Cian Sweeney is a songwriter, producer and musician I have grown to know well over the last 12+ months. As an in-demand piano/keyboard player, he has toured the world and been the MD of shows that few get to at such a young age. As a writer, he creates with an infectious energy, rare versatility and a deep understanding of how music works. In recent sessions with us he has worked with a range of writers from new, young talent to major label international artists. Every single person he works with wants to come back to work with him again. Besides his writing and production work with The Nucleus, he also releases as an artist under the name 1000 Beasts.
2018 is starting with a nice creative explosion at The Nucleus; we have 2 songwriting camps on Jan 14th-16th, and again on Jan 28th-30th. Songwriting camps are powerful creative projects, but they work best when part of a creative arc that also includes solo writing and further collaboration that is longer and more focussed than the camps allow. The standard of the songs that has come from our camps in 2017 has been very high, but the creative relationships that get formed at the camps can be worth more than any single song. Developing writers learn more from an intense 3 day camp than they would anywhere else, as a result their solo writing can then improve leaps and bounds. Experienced writers can get the best from each other and many ideas can be developed quickly over 3 days. For everyone, the relationships that are created will last for many years into the future and will lead to more writing and songs than those just produced at the camps. Songwriting camps aren’t the ‘thing,’ but they create a fertile ground and network from which that magical musical thing we are all chasing can grow. Very often this will happen after, and in between the actual camps.
We see our songwriting camps as an investment into developing songwriters and creating great new relationships, as much as creating great new songs. We are proud that our camps are run without charge to writers or external funding. Our work has to help the best of the Irish songwriting scene become the Irish songwriting industry, because that’s what needs to happen. I have no doubt that Irish songwriters who will go on to great success with The Nucleus will look back on our songwriting camps, and the creativity and relationships that came out from them, as being hugely important.
Our first songwriting camp of the year kicks off in just 4 days. Our second camp starts in 18 days. What a great way to start 2018.
In the development of a song from writing to release, production can be the cherry on the cake. Can it also change how the cake should be sliced up? It’s a recurring question and one that I have had a historically evolving view on. When I first sang with bands way back in the 90s, the idea of giving a producer royalties seemed strange, unless they were a heavy hitter whose name would open doors; heavy doors. Fast forward to today, I am now sent tracks by pop producers where I am told ‘the song is almost finished’ and all it needs is the top line. So it has no melody and lyrics, no voice, no chorus, no singalong sections… but it’s almost finished? Yes indeed, times have changed.
As with many things in life, context is everything. If a writer has a killer track completely written, and it hits hard even in basic demo form, why give a producer points? But giving a producer a writing credit can be Idea Of The Week if that track is sitting on the shelf and they bring the extra 5% of magic that makes it worthy of the airwaves. To paraphrase the old proverb, a song in the hand is worth two in the bush.
Modern popular music is about more than the combination of words and melody with chordal and rhythmic arrangement. It’s about whatever conjures up the magic. Try telling someone who grew up on dance music that lyrics are everything. Try telling a hardcore hip hop fan that vocal melody is king. And then look at the profound impact these genres have had on the charts. The role of the producer is as important as ever, if not more so. The Temple Of Song hasn’t disappeared or gone anywhere, but it has changed and it is continuing to do so. Don’t hold on too tightly to the old ideas, but don’t throw them away either. The lines between writing and producing may blur now more than ever, but the end game remains; great songs. Creators should embrace divergent talents and let the lines blur if they need to, it’s still all about creating the best work.
So is production worth % points? Sometimes it’s no. Sometimes it’s yes. Sometimes it’s yes please, pass the cherries.
I know best. If a songwriter plays me a song and I love everything about it, that means it’s a great song. If she then tells me that an artist has the same song streaming online and that it has less than 1,000 plays, I don’t care, it’s still a great song.
I know best. If a band plays me a song and it doesn’t carry me away, it means it’s not there yet, and possibly means that it never will be. If that band then tells me that the same song is streaming online and has over 10,000,000 plays, I might presume they’ve got a video with hot models kung-fu fighting tattooed sharks in zero gravity and have tone deaf bots pumping up those streaming numbers.
When working with music and songs, either creating them or promoting them, you can ask yourself if a song is ‘there.’ Like love, there are a million ways a song could be almost there, but when it’s really there you feel it in your bones with laser beam certainty. Analytics are useful and powerful tools, they can help you tap into listener reaction by proxy. But analytics will never help you tune in to the soul of a song before anyone else has ever heard it. We are very, very, very far from computers replacing human instinct. When it comes to knowing what moves my own heart and mind, I know best.
I have just returned from the Paris Songwriting Camp, nestled in the magazinesque Le Pigalle hotel in the red-light-turned-hispter district of the same name. The sideways-moving and extra-wet rain was reminiscent of Dublin. The vibe and panache was pure Paris. It was a wonderful backdrop to a meeting of international songwriting talent, and songwriter representatives, and was a very well run event. The team behind it are a bunch of dedicated pros who started with the Stockholm Songwriting Camp and are taking their creative model international. It was inspiring to see them in action.
A songwriting camp of this type would be a great asset in amongst the growing songwriting industry in Ireland. Watch this space…
When you’re launching a business like The Nucleus, there’s no such thing as a boring or quiet week. At the end of almost every Friday throughout 2017, I have looked back at the previous week thinking; 1/ Wow, that was a pretty amazing rollercoaster ride, and, 2/ Why doesn’t everyone else also work the weekend? But this week has been that extra bit special. Our first songwriting camp was an incredible learning experience and produced some fantastic songs. To think that we will now be running our songwriting camps every single month in Dublin is very, very exciting. Creative collaboration is like magic when done right. We can’t wait for next month’s camp, and the month after, and the month after…
It’s a beautiful sunny day over Dublin and it is also the first day of our first ever songwriting camp. Over the next 3 days we have some of Ireland’s finest young songwriting talent at work in different locations in the city. From here on we are running the camps every month and already have the studio space and accommodation booked until early 2018. We are starting small, with approx 20 writers and we’re not making a song and dance of it (forgive the pun!), the plan is to learn as we go along and constantly improve and help the writers with us create great work. Next month will be bigger, and the month after will be bigger again. I can see our songwriting camps becoming an important part of what we do, for both our own talent and for songwriters coming from abroad to work with us.
As I write I can hear the strains of a song that Ryan O’Shaughnessy and Janet Grogan are putting together, as they sit outside enjoying a break in the sun. It is incredibly satisfying to hear such high quality music being brought to life within the cocoon we have created for writers.
Song 1, day 1, camp 1. Many, many more to come.
…the value gap is reduced and safe harbour is removed from YouTube.
… most music users become paying subscribers to streaming services like Spotify.
… the blockchain, or something functionally similar, creates data points for all song uses.
… vinyl sales stay healthy.
… CDs become retro enough to be cool, and become like vinyl for the millennial generation.
All of these things could happen, and they could even happen within the same decade. If they do, let’s hope the industry keeps its feet on the ground.
The Nucleus is proud to be partnered and sub-published by an exceptional set of music publishers in individual major music territories around the globe. Our sub-publishers include:
Elevate Music, Ireland
Round Hill Music, USA
Downtown Music Benelux.
Red Brick Songs, Canada
Native Tongue, Australia
After serious amounts of work at The Nucleus HQ by songwriters, staff and tea makers, our publishing catalogue will be going live to the world very soon, with each of the above publishers representing our work in their respective territories. Excited? Very, very much so!
Hamlet Sweeney, hamlet[at]thenucleus.ieRead More