Speaking with Greig Watts it quickly becomes apparent that his emotional connection to music is genuine and lifelong. “I watched The Incredible Hulk for the first time in 20 years and was moved to tears by the closing music.” The sorrowful theme music instantly reconnected Watts with some long-forgotten feelings. “It contained my childhood memories of watching the main character having to leave the town he lived in, which was always so sad.” This heart-to-heart relationship with the emotional power of music is one of the reasons Watts has been entrusted to run songwriting camps for multiple Eurovision countries, and this year, the United Kingdom.
Watts was chosen to replace the Hugh Goldsmith as the music consultant for the BBC’s annual TV program Eurovision: You Decide, in which the U.K.’s entry into the Eurovision Song Contest is selected. This is a challenge he relishes, to say the least. “My dream would be to turn around the U.K., and not only to get good results in Eurovision, but start to have an effect on our own charts, and successfully promote U.K. artists across Europe.”
Watts’ impressive Eurovision track record justifies his ambitions: 50% of the artists from one of his previous songwriting camps went on to be U.K. finalists. However, there is no trace of arrogance in Watts’ demeanor, instead, he speaks gently about helping to make the best work possible. To this end, he recommends his writers attend the event itself to appreciate the scale in full, and start writing for the following year, a month after the final, to keep the buzz going.
Watts’ early years were spent juggling a job in banking with his songwriting ambitions, traveling three hours each way in his spare time to collaborate with his writing partners. “That was quite a demoralizing time,” he admits, but bit by bit their catalog started to attract interest. In 2003 he decided to dedicate a year to his craft. “I decided to leave the bank and give myself a year to just write, but if I didn’t make money by the end of the year, I would pack it in,” he explains. Luckily he gave himself some leeway when 12 months passed, and during month 13 of his songwriting sabbatical, he was snapped up by a music publishing department. Eventually, he set up his own songwriting company, DWB Music, with two partners, and they evolved into a publishing company to offer more holistic support to the acts they worked with.
Things took off when they started working in Asia, but the company understood that their operations needed to have a more diverse footprint to ensure sustainability. “We became very successful in Asia and realized this is a bit dangerous; maybe we should try and balance it.” At the end of one of their songwriting camps in Japan and Korea, the team was watching Eurovision at the wrap party, and “A Million Voices” filled Watts with inspiration. One serendipitous meeting at industry conference MIDEM with the publisher of that song led felt like the sign that Watts and his team needed to start their Eurovision careers in earnest.
Although already a lifelong fan of Eurovision, Watts explains that the more he looked into it, the more impressive it became. He describes meeting PWL Hit Factory alumni Ian Curnow in 2016 in Stockholm, and the Eurovision final. “The first time you’re there is that ‘wow.’ I was there with Ian, who was behind some massive hits in the ’80s and ’90s. So he turns to me and says, ‘This is the biggest thing I’ve ever done.’ Really, this guy has been number one in America, but Eurovision tops that.”
Stock Aitken Waterman, also known as PWL, is a huge inspiration to Watts, as is the master of mass media, Simon Cowell. He admires their alchemy of elements, which bring the listener to an emotional impact. “When music and visual connects, it creates a kind of magic.” He also thinks that music holds a uniquely influential role in the chemistry of Eurovision, but it’s about much more than just the song. “Music connects with people. You can’t formulate it, but it does happen. It’s about the music, the staging, the visuals, the emotions, and that connection with the artist.”
Watts is passionate when describing the unique qualities of Eurovision as a creative medium for songwriters, and draws parallels with recent trends in movies to explain them. “Think about The Greatest Showman, A Star is Born, La La Land, Bohemian Rhapsody, these big musical films coming out are magical. I cried when I saw Bohemian Rhapsody, and The Greatest Showman to be honest. The song is touching my senses musically, but because you’ve got it in a visual format as well, it’s incredibly powerful. You can get the same thing with Eurovision if you get it right.”
Watts reaches the heart of the matter: “Eurovision is all about an emotional connection. I think that’s what songwriters sometimes miss. With someone like Salvador Sobral, who won for Portugal, it was all about the emotional connection. I didn’t know the words to the song, I don’t speak Portuguese, but when you watched him, you just felt it.”
For many, tomorrow night’s Eurovision is not only the culmination of a year of hard work, it’s the pinnacle of a life spent discovering the intricacies of the craft of songwriting. But even with a lifetime of experience, the craft remains intuitive and mysterious. Watts concludes: “Sometimes it’s in these unexplainable moments of emotional connection that you know you put things together in the right way. And somehow, we need to try and do that at Eurovision.”
Originally published in Forbes.
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