Witnessing the virtues of auto-tune, foraging for melodies and embracing collaboration on this unique day with renowned producer Gethin Pearson
Nestled in the serene Welsh countryside, Rockfield Studios stands unassuming, an iconic location with a rich musical heritage where legendary albums by Oasis, Coldplay, Queen, and many more have been recorded. Recently, it played host to Pro7ect’s 2023 Songwriting Masterclass, an event that brought together songwriters of varying experience and abilities for a practical lesson led by renowned songwriter and producer Gethin Pearson. Combining his twin passions for making music and helping artists find their unique sound, Pearson has worked with the likes of Badly Drawn Boy, Charlie XCX, and Bloc Party.
Pro7ect’s Songwriting Retreats are known for bringing together musicians who collaborate to create finished songs ready for release into the world. This one-day masterclass aimed to provide a sample of what anyone can expect from these retreats, allowing participants the chance to gain valuable insights into the songwriting process while contributing to the creation of a new track.
The day began with an informal gathering, providing attendees with the opportunity to get to know each other and the setting. Rockfield’s rustic charm and history lent a palpable aura of creativity to the atmosphere, not least because it’s where Bohemian Rhapsody was partly written. As the participants settled in, they learned that the masterclass would revolve around crafting a song for one of the attendees, based on his personal experiences and emotions.
Through a series of questions and exercises, Pearson delved into the life of the chosen participant, unravelling the story behind his emotions, hopes, and struggles – as well as giving some musical reference points that would anchor the new song. For Pearson, it’s all about finding the minuscule and the big – those tiny details that hold key to making a song relatable to a universal audience.
The participants were then divided into two groups—one focused on lyrics, led by Pro7ect’s Lisa Fitzgibbon, and the other on music production, helmed by Pearson himself. Each group worked separately to harness their creative energies. The lyricists went on to produce lines inspired by the chosen participant’s story, while the production/music team began crafting melodies and chord sequences to complement the emotional narrative.
With the two groups reunited, Pearson turned Auto-Tune up to maximum, creating a safety net that allowed anyone who wanted to explore vocal melodies without fear of judgement. A microphone was passed round the room and those who wanted to were encouraged to sing a refrain from the new song. Each vocalist brought something unique to their take on the lyric and it wasn’t long before an ideal melody was discovered.
By the end of the day the group had written a verse, pre-chorus and chorus and Pearson and the Pro7ect team had given a clear demonstration of how to take one person’s individual hopes and struggles and turn them into the beginning of a modern pop song.
Throughout the masterclass, Pearson emphasized collaboration and knowing one’s strengths and weaknesses as a songwriter. He shared that for him, the process is like foraging—finding little creative nuggets and merging them into something contemporary and fresh. This approach ensures that the songs resonate with modern audiences while incorporating subtle nods to the past.
As both an insight into the world of a successful producer/songwriter and a taster of what to expect from Pro7ect’s own Songwriting Retreats, we couldn’t recommend the day any more highly. Time spent somewhere as inspiring as Rockfield Studios was the cherry on top of this creative cake.
Five lessons learned from Gethin Pearson
- Gethin’s favourite word is “why?”: It’s a question he’ll ask repeatedly during the getting-to-know-you part of the songwriting process. Ask “why?” enough and you’ll eventually get to the heart of the emotion/memory/person.
- Drop your guard: Whether by simply being open and honest with your co-writers, or through methods such as using Auto-Tune so that everyone feels comfortable contributing vocal melodies, if you create a supportive environment you’ll write the best possible song.
- Forage for magic: Another technique Pearson used was getting different participants to freestyle piano parts over a simple chord sequence. Out of these passages, the song’s melody started to tape shape.
- Know your weaknesses: We all have them and that’s okay. If you acknowledge the gaps in your skillset you can then go out and find the tools/people who can help fill them. For Pearson that weakness is music theory and using the app Suggester is one way he makes up for that.
- But also know your value: Everyone in a co-writing situation or at a writing camp will be bringing something different to the table. By knowing what you do well and stating that from the start, you’ll be able to put a team together that augments and brings out the best in each other.