Thoughts from BASCA’s 2018 British Composer Awards

The BASCA British Composer Awards are a jolly affair, possibly because it’s one of those rare occasions where the writers get all of the limelight. The cumulative effect of all of that effervescent positivity can be, especially in ambient surroundings like the Great Court at the British Museum, a little overwhelming.

A record-breaking 600 applications were listened to by a panel of industry types looking, I have it on good authority from one panellist for originality and impact. In true Everyman style, I asterisked every excerpt I heard during the ceremony that I liked: out of 35 nominees I listened to the first time, I picked out 19 I liked.

Top tip: new music is as difficult as you the listener assume it’s going to be before you listen to it.

Honourable Thoroughly Good Mentions therefore go to:

William Marsey for Belmont Chill
Dominic Murcott for The Harmonic Canon*
Roxanna Panifnik for Unending Love
Conall Gleesob for Solace*
Liam Taylor-West for The Umbrella*
James Weeks for Libro di fiammello e ombré*
Oliver Knussen for O Hotogisu!
James Dillon for Tanz/haus
Simon Lasky for Close to Ecstasy*
Robert Laidlow for Lines Between
Rebecca Saunders for Unbreathed*
Oliver Searle for Microscopic Dances
Jeremy Holland Smith for The Caretaker’s Guide to the Orchestra
Finlay Panter for Time
Graham Fitkin for Recorder Concerto
Julian Anderson for The Imaginary Museum
Gavin Higgins for Dark Arteries Suite
Lucy Pankhurst for Mindscapes
Simon Dobson for The Turing Test*

* Winners

Awards ceremonies are difficult things to write about. Anyone who’s got the drive, commitment and determination to create a work and then submit it for judging is a winner already – a potent reminder of my own creative ineptitude. Such events also illustrate how those who create possess both an innate talent and an unshakeable need. Giving up isn’t really an option.

There is a bittersweet aspect to these showcases, however. I still can’t contemplate the kind of resilience a composer needs to have to create something new, to hand it over to someone else to bring to life and then reconcile him or herself with the idea that its next outing may not be for a good long while, if at all. How it is it that doesn’t kill the creative process I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand.

Big love for Sally Beamish who when accepting her British Composer Award for Inspiration paid tribute to her mother: “It’s because of you [Mum] that it simply never occurred to me that little girls couldn’t be composers.” And special moment of the evening goes to Jazz Composition for Large Ensemble winner Cassie Kinoshi who, owing to being on a flight to Cuba at the time of the awards ceremony, was unable to collect her trophy. So, Cassie sent her proud parents instead. Nice.

Top night catching up with old friends and familiar faces. Peachy.

BASCA interview with Amanda Ghost at Goldsmith’s Music Department, University of London

I attended a BASCA masterclass (strictly speaking, it’s an interview) today at Goldsmith’s College Music Department in South East London.

I’ve captured some of my notes from the 90-minute session below, including some observations made during the visit. I share those notes and observations in list form for expediency’s sake.

Goldsmith’s College has a thriving music department

I was impressed. There were in excess of 25 songwriters/music students in attendance at the session, the majority of whom were already publishing their content via Soundcloud and YouTube.

The music department is bigger than I remember it when I spent time at Goldsmiths in the mid-nineties – the range of ensembles, niche concerts, support groups, and careers advice on offer via the noticeboards is eye-watering.

Don’t anyone let you think that music isn’t worth pursuing – Goldsmiths is proof there’s an industry-driven curiosity-fuelled appetite.

BASCA / UK Music Primer

Moderator Dan Moore (BASCA Marketing/Membership Manager) provided an introduction.

UKMusic is the umbrella organisation for a range of support/lobbying organisations of which BASCA (British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors) is one. The others are AIM, BPI, FAC, MMF, MPA, MPG, MU, PRS, PPL, and UK Live Music.

I had no idea that membership of PRS (which ensures songwriters get their dues from their creative endeavours) required a one-off £100 membership fee.

BASCA campaigns (amongst other things) for transparency and royalties from digital streaming platforms, removal of YouTube’s ‘safe harbour’ (meaning rights holders get the revenue they deserve for music used in videos supposedly). BASCA also runs the Academic Supporters Programme – a link with institutions, supporting and developing the next generation of creatives.

BASCA runs the Ivor Novello Awards (set up in the 1950s to assert UK music in a US dominated marketplace) and the Gold Badge, Fellowship and British Composer awards (of which there’ll be a blog post about the 2019 awards in the coming days).

