge in the mid 2000’s, keeping him firmly in the driving seat. “I have my son to thank for that,” he explains – “he introduced me to ‘MySpace’, which in turn helped me discover a whole new way of working.”

While reflecting on his successful track-record, it has to be said though, that Stuart is very much looking towards the future and is fully involved with his current passion and initiative – Epps Music Productions – an opportunity for independent and unsigned acts to gain professional feedback and really benefit from the help that Stuart, with his extensive record production and mixing experience, is able to provide.

Stuart Epps Online: StuartEpps.com

From Jomar @ Music Producers Forum

Here’s a well overdue update. A Summer in Europe meant that I have had time to reboot and relaunch Music Producers Forum’s website. I’ve been working on a cleaner layout and a simpler content structure so finding articles can be easier. That being said, the editorial direction remains quality over quantity, with articles updated and reworked over time.

I’ve had one and a half year’s hiatus from Music Producers Forum, distracted with a career in marketing (Ironically, I was initially hired by a global financial company to run their content and TV production in 2010-2012 based on the work that I have done with Music Producers Forum). This lead to a deeper career in marketing, lecturing and producing events and conferences, unfortunately with less to do with the music industry – basically, distracted with the dollar (Or in my case the Danish Kroner).

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With today’s tight budgets or with the domestic productions, we have to cover more tasks in the recording process. A traditional high end budget music production will enlist a team of highly specialised studio professional, working towards the same goal of producing that great song. As we all try to cover other roles, its important to know what those roles are. Author, lecturer, recording engineer and music producer Carlos Lellis Ferreira lists out these people and overviews their roles.

A recording team may have some or all of the following elements:

  • Musicians
  • Programmers
  • Runners
  • Tape operator
  • DAW operator/Editor
  • Assistant engineer
  • Main engineer
  • Producer
  • Others.

It is not always easy to delineate the roles and responsibilities of those involved in music production. This is particularly true in the case of modest budget projects, where individuals are commonly required to operate in multiple capacities and the labeling of roles and responsibilities may seem pointless. Still, in traditional recording environments a clear outline of functions often leads to a better distribution of labour and the more efficient use of time.

The following is a brief description of the members of conventional recording teams and their roles:

Musicians

Musicians are defined here as the individuals that generate sound during the recording stage of a production. This applies to those that utilise both traditional and non-traditional instruments, e.g. turntables, etc.

Programmers

Programmers may contribute to music production by selecting or creating electronic instrument ‘patches’, programming drumbeats, generating sequences, etc., which may occur during the pre-production, recording or the mixing stages.

Runners

Runners (or ‘tea boys’) are commonly the youngest members of the recording team. The tasks can be varied and commonly include peripheral or indirectly related activities that help sessions flow smoothly, e.g. purchasing of media, catering, etc.

The Tape Operator

The ‘tape op’ is responsible for the basic maintenance and the operation of tape recorders. This position is no longer common in music production.

The DAW Operator/Editor

A DAW operator should know audio software programs and their corresponding hardware in great detail, being able to work with them during the recording, editing and mixing stages of production.

The Assistant Engineer

This role requires the most flexibility, as the duties of the assistant engineer may span from those of a ‘runner’ to those of a main recording engineer. It is presently not uncommon for assistant engineers to also be responsible for tasks that were normally assigned to tape or DAW operators.

The Main Engineer

The main recording engineer is the person who is ultimately accountable for the successful recording of audio onto the chosen medium, although this does not imply he or she is responsible for the aesthetic-related attributes of the recorded material.

The Producer

This role varies according to context. In classical music, the producer is commonly the decision-maker regarding performance while in pop/rock he or she traditionally acts as a general manager, being ultimately responsible for the successful completion of a project. It is also important to note that in electronic/dance circles, composers/programmers are frequently referred to as ‘producers’.

Others

  • Composer/Arranger
  • A&R/Record company representatives
  • Artist managers
  • Investors.

A number of other professionals may be indirectly involved in the recording stage of a project. Some of them may appear somewhat disconnected from the artistic process, although anyone involved in production should be aware that investors of time and/or money are likely to expect the right to an opinion on the product they help generate.

This article is an extract from “Music Production: Recording: A Guide for Producers, Engineers, and Musicians”.

