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Dan Moore

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Over recent weeks BASCA members have been electing representatives across Classical, Jazz, Media and Songwriting genres, with a number of new faces joining those Committees and the Board.

As well as nine existing Board members – Crispin Hunt, Gary Carpenter, Issie Barratt, Mark Ayres, Marc Sylvan, Helienne Lindvall, Paul Hartnoll, William Sweeney and Rupert Hine, who all retain their seats, Stephen McNeff returns with four new elected members. These are Jo Thomas, Martyn Ware, Dru Masters and Orphy Robinson. Two independent Board members will be announced in the near future.

Following these elections Crispin Hunt – who will remain in post as Chair of the BASCA Board for a further three-year term – said, “I’m delighted to unveil our new Board and Committees, which demonstrates the amazing strength and depth of expertise and experience that we have among the BASCA membership. There are big challenges ahead of us , not least the ongoing issues surrounding Article 13, but I am confident that these strong , diverse teams can be instrumental in taking us forward towards what we all think can be a bright future for songwriters and composers.  ”

>Click here to read more about the Songwriter Committee<< 

>Click here to read more about the Classical Committee<< 

>Click here to read more about the Media Committee<< 

>Click here to read more about the Jazz Committee<< 

 

 

Last night over 300 guests including BASCA members and music industry professionals enjoyed the summer sunshine as BASCA hosted it’s annual summer party at Camden Fest in north London.

David Manders, Jonathan Morrish, Paul Brindley, Michael Stack

Helienne Lindvall, Fiona Bevan, Fay Hine, Orphy Robinson

Entertainment on the night came from 3 finalists competing to secure this years BASCA ACM Scholarship place. Samuel Deed, Elsa Thurley and Leoni Kennedy all performed for guests but it was Elsa that the judging team chose as the winner of a scholarship place at the Academy of Contemporary Music to study Creative Songwriting and will now have her entire course fees funded.

3 finalists, Samuel Deed, Elsa Thurley andLeoni Kennedy

Crispin Hunt (BASCA Chair) with scholarship winner Elsa Thurley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ACM first offered the BASCA Scholarship in 2015 when Ivan Proctor was chosen as the first ever recipient. Other winners are Tom Gortler (2016) and Nathan Morgan (2017)

 

The 44th Gold Badge Awards at the Savoy Hotel on Monday 2 Oct. 2017.
Photo by Mark Allan

 

BASCA is delighted to announce that the Gold Badge Awards return for their 45th year to The Savoy in London on Friday 19th October 2018.

The Gold Badge Awards are sponsored by PPL and PRS for Music.

These awards celebrate a unique contribution to music; recognising the achievements of outstanding individuals who have supported and inspired the British songwriting and composing community.

The ceremony celebrates eleven unique contributions to music. The day includes a drinks reception in The Savoy’s River Room overlooking the Thames followed by a three course lunch in the Ballroom.

Tickets are now on sale. If you’d like to receive details please email cindy@basca.org.uk or fran@basca.org.uk

BASCA will announce the identity of those collecting this year’s Gold Badge Awards on Monday 17th September.

 

The 44th Gold Badge Awards at the Savoy Hotel on Monday 2 Oct. 2017.
Photo by Mark Allan

In celebration of her 90th birthday, Thea Musgrave CBE, master of the modern orchestra
and recent Ivor Novello Award recipient, talks about her life in music.

When did you start making music as a child?
My first musical experience was my very first piano lesson as a child of five in Edinburgh. My teacher had the wisdom to ask me to stand on the piano bench and peer over the top of the opened upright piano and look in at the mechanisms all the while as she played the notes on the keyboard. Well, naturally, I was hooked for life! I also had a baby sitter who used to sing Swanee River to me! You studied at the University of Edinburgh, but began studying medicine before switching to music.

How did you realise that you needed to change path?
Well, unlike the rest of the University, the medical school and the music school happened to be in close proximity to each other. Originally I had started studies in medicine intending to find cures for all (yes, all!) the major diseases – but I found myself spending more and more time in the music school rather than cutting up frogs. And the creative opportunities in music eventually won out for me with a different kind of ‘discovery’.

After Edinburgh you moved to Paris for four years to study with Nadia Boulanger. What was she like as a teacher?
Nadia Boulanger was a very important influence on me. The four years I spent with her in private lessons and at the Paris Conservatoire really shaped my discipline and technique as a composer, and helped me enter the wider world of music where I came to find my own individual voice. After studying, you established your career in
London. What was the musical scene like there? It was filled with concerts. I went to one almost every night – frequently with Richard Rodney Bennett, or other composers, or with friends. How did your idea of ‘dramatic-abstract’ composing come about? From a dream actually! I woke up in the middle of the
night terrified from dreaming that, while I was conducting an orchestra, suddenly an instrumentalist stood up and challenged me by going his own way with the music. I laughed about that with my friends at dinner that night. And the very next day (and I mean the very next day) I got a commission to write a piece for Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. That became my very first ‘dramatic abstract’ piece – The Concerto for Orchestra, during which the clarinet
stands up to defy the conductor.

How do you decide which topics or stories are going to work as operas?
The stories that have attracted me and have formed the basis of my operas have all been about issues such as power struggles, sexism, racism, and individual heroic journeys – whether they were successful in the end or not. They are also often about well-known historic personages like Harriet Tubman, Simón Bolívar, or Mary, Queen of Scots – who were all up against strong odds but nonetheless still persevered. But always dramatic situations. As a composer I have been fascinated to shape their journeys for the stage, to write the words they might really have said. And to set and surround their emotions with music, bringing their
dramatic confrontations and lives to the stage so others can feel them as I do.

