Pictured (l-r): Ian Coyne, Whitton and Joe Solo in the studio
"Artist development" is usually a phrase that you only hear in the context of rants against the record industry, as in "Label X isn't willing to put any time or effort into artist development!" Fact is, the concept is vital to the careers of any artist, signed or not. Behind most successful recording artists are the producers, co-writers, managers, publicists and even family members that provide the inspiration and feedback that helps hone an artist's personal style. As a case study, we talked to ASCAP writer/producers Ian Coyne and Joe Solo about developing Whitton, a singer/songwriter with a unique sound that they played a large part in realizing.
-Etan Rosenbloom, Associate Director & Deputy Editor, Communications & Media
Ian Coyne: In early 2009, I was heading out to support an artist friend in Pasadena and the thought occurred to me that I might go early. I never go anywhere early. So perplexed as I was by this impulse, I went. It turned out to be an auspicious evening, since it was the first time I met the singer/songwriter Whitton.
As a producer, I knew immediately that this was an artist I could work with. Whitton was the whole package - young, talented, with a unique voice. She was not just beautiful, but memorable. A mutual friend and co-writer, eLi, made the introduction and Whitton and I sat down less than a week later to discuss working together. With an immediate and recognizable musical chemistry we began a path that would come to full fruition 18 months, one EP, a CD and a 12-piece band later - and would bring with it multiple film placements, a publisher agreement, a publicist, and a showcase for Atlantic Records which got us a publishing offer from the VP.
But back to the beginning. In addition to producing, I also am a songwriter. I have input on all levels (melody, arrangement, song selection, etc.) so working with a new artist who also writes can sometimes be a bit tricky. I feel it's my job as producer and co-writer to figure out how to create a sound that's commercial without losing what makes them unique - to influence without overpowering their sound. Whitton's vocal sound is very sultry, and her melodic style is a mix somewhere between Norah Jones, Billie Holiday and Feist. So the task was to meld those influences into something that was accessible to all types of listeners, while staying true to that special Whitton flavor. This project became a great example of how a producer must ride the line between artistry and commercialism.
In our case, the artistic process was one of marinating slowly over time. Our unique sound didn't actually come together until our second song. Our first song, "Apple Tree," which was written for the film The 5th Quarter, had more of an Americana vibe.
It was at this point it became clear we had successfully navigated the awkward "dating stage" and were in a full creative partnership. Our sound was a 1940's influenced pop, and we wanted to now bring in someone to consult/collaborate with and provide another point of view and a modern spin.
A fellow songwriter suggested that I meet producer/songwriter Joe Solo to do just that. I emailed Joe and he called me back to discuss the project - Joe you take it from here...
Joe Solo: After talking to Ian about Whitton's voice, I was intrigued to learn more. He came to my studio and played me what they had done up to that point, and asked me if I would be willing to get involved. So the next week Ian and Whitton and I began writing a few new songs and discussing what we might do to bring the quasi-1940's vibe into this millennium without watering down the authenticity of what they had accomplished so far. I felt they simply needed to add a bit of a hip-hoppy feel in the drums and capitalize on the hooks they developed by bringing them to the forefront of their mixes a bit more. Also, we wrote a handful of new songs together and I contributed a bridge section to the title track of the album, "Proud Bird." Back to you Ian!
Ian Coyne: It's worth mentioning that as a producer, one is called upon to wear many hats over the course of a project: producer, engineer, psychologist, chauffeur, friend, songwriter, confidant, parent and studio musician. From programming all the natural drum sounds to writing and playing the guitar, bass and mandolin parts, I was able to use many of my abilities to their fullest. In some cases, inviting a guest musician made sense. As a result, we had the pleasure of a horn part from Larry Gittens aka T-Voyce (Stevie Wonder/Kool and the Gang), a writing collaboration with Peter Fox (Rachael Yamagata), Peter Malick (Norah Jones) and again, Joe Solo (Macy Gray). Joe brought an extra commercial sound to the mix and also became a collaborator in one of my current projects focused on music placement. I have been lucky enough to have some amazing musicians around me during my career, from working for Diane Warren when I was 21, to getting to work on tracks with Gerald Albright, Danny Sembello and Stewart Zender (Jamiroquai) while he was on tour in Los Angeles. So it was a pleasure to work with such a high caliber of musicians on this project, too.
Somewhere mid-recording process we started to work on the live show. This provided another opportunity to expand the creative vision, taking the project from the studio and realizing the complex musical structures on stage. Incidentally, I was the musical director and guitar player for this. After a couple of shows at Hotel Café and an exciting showcase for Atlantic Records with a full 12-piece band, I felt the project was self-sustaining and I could return my focus back to production.
The project has been an outstanding experience. We have an excellent publicist on board and the song "B Sting" just won the Searchlight Songwriting Competition. Whitton is a very talented and unique voice and we're looking forward to the project's continued success.
Ian Coyne is composing film and TV music with Joe Solo, and writing jingles with ASCAP writer/producer Robb Vallier (Gin Blossoms) and Miranda Frigon for placement in multiple media. Additionally, Ian continues to work with other successful artists & producers. Fin out more at www.IanLounge.com.
Joe Solo is currently focusing on his Music Success Workshop, where he gives both one-on-one career mentoring and travels across the nation giving weekend workshops on how to be successful in music. Find out more at www.joesolo.com.
Whitton is currently preparing for a live tour, meeting with potential managers and label A&R reps. Find out more at www.whittonmusic.com.