The book is organized around real-world scenarios, with details about roles and responsibilities that help you navigate through key stages of production. Carlos walks you through the recording process, bringing aesthetic considerations into each discussion. Learn visually with detailed diagrams and clear explanations of best practices.

This extract has re-published on Music Producers Forum, courtesy of Focal Press.

Miley Cyrus’s fourth studio album Bangerz in 2013 featured one of her hit songs “Wrecking Ball”. The song was written by Henry Walter, Kiyanu Kim, Lukasz Gottwald, Maureen McDonald, Miley Cyrus, Mozella McDonald, Sacha Skarbek and Stephan Moccio. David Penn of HitSongsDeconstructed.com breaks down how the songwriting techniques, structure and chorus contributed to making Wrecking Ball an international chart topping song.

Miley Cyrus was at the forefront of Pop culture in 2013. Many of us remember her outlandish, controversial behaviour including twerking at the VMA’s, stating publicly to Rolling Stone that “weed is the best drug on earth,” and swinging nude from a wrecking ball all have taken her exposure (no pun intended) to astronomical heights.

But behind all the hype and controversy lies a talented artist who was able to take a song that was provided to her by some of today’s hottest hitmakers, make it her own, and deliver it in an infectious, engaging, memorable manner that was able to connect and resonate with the masses on a global scale.

There’s a lot that can be learned from that we’ll explore in this song analysis of Wrecking Ball by Miley Cyrus. You just need to look beyond the hype and appreciate the song for what it really is – a clever, expertly well crafted Power Ballad.
To date, Wrecking Ball has landed in the top 5 in 24 countries and hit #1 on 12 charts.

3 Hit Songwriting Techniques

What follows are 3 of the many hit songwriting techniques that can be extracted from Wrecking Ball:

Clever Elements

Incorporating clever elements into your song is a surefire way to help put it over the top. In the case of Wrecking Ball, there are 2 that you should take note of:

  • First, notice the manner in which the kick and snare within the chorus act as “wrecking ball” elements. Their nature elicits the impression of a wrecking ball slamming into the side of the building, which perfectly jibes with the title and lyrics.
  • Second, notice the manner in which Cyrus sings the lyrics “break me” and “wreck me” at the end of the chorus. By singing it like “brea-ea-eak me” and “wre-e-eck me,” this clever vocal phrasing concludes the section in an exceptionally infectious manner that gets completely engrained within the listener’s head.
  • Prosody: The nature of a song’s music and vocal needs to perfectly jibe with the lyrics in order to provide the listener with the most profound connection to the song possible. A perfect example of this can be found within Wrecking Ball’s chorus and bridge.

The Heartfelt Bridge

Following the powerful nature of the chorus which perfectly accentuates the “wrecking ball” themed lyrics, notice how the bridge brings it all down by taking on a more heartfelt, fragile and somber tone in order to accentuate the realization and hurt present in the lyrics. Gone are the drums and electric guitar of the chorus, and in its place we have strings, piano and bass coupled with a more somber, heartfelt vocal from Cyrus which takes the evocative nature of the section to the next level when she sings “I never meant to start a war, I just wanted you to let me in…”

Not only are all the elements working in perfect tandem with one another, but also notice how the profound difference between the bridge and preceding chorus provides strong contrast within the song, which ultimately makes for a more engaging listening experience.

The Chorus – The Payoff Impact Accee Chorus

When your song features a really big, powerful chorus, how you set it up for maximum impact makes all the difference. In the case of Wrecking Ball, the set up consists of the following 3 stages:

Stage 1: The backing music fades from the mix at the tail end of the pre-chorus. The silence that follows acts to heighten the tension factor for the listener in anticipation of the chorus that follows.

Stage 2: Cyrus slams in with the “I came in like a…” vocal. Notice that this is a SOLO vocal. The backing music isn’t present within the mix.

Stage 3: The full chorus, (backing music included), slams in on the title “payoff” lyrics “wrecking ball.”

By going through this 3 stage set-up, it enables the full chorus to slam in with the impact of a “wrecking ball,” ultimately taking the impact of the section, and the song for that matter, to the next level.

For more insight and breakdowns on the latest songs, visit HitSongsDeconstructed.com

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Music video production has never before been so accessible to independent artists and bands than today. A powerful such as a current mobile phone, is ready and capable to film, edit and distribute a short film or music video in high definition.

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