The songwriter startup – Maggie Adams

This prolific songwriter didn’t start writing until later in life. Now, it seems she’s unlikely to stop!

Maggie Adams has a gift for writing incredibly catchy melodies that have a habit of taking up residence in your head for days at a time!

In five years this UK songwriter has gone from being unsure about sharing her songs to having four full albums completed, a charity single, radio interviews & multiple songs played by the BBC!

We’ve been working together since 2010, and in the summer of 2015 we compiled the best of her songs onto four compilation CDs. We threw possible names back and forth before settling on Songs For Singers, as that most clearly describe the ultimate purpose of her song collections.

It all started in a barn just outside York

It was February 2010 when Maggie Adams and her husband Hugh turned up at my studio, back when I was still based near York.

The original studio space in Low Catton

The original studio in Low Catton, near York

The original studio space in Low Catton

Poor old Hugh had the task of lugging Maggie’s big Yamaha keyboard workstation across the stone courtyard and into the studio. I like to think that I’d helped – but I probably just made him a cup of tea!

Demo-lition derby

Maggie had never worked with a recording studio or producer before, and was understandably a little nervous about asking a complete stranger for feedback on her songs – these songs were her babies.

So, we sat and listened through the music she’d painstakingly put together on her workstation. I was amazed at how many she’d done. This is always a good sign – the more you write, the better you get, and the more chance of having a few real gems amongst your creations. I was pleased that Maggie had taken this approach, and had been writing a number of years before even thinking about having any serious demos produced.

Mark Pierce pulling a funny face in the studio

Even though I wasn’t impressed with Hugh’s attempt at songwriting, I was professional enough to keep my feelings hidden.

Although she can hold a tune very well – Maggie opted to compose the vocal melodies on her workstation, using a lead instrument (typically a flute). This was a novel approach that I’d never come across before – and although it meant I had to read the lyrics along with the music to fully hear the songs, it worked suprisingly well – and it’s the method we still stick to over five years later.

I am always impressed at the ingenuity people display when creating songs. I don’t think I’ve worked with anyone who approaches the songwriting and demo process in exactly the same way. There is definitely no right or wrong method – just the one that works best for you.

Being Blunt…

After listening to the songs, we narrowed it down to starting with Seventeen. Maggie needed help with the instrumentation and not just the recording and mixing, so I agreed to play all that was needed for this track too. The song had be transformed from fairly regimented backing tracks to a living, breathing song.

Maggie’s approach to writing was to have a particular famous artist in mind and write for their style. So when I asked about Seventeen she asked, “Can you sound anything like James Blunt?” I couldn’t believe my good fortune! Of all the people my vocal style is regularly compared to, it’s him. So – confident that I could make this happen – I set about playing, singing and mixing song number one. Little did I know there’d be over 50 more to follow as the years unfolded!

Christmas at The BBC

Christmas 2012 was hectic! This is the story of how – within a matter of weeks – we turned a demo from Maggie’s keyboard into a full blown big band jazz romp, and ended up being interviewed on BBC radio on the strength of it!

Maggie had written a rather clever Christmas song – White, White Christmas – and I had the small matter of turning it into something Michael Bublé might be heard singing.

So, quickly realising that my limited jazz knowledge probably wouldn’t cut it, I enlisted Ben Trigg to help me out with the arrangement. From his London based studio he produced a wonderful piece of authentic big band fun. As Maggie tipped the hat to lots of famous Christmas songs within her lyrics, so Ben equally managed to weave in a number of well-loved melodies into the instrumentation – and it worked brilliantly!

Because of time and budget constraints, we did all of this compositional work in midi on the computer. Every instrument you can hear is actually a sampled one. Ben sent me the midi music, and I chose the instruments to fit the sonic landscape.

Attracting media attention

Maggie’s work had been attracting the attention of BBC Radio York, and they’d already aired some of the tracks we’d produced. But, this time they not only wanted to play her new Christmas epic, they also wanted to interview to her. Oh, and me too, apparently!

This where it got even more precarious! We’d enlisted Mark Gilroy for the job of lead vocals, but we were running out of time if we were to record and edit those, mix the track and get it all done in time to be featured on the radio. Also, by this time I had relocated to North Wales – but Mark, Maggie and the radio interview were firmly based back in York!

Mark Pierce & Maggie Adams on BBC Radio York

Mark Pierce & Maggie Adams on BBC Radio York

So, I packed up the studio gear into the trusty Revelator mobile and headed over to York. At the time, Maggie and Hugh owned a shop in the Shambles (the most famous and pretty street in York), and we set up our temporary studio two floors up, overlooking the narrow street below – which was teeming with busy Christmas shoppers. The atmospheric Christmas bustle and beautifully decorated street created a wonderful atmosphere to forget the time pressure and instead be immersed in creating an authentic Christmas song.

We recorded and edited the vocals on the day I arrived. I then mixed the whole song the following day, just in time to stick it on a USB drive and head  over to the radio station. I’ll be honest – I was so exhausted that I don’t remember much about the interview – but it did go really well. So much so that Maggie has since been invited back to talk more about her music.

Supporting a brain injury charity

Maggie Adams as a guest on BBC Radio York

Songwriter Maggie Adams making another guest appearance on BBC Radio York, this time talking about her charity single Belle Of The Ball

Music can be incredibly cathartic and a wonderful way to process and express deep feelings, sharing stories that matter. To me, this has so much more value than the latest ‘shake your booty’ chart topping monstrosity!

A perfect demonstration of this is Maggie’s moving Belle Of The Ball, written about her mum who was brain-damaged in a car accident when she was only 29 years old. Unbelievably, she has been in hospital for over 50 years. So, to mark the this unwanted occasion and to celebrate her 80th birthday Maggie brought out a single to raise money for Headway, a brain injury charity.

I played the piano part on this one and Hannah Franklin, a graduate of The Royal Academy Of Music, did an exquisite job with the vocals.

You can buy the single: on iTunes or donate directly to the charity

By texting: TTMW50 £? to 70070

By credit/debit card:

There have been so many songs and so many stories in five years that I can’t write about them all here. But, if there is one thing I encourage you to take away from this article, it is the thought that it’s never too late to share your songs with other people. What you think are your limitations really need not limit you from the amazing experience of hearing your own songs produced with enough quality that the radio wants to play them!