Last November, Berklee students Perrin Xthona (‘20) and Maria Landi (‘20) attended the annual International Writing Camp at the Conservatorium Haarlem in the Netherlands. During the three-day workshop, Perrin and Maria had the opportunity to collaborate with songwriters and producers from around the world, culminating in a performance of their songs for prominent music publishers. The Berklee Career Center recently sat down with Perrin and Maria to talk about their experience attending the International Writers Camp (IWC), and to discuss how their Berklee education helped prepare them for this unique opportunity.
How did you first hear of the International Writers Camp and what made you want to apply?
Perrin: Bonnie Hayes, the chair of the Songwriting Department, emailed a group of students explaining the opportunity and what it was about. At first, I never heard of the International Writers Camp or the Conservatorium but it looked like something that would be a good fit for me.
Maria: I wrote a paragraph explaining that I would be a great fit for the camp because I have a lot of co-writing experience. I submitted a song that I wrote and the Songwriting Department went through the applications. Shortly after, Bonnie let me know that I was going to the Netherlands to participate in the IWC.
What did you do while at the International Writers Camp?
Perrin: Maria and I didn't realize the IWC was a competition until we arrived at the opening ceremony and they announced that a panel of judges and music publishers would be selecting the top three songs. All we knew going in was that we would be writing in small groups for three days. Maria and I didn’t know if that meant we were going to write multiple songs throughout the program or just write and produce one song.
The first day we got into small groups of two writers and one producer, each from different countries. We were told to come up with two song concepts and pitch them to the supervisors of the camp. They picked the one they liked the most, and then we spent the next two days with our groups developing our ideas, producing, and finalizing everything. On the last day, we presented our songs to several A&R executives from different labels. It was a really cool experience.
What was your favorite experience from attending the International Writers Camp?
Perrin: My favorite part was meeting talented and creative people from different countries and collaborating with my group. My group got along really well and the other members were easy to work with. I feel like music is a pretty common ground for people no matter where you’re from, especially when it comes to writing a melody. The other songwriter in my group was from Finland, and our producer was from Haarlem, so it was really exciting to work on music with people with different perspectives.
Maria: I think working with my team members was my favorite experience. I was placed in a group with all girls which was different for me because I am used to writing with guys. Working with an all-female group was really awesome and allowed us to make a song that was bubbly, cute, and quirky. Our song ended up winning the whole competition. It was amazing, especially since that song was a product of our group being authentic and having open communication.
What did you learn from collaborating with other songwriters and producers from around the world?
Perrin: Creating a melody and producing the song was really easy, but writing the lyrics was a little different. I was the only native English speaker in my group, so I felt like I had an advantage. Lyrically, hearing different group members’ perceptions of phrases and metaphors made me look at words completely differently.
Maria: I felt like I learned a lot from the experience. The producers in Europe are so talented and their standards of a demo are so much higher than my standards of a demo. They all use Ableton and are really proficient at sound design. It was super cool to have that perspective in the room. I usually only think about the topline and worry about the production later, but the producer in my group was coming up with sound designs and correlating them directly with the vibe and meaning of the song. It was also cool to get someone else's perspective on lyrics whose native language wasn't English because it's interesting to see what they gravitate towards and how they dig deeper with English metaphors in a song.
How has the IWC helped you grow your songwriting skills?
Perrin: The IWC taught me that it’s really important to get to know your collaborators and find common ground when you are going into a session with people you don’t know. We made sure to make time to get to know each other in our first hour or two, which felt a little weird initially because we knew the song was due in just three days. Writing the song only took a day but investing the time before writing was important to establish good energy in the room.
How did your Berklee experiences prepare you for an opportunity like this?
Perrin: I took the Billboard Hot 100 class last spring and that was the first class that had me co-write in groups and write songs on a faster output. I didn't know anybody in that class so it was good practice for the IWC and other experiences like it. I also had an internship over the summer where I was interning for Kidinakorner in their studio and was able to go into some writing sessions. I helped them write for their artist’s project as well, which got me used to writing for pitch.
Maria: I was also in the Billboard Hot 100 class which gave me the ability to get into a room with people I’m not familiar with and not be self-conscious about the ideas I bring to the table. My Berklee ear training experiences were also helpful in the room, as I could play and solfege melodies so my group members understood what I was talking about. It really helped me show the maximum potential of the song.
What is the best advice you can give Berklee students looking to apply for the IWC?
Perrin: I think the best advice is to write a ton and have a lot of demos ready to go that will showcase your style and skill on your application.
Maria: Know your strengths and weaknesses. If you can articulate what you’re good at, you can be placed into a group that is compatible with your abilities. When I applied, for example, I said I was really good at coming up with concepts, titles, and melodic phrases for songs. Be humble when you know something is not your strong suit and be open to other people's ideas and collaborations.
How has this opportunity helped you with your career?
Perrin: Ultimately, I want to be a working songwriter and regularly attend sessions, so working on our song all day at IWC confirmed that this career is a great fit for me.
Opportunities such as the International Writers Camp are made available to Berklee students and alumni throughout the year. Resources such as the Berklee Career Manager and Career Advising are available to help you take advantage of these opportunities. Learn more at berklee.edu/career-center.