You have written some of your own libretti. What are the advantages of doing this and what are the challenges?
It was from Mary, Queen of Scots onwards that I took over writing my own libretti. And never looked back. Although other writers may be more experienced at writing plays and poems and prose, I find that the needs of words that are going to be set to music are very different indeed. For instance some pages of text can fly by in fast-moving music, and yet just a few lines can suffice for a long slow aria – where the orchestra can also elaborate upon the feelings and the moment. And it is certainly more efficient for a composer to write the words for the music they will eventually compose, thereby consolidating and organically intensifying their understanding of how the drama moves. It also means one can change words up to the last minute if one needs to. Nobody’s permission needed! Richard Wagner certainly understood the benefit of that process! Ultimately, it is easier for me to talk with myself as both librettist and composer. There is much less chance of misinterpretation, and certainly no need for tact or compromise.

You have written a lot of orchestral music and often conduct your own works. Which orchestras have you particularly enjoyed working with?
I have loved working with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, which gave me my first chances, as well as the other BBC orchestras. In the US, the Philadelphia
Orchestra, Boston and Chicago Symphony Orchestras as well as several opera companies including San Francisco Opera and the New York City Opera. And then I must mention the years in Virginia.That is where I really learned about opera: from my husband, Peter Mark, who conducted there for nearly four decades, and from all
the wonderful singers, directors, musicians and organisers as well!

Which soloists have you particularly enjoyed working with?
Barry Tuckwell, the famous horn player, now retired. Oboist Nicholas Daniel and French horn player Martin Owen, who are both very active. Conductors Norman
del Mar and Colin Davis, earlier in my career – and, more recently, Martyn Brabbins and Susanna Mälkki. I have only mentioned European (and Australian!) performers.There are also many, many wonderful American performers that I have had the pleasure of working with. I must mention Ashley Putnam, soprano, who gave the first US performances as Mary in Mary, Queen of Scots. She was right at the beginning of her career.

Which composers’ music do you most enjoy listening to?
A long list, inevitably incomplete: Igor Stravinsky, Béla Bartók, Witold Lutosławski, Luciano Berio, Peter Maxwell Davies, Richard Rodney Bennett, the classics, and, of course, Johann Sebastian Bach. Then there is opera. And let us not forget Claudio Monteverdi.

What are the differences in the musical scenes between the UK and United States?
The UK of course is much smaller and its musical life is more concentrated and interconnected. The US is enormous and one simply can’t be in contact with all the
different music centres that exist there. There is also a huge difference in how musical organisations are funded.We need to keep that in mind and make very sure that young people can get the right kind of exposure to the wonders of music at the right age.

Your 90th birthday year is being celebrated with performances throughout the US and Europe. How much will you try to get to? And what are you most looking forward to?
As many as possible! It’s great to see old friends and haunts as well as meet new friends and colleagues. I am very much looking forward to hearing my two new works, Missa Brevis and A Collect for John the Baptist, for the Wells Cathedral this June. And I’m also to going to Stockholm, Sweden – where I have never been – for four concerts of my works as their FOCUS composer in November.

What advice do you have for young composers starting out today?
Be true to yourself. And don’t try to be ‘original’! Above all, make friends with wonderful performers.

At London’s Guildhall School of Music & Drama, BASCA curated a day of events
dedicated to media composers – bringing together industry experts and high profile composers
from the worlds of film, TV, adverts and gaming

 

PANEL 1. THE COMPOSER TEAM
A discussion with people who creatively and technically support the composer: what do their roles involve?

Speakers: arranger/conductor AndrewSkeet (AS), score mixer Rich Aitken (RA), musical sound designer Simon Ashdown (SA), and music editor John Warhurst (JW). Moderated by Laura Rossi.

AS: “My role [as arranger/conductor] is to remain as calm as possible and communicate effectively. Ultimately, I’m working for the composer so it’s important that I protect them from complicated social dynamics… “Nowadays, many composers don’t read music but they still have sufficient understanding of the score. However, there are some situations where the composer wants to write a piece with strings that are very high (or in a tricky key) without realising that this will be technically difficult to play.”
RA:“[As a score mixer] I’m often working with, or providing assets to, the dub mixer and director, so I have to be diplomatic. However, my loyalty lies predominantly with the composer… “When I work with stems, I aim to go with what the overall vision for the music is. Normally, the director has the final say on this. It can be difficult when you’ve put a lot of work into live orchestration but hopefully I can spot any potential problems early on, so that I can incorporate different opinions.”
SA: “When I worked on my own as a composer, I struggled with being alone all the time. I made a conscious effort to reach out and start collaborating with other composers, which took some of the pressure off me.”
JW: “[With music editing] it’s important to understand the construction of film, as well as music – ensure you’re just as well acquainted with sound effects and dialogue.”

 

PANEL 2. VIDEO GAME MUSIC
A panel of top video game composers discussed how to break into their industry and the specific challenges of working in the interactive medium.

Speakers: Joris de Man (JdM), James Hannigan (JH), Jessica Curry (JC), and Tess Tyler (TT). Moderated by Richard Jacques.

JdM: “Rather than scoring for a specific scene, think about what the player’s experiencing. For example, if they’re traversing beautiful landscapes, aim to score the experience of what they may be feeling, rather than focusing on their surroundings.”
JH: “There is no set or standard approach to scoring games. It depends on the genre and the role that the user is playing. Ask yourself: are they being told the story? Are they part of the story or an inhabitant of the world?”
JC: “I played piano growing up and composed for pleasure but it never occurred to me that it was a job I could make money from and enjoy, which was an important realisation.”
TT:“It’s important to develop the ability to write little golden nuggets of music that are loopable, and encapsulate an environment or a narrative in four bars that can segue into any game state instantly – whether that’s flying, shooting or exploring. Try not to think of a beginning and an end point. If you have a traditional compositional background, it can be a challenge to switch off that part of your brain.

