Julia Michaels And Authenticity In Writing

So much of what I do has its roots in writing.

Even the words that come out my mouth often begin being typed on a screen or scribbled on a page.

Some of the writers are most admire are songwriters. People like the amazing Shelly Peiken, who’s book ‘Confessions Of A Series Songwriter‘ I highly recommend.

And there’s also a lot of inspiration I take from Julia Michaels who has an absolute mastery over the current pop hits you’ll hear on the radio and on the hottest streaming playlists of the moment.

Julia wrote Justin Bieber’s ‘Friends’ and the lyrics have a lesson for all of us who seek to become more authentic in our writing.

When you’re taught to write, you’re taught to develop a wide vocabulary, to avoid repeating the same word, to try to find an alternative. To edit and polish your writing. But that’s not how people speak. And when people try to apply those rules to writing quotes or speeches, or even on social media which much more lends itself to writing the way we speak, you end up with something that looks fake and over engineered.

In ‘Friends’, the song takes the point of view of an individual on the phone to a former partner. Calling, supposedly to see how their mother is, but with a very transparent ulterior motive.

And so Michaels writes, in the pre chorus:

‘ Know we didn’t end this so good
But you know we had something so good’

Note the repetition of ‘so good’ which many writing purists would consider clumsy and repetitive.

And then again in the chorus itself:

‘Can we still be friends?
Doesn’t have to end.
And if it ends…can we be friends?’

More repetition..couldn’t she think of a better final line?

But that’s how conversations go. That’s how people actually speak and that’s why Julia Michaels is having so much success right now. The fact Justin Bieber is having the hit with this is no co-incidence either – the audience this track is pitched at values authenticity far more than it values slick songwriting. They genuinely believe that Bieber could phone a girl up and say those words over the phone to her. You don’t care about vocabulary or rules when you’re in an emotional exchange like that.

It for the audience, it all builds up the notion of Justin Bieber being real in a world where so many are fake.

What song does Lucie Jones’ Eurovision entry remind me of?

Watching Eurovision last night I was struck by how many of the songs sound like other recent hits.

Several of the dance flavoured tracks seemed to borrow inspiration from Calvin Harris and our own Lucie Jones did a great job with ‘Never Give Up On You’ but I wonder if the chorus might sound a little close to ‘Mysterious Times’ by Sash. Take a listen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lucie Jones

Sash

Ed Sheeran recently amended the writing credits for his hit ‘Shape Of You’ to include two of the writers behind TLC’s ‘No Scrubs’.

You can hear the similarities between the 2 tracks below:

Might there be a case then for the Blessid Union of Souls to suggest that Starley’s current hit ‘Call On Me’ takes some influence from their 1995 hit ‘I Believe’? Have a listen to them both below:

Starley

Blessid Union of Souls

And what about Katy Perry’s ‘Chained To The Rhythm’? Can I hear a bit of Carly Simon’s ‘Why?’ in the background?

Carly Simon

Katy Perry

Just my opinion of course, but let me know what you think.
(Image of Lucie Jones used under Creative Commons Licence, with full credit to Mykola Swarnyk. )

Christine And The Queens

 

‘I want to be one with the desire, rather than simply being desired.’

The words of French singer songwriter Héloïse Letissier who you may have seen recently on Graham Norton’s TV show or perhaps the BBC coverage of Glastonbury.

Here’s the video for her track ‘Tilted’ which has got a lot of people noticing her.

Her recent TV exposure and live performances have led to all sorts of comparisons and labels (Michael Jackson, Madonna, ‘pansexual’) but most encouraging is the fact her UK tour sold out in less than a week. Here we have an artist that music fans up and down the country have been waiting for.

As a dancer Christine has few equals. The choreography is outstanding, there’s an energy and a quiet confidence to the whole thing and the production of the track, (which she wrote and produced…yes, the beats and bass you hear were laid down by Christine herself using actual software and her ears. Just as men and women can use Microsoft Word to type they can also use ProTools and FL Studio to make music…who’d have thought it?!) has propelled her album to No.1 in Belgium, 6 in the UK, 2 in France and 3 in Ireland.

That sell out UK tour will be preceded by what’s almost certainly going to be a sell out US tour boosted by a critically acclaimed performance at SXSW earlier this year.

So to Christine and what she stands for.

First and foremost, great tunes, smart lyrics, a world class performance and a deep love of pop music.

But there’s more.

In an age where feminism has never had a higher profile yet where women have never been more exploited it’s inevitable Christine will attract interest because she’s doing it differently.

