Inside BMI’s Patch House Writers Camp

Songwriters Mike Campbell and Andy Seltzer
Songwriters Mike Campbell and Andy Seltzer

It’s always been a good idea for songwriters to affiliate with a performing rights organization (PRO), whether your goal is to hit it big or just release your own music independently. PRO’s such as BMI watch over your songs and make sure you are properly compensated. But now more than ever they are also acting as farm teams, scouting out undiscovered talent, nurturing and helping further a writers’ career by connecting them with other developing writers and performers. Earlier this month, BMI brought several of their promising writers to Brooklyn’s Patch House, an artist residence, for a weeklong writers’ camp. The mission was to create songs for Fletcher, a New Jersey singer/songwriter now based in Los Angeles who has created a buzz with her viral video and song “Wasted Youth.” Some of the writers have recently had hits (“Say Something,” “Sit Still Look Pretty”) while others were fresh on the scene, which made for a dynamic and creative atmosphere. After the camp ended, American Songwriter caught up with several of them for their thoughts. 

Recording artist FLETCHER
Recording artist FLETCHER

Give our readers a little background about yourself.

Fletcher: I’m an artist, songwriter and entrepreneur who goes by the name FLETCHER, born Cari Fletcher. I’m from a small town in New Jersey and grew up very close to Asbury Park, a city rich with musical history. I recently graduated from NYU’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music part of Tisch School of the Arts.

Andy Seltzer: (supplied from his bio page): Andy’s songwriting style is versatile; each canvas is specific to the artist’s song he is working with in order to deliver a vision with integrity and timelessness while being a bit left-of-center. His love for hip hop, 80’s new wave, Paul Simon, and pop sensibility can’t help but make their way onto the recordings one way or another. Andy has had the joy of writing alongside the likes of Penguin Prison, Maggie Rogers, Hailey Knox, Tor Miller, Midnight To Monaco, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Secret Weapons, Zuri Marley, and Madison Love, with an undying dedication to artist development and writing songs in NYC for years to come.

Mike Campbell: I’m a 31-year-old songwriter based out of Brooklyn, NY. I am one of the co-writers of the 2014 Grammy-award-winning song “Say Something” by A Great Big World & Christina Aguilera. I am also one of the co-writers of the 2016 platinum hit “Sit Still, Look Pretty” by Daya. I’m from Albany, NY but I went to college at NYU where I got my Bachelor of Arts in Music and English.

Victoria Zaro: I am a singer/songwriter from New York City. I moved to Los Angeles to attend USC’s Thornton School of Music and pursue my music career. Since moving to LA three years ago as a folk singer-songwriter, I have explored different genres of music and that led me to being featured on records such as the Chainsmokers’ “New York City,” as well as, Justin Caruso’s “Talk About Me.”

What made you want to be a songwriter?

Fletcher: I’ve been involved in music for as long as I can remember. I started taking vocal lessons when I was 5 years old and learned a lot of different instruments at a young age. I started writing songs when I was about 9 or 10 years old, writing about silly things, like what I was eating for dinner or having my first “broken heart” in the 6th grade (lol). I started writing professionally when I got to NYU at 18 years old.

AS: I fully realized I wanted to be a songwriter after a 3-year relationship with my high school sweetheart came to an end in college. For reasons unknown, I chose to write the night that we broke up. That process was such a cathartic and therapeutic moment; I felt like I was making a positive and productive use of my sadness, both as a healthy outlet for myself and for the hope that I would be helping someone else feel less alone someday listening to my song.

Studying the legacy of my heroes made me realize that documenting an honest feeling or emotion in a song provides a means of healing, escape, and/or comfort for people listening for so many years to come. Paul Simon wrote “Gumboots” about a specific moment in his life, and that song found its way to my ears 3 decades later to perfectly soundtrack a specific moment in my life as if it were custom written for me – and that guy has no idea I exist. That’s powerful. Songwriting is an art form where I feel like what I create, share, and leave behind extends far beyond what I am capable of in the physical world.

MC: When I first started in music, I was a violinist. That was a lot of learning to read and perform what had already been written for me on the page. Since a lot of my classical teachers also doubled as jazz musicians, along with learning classical music, I started playing guitar and learning how to improvise and create music on the fly from little or no sheet music at all. I think the conceptual leap from “I have to read music to make it” to “I can make my own music” was huge for me and led me to want to be a writer, especially once I realized that there was a whole world of creating music for other people.

