Syn Music, the company owned by Nick Wood and Simon and Yasmin Le Bon, is living a great moment marked with successful and fruitful works, they set up contracts between Square Enix, Ariana Grande and Final Fantasy to create Grande’s character in Brave Exvius and went on to present them with an orchestral remix of Ariana Grande’s ‘Touch-It’ for the launch. They also started a commercial music partnership with global agency BBDO. With offices in LA, Beĳing and Tokyo they are able to appeal to both Western and Asian audiences.
On June 17th Simon and Nick flew to South of France to take part in the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity. They were part of the festival Top 20 Speaker with their session titled “Beyond An Ordinary World: How Collaboration Inspires Ordinary to Extraordinary”.
Edith Bowman cleverly brought out their background stories, giving insight to how such collaborations work in practice. The energy in the room started excited and finished electric as Simon Le Bon and Nick Wood rolled out some of their best examples of creative music collaboration.
We were present and took note of every single word, so we are now offering a transcription of the entire session and some nice pictures taken that day. We also want to share a little audio clip of a lovely early version (featuring some of the finest vocals by Mr. Le Bon) of Closer to Your Bed, the song that Simon and Nick co-wrote exclusively for the Cannes Lions event.
Edith Bowman, Scottish radio DJ and presenter of a variety of music-related television shows
and music festivals
“When we write, one of the rules is: you don't go with any ideas, you just go in the studio completely fresh”
The session starts with a lovely introduction by a Cannes Lions representative. As soon as Simon Le Bon and Nick Wood enter the stage, together with Edith Bowman, they sit on white sofas and, as a starting point, an eye-catching montage of Duran Duran videos is projected on the big screen.
Transcription by Salvo | duranasty.com
Edith Bowman: Duran Duran seems to be a band that collaborated pretty much from the start, be that visually, be that with producers and things as well, would you agree?
Simon: yeah, one of the biggest collaborations we had was with our video director, Russell Mulcahy, you know, we came at the time when music was expericing a big change and video was just exploding, and we needed to find somebody who could really get inside of us really, and convey the personalities of the band trought the medium of film, and Russel did a fantastic job with that.
Cos you were quite innovative, in terms of when it came to techlogies within videos as well...
Simon: Yeah, we have always been enjoying technology and we've always wanted to really use it wherever we possibly could and try different things out and see if they works, basically.
And I immagine, as band, when you work together and you come up with some ideas and write in the studio, that itself is also a collaboartive process...
Simon: yeah, writing, the way we write, we all go into a room together, the four of us, which is me and Nick, John and Roger... one of the rules is you don't go with any ideas, you just go completely fresh and somebody will start playing something, then somebody will join them, someboy else goes “that's rubbish!” [laughs] and then you suddently find a good idea and if I can get a melody or something going, you know, something is gonna fly...
That's something I think you need to be able to do with collaboration, there need to be a trust and honesty there, and you need to be able to see things when things aren't working as well as when see things are working...
Simon: Yeah, we have had numerous arguments, sometimes culminating in acts of violence such as pork pie being thrown to each other and things... yeah! There's a very famous pork pie throwing incident which we don't have enough time to go into actually... [laughs]
“A lot of people who work in visuals get completely obsessed by the visual side of things and just forget the power of the music until they they realize they gotta get it”
“With Duran I've always been quite resistant to the idea of collaborations cos I always saw it as 'it's gonna be the vocalist that got replaced and a have a bunch of lead singers instead of me', so a lot of job insecurity in collaboration for me”
When it comes to producers as well, that collaboration is such an important thing and some of the people you worked with... Nile Rodgers is a starting point point for that...
Simon: yeah, you see, as band you really do need somebody who stands outside of the core group and who could... well, number one tell you when you've to behave yourself, when you have to be nice to each other, [Edith says: stop throwing pork pie... Simon: yeah exactly!] but then somebody who is able to really see the good things, sometimes things get overlooked... if you leave that up to the person who shouts the loudest... Nick Rhodes always gets his own way... you know... [laughs]
And you need that person who's overseeing to make those choices... we had some great producers, we worked with Nile Rodgers, Alex Sadkin was a guy we worked with, Mark Ronson more recently, Ben Hudson, really stick in my mind...
What's the process in decideing on who's wanna work with? You seek a certain type of things or is the work of that person, or is an accumulation of things?
Simon: Well, usually is anyone who will work with us... Ben Hudson who is the guy who did most of the production of our last album Paper Gods, he aproached us and we said “who is this guy Ben Hudson!?”. He did the song Fred Astaire and John and Nick went “Oh come one is a Brummie?! Is gonna be alright!”. That's him signing up, and he came in and he spent two days with us and we found that we really really enjoyed his presence, is company and what he had to offer so we carried him on.
That the album Paper Gods... I mean, we need a list of the people you worked with, that's fantastic!
