When I started the Write, Co. project, one of the artists I contacted was a supremely talented singer/songwriter called Luna Keller, who luckily liked my music too and agreed to write a song together. As was the case with most of the other people I've written with she lived in a different country to me, but thanks to email and Skype we were able to able to write together without ever actually meeting in person!
Luna came to me with the basic idea of the song - a tragic character called the Midnight Queen who has been badly hurt in the past and doesn't feel brave enough to love again, so she embarks on a series of one-night stands, leaving a trail of broken hearts in her wake. Luna already had the main chorus hook and some ideas for what the rest of the lyrics could be - I took these ideas and shaped them into the verses, I finished off the chorus, and together we came up with the middle 8/bridge section.
Once we'd finished writing the song, we both knew it was strong enough to release as a single rather than just a demo, so the next step was to record it. You would think recording a song in different countries would be complicated, but it was actually quite simple. I recorded the piano part on my keyboard and sent it to Luna, we then agreed which lines we should each sing and recorded our vocals separately in our own homes. Luna's dad added the bass and the atmospheric guitar parts, and then we all decided the song could really benefit from having a cello on it, so we found a cellist in New York called Yoed Nir who did a wonderful job.
We sent the song to be mixed by Uli Pfannmüller at TonUP studios and mastered by Andreas Balaskas at Masterlab Mastering in Germany (such an international production, this song!), and the finished version was as hauntingly beautiful as we hoped it would be when we wrote it. The artwork for cover was provided by Luna's friend Lara Gimeno, a wonderful graphic artist. The single was released on March 20th 2020, and on it's premiere date the music blog NeverEnoughMusic.com gave it a lovely write up, which you can read here.
In November of 2020 the song was nominated for Best Musical Collaboration at the Wigwam Online Radio Awards, and as of February 2021, it is my most popular song on Spotify (with 23k+ streams).
I really cannot recommend Luna Keller's music enough - below are the links to her social media pages, so please check them out...
While I had greatly enjoyed the co-writes I had done with other songwriters for the Write, Co. project, writing and recording 'Midnight Queen' with Luna Keller was the most creatively satisfying collaboration I had done so far - we could share our opinions and feedback on performance and arrangement whilst always being on the same page regarding what we wanted the song to be, and we were also able to combine our musical resources to produce a professionally recorded single that we were both very proud of.
I decided I wanted to write more songs with singer/songwriters and bands, with the end goal of hopefully producing an album's worth of collaborations (this decision coincided with the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic, which actually made finding collaborators much easier, as there were a lot of musicians with home recording equipment who suddenly found themselves in quarantine with a lot of free time on their hands!) When I went back to Twitter to search for people, I quickly came across Stage Parades, a band who did instrumentals. They posted this video of 'Winter Sun', a track from their album 'Open That Trap Door', asking if anyone wanted to try writing lyrics for it. I loved the tune and so I asked if I could give it a go.
I started by thinking about what the title 'Winter Sun' meant to me, and the first thing that came to my mind was an occasion a couple of years ago when I was driving to work very early on a winter morning and the sun was so bright I had to pull over because I literally couldn't see through the windshield - this became the inspiration for the first verse. The second verse was inspired by the last time I visited my grandparents' old house in Denmark, and we actually ended up using a photo my dad had taken of that house many years ago as the cover of the single.
The process of recording the song was quite easy, since pretty much all the instrumental tracks were already recorded by the band - all I had to do was record my vocals, and I ended up recording seven layers of them! I then sent all the individual vocal and instrument tracks to my regular producer Joe Lonsdale, and he did a superb job fixing and mixing them until we ended up with the polished final song. Both me and the members of Stage Parades were very happy with it, and the single was released on July 3rd 2020.
Below are the links to Stage Parades' social media pages - they make beautiful music, so please check them out...
I discovered Jake Haws' music when I was searching on Twitter for other songwriters to collaborate with. When I read about his musical career on his website I found out that not only was he part of an acoustic Beatles tribute duo called The Fab Folk (which I thought was awesome) but he had done many collaborations with other artists in the past. I listened to an episode of his podcast 'Making Music With Jake Haws' where he and singer/songwriter Cody Butler discussed their music and then wrote a song together - they wrote a great song called 'Moving Forward' (you can hear the episode here, and the song here) and it sounded like they had fun doing it, so I got in contact with Jake and asked if he'd like to write a song with me.
