Collaborations – 4 Tips That Will Make Yours A Success

Laudo Liebenberg, Aking

I’ve recently started an incredibly challenging project that is teaching me a lot about songwriting collaborations. There is a big difference between a collaboration and a “co-writing” situation – often, in a collaboration, there are  3 or more people involved! To make matters even more difficult, we are under serious time constraints to complete the process.


The project is called the 5FM MashLab and every month I go in to the recording studio with two other different artists (it can be full bands, rappers, solo artists or DJ’s – or in some cases, all of them) and we have to write, produce and record a brand new single for release at the end of the very same month. The single gets released and played nationally on the last Thursday of every month on the national broadcaster, 5FM. And it has to be good!


That works out to approximately two and a half week to get two sets of Top 40 artists into a room to write a song and then back into another room to record the song. Then production, editing, mixing and mastering – and at the same time, having to take everybody’s opinions into account on every single decision.


And to make things almost impossible, other people – who are not even in the room with us – are setting all of the parametres for the songs, including subject matter and genre!  5FM’s listeners get to vote as to which artists will be collaborating and even the subject of the song itself. So you can imagine, it’s a high-stress and extremely creative environment.


design 1

As I said, I am learning a lot about being in this situation. In case you are ever in a similar situation, here are 4 basic rules that will not only help you survive a collaboration, but that will ensure yours is a success.


1)    Don’t be scared of references.

Music is a universal language, yes. But everyone speaks a different dialect. When lots of musicians are in a room trying to express where they think the song should go, things can go horribly wrong because language is so diverse and words can mean different things to different people. Someone might use the word “heavy” to mean a totally different thing to someone else. In these instances, do not be afraid to fire up the Ipod and listen to a few songs together that contain elements of where you are trying to go. This is such a valuable tip that if it wasn’t so Fight-Club-y, I’d write it as the second and third tip as well.

2)   It sounds dumb but :  Have Fun.

If you are not having fun, the collaboration will not work. Being in a creative environment with lots of people – especially when some of them are highly successful – can be like being in a zoo with a lot of wild animals. If you lose your cool, they will bite your head off and run away with it. You’ll never get your head back!!!  In a collaborative environment, putting too much pressure on the success of the outcome can create a really harsh working environment, not to mention mediocre work. DO NOT TRY TOO HARD! So keep it cool and realize that whatever you can do together, you will do together. Do not try and control the process, just have fun!

3)    Do your homework

I think one of the hardest things you can ever do to yourself is come into a creative environment with a group of people unprepared and hoping to rely on your sparky creativity to kick into gear when you need it most. This will not always work. Come already prepared with a whole host of ideas, written, recorded or at least presentable and malleable. Let everyone chat about the different ideas of what could be done together and go with the flow. But if you get stuck, bring out one of your already prepared ideas. I PROMISE you this will save the day!

4)    Leave your ego at the door.

When you are in a large group of creative musicians, there are plenty of egos to manage and juggle. Don’t add yours in to the mix. Leave your ego at the door and stay focused on the song. Remember : it should always be about the song! It’s all about the song!  When everyone else in the room has forgotten that and just want to add his or her flavor, just keep listening to the song and turn your ego off. The song will tell you what it wants.


I hope this helps! If you are interested in hearing any of my 5FM Mashlabs that we are currently doing (one a month for the next 12 months), you can follow the blog happening at , you can listen to The Rob Vember Show on 5FM during any week day or you can hear the collabs on the iTunes Store by following these links…


APRIL 2013 MASHLAB – Aking & Jon Savage (Feat. Tumi Molekane) ——– > CLICK HERE

MAY 2013 MASHLAB – iScream And The Chocolate Stix and Jon Savage (Feat. Reason) ——-> CLICK HERE


Feel free to leave comments or questions below! Also new episode of the podcast coming this month!






The Pro’s and Cons of Co-writing

Paul and John, John and Paul



There are two sides to the co-writing coin. One are all the possible legal hassles that it could entail – although this sensibly and easily avoidable if you follow some easy steps.


The other side of the coin, is that it gives a great boost to aspiring songwriting rising through the ranks of the industry and Nashville is no stranger to this strategy.


Kelly Paige (in Nashville) and I discuss the pro’s and con’s of songwriting partnerships on the brand new Songwriting Business podcast! Listen

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or find it on iTunes (click here …. )

Mick and Keith



Writing Songs Across Genre


I’m really happy that Emeli Sande – following her Brit Award success – has validated something that I teach in my Songwriting Business Academy (


It is a contentious point but I maintain that genre is just a vehicle for melody. It doesn’t matter if you are writing for rock, blues, hip-pop, pop, metal, kwaito or any other genre, the melody is the king of the song and it should be able to work in almost any genre (in Eastern and some African music, there are different modal patterns so there might be some variation but the point remains the same).


