You’ve seen the photos now read all about it! Last week, we opened the doors to Talent House for our UD Songwriting Camp. Over four days, we were graced with special guests – Ella Bonai Gordon, Alana Maria, Digital Mozart, Michelle Escoffery, Stevie B Beatz, Mark Angels, Preye Crooks, Trey Qua & Taneisha Jackson – for a programme of activities to get those all important creative juices flowing. In the second of our Songwriting blog series, we give you the inside story from Talent House…
The first day of the Flames Collective songwriting camp started on a gorgeous sunny Monday. This is the first time the Flames Collective have all been able to gather in person since the pandemic, in which they transferred choir sessions online. The group gathers in a semi circle awaiting instruction from resident teacher Andy Gilbert, and from A&R specialist Ella-Bonai Gordan, who’s running the first session today. The group is a wide mix of ages, all young people, but with some of them as young as 15, the group meshes exceedingly well together and they already seem like a unit. Andy reminds the group that a lot of the work they will be doing this week will feed into a collective EP that Flames and UD will put out.
The first task of the week is set to get the collective thinking about a song from the inside out. To set the tone of the week Ella asks the collective to think about their favourite songs of the moment, find out who produced them, and make a list. Strewn across the floor are names like Cat Burns and Cleo Sol, all inspiring young artists which sets the tone perfectly for the week’s first guest artist to enter.
Alana Maria brings a ton of energy into the room with her (she also brings her mum/manager/mom-ager), and after hearing what the Flames Collective can do with their rendition of ‘Proud Mary’, a Q&A is started. Alana has clearly learned a lot in her short 21 years and imparts many words of wisdom; “When you’re writing songs, stop pretending to be someone else, be the person in the song, be the main character”. Our guest speaker then gives the collective the word ‘changes’. They split up into groups and speed write songs, after which the group is brought back together and conducted by Maria to piece together each section into a full song. It’s barely been a few hours and the collective already has a whole song on their hands, impressive right?
After lunch, the groups are let loose on Talent House’s amazing new recording equipment and given complete creative freedom about what they want to write. I flit between each group, hearing what they’ve come up with, and so does Ella Bonai, imparting wisdom as she goes. We finally come back together as a group for the last hour of the day where Ella gets the group out of their heads with an arts & crafts vision boarding session. Glitter, glue, creativity and love is thrown around the room as a perfect end to the first day of the Flames Collective songwriting camp 2022. (JJ)
First up on the schedule for the second day of Songwriting Camp is a workshop with award winning singer, songwriter and vocal producer, Michelle Escoffery. Michelle takes a seat in front of the collective and watches them warm up their vocals with Andy. You can tell Michelle’s blown away by their talent as they fill the Music Room with their heavenly harmonies (giving me goosebumps). Michelle introduces herself and tells the collective what she does and answers their questions. She then splits them into three small groups and each group comes up with a word to focus on. The groups then head to the UD Studios and begin writing a chorus with their chosen word.
Michelle goes from room to room, giving the group songwriting tips and tricks. Each studio has a professional producer in it: either Mark Angels, Andy, StevieBBeatz or Digital Mozart. The producers work alongside the collective to come up with a brilliant backing beat for their lyrics. At the end of the recording session, Michelle gathers the groups together and we all listen to what each group has come up with. Michelle gives great feedback including “If you don’t like what you’ve come up with in the first 20 minutes, move on”. She also told us that a good way to break the ice is to “go for a coffee or some food with the artist you’re working with”. The collective love working with Michelle and have come up with some strong, well-written songs as a result. Michelle leaves and the group breaks for lunch.
After lunch the group gather in the Music Room for a Q&A led by Andy with talented producers Mark Angels and StevieBBeatz. The guys share their experience and knowledge with the group before everyone heads back to the studios to work on their songs with them. At the end of another successful day of Songwriting Camp, Andy brings everyone together for feedback and evaluations. The collective are so supportive and give helpful feedback to the other Flames members. I’m so impressed with the talent and work ethic the collective have shown today, a true recipe for success. (MH)
Wednesday starts strong with another amazing group warm-up in the Music Room, then it’s straight back into the UD Studios to develop the songs the groups had been working on the day before. However this time the collective have the help of Grammy nominated songwriter and singer Taneisha Jaxxon and artist, producer and singer/songwriter Tre Qua.
Taneisha and Tre work closely with the collective on their songs, with Taneisha giving songwriting support and Tre producing for one of the groups. I continued to be a fly-on-the-wall watching new ideas emerge and magic on the mic. The group break for lunch whilst our next superb speaker gets set up.
Everyone heads to the Music Room for a Q&A with Preye Crooks who is Senior A&R at Sony and Co-Founder of Strawberries & Creem Festival. The collective are really excited to have Preye in the room and have plenty of questions they can’t wait to ask him. He answers everything very honestly and reveals some real gems. The question that’s on everyone’s mind is how do up and coming artists get spotted by labels? Preye answers “you’ve got to give people a reason to be excited about you”. He shares his email address at the end of the Q&A with Shakira so that the collective can get in touch for feedback on their music and he also offers all the members free Strawberries & Creem Festival tickets which they are all super excited about, as you can imagine.
Andy then leads a Q&A with Taneisha and Tre, the pair both give industry insights and share their stories of how they got into the music industry. The groups waste no time after the Q&A and crack on with their song for the rest of the day. Taneisha & Tre join them, dipping in and out of each group, listening to their songs and giving feedback. As the day comes to a close, Andy gets all the groups together to listen to the songs they have been working on, you can feel the love, respect and admiration in the room (again), everyone heading home in high spirits (again). (MH)
For the final day of songwriting camp, the groups waste no time and head straight into the UD Studios to warm up with Andy. He gives the group advice, shares his experiences in the music industry and recaps a few of the important topics the speakers had covered on the previous days.
Then it was time to listen back to all the songs that had been made throughout the week and whittle them down from nine to three so that the preferred songs could be given the music video treatment by the camera crew that afternoon. This was a really tough challenge as all of the songs were of a high standard. We decided to get a white board and each member of the collective takes it in turns to tally up their top tracks. Once the results were in, the final tracks ‘Stay’, ‘Good Vibes’ and ‘Unfold’ were chosen with re-recording and final tweaks taking place before the music videos are shot.
The group end the day by performing their songs to Pamela (UD’s Founder) and the producers which is the perfect ending to a wonderful week. If the Flames Collective can achieve all of this in just four days, I can’t wait to see where their talent will take them next. (MH)
Words & photos: Maria Hanlon (MH) & Jojo Jones (JJ)
Want to access the Talent House, why not become a UD Member today? Packages start at only £25 a year…