 

PANEL 3. MEET THE MUSIC SUPERVISORS
A discussion examining the current landscape of the industry, the relationship between the composer and director, advice on what music supervisors are looking for, and how best to secure sync deals.

DN: “If you can keep your emails short and have a point of interest about yourself or about the track that is going to catch someone’s eye, there is a chance it’s going to get listened to and pitched. If you’re starting out, and you’re sending clips of something dark and cinematic and it’s just audio, that doesn’t show us that you’ve got the ability to write to picture – it is important that you can demonstrate that skill.”
LH: “Be very clear about whether you own 100% of the publishing and the master, because as a music supervisor we’re very often caught in a situation where we thought a licensed track was going ahead but then at the last minute something doesn’t get approved… “Everybody has adaptability and can work across different styles, but from our side, it’s much easier to remember somebody if they’ve got one key style that they work in.”
MDV:“Editors often find tracks as well that they will temp in at the beginning, and if it’s working really well then we’ll keep it in. So I would say, if you’re pitching tracks, pitch to editors as well… “I found the perfect track for [a film] – and it was a big sync, it was probably about £15,000 – and the person hadn’t put any metadata on their mp3, so I spent about three days trying to find who had sent it. And I could never find out, so they didn’t get the sync. Going forward, it’s all about the metadata…”
“A really good tip is to contact people on sites like Indiegogo. They don’t get people contacting them, and if you can demonstrate you’re a composer and the directors and producers are interested, you may not get paid, but at least you can create a good show reel if you have about three or four of them at the end of it.”

 

PANEL 4. SURVIVING AS A MEDIA COMPOSER: TIPS + TRICKS
From publishing and pitching to networking and communicating with directors, we look at the art of navigating a career as a professional media composer.

Speakers: Tom Hodge (TH), Nainita Desai (ND), Rob Lane (RL), and Dan McGrath (DM). Moderated by Kevin Sargent.

TH: “If you’re on a tight deadline you don’t have time for writer’s block. Sometimes this can even be helpful to start the flow of ideas. When you
write under pressure or ‘off the cuff’ you might end up creating some interesting, emotionally-charged music.”
ND: “You’re only as good as your last job and can never rely on a few clients alone to bring in the work. Keep networking and searching for new business – otherwise you’ll stay within your comfort zone and only ever work with the same people…” “Directors often want a string of different versions but I think the original one is always the best – this is normally when you have your initial spark of inspiration after seeing the visuals for the first time.”
RL: “We’re all looking for relationships with directors where we have a chance to develop as a composer and work on a variety of projects that stretch us. However,
the way that film and TV is made nowadays makes it harder to build genuine relationships. It’s an ongoing challenge to sustain them… “At some point you have to put
aside your own feelings that are getting in the way of you writing the best music. Ask yourself why you’re committed to defending certain musical choices.”
DM: “We work in a collaborative field. When I decided to make the break from TV and radio production and move into composing for media, the first thing I did was talk to contacts I’d already made within the industry. This has helped me sustain a career throughout the past 20 years… “It’s our job to give back an audio file, within a tight time-frame, that tells a story and makes sense to a producer.”

 

PANEL 5. PRODUCTION MUSIC
Writing production music can offer you a good income and flexibility in your everyday life, but with so many options out there, has the industry reached saturation point?

Speakers: Sarah Pickering (SP), Natalie Dickens (ND), Caspar Kedros (CK), and Dan Graham (DG). Moderated by Marc Sylvan.

SP: “We’re always looking for stems from everybody now, because a lot of the agencies want to do something slightly creative with our tracks. We want to be able to offer that to them without them thinking they have to get something commissioned. Now we can tell them: “you can use this and you can change it.”
ND: “Make your track grow, build and definitely have an end. Do not fade a production music track. Because it’s easy to put an ending on a track, but with a fade, there’s no definite end to it… “When editors are listening to music, particularly library music, jumping through the music really quickly, they are not going to give your piece of music 20-30 seconds. They simply don’t have the time. So, anything that makes it jump out and engage is key.”
CK: “You can write production music, you can write custom bespoke music and you can be in a band. As a person wanting to make a living out of what they love, I think all three are worth pursuing.”
DG: “I gathered a list of maybe 2,000 different email addresses of companies all around the world. I put together some solo piano demos, because that was the easiest thing to do at that point, and just sent them out. Out of the 2,000 I sent out, I got maybe three or four positive responses… “It’s the connections that you make that will lead to other things.”

 

To watch video footage of the Media Composer Conference, please visit: https://basca.org.uk/ display-benefits/videos/

 

It may be either liberating or frustrating for a budding composer to hear that Rachel Portman has ‘never been particularly interested in the ‘technical’ side of music. Her declaration that ‘she’s largely unaware’ of key or time signatures, or even that she is ‘rubbish at theory’ has certainly never stood in the way of her becoming one of the UK’s most successful composers, with a string of accolades and seminal achievements to her name.  In 1997 she became the first female composer to win an Academy Award for her score for ‘Emma’. In 2015, she also became the first female composer to win a Primetime Emmy Award, which she received for the film, ‘Bessie’.  She received two further Academy Nominations for ‘The Cider House Rules’ and ‘Chocolat’. In 2010 she was awarded an OBE.

But perhaps, above all this, she has drawn of a legion of devoted fans who listen to her work independently of the films she composes for, and celebrate her music for the pure and raw emotion it elicits. Rachel’s heart-soaring score for the film ‘One Day’, (based on David Nicholls’ bestselling novel) captures sadness, regret and secret yearning. Although it’s become synonymous with the narrative of the ill-fated couple Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley – played by Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess – the music has also taken on a life of its own that’s equally as moving as the story itself.