VZ: I always knew that I loved to sing and when I was in middle school I began to love songwriting as well. I had been going through a very common middle school experience of being bullied, and decided to use songwriting as an outlet to express that experience. I remember sitting in my room, with a little plastic keyboard, trying to remember the few chords I learned with a piano teacher years before. Once I finished that first song, I became obsessed with writing and developing my craft.

How did you connect with BMI? And how were you selected to be one of the participants for the Patch House?

Fletcher: When I was 18 and attending the Clive Davis Institute, a representative from BMI came to give a lecture in one of my classes. I was fascinated. Our professors stressed the importance of being a part of a public rights organization so I went home that night and signed up for BMI and registered one of my songs.

AS: I moved to NYC with an internship at Warner/Chappell. One day while typing away at a cubicle I was approached by a kid I knew from college, who mentioned he had just met with “the BMI family.” Intrigued, I asked what their names were, and by serendipity I ran into them later that week at a local show. They agreed to set up a meeting, and I stumbled into their office with a messenger bag full of college demos. They have been my backbone and unconditional support in NYC ever since. The Patch House was trying something new this year by centering the writing camp around an artist, with each room including a producer. I was fortunate enough to get a call from BMI asking if I would be one of the producers.

MC: I have a close relationship with the team over at BMI. I think I signed up for BMI sometime back in 2009, but I didn’t formally meet with Samantha Cox in Writer/Publisher Relations until 2014 when I was beginning to get some attention for my work. They’ve been really invaluable helping me to navigate the industry and make smart career moves and they’re also just all-around great people who really care about helping writers and artists to succeed. I think the great relationship we have was a factor in me being lucky enough to be invited to the Patch House.

VZ: I was connected with BMI 5 years ago. Brooke Morrow had heard me sing some of my songs and told me to come by the office. Ever since then, Brooke has been extremely supportive of my career and thought that my writing style would be a good fit for their writing camp at The Patch House.

Who are your musical influences and what style (if any) is your forte?

Fletcher: Growing up I was inspired by a lot of the big voices of our generation like Celine Dion, Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. I remember being a little girl and trying to memorize their songs riff for riff. I also listened to a lot of Bob Marley as a little girl because it was one of the few CD’s my parents had in the house, I don’t come from a musical family. But now, in 2017, artists and songwriters who are a bit left of center and move the needle within pop music inspire me. Artists like Lorde, Ed Sheeran, Lana Del Ray, Halsey, Troye Sivan have such an authentic voice as artists and writers, and it’s something I really admire and want to emulate.

AS: My musical influences fall anywhere in between the likes of Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Paul McCartney, Fleetwood Mac, Talking Heads, Death Cab For Cutie, The Strokes, The 1975, John Mayer, Bon Iver, Vampire Weekend, The Cure, The National, Jay Z, Drake, and Kanye West. I’d say my forte overall is pop, but within that find ways of incorporating my love of hip hop drum machines, nostalgia from the 80s, indie rock, and conversational simple-leaning lyrics/melody people can relate and sing along to.

MC: I have pretty diverse influences – too many to list here. On the more conventional side, I’ve always been a John Mayer fan. I think a great song should be able to knock your socks off if it’s just a guy or girl with a guitar and he’s one of the best at delivering that. On the non-conventional side, I’m a big fan of Steve Reich who is a great composer in the “minimalism” genre – his work has influenced artists like Bon Iver and Sufjan Stevens (both of whom I also think are great), but I was into Steve Reich’s music way before I listened to Bon Iver or Sufjan Stevens. I’m definitely a sucker for pop songs with simple, catchy and memorable hooks – the kind you want to play over and over again. I wouldn’t go so far in self-aggrandizement to say it’s my “forte,” but it’s certainly what I enjoy writing. If I had to sum up, very broadly, what binds my influences together, it would be the use of great hooks and genuine emotion.

VZ: I’ve always been extremely drawn to music from the ‘60s and fell in love with wordsmiths like Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell. While I have written and been featured on dance music tracks, indie/folk is definitely my forte.

What is your strength as a songwriter and what do you bring to the table?

Fletcher: I love lyrics and melody but I would say I’m strongest with melody. It’s what always comes to me first when writing a song. I love collaborating with a good lyricist, those are always my favorite kind of sessions.

AS: As a songwriter, I first and foremost strive to create a safe haven for someone to feel comfortable talking about personal experiences with me. My strengths lie in patience, listening, trusting a gut feeling, and within those moments I’m able to pick out visceral thoughts and feelings integral to the person I’m with to encourage them to write into a song. I’m also a producer, so I’ll be working on the music aspects while the song is coming together. With an artist, I’ll hone in on melody and arrangement, chiming in on lyrics only for picture framing and tweaking. I want the main emotion to come from the artist themselves so it feels the closest and most honest possible. If I’m alone or with another writer, I’m more involved with the lyrics.

