Song Division is a global company founded in 2003 that brings some of the world’s most rockin’ musicians to corporate events worldwide to help groups write and perform original works. Imagine belting out your new original song with Billy Joel’s guitar player strummin’ along with you.
Andy Sharpe is Song Division’s director and founder. His background as a professional musician and businessman was key when he was asked to run songwriting workshops for indigenous school kids, as part of Australia’s Garma Festival. The song created during the two-hour workshop was handed to a local radio station and broadcast throughout the region.
Nine years later, Sharpe and Song Division are producing original works for big name clients around the globe like Microsoft, Virgin and PwC. Their musicians’ credits include gigs with rock stars like David Bowie, Queen and Lady GaGa, to name a few.
Prevue: Andy, can you explain how your music program starts?
The first 10 minutes of our program pretty much starts the same whether it’s a conference up to 3,000 people or a teambuilding experience of 500. We just did PwC’s tax conference in Toronto. They walked into a general session and there was a band playing, and they played “Taxman” by the Beatles. They usually play something relevant to the audience.
The MC will then introduce the band. As you can see from our website, all our musicians have recognizable touring and recording credits. They’ve all played with the big stars. They’ll introduce the drummer who plays with Billy Joel and Iggy Pop. We’ll go around introducing them so everyone knows it’s not the local corner bar band; this is the real deal.
There’s a reason why we’re very successful in dealing with corporate firms. I just got back from the UK and there were 60 senior executives who were not up for doing a teambuilding event. They’ve got too much money and they’ve got too little time. If they’re doing it in the room with David Bowie’s guitar player then all of that melts away. So one of our main things is that we’re using the top musicians.
Wow, that’s pretty impressive. Then what happens?
We’ll ask the group if they want to hear a song but then we’ll explain that they have to help us create it first. At that point three quarters of the room will look for the door because they think they have to sing, and a third will think their dreams have come true. We put them at ease very quickly telling them it’s not American Idol or X Factor or a singing competition. It’s all about quietly writing songs and helping this band.
The audience helps the musicians create an original song, focused around the group’s objective or goal. We’ll ask if anyone plays the guitar. You don’t have to be a pro, we just need a couple of chords. In groups of 20 or groups of 2,000 you’re going to have someone who plays guitar. There will either be people volunteering or everybody will be pointing. Eventually it leads to everyone singing their new hit single.
That’s how we kick off all of our sessions. From an incentives point of view it’s a reward but it still has a business purpose to it.
Are the band members the ones who facilitate the groups?
We have teams all around the world and our musicians are amazing facilitators. They’re in their mid-thirties or older and they run their own businesses to reach that level of professionalism. They’re extremely personable and smart. One of the things some of them do is produce a lot of bands and they’re music directors on television programs. They’re better than your normal corporate facilitators.
How long would planners or corporations hire you for?
It’s totally customizable. We have one coming up and we’ll be there for a week.
What’s the smallest group you’ve ever worked with?
We do crazy high luxury billionaire stuff. Corporate groups of 60 are a fairly small group. Because of the cost it gets hard to hit cost with smaller groups.
Where can groups host these events?
We’re hosting most events in onsite ballrooms.
Do you have people come in and be reticent and suddenly there’s a shift in the group?
While some people may have learned to play the recorder, most people haven’t so we are targeted to people who are non-musicians. First it’s just the band playing and then you have one volunteer on stage. The focus is on the song writing. It’s a very organic process. People get drawn into it because they’re writing the lyrics and then the musicians will say ‘Hey, let’s see what that sounds like over the music.’
It’s not like this is a teambuilding program where everyone will sing and dance. By the end of the process when the groups get up and perform their songs, they think it’s going to be a hit. They go through the process together.
How do groups decide on one style of music for their song?
The groups decide on their own style. Each group gets the same brief but one group comes back with punk and so on. We take them on stage and everyone sings along and becomes part of it. We can do the whole process in 25 minutes. With all of our events, at that point the band can stay and play a 2-hour cover set.