by Cari Cole
For the past three years, we’ve been quietly working behind the scenes developing artists and their records at CCVM with A & R sessions, cultivating a killer songwriting team and refining our process. While we’ve been working with emerging artists voices and record projects for over 3 decades, I took a stronger turn into spearheading a department at our company that focused on developing major label level artists, without the constraints and control of a major label. As a woman in the industry, I’m not a fan of the male-dominated, often too oppressive and controlling nature of big record labels, and prefer to work in a more intuitive, highly creative, collaborative, outside-the-box kind of way. Just as I started that department at CCVM, and got one of our songwriters on board, I met SARRA.
SARRA was at that critical point in her life and artistry where she had already had some success but was ready to take the big plunge into full time. She also had a story, from her life, some real things to say and the courage to say it (although she didn’t feel courageous then ;)) – along with the fortitude, patience, and critical thinking – all attributes that make an artist open to a radical kind of evolution. It takes an unbelievable amount of strength, endurance, and commitment to do it right. You guys, reading this, know exactly what I’m talking about! It can take years, sometimes decades to find your sound.
We are now full circle in the process, releasing her first single from her full-length album coming out this Fall and I wanted to take the opportunity to introduce her to you now, so you can follow along in real time – as well as talk about the process we used. Since it’s a bit different than the typical approach in developing an artist, I thought it would perhaps shed some light on your next project, plus give you a behind-the-scenes blow-by-blow as we go.
SARRA was the first artist to go all the way through our CCVM A & R / Songwriting Program that started in the Spring of 2015. While we have over 20 artists in this program, SARRA is the first product of this process – the first one to go all the way from inception to release. I’ve been writing with artists over the past 15-20 years, but she was the first artist to write with our new A & R process and the newly signed CCVM Songwriting Team.
She came to us with years of experience as a vocalist and performer but needed better songs and industry knowledge. SARRA (Sarah Sellers then), had been an active part of our programs and circles for a few years (since 2014) when she decided to come work privately with me in my Artist Development Program. She was ready to get a stronger strategy and plan for her career and take that deep dive into rebranding and hitting refresh on her music.
The first few months working in private sessions were about deepening SARRA’s songwriting and teaching her how to write from her authentic self. The beauty of our work together is how open SARRA was to the process. She let me in fully, well, a little resistant here and there – but who wouldn’t be? – this isn’t as easy as it sounds.
The fantastic thing about SARRA is that she is acutely aware and perceptive. She really allowed me in to help her in the process of refining her sound, her message, and direction. It’s not always easy to get someone to open up about their inner world, and write from real life experiences, especially the more difficult ones. I mean who wants to talk about THAT. However, it’s essential to pull from all of the pieces of your life to get to that “human element” that resonates with the world at large. Up until then, no one had shown SARRA how to get her deeper message in her music. It’s not unusual, as most songwriting instruction focuses on craft (super important too), but not really on how to write as an “artist.” Truth is, you can’t really stand on that world stage if you don’t absolutely know who you are and are willing to be vulnerable as an artist. But the thing is, there is an evolutionary process that an artist can be led through, in kind, thoughtful, honest and professional environment where they are encouraged, and challenged as well, that results in 10x better music. The goal being to make something better than either of you could have achieved on your own, and to give the artist roots and depth, possibly even skipping over a couple of records worth of material to get to the good stuff quicker ;).
Over those first few months, we talked for hours about her life – where she’d been, her challenges, hopes, and regrets. She (and I too) shed some pretty life-altering tears along the way – an essential part of the process of getting real. You kinda can’t get around it if you’re going to write something that really touches people. Then we talked about where she was now in her life, what she wanted this record to be about as well as what kind of music she envisioned making.
As these A & R sessions continued we got to the deeper layers, discussed a lot of music, and expanded her listening skills defining production elements and arrangements on the records she was listening to. This directive is relevant for two reasons. One is for label or A & R director to get inside the head and musical vision of the artist (rather than most typical A & R which slaps a sound on the artist)- and two, to get the artist listening more, expanding their musical vocabulary, palate and aesthetic. Ultimately this is for us to help refine and evolve their sound further- and to give the artist more control over their sound and direction on the next record. No great record was ever created from a rudderless artistic direction or an unclear perspective from the artist. Our goal is to help the artist build a real sound, while radically improving the quality of their songs and musical direction and of the music itself.
The next step was to get her set up writing with our songwriting team. Now, just a note about our team. My team is not just your typical co-writer that is found in the routine industry co-write out there – and I’m talking at a high level. Matter of fact, many songwriters over the years, have begged to join my team, but I held out for the writers that have a higher level of introspection, listening expertise, and the ability to identify and pull out an artistic vision. Notably, these artists already possess a high level of skill, craft, and achievement (they all have millions of views on Spotify and have written with a long list of big artists and producers).
So I sent her to write with our head songwriter, Stolar (Jay) whose song “Brooklyn in the Summer” was co-written with Aloe Blacc (currently climbing the charts steadily, now at over 16 million streams on Spotify). Jay has also co-written with Train, Hall & Oates, Caroline Pennell (The Voice) with over 1000 songs in his catalog. SARRA and Jay hit it off and started a co-writing relationship that would span over a couple of years as together we carved and refined SARRA’s sound, message, and direction. SARRA and I continued to meet in private sessions, working on A & R while I directed the co-writes, coming up with song concepts and songwriting and continuing to peel the layers of the onion on SARRA’s life and experiences. In these sessions, we also worked on her voice, branding, persona, message, and career development and strategy. After we had about 22 songs in demo stages, we compiled a private Soundcloud and had the team give it a listen.