MC: This is a hard one to answer since I’m something of a generalist, but I would say I try to practice an honest, “big-picture” approach to writing. What I mean by that is that I’m focused on how the song connects with a real person living their real life. It’s not to say this is the only way to have a successful song, but I think if you can create a song that allows someone to hear their story in it, it’s the most powerful thing. I’ve been fortunate enough in my career to have a couple of songs that have gone the distance because of that connection, so I try to bring that instinct into sessions with me.

VZ: When writing a song, I try my best to be as honest as possible in my lyrics. In sessions, especially with people I’ve never written before, allowing vulnerability results in a song that all of the writers really resonate with.

Describe the atmosphere and energy at Patch House. Compare your first day arriving and meeting the others and the last day of the sessions.

Fletcher: The energy was incredible. It reminded me of when I was a kid and my parents would drop me off at summer camp for a week. The first night is always a little awkward because you’re trying to fit in and make friends, but by the end of it there is such a family vibe and you all love each other and don’t want to go home. I was genuinely sad to leave at the end of the week because we all had such an incredible time getting to know each other and creating music together.

AS: The atmosphere and energy at Patch House was refreshing, exciting, and proud. The first day arriving felt comfortable because everyone there felt like a friend you’ve known for years. We were all there for the love of writing and excited to leave our normal routines to collaborate with each other. The last day felt accomplished because we had successfully written songs every day with each other while at the same time forming bonds that will carry on for future collaborations.

MC: The music business is incredibly small, so I actually knew several of my co-writers from the Patch House already, which was great because then it’s like you’re making music with your friends in this creative space for a whole week. It also takes a lot of the awkwardness out of it. I hadn’t met Fletcher before, but it was great meeting and getting to work with her for the first time.

Overall, the atmosphere is super familial and fun, but also focused because you know you’re there to try and write great music. We’d have hours during the day where we wouldn’t see each other because we’d be locked away in our various rooms in the house working hard at writing and cutting demos. We’d always come together every night for dinner to hang out, tell stories, share our favorite music and relax. I think when you’re spending so much time together, you can’t help but feel like a big family by the end. It’s always sad to say “goodbye,” because it feels like, for a moment, you got to tune out the “real world” to really let your creativity run wild with a bunch of your friends.

VZ: I was a little bit nervous on my way to Patch House. I didn’t know any of the writers, and so I almost felt like it was my first day at a new school. However, upon arrival I was immediately greeted by a very welcoming, warm group of people. I was excited to start writing and getting to know everyone. Being that there were only seven of us, we all became friends pretty quickly. The positive energy was consistent throughout the week and allowed for everyone to feel comfortable in the creative space.

Sometimes when you are ‘forced’ to do something and come up with a song it can feel forced. The pressure to deliver is high. Did you feel that there and if so, how did you work around it?

Fletcher: The vibe between all the writers was really chill. It was nice to have a goal for what everyone was writing for, which happened to be my artist project. It didn’t feel like there was a lot of pressure to deliver, it was just a bunch of creative people in a house for a week, hanging out and making music together.

AS: That is definitely true, and what I find best to remedy a situation that feels forced or pressured is to take the song back to the moment we got excited about in the first place, remind that there is always a way to compose yourself out of a problem, and try to lighten the mood. Instead of a metaphor, write like you’re talking to me in the passenger seat of a car. Instead of piano, let’s try a bassline. 10-bar chorus. No bridge. There is no right or wrong to how someone is feeling, and I think when people are reminded of that it takes them to a limitless place where the pressure is lifted to finish a song.

MC: I think if you are solely focused on the “business” of songwriting, that “forced” feeling is unavoidable, so what I try to do is really block out the “business” part when I’m in a session making something. I don’t think any of us got into songwriting initially as a way to make money (plus there are way better ways to do that). We got into it because we love music, and songs moved us. When I write, I try to just remember that and set my mind and heart to making something musical that me and my co-writers like, and that’s what I tried to do at the Patch House.

VZ: The atmosphere was really relaxed and organic, so nothing felt forced.

A writers room at Brooklyn's The Patch House
A writers room at Brooklyn’s The Patch House

How was this experience different from your normal writing habits? What are your normal habits?

Fletcher: The overall experience is different because I was placed in a house for a week where the everyday schedule is just to write, which was actually really cool. Definitely different from my regular sessions where you go for a 5 hour period and then you leave and go about your everyday life.

