Songwriter Emmanuel Rudder: Open doors to new writers

Emmanuel Rudder -
Emmanuel Rudder -

We all know the singers of this year’s popular soca songs and even those of the past but there is, sometimes, a less popular face behind some of these and that is the face of the songwriter.

Emmanuel Rudder is one of the faces behind some of Trinidad and Tobago’s popular songs. In his 15 years in the industry, he penned songs for some of TT's and the region’s most visible performers including Machel Montano, Kes, Taurus Riley, Aaron Duncan, Patrice Roberts, Lyrikal, Farmer Nappy and Olatunji.

But Rudder believes in the age of streaming and evolving technologies, songwriters need to be more visible and the industry needs to welcome new songwriters.

“Since I was small, I always had a way with words and putting them together in different combinations,” he said in a phone interview with Newsday.

Like many writers, he started with poetry. At 16, he wrote his first song.

“Officially, in 2010, I went in studio and had people recording my work.”

Becoming a songwriter was not easy for Rudder given that the industry was a closed one and people were only allowed in through recommendations.

Singer/songwriter Rondelle Mishima was his friend and he helped to get him into the business of songwriting by recommending him to a popular artiste. That artiste brought him into the studio.

He first worked with popular soca recording duo known as Madmen Productions – Johann Seaton and the late Ricardo Rameshwar.

At that time the production duo was working with Kes and he was “thrown into the fire” and did a couple of songs with Kes including the Olympic song, We are conquerors.

“It was baptism by fire.”

To him, the close-door policy in the songwriting industry needs to change.

“Someone has to hear your work or you have to get recommended by someone.

“Obviously, with the recommendation, you have to be working on your craft prior. So when you get the opportunity you can make good on it.”

It was also a hard industry to get in and stay in for a lengthy period of time or to work with artistes and contort/ mould songs for unique individuals.

All artistes were very different and that is usually a challenge for songwriters.

Emmanuel Rudder says writers can no longer have an air of mystique about them in the social media era. -

“Prior to getting the connections and exposure, you would be writing songs on how you feel and how you think it should go. But when you shift over and you get the opportunity to write for others…

“Yes they might come to you for your idea, skill and talent but they would want to shape it in a way that is still very much them and not all your ideas and how you might put it together might work for them."

In the business, both singer and songwriter must have equal say in a song.

If songwriters are too firm on how they want the song to go, they might not get the record cut, he said.

Rudder added that many creative people often took a backseat to the performers of their work.

“The designer, most time, don’t get as much play as the model or the person who has that voice.”

It was easy for many songwriters to easily lose themselves trying to please an artiste and that was why it was important in the age of AI and digital technologies that songwriters make themselves visible, he said.

Long ago, writers could have an air of mystique about them, however, he believes that can no longer be the case in the social media era.

“Long time, it was through recommendation. Now, if you put up your work on IG, Twitter and these kinds of spaces, people can find you.”

Songwriter Emmanuel Rudder is also now a producer. -

Technology was eliminating gatekeepers that songwriters often had to find favour with and now allowed people’s talent to speak for itself, he said.

However, people needed to understand that there was work to be done if one wanted to be successful; putting the work on social media pages, writing the songs, lyrics and melodies and engaging with people was integral to success in today’s world.

“You could have the best product and if you don’t put it out and nobody knows about it: you don’t have a product,” he said.

Rudder – who was once known for not granting many interviews – is changing that to meet the new time. It was also important as he evolves into production as well.

This year he wrote Company sung by Tevin Hartman, Flatten by Hartman and Erphaan Alves and wrote and produced Kosi’s Four Cup.

Rudder is not threatened by the rise of AI or its perceived ability to write soca.

The songwriter is always going to have a place in soca.

“I think a lot of these things are impersonal and there is little to no feedback as to what the artiste would want to say. He (the artiste) can put in a topic but how we are going to say it is very unique to someone out there.

“You must remember this is not a Caribbean AI. This is just an AI. The way how we formulate words and melodies is very different from all the places.”

He is also seeing the development of many other musical genres in TT.

Initially, he started writing pop, R&B and dance music. However, the gates were still up, globally.

“The songs I personally liked were fusion music like Tempted 2 Touch by Rupee, Roll it Gal by Alison Hinds and Kevin Lyttle’s Turn Me On.”

But with the “gates down” he thinks TT’s soca and other genres have the opportunity to be bigger than they are at the moment.

“What we have to do as creative people out of TT is to reimagine the possibilities that could happen if we do it, present it and showcase it well.”

This country’s musical palette was very wide and TT writers needed to put music first, he said.

“We have to want the best for all of our products (soca, calypso, R&B, etc) and put it in the highest we can possibly do it: the mixing, the writing, the mastering, the songwriting, vocal production, everything.”

While Rudder is seeing a new generation of singers developing in TT, there isn’t a concomitant rise of young songwriters.

“I think the next generation of people are on world music and not soca so much. The guards have been removed and that opens its own Pandora’s Box in terms of what they listen to and what they personally like.”

He gave the examples of internationally-recognised TT musicians not doing soca, like Tano, Jimmy October, Coutain, Freetown Collective, Annalie Prime and Kalpee.

“That is a good thing. We believe we can compete and go on that level. But even the new voices in here want to replicate what is already here.

“I believe people should do the work to find what their own voice is. What they or whoever is going to come in should bring something fresh, something current, something in the now.

“The listenership is changing and we have to change with the listenership. If you are writing or producing or creating songs that the listenership don’t want to listen to because they have all these options and they have to be competitive, I think we need the new ideas and injection of new ideas,” he said of finding new songwriters.

He gave the example of Jamaica’s Koffee saying that she went on to win a Grammy even though her sound was not traditional reggae and all of Jamaica stood behind her and made it possible.

TT needed to stand behind its music in its many forms, he said.

“The acceptance of new is not a bad thing and we should embrace the new because we don’t know. Her songs were on the playlists of people like US First Lady Michelle Obama and look at how many people were playing it.

“Look at how many opportunities and exposure she got, and not just her but, by extension, Jamaica for letting the new in.”

In today’s world there was a lot of fusion and the lines were being blurred between what was hip hop, dancehall, reggae, pop etc, Rudder said.

“We don’t know what we will get with this commingling; mingling between genres and it could be a very pleasant thing.”

For Rudder, the success of TT’s music will depend on singers and songwriters being brave and dreaming again.

“Feel free to be yourself and be brave,” he said to all of TT’s creative people.


"Songwriter Emmanuel Rudder: Open doors to new writers"

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