It’s no secret that we’re massive Little Mix fans here at Maximum Pop!
We also LOVE The Vamps and Sabrina Carpenter, so when the opportunity arose to speak to the genius that wrote some of their biggest hits, naturally we were pretty excited.
Get ready to fangirl, guys and girls…
Rachel Furner is the mastermind behind all your favourite songs. She’s been in the industry since we was 15 and has written massive hits like ‘Secret Love Song’ by Little Mix and the brand new single ‘Hands’ by Mike Perry ft The Vamps and Sabrina Carpenter!
We recently sat down with Rachel to have a natter about what it was like working with some of the biggest pop stars in the world.
We also quizzed her on tips and advice she would give to up-and-coming songwriters, which is perfect if you plan on entering stationery brand BIC®’s insanely cool ‘Write and Shine’ competition. Quick, you better grab a BIC® 4 COLOURS™ Shine pen and jot some lyrics down on paper, ASAP.
BIC have teamed up with YouTuber Bethan Leadley to find the next BIG songwriter and it could be YOU! We here at Maximum Pop! are also helping spread the word and, tbh, we’re going to be so envious of the winner of this comp, we wish we could enter ourselves.
The winner of the ‘Write and Shine’ competition will get the opportunity to head into the studio with Bethan to record their original song. If that prize wasn’t amazing enough, then the winner will ALSO have their song performed at The Big Feastival on Saturday 26 August 2017.
Olly Murs is headlining the festival, and Rachel Furner toured with him when she herself was a singer, performing under the name of Tich, way back in 2013.
So get your notepads out guys and get ready to take notes, here’s how you pen the next big hit.
Hi Rachel! Do you mind telling us a little bit about how you got into songwriting?
I’ve always played piano. When I was younger and I was trying to avoid practicing pieces, I would always just fiddle around and make stuff up. I did that from about the age of 7. Then at about 11 I wrote my first song. It was about school, probably. But it made me realise that it massively helped my emotions and it helped me feel better – I loved it when I came up with a melody that I really enjoyed! At around 14 I had a bunch of songs that got me noticed within the industry and it went from there…
What were some of your other early memories of music?
I remember listening to music and looking at my friends; it meant a completely different thing to me than it did to them. I relied on music to make me feel better or make me feel something. Most of my memories of it are just listening to songs in my headphones and not understanding why I felt sad or happy – not understanding why a song moved me so much. I tried to listen to songs over and over again and work out what that special thing was. I also performed at school, that was a big memory! Performing my own songs to people and seeing their reactions.
We bet you were fantastic! So what artists would have been on your playlist back then?
When I was young young I really loved Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys. Looking back it was anything that Max Martin ever touched. He’s one of the biggest songwriters and subconsciously I must have loved his songwriting. Then I went through a little bit of an emo stage. I loved really heavy rock like Evanescence and dark classical musical, like that. Now I’ve got a really eclectic taste. I still listen to all the different genres I did growing up.
So, could you tell us a little bit about the process you go through to write a song?
There’s two types of songwriting, really, or two ways I do it. If I’m writing on my own, I just sit at a piano. Sometimes I have a lyric or an emotion or a feeling and I just play around with it. I try different things out and something either does or doesn’t happen. What you originally started with might grow or you just have to move onto something else. When I’m on my own I just kind of feel it. I hope for happy accidents, too. You can accidentally sing a melody and think ‘oh my god, that’s amazing’.
Then if I’m writing with other people and co-writing, you get more of an idea, vibe or artist in mind. You get a set concept before you start so it’s a lot more laid out. The thing is, no one can get in your head, they don’t know what you’re thinking – you have to be quite open.
Wow! You’ve obviously written so many songs, where do you get your inspiration from? Do you use personal experiences?
I do try to use my personal experiences but when you’re writing every day it’s also nice to draw off a beautiful phrase you heard or a lovely poem that you once read. You can dip into that kind of thing as well, rather than just write about every experience that you’ve ever been through. You’ll quickly realise that your good experiences are a lot less in your emotional sense than your bad experiences, so when people write on their own they’re much more likely to write a sad song.
Are there any boundaries when it comes to using your own personal experiences in songs?
Well, when I originally wrote ‘Secret Love Song’, the song that Little Mix had, I was in a relationship that no one knew about, but I wanted to tell people. It’s the most personal song I’ve ever written but yet it’s a sentiment that people can relate to. You can drawn on personal experience but it has to be relatable.
Speaking of ‘Secret Love Song’, can you tell us a little bit more about that? What was working with Little Mix like?!
I wrote that song years before Little Mix had even heard it. I was coming to the end of being an artist at the time and it was a crossover of all my emotions. I wrote the song in what felt like an hour or something – it was just an outpour of emotion. I formed it twice, originally, and then left it. Two years later I was like ‘there’s definitely something in that song’ but I thought no one would want to sing it so I left it, once again. Eventually, the girls [Little Mix] heard it and just loved it. They asked whether they could sing it and I was like, absolutely. For me it’s all about the songs being heard, whoever loves the song and connects to it I want them to perform it.