AS: My normal habits are coffee in the morning, shoptalk with my brother (who manages me), a session beginning around 1pm, late dinner, and either finishing mixes/going to a show/watching Netflix until I can’t keep my eyes open. The Patch experience wasn’t too far off from my normal writing habits – I was posted up in a bedroom with my recording rig, which is pretty close to my setup at home since I have a bedroom studio. Because of this, I felt super in my element and already at home. I was spoiled with my BMI folks cooking us breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Each session felt comfortable and as if we were writing at my studio, with the exception of starting early at a time where I’m usually still dead asleep. I’ve never written while fully surrounded by bags of candy, which was for sure a new experience.

MC: Since the Patch House is a communal space, it feels a bit like summer camp. You’re eating together and hanging out together and listening to what everyone is working on. I’d say the biggest difference is probably working with a remote recording setup since you’re not in your own space. I actually really like this aspect because I feel that when you physically go to a different place or locale, your brain works differently and it can be really inspiring. Normally, I work out of my apartment with my own equipment. That’s obviously my comfort zone, but if there’s one thing I believe it’s that “greatness” comes from being kicked out of your comfort zone, so I’m all for experiences like the Patch House.

First Row: Victoria Zaro, FLETCHER, BMI’s Jessa Gelt Second Row: BMI’s Tim Pattison and Sarah Middough Third Row: BMI’s Samantha Cox, Lincoln Parish, BMI’s Tracie Verlinde Last Row: Mike Campbell, BMI’s Brandon Haas, Carter Matschullat, Andy Seltzer, Nisha Asnani
First Row: Victoria Zaro, FLETCHER, BMI’s Jessa Gelt Second Row: BMI’s Tim Pattison and Sarah Middough Third Row: BMI’s Samantha Cox, Lincoln Parish, BMI’s Tracie Verlinde Last Row: Mike Campbell, BMI’s Brandon Haas, Carter Matschullat, Andy Seltzer, Nisha Asnani

What are your takeaways from the Patch House sessions?

Fletcher: I’ve learned that it’s so important to be open-minded. Be open to new ideas and new people. When you open yourself up, it creates room for incredible things to happen and allows for creative opportunity.  

AS: Endless gratitude towards the writers I worked with and my BMI family for a great week, three songs which I’m excited to share with everybody, a mandatory trip to the dentist, and a reminder of why I love writing and working in NYC.

MC: Any time I’m in a writing camp like the Patch House, I can’t help but reflect on how lucky I am. I think it’s a privilege to be given the freedom to create and to be encouraged to do so. Being a songwriter is definitely the hardest job I’ve ever had, but because it’s infused with that passion for music, it’s also really enjoyable. I consider myself really fortunate to be able to do what I love, so being at the Patch House, I definitely caught myself thinking “How is this my job?” more than once. I’d say my main takeaway was gratitude; for music, friends, support from BMI and for being able to write songs for a living.

VZ: Being that this was my first writing camp, I wasn’t totally sure what to expect. It ended up being one of the most memorable writing experiences I’ve had so far. It was extremely inspiring to see how BMI has helped create such a close community of writers.

What are your goals as a songwriter and artist?

Fletcher: The most rewarding part for me as an artist and songwriter is getting to make music that people respond to. I love when fans reach out and tell me how a song of mine inspired them and when they share their personal stories with me. Getting to connect with people all over the world has been so humbling, and if I can continue to do that for the rest of my life, I will be a happy girl.

AS: My goals as a songwriter and producer are to continue spending every day creating, learning, listening, developing, and building a catalog of songs to one day have the outlet of being enjoyed by as many people as possible.

Campbell: As a writer, I just want to continue to build a strong catalog – primarily of “classics” if I have any say in the matter. I just really believe that the “holy grail” of songwriting is to create songs that stand the test of time – the ones that are just as good and relevant now as they were twenty, thirty or even fifty years ago. I think that’s exceptionally difficult, so it’s definitely something to strive for. I’d also love to get into the scoring game one day. I grew up obsessed with film music and have always composed music on the side. That’s certainly a tough nut to crack, but since it’s still fairly early on in my career, I still hold that as a long-term goal. In general, I want to be able to continue making music and to make a living doing it. I have high hopes that there will be an evolution and a shift in the industry toward more equitable pay for songwriters – without whom, I really believe, there wouldn’t be much of a music business.

VZ: My goals as a songwriter are to write as much music as I can with as many people as I can, as well as creating material that connects with a large range of people. Whether that means giving my songs to different artists , or singing them myself, I think being a part of that connection is a major goal of mine.