Presenting the 10th winner of our songwriting competition in association with musicians network ReverbNation – a pop-R&B songstress from Trinidad
welve months ago to this day, we announced the first winner of our first songwriting competition run in association with Reverb Nation. As the US-based musicians’ network grew, reaching over three million members in the past year, our competition also grew and now draws over 4,000 entries every time. The task of choosing just one single winner from the mass of varied entries is still just as tricky as it was a year ago, but when a diamond stands out in the rough, it can be clear as daylight.
The tenth victor of the Reverb Nation songwriting competition is yet another great example of a songwriter whose winning entry has all the hallmarks of a great pop song – Pum Pum Song is hooky, memorable, instantly engaging, with an intriguing title and a spikily, controversial lyric to boot. Its writer Cameron Hill (real name Gabrielle Jobity) is a Trinidad & Tobago born artist who moved to New York in 2013 and is already making her way on the international music scene, but we discovered that her winning entry was remarkably only the first real song she wrote and recorded. Call it beginner’s luck or an one-hit wonder in the making, if you like, but after checking out the rest of the songs on Hill’s Reverb Nation profile, it’s clear to us that there’s more talent on offer.
And it’s not just songwriting talent – we learn that Cameron is also proficient on the guitar, classically trained on the piano and has spent half her life as an accomplished dancer and dance teacher. Of course, for us it’s her skillful way with words and ear for a melody that we were interested in, so we caught up with Cameron at her new home in New York, to find out how she does it…
How did you get into music Cameron… or should we call you Gabrielle?
“Gabrielle is my birth name and Cameron is my stage name. Everybody calls me Cameron, apart from my family and the friends I went to school with.
“Back in Trinidad, one of my brother’s good friends is a producer and he used to have artists came to him all the time, and he used to call me in to help them develop their hooks. Eventually music and melodies and writing music came to me very easily, so I started recording and literally the first song I did was that Pum Pum Song. It was just a freestyle in the studio, then re-recorded it to make it cleaner. It was in the moment.”
That was a good start! When did this happen?
“In May last year. It’s already been played probably 10 times-a-day on every radio station in Trinidad. After that people were saying we should expand more, because it can be as big as you want in Trinidad but that’s all it will be. So we had to make the transition to something bigger and at the end of last year I moved to New York and things are going great so far and moving pretty fast. I’m playing a few festivals here this summer.
Have you played at a music festival before?
“Back in Trinidad I used to sing in the T&T Music Festival every year but it was more of a competition. At one point I came fourth, but that was in my teenage years, so I don’t think that counts anymore.”
What sort of music was popular there in Trinidad & Tobago?
“The most popular is definitely soca – it’s the big thing and a lot of the revenues are around that, and the carnival music. There’s no money in rock, R&B or rap over there – people will endorse it and listen to it, but no one has a show featuring that sort of music.”
What were your musical influences?
“My dad used to wake me up, or put me to bed at night, with Sting and The Police, George Michael and Phil Collins. So I ended up having a little craziness for Phil Collins – I was his biggest fan. I loved his music and his voice, and I thought he was so different. A lot of things influenced me, but still whatever I felt I wanted to write, I did. I never tried to emulate or copy someone else’s style.”
So where did your father get that from?
I have no idea, he just likes it. The whole family wasn’t really musical, but it was a skill he wanted us to have. I had their support because I finished school, so even though we loved the music, it wasn’t our main priority. If anything went wrong, I had my back-up plan – my accounting and biology major. So even if I fall, I won’t have to start over.
What’s your plan if it all goes right?
“I’m booking and making sure I fulfil every show I possibly can. I have a band, but they’re all full-time musicians, so they go wherever the money is! I’m looking to build a whole team of management and proper representatives, so I can continue. I get nervous, but I’m getting better and every show the crowd gets bigger – when I first came to New York I played to three drunk people, and now we get 150 people so it’s growing.”
Tell us a bit more about the Pum Pum song – how did it come to you? Was it the chorus that came first?
“No, it was the verse and the beat. I remember being in the car, tapping my thumbs against the steering wheel. It was while I was singing the first verse that I got writer’s block and I didn’t know what to sing, so I just sang ‘Dun, dun, pum, pum…’ Then I went into the studio, and everybody was so excited about it. When it was released in Trinidad, the next day it was on the radio. We released it on Facebook and people said that they liked it the first time they heard it.”
How about Worth It? We thought that was a good song too.
“Really? I think that one’s so corny! It’s really cheesy and one of those that I didn’t want to play again. A lot of people do like it though, so I’ll sing it for them.”
How do you approach songwriting now?
“I don’t know what inspires me, but when I have a down moment I just write lyrics. I just write what I feel at that time, and somehow it sticks in my head. While I’m on a train or going somewhere, a melody just erupts. It just comes from nowhere.”
Would you say you’re spiritual and think the songs come from a ‘higher place’?
“No, I’m more scientific about it. I think it comes from inside me and it’s all about how I feel. When I force it out, it comes out crappy. Sometimes when I’m depressed, I think I take advantage of that feeling, but then I write utter shit! I don’t push it, but some people ask me to write a hook for their song, and they have a deadline, so I have to hurry and do something. It works out okay, but sometimes it’s forced.”
Do you like to write for other artists?
“I’d love to do more, but I’m just hoping that someone one day will write a song for me! I love working with other people. Sometimes it can be a way off my style, but all music options are open.”
Do you remember what compelled you to enter our competition?
“Because it’s what I am first: a songwriter. Even before I wrote Pum Pum, I helped develop artists to make their song have more structure. Then I started singing on my own and I love doing it.”
What advice do you give to someone who doesn’t know how to write a song?
“You have to have an idea of what you want to say. Be yourself and be honest in the way that you, and other people, relate to a situation. You might think you’re being too honest and personal, but you’ll be surprised how a lot of people completely understand what you’re talking about. Even though the song may not be as catchy as you want it to be, it’ll be lyrically stimulating.”
What instruments do you use to write?
“I use the guitar a lot. Now the guitar is doing a better job than the piano, because it gives me more depth in terms of different styles, but the piano is sappier. I like the grungier feel.”
Where do you draw your creative inspiration – do you read a lot, watch movies or watch people, or something else?
“I don’t watch movies at all. I didn’t even know what Ironman was, and I haven’t watched any Harry Potter or Lord Of The Rings. I remember I caught myself watching The Kardashians, and I asked myself whether it was going to make me money, so I changed the channel to Discovery or Bloomberg.”
Do you think any of that informs your songwriting at all?
“No, it doesn’t. It just makes me feel smarter!”
Interview: Aaron Slater
If you’d like the chance to be featured in an article like this on Songwriting, then the good news is, this songwriting competition is still ongoing! To enter, you’ll need to be registered with ReverbNation and submit your track via the competition page. We’ll listen to every entry and select the most promising artist, who’ll be the subject of an interview feature similar to this one.