"Look outside the genre you're writing for to find inspiration" - Cat Martin
Cat Martin is a professional songwriter, producer and vocalist with releases on EMI Music, Armada, Black Hole Recordings, Future Sound of Egypt, and Sony. She has enjoyed 2 consecutive Beatport Trance #1s, 10+ Beatport Trance Top 10s, and 5+ Beatport Top 40s (all genres). Her work as a producer has led to several bestselling sample packs under the Martin Sampleware label and licensing deals with brands such as Condé Nast.
Since Cat's arrival on to the international dance music scene, she has collaborated with some of the industry's most exciting producers, including Blackmill, Activa, DIM3NSION, Ad Brown, Thomas Datt, Joni Ljungqvist, Jason van Wyk, Factor B and Robert Nickson. Although working mainly within the trance genre, she has enjoyed Beatport (Releases Chart) #1 success with "Sadness", a Dubstep collaboration with Arkasia and achieved 1million+ YouTube views on "Don't Let Me Down" with DnB producer, Blackmill.
Producer Loops wanted to pick the brain of a successful songwriter; so we did. Check it out below.
PL: Hello Cat! So your single with Factor B "Crashing Over" made it to #2 on the Beatport Trance chart and #18 on the over all chart, congratulations! I'd love to pick your songwriting brain if you don't mind. How did you and Factor B come to make this track? Tell me about that process.
CM: I got to know Factor B (Brendan) because he remixed my track with Robert Nickson, "Every Sun". After the "Every Sun" remix went to #1, Brendan and I started to work on originals together. The first was "White Rooms", and now, "Crashing Over".
The track started as just a chorus, which I sent over to Brendan to see if he could build a song around it. I added in some ideas for verses too but these were more placeholders - which ended up being the actual vocals used as they worked nicely! After the chorus and verse was laid down, Brendan sent me the project back and I added some adlibs to finish my part of the collaboration.
PL: That's interesting it started with the vocals and everything else was built around those. Do you prefer to work this way, or do you like to receive a track first and create vocals around it?
CM: Starting with an instrumental is easier, and much more common but the end result is usually more satisfying to me when a vocal idea has had a production built around it. It's hard to explain. Usually if I have something pre-written, that has come about from me being very inspired by a theme over a period of weeks, months or even years. I'm always waiting for the right instrumental to come along so I can finally use what I've written. For that reason, pre-written vocals are quite precious to me, so I have to be really confident in the producer to part with them without hearing an instrumental first.
PL: That makes a lot of sense. You must have had a lot of confidence in Brendan aka Factor B which is not surprising. The instrumental and vocals work perfectly together.
Talking about inspiration, where does this come from? Any themes you tend to stick to? And when it sparks how do you go about moulding it into a solid set of lyrics + melody? Do you use any instruments yourself when writing?
CM: Most of my songs are written about relationships and heartbreak. Typical songwriter fayre. "White Rooms" was different though, as I started writing it about a friend who was struggling with addiction. I find it difficult to write upbeat songs, the closest I've got is "Every Sun"! Inspiration normally strikes when I hear a phrase I like. Or sometimes when I'm driving, I'll get melodies and lyrics arrive in my head at the same time. Cue me promptly pulling into the side of the road to record them into my phone!
When I'm short on inspiration, I listen to a songwriting playlist on Spotify where I add really inspiring tracks. Tracks which I wish I'd written! There are a LOT of modern country tracks in there. Stuff like "Little Big Town - Better Man" (which was written by Taylor Swift), Lady Antebellum and Sam Hunt through to Fleetwood Mac, Ed Sheeran, Adele, and basically anything Max Martin has ever written.
I can play guitar and that was how I used to write all of my music a decade ago, before I started working in dance music. But these days, I can produce music so I just produce a backing demo for myself in Ableton, rather than turn to my guitar. Not a full production, just a beat, piano and some strings or pads. I do feel a bit sad that I no longer play guitar much, usually I only pick it up to learn a song I've heard. The latest song I learnt was 'Ed Sheeran - Happier', ironically!
PL: Multi-talented! It's interesting that Country music inspires you. I'd say there are similarities between themes in Country music and Trance, which might not be obvious since the styles are so different. Do you only write for Trance? Or what other genres do you write for? And what genres would you like to write for?
CM: Funny enough, my 'White Rooms' demo was a country track! Heading back to your hometown on a highway. The reason I like country music so much is because it depicts the theme, it doesn't just say it outright. So, for example, instead of just saying "She's already found someone else", Sam Hunt sings "She was over me before the grass grew back where she used to park her car" in his track 'Break Up In A Small Town'. It manages to be specific but relatable. That's very hard to do.
At the moment I write solely for trance but previously I've done House, Drum & Bass, Dubstep and Chillout. My goals are to start writing Country and Pop and maybe do a few Techno collabs.
PL: That's a great example of what a good writer does. It's not about stating facts, that takes away the poetry of a song. In a way, it lets the listener relate a song to whatever they want to relate it to. Do you write for an audience in mind? Or for yourself? Or both?
