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Q&A on songwriting camps (part 2) with LEO CHANTZARAS, songwriter at BMG - Dec 6, 2012

ďThe writers can sit by the pool all day if thatís what they feel like. The camp is something they paid for and so itís totally up to them how they want to work.Ē

picture The new Black Rock Songwriter Camp that we previewed last year has proven to be a triumph and is now accepting applications for its third event next year.

Time is therefore ripe to pay a second visit to quiz co-founder, BMI songwriter Leo ďFreakchildĒ Chantzaras, about what it is about the camp at Black Rock studios on the Greek island of Santorini that has helped establish it as such a popular and successful event on the songwriterís calendar.

The next Black Rock Songwriting Camp is set for April 2013. What successes have you experienced from the first two camps that have inspired you to want to continue into a third?

Well, first of all weíve had some great cuts come out of the camp in both Asia and Europe. The most recent one was the song ĎLove x3í that debuted on No 19 in the Japanese album charts.

Another great success was that one of the writers attending, Finn Martin, has just been signed to EMI and he met the producer for half of his album at the camp.

So itís not just about the songwriting, itís also about making long-term connections.

What is some of the best feedback you have received from writers and producers that have attended the camps so far?

People generally leave with their mouths open, telling myself and my partner, the Black Rock studio owner Kostas Kalimeris, what a great experience it has been. Thatís the best feedback we get and could hope for.

Plus the interest from everywhere is amazing. I think it sparks such interest because people see the quality and professionalism of the whole set up. Iíve had emails from Max Gousse, VP at Island/Def Jam, and Roc Nation asking about the camp. In the case of Roc Nation, for example, they were interested in letting their producers work with new talent.

The writers and producers attend the camp through their own choice, itís not something set up by their publisher. So are they free to write what they want to and work how they like?

The writers can just sit by the pool all day if thatís what they feel like. The camp is something they paid for and so itís totally up to them how they want to work. The only thing we have to do is give them the perfect location and environment to do what they want to do.

Do writers still prefer to work to specific briefs from A&Rs or are they more inclined to follow their own instincts?

We usually explain the briefs but then we leave it to the teams who they want to write for.

But you have to understand that the briefs are just an extra to the camp. We donít force the writers to just write to the briefs. I mean, personally Iím not really a big fan of that typical "You have to write for this act" type of songwriting.

And the funny thing is that most of the cuts that have come out of the camp were not originally written to briefs. They were just written and then pitched to more general opportunities on offer at that particular time.

For example, one of the big cuts in Korea happened because Steve Lee Ė whoís a super producer with over 30 No.1s in Asia Ė already knew the artist and so he played his company the track he had written at Black Rock with Mark Smith and Daniel Nitt.

So is the freedom you allow one way in which Black Rock differs to a camp arranged by a publisher?

Thatís one aspect, yeah. There is no pressure, and plus we donít have that rule of having to write to a strict brief.

Do the writersí publishers have any involvement or influence over what they write at the camp?

The publishers have never asked for something specific to write for. Although, they are of course welcome to do so.

Do you get any requests for songs for any major artists?

We get US briefs for artists like Rihanna and J Lo, and they are always interesting. But, of course, getting a song cut by one of those big shots is always very hard. Still we do at least have the direct contact for them and so itís always a possibility.

Given that Black Rock hosts an international group of writers writing songs to be cut by an multi-national array of artists, is there any discussion during the writing process about what would work well in a particular market?

Thereís never really any discussion like that. I mean, even the Asian market is becoming a little more westernised now. For example, Iíve had cuts in Japan and Korea but I never originally set out to write specifically for that market. That didnít make any difference Ė I still got the cut.

You've involved in pitching the songs created at the camp. Can you explain this process in terms of your role in trying to match the songs with the right people?

I usually know what an A&R is looking for in terms of style so itís never been hard to find the right songs for them.

When the songs are written to a brief they usually fit, and so all I do is send the song out to the A&R and then itís just a matter of taste whether they are chosen or not.

What happens to the songs that youíre not involved in pitching?

Once a song is finished the writers are free to do what they want with what theyíve written. We just help with pitching if thatís what they want.

What have your learned from the song camps so far in terms of what works well and what doesn't?

Weíve found that the freedom the writer enjoys at our camp to be something that works well. Theyíre free from the pressure to write to a certain brief and the pressure to finish a song by a certain time.

Plus we donít do the listening session in the evening. Itís all relaxed and I think that what the writers really enjoy about it.

Why donít you do a listening session in the evening Ė have you found that writers are more relaxed if they are not critiquing each othersí work?

In other camps it is typical to do those listening sessions, but nobody has ever really asked for it and itís never been something that anybody has felt has been missing. Donít get me wrong, Iím not against them, I just donít think we really need them.

Plus, the writing sessions at our camp sometimes last until midnight, and thatís the time when would we be listening back to those tracks. Instead of using up time listening back to songs that have already been written, Iíd much rather give them the chance to write one more smash.

Read On ...

* The first part of our Q&A on songwriting camps
* Q&A on K-pop with songwriter/producer Lars Halvor Jensen
* Special feature on songwriters from the West finding success in the East
* Q&A on Caro Emerald's breakthrough with songwriter David Schreurs