Inside Production and Songwriting
Nashville Songwriters Association International - July 2010
Zelda Sheldon of NSAI asks Sven and Rich of Kittygroove to share some of their production expertise with songwriters
ZS: What music genres are you most interested in producing?
ST: The majority of the time itís with a commercial edge - Ministry of Sound, Dance, Pop, Rock Pop. Anything - we do like music of all kinds. Right now weíre listening to the Foo Fighters. We love producing singer songwriter and capturing their essence.
ZS: As producers what do you want to see in a song for you to get excited about the song?
RN: Two things: either a bit of originality in the lyric - something that makes me think or makes me laugh - cheeky or tongue or cheek, it has to have an element of excitement - it canít be just linear - unless itís linear and awesome.
ST: As a producer I want to have something that I can put a creative spin on it - sometimes when a band comes in we get our scissors and simplify it. If a song has a great emotion and we get a vibe on - thatís what we like about music - when we feel the pain or the excitement. We try to capture the vibe and performance of the artist. We try to capture the essence of the artist.
ZS: As a publisher what specific things in a song or a songwriter do you want to see?
SV: One - the songwriter to stick to the brief as much as possible - if we get a country track for a dance pop Ga Ga brief then it gets deleted in 3 seconds. I donít have the time to tweak - we sometimes could tweak a great song that is hit- tastic.
RN: Have a universal appeal in whatever genre - got to have a great structure and take you on a journey. And itís got to be really good. Cos there are lots of people doing it. Intros at 2 minutes I enjoy that but as a publisher no - I donít like to listen to a long intro. Weíll listen to a song for 3 seconds to 10 seconds I knew if the song was sounding right for the brief. And we are nice publishers.
ZS: What tips can you give to songwriters who are trying to find a producer for their songs?
RN: First and itís more on a negative note. Beware - there are a lot of people who talk rubbish. I did a phone around and they told me some bollocks - they said I could come in and record 1-2 hours the song would be release quality. I knew that was bollocks.
ST: If you are doing metal then go and get to a producer that has done lots of metal. Ask to hear what theyíve done. Also vocalists - you need to have great singers who can sing in the lines of whatever style song you are producing. Sometimes price - even at half price then you can get it 8 times better. No one has believed in this song enough to invest in the song themselves. I canít pitch the song to labels if the quality is not there. Record labels do not want to use their imagination - they need it to be so close to the final and it just needs a slight tweak.
ZS: You are working with some awesome new artists and labels. Can you tell us what would be your typical process from the start of the project all the way through.
ST: That varies on the artist and the label. But we do cowriting with the artist - they might bring in a song - or nothing. At the end of the day the label wants to hear something thatís pretty good - that they can hear on the radio.
RN: Other times we work with people that come in with a song - we like to spend time getting to know them over a couple of coffees. Itís important to get to know their style and the songs they like.
ZS: Where did you learn to produce?
ST: I was a little bit of a slow learner - through our uni. I knew enough to record audio and distort every vocal I recorded. I thought that was good enough. Iíd play it to people and wondered why they werenít loving it like I did. I ended going to other producers and pay them and ask them a whole bunch of questions and ask them everything. I ended up videoing what they did and tried all that in my own studio.
RN: My parents were into Neil Diamond etc. When I was 13 I had a band and weíd record our band playing our originals. When I was 15 I was in another band. Then I auditioned for the band FIVE and instantly thrown into recording with the best producers in the world. What I learned here was Ďexcellenceí. Iíve worked with people who say - ďthat will doĒ and I think ďNo, itís sloppy and all over the place. I worked with Max Martin, Elliot Kennedy etc and I picked up a lot of things along with way. I wouldnít class myself a producer. After that I started a band and started going into studios with sound engineers and ask for something that theyíd not even understand. That made me start to think of myself more of a producer.
ZS: What would be the one defining lesson you've learnt as producers working with awesome writers, artists and producers on hit songs?
RN: My one defining lesson first thing you often collaborate with people the most important thing is to leave your ego and anybody else youíre working with - leave all your egos at the door, donít be precious but be passionate. Understand and work to the ethos that it is all about the song - the song is the most important thing.
ST: Everything comes back to the song. You can produce the song a billion different ways. And every producer will have their own spin on the song. Itís the producerís job to dress up the song. I think what Rich said before about working with some of the best producers in the world - and seeing how they work in their pursuit of excellence. Thatís a great lesson for everyone and especially when youíre writing a song to ask yourself ďIs that good enough? Is that chorus really a chorus? Is the chord behind the verse really what I want to use? Does my song build? Is this the strongest song possible?Ē because you canít rely on production to make your song better. Thereís a saying in the music industry ďyou canít polish a turdĒ and itís true. Iíve produced songs that havenít been the strongest songs and I can dress the song up but it will always be the same song. Itís a songwriterís responsibility to bring to the table best songs they can before taking them to a producer. I remember starting out and producing my early songs. I play them to people and they laugh. But thatís the lesson; learn what you can and move on.
ZS: Now you are where you are what do you wish you knew at the early part of your career that you know now?
ST: Iím a little bit of a slow learner. It has taken me a long time when I was writing songs, Iíd write song then Iíd sing out of tune. It took me a long time to realise people need a picture painted. Production so I could demonstrate my songs, Mixing, if I wanted to communicate properly to get a few singing lessons to express to singers what you want them to sing. If I knew then what I knew now I would have treated as a bit more urgent these priorities as a songwriter. I would have got some singing lessons to start with, especially if you are a songwriter so you are not coming into a studio and relying on a music producer to try to figure out what your melody is. Cos Iíve done that so many times with songwriters. They come in and they singing and I say Iím not sure exactly what youíre singing and they canít sing in time and you donít have to be the best singer or guitar player but just get some singing lessons so you can learn to better communicate what your song is all about.
RN: Just keep at it. Enjoy yourself. Express yourself. Itís art. Itís there to be enjoyed. Feel your way.
ST: Yeah, just have fun - treat learning as fun. Keep your emotions light. Enjoy yourself. Ask yourself simply Ďis that the best it can be?í
RN: Listen objectively cos we all love the songs weíve written. Try to step back from yourself when you re-listen - give it a few days after youíve stuck it down as an idea - then say to yourself ďOK somebody is going to have to hear thisĒ. Donít wait until youíre in the office playing it to somebody before you realise it wasnít quite right.
ST: When I hear a song I rarely think about the songwriter. I hear it and it becomes my song. So as a songwriter I like to write song that impact others emotionally. And I could do that through a melody or a chord or a lyric. There are so many tools you can learn to use - from organizations like NSAI that might be beneficial for making that song that youíve got thatís already good but making it great.
RN: And one more thing Iíd like to add cos itís something I always come back to. When we listen to great songs and musicians - eg we heard the Foo Fighters today, theyíre great musicians. You listen to their riffs you can try to beat yourself, and when youíre feeling youíre progressing and getting more knowledge you feel you need to make your riffs complicated - cos you donít want to do the simple thing. But 99.9% of the time itís the simple things like simple riffs which are the best, the and the most effective.
Sven and Rich from Kittygroove will be special guest speakers at NSAI Australia Sydney July 12. 7.30pm Unity Hall Hotel 292 Darling St Balmain. TIX $20 NSAI Members and $30 non members. All tix holders have a chance to win a Kittygroove song demo valued at $400 drawn on the night. RSVP firstname.lastname@example.org