Her unique musical voice has opened up many other opportunities, aside from film composing, throughout her career –  her opera ‘The Little Prince’ was premiered by Houston Grand Opera in 2003, and her choral work, ‘The Water Diviner’s Tale’  premiered at the BBC Proms in 2007.

Musical nurturing

Although she doesn’t describe her family as musical, it was her mother’s love of music that sparked her curiosity and encouraged her to experiment – as well as other positive influences in her childhood that included the composer Ben Mason,  her older sister’s boyfriend at the time. She still expresses gratitude for her early opportunities – she attended Charterhouse, where a composer in residence took an interest in Rachel’s compositions, providing a ‘real injection of musical education at a critical time’.

Oxford

It was her time studying music at the University of Oxford, with Robert Sherlaw Johnson that she found more ‘difficult’. She felt somewhat held back by his preference for a more ‘atonal’ style, which jarred with her melodic style.

But it was here she started writing music for her friends in the theatre and wrote the score for a short crowd-funded film called ‘Privileged’ featuring Hugh Grant, who was one of her contemporaries. Most importantly, this cemented her love for writing film music and she made up her mind to pursue this as a career.

However, Rachel had no specific qualifications to back up this experience and at the time there didn’t exist the film music composition courses there are today. But opportunities were opening up with the advent of innovative programming – it was the early ‘80s and Channel 4 was pioneering unconventional and challenging high quality drama. It was here she got her first break.

Synchronicity

At Oxford, she’d met Alan Parker (director of ‘Bugsy Malone’ and ‘The Wall’) while attending one of his talks at a pub in the city. At that point, he was the only person she knew in film. She took a chance and passed him a cassette tape of her music for ‘Privileged’.   He passed it on to David Puttnam, famous for producing Chariots of Fire. In a fortunate twist of fate for Rachel, he was having problems with the film, ‘Experience Preferred But Not Essential’, one of the films to be launched on Channel 4. He asked her for ideas. She returned a couple of days later with piano composition on a cassette. He loved what he heard and gave her two and a half weeks to complete a score. She looks back on this as a ‘generous and wonderful thing to do’, reflecting that it was a ‘remarkable chance to take’, not least because she knew nothing at the time about time codes, clicks, or how to put together a small orchestra.

It was the first of many television commissions that included  ‘Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit’ before she went to Hollywood in the early ‘90s to write the music for her first feature ‘Used People’, directed by Beeban Kidron, who’d also directed ‘Oranges’.  This opened up yet more opportunities and she went on to write the music for the quirky comedy romantic comedy ‘Benny and Joon’ and the film ‘Where Angels Fear to Tread’ based on the EM Forster novel.

Challenges

She celebrates ‘incredible’ directors such as Jonathan Demme who provide ‘exciting new challenges’.  She worked with him on the film ‘Beloved’, based on Toni Morrison’s novel exploring the slave trade in America. From the start, Jonathan asked her to write music without using any European or Western instruments. She says: “I was pushed out of my comfort zone and forced to do something completely different.” Jonathan’s request meant that she had to work within certain restrictions that impacted her scope for writing melodies. She says: “I used   African instruments that only played in one key or mode but it meant I experimented more with vocals.”

Collaborative

She advocates that composers must ’fight for what you know is right in your music and be true to yourself’ but maintains that ultimately, it’s better to foster a collaborative spirit in the business – “It’s very important that you’re easy to get along with.”

Finding themes

For the majority of her projects, Rachel receives the work print for the film with an embedded time code before she begins experimenting. She prefers not to start on a film too early as there are so many changes in the edit process. And rather than working chronologically, she prefers to begin work with the scenes that speak to her.

As many composers agree, a composer needs to put their own ego aside to serve the needs of the film and help the director fulfil their creative vision. But Rachel also says: “It’s vital that a composer is attuned to a project.”

This was the case for the film ‘Never Let me Go’, which has become one of her most favourite films and scores. She says: “The mood of the film is driven by a tension and an inability to let go or resolve conflict within relationships.” It was these themes that resonated most with her and inspired the slightly jilted, constricted and unsettled-sounding melody, which underpins the score’s main theme,

Although technology continues to have a huge influence on how composers write, Rachel’s approach has changed little since her early days of composing.

She prefers to approach the exploration of themes ‘almost like a meditation and a place of stillness’.  She says: “I like to relax into a state where I can ask the right questions.”

If there’s been one trusted source for the answers throughout her career it’s the piano. It remains the ‘purest form in which to communicate ideas’. She says: “I record music in piano writing form without click, then write a short form score on six staves.”

Diversity is important for Rachel because she always appreciates new challenges. In 2016 she wrote the music for Marks and Spencer’s Christmas advert, starring Janet McTeer as Mrs Claus. She describes the project as a ‘joy to work on’ – she had three weeks to complete but within ten minutes had written the theme for the young boy character because he spoke to her the most.

It’s also important for Rachel to follow causes that are close to her heart. In 2012 she wrote the symphony ‘Endangered’ for World Environment Day concert, which was commissioned by the National Centre for the Performing Arts and performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

She says: “I enjoy seeking out my own projects that fulfil and nourish me creatively.”

Watch the video of the interview at BASCA’s recent Media Composer Conference

This interview is taken from the The Works #56. You can read the whole magazine here.

Composer and conductor, teacher and artistic director, Oliver Knussen died this week aged 66.