Early interviews and commentary makes reference to the ‘queer’ movement, Wikipedia claims Héloïse identifies as ‘pansexual’ although my French isn’t what it was and I can’t translate this clip in its entirely I think what she’s saying is that she doesn’t believe in labels or reducing sexuality to a single word.

For me, Christine represents being yourself and going at it with passion.

She’s driven, talented and doing it all on her own terms.

I admire the fact she sings a proportion of her lyrics in French – it sounds brilliant, and the bursts of cover versions she uses in her performances (Chaka Khan ‘I Feel For You’, Technotronic ‘Pump Up The Jam’) tells me her love of pop music transcends what’s ‘cool’.

Any artist who defies categorisation will face challenges.

MTV wasn’t sure what to do with Michael Jackson at the release of ‘Thriller’, hence the guitar solo in ‘Beat It’.

Christine doesn’t have (yet) today’s slick band of super producers queuing up to write for her. That’s fine but it means there’s perhaps a slight lack of depth to her set and maybe some justifiable accusations of filler material. Although it’s still relatively early in Christine’s career so that will likely change.

And she’ll struggle to make the major radio station playlists. For reference, she received considerably fewer plays on UK radio in the last 30 days than Huey Lewis And The News although BBC Radio 2 and 6 Music are supportive and she’s had spot plays on various Capital network stations.

Social media then is her friend and it’s fuelling considerable interest. That sold out UK tour (which wraps up in my hometown of Glasgow in November!) will likely be followed by a return visit at larger venues, her physical performances will ensure healthy TV interest and magazines and blogs will dissect much of what she says and stands for.

All of that – along with her talent, confidence and individuality – will lead, as it always does to Christine receiving what she says she isn’t in this for, that is ‘to be desired’.

There will be interest, opportunities, pressure and inevitably criticism.

For me, there’s nothing worse than someone who doesn’t like labels being labelled as the person for people who don’t like labels.

Let’s just let her be and enjoy what she creates.

And I hope she keeps dancing.

7 Prince Songs U Need To Hear

One of my favourite music stars has passed away. Prince inspired, excited and above all, entertained me.

It was what he stood for, the way he handled himself and the talent he displayed. He carved his own path, did it his way and stayed true to his own vision.

He wrote some incredible songs, and also suffered from a lack of discipline and at times, self indulgence.

Keeping track of the music he released is hard enough for all but the most committed fan. There are thousands of other songs in his vault, and circulating as bootlegs. Here are a few commercially released tracks that might have passed you by.

  1. One Of Us (Emancipation Triple Album)
    Prince covers the song made famous by Joan Osborne. I was standing in HMV the first time I heard this and the entire shop came to a standstill. A brilliant performance and a searing guitar.
  2. P Control (The Gold Experience)
    Definitely not safe for work and some will find the sexual and race related terms offensive. But it’s a song of empowerment with Prince telling a story the way only he can. Sex was a huge part of who he was. Us too if we’re all being honest.
  3. Colonised Mind (Lotus Flower)
    My wife named this as her favourite Prince track. It’s got true substance and meaning to it, a proper blues/soul track but still accessible and with some commercial appeal.
  4. Batdance (Batman Original Soundtrack)
    A little over 6 minutes of madness but outstanding production. It’s about 6 different tracks all fused together with moments of incredibly infectious grooves – pop, jazz, funk, soul, dance – it’s all here.
  5. Pope (The Hits/The B Sides)
    Not safe for work but a pumping dance jam and one you need to hear.
  6. The Holy River (Emancipation Triple Album)
    Religion played a big part in Prince’s life and he gets his thoughts across beautifully here.
  7. Bob George (The Black Album)
    Throughout his career Prince experimented with different characters. He went through phases and adopted different standpoints, in the way a movie director tells different stories and gets inside the heads of sometimes some very unpleasant individuals. This is an extreme example, again, with lyrical content many will find offensive. But you haven’t started to experience the full work of Prince until you’ve explored this. Proceed with caution though, it contains scenes of male on female violence.

Head of Music Mark II

The ‘Head of Music’ role disappeared at many local radio stations back in the late 90s when standardised playlists became common place among many of the major commercial radio groups.

There was little point employing someone to add songs to the Selector database and work out the most effective hourly clocks, or decide which new songs should make the playlist, when all the major decision making was happening centrally.

Some stations held on to some autonomy later than others and a few to this day maintain specialist shows and the ability to opt out of ‘central command’.

But consider the plight of the unsigned band or up and coming musician in every major city in the UK. All these people want is to be listened to. They’d love to make the playlist and have their song heard on the radio station, but more than that, I’d argue that what they really want is someone to take an interest in their work, and to give them honest feedback.

