Home-schooling isn’t just for children. Five of Britain’s most talented aspiring songwriters and composers have been selected for a unique online mentoring programme which will help them master the tricks of their trade from some of music’s greatest legends.
It sounds a little daunting, offering up your bedroom compositions for critique by Nile Rodgers, the multiple Grammy-winning Chic founder who has crafted hits with David Bowie, Madonna and Pharrell.
David Arnold, the Sherlock and James Bond soundtrack composer, might possibly offer some useful notes on constructing an epic, cinematic theme.
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‘Exceptional’ talents sought
But when the Ivor Novello Awards Academy invited public submissions for the first Rising Star award, seeking young British or Irish musicians who demonstrated “exceptional potential and ambition”, they received more entries than for any category in the ceremony’s 65-year history.
The applications skewed 60 per cent female, a figure reflected in a diverse final selection of young writers, who will be given a year’s support and guidance, via FaceTime sessions and post-lesson feedback, from their musical idols.
Rodgers will work with Amahla, a soul singer-songwriter who has performed at the Royal Albert Hall and garnered critical acclaim for her debut EP, Consider This.
Carmel Smickersgill, a composer based in Manchester working within classical and electronic genres, is being paired with Anna Meredith, the genre-busting Scottish composer, commissioned by the Proms.
Pop artist Griff, who plays, writes and largely produces her own atmospheric music, will be guided by award-winning singer, songwriter and producer Kamille (Camille Purcell), while Irish songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Daniel McIntyre, the talent behind ambient musical project lullahush, will receive tuition in orchestral swells from Arnold.
Mysie picked as rising star
For Mysie, a 24 year-old singer-songwriter and pianist, whose debut EP Chapter 11 won approving nods from BBC 6 Music and NME, being chosen as a Rising Star means the opportunity to bring her very personal musical vision to fruition.
The granddaughter of a renowned Ugandan jazz musician, Mysie’s experimental songs reflect her experience growing up as a second-generation immigrant in London. She wants to reach as large an audience as possible, without compromising her art.
Who better to bring that vision to fruition than Fraser T Smith, the UK’s most in-demand producer and writer, who has collaborated on ground-breaking hits with Stormzy, Dave and Adele?
“We meet every two weeks on FaceTime. I send him my music and he listens to it in his studio,” says Mysie of her lockdown sessions with Smith, who has co-written, mixed and produced seven Number One singles in the UK, two Billboard Number One singles in the US, and contributed to 18 Number 1 albums.
Email recaps after FaceTime encounters
“I listen to what he says, we talk about the music and I write down what he says in a notebook. They we recap what we’ve done in the session by email.”
“I really wanted a mentor,” Mysie admitted. “Things can get noisy and cloudy in this industry. Songwriting is so emotive and subjective, it’s good to get guidance from an objective person. It’s been an amazing experience working with Fraser.”
Smith says he began by giving practical “nuts and bolts” advice – “has Mysie got the right equipment and mic for her voice?” – before “getting to the core of her artistry. I love the soulful, stripped back intimate connection of her songs, which works well with her futuristic production sound.”
Lockdown has given Mysie, born Lizbet Sempha, “a lot of epiphanies, it’s been a life-changing time musically and I’ve experienced so much growth.” Her fortnightly encounters with Smith have been “grounding, whilst so much else has changed.”
The producer “asks lots of deep questions, maybe questions I wouldn’t ask myself,” she said. With Stormzy’s gospel Blinded By Your Grace Pt 1, Smith encouraged the grime star to set aside the “bravado” of his regular high-octane raps to get to the “raw emotion”. It’s a similar approach with his new charge.
“He asks me ‘what is the feeling you want to get across? What’s the purpose of this song?’ Then we discuss reference points.”
“If I said the song is inspired by Timbaland, he’ll suggest ‘maybe do the drums slightly like this?,’” said Mysie, adding: “I know what I like and I don’t like. I’m always open to feedback but Fraser never asks me to compromise.”
Mental health mentoring
The mentoring sessions also cover chats about preserving Mysie’s mental health in an industry which takes its toll on artists.
The Rising Stars attend workshops in the Logic Pro X and GarageBand music production software and receive support from Apple Music Publishing division to “optimise their compositions” on the Apple Music streaming platform.
The winner of the Rising Star award will be revealed on September 2.
Yet after all the support and mentoring, their success or otherwise is down to the quality of their music. Smith is convinced Mysie can go all the way.
“She has an absolutely wonderful talent, the same as Dave and Stormzy. She’s ready to make the best music she possibly can. A number one would be great but her mindset is that she still has room to grow.”
The 2020 Ivor Novello awards has sadly been cancelled due to Covid-19 – but watch out for the soon-to-be famous five at next year’s event.