A towering figure in contemporary music, Knussen was one of the most influential and performed composers of his generation. He was also the recipient of the Ivor Novello Award for Classical Music,

Gary Carpenter, chair of BASCA’s classicial committee said “This week saw the sad passing of Oliver (Olly) Knussen. Apart from his achievements as one of the world’s finest composers and conductors, Olly was unstinting in his support and encouragement of at least two generations of composers, most recently as Richard Rodney Bennett Professor at the Royal Academy of Music. There are innumerable BASCA members whose lives have been enriched over the years by him and all of us at BASCA are devasted that he has gone so early and we will always be grateful and thankful for everything he was and did.”

Read The Guardian obituary

MEPs voted on the Copyright Directive in Strasbourg today and failed by a small majority (318 votes to 278, with 31 abstentions) to authorise the process whereby the European Union Council, Commission and Parliament negotiate a final text for passage into law.

Under the new Directive of Copyright which contained the key element Article 13, it would have required online content platforms like YouTube and Facebook to use filtering systems that block content — such as images and videos — that infringes the rights-holder’s copyright.

Crispin Hunt, BASCA Chair said:
“While we are disappointed that the campaign of misinformation has undermined the vote on Article 13, we can be emboldened by the strength of voice and argument coming from across the creative community. Thousands of songwriters, authors and composers, large and small are standing united to fight for fair compensation for the use of their copyright on the internet. This issue will not go away and the fight will continue. We call on all music creators to join us as we campaign ahead of the next debate in September.” 

Michael Dugher UK Music CEO said: “This is a sad day for everyone involved in the creativity that is behind Britain’s world-leading music. It is desperately disappointing that a small majority of MEPs have backed Google’s shabby multi-million euro campaign of fake news and misinformation against creators. Frankly, in some cases MEPs were naive. In others cases, they have chosen to wilfully disregard the plight of creators. These proposals would make a real difference to our creators, to those that invest in them and to all of us who value our culture. Google’s YouTube is the world’s most popular music platform, yet it deliberately chooses to return a pittance to those whose creativity it has built its multi-billion pound business model on. Google remain the vultures that feed off music creators. The fact remains that this must end. We sincerely thank the 278 MEPs who backed reform and look forward to engaging positively with all MEPs on the opportunities to develop the Directive further. We may have lost this particular round, but the fight to ensure fairness for music creators goes on.”

Robert Ashcroft, Chief Executive, PRS for Music, said: “It is perhaps unsurprising considering the unprecedented level of lobbying and the comprehensive campaign of misinformation which has accompanied this vote that MEPs want more time to consider the proposals. The vote showed that many MEPs across the various European political parties understand the importance of fixing the transfer of value and of a well-functioning market for copyright. We appreciate their support and hope that as we move forward to the Plenary debate in September, more MEPs will recognise the unique opportunity to secure the EU’s creative industries. From the outset our primary focus of this legislation has been concerned with whether or not the internet functions as a fair and efficient marketplace – and currently, for artists and authors, it doesn’t. They want their creative works to be heard, they embrace technology, but they want to be paid fairly. We will continue to fight for what we believe is their freedom and a fair use of their creative works.”

 

Cathy Dennis is arguably one of the greatest British songwriters of all time. Following a successful stint as a solo artist in the ‘90s, Dennis has since written for some of the biggest names in music, from Kylie Minogue to Janet Jackson, Britney Spears and Katy Perry. Her lyrical brilliance has been proven time and time again and her influence in the music industry is undeniable. Here, she tells us about her early inspirations and takes us behind the scenes of some of her biggest hits…  

“Music is something that you primarily feel,” suggests Cathy Dennis.

We’re speaking about songwriting the Monday after The Ivors, where she was honoured for Outstanding Song Collection. This marks her sixth Ivor Novello award – the most won by any woman in the prestigious event’s history.

“I am hugely self-critical,” she continues, reflecting on her career and songcraft.

“But I’ve gone through these periods where I try not to be too critical, because I know what the perils of doing that are. As soon as you let your head start getting too involved – it’s difficult to feel it.”

With co-writes on eight US Top 10 singles and 17 UK Top 10 hits, not to mention a trophy cabinet overflowing with Ivors, Grammys and various others accolades (including an Honorary Doctorate of Music from the University of East Anglia), Dennis’ infectious pop lyrics and melodies have been at the top of the charts and on heavy pop radio rotation for the last 30 years.

If anyone knows what music should feel like, it’s Cathy Dennis.

Like many musical prodigies, Dennis’ education in music started at a young age. Growing up in a musical family in Norwich, her mum Linda Dennis was a singer and her dad, Alan Dennis, a jazz and classical pianist.

“Both my parents were musicians and they both played in various bands together,” she says. “My dad was the band leader so he wrote all the music for the rest of the musicians to play and my mum was a singer.

“I had a rather unusual upbringing of spending a lot of time around them while they were doing their various gigs around the country and watching them do their rehearsals as a young child. So, although I knew their job was unusual, it felt strangely comfortable, the idea of doing that for a living.”

In addition to seeing her parents performing for a living, Dennis cites the likes of the Bay City Rollers, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and ABBA as some of her “early big influences”.

“I was mad about ABBA. I just loved their songs and I loved Agnetha [Fältskog] in particular, but I loved all four of them. I had a big phase of that,” she says.

“Then, at around the age of 12, I got into dance music. I was really excited about Michael Jackson and his Off The Wall album in particular. Dance music really became a prominent pass time for me and I started going out to clubs with my friends specifically just to go and absorb as much dance music as I could.”

She says that it was also around this time that she started to properly analyse the music and by the age of 15 was writing songs herself, with her first song being one she penned with her dad.