Credit them with some intelligence. They know how the game is played, and understand they won’t get played without a major record deal and marketing campaign.  Maybe there’s a way that we can work with them, and provide some value, without play listing their track.

‘Head of Music’ at a group level means analysing the music research, dealing with the labels, and organising the database and format clocks. Probably plenty of other things too.

At a local level, I see ‘Head of Music’ as very valid, but rather than impacting on songs making the playlist, it could be more of a local point of contact for up and coming talent.

Someone who takes an interest in the local music scene.
Listening to demos and giving feedback.
Highlighting, via the station’s website and social media platforms which local artists they admire.
Getting out to gigs, talking about it on air, and becoming known as the ‘go to’ person for the local music scene in that area.

It makes perfect sense to me that if there’s only 300 songs in rotation at any one time and a highly competitive environment, and we’re trying to build a recognise ‘brand’, then of course we can’t have the drive-time presenter for the local station for Leeds taking a punt and sticking a self produced demo on for a young bunch of part-time musicians no-one has ever heard of.

But there could be a page on the website, or a regular feature on Facebook where that same presenter, with their ‘Head of Music’ hat on gives a rundown of what they’re enjoying at the moment.

Very rarely, in extreme cases, it might mean new talent rises all the way up the food chain and ends up with airplay and nationwide attention. Highly unlikely, but it might.

But more often, it would give the radio station more credibility in its local area. And it would give the section of the audience that wants it, some content that they appreciate, without screwing up the station’s on-air identity.

If I called your local radio station right now, told them I was new to the area and asked who the up and coming bands were, what night the best live music was on and where I could find it, could you give me an answer?

If you can, you should shout about this.

And if you can’t, then it’s really easy to put right. One person, taking on some additional responsibility to keep in touch with the local music scene and talk about it online, sometimes maybe the odd mention on their show.

It’s about being seen to listen, and understanding that while the broadcast version of your station has limited airtime, there’s infinite space online. So why not use it?

It strikes me as an easy win. Appoint a ‘Head of Music’ today and stick their contact details on your station website.

Trust that the benefits will come.

 

 

Scottish Business Radio – July 2015 Audience Figures

Time to reveal the audience figures for July 2015 and I’m pleased to say – they’re up!

Scottish Business Radio was listened to by 1,324 unique listeners across the month and between them they consumed a total of 400 hours of content. That’s up significantly on the 286 hours recorded for the month of June.

The average listening session is 15 minutes which is down on the 22 minutes for June. However, any radio station will tell you that as more listeners are attracted in, it becomes harder to keep the average individual session time high. It’s the Total Listening Hours that matters most – the challenge now is to convert the new listeners who’ve been trying us out into long term ‘fans’.

Much of the growth can be put down to better marketing efforts and for that I need to thank Gavin Watson and his team at Twitter AutoPost. They have devised an extremely affordable system which as well as posting ‘Now Playing’ information to the Scottish Business Radio Twitter stream, also posts every track to TuneIn. This means the station is attracting listeners who’ve never heard of it, but they’re searching for the songs Scottish Business Radio plays. They find it and start to follow the station. It now has 82 followers on TuneIn.

Scottish Business Radio has received several RTs from the official accounts of some of the artists it plays.

Monetising the station is the big challenge and so far, this hasn’t been achieved. It’s part of the reason I publish the listening figures because when you’re new and unproven it’s very difficult to attract people to spend money. The ‘donate’ and ‘Sponsor A Day’ features have now been removed because they didn’t work.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be developing the station’s website which is now standalone at www.scottishbusinessradio.com rather than sitting as a page on my site. I’ve also created a Scottish Business Radio Facebook page and I hope you’ll LIKE it.

The station is a good, professional listen but needs more unique content to make it a destination. It needs further marketing to become known throughout the Scottish business community and it needs to deliver further audience growth. That ‘Total Listening Hour’ figure needs to grow again for August. And further work needs to be done to establish exactly WHO is listening.

Only then will Scottish Business Radio be a viable vehicle for anyone to spend money on.

If you’re reading this, and you’ve listened, please do get in touch and let me know what you think.

Danny Dearden – Carry Me

Here’s a story.

Back in March, on the train journey home from a few days running media relations workshops in London, I got talking to a guy who described himself as a music producer and songwriter.

‘Yeah, right’, I thought as I smiled and said ‘Hello, who do you write for?’

‘Have you heard of Jay-Z’s company Roc Nation?’ came the reply?

I almost choked on my Twix at the sheer Audacity (pun intended for you music geeks out there) of this dude.

