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We love learning all about our talented ACM tutors’ amazing careers… and today it’s the turn of Songwriting Tutor, Tim Hawes. He’s one of the UK’s most successful songwriters and producers, with over ten million record sales to his name, including five No. 1 singles… and an Ivor Novello Award to boot!
Tim joined us for a Q&A session to tell us about his time in the industry and his most memorable moments in music.
Briefly describe your career so far in the music industry.
My career in the music industry has spanned 30 years and has included working as a bass player/guitarist in a touring band (lots of fun, but a bit too self destructive for me!); being a published songwriter penning songs for commercial artists worldwide; and running a successful publishing company myself, representing the interests of a select roster of songwriters. I’ve also worked as a songwriting mentor, hosting camps and retreats throughout the UK and, more recently, as a course author and lecturer in music education.
Which artists have you worked with and who did you enjoy working with most?
I’ve worked with a wide range of commercial artists including the Spice Girls, Five, S Club 7, Hear’Say and the Sugababes in the UK, as well as No. 1 acts in Germany, Italy, France, Bulgaria, Japan and Korea. I’ve enjoyed working on songs for every single project I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in… but I’ll choose to keep quiet about my favourite, as it was perhaps the least musical of all my exploits to date. Music is sometimes about having fun, and this particular project had me laughing and smiling every day… quite an achievement!
Who are your musical influences?
David Bowie, Simon and Garfunkel, The Beatles, The Bee Gees, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Kate Bush, XTC, Talk Talk, The Four Tops and Motörhead.
How did you get into songwriting?
In school, poetry was one area that I excelled at and my work was often published in the school magazine – in fact, my sister ‘borrowed’ a poem of mine some years later and got in the school magazine too! My love of words, and my detachment from regular work concepts, took on new meaning when my mum bought me an acoustic guitar… the marriage of words and harmony was underway! I was a bass player and songwriter in a band from school days through to the age of 28, and I had a huge amount of fun touring and recording with great friends. In my village there was a management company called Safe Management and I was always posting demo tapes through their letterbox. They came to see my band eventually and, although they didn’t sign the band, they liked the songs… and I had written them. At the age of 30, I started writing songs for their artists, and got very lucky when they put together the Spice Girls. My involvement led to my first publishing deal with BMG and the beginning of a long full-time career as a songwriter – my lifelong aim.
How did you feel about winning an Ivor Novello Award for ‘Best Selling UK Single’?
I felt that I was very lucky that the stars aligned correctly in the period leading up to the success of Hear’Say’s ‘Pure and Simple’. Many writers have great songs, but politics, circumstances and creativity seldom align in such a way as to lead to this sort of accolade.
Did you attend the award ceremony?
I did attend the ceremony and it was rather impressive to be presented the award by Sting. However, I’ve never been too bothered about these sorts of gatherings, and the real highlight was getting home that evening and cracking open a beer with my family.
What’s your most memorable moment working in music?
Before I was a signed songwriter, I used to work in a local community-based recording studio, engineering sessions for local bands. The boss of the studio told me that a guy named Paul Rodgers wanted to come and check out the set-up for some possible recording. I laughed to myself at the notion that it could be ‘the Paul Rodgers’ of Free fame, and one of my idols. On the day, this scruffy little fella turned up and as I started talking to him, it dawned on me that it was indeed the man himself. I ended up jamming with him – me on acoustic guitar and him singing. It was a surreal encounter! The only moment that surpasses this was drinking Southern Comfort post-gig with my all-time hero – Lemmy from Motörhead.
What does it feel like to have a No. 1 hit?
Probably similar to when a car salesman meets his targets and knows he’ll be able to take the family on a nice holiday. The only difference is, the car salesman is likely to repeat that every month, whereas the songwriter has no idea whether he’ll receive another pay check that year, and so has to get straight on with thinking about the next song. I think my interpretation is a little distorted, as I undertook the occupation with the aim of releasing my own original songs, but ended up writing songs for others. Whilst I’ve always loved the challenge of writing three minutes of pop with mass appeal (and still do), this has come with some artistic compromise and has left me usually quite detached from the end product. I love the process of commercial songwriting to a brief, but would rarely buy the end result. I have a separate folder on my computer containing songs that represent my more artistic interests and they might still become an album for myself one day.
Tell us about your company, Zebra1
Zebra1 is a partnership with Bucks Music in the UK and represents the publishing interests of a small selection of talented songwriters. We’re lucky to have such a great partner, whose infrastructure is well established, and this has helped enormously in getting the company established quickly.
What exciting things are you working on at the moment?
My commercial endeavours have largely been focused towards the Asian pop market in the last few years – J-pop and K-pop. These markets are holding their heads up high in the world music economy, still selling CDs and DVDs in larger quantities than downloads, and with a thriving manufactured pop scene akin to perhaps the UK trend in the late ‘90s/early 2000s. This means there’s a lot of opportunity for the jobbing songwriter. It’s another pop challenge for me too – a new set of compositional rules to consider. My writers and I have had multiple releases with some of the biggest acts in these territories, with several major placements in progress right now! In a business sense, the Japanese and Korean companies are a pleasure to do business with too – they’re honourable and efficient.
How did you get into teaching and what do you enjoy most about it?
My involvement in teaching has been rather progressive, to be honest. I’ve mentored other songwriters at writing camps all over the UK, but it’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve taken on more teaching in an academic environment. I began by writing course content for songwriting degree programmes, then a little bit of lecturing… and now quite a lot of lecturing. I’ve grown to love this side of my work and I genuinely look forward to each session. Teaching has taught me how much I have to offer others from my years of songwriting/production and publishing experience… knowledge which I’m pleased to pass on to my students. On the other side of the coin, writing course content and preparing lecture materials re-educates me and leads to new learning, as does interacting with young students who have their finger on the pulse of today’s music. As a songwriter and teacher, I do listen to lots of current music to compliment my historical listening… but students are great at keeping me on my toes!
What can people expect from your lessons at ACM?
Students can expect an enthusiasm driven by a genuine passion for songwriting; one that most of my waking hours revolve around. I’m meticulous in lesson preparation to ensure the most relevant and best learning experience each week. I don’t ‘gloss up’ the business, and will always offer honesty in both my insights into the world of songwriting, and in giving feedback on students’ work. I try and create a supportive classroom environment where everyone feels comfortable to share their work and contribute to each session.
We’d like to send a big thanks to Tim for filling us in on his hugely inspiring career! If you’d like to study Songwriting at ACM and hone your craft with advice and guidance from industry leaders like Tim, please call our Admissions Team on 01483 500 841 or visit www.acm.ac.uk/open-days/ to book a place on an ACM Open Day today.