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How to make a hit: The secret is in Bali

Evie Breese

The Jakarta Post

Ubud, Bali  /  Mon, June 3, 2019  /  12:04 pm
How to make a hit: The secret is in Bali

Making a comeback: American R+B singer JoJo who found fame aged 13 when she reached number one in the US charts, treated a shocked audience at Laughing Buddha bar to a rendition of her hit “Too Little Too Late”, when the group let their hair down for a night of karaoke. (Evie Breese/-)

The writer was invited to join 26 star-quality singers, songwriters and producers at an exclusive retreat in Ubud, Bali to find out what goes in to making music magic.

 

It is a common misconception that music hits are written by a broody artist, alone with their guitar, notebook and thoughts.

The musical creative process is in fact often quite different, and songwriting camps are a popular trick of the pop trade used by everyone from Rihanna to Ed Sheeran.

The idea for the Bali Songwriting Invitational was hit on by Peter Coquillard of Milk and Honey Music Management who joked with friend and cofounder Michael Taylor of MD of Universal Music Australia that they should set up two artists from opposite parts of the world in Coquillard’s own Ubud home, to make a track that was aching to be born.

From there the idea blossomed into the annual retreat now enjoying its 10th year of success.

International talent: Edgy punky Melbourne-based singer-songwriter Ecca Vandal (left), LA’s own Canadian songwriter August Rigo (center) whose credits include Justin Bieber and One Direction; and Japanese producer Ryosuki Sakai who produced Poppy’s eerie futuristic electro sound, work together on something fresh. International talent: Edgy punky Melbourne-based singer-songwriter Ecca Vandal (left), LA’s own Canadian songwriter August Rigo (center) whose credits include Justin Bieber and One Direction; and Japanese producer Ryosuki Sakai who produced Poppy’s eerie futuristic electro sound, work together on something fresh. (Courtesy The Invitational Group/-)

Artists with musical styles ranging from American country, electric pop, emo rap to hip hop flew from LA and New York, Melbourne, Sydney and Tokyo to come together under one roof – breaking out of their usual creative circles to participate in an event of musical matchmaking to find that platinum combination.

Explaining which artists bag an invite to the exclusive retreat, Coquillard said “we talk not only about their talent, of course they have to be super talented, but their personality. You don’t want to be on an island for 10 days with a diva, with someone that’s all drama”.

Oak Felder is a songwriter/producer, whose work includes Grammy-winning albums Alicia Keys’ Girl on Fire and Rihanna’s Unapologetic, as well as top Billboard Mainstream artists Demi Lovato, The Chainsmokers and Kehlani.

First invited to attend three years ago as an artist, he was at a point of “creative drought” and sought a factory reset by coming to Bali, he now attends in the dual roles as artist and curator alongside Peter.

In part due to his awe-inspiring list of credits, and his kind but firm approach, he is the producer everyone is crossing their fingers for the opportunity to work with.

Oak described his role as a producer as “to take all this energy that we get from our surroundings, convert it into music and give it back,” adding, “the environment that we’re in here [Bali] gives so much to us as a culture, and then you just give it back to the community.”

Every morning after a breakfast dominated by mie goreng (fried noodles) and mangosteens, Coquillard and Felder announce the groupings for the day comprising one singer, one songwriter and one producer, who then retreat to the studio with the goal of creating a winning track by dinner-time.

Where the magic happens: Noah Cyrus and songwriter Mayila cosy up in the converted bedroom-cum-recording studio of Oak Felder, writing lyrics about friendship and loneliness. Where the magic happens: Noah Cyrus and songwriter Mayila cosy up in the converted bedroom-cum-recording studio of Oak Felder, writing lyrics about friendship and loneliness. (Evie Breese/-)

Noah Cyrus – the kid sister of pop superstar Miley Cyrus and daughter of country legend Billy Ray Cyrus – is quickly forging her own musical identity.

At last year’s camp, overcome with emotion from fighting with her ex-boyfriend, and trying to process the tragic death of Swedish DJ Avicii, Noah sat on her balcony crying until the sun rose over the rice paddies.

The following morning she entered a secret studio hidden away under the infinity pool, with uninterrupted views of the jungle, apologizing that she had just needed a good cry.

Written in just 30 minutes, the single “Good Cry” was released in 2018. Produced by Australian, LA-based producer Tushar Apte, with songwriting from Melisa Bester (E^ST), the EP Good Cry reached #13 on the Billboard Heatseekers Album chart.

Returning to the creative retreat for a second year, Noah described being in a very different headspace. “Last year I was so nervous because I have a bit of social anxiety and I just get nervous, this year it was just so welcoming and I’m not so homesick, and Bali’s so beautiful it’s hard to be miserable here,” she says.

An inspiring view: Producer Tushar Apte at the mixing decks inside the ‘secret studio’ temporarily installed in his bedroom, edits vocals recorded moments earlier by Lauren Jauregui.An inspiring view: Producer Tushar Apte at the mixing decks inside the ‘secret studio’ temporarily installed in his bedroom, edits vocals recorded moments earlier by Lauren Jauregui. (Evie Breese/-)

Apte specifically requested that same studio again this year and described its impact on his creative process. “There’s something about the energy of being out the back, and having that view, all I have to do is look out, if I’m trying to find the musical idea for that day, I’ll literally score the scenery,” he says.

On this 10th and last day of the camp, Apte was joined in the studio by singer-songwriter Lauren Jauregui of girl group Fifth Harmony and Jenna Andrews, songwriter and vocal producer whose credits include Drake and Jessie J.

It seems the magic of the secret studio has worked, and they are jumping around the room having hit on something special.

Emphasizing her textured soulful voice, Jauregui sings about the inevitable demise of a relationship as two people grow up in different directions. For her, music has a female soul, and she has an adorable habit of referring to each track as a “her” or “she”.

Thanking Apte and Andrews for translating her emotions into music, saying “You found her,” and gushing “let me sing it quick while I still have her in my heart.”

This everyday intimacy of sharing a space for 10 days, on the other side of the world and without the option to simply take a cab home, fostered some real and intimate conversations in the recording studios.

Often about heartbreak, and sometimes involving tears, the 64 songs created over the course of the trip were largely born from not only hard work but also friendship.

Speaking on finding that “fire” hit, Felder said “it’s when everyone’s jumping around the room, everyone’s loving it, and that’s only happened to me a couple of times in my career, but every time it’s been a major record. I have a good sense for it I think [...] and I had that moment one time on this trip.”

It remains to be seen which of the tracks created at the retreat will make it out of the studio and onto your radio or earphones, but maybe if you listen closely, you might be able to hear the influence of the Balinese jungle in the lyrics of the next big hit. (ste)

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