Gavin Smith, Chewstick Foundation

Gavin Smith, founder of the Beachfest songwriting competition in Bermuda and youth organisation Chewstick, gives M the low down on the health of songwriting in his homeland...

Jim Ottewill
  • By Jim Ottewill
  • 29 Jul 2014
  • min read
Bermuda is currently looking like a fertile breeding ground for new songwriters, in part thanks to the work of Gavin Smith and his Chewstick Foundation.

Gavin and his youth organisation have worked tirelessly to help support new and emerging songwriters to give them and their music a leg up when it comes to developing their careers.

The Beachfest Crown Song Competition could prove to be a key platform for Bermudan artists reaching a wider audience. The event is presented by PRS for Music in collaboration with Vibe103FM and Channel82 and aims to support new songwriters as well as increase recognition of Bermuda’s history, emancipation and local culture.

The event itself takes place on 31 July. In the run up to the competition, we quizzed Chewstick founder Gavin on the competition, Bermuda’s songwriting history and his top tips for new artists…

How did the songwriting competition begin?

The Chewstick Foundation has always endeavoured to create opportunities for artists to develop. This national song competition was a concept we came up with years ago but were searching for the ideal opportunity to make it work. We have been doing Beachfest for over eight years and it has grown to be the biggest stage for Bermudian artists. Once PRS for Music and Chewstick began talking about ways we could work together, this became the perfect opportunity to promote Bermudian artists. It’s also a way for us to help grow the music industry as well as bring the community together to celebrate local arts and culture.

How does the competition work?

We hosted the Beachfest Crown Song Competition in a number of stages with each stage having a different set of judges. The first stage hosted all of the submitted songs (72 in total) on Youtube. We wanted to take a step back and let the public decide who the top 10 were by tallying who got the most views on YouTube in the UK, US, Canada, the Caribbean and of course Bermuda. Semi-finalists moved on to the next round where the public voted for their favourites via text message. The final stage of the competition will be judged by a panel of Bermudian and international music industry and media professionals, applause from the public attending the show and the total text votes for the finalists.

How can songwriters stand out from the rest of the competition?

The competition has been interesting because we got to see a variety of strategies applied. What seemed to work best was a combination of great songwriting, great production and great marketing, with emphasis on targeted marketing over mass marketing. All things remaining equal, to truly stand out from the competition, it's going to boil down to who can best perform the song live and can get the crowd rocking.

What are your top five tips for songwriters looking to make a career from their music?

Study the craft of songwriting knowing all the parts of a song and what makes hit songs successful in every genre, and then write, write and write some more!

Learn as much as you can about the music industry; know your rights as an artist; use the countless tools the internet has provided and figure out how to shop your tunes.

Network in the industry as much as possible, working with as many professionals as you can. Every opportunity leads to more.

Surround yourself with mentors/advisors/collaborators you trust and that will tell you the truth. You will need this so you can get out of your own way.

Get real, use your truth, tell stories you know and keep it simple.

Who are your favourite Bermudian songwriters/artists?

Well who doesn't love Collie Buddz? He's done so much to put Bermuda on the world-stage and is definitely one of my favourites. Other acts that are practically unknown internationally are Curtis Clarke who was a local R&B legend from the sixties who influenced many, including Jimi Hendrix (yes that Jimi Hendrix) and my favorite local band of all time, reggae group, Ital Foundation.

Is the music scene in Bermuda in a healthy state?

It’s in a very exciting stage of transition from hobbyists to fully formed artists on the verge of making it internationally. We have a lot of different artists coming out of the woodwork with very different techniques and styles of music thanks to the major advances in technology making music creation much more accessible. Bermudian music is heavily influenced from North America's hip-hop, rock and pop scene, the UK's EDM and dance music and the Caribbean's reggae, soca, and dancehall music. We've definitely seen a musical renaissance since we began the work of the Chewstick Foundation over 11 years ago, and now the Beachfest Crown Song Competition is taking that to another level.

Have you got any tips for exciting Bermudian songwriters to watch out for in the future?

We will definitely see a bunch of Bermudian artists taking the world by storm in the near future. Keep an eye out for R&B artist Canjelae, who is now working with T.I.'s crew in Atlanta, folk/R&B Artist Hannah Eggen who is working with Wyclef, and Bento who is doing big things in the UK with Bluey Robinson. You should also check out independent Bermudian/Ethiopian folk singer Rachel Brown who is based in NYC and got her first big break performing on the Beachfest stage about five years ago.

Visit the Beachfest website to view the finalists for this year's competition. The winner will be unveiled after Beachfest itself which takes place on 31 July.