CM: Both, I suppose. You can have what you think is the most beautiful, elaborately written phrase in the world, which perfectly depicts your situation... but if that phrase isn't relatable, or doesn't fit nicely with the instrumental, you'll need to reword it if you're going to release the track. Similarly, going too simplistic just to hit a common denominator isn't genuine and feels like a bit of a cop out to me. Choruses are particularly difficult in that regard. You want something people can sing along to but you also don't want to rhyme "away" with "day".
PL: Well you nailed that with 'Crashing Over' as seen in footage from ASOT 900, Luminosity, Dreamstate and Subculture. That response must never get old!
So, a reader has a notebook full of songs and ideas. They want to get their genius out there into the world and hear their songs sung along to by a crowd of fans...how do you recommend they do this?
CM: Dance music is very accessible as most artists are also producers. Prepare a few demos with just a piano or strings and send it to producers you'd like to work with. Most manage their own social media profiles so they will get in touch if they're interested! And don't be disheartened if a collaboration partner isn't feeling what you've sent over. Submit something else and keep the original idea on the backburner until the right project for it comes along. Some of my vocal ideas were rejected at first but the right producers came along and turned them into some of my biggest hits.
PL: Vocals are sought-after in terms of producers wanting them in their tracks but many struggle to find the right ones. What about sample packs? Can you recommend a way songwriters and/or vocalists can get into making vocal sample packs rather than working with individual producers?
CM: If you can't produce and don't know any producers, you can still create vocal sample packs by purchasing royalty-free tracks on sites like Jamendo and recording vocals over them. You'll have to mix the vocals over the top of the other tracks, so you will need to be able to do some simple mixing in a DAW but this gets over the obstacle of not being able to produce a demo for your vocal sample pack. You'll also need to ensure your recordings are excellent quality - this doesn't necessarily mean you'll have to go into a recording studio. I record all my vocals at home! My article on how to record vocals at home might be helpful.
PL: Good stuff! So, what's the songwriter/vocalist moment you're most proud of so far?
CM: My first number 1 with the 'Every Sun' remix. It took me 8 years to get there. Most of my other tracks had hit the top 10 but #1 had eluded me. We knocked Armin van Buuren off the top spot. Also, when Aly & Fila dropped 'Every Sun' at Ultra in Miami, that was the first time I'd seen my music played to a big crowd.
PL: No wonder they're the moments you've picked! They're great achievements. That's bound to inspire some of our readers.
So, you've mentioned one of the big hitters in Trance there...where do you see Trance going in general, as a genre?
CM: I used to love Progressive Trance but these days, there are very few tracks I like. The same thick pad lead, with a fill or a stutter every 16 bars after the drop. It kills the energy for me. So I'm hopeful that Progressive Trance will combine with Dark Room Techno. Artists like Stephan Bodzin are already making tracks, for instance, "Strand" which remind me of proper Prog Trance. The stuff Markus Schulz used to release in 2008. I hope uplifting trance continues to reign supreme, with lots of 303s at the fore.
PL: What styles / genres would you bet on being the sound of 2019 / 2020, in general?
CM: In terms of general music, I think the Reggaeton sound will fade, in the same way that Tropical House has done. Vocally, I think the chorded vocal style will be used a lot. The same style that Imogen Heap has pioneered for years and that can be heard in Zedd - The Middle, for example.
PL: You mentioned some songwriters who inspire your own creativity. You also mentioned liking Country which would surprise some people. At PL, we know that artists tend to have eclectic music taste, so what do you listen to regardless of songwriting? What do you chill out to/sing along to/dance to?
CM: I am a big Whitney Houston fan so she's always on my playlist. I love genuinely love dance music, and always have done, so that's on in my car 90% of the time. I listen to classic rock or oldies like Fleetwood Mac a lot too as I like big singalongs. And nothing beats good pop music. Again, anything Max Martin.
PL: Good stuff! Let's finish on some quickfire questions.
PL: What are you listening to today/right now? No cheating no matter how embarassing it is! CM: Chase & Status - End Credits.
PL: Favourite hardware? CM: I am desperate for a 303 but at the minute it’s my Korg Nano series. Nanopad, mixer, keyboard, I've got them all.
PL: Favourite software?
CM: Izotope Nectar 3 - as a vocalist, it’s my sidekick. Melodyne is good for coming up with harmony ideas.
PL: Favourite instrument?
CM: Piano, though I'm not very good at it.
PL: Favourite songwriter?
CM: Taylor Swift. She can write for any genre.
PL: Favourite DJ?
CM: Fadi from Aly & Fila or Armin van Buuren when he's playing uplifting trance.
PL: Favourite label?
CM: Future Sound of Egypt.
PL: Dream collab? CM: Aly & Fila, John O'Callaghan or The Thrillseekers.
PL: Last gig/concert?
CM: Queen of the Night - Whitney Houston stage show.
PL: Favourite studio drink?
CM: Coke Zero.
PL: Studio pet?
CM: A misunderstood British Shorthair cat called Grace.
PL: Studio plants?
CM: A Hedera ivy plant.
PL: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.
CM: Thank you!
PL: Before I go, any words of advice to the aspiring songwriter, producer or vocalist?
CM: Look outside the genre you're writing for to find inspiration.