Jake agreed, and we arranged a video call during which he would interview me for his next podcast episode and we would try to come up with a song - you can hear the episode on the player to the left. Inevitably, when we were brainstorming possible song topics, our first thought was the panic and chaos surrounding the Coronavirus pandemic, which was happening at the time. I was hesitant to go down this route as it seemed too obvious and easy, but Jake came up with the good idea of making it less about the pandemic specifically and more about wishing for the return of less troubling/fearful times, and for sunnier days (which was ironic, as the UK was going through a heat-wave at the time!). I came up with the riff that starts off the song, Jake suggested the chord variations that became the bridge and the end of the chorus, and we both had equal input on the lyrics. The whole thing took us about an hour to write, and we were both keen to preserve the simplicity and optimism of the song when we went to record it.
What I've loved about the collaborations I've done is how different every experience has been - 'Midnight Queen' was written over a period of several weeks by sending emails back and forth, 'Winter Sun' was me on my own trying to add something to an already-written piece of music, and 'Sunny Days' was written in one go during a video call! As Luna Keller and I did on 'Midnight Queen', Jake and I recorded our parts separately in our own homes - me providing vocals and keyboard tracks, and Jake providing backing vocals, guitars, bass, drums and percussion. Jake was very patient with me, as it took me quite a while to finish my parts and send them to him - in my defence I was in the middle of moving house at the time, and my wife was about to give birth!
The final song may sound like it has a simple arrangement, but there many more layers and tracks than you would think, and the disadvantage of Jake and I living in different countries and different time-zones was that changes and tweaks to the song weren't always easy to do. Therefore, rather than drive Jake mad by giving him constant notes, I took the great initial mix that he had done and finished it myself. After that, I sent the final track to my regular producer Joe Lonsdale for mastering, and the song was finally complete.
I wasn't sure what the cover of the single should be, so Jake suggested looking for inspiration on pexels.com - I went on there and found a beautiful photo taken by Adrien Olichon of a sunrise on an empty street, which we thought was perfect. The single was released on July 17th 2020.
Jake Haws is a great singer and songwriter - below are the links to his social media pages, so please check them out...
Over And Out
Gavin Kaufman is another artist I discovered on Twitter. After listening to (and buying) his great album 'Aura Symphonia' I got in contact with him and he was totally on board with the idea of writing a song together. Even though we both live in the same country and could have met up in person to write, because of our busy schedules we found it easier to exchange ideas via email.
The writing process started with me sending Gavin a possible idea for a verse, consisting of a piano riff and an accompanying chord pattern. Gavin quickly replied with a voice memo of him singing two verses worth of lyrics he had written, plus a melody idea for the bridge, chorus and middle 8, and a suggestion for the title - 'Budge' (inspired by the first line of the first verse, "I'm not gonna budge an inch...") Continuing the defiant tone established in his verses, I wrote the lyrics for the bridge and chorus (the last line of which inspired the song's eventual title - 'Over And Out'), and Gavin wrote the lyrics for the remaining two verses.
As with my previous collaborations, given my limited home recording resources, all I was able to provide Gavin with was keyboard tracks and my vocals. I sent them to him and left him to finish the song on his own, which took a while as it was a big task (the only time he requested something from me was when he asked me to send him a recording of me saying the song's title a bunch of times - he didn't say why, and I didn't ask!). We only ever discussed the song's style and instrumentation very briefly - I suggested having the riff being played on a synth, an idea which Gavin liked, but other than that I left him to it - being a fan of his music and style I was confident it would sound great.
For some reason, I expected the song to have a mainly acoustic arrangement, so when Gavin sent me the final mix I was quite surprised by the electro-pop style he'd gone for instead. However, it very quickly became clear he'd made the right decision, and I ended up listening to the song many times that evening - and the recording he'd requested of me saying the title repeatedly now made glorious sense when I heard how he'd put it to use in the middle 8 and the coda. I'm so grateful to him for all the hard work he did producing, mixing and mastering the song, and I love the end result.
Since the song is about standing up to someone (or standing up for a cause), my first thought was for the cover to feature a picture of people protesting, so I searched on pexels.com and found several possible photos. I made a few mock-up designs and Gavin and I agreed that this photo of a man in a black t-shirt raising his fist in anger (taken by Marco Allasio) was the most powerful and iconic, so that's what we chose for the cover. The single was released on September 25th 2020.
Gavin Kaufman is a great singer and songwriter - below are the links to his social media pages, so please check them out...
