Jamie Hartman (pictured) is a successful British songwriter, having co-penned Rag N Bone Man’s smash hit Human as well as working with everyone from Kygo to Miriam Bryant, Sigrid and James Bay. Here, in an exclusive blog for MBW, he gives some advice to his younger self…
I’ve been a professional (and an unprofessional) songwriter for 30 years. And that means many highs and lows. I have done the writer’s block thing – had both the flashes and lack of inspiration a thousand times over.
It’s never easy. But nothing worth pursuing as a lifelong career ever is.
And it does take a lifetime. Sorry if you’re in it for the short haul. I never minded though. I saw it as a life’s work and besides – I’ve always been a late developer.
Most of my real career high points have come in the last five years, but in truth I thought it was all going to happen 25 years ago.
Cliched as it sounds, I needed, and got, a lot of support from my friends and family – otherwise I would not be here still doing it.
The 10,000 hours theory is something I definitely believe in. I think it’s taken me personally around 35,000 hours to get to the point where I feel comfortable and confident enough to say that I really know how the songs happen. But to be totally honest, they’re just gifts. Songwriters don’t write them. They are given to us as rewards from somewhere else.
Songwriting can be an insular thing. That’s ok. But at other times it’s utterly social and inclusive. As long as when it’s done it feels either personal or universal – ideally both.
Here are five things I would tell my younger self:
1) Have an awareness of what you bring to the party
Identify specifically what it is that you bring to a music writing or production situation. Pinpoint the thing that is unique to you and that you do better than other people. The area in which you excel. Develop that. Nurture that and bring clarity to it. And then base your time and effort around making that the primary focus of your work. You can waste 90% of your time and effort doing stuff that other people do just as well, and often much better than you, if you don’t identify your genius. Focus on what you do better than others. And you’ll get there far faster and with less effort.
2) Find your tribe
Seek out collaborators with whom you work well and who share your same level of dedication and talent in the studio and writing rooms. And in the industry, choose a team of professionals that can lift you higher and inspire your to do and be your very best. Chemistry is instant. You’ll know these people when you meet them. I was lucky to link up with my fellow writer-producer Stuart Crichton a few years ago. Together we’ve collaborated on the new Backstreet Boys single “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” Kygo’s “Stargazing,” and Sigrid’s “I Don’t Want To Know,” among others.
He’s a fantastic collaborator for me because his strengths are different than mine. He’s great at handling production and building the track, whilst I work on melody, lyrics, and vocal production. Being able to lean on someone who gets the vision early and is intuitive is a huge asset to creating great music.
I met Reservoir/Reverb Music’s Annette Barrett in 2002, when she signed me to a publishing deal. Annette is my music business guru and the person I most admire, respect, and love in this game. She, along with Donna Caseine and the rest of the team at Reservoir have my back. I don’t have to stress about whether they are working as hard on my music as I am and sharing successes with them has been so rewarding.
3) Stay positive when times are tough
This business is really tough. People often do and say cruel things in order to elevate themselves. Avoid these people and don’t lower yourself to the standard of accepting or participating in negativity – verbally or in writing. Though you will certainly encounter negative people along the way, more and more good people are finding their way to the top, so stand your ground, continue to be positive and I promise you will win. Find your success with a clear conscience and a good heart and you will be able to truly enjoy it.
4) Remember to keep it fun
Something is wrong in the studio if it becomes a stressful environment that prohibits your ability to let things flow. Step away to clear your head when you feel the mood shifting in the room.
You can ruin the vibe in a room by being too precious and taking it all too seriously. Don’t get me wrong – taking it seriously in a positive way is great, but if you are frustrated and feeding off of other’s frustrations, it will go downhill quickly. I learned this from Max Martin, who makes everyone take frequent breaks and has video game consoles set up in his studio to use as a ‘palate cleanser’ for your brain and to keep things light. I’m always the one making jokes in the studio, wearing brightly colored clothing and keeping things silly.
I’m happy to be the butt of the joke in any situation if it gets everyone to relax. Take your shoes off to feel at home. If that doesn’t work, take a shot of vodka. Real tricks of the trade: don’t take things too seriously and if all else fails that shot of vodka will definitely do the trick.
Just remember that usually the “fun” is where the magic happens. But push on through if it’s not great and never settle until it is.
5) Stay open-minded, but trust your gut
Be open to other people’s ideas. Holding on to an average idea in a writing session, just because it’s yours, can often prevent you from allowing a much better one to emerge. I call it not accepting God’s first offer. Trust your instincts about what is good and make decisions that are aligned with that. People will kid themselves that something is good, but your gut will tell you when you’ve got something worth working on.
Don’t be afraid to innovate and experiment with new sounds. Current radio hits are often written or produced between 2 and 5 years ago, so if you’re simply trying to emulate what is popular today, it will sound dated by the time it’s actually released, and you’ll end up writing a song that isn’t yours because you’re referring to other people’s sound.
When I was working on “Human,” I entered the studio with Rory (Rag’N’Bone Man) with the song still very much a work in progress as far as overall structure and it hadn’t even been begun as far as production. When I first heard Rory’s voice, I was blown away. I knew that he could do it justice. Together we experimented and finished the song side of it. I sent it in to the label. They knew straight away. And then Two Inch Punch took the vocal I recorded that first day with Rory, and my background choirs and piano and strings and put an amazing beat and bass line to it all.
That’s when it became something classic. It was a true collaboration and a few moments of lightning. Not just one.
Wait for the lightning. Never settle.Music Business Worldwide