Simon: yeah, the album Paper Gods was really an album of collaborations, I've always been quite resistant to the idea cos I always saw it as "it's gonna be the vocalist that got replaced and a have a bunch of lead singers instead of me", so a lot of job insecurity in collaboration for me, but what happen with us was John Frusciante, one time guitarrist of Red Hot Chili Peppers, got in touch with John Taylor and said, I've got some time off, I've always wanted to play on a Duran Duran album, can I try some tracks out? In that case we sent the tracks to him and he sent them back and we were completely blown away by what he did and I think at that point I realized collaboration could really bring a new kind of point of view to Duran Duran, which has been the same for some many decades. So we went on from John Frusciante to get Jeanelle Monae and then Kiesza and Jonas Bjerre from Mew and then Mr Hudson, of course, and then Davide [Rossi - read our interview] on the strings and culminating in Lindsay Lohan, one of my favourite collaborations.
Wow, is there a word or a phrase that could express the experience of working with Lindsay Lohan
Simon: yes, epic, Lindsay is epic!
Sometimes those decisions you make about collaborations are the most unlikely collaborations like Duran Duran and Lindsay Lohan and sometimes they can result in the most wonderful, incredible results... we are going to hear something now which is an example of that, just hear it, rather than watch, because I think that's another great discussion point as well, the power of just hearing something, so here we go, remind you this...
[an audio of Simon and Luciano Pavarotti singing Ordinary World was played - on the big screen just a picture of Simon and Pavarotti taken from an old post of duranasty.com]
That's sounds amazing!
I completely forgot that he may be singing in italian! [laughs] There's a very funny story about that actually, we did that collaboration for Pavarotti and Friends and I met up with Luciano in a hotel, the Dorchester in London, and we go to the different parts and he said “Simon, just tell what you want me to sing, so I kinda came up with some parts and we didn't really rehearse it very much actually... and I'm standing on stage with him on the actual moment and the second verse, no, the last verse, I go “Papers in the roadside tell of suffering and greed” and he goes “SUFFERING AND GREED” and I told to myself, no that is one that didn't work Simon [laughs!]
What a fantastic experience, having worked with the great Pavarotti, incredible! love that picture as well, very very cute.
We got to bring in Nick, hello Sir!
How did you guys meet, how your collaborative relationship started?
Nick Wood: we met in 1984 through Yasmin and we became very-very good friends, very quickly we had a crazy summer of 84 in London. Simon was working on Wild Boys at the time, so we spent some fun weeks together, and the he went off, we met up in Paris, I watched him working on A View To a Kill and Arcadia, he then went off on an adventure, to do the around the world yatch race as you do, A View To A Kill then a yatch race...
Simon: That's the 80s!
Nick: When he came back he said they made a film about the yatch race, a documentary, and that was something I was super interested in, the idea of working with picture. Simon said I've got this song called Grey Lady Of The Sea, you know, it's not for Duran Duran, this is my own song, this is a solo kinda of idea , I'd love you to work with me on that, so that was our first, you know, going to a proper studio, developing a song, written on guitar, I did the rest... that was kinda of the birth of SYN, it was a really monumental, very important project, we ended up releasing the documentary through SYN in Japan in our very-very early days and I got Sony to distribute it so, yeah, was amazing!
When you decided that relationship wanted to take forward, to work together, were the conversations to you harder? What it was you wanted to set up working together and provide?
Simon: I think Nick [Simon looks at him] you very much wanted to go and work in Japan, that was one of the driving facts and you wanted some help getting that set up, you wanted a little bit of creative input as well...
Nick: yeah, so we both love Tokio, I mean, when I came back that first trip I had fallen in love, I got completely hooked by the city and the country and I just saw how much Japanese they love music, they are so ecletic in the kinds of music they love, it was just completely inspiring. So I came back with these sparkling in my eyes, you know, absolutlely loving the place... and Simon was like "I love it there as well", and we suddently went “Oh, it would be quite interesting to set up a music company there, wouldn't it? Seemed like a good idea at the time and it was, it was an amazing idea and it was a much bigger undertaking that neither of us could ever had imagined, but it's been incredibly fruitful, really still in there, still love it, still to became my home, it's became a center of great creativity for us.
Some pictures from Salvo personal archive. He took these at the Pavarotti and Friends back in 1995. It was such an extraordibary show!
“We are part of the storytelling in a big way, and sometimes we are the saving grace of a campaign, you know,
the music is what really people remember”
[A video from the Drum adventure is being projected on the big screen].
When you see those images, what's the first thing you think about?
Simon: Oh, they were very good days, it was a wonderful experience and a great bunch of people I was with, it's once in a lifetime thing, you know, i feel very lucky that I had the opportunity to do it and i took it.
Collaboration in another way as well...
Simon: absolutely, when you are on a boat it's kinda a team work, it's so important, you're literally relying on each other for your survival, so if somebody get the job wrong, that means, you know, you can lose life.
Let's get back to SYN, Nick, please... can you kinda of explain to our audience what you do as a company, you are constantly pushing yourself into challenging yourself as company...