I discovered Spencer Segelov on Twitter by searching for artists who had made music during the first Covid lockdown - i.e. people who not only had recording capabilities at their disposal, but a strong creative drive as well. I came across 'Mitigating Circumstances', a pop/RnB album that Spencer had written and recorded entirely by himself, and after buying it on Bandcamp I asked him if he'd be interested in writing and recording a song together. He'd never written with anyone before but said he was willing to give it a go!
Spencer had made albums in several different styles before, including rock, synth-pop and chamber music, but I told him I was interested in writing something in the style of 'Mitigating Circumstances' as I'd never really written an RnB song before and I thought it would be a fun challenge. I sent him a verse-and-bridge melody idea that was fast-paced and bouncy, along with a suggestion for a title and theme - 'Minefield', a song about how you have to be very careful what you say these days for fear of offending people. Spencer took the first five bars of the verse idea and slowed it right down, turning it into a chilled RnB groove that would form the basis for the bulk of the song. He also suggested a slight change to the proposed theme - making it more specifically about someone in a volatile relationship who has to be very careful what they say to their partner.
Writing this song was a very different process than the other collaborations I'd done - with them, once the chords and melody of the song were established, the arrangement usually came naturally, but because 'Minefield' was so based around that initial groove, getting the arrangement right was much more crucial to making the song work, and keeping it interesting. In terms of exchanging ideas there was a lot of back-and-forth, but what was great was we never rejected each other's suggestions - we would always either build on them or just tweak them slightly (e.g. I added a horn part, and Spencer changed a couple of the notes - Spencer wrote a chorus, and I altered the lyrics a bit). The song really ended up being equal parts mine and Spencer's because of this, which I'm very glad about.
It was a time-consuming way of writing and recording, especially since all our communication was done via email. Had we been able to be in studio together at the same time we would probably would have finished the song a lot sooner - but then again, without the luxury of being able to listen to an idea and consider it for a while before suggesting a change, we might have ended up taking the song in a whole other direction. I'm very proud of the finished product and how different it is to my usual style (I also got the chance to showcase my falsetto, which I hadn't really done since the end part of 'Shona Mona Mae'!)
Spencer produced and mixed the song himself on Garageband - he admits this was a challenge for him, but he did it brilliantly. We sent the song to be mastered by Charlie Francis at Synergy Mastering, who did a great job of balancing the song's pulsing bass as well as the brighter elements. I designed the song's artwork by taking a clip-art image of a single mine and creating rows that were increasingly smaller to give a sense of a field of them, stretching towards the horizon. The single was released on December 7th 2020.
Spencer is an extremely talented artist - below are the links to his social media pages, so please check them out...
The more collaborations I did, the more I was eager for the next one to have a completely different sound than the last, so I started seeking out genres I wasn't too familiar with. Synthwave was one of these genres, and I instantly fell in love with its retro 80s sound. I came across Dimi Kaye while I was exploring the genre, and what set him apart from other synthwave artists was his use of rock guitar alongside synthesizers and drum machines, which I found to be an irresistible combination. Since I saw he had worked with other vocalists before, I reached out to him and asked if he'd like to collaborate, and he happily agreed.
I had a song I'd written years ago that I thought would suit Dimi's sound, so I sent him a rough version of it. He quickly sent me back a basic synth arrangement of the chords and melody, and it was immediately clear that the combination of my tune and Dimi's sound was going to work well. I had written a full set of lyrics for the tune I sent him - it was called "We Won't Be Here For Long", and it was about how mankind was likely to implode if we couldn't find a way to live in harmony. Although this seemed like a depressingly relevant topic for 2020, I was never satisfied with the lyrics and how they fit with the melody. I therefore threw them out and wrote a whole new set of lyrics for the song, about another topic that was also very relevant to 2020 - anxiety.
Anxiety, particularly amongst young adults, was already a rapidly growing problem before the Coronavirus pandemic came along and amplified it. I knew quite a few people who suffered from it, and the new lyrics I wrote were inspired by them and the mental 'demons' they were finding it harder and harder to face in such isolating and uncertain times. Even though it isn't mentioned in the lyrics, there is a reason for the number '23' in the title - however, rather than explain it, I'd prefer to leave it to the listener's imagination.
