Artist Community Newsletter #001 // Top License In 2017 So Far (Interview with Bird Passengers)

Bird Passengers had our top license in Q1 when their song "Safely In" was licensed to Cadillac. We caught up with them to gain some insight about their composing process.

What is your writing process like when creating new songs?

Caleb Loveless: Well, usually Jonathan and I start the process. Either he flies out here to Utah or I fly out to Sacramento and lock ourselves in one of our studios for a week. We go pretty hard for those weeks. Usually by the end of it we are both barely human. We usually get 5-7 full skeletons done in that week. These skeletons consist of general production, piano, drums and maybe a couple synths and bass. As Jonathan is laying out production, I'm usually sitting in the corner jotting down lyrics and singing melodies in my head. We divide and conquer, and sometimes if we are really honed in we can put a song together, start to finish, in a couple hours.

After we get all of that together, we focus on our main goal: great vocal takes. We generally like my voice through the good old U87 Great River (or Neve) combo. Sometimes we compress on the way in with an 1176. Other times we have used an SM7b, Royer R-121, or CAD e100s (secret weapon for whispery vocals) for different colors. 

After Jonathan and I do our week, we bounce everything out and send it to Nate in Nashville. Nate takes our skeletons and tries to get inspired by something we did... then just goes nuts. He's an evil genius. After a month or two Nate starts sending us mixes and then we start sending notes back and forth till one of us DEMANDS we stop and we just move on. You can always keep pushing a song until it's lifeless and over-thought. It's important to learn how and when to stop and move on.

Do you have any tricks when creating new songs for sync/licensing? 

Nate Dodge: I try to be mindful of what is used for licensing, but also try to stick to my own muse and personal aesthetic. 

Caleb Loveless: Personally, I know when I am writing melodies, I try to push the cadence of the rhythm. I have a tendency to write too slow and moody. When I am writing lyrics, I try to think of big concept lyrical ideas -- something a whole generation of people could sing together, or something that applies to everyone. I usually start lyrics thinking about that one great catch phrase and build the rest of the song around that. On a more philosophical level, I think it's important to BE FEARLESS. Personally, I feel anytime I let fear into any part of the process, it just crushes creativity. 

If you work in a group, make sure you aren't doing anything in your dynamic that is causing fear in yourself or your partners. Put your relationships first. Bad relationship dynamics will squash the creative process and you won't create anything truly inspirational. If you want to survive in this industry, keep your relationships strong and be good to people. 

I think maybe the greatest secret when creating songs that will do well in sync/licensing is not really TRYING too hard to create songs for sync/licensing. Keep good timeless principles in mind, i.e. having a good energy, committing to a mood, creating universal themes.

Was licensing a consideration in the writing/producing of “Safely In”?

Caleb Loveless: Yes and no. Certainly everything we do is done with licensing in mind. At the same time, we try really hard not to get sucked into a licensing vortex. It's easy to start writing too generically, too cliche, and run the risk of having no originality or freshness in your work.

"Safely In" started down a strange nautical/young love theme, and to be honest, it felt a little weird at first, but I guess ultimately it worked. The moral of the story is embrace your weird and unique ways. Early on in the project I got on a phone call with Jonathan and Nate and expressed my worry that I didn't really have a traditional singing voice for this type of project. I didn't even finish my sentence before they explained that the unique was something that would set us apart. I have learned a lot from those guys. Most of all, we just try to focus on making music that I think people might want to listen to.