At that point, we all collectively decided on 2 singles to record (always good to have more than a few ears listening in for some “test marketing.” I had a connection to a stellar production team that was making great records that I thought would be perfect for SARRA’s sound. SARRA fell in love with their tracks, so I hooked her up with Chris Petrosino and Rob McCurdy of Noiseclub. They agreed to produce SARRA’s two songs amidst their busy schedule. It wasn’t easy, we had to wait longer than usual to get the mixes because of their calendar was so jammed, but the guys were laying down a killer sound for her, so we waited patiently. Shortly after SARRA’s tracks came out, Noiseclub struck gold with a co-written production that went big for Hailee Steinfeld, “Starving.” After the mixes came back SARRA and I planned a strategy to release 2 singles, F**k It, It’s Alright followed up by Gone Through Hell. Now it’s important to point out that at the time, SARRA’s artist name was Sarah Sellers and the songs were released under that name. We since evolved her brand to “SARRA.” These two tracks were the first batch of songs from our two year collaboration together so far – and the first time she had music that really spoke from her authentic voice in her career. The result was evident within her tribe as the accolades poured in of folks loving the music. SARRA has an incredible voice, and always gets a great response to her music and at her live shows. But for the first time, she had complete strangers coming up to her in tears at her shows telling her that her songs were reflecting their thoughts and experiences. That is the result of writing from real life. It has more resonance and impact. And performances are all the more powerful as the artist/singer steps into that territory.
On day one of the first single (F**k It It’s Alright), SARRA had a licensing deal with a private company who licenses songs for HBO, Netflix, Showtime and other major networks + a record deal offer on the table – on DAY ONE. She ended up signing the licensing deal, but we both felt that the record label was not the right fit at the time and turned it down.
While those two singles were being released, we kept building the brand and writing for the full album. Writing, digging, getting to truths, showing songs to the Team until the rest of the songs for the record arrived.
And now, in an exhilarating moment – after three years of carving and digging and perfecting –— we are rolling out the first single off of the full-length album releasing this Fall. As thrilling as it is for SARRA, it is just as much for us. As the first big release of our company since our inception of our CCVM A & R and Songwriting Program, we are super proud to watch the fruits of our labor take form.
Ladies and gentlemen, we bring you SARRA and the first #single off her new album “Kerosene”:
If you don’t have Spotify, then choose your platform to listen here: song.link/kerosene
We are also proud to officially announce this process as a “new industry model.” This process is part of our new industry model (more on that in upcoming articles).
Next up we’ll be covering SARRA’s revamped brand + image as part of her artist development process in Part 2 of the: CCVM New Music Release: Sarra “Kerosene.”
Thank you first and foremost to artist SARRA. Your courage and dedication to your evolution and the elevation of your music are impressive. Your tireless commitment to dig for the truth, face your deepest fears and turn it into something beautiful for the world to hear. We are so proud of you!!! 🙌Thank you for letting us be a part of that🏻. We’re so excited to watch this roll out!
Everyone on the Team has poured their best into this. Thanks to our head #ccvmmusic songwriter Jay Stolar for his dedication and exceptional writing; songwriting, A&R + brand/career development by yours truly; songwriting and outstanding record production by Josh Goode. And a special thanks to the rest of my songwriting team and Team Cole who work tirelessly to support our efforts.
To the community of artists in our tribe, whose fierce artistry and support of each other, is building a palpable #movement in the industry. We can’t wait to bring your music to the world.
Never give up ~ always dig deeper than you think and BELIEVE you can do it – and find a team of people who believe in you and will help you rise.
We rise together!
For those of you interested in following along on SARRA’s platforms:
- Share SARRA’s new release on Spotify or Song Link and use hashtags: #lightmeup #kerosene #SARRA.
- Follow SARRA on Spotify to help get their attention to add Kerosene to a Spotify Playlist! Lets blow up her streams!
- Follow SARRA on Instagram, Twitter & Facebook.
- For latest news follow http://www.sarramusik.com
For a blow by blow chronology of SARRA’s evolution at CCVM ~ here’s the history:
SARRA started following our newsletter in the Fall of 2013 and listened in to her first teleclass/webinar on May 6th, 2014.
In 2014 following the webinar, she joined our Fast Forward Program & Blueprint which lays out the branding & music marketing pieces, and how to make a living making music full time. She had just quit her marketing job and was ready to dive in and make something of her music. I remember her being on the webinar and I had listened to her music, and wanted to work with her, so I called out to her telling her to “get her butt in this program.” She registered ;).
In January of 2015, she came to work with me in my private 1-on-1 Artist Development Program.
In June of 2015, she started writing with Stolar, our head songwriter of the CCVM Songwriting Team. We don’t have a page up about this program as it is at this time, private to our Inner Circle and community of artists we work within our programs. We will be announcing it soon. And for those who are interested in it, start by joining our Signature Songwriting Circle which is the first step in the process.
Fall of 2015, she joined our Artist Success Circle Mastermind, which she stayed in for three rounds. It’s a 6-month music marketing & business mastermind that helps artists strategize for their careers in a community of dedicated artists, industry experts and intensive mentoring.
In the Fall of 2016, she joined our Signature Songwriting Circle, diving deeper into her songwriting and co-writing process. We have since upgraded that circle to include writing with our CCVM Songwriting Team.
In the Spring of 2017, she took our Your Exceptional Record Program where we detail the A & R process and how to make a record that will make a more significant impact. This course is the insides of how to write and choose the right material, develop your message, uplevel your production elements and how to find the right producer.
For more information about our 3 Step System, click here to watch our video series that walks you through each step!