Sam Sakr is a hard guy to lock down for a chat because he’s just so damn busy making music. Just a few years after graduating from Produce Music at Liveschool, he has signed a worldwide publishing deal with Sony/ATV, co-written tracks for Guy Sebastian’s more electronically-inclined EP, Part I, and squeezed in enough time to release work for his own project nrthn. We caught up with Sam on his way to the studio to find out about the world of songwriting and publishing, and how he made producing music his day job.
Hey Sam! Just as a quick intro, could you tell us about your start in songwriting and producing?
I started off my musical career as a drummer, working collaboratively with other musicians in bands. This experience within such symbiotic projects helped me to understand the songwriting process, particularly the roles involved in a song, what works where and how to generally structure a coherent musical piece. Producing came to me much later. I was always interested in the process and the time I spent in studios recording with these bands really opened up that world to me. Halfway through 2014 I enrolled at Liveschool and never looked back.
How did your publishing deal with Sony come about? What does it mean for your work?
Alex Hope, one of my best friends and an incredible writer/producer in her own right, introduced me to an amazing publisher named Maree Hamblion who works for Sony/ATV. After a load of sessions and musical correspondence, I signed a worldwide publishing deal with Sony. What that means for my work is exactly what I believe any musician/producer wants to achieve; that the music will be heard.
Could you take me step by step through how publishing process works for you? What’s the relationship between you as a songwriter and Sony/ATV as your publisher?
I think how a publishing deal works for a producer really depends on the publisher you are working with. Maree who is the publisher from Sony/ATV who looks after me, essentially acts like a manager, Maree has an understanding of what music I like to do, and what type of projects I would want to get involved in. If Maree hears there is an artist in Sydney who I would want to write with she will approach their management and organise some time with me! After a while though labels tend to know your name and ask for you when their artists are around and writing. If I’ve worked with an artist enough we end up just organising the sessions ourselves yeah! Another avenue may be the publisher receives a list of artists who are looking for tracks and Maree will set me up with a top liner (melody/vocal line writer) to write for a particular artist. Publishers also handle all your royalty business obviously.
Do you end up writing in a lot of different styles?
Yeah, it often feels like whiplash. Ummmm… I’ve made R’n’B, electronic pop, indie electronic vibes, straight up pop, trap, future bass, acoustic singer songwriter vibes… That all I can think of at the moment… then my own stuff which sits more in the experimental side of electronic music. Whiplash!
What sweet studios have you worked in? What’s your home setup like?
I mainly work out of my own, which is in Alexandria. Its pretty sweet, got all my synths and a vocal both etc. I’ve done a few days in Sony’s massive studio, wow. Also Universals writing room is just a flat out boss. To be honest though, my best ideas come early in the morning, in bed, when I’m reading about how vast our universe is, or something that makes your mind explode, and somehow that generates my favourite ideas. No studio. Just me and my temperamental laptop.
Is your approach different when you’re making tunes for other people?
When I’m writing/producing for someone else, the aim is to reflect and represent that artist wholeheartedly. I have to educate myself on their sound, their style and their whole musical personality. I have to adhere sonically to their artist vision. It’s almost like acting in a way. I take on their character and reproduce it through a song. Then when I work on my own projects, I have a lot more creative freedom and I can use that platform to express my singular voice. There’s a lot more vulnerability on display which can be tricky to bring to the surface and express, but it can also be intensely liberating.
Walk us through what goes down during a studio session.
Every session is unique but generally, after 2 hours of talking and watching YouTube videos, we’ll decide on a vibe together and that’ll be the foundation of the song. I’ll write some chords and the artist will flesh out lyrical and melodic ideas, then as we’re building the track together there’s a lot of back and forth between us. Like, ‘Do you like this lead line?’ ‘Does this drum beat work for this section?’ ‘Do you want a different emotion to come through in the bridge?’ In the best sessions, the song usually writes itself. You honestly don’t even remember doing it.
Any advice for producers looking at breaking into the world of songwriting?
You have to put in the hours to improve your craft. You need to be writing everyday and you need people to know that you’re writing everyday. There’s no use composing masterpieces if no one knows they exist. Communicate with other musicians and songwriters and collaborate with them. Tell people who you are and back it up with some killer songs. Also, sleep, but only enough to keep you alive and sane.
Anything you wish you’d known before your first producer session?
How to get a good vocal sound. Being able to create solid vocals is paramount to bringing an artist to life. Also, I wish I started playing and understanding piano earlier. If you know your way around a keyboard, it’ll improve your songwriting capabilities and your knowledge of music theory tenfold. And it reduces a lot of guesswork. If you know the instrument, you know what it can produce and you can visualise the chords and melodies on the keys before you even hear them.
Do you have any songwriters / producers you look up to?
This list is huge but I’ll keep it short…
Sarah Aarons – One of my best friends who also happens to be the most incredible top liner out.
Dallas Green – He’s an absolute wizard.
James Blake – Leaves me speechless. Every. Time.
Noah Shebib (aka. 40) – Incredible producer.
Hans Zimmer – In terms of instilling such intense emotive responses in an audience, his compositions are incomparable.
Whoah that’s a good list man! Thanks for that! What’s on your plate for the rest of the week?
Just got to finish up a bunch of tracks for Guys upcoming album also making a sound palette for an upcoming project peeps got me working on!
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