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Collaborative Songwriting

For a lot of my professional life the idea of working with others on creative projects has not produced positive thoughts! Creativity, in so many ways, is wholly subjective and so trying to work on a musical project with others can very easily lead to a clash of ideas and vision.

“It will be so much quicker and easier if I just do it by myself”

This thought often runs through my mind, but whilst true in many senses I have learnt that getting things done quicker does not nearly outweigh the benefits and results of effective collaboration.

Awakening Soundtrack

At Nexus ICA we are really pleased to release 16 songs from the soundtrack of our original musical, ‘Awakening’. However, what excites me about this release is not so much the quality of the songs or recordings (although excellent), but rather what the album represents. This soundtrack, including nine songs that we didn’t have time to record (!), is the product of a brilliant process that involved the coming together of a huge number of staff and students.

The Songwriting Process

With the goal of creating an original soundtrack for our Christmas musical, a team of students were invited to be a part of a Songwriting team. Briefs and reference tracks were sent out, and in their own time this group of volunteers were left to get writing…

Using a Facebook group and a Google Drive folder, students submitted ideas for music and lyrics that the whole group could see and comment on. As the staff member overseeing the writing process, I would give feedback on submissions and encourage different combinations of students to work together and develop ideas further. Whilst this might all sound quite straightforward and logical, so much beauty was displayed through this collaborative process.

Humility
If you’re reading this and you are a creative person, you will probably know that opening up your ideas for critique puts you in quite a vulnerable position. What if people don’t like it? On the other hand, something of yours being used to serve someone else’s vision can be equally challenging. It’s yours… and you are proud of it… and the idea of other people taking it in a different direction can be difficult.

This student team impressed me so much. They captured the heart and vision of the show, and freely offered their time and their skill to serve that vision. Songs ended up being worked on and finished by others, meaning that everyone had to hold their ideas lightly. In many instances, songs where not used for the show at all. Often these songs were excellent, but perhaps didn’t fit the scene as well as another. Again, students were brilliant at investing their time and continuing to offer ideas, regardless of whether they were used. The humility exercised through the writing process was amazing.

Teamwork
The teamwork amongst staff and students was also incredible. On the platform of humility, students and staffed offered their unique skills to take a song where it needed to get to. One example of this is in the development of the song ‘The Proposal’. I submitted the musical idea but didn’t know where this could fit in the show, or how to develop it. It sat as an undeveloped idea for some time until third-year vocalist Hannah Sewell presented some lyrics. She also wrote a counter melody, suggesting that this song could become a duet – something I had not considered. As we developed the song further, the team felt that it would benefit from a strings arrangement. At this point we asked two other students, Alick and Josh, to see what they could come up with. They worked together, combining their arrangement skills and technology, and produced a beautiful string arrangement that enhanced the track further.

This is just one song. The truth is, every song in the show has a story like this. Every song represents a number of people who worked together, contributing their unique talents to realise the final product.

Commitment
It’s easy to commit to something when it doesn’t cost you that much. However, this team didn’t let up. They remained humble, worked together and kept their eye on the bigger vision. When they were busy and tired, they kept writing, and friendships seemed to keep getting stronger even with the pressure of the shows just around the corner.

The Song ‘Hope For Christmas’ represents the commitment of students and staff right down to the wire! With the first show just 5 days away, we realised that we needed another song. We didn’t have anything that captured the hope of our story or that was appropriate for a curtain call. I messaged the team on the Saturday, and by Sunday I had an idea sent in. This idea was developed on Monday and we managed to arrange a rehearsal for Tuesday night to get a band arrangement. This meant that by Wednesday the song was ready to run in the dress rehearsal and timings could be set for the curtain call, just in time for our first show on Thursday evening!

What our Students Say

There is so much more that could be said about this process. We haven’t touched on the way the cast helped develop the songs or the way the bands added their creativity to the arrangements. However, I do hope that this blog has provided some insight into a great process that is such an essential component of this release. To finish, let’s hear from some of the amazing students that played a part in making this release possible.

Rebekah Holby (Third Year Vocalist)
Eris’ Plea, Not For You, Mrs Drapers Song, This is The Place, Come Join Us

Being part of a team of talented writers really opened the door to so much creativity. Every single person came with their unique styles and experience. Exploring someone else’s writing process with them was amazing, it allowed me to push myself and encourage them, developing our skills even more. Bouncing ideas off multiple people expanded the songs and pushed boundaries, I wrote in styles that I wouldn’t normally consider and approached writing in so many different ways. I really felt that working collaboratively built a real sense of community and support where talent and skill was not only encouraged but highly valued.

Matt Stevens (Third Year Keyboardist)
Awakening, Dangerous, Requiem

Creating original music is something I enjoy inherently, however, it was particularly rewarding to see the music being used as a part of something bigger that itself. I learned more about writing songs with a purpose and writing to build on someone else’s creative vision. This process has been both enjoyable and beneficial. It has allowed me to practice skills which will be useful in my career and apply it to a real application and it allowed me to try my hand at various approaches to collaborative creativity.

Hannah Sewell (Third Year Vocalist)
The Proposal, The Proposal (reprise), Self-Made Man, Whole Again

All of the songs that I worked on and wrote for Awakening were collaborated on in some way or another. Whenever I felt like I was out of ideas on how to take a song further, someone stepped in and brought it up to the next level. It was a really fun process to collaborate with loads of different people across the students and staff and develop the songs into the amazing soundtrack it is today. I’d encourage anyone who’s a songwriter and hasn’t collaborated with anyone before, to do it! It’s such a beautiful strengthening process.

I also really enjoyed being pushed to write music outside of my stylistic comfort zone. For example, I came up with a synth bassline and took it to Emar, the guitar tutor. It then transformed into the heavy rock (verging on metal!) track, ‘Runaway’. Because of that song, I learnt that I shouldn’t put a ceiling on my creativity.

Matt Cossey

Matt is an experienced performer, session musician and musical director who brings a wealth of musical experience to Nexus ICA.  Having played and studied alongside many top professionals he continues to love learning, developing his ...

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