“He wrote the most gorgeous chord changes and I felt really inspired to write a melody and lyric on that and then I paid for myself to record it in a local studio in Norwich,” she recalls.

“It wasn’t until a lot later that I realised how useful the time that I had spent previously doing it with my parents actually was when I first started to write songs.”

Two years later when Dennis was 17 she “heard that Simon Fuller was looking for a girl singer to manage” and succeeded in setting up an audition with him. “They obviously had a lot of people interested because he had already established himself,” she explains.

“Initially I was told that they already had the girl they were looking for, a model who couldn’t really sing very well, as opposed to me who had a lot more musical interest. Fortunately, it somehow developed that they changed their minds about it. So, I auditioned and the rest is history, really.”

Dennis signed deals with Fuller’s 19 Management and Polydor after that. She first found herself in the charts via the tracks C’mon And Get My Love and That’s The Way Of The World, both by British producer D-Mob aka Dancin’ Danny D. Those two singles reached No.15 and No.48 in the UK Singles Chart respectively.

Her 1990 debut solo album, Move To This, hit No.3 in the UK Album Chart with the four singles Just Another Dream, Come And Get My Love, Touch Me (All Night Long), and Too Many Walls performing well in the charts around the world. Two more solo albums, Into The Skyline (1992) and Am I The Kind of Girl (1997) followed.

Looking back at her time as a solo artist, Dennis says that “it was a great experience”, and that she misses the “freedom you get as an artist”.

“It was a big part of my life,” she adds. “You can’t compete with that freedom, because when you’re a songwriter, you’re really trying to tailor it to other people.

“Now that I look back on it, I knew that as soon as I had made that transition to songwriting that I was going to feel a lot more restricted. I think that is why I initially rebelled against [writing songs for other people].”

So why did Dennis decide to make the change from being a solo artist to being a professional songwriter? “In the end, I didn’t know what else to do with myself,” she says..

“I considered a few other options, but I felt that I had been given a talent and that it would be abusing that gift if I were to just ignore it or throw it away. I also looked upon it at the time as [making] a living. So that helped me with the discipline for the whole process.”

Dennis diverted all of her attention towards writing songs after parting ways with her record label in 2000 and a string of hits ensued over the next few years.

She co-wrote the Stargate-produced S Club 7 track Two In a Million with Simon Ellis (which was on the group’s debut album S Club). It reached No.2 in the UK Singles Chart and was one of the first of the group’s many Dennis-written Top 10 hits.

She also wrote for the likes of Will Young, Rachel Stevens, Sophie Ellis-Bextor and of course Kylie Minogue, whose Can’t Get You Out of My Head topped the UK Singles Chart for four weeks in the Autumn of 2001.

The song was written with Rob Davis in his home studio in one afternoon.

“[Its success] didn’t make me feel great, because I had not come out of the session with any emotional scars,” explains Dennis.

“With [Britney Spears’] Toxic, even though I didn’t like the song initially, until I heard it on the radio, I felt more satisfaction because it had been a much harder process to complete.”

Dennis says that she’s “always tried to write from an emotional point of view” and about what she’s going through at the time, rather than make lyrics up for the sake of writing a song.

“It just dawned on me this morning that there are actually people who write songs lyrically coming from a business angle, trying to sum up what people want to buy music for,” she says. “That’s something I’ve never done.”

Earlier on in her career, when she “was mostly writing on her own”, the writing process could involve anything from sitting down with a guitar to a piano and building lyrical and melodic ideas around her own music.

“As soon I started writing with other people I found myself more in the role of lyricist and melody writer, so therefore the other person was much more musically responsible,” she explains. “Although, I am very opinionated and I do have a lot of ideas musically. I like to be in situations and in relationships with people who are open to my ideas musically as well as on the lyrics and melody side.”

She tells us that her advice for any aspiring songwriter would be “to do as much research as possible and to do as much analysis as possible”.

“That’s something I’m still obsessed with,” she says. “Find out what works for you and know what works for you and don’t compromise on that.”

Commenting on how much the music industry has changed over her three-decade long songwriting career and particularly how different it is to when she first started out, Dennis notes how important it is that “there are a lot more female songwriters now”.

“It’s the healthiest it’s ever been in terms of women redressing the balance,” she says. In terms of the contemporary British songwriters that Dennis admires, she cites Jess Glynne “because she is so diverse and consistent”, but also Ed Sheeran, “as we all know he is a genius”.

With our interview nearing its end, we return to the topic of winning awards, which Dennis has become well accustomed to over the last 30 years.

In spite of the number of times she’s walked up to the stage to collect one however, she says that the novelty hasn’t quite worn off yet and that her Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Song Collection is particularly significant for her.

“Every other award has been about one specific song, so to receive something [to recognise] your whole career up to this date is a lot more overwhelming,” she explains.

“And when you watch a video of yourself [at the ceremony] from 25 years ago, you remember the way that you felt and how you thought at that time. There’s something really emotive about that.

“So, I wasn’t able to control my emotions at all. And, why should I?”

 

Kylie Minogue, Can’t Get You Out Of My Head
“That wasn’t written with any specific artist in mind. It was the first of a couple of songs Rob Davis and I wrote together and it was a ridiculously relaxed afternoon. It really was written and demoed in two-and-a-half hours. It’s really annoying, because you spend the rest of your career wishing that things would come that easily, but it just doesn’t work like that all the time unfortunately. We just did it around Rob’s house and he had a little studio. It was small but it was very nice. It was really relaxed. We would do an hour’s work and then take a break and then do a bit more and take a break then I was gone before it hit three hours. I didn’t get in the way of my ideas that day. I do spend, and I have spent, a lot of my career getting in my own way and playing devil’s advocate and trying to edit my work perhaps too much. But that was one occasion when I didn’t.”