I recorded my vocals at home and sent them to my regular producer Joe Lonsdale to be edited and mixed. After that, the rest of the production was done by Dimi - he not only honoured the ideas I had regarding the sound and the arrangement, but the song is also full of creative touches he came up with that all greatly improved it. The solo before the final chorus is a great example of this, where he he took a basic idea of mine and tweaked it so it fit the tone and flow of the song so much better. The mixing process is often the most frustrating yet rewarding part of recording, and since Dimi and I are both perfectionists the song went through ten mixes before we were both happy with it. I'm thrilled with the result, and I can't thank him enough for his kindness, patience and skill.
The photo for the cover was taken by John Wu (LifeOfWu on Instagram), and for our names and the song title I used the cool fonts Dimi had previously used on the cover of his album 'Not Holding Back' (which I highly recommend). The single was released on February 5th 2021.
Dimi is an incredible guitarist, producer and composer - below are the links to his social media pages, so please check them out...
Kiss The Sky
One of the internet radio stations that frequently plays my music is Radio WIGWAM, and it was through them that I discovered Keith Schwartz's music. His ambient soundscapes and gorgeous guitar solos reminded me of late-era Pink Floyd, so I contacted him asking if he'd like to collaborate on a song in that style. When he said yes I sent him piano demos of two possible song ideas, and the one we ended up choosing was a piece that I had originally composed over 15 years ago for my A Level music course at school, where we had to write a musical score for a film scene (in this case, for the montage at the end of 'Donnie Darko' where 'Mad World' by Gary Jules plays).
In terms of arrangement, songs we had in mind as touchstones were 'Brothers In Arms' by Dire Straits and The Corrs' version of 'Little Wing' - 'gently epic' was the sound we were going for! While Keith started laying down pad and guitar tracks, I re-recorded my piano part and started trying to come up with lyrics. I had the title 'Kiss The Sky' in mind already, purely because, for me, the music always conjured up imagery of a bird soaring across a cloudy sky (hence the picture we chose for the cover art, taken by Tim Mossholder). I only wrote two verses of lyrics for the song, because the intention was always for it to be a mainly instrumental track to showcase Keith's sublime guitar skills.
I recorded my vocals at home and sent them to my regular producer Joe Lonsdale to be edited and mixed. The piano part was the trickiest element of the song to get right, because it couldn't be perfectly 'in time', otherwise it would clash with Keith's more loose and free-flowing guitar. I therefore had to go into the MIDI file and individually adjust the timing of certain notes - it was a painstaking process, but worth it. The last thing that was added was a drum that Keith had got from a Native American reservation in Colorado - it has an incredible, majestic booming sound, and it gave the second half of the song so much power and atmosphere. The single was released on February 19th 2021.
Keith is an amazing guitarist and composer - below are the links to his social media pages, so please check them out...
What Music Is Now
I was searching Twitter for multi-instrumentalists when I discovered Nathan Snyder, a one-man rock band who writes, performs and produces all his own music under the stage name Vandarth. After listening to his superb album 'Space Coffin', I got in touch asking if he'd be interesting in collaborating. At the time he was putting the final touches to his latest album "The Way Through" (which he wrote and recorded entirely by himself during lockdown), but said he would be happy to once it was finished.
I shared with him a song idea I'd had for a few years - one that sounded like a typical song you would hear at a music festival, but which also made fun of those types of songs. I had the chorus already written, and from that we came up with a verse melody that was based on similar chords but held for twice as long. We had tracks by Coldplay and Eliza The Bear in mind as references for the 'festival sound' we were trying to emulate, but we also wanted a rockier Foo Fighters-style edge to the later choruses.
As I wrote the lyrics for the verses, the song became less a parody of festival anthems and more of a statement of our feelings as independent artists towards the modern music industry (I like to think most of our peers will be able to relate to at least some of the songs' sentiments). As an ironic reference to the line in the chorus "no solos or musicianship, 'cause that's not allowed", Nathan came up with an awesome middle 8 section where he and I could both rock out - it was challenging but fun to tailor my piano part around his guitar riffs! It is entirely due to Nathan's skills as a producer and a rock musician that the final song sounds as epic as it does - I merely provided him with the vocals for my sections (as well as my usual piano and keyboard tracks) but it was his mighty guitar and drum-playing that made our little home recording sound stadium-worthy!
For the cover I wanted to find a picture of an old form of music media. I looked through lots of pictures on pexels.com of vinyl albums, but none of them seemed quite right. I expanded my search to include cassette tapes, and that's when I found the iconic image by Swapnil Sharma that we ultimately chose. The single was released on April 30th 2021.
Nathan is an awesome singer/songwriter/musician/producer - below are the links to Vandarth's social media pages, so please check them out...