Essential songwriting tips with Dua Lipa writer Gerard O’Connell

ICMP songwriting tutor and Dua Lipa hitmaker Gerard O'Connell gives us his top tips for emerging songwriters...
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ICMP songwriting tutor Gerard O’Connell is uniquely placed to offer insight and advice into the craft of creating music.

Beginning as a singer in folk bands, then getting signed to Island as an indie artist, Gerard has gone on to pen huge hits for the likes of Dua Lipa and Rita Ora.

It means he’s had his fair share of music industry experiences and was one of the highlights of our fortnight of Summer Schools, taking part in an extensive masterclass around his career and tips for emerging songwriters.

We were on hand to pick out his best pieces of wisdom. Check out what we learned from him below…

Keep writing - even if you don’t want to

Waiting for inspiration doesn’t work. New writers need to write, write and write in order to get where they want to be.

Sometimes, when you don’t feel like writing, these are the days when you’ll get something great."

I had this in a session the other day. I didn’t want to do it and it was challenging but pushing yourself like this can really work in your favour.

Don’t copy current trends

If you follow the groove of what’s happening at the time, then you miss the point. You need to create your own sound and trust yourself rather than trying to pre-empt the next big thing.

Collaboration can open up new areas of creativity

Collaborations can be a great way of unlocking those creative doors that you might never really open otherwise. The point is you get together with people who challenge how you write music.

I could write folk songs all day long but I’ve been in the room with Cheryl Cole. It’s opened up new horizons for me…"

You need to create an open environment to collaborate well

Songwriting is a very social activity but collaboration can be weird as you come in with a complete stranger and you tell them things you wouldn’t even tell your wife or partner.

It means you need to create an environment where it’s safe to open up and become confessional. Get in the room and try and get on with each other.

New writers need to work with new artists

If you want to be a pop writer, then it makes sense for you to align yourself with new and upcoming artists. That way you start at the same level and hopefully go up together. Jump on SoundCloud to connect with acts there, then go to shows and chat to people there too. Expand your networks.  

Get your music out there

A lot of success is about output. You need to get your music out there and heard. If it’s good and it’s strong enough, then release. Music doesn’t do anything just sitting on a hard drive.

Honesty works well in songwriting

Be true in your writing and write from the heart – you don’t need to try and fit into anything else. Just be true and it’s usually these songs that resonate the most."

I write pop music – but love more leftfield sounds too

I’m writing an album with a friend on Ted Hughes. I do something completely leftfield to keep me sane. It helps ensure I don’t lose myself or my own creative voice.

Be savvy with your money

As a writer, you don’t generally get paid for sessions unless you’re working with a big artist. Instead you make your money through your publishing, any advances you might get, then PRS. There’s no regular income so try and be good with money.

Stockholm is a great place for songwriters

I think the best places to live as a songwriter are London, LA and Stockholm. Swedish writers are really on the up and up.  They have this American musical ear but in a Scandinavian way.  

Follow Gerard on Twitter for more and listen to his co-write 'Hotter than Hell' by Dua Lipa. 

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Contact the team on 020 7328 0222 or via email enquiries@icmp.ac.uk and start your music career today.

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by Jim Ottewill
August 28, 2018
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