Amanda Ghost’s career history

  • Songwriter, producer, TV producer and record company exec
  • Secured first publishing deal at 22; dropped out of fashion college; used publishing advance to make demos for record companies
  • Spent nine years writing songs for herself; hustling to get studio space;
  • Secured a manager and eventually signed to Warner Brothers/Los Angeles during which she collaborated with other songwriters
  • One such insistent individual pursued a collaboration which she initially turned down – it was James Blunt
  • Her and blunt co-wrote ‘You’re Beautiful’ – “we wrote it in the swimming pool at my Los Angeles apartment, not in Kosovo as he prefers to tell people’
  • Other collaborators got in touch following the Blunt success, one Mark Ronson
  • Chair of DefJam invited her to write a song for Beyonce (when she was in Destiny’s Child) – a duet for Beyonce and Shakira; Amanda had to write it in 5 hours
  • Took a year for Shakira to come on board and commit the vocals; after that, 12 million sales
  • Ran her own music company (Epic?) at the age of 34
  • Now sits on streaming board of BASCA (amongst other appointments); married to Deezer’s chief exec

Insights from Amanda

  • “Nobody knows anything” – this is Amanda’s personal mantra for tackling any kind of imposter syndrome; don’t let perceived stardom in others dictate your levels of confidence
  • If a publisher/manager says they’ve got everything sorted, ditch them; the songwriter/musician has got to do a nearly all of the work in a record company contract
  • Simplicity is the key to creation – both in storytelling, lyrics, orchestration, and harmonic progression
  • Amanda explained how she worked melodies for songs with two chord progressions (R&B/Hip Hop) by expanding on the original harmonic concept with transitional chords; then built a melody to accommodate the expanded idea; then returned to the original two-chord track and recorded the melodic line over the top. Neat.
  • Writing for other artists is unexpectedly liberating – you don’t have to take into consideration your own perspective on issues
  • Songwriting collaborations are in part about taking someone else’s idea for a lyric and applying your own ‘stamp’ – in the case of Blunt’s ‘You’re Beautiful’ it was injecting something bittersweet into the statement – “you’re beautiful, I will never be with you
  • “The song is the fusion of melody and lyric.”
  • Influences: Prince (for his subversive lyrics), Michael Jackson, and Madonna
  • “Pop music is like MacDonalds – it’s good but its not good for you.”
  • “Blunt has an amazing falsetto.” Agreed.
  • “Streaming services have fractured audiences. BBC Radio 1 isn’t important anymore – getting on Spotify’s weekly playlist is more important than being played on Radio 1.”
  • “A&Rs are data-driven now. What’s interesting is that streaming hasn’t, as yet, broken a new artist yet – the last global artist who made it big (pre-streaming) was Ed Sheeran.”
  • “You as an artist have never had it so good – easier to create, easier to distribute – but it’s also never been quite so hard as it is now to get cutthrough.”
  • “Streaming companies can work out in 3 days based on skip rates whether or not a song will be a hit; but they can’t work out if it won’t be a hit – syncs and licensing of a song can transform it and your success rates.”
  • Rap, R&B and Hip Hop skew the streaming music industry; modern music is minimal, it needs to be stripped right back
  • In the future Amanda sees artists/songwriters going straight to streaming services, the middle man – record companies – getting stripped out of the deal
  • Publishing/record company execs need to see initiatives from people – state your connections, blag
  • Songwriters/performers must think of themselves as content creators and as business enterprises – they can’t think of themselves as working in a particular line of the music business

My observations

From a classical music perspective, I found it invigorating to hear how the art of songwriting can be articulated as a business process. In this way the art of songwriting probably does more to demystify the compositional process (in comparison to composers of ‘art music’).

At the same time I was wary about the way in which a simplified life-story can be make the process seem easier than it really is. Persistence is the key to all of this – a sense of hunger, as though there is absolutely nothing else you can do so you must writing songs.

The unequivocal message I heard (that I don’t hear as emphatically in the classical music world) is that the creative individual must think of themselves as a business first, finding ways to utilise their mindset and skillset in a variety of different areas.

 

 

Winners at BASCA Composer Awards 2018

A funny thing happens when you see the human being responsible for new unfamiliar music. Sounds you assumed would alienate you when they are first introduced are given more of a fighting chance.

Tonight’s BASCA awards celebrating new music is a case in point.

Forget everything you’ve been conditioned to think of as music, and marvel at the living breathing entities who have conjured up the art they unleash.

Through their creations we hear an entirely different world: a personal statement on the world as they experience it.

I think most of us overlook that kind of achievement.

It’s not that I want to compose or write lyrics. I don’t envy these people. Instead I want to explore what it is that motivates them, learn how they translate their inspiration into something tangible, and what it feels like when they hear their creations played back to them.

OK. Fair enough. Maybe if I’m going understand that, I’m going to have to write something myself.

Before tonight’s awards at the British Museum I spent 45 minutes interviewing one of the recipients of this year’s British Composer Award for Inspiration. I’ll put the unedited interview up online early next year (my laptop died directly after the interview).

