Ivor Novello and ‘Q’ award winning Simon Aldred is a songwriter and producer with an impressive list of credits, including collaborations with major label soul singer Sam Smith and million selling songstress Birdy.
We caught up with Simon to talk about using Spectrasonics Omnisphere in his projects and his songwriting top tips.
Hi Simon, so you started your career as an artist signed to EMI – can you tell us more about that time and what you achieved?
It was at the end of a very long road of being in a succession of questionable bands that I decided to go it alone and focus on the discipline of writing and singing, so I started playing a few acoustic gigs, made a demo that contained all the first 3 singles and got signed to EMI within about 6 months. I had a top 10 album, appeared on Jools Holland and won an Ivor Novello. It was an exciting time.
More recently, you’ve been writing for other people including a track on Sam Smith’s recently released debut album ‘In the Lonely Hour’ which has been enjoying great success, how did that come about?
My publisher Kobalt (who are the best publishers by far btw) kept asking me to do co-writes and I was a bit sceptical but Sam’s voice was just something else so I couldn’t resist. I met him in London for a coffee, we got on really well and then he came up to Manchester and we wrote ‘Leave your Lover’ in an afternoon. It was a great day and we’ve stayed in touch and will hopefully do some more writing for his next album.
Tell us about the process of writing that track – do you tend to follow a similar process for all your tracks?
Well everyone follows a different method but I’m more ‘old skool’ in my approach in that I like to hear there is a song there before getting into any production so it’s usually very stripped back with just a guitar/piano and a voice and then if that works, the rest is easy.
Who else have you been writing with?
Usually newly signed major label artists but aside from Sam, I’ve written with Kwabs, Lianne La Havas, Rae Morris, Becky Hill… and lots of new talent that will be releasing music next year such as Zak Able, Cosima.
Looking towards the future, do you see yourself doing more solo work or will you continue to focus more on writing for others?
I think writing for other people is where I see my long term future but never say never, the drag of saying something and singing a good song is something that I’ll find hard to resist.
Tell us about your studio, what key pieces of hardware are you working with?
Very straightforward setup. Aside from the various guitars and a piano downstairs, I have a Juno, a Korg Monopoly, I’m considering getting one of those OP-1’S ? Then it’s Pro Tools with a Neumann mic and good Neve preamp which I connect digitally and then various software synths and programs such as Maschine, Omnisphere, a few Arturia synths too and a range of plugins.
You’ve been using Omnisphere over the past couple of months, after being recommended it by a fellow writer/producer – what was your initial reaction to the instrument once you’d got it up and running?
How rich and widescreen it sounded, it sounds like an analogue synth and all the textures are really interesting and the programming capabilities are just mind boggling. I think it helps that it uses acoustic samples too but it’s certainly a powerful tool to have when creating songs and atmospheres.
Were there any particular features of Omnisphere that particularly surprised/captivated you?
The acoustic sounds and the way you can layer them with less organic sounds, I really like the arpeggiator function too.
What about the powerful editing functions in Omnisphere – to what extent do you tend to customise the sounds?
Well I’m only really at the stage where I’m just tweaking the presets up to now as it’s quite complex when you get into the nuts and bolts of it but I’m sure I’ll slowly familiarise myself with it.
Are there any specific types of sounds in Omnisphere you have found yourself calling upon time and again since you started using it?
I love the mallets and the glitchy arpeggiator patterns.
What are your Top 3 tips for someone who would like their own songwriting skills to be recognised within the industry?
1. Say something, don’t be afraid to make it simple and specific to you but be brave. Don’t hide behind metaphors.
2. Be critical and listen back to your material as objectively as possible in context with other music you listen to.
3. Live a life, songwriting can’t exist in isolation.
Finally, what’s coming up for you in the rest of 2014?
More writing, lots of great new artists emerging that I’m very involved with, some high profile some newly signed. I’m working on my production skills too and looking to get into more electronic genres of music. Having fun and working hard to improve my skills.