Genre’s job is to deliver a powerful melody in different styles of music. That’s why a lot of artists often sound like great bands by really nailing the style of the genre, but the songs aren’t strong and so they end up doing well live but struggling to achieve mainstream success. This is often indicative of songwriters spending too much time worrying about the music and not enough time crafting the melody.


Think of Metallica’s version of Nothing Else Matters being performed by The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra ( , or Travis’s version of Britney Spears’ smash hit “Hit Me Baby One More Time” ( or – one of my personal all time favourites – Johnny Cash covering Trent Reznor’s Hurt (that version still makes me cry) ( . The melodies and the songs all work cross all genres!

Metallica and San Francisco Symphony Orchestra

In a recent interview for, Emeli Sande challenged herself,  “Can I write a big pop thing? And then go and write something that’s completely different in a completely different genre with an artist like Susan Boyle?”


She continued, “And then could I go write for Rihanna as well? I think that if you’re good at writing then you have to be able to do it in any genre. And if the production changes, the song can still stand. I love that challenge.”


So you don’t have to just take my word for it any more.  If you have anything to add or any comments, we’d love to hear from you. Please leave comments in the box below.


Until next week,


Finally : The Songwriting Feedback Service is here!

Song Feedback Service


This has been almost 6 months in the making and I’m very proud to be finally announcing its birth.


This is for you if


–       you are a solo artist who needs someone to bounce ideas off

–       you are anyone who has ever hit a dead end in terms of their songwriting

–       your band is struggling to get radio airplay

–       you’ve ever found yourself smashing your head against a wall because you’ve been able to write such a great hook and a KILLER verse melody but you just can’t seem to find a chorus that works

–       you just need a friendly ear to help you steer the creative process in to a direction that produces results!

–       you are struggling to crack a songwriting brief for a commercial agency and you feel that you have no one to turn to.


This is the most complete Songwriting Feedback Service on the web!


The service is open now. Just click HERE for more details.


Every week I get sent hundreds of songs from people all over the world for feedback and even though I love it, I just don’t have the time to get to everyone any more.


So I’ve decided to create an affordable service where musicians and songwriters can choose their level of interaction that they would like.


From just shooting off a couple of insightful paragraphs that could change your perspective on your song to page long in-depth analysis’, to even one-on-one Skype calls with your band – I have over 15 years of industry experience – this is the most interactive Songwriting Feedback Service on the web.


For more details, click here.


I created this service for songwriters from all walks of life, so please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions or suggestions. I’d love to hear from you.


Unilt then, Happy songwriting!


Song Feedback Service

Voodoo Songwriting – An Exercise in Creativity in Songwriting

jon savage

I’ve been shooting a television show for the past few months about a spoof punk band – the project stars many interesting musical icons such as Daniel Bedingfleld and Fokofpolisiekar.


One of the interesting parts of the process was writing and producing all of the music for the imaginary characters and this imaginary band. Oddly, I found it much easier to get in to their heads and bash out dozens of songs, than it is to get in to my own head and write for some of my own projects.


However, I’ve noticed that this process has unlocked a wealth of new ideas for my own music.


With the spoof punk band, I can watch the episode that I’m working on, feel that we need to include a song in a particular part, and write that song in a matter of minutes or an hour.


I’ve found this a compelling and educational process and I highly recommend that if you are ever feeling a little low on songwriting inspiration, fabricate a character in a different era or genre and just write a few songs for that imaginary person. You could be a Buddy Holly character from the 50’s or music from a futuristic space-station radio, or how about a porno 80’s rock/metal band with big hair or a 70’s disco star. Be sure to give the character or band a name so that you can embody them while you are working.


Fokofpolieskar vs Stone Cold Jane Austen

Now I’m not saying you should dress up like them (although if you do, please send photos and I promise to post them), but you should really try to think like them. It’s just a fun exercise on the surface but there is a lot going on with you creatively and subconsciously.


I’ve spoken before about having specific parameters put on to your songwriting to enable you to write consistently, and this is an extension of that idea. Giving yourself a purpose to write (i.e. I’m an 80’s glam rock star), and giving yourself a specific box in which to complete a task – in this case to create a piece of music in another genre – are two powerful allies for any songwriter.


By spoofing a different genre you start unlocking some of your own songwriting creativity. And you also naturally begin to explore musical territory you might never do alone, by yourself, while writing an album.


It’s a powerful and strange piece of musical Voodoo, and an interesting experiment that I’d like to encourage anyone to try.


Please comment on the results in the comments box below! Would love to hear from you.


Until then, Happy Songwriting.


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