But, what I recall from the experience with Nigel Osborne was his spirit, determination, and effortless charm. A man with a gentle voice and an incredibly warm heart. One who loves his work, believes passionately in the impact of music on all of us, and who made me wish just a little bit that I had been better at composition than my embarrassingly imitative GCSE coursework turned out to be.

“What I do is capture the feelings I’m experiencing in a moment and communicate them through music so that others experience a similar emotion.”

That’s (basically) what Nigel said. All matter of fact. Like he was reminding me it was quarter past four on a Wednesday afternoon.

That’s the pitch. That’s every composers pitch to their audience. The challenge to their listener: listen to my representation of the world as I hear it and experience the world as I do.

That makes new music a tantalising opportunity, one that transcends the preoccupations of the mainstream hand-wringing classical music sector biting their bottom lip about ticket sales for performances of standard repertoire.

The winners of the BASCA Composer Awards 2017 were:

Solo or Duo: Deborah Pritchard for Inside Colour
Choral: Andrew Hamilton for Proclamation of the Republic
Community or Educational Project: Brian Irvine for Anything but Bland
Chamber Ensemble: Rebecca Saunders for Skin
Wind Band: Kenneth Hesketh for In Ictu Oculi
Amateur or Young Performers: Kerry Andrew for Who We Are
Small Chamber: Robin Haigh for Feyre Foreste
Contemporary Jazz Composition: Cevanne Horrocks-Hopoyian for Muted Lines
Sonic Art: Kathy Hinde for Luminous Birds
Stage Works: Philip Venables for 4.48 Psychosis
Orchestral: Emily Howard for Torus (Concerto for Orchestra)
British Composer Award for Inspiration: Nigel Osborne MBE
British Composer Award for Innovation: Shiva Feshareki

Listen to the awards on BBC Radio 3 on Sunday 10 December from 7.30pm and 30 days after broadcast.
See the full list of BASCA 2017 Award Nominees

BASCA Composer Award 2017 Nominees Revealed

Advocates of an art form like me (I see myself as an advocate not an art form, by the way) bang on and on about the emotional impact music can have.

That why seeing endeavours like the BASCA Composer Awards (nominees below) aren’t merely an opportunity to attend a ‘swanky event’, more a prompt to explore new stuff free of the usual historical baggage that comes with standard repertoire.

There are a handful of familiar names on the nominees list for this year’s awards: Helen Grime, Deborah Pritchard, Sally Beamish, Stuart McRae, and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. Delightful to see Edward Gregson appear on the list too (any wind band player will remember the man for his Festivo).

The rest are unknown to me. Glorious opportunities for new discoveries.

BASCA – the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors – describes itself as ‘an independent professional association representing music writers in all genres, from songwriting to media and contemporary classical to jazz’.

The Composer Awards are dished out on Wednesday 6 December.

It’s a BBC Radio 3 gig too. Not quite sure whether that means its being broadcast live or not. If it isn’t, I’d just like to point out at that I’ve never been to an awards ceremony before.

You know, just saying.

 

Amateur or Young Performers
The Feast That Went Off With A Bang by Ed Hughes
The Hogboon by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies
Who We Are by Kerry Andrew

Chamber Ensemble
Khadambi’s House by Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian
Skin by Rebecca Saunders
The wreck of former boundaries by Aaron Cassidy

Choral
Affix Stamp Here by Leo Chadburn
Proclamation of the Republic by Andrew Hamilton
The Temptations of Christ by Barnaby Martin

Community or Educational Project
Anything but Bland by Brian Irvine
BIRDS and other Stories by Emily Peasgood
Crossing Over by Emily Peasgood

Contemporary Jazz Composition
Loop Concerto for jazz trio & large ensemble by Benjamin Oliver
Muted Lines by Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian
You Are My World by Robert Mitchell

Orchestral
Forest by Tansy Davies
Torus (Concerto for Orchestra) by Emily Howard
Two Eardley Pictures by Helen Grime

Small Chamber
In Feyre Foreste by Robin Haigh
Omloop Het Ives by Laurence Crane
Tuvan Songbook by Christian Mason

Solo or Duo
Inside Colour by Deborah Pritchard
Merula Perpetua by Sally Beamish
Piano Sonata No. 2 by Stuart MacRae

Sonic Art
cloud-cuckoo-island by Hanna Tuulikki
Luminous Birds by Kathy Hinde
Untitled Valley of Fear by Sam Salem

Stage Works
4.48 Psychosis by Philip Venables
Empty Hand, Peaceful Mind by Ben Gaunt
The Tempest by Sally Beamish

Wind Band or Brass Band
Anemoi by Joseph Davies
Four Études by Edward Gregson
In Ictu Oculi by Kenneth Hesketh