Well, he was messing with the wrong guy as I promptly quizzed him on everything from Xenomania to Trevor Horn, Steve Mac and Stargate.

But he kept up with it all, had detailed answers for everything, and then proceeded to show me pictures of the time he’d spent at various extremely well known recording studios around the world and him hanging out with some serious A-List celebs.

Long story short, I was in the company of an extremely talented young guy who went to the same high school as me!

His name is Josh Rhys Owen and once we’d established that neither of us was bullshitting (I really was a radio presenter and he really was a hit songwriter with far cooler hair than me) we had the most brilliant 4 hour chat on the journey home.

It gave me a fascinating insight into life as a songwriter and music producer and I’m pleased to be able to share with you some of his work – this is a track Josh wrote and produced for an up and coming singer called Danny Dearden.

I think this is great and I hope you like it too!

Scottish Business Radio – June 2015 Audience Figures

Scottish Business Radio

We’re celebrating our first month on air. And THANK YOU for all the support.

Slowly but surely, we’re having an impact on the Scottish business community…and beyond!

We were delighted to discover a major London contact centre was choosing to listen to us every day, for several hours at a time, and had very positive things to say about our selection of music.

We’ve heard from commuters stumbling across us via the TuneIn app, out of frustration with another station, and staying with us for the rest of their journey then coming back again and again.

And just yesterday a business consultant played Scottish Business Radio during the ‘tea and coffee on arrival’ section of his workshop, to an audience of several Scottish business owners, and again, a very positive reaction.

The great thing about online audio streaming (or Internet radio) is that we can be absolutely clear on the figures. How many times was the stream accessed and for how long.

30 people in a room all listening through 1 computer would count as 1 listener in this regard. And of course, just like mainstream radio, having the stream ‘on’ doesn’t actually mean you were listening. It could be playing but the listener might be out the room.

But it’s the best measure we’ve got so here are those stats:

In 1 month on air, Scottish Business Radio has had a total of 476 unique listeners, and between them they have enjoyed a total of 761 listening sessions, consuming 284 total listening hours. The average listening session is 22 minutes.

We will continue to improve the selection of music we play and the spoken word, business related information content alongside it. Our ‘More Music Weekends’ are proving highly popular with 6 songs in a row from 6pm Friday – 6am Monday with only minimal idents. We have interest from a handful of people keen on using the channel to broadcast their own content.

So far, we have kept Scottish Business Radio commercial free, although our offer of sponsoring a day for £50 remains open. We will keep this open for another month as we recognise being able to provide audience data may make us a more attractive advertising or sponsorship proposition and of course you continue to have the ability to donate to support the station.

If you don’t already, we would encourage you to find and follow us on the TuneIn app as this provides a greater listening experience with ‘now playing’ information and makes it easy for you to listen via your mobile.

If you experience problems receiving us or have suggestions or comments to share you are welcome to get in touch by emailing studio@scottishbusinessradio.com

You can join our mailing list to be kept up to date with out progress. What started as an experiment is gathering momentum and we hope you will stay with us.

We wish you every success in life, and in business.

More soon!

Colin.

Scottish Business Radio

Launching in June, this is an online channel aimed at small business owners in Scotland.

There will be music, information, and stacks of ideas and inspiration to help your business grow.

I want to make sure we play the right music. Music that’s going to fire you up and help you soar to great results.

So if you could take a few seconds to fill out this survey and give me 3 artists you’d like to hear while you’re working, I’d be really grateful.

And if you want to listen to the channel, which is testing just now, it’s here.

T In The Park

There’s been a spate of disappointing coverage about T in the Park recently.

About the location, the Ospreys, and TV show winners being heavily promoted and added to the line up.

It’s a far cry from the early days of 94 and 95 in Strathclyde Park and the beginning of something new, edgy and special with bands (many of them British) who would dominate popular culture for the next 5-10 years or more.

And a further cry from its peak of around the millennium when the biggest stars on the planet genuinely wanted to perform at Balado.

We used to hear the well worn phrase of how much ‘T’ was worth to the Scottish economy.

I haven’t heard that stat in any of the recent coverage.

I haven’t heard anyone mention who they’re looking forward to seeing this year.

I didn’t hear anyone rave about what happened last year, or the year before, or, well, you get the idea.

Maybe I’m getting old.

Maybe T in the Park is getting old.

Here’s a question: if you took away all the bands, the stages, and the music and were left with nothing more than a big piss up in a field…could you still find 80,000 people willing to pay tickets to go?

I’d suggest you would. And I get the feeling it’s been that way for a while now.

Maybe it’s time for a T break?

Or maybe you feel differently?