This is the first in a new series for Words & Music, called “How did the song happen?” The idea is to look not only at how a hit song was written, but to also go behind the scenes to reveal all of the music-industry activity – like music publishing – that led to its writing, and that brought it from finished demo recording to commercial, critical or artistic success.
For the first one, we fittingly examine “First Time,” a song co-written by SOCAN member Jenson Vaughan (who’s co-written for Madonna and Britney Spears, among others), along with Shy Martin and Fanny Hultman, and production team Hitimpulse. “First Time” is also co-published by his publisher Ultra Music Media. Written at a song camp in Stockholm, the song found its way to huge commercial juggernaut Kygo, and now it’s gone Platinum in Canada and Australia; Gold in France, Italy and Denmark; and Silver in the U.K. “First Time” reached the Top 10 on the Billboard U.S. Dance Club Songs and U.S. Hot Dance/Electronic Songs charts. It has earned 250 million streams on Spotify, 58 million views on YouTube, and 22 million on Vevo. Here’s how it got there…
SOCAN member co-writer Jenson Vaughan discusses how he co-wrote “First Time”:
When I was a young, we used to sneak booze from my friends’ parents liquor cabinets, and go drinking by the train tracks that ran parallel to Windmill Road in Dartmouth, where I grew up. There was one park in particular, by my house, that we used to go to. We called it Three Bump Hill, because it had a hill with three bumps (how original, I know). It’s a nostalgic place for me, so much so that I named my music publishing company Three Bump Hill.
Fast forward 20 years, and it’s day one at an Ultra Music Media/Ten Music songwriting camp in Stockholm, Sweden. I’m paired up with production team Hitimpulse from Germany, and local songwriters Shy Martin and Fanny Hultman. We got off to a great start, finishing our first song in just a couple hours, and decided to write another, Thank God). Hitimpulse starts with some cool chords, and Fanny and Shy start right away with some interesting melodies. It becomes clear pretty quickly that the song has a nostalgic feel, and we decide to write about our youth; love, loss, sowing our wild oats.
It was one of those “dream” sessions, everything flowing effortlessly, and all the pieces quickly fitting. Lyrically, I drew on some of my own experience such as “getting drunk on the train tracks” with my friends, and “your dad’s black Honda was our Maybach,” which is really how we felt whenever we got the keys to my friend’s car. It was just really cool to be able to include personal lines like this, and give Dartmouth, of all places, props in the song.
Once the camp was over, we all went our separate ways. But we all felt we had something special with the song, and in tandem we all started shopping it. Hitimpulse especially loved it, and had actually planned to release it as their own single, feat Shy Martin. But it wasn’t long after that Shy e-mailed us saying her management sent it to Kygo’s people and he loved it. However, a few months went by, and we weren’t getting any confirmation from Kygo that he would release it. I kinda lost hope, when out of the blue, I got a call from Patrick Moxey [Founder & President of Ultra Music Media] that went exactly like this: ‘Hey Patrick, what’s up?’ ‘Hey Jenson, so, it looks like your song “First Time” will be Kygo’s next single, and it’s going to feature Ellie Goulding.’”
Patrick Moxey, founder and President of Ultra Music Media, discusses the behind-the-scenes work that fostered the writing of “First Time,” and placed it into Kygo’s hands:
Ultra were having our Stockholm songwriting camp, and we were thinking very much about getting the right writers together. Ultra was sending Jenson there for the camp, and I had met Shy Martin’s manager Anna Cornelia, and her producers. So I said, “Anna, let’s get Jenson and Shy Martin in together.” Then it was co-ordinated by our U.K. A&R team, Tracy Fox and Paul Arnold… [Producers] Hitimpulse were there, who are our artists on Ultra Records…
The original impetus bringing it together was the idea of, “Jenson, great writer, who in Sweden would understand his vibe?” I thought, Shy Martin. And then we had Hitimpulse coming up from Germany, as great producers. That gave us the chemistry, and that chemistry came up with “First Time.”
It was actually Shy Martin’s camp that sent the demo to Helen [McLaughlin, then head of A&R] at Sony Sweden, who was working with [both] me and Kygo. He heard the record, loved it, and it got placed. Hitimpulse liked the idea of Kygo cutting it, with them being involved as writers on the song. It was created, it ping-ponged back and forth a little bit – “Is it going to come out with Hitimpulse?” – but then the Kygo possibility presented itself, and Hitimpulse thought that was a good idea. So it just flowed very naturally, to become a great single, which has done over 250 million streams on Spotify. It’s been an absolutely huge record, and a huge hit for Jenson Vaughan.
It’s tremendous teamwork, and that fundamental statement is true: by creating chances, you create luck. If we hadn’t sent Jenson to Stockholm, if he hadn’t gone in with Shy Martin, if Hitimpulse hadn’t been there from Germany… Each one of these things took a little effort, [and together] you create the chance for that to happen.