with Peter Coquillard, on Collaboration

Thursday, 02 May 2013

Peter Coquillard curates The Bali Songwriting Summit and will moderate our upcoming ‘In Conversation – The Making of a Hit Song’ event at VIVID Sydney.

1. Tell us a bit about your journey through the music industry – can you describe some personal highlights?

My interest in the music business, like most peoples, came from my passion for music. As a kid growing up in Chicago, I worked at a record store and played in bands. I remember one of my friends and mentor was in a band that had a development deal with Geffen Records. For two years Geffen supported their new writing and production, yet they were never offered a formal record contract. This got me thinking more deeply about what I wanted my role in the music industry to be. If about 5% of albums released had some success, my chances of joining one of these bands and selling a lot of records was slim, especially if it couldn’t happen for my own friend. What suddenly became more appealing was the idea of becoming the person at the record label who could decide who to sign and develop. I found out this was called A&R and repurposed my professional ambitions.

I attended a college with an arts management program, moved to Austin Texas to drink in the vibrant live music scene and ended up in LA where I landed a job at Windswept Entertainment, who specialised in providing music for film and television. I moved to NYC to open Windswept Pacific New York, moved on to work for Netwerk Publishing for many years. Now I’m back in LA developing a publishing division with Bill Silva, who manages Jason Mraz and is one of the foremost concert promoter in the US.

Some personal highlights include working on the films Dazed and Confused and Forrest Gump, signing Pete Townsend and the Who catalogue, working on Windswept’s joint venture company with LA Reid, getting to know and work with many of the great Swedish pop writers, having had a successful series of hit songs across Asia, including Japan, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan.  Lastly, creating the Bali songwriting invitational in conjunction with Mike Taylor of Island records.

2. Why do you choose the artists you do for the Bali Invitational? What stands out to you in an artist?

When looking at candidates for any of these spots, we focus on three criteria: talent, commercial success and/or potential and the ability to play well with others.

To clarify on these three, talent is a given. Either you have great intrinsic talent, like we’ve seen from Gary Go and Megan Washington, or you can have talent that has a great platform to reach a wide audience, such as Havana Brown and Ruby Rose.

As for commercial success/potential, many of the writers and producers who attend the Bali invitational come from the US, UK and Scandinavia. In order for their companies to justify the cost of sending them around the world to write songs, there needs to be other artists at a certain level of commercial success for them to work with.

As for playing well with others, there is no better phrase to explain it. Our first year we organised the event based mainly on writers that Mike and I had worked with directly, adding a few others into the fold. What we noticed is that in many cases the attendees become like family and continue to collaborate well after the camp ends. It’s important to know that the attendees can work well with others in order to enrich the relationships that form in the sessions after they leave. Bottom line, no one wants to spend 10 days on an island with a diva or an egomaniac.

3. You’ve witnessed first hand how strangers can write songs together – what works and what doesn’t in terms of collaboration do you think?

Being fearless, yet humble. Songwriting is a collaborative effort. Making great art is not about playing it safe. There needs to be a level of trust and security within the session so that you can throw out the craziest idea that you can come up with and not be ridiculed for it.

One needs to be humble in the give and take, which is the process of songwriting. You can put great writers together and if someone insists on dominating the process with their ideas and their direction, it often leads to resentment or the participants just want to conclude the session as quickly as possible. Plus you rarely get someone’s best work in those situations.

4. What are some of the main challenges songwriters come across when collaborating and how have the songwriters you’ve come across overcome these?

The first challenge is always coming up with the good idea. What is the concept, title, main line? The challenge is finding that avenue that everyone wants to pursue.

Others challenges include getting stuck on a specific part, not being able to come up with the bridge, etc. It’s my experience that most professional songwriters know a good idea when they hear it, so when they’re stuck in a situation and maybe have competing ideas for a pre-chorus for example, most of the time it’s evident – which works better in service the song.  The most common problem is finding a word that rhymes. To that end there are dictionaries and songwriting programs that can give you alternate words and multiple combinations that you probably hadn’t thought of.

5. What’s your tip for bands trying to negotiate copyright splits over collaborative works? When something gets created through jamming, who owns it?

My advice with all bands is to set ground rules beforehand. Some bands split all songs equally. In some bands, one or two members may be the prominent songwriter/s and therefore the writing credit always goes to them, or they can agree to share a smaller percentage with the other members of the group.

Regardless of the way you choose, it will save a lot of conflict in the future if everyone knows going in to the session, what they are getting out of it. For songwriters in a session, as opposed to a band or group, it’s best to either agree before you start writing, or agree when the song is finished. Coming back weeks later to decide on song splits rarely ends well.

Jamming should either be equally split or perhaps made 50% of the work if a lyric and melody is then written on top of it.  A band I worked with in Austin would record all their jam sessions and then go back and find the bits and pieces that could be worked into a song.

6. What song from the Bali Invitational has been the most successful? Why did it work so well?

If I had to pick one song that continues to perform well it would probably be the song ‘Kill of the Night’ by Gin Wigmore, Gary Clark, and Julian Hamilton of the Presets. The song was initially released on Gin’s chart-topping album in New Zealand and has since been embraced by the film and TV community here in Los Angeles.

Abroad it was already been used in an Alpha Romeo commercial and in the States it had been licensed eight times for various television and film uses, network promotions, all prior to the US release of her album. It was initially slated for a Super Bowl ad for Budweiser beer (the equivalent of winning the lottery for music placement), but the offer was withdrawn when they realised that Gin appears in a competing Heineken commercial. Only last week I was told that the song has been licensed for two additional films, bringing the total to 10.

7. What makes a hit song and why?

A hit song demands an emotional connection. That emotion can make you want to dance, laugh and/or cry. When you find that perfect mix of melody and a lyric that is both unique yet universal, you’ve found the illusive formula for a great song. If it’s a hit, all the better.

8. You’re moderating the upcoming  ‘Song Summit Presents In Conversation: The Making of a Hit Song.’ What do you hope audience members will get out of the discussion?  

I hope that they understand that the writers on the panel take their jobs very seriously and have worked and studied for years to achieve this level of success. Composing a hit song that sounds like it was easily written is perhaps the hardest job of all and it takes real dedication for most to achieve anything close to it.

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