Britney Spears, Toxic
“That was written in Sweden with Bloodshy & Avant [Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg] and Henrik Jonback. I went over there to write with Janet Jackson in mind. I was there for about ten days in total. I’d had a meeting with Janet, I think in London, but it may have been in New York. I thought I’d have a go at writing something that would work for her and it didn’t come out at the time. We did have this song Toxic, though. It was started on day one of seven booked in with Bloodshy & Avant and Henrik [Jonback]. We started on day one and then took part of day two to try finish it. And because I couldn’t quite finish it, I said look, ‘Let’s start on something else’. So we wrote another three songs that week and in my spare time while I was in my hotel room I was very busy editing my lyrics on Toxic. Eventually on day seven, which was the day I was flying back to England, I had run out of time. I knew that it was D Day and I had to sing and that was what I came up with after a lot of editing.”

Will Young, What’s In Goodbye
“The co-writer was Burt Bacharach. I felt such an enormous sense of responsibility. This was my one opportunity with someone with who I had grown up idolising. I knew that I couldn’t mess it up. Every few weeks I would get a message saying, ‘Hey, Burt wants to speak to you’ and I knew he would say, ‘Is it finished? Is it finished?’ And I had to keep saying, ‘Not quite, I’m getting there. It took four months. When it was finally completed and recorded, Burt said that he was very happy with what I had done. So I was just happy that I didn’t let him down.”

 

The Works magazine also features interviews with Rachel Portman., Don McLean and a review of BASCA’s Media Composer Conference. You can read it all here.

 

Cathy Dennis is arguably one of the greatest British songwriters of all time. Following a successful stint as a solo artist in the ‘90s, Dennis has since written for some of the biggest names in music, from Kylie Minogue to Janet Jackson, Britney Spears and Katy Perry. Her lyrical brilliance has been proven time and time again and her influence in the music industry is undeniable. Here, she tells us about her early inspirations and takes us behind the scenes of some of her biggest hits…  

“Music is something that you primarily feel,” suggests Cathy Dennis.
We’re speaking about songwriting the Monday after The Ivors, where she was honoured for Outstanding Song Collection. This marks her sixth Ivor Novello award – the most won by any woman in the prestigious event’s history.

“I am hugely self-critical,” she continues, reflecting on her career and songcraft. “But I’ve gone through these periods where I try not to be too critical, because I know what the perils of doing that are. As soon as you let your head start getting too involved – it’s difficult to feel it.”

With co-writes on eight US Top 10 singles and 17 UK Top 10 hits, not to mention a trophy cabinet overflowing with Ivors, Grammys and various others accolades (including an Honorary Doctorate of Music from the University of East Anglia), Dennis’ infectious pop lyrics and melodies have been at the top of the charts and on heavy pop radio rotation for the last 30 years.

If anyone knows what music should feel like, it’s Cathy Dennis. Like many musical prodigies, Dennis’ education in music started at a young age. Growing up in a musical family in Norwich, her mum Linda Dennis was a singer and her dad, Alan Dennis, a jazz and classical pianist. “Both my parents were musicians and they both played in various bands together,” she says. “My dad was the band leader so he wrote all the music for the rest of the musicians to play and my mum was a singer. I had a rather unusual upbringing of spending a lot of time around them while they were doing their various gigs around the country and watching them do their rehearsals as a young child. So, although I knew their job was unusual, it felt strangely comfortable, the idea of doing that for a living.”

In addition to seeing her parents performing for a living, Dennis cites the likes of the Bay City Rollers, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and ABBA as some of her “early big influences”. “I was mad about ABBA. I just loved their songs and I loved Agnetha [Fältskog] in particular, but I loved all four of them. I had a big phase of that,” she says. “Then, at around the age of 12, I got into dance music. I was really excited about Michael Jackson and his Off The Wall album in particular. Dance music really became a prominent pass time for me and I started going out to clubs with my friends specifically just to go and absorb as much dance music as I could.”

She says that it was also around this time that she started to properly analyse the music and by the age of 15 was writing songs herself, with her first song being one she penned with her dad. “He wrote the most gorgeous chord changes and I felt really inspired to write a melody and lyric on that and then I paid for myself to record it in a local studio in Norwich,” she recalls. “It wasn’t until a lot later that I realised how useful the time that I had spent previously doing it with my parents actually was when I first started to write songs.”

Two years later when Dennis was 17 she “heard that Simon Fuller was looking for a girl singer to manage” and succeeded in setting up an audition with him. “They obviously had a lot of people interested because he had already established himself,” she explains. “Initially I was told that they already had the girl they were looking for, a model who couldn’t really sing very well, as opposed to me who had a lot more musical interest. Fortunately, it somehow developed that they changed their minds about it. So, I auditioned and the rest is history, really.”

Dennis signed deals with Fuller’s 19 Management and Polydor after that. She first found herself in the charts via the tracks C’mon And Get My Love and That’s The Way Of The World, both by British producer D-Mob aka Dancin’ Danny D. Those two singles reached No.15 and No.48 in the UK Singles Chart respectively. Her 1990 debut solo album, Move To This, hit No.3 in the UK Album Chart with the four singles Just Another Dream, Come And Get My Love, Touch Me (All Night Long), and Too Many Walls performing well in the charts around the world. Two more solo albums, Into The Skyline (1992) and Am I The Kind of Girl (1997) followed.

Looking back at her time as a solo artist, Dennis says that “it was a great experience”, and that she misses the “freedom you get as an artist”.
“It was a big part of my life,” she adds. “You can’t compete with that freedom, because when you’re a songwriter, you’re really trying to tailor it to other people.

