With nearly 20 years of experience in the music industry, Andre Kaden Black has written for indie and major labels across the US, Asia and Canada such as Sony/ATV, Warner, Universal, Atlantic Records, 21 Entertainment and Arista/BMG. He has also toured extensively across Canada and overseas opening for artists such as Alicia Keys, One Republic, Jason Mraz and Simple Plan.
Black has worked with countless award-winning talents including multi-platinum artist Fefe Dobson, Francesco Yates, Grammy Award-winning talent agency Chris Smith Management, Canadian Idol Winner Brian Melo, Juno-winning blues guitarist Steve Strongman, and members of My Darkest Days, Buckcherry, Our Lady Peace, and Boston.
He is also part of a songwriting team with Our Lady Peace's Duncan Coutts and Frankie Whyte, submitting top lines for Sony/ATV as well as developing young talent in Toronto. You can find out more about what he’s up to here
Tell us about your latest project, which you worked on at Abbey Road Studios.
Among the records I was hired to produce this summer came a band from Brantford, Ontario, called IOV. After six months of an intense screening process, the group received an email verifying that they've been approved to record at Abbey Road Studios. At that point, they began shopping for a producer to assist them in the recording of their debut release.
A friend of mine was shooting a video for them about making the album recommended me, and the band liked my vision for the record. With only five weeks before heading to London, we began pre-production. I brought in an engineer whom I trust and often work alongside, Tal Vaisman, to assist with the technical aspects of the recording. Once I thought the songs were ready, we sent the scratch tracks to Chris Bolster at Abbey Road who also engineered parts of the record.
What surprised you most about Abbey Road?
The very first thing that initially struck me was the overall size of the studio. For being one of the most iconic landmarks in music history, the everyday basic exterior of the structure doesn't represent the sheer size indoors. To give you an idea, the height of the live room in Studio 1 looks about 40 to 45 feet in height and can comfortably hold a 110-piece orchestra along with a 100-voice choir side by side. The microphone selection was also incredible. Most of the microphones that we chose were from the EMI Studio era, which is what it was known as before the Beatles released Abbey Road in 1969.
Before that time, every new piece of gear that came into the studio would be thoroughly inspected and tested and, if necessary, modified to EMI standards. I was also amazed to see historic instruments just sitting in the studio—in perfect tune—including a 1905 Steinway Vertegrand upright piano nicknamed “Mrs. Mills" and used on Beatles' songs such as “Penny Lane,” “Lady Madonna” and “With a Little Help From My Friends.”
Your two decades of experience in the music industry covers a pretty tumultuous period. As a songwriter and producer, how has your creative process evolved over that time?
My first experiences as a songwriter originated from playing in bands at a very young age—learning to co-write with one or more members for a record we all were collectively a part of.
That slowly changed as I began writing and performing for other artists. I started to become more diverse stylistically. In my late twenties and early thirties, I spent an extended period co-writing in Nashville, which taught me many different techniques as well as the value of a well-written song.
My experiences there completely raised my standards from a songwriter’s point of view. For the past four years, I’ve teamed up with songwriter Frankie Whyte and Our Lady Peace’s Duncan Coutts, submitting material to Sony/ATV for pop artists like Pitbull and Rihanna. This experience has helped evolve my pop genre writing ability. As a producer, it’s my job to make sure the artist’s songs are as strong as they can be before beginning the pre-production phase. This has taught me to take an entirely different approach, all while keeping the artist or band’s integrity intact.
In your opinion, what are the essential ingredients for a successful song?
I always like to remind the artists I’m writing with that at the end of the day, this is your creation, expression and art. In my opinion, a successful song is one that reaches the goals set out by its creators. If the aim is to reach mainstream success, then there are ways to achieve that by following certain writing techniques that have been proven to be successful. A three-minute hook driven track with proper structure and production will increase the chances of your audience wanting more after one listen. That said, there are more important ingredients that need to be present for a song to last in the industry today.
To me, one of them is honesty. When listening to a song for the first time, I want to be affected by it. If the sincerity isn't real for me, it probably won’t be for the next listener.
Another important factor when it comes to writing a successful song is to keep writing new material. When working with artists, the first thing I do is ask for every song idea in their catalogue that isn't released. It’s important to build your song portfolio and to write as much material as possible. Whether it’s a chorus idea, a vocal hook or even just a strong song title, this will increase your odds in finding that one single that may help your career move forward.
What are your fondest musical memories growing up?
I was very fortunate at an early age to be in a band that signed to major management; the industry was so different back then. At that time it was common practice to put artists through many developmental stages before shopping them to the labels or making a record.
I was fortunate enough to have worked out of numerous large studios with many well-respected producers and songwriters. Some of my happiest memories came from high school during the excitement of touring and sharing bigger stages with some of my favourite bands including The Tea Party, Big Wreck, Moist and I Mother Earth. I can now share what I have learned throughout the years with all of the driven artists and bands who seek guidance within the industry.