On a recent Wednesday in Los Angeles, a group of 11 female songwriters and producers gathered at Pulse Studios for an opportunity to collaborate on new music and possibly land their tracks in a scene of the hit Starz show, Vida. The event kicked off around noon when participants arrived, were introduced to one another and mingled over lunch. They were then ushered into a room where they met with Vida showrunner Tanya Saracho, who walked them through an array of scenes for which she was seeking music.
Saracho handed everyone music briefs with descriptions of the scenes and played a series of clips, explaining what types of songs she was looking for to accompany each part. The prompts ranged from a flirty “getting to know one another for the first time” tune to something darker that needed to compliment a moment of personal reflection and a carefree party scene that turned heavy.
The event was spearheaded by Kara Foley, senior director of film/TV at Pulse Music Group. She, like many, was shocked to hear the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s 2018 findings on the state of females in the recording industry.
“I was inspired after attending the first REBOOT workshop where we basically saw numbers and the stats of women producers, writers and talked about how going to increase that number and make it so we are taking over?” she told Billboard. So when given the chance, Foley decided to do something to help make a dent in those staggering statics; she put together an all female writing camp with what she refers to as “an end goal” for its participants. To facilitate the event, Foley reached out to Janine Scalise Boyd, vice president of music at Starz, and they worked to put the initiative together.
“From the cast to crew and the show creator, Vida is primarily all female. So it was a natural fit,” Foley said. “I told Janine, ‘I have the female artists, writers, producers. You have the female writing execs, the show creators — everybody is female. This is the perfect tie in!'”
Starz wrangled the executives and Pulse reached out to songwriters and the guest list was cemented. Since Vida is a Latina-based show, many of the camp’s invitees were songwriters that have experience in the Spanish world. There were, however, a few that played in more of the pop or indie space that had the chance to participate as well.
Saracho and Stephanie Langhoff, Vida‘s executive producer who was also on site, could not have been more thrilled about the experience. “This year, women have been told that they need to step up but they are not given the same opportunities that men are. So this is a way to give them opportunities by creating these programs for women to have their voices heard and to give them a leg up when they may not have had that opportunity before,” said Saracho.
With the exceptions of a few initial episodes, which are already locked, the Starz executives were giving the writing camp participants the chance to score a good portion of Vida‘s second season 2. Saracho said that when she’s pairing music to tape, she typically finds herself looking for existing songs that fit a scene but revealed that the writing camp provided a nice reprieve from that experience.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for us to have songs designed specifically for moments in our show. So we win because we get a great song that is tailor made for our scenes in our show and what we are trying to evoke for audiences and the artists win because they get to have a song that’s in a television show,” she said. In addition to finding the perfect accompanying soundtrack to the show, Saracho and Langhoff hope that the writing camp succeeds in giving up and coming songwriters a platform to be heard.
“It would be great for us to look back on a big Latina artist one day and say, ‘Remember when they had that song on Vida?'” said Langhoff. “It would be fun to be a turning point in their career.”
After watching the clips, the event’s participants chose the scene they wanted to write to and split up into groups of three to start writing. Those sessions took place over the next two days and everyone involved took something special away from the day.
“I was incredibly excited for the opportunity,” said producer, writer and mixing engineer AG. “I’m a Hispanic, gay, female producer/writer/engineer. I usually am all alone out there — but it was so refreshing to be around all those badass women.” She added that she typically works in the “very white male” indie and alternative world and that she found it refreshing to get back to her roots and collaborate with fellow female artists.
Heather Bright, a singer, songwriter, DJ and producer who works under the Bright Lights moniker said the writing camp fulfilled a dream of hers to be able to submit music for film and TV. “I’m a very visual writer. I always see visions or scenes in my head when I’m creating a song. So to have the actual scenes in front of me while making a record… that was unbelievable,” she explained. She also told Billboard that she relished in the chance to be able to meet the female entertainment executives on site and hear about the work they are doing to bring more women into the music behind their shows.
Bright also had a standout moment from the camp that came from working with fellow writer and artist Sofi De La Torre. “One of the coolest and most mind-blowing moments for me came after we finished recording vocals on ‘Save Me From Myself,’ and Sofi said, ‘You’re the first female producer I’ve ever worked with.’ As an artist and songwriter myself, I’ve never actually worked with a female producer either,” she said. “I feel really humbled and blessed to be in this position, surrounded by such amazing talent. I hope one day, young girls can look at me and say, ‘I wanna be a music producer when I grow up,’ and know that it’s a reality for them.”
Dahlia Lagos, a Colombia American artist, songwriter and producer, said the writing camp served as a gateway to a world she had never had a chance to be a part of before. “I had never written specifically for film and TV so that in it of itself was really special,” she said. Lagos added that as a producer, her job is to bring to the vision of an artist to life and noted it was a really fun challenge to shift gears and focus on creating content specifically for a television scene. “Since we were writing for a specific scene, not only did I have to capture the song but the vision Tanya Saracho had for the characters in the world she created for them,” she said.
Ale Alberti, who is signed as a writer with Pulse, enjoyed working with some high profile female colleagues that she hadn’t previously met. “I was in the room with Heather (Bright Lights) and Sofi de La Torre. I had heard so much about them through my publisher, but hadn’t written yet,” she said. We wrote to a specific scene that we all connected with and the song is so beautiful. Hopefully you get to hear it soon.”
She added, “This experience was great, I got to write with people I had wanted to and now I’m sure we will collaborate again. I got to meet and network with new writers and producers, as well as music supervisors, which I had only been connected through email before. It’s great to have that personal relationship now.”
The writing camp participants won’t find out if their songs made the cut until early 2019. But, regardless of the outcome, Foley considers the two-day event a success.
“Of course I want these songs placed,” she said. “Everybody wants to make money and get exposure. But I was really excited today because I was able to bring not only different people in the music industry together but in the entertainment industry as well. The huge accomplishment, if anything today is that I was able to connect some producers, writers, with a show runner, with an executive producer, with the marketing team. It’s face time. It’s one on one. It’s building relationships.”
Asked if there will be more of these events in the future, Foley proclaimed, “Oh, absolutely!”