Greig Watts runs DWB Publishing, which represents a team of 20 internationally renowned songwriters and producers. As a songwriter in his own right, Greig has sold over 70 million units globally and has a strong background in writing songs which are performed at the Eurovision Song Contest. DWB Songwriting Camps are rated second to none in the music industry and the company regularly provide songs and music for artists, film and television. Here Greig shares some highs and lows of his career, showing that from rejection, great things can flow - but only if you're persistent.
I want to cover the topic of never giving up, rejection and persistence in this industry. But first, some context.
I remember as a 19 year old, being in a pop dance act: La Confidance, we made 250 cassette tapes, trawled through Music Week, and sent them around the UK, and a few in Europe too. We made a package design of a newspaper on the outside, with our faces and lyrics on it and inside was a picture of an old newspaper and chips (fries), and our cassette on top of that. Actually, we had a lot of replies (probably because I included a stamped jiffy bag for return) and a lot commented on the great design, but 98% passed on the music. This was so hard with all the effort we put in, but I’m sure it's a story you know all about if you’re still going in this business. Luckily we had a few positive replies, some led to nothing, but one led to me being offered a record deal in Japan, of all places!
That was 20 years ago. Not a lot happened with that deal, but it certainly was a stepping stone to the next place, as a lot of situations are on the way to the top (or getting there - I’m certainly not there yet). During this period, I continued to get a lot of rejections and lost a lot of great music partners who gave up, but the difference in my own attitude was, I got up and tried again. Actually, I am probably the weakest musician out of all those, but I had, and have, the persistence.
Roll on many years and I've done OK, now running DWB and selling over 70 million units in various countries, but still, there are more stories to tell.
In 2015, I pitched a song for Norwegian Eurovision's national final, and we managed to get in the final 10, so I went to Oslo to watch the final. Within minutes of the first few songs, I thought: “hmm, we are not going to win this”, but I carried on watching and took in as much as I could. True to what I thought, we didn't win but it was great to be there. I also met people from the Norwegian delegation and made some connections.
Later that year I was at the end of a Japanese songwriting camp and on the final night, we watched Eurovision. I was really inspired by certain songs. Of course, Mans who won with "Heroes", but also Russia's, "A Million Voices", what a song. So, while speaking with one of my partners at DWB, Pete Barringer, on messenger, who was also watching, he said: “why don't we do a Eurovision camp?”, and a seed was sown.
Two weeks later, I was in Cannes with this idea in my head. We met with a guy from Sweden, and shared the idea, and the inspiration - the Russian song. His response was that he would part-publish a new song we would create, and the writer of it! It seemed like this idea should run, and by August 2015, we were running our first Eurovision camp in Holland, with songwriters and artists from different places.
One session on that camp involved Agnete from Norway, Gabriel Alares (the writer from "A Million Voices") and Ian Curnow (who was at the meeting with me in Cannes), and they came up with the song, "Icebreaker". Many hoops were jumped through, and eventually, we found "Icebreaker" had made it to the final 10 of Norwegian National final. I booked a return trip to Oslo for the 2016 final. This journey was a crazy one. Once again, the songs in the final were great. There were a few I thought might beat us, but when it came to the voting - Boom! - Agnete and "Icebreaker" won by a mile. I had returned to that place of loss the previous year and won!
Now, there's been quite a lot of things happened since. We didn't win Eurovision with Agnete, in fact, she had health troubles and struggled on her own journey, but we learnt from that experience of losing in a semi final, made contacts, and managed to go back in 2017 representing both the Czech Republic and Poland.
During all this though, and the big reason for me telling this story, is that just after we'd been in Sweden for Eurovision 2016, with Agnete and "Icebreaker", I sent the usual email to the BBC, our home TV broadcaster, who had ignored us year after year. The email saying we're UK writers doing Eurovision, it would be great to write for the UK (etc). This time I got an email introducing me to the A&R, whom I spoke with and it was like a dream. Someone on the same page as us, wanting to do great things for UK Eurovision. So the Agnete representation in 2016, although a failure, broke down the door with the BBC a little bit.
Soon we organised a UK camp and gathered together great writers. From this, one song was picked for the UK National final, which happened on January 27th 2017. We also had two songs that one writer we publish had re-worked, so officially we represented three out of six in the final. The final happened and boom, we lost. Lucie Jones who sang "Never Give Up On You", gave the performance of her life, and we went away knowing that we'd been beaten with a great singer and a good song.
We then went to Kiev for Eurovision 2017 with Poland and Czech. We watched and liaised with the UK A&R who was also there, taking notes about what could be needed. Neither of our countries won, we didn't expect to, but it was a great learning process.
Again we held a UK camp, in June this time, as we thought going early like the Swedes do, was all important.
Roll forward to last night, we sat and watched from the audience, with four songs in the final six! Three from the camp, a great achievement in itself. We also had the favourite on YouTube, with Asanda's "Legends" having 160,000 views, whereas the next had roughly 60,000.
As the night went on and the artists performed, it was so hard to tell how things were going in the audience. Song five came on, not our song, but wow Surie, the performer, gave the performance of her life (hey, she was also on our camps). From that point I almost knew we wouldn't win. Actually, Surie did go on to win and this shows how important the performer is to this competition - she was leagues above the rest. However good the songs were on YouTube, wow that performance connected with the audience, it connected with me. Surie was the one that owned the stage at Eurovision, and sure as it was, it was Surie who won.
The simple finish is this.
We didn't win, even though the odds were for us. Hopefully, you can read a few stories above of where we lost, and came back, and won, so I'll leave it there and just say, last night we lost. I write this slightly shocked and gutted, but my history is telling me to grieve a little in this moment, but never ever give up.....
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