Are they amazing as we think they are?!
They’re absolutely lovely, so, so lovely and incredibly sweet. They sang the song absolutely incredibly. Perrie did a note that I could never reach so I was very happy with that! It was just such an easy, fun process. It was one of the first big songs I wrote, so it’s a really special one to me.
We’ve also got to ask you about The Vamps…
Those boys are the best! We did a writing camp for a week, where we all went to Bath and just had a really great time. We were writing two to three songs a day and all the guys were there writing with us. That’s when we wrote ‘Hands’ (Mike Perry ft. The Vamps and Sabrina Carpenter). We also wrote another song that I think will be on their album. Their new stuff sounds amazing, so you’re in for a treat.
We can’t wait! The winner the fantastic BIC® ‘Write and Shine’ competition gets their song performed at The Big Feastival, headlined by Olly Murs. You toured with Olly way back in 2013. Do you have a story or memorable moment you could share with us?
Olly is such a fun, down to earth guy! When I was touring with him he was everything that you’d think he would be. He was really attentive, actually. He’d come and watch soundcheck and just be really supportive. He told me to keep doing what I was doing and just be myself. In fact, he was a bit of mentor on tour. He’d always be dancing down the corridors and up for a good prank. We played football a few times. He was just really fun.
I really suffered from nerves when I performed and his lively, calm exterior helped me a lot. I used to think ‘well if he’s not nervous I shouldn’t be nervous!’ My mum used to come out [on tour] with me and he used to call her Mummy Furner, which she loved!
How sweet. Speaking of the BIC® competition, what tips and advice would you give to young people who are writing their very first song?
I would say, don’t overthink what you’re doing, don’t feel like you can’t do something or say something. Just do whatever feels natural to you. It’s really easy to be like ‘oh I want the chorus to sound like this and I want the verse to sound like this’. But just write whatever comes naturally, draw off what makes you feel something. If you’re getting butterflies and feeling excited as you’re writing something that’s the best sign – so just follow that and chase that feeling.
Whatever comes out in those 3 minutes 30 is what that song is meant to be. If you go ‘I want to have this and this like this song,’ it can stop you in your tracks. You can eventually think about all these things, but for your first ever song – just sit down and write whatever comes naturally.
And for those who maybe have a few songs scribbled in the back of their journal, what do you think makes a successful song?
I think after you’ve written a few songs, try thinking a little more formulaically. I hate thinking like this, but it does help with staying concise. Don’t think about this to begin with. But eventually try and make sure your lyrics are concise so people listening to it know exactly what you’re trying to say. They need to know exactly what type of emotion or feeling you’re trying to portray.
Don’t be afraid to explore melody. If you want a chorus that makes you feel something you can rise the melody as much as you want. You can change chords and you can change key. I think a good song makes people feel something so just go for it and you’ll know the feeling. When you write a good melody, you’ll know.
Are there any benefits to writing your own songs if you want to be a singer? What do you consider those to be?
Definitely, I think the benefit is as a singer you can explore your own vocal range and your own vocal ability. You can also explore limits and strengths. It makes you write songs that you always love performing and you always feel something when you sing it. You’ll also know how to sing it the best and you might even make your own kind of style – I think that’s really important if you’re becoming a singer or a songwriter or any kind of artist, really – you can make a slightly new style of singing, a new genre or a new sound. That’s exciting.
Would you recommend people start going online and using YouTube to get their work out there?
I did, I was on MySpace, then I moved to YouTube. I think it’s really important, it doesn’t matter if no one is watching, it’s more just for your growth and state of mind. It made me post videos, learn new songs and, essentially, write new songs. It also made me take advice from what people are saying, as well as hear myself. When you’re watching yourself back on a video you see it very differently, you’re like ‘oh okay I won’t do that next time’ or ‘oh that chorus doesn’t work as well as I thought’. It just makes you self-assess. I wouldn’t stress on that being your way to make it, though. Post stuff online, but don’t stress. What happens, happens. A good song will always connect people.
Finally what do you consider the challenges to writing a song and how should young songwriters try to approach them or overcome them?
I think a block is so common! So don’t worry if you sit at a piano or guitar and go ‘ugh I have no idea what to write’. Just get up and do something completely different, don’t sit there for hours and try and force something out – it doesn’t matter.
Try and be positive and listen to phrases and songs – pick up bits and pieces and gather them. I have a folder of notes on my phone which is just things I hear. Every day I just write two or three more down. When I’m struggling to think of lyrics, I go to that notes folder and it might say something simple like ‘love again’. So I’ll start singing about that and suddenly it can start you off and put you on track for writing a song.
But, overall, just try not to stress. Sometimes I have months where it feels like I’m writing bad songs, but I also have months where it feels like every song I write I love, so just go with it. You’re not going to write a hit song every day!
Thank you so much Rachel! To find out more about the BIC® ‘Write and Shine’ competition and how to enter, visit the MyBICpen Facebook.