There’s a big difference between an organized two-day songwriting session and a professional song camp. They’re often expected to be the same thing, and yet they’re vastly different. So what’s a professional songwriting camp? Having been to countless, quote unquote, “song camps,” as both an artist and a songwriter, I’m now fortunate enough to have attended the real deal.
I recently participated in my second professional writing camp at the infamous Black Rock Studios (One Republic, Justin Bieber) in Santorini, Greece – thanks largely to SOCAN. This is an event where 20 songwriters are sequestered to live and create together, with none of the distractions of the outside world, for five days. This creates a unique atmosphere of intense creativity that can’t be duplicated in a makeshift Los Angeles recording studio. If you’re fortunate enough to attend one of these camps you need to know that one of the keys to success is to treat it professionally.
To that end, here are some of the DOs and DON’Ts that I ‘ve learned. Some of these are from my own experience, some from observing others. I’ll let you guess which are which.
Read all the information that you’re sent. Every song camp is different, depending on the organizer and the person running it. There’s information about master ownership, song splits, etiquette, scheduling, other writers’ bios, and protocol that you should always know before you touch down.
Go to a camp with a pre-conceived notion that you’re either more OR less important than anyone else attending. Talent is relative, and it’s essential to understand that 90 percent of professional songwriting camps are by invitation only, and everyone’s been asked to be there for a reason.
Bring the gear that makes your talent shine the most. Whether you’re a producer who loves a certain midi keyboard, or a singer with that one mic that makes your vocals sound just right, you never want to sacrifice room in your suitcase for a great piece of gear. It’s not worth exchanging that space for the perfect pair of shoes. (Unless that’s truly what you need to perform at your best.)
Over-prepare. Whether you’re a track writer or a top-liner, understand that bringing pre-cooked and fully prepared ideas to the table is not going to be a plus. It diminishes the uniqueness of other peoples’ ideas in the room, and can create an atmosphere of creative animosity.
Realize that one of the skills to great writing and collaboration is vulnerability. This may be a professional environment, but it’s also a social experience/experiment. Be brave enough to allow your walls to come down faster than they might in a normal songwriting situation…. Now see below.
Network, make contacts, and build friendships. Understand that most of the connections you make during these camps will be lifelong relationships, leading to many opportunities. At least 50 percent of your success at a songwriting camp will happen after the camp is over. It’s a stone in the lake, a ripple effect. You’ll continue to participate in sessions with people that you connected with – and other attendees that you never even had the chance to work with – after the camp. They’ll be some of the most important relationships in your professional life.
Write an article on song camps that ends in a DON’T. It’s too negative.
OK, just kidding. In my experience, there are a lot more DON’T’s than DOs, like arguing song splits at an equal-split camp, but maybe we’ll get to that another time. Bring your A-game, have fun, and know that some of your favourite songs on the radio were probably written by me at my last song camp. Wink, wink!