“Now that I look back on it, I knew that as soon as I had made that transition to songwriting that I was going to feel a lot more restricted. I think that is why I initially rebelled against [writing songs for other people].”

So why did Dennis decide to make the change from being a solo artist to being a professional songwriter? “In the end, I didn’t know what else to do with myself,” she says.. “I considered a few other options, but I felt that I had been given a talent and that it would be abusing that gift if I were to just ignore it or throw it away. I also looked upon it at the time as [making] a living. So that helped me with the discipline for the whole process.”

Dennis diverted all of her attention towards writing songs after parting ways with her record label in 2000 and a string of hits ensued over the next few years. She co-wrote the Stargate-produced S Club 7 track Two In a Million with Simon Ellis (which was on the group’s debut album S Club). It reached No.2 in the UK Singles Chart and was one of the first of the group’s many Dennis-written Top 10 hits. She also wrote for the likes of Will Young, Rachel Stevens, Sophie Ellis-Bextor and of course Kylie Minogue, whose Can’t Get You Out of My Head topped the UK Singles Chart for four weeks in the Autumn of 2001.

The song was written with Rob Davis in his home studio in one afternoon. “[Its success] didn’t make me feel great, because I had not come out of the session with any emotional scars,” explains Dennis. “With [Britney Spears’] Toxic, even though I didn’t like the song initially, until I heard it on the radio, I felt more satisfaction because it had been a much harder process to complete.”

Dennis says that she’s “always tried to write from an emotional point of view” and about what she’s going through at the time, rather than make lyrics up for the sake of writing a song. “It just dawned on me this morning that there are actually people who write songs lyrically coming from a business angle, trying to sum up what people want to buy music for,” she says. “That’s something I’ve never done.”

Earlier on in her career, when she “was mostly writing on her own”, the writing process could involve anything from sitting down with a guitar to a piano and building lyrical and melodic ideas around her own music. “As soon I started writing with other people I found myself more in the role of lyricist and melody writer, so therefore the other person was much more musically responsible,” she explains. “Although, I am very opinionated and I do have a lot of ideas musically. I like to be in situations and in relationships with people who are open to my ideas musically as well as on the lyrics and melody side.”

She tells us that her advice for any aspiring songwriter would be “to do as much research as possible and to do as much analysis as possible”.

“That’s something I’m still obsessed with,” she says. “Find out what works for you and know what works for you and don’t compromise on that.”

Commenting on how much the music industry has changed over her three-decade long songwriting career and particularly how different it is to when she first started out, Dennis notes how important it is that “there are a lot more female songwriters now”.

“It’s the healthiest it’s ever been in terms of women redressing the balance,” she says. In terms of the contemporary British songwriters that Dennis admires, she cites Jess Glynne “because she is so diverse and consistent”, but also Ed Sheeran, “as we all know he is a genius”.

With our interview nearing its end, we return to the topic of winning awards, which Dennis has become well accustomed to over the last 30 years. In spite of the number of times she’s walked up to the stage to collect one however, she says that the novelty hasn’t quite worn off yet and that her Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Song Collection is particularly significant for her.

“Every other award has been about one specific song, so to receive something [to recognise] your whole career up to this date is a lot more overwhelming,” she explains. “And when you watch a video of yourself [at the ceremony] from 25 years ago, you remember the way that you felt and how you thought at that time. There’s something really emotive about that.

“So, I wasn’t able to control my emotions at all. And, why should I?”

 

Kylie Minogue, Can’t Get You Out Of My Head
“That wasn’t written with any specific artist in mind. It was the first of a couple of songs Rob Davis and I wrote together and it was a ridiculously relaxed afternoon. It really was written and demoed in two-and-a-half hours. It’s really annoying, because you spend the rest of your career wishing that things would come that easily, but it just doesn’t work like that all the time unfortunately. We just did it around Rob’s house and he had a little studio. It was small but it was very nice. It was really relaxed. We would do an hour’s work and then take a break and then do a bit more and take a break then I was gone before it hit three hours. I didn’t get in the way of my ideas that day. I do spend, and I have spent, a lot of my career getting in my own way and playing devil’s advocate and trying to edit my work perhaps too much. But that was one occasion when I didn’t.”

Britney Spears, Toxic
“That was written in Sweden with Bloodshy & Avant [Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg] and Henrik Jonback. I went over there to write with Janet Jackson in mind. I was there for about ten days in total. I’d had a meeting with Janet, I think in London, but it may have been in New York. I thought I’d have a go at writing something that would work for her and it didn’t come out at the time. We did have this song Toxic, though. It was started on day one of seven booked in with Bloodshy & Avant and Henrik [Jonback]. We started on day one and then took part of day two to try finish it. And because I couldn’t quite finish it, I said look, ‘Let’s start on something else’. So we wrote another three songs that week and in my spare time while I was in my hotel room I was very busy editing my lyrics on Toxic. Eventually on day seven, which was the day I was flying back to England, I had run out of time. I knew that it was D Day and I had to sing and that was what I came up with after a lot of editing.”

Will Young, What’s In Goodbye
“The co-writer was Burt Bacharach. I felt such an enormous sense of responsibility. This was my one opportunity with someone with who I had grown up idolising. I knew that I couldn’t mess it up. Every few weeks I would get a message saying, ‘Hey, Burt wants to speak to you’ and I knew he would say, ‘Is it finished? Is it finished?’ And I had to keep saying, ‘Not quite, I’m getting there. It took four months. When it was finally completed and recorded, Burt said that he was very happy with what I had done. So I was just happy that I didn’t let him down.”

 

The Works magazine also features interviews with Rachel Portman, Don McLean and a review of BASCA’s Media Composer Conference. Read it all here

 

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