Nick: so we are a Music Creative Agency, so we get hired by Ad Agencies, Film Production Companies. Our bases, head-quarter is Tokio, which is 26 years and then we opened in Los Angeles three years ago and we opened in Bejing just a year ago. Benjing is very interesting cos we have a collaborative BBDO Bejing and we set up a recording studio inside their office, which is really interesting, very forward thinking on their part cos one of the things - many of you are to blame - [Ed. he talks to their main target - Ad Agencies, etc]... the interesting thing about music and film and commercial is we often get with the last one, sometimes is an after thought, which is very sad.
Would you prefer to be brought in earlier in the process?
Nick: Wood yeah, that was what I was thinking working with BBDO, they recognize that if we start thinking about music right at the beginning, right to the conceptual stage, and storyboard, you guys [Ed. their target - Agencies] start coming with a potential sound for the brand or the soundtrack and get everyone inspired about what could music contribute to that idea and selling that idea to their clients... In this way they recognize that we love that idea and that means we can stay on the job right till the end, now it's working really well, I think more and more music should be part of the very early planning rather than “Oh God, someone forgot to call the music company, and we gotta have it done by tomorrow!” which still happens...
Do you think that's because music is seen as a separate entity, people do appreciate the power that it can have sometimes as part of the whole project...
Simon: a lot of people who work in visuals get completely obsessed by the visual side of things and just forget the power of the music until they they realize they gotta get it.
Nick: and also the language of music is incredibly complex and it's probably the hardest thing to put it into words so that's also a great reason to bring it in early so that you can experiment and try out ideas and see what is right for the mood and tone, the message, we are part of the storytelling in a big way, a huge way, and sometimes we are the saving grace of a campaign, you know, the music is what really people remember, so I encourage all of you to bring music in early.
Pictures taken from the Tesla and CNN videos
A montage is being projected on the big screen, it's a video that to highlights some of the most interesting and successful works that SYN has done over the recent years.
There's a lovely story about the CNN ad, it's really a great example of collaboration and communication in terms of everything having a connection and purpose really.
Nick: yeah, cos they were shooting that campaign that it's a actually a real news peace of refuges in Greece and I really wanted to use real strings cos it's the most amazing way to bring out the emotion in a piece and they were telling me where they were shooting, and I said "you know what?! There's an amazing orchestra in Macedonia and the refugees were actually trying to get to Macedonia so why don't we bring that in?" You know, it's not an obvious part of the story but it really added a really nice emotional part of the storytelling... that's what, behind the scene, we're doing with creativity, collaborations, all of those things... I think make a big difference to the end result so, it's a beautiful piece, great campaign.
Is also important to you as company as well... you know, it's not just about turning out music for specifics, so there could be a reason and more to it...
Nick: it's really about that phrase, it really make the difference, it's the point of difference with SYN and that's why being located in three quite diverse cultures, i mean Japan, China and America, we use them as one team and we bounce ideas between the three, we pass the baton and it gets great results, so it's not the easiest way to work but we find it really stimulating and we love bringing in the ideas from all three offices and i think, you know, America had their sounds and style, China does, Japan very much, but we we kinda collaborate and bring different ideas and culture and we get some magic to happen and CNN is a really good example of that.
We were talking earlier about the power of sounding and the merging of picture and sound we got something, we are going to play just the sound, just to highlight that, can you explain what the idea is?
A video for Tesla is being projected, in both versions, no sound and with sound. SYN is responsible for the music and sound design of it.
Nick: we did what they call a spec spot, which means it never went to air but it's a really stunning piece of work, it's a hundred percent CGI from a company in NY called Parachute, and they asked us to get involved in the music and sound design, because is all CGI is absolutely no sound, some beautiful images, beautiful picture, but it's really not... it doesn't come to light until you hear the sound, we are surrounded by so much sound, it's not until you step back and hear silence and sometimes you really appreciate what is gone into it.
[Nick comments on it, after seeing the video] As you all can see and hear, the music is part of the storytelling especially, bringing the insects to life, the electric sounds, it's a beautiful idea and story but again, the sound design and the music gives it the emotion and brings it to life.
Is that something, you think about as well, Simon, when you are in the studio, when you're creating the story of the song, how different sounds, with layers, the track can have...
Simon: for me, I think the music is always a pure thing that comes first and if I look for inspiration for lyrics it's usually the music that tells me the story that I'm able to write down and make a song out of, and make a lyric out of. Almost all of the Duran Duran songs, all the stuff I do on my own, it usually happen like that, the music tells me a story, I think that's quite interesting in itself, i'm quite happy it's a let it be like that.
“If I look for inspiration for lyrics it's usually the music that tells me the story that I'm able to write down and make a song out of”
“Almost all of the Duran Duran songs,
all the stuff I do on my own,
it usually happen like that,
the music tells me a story...”
“We did it for the pleasure of doing something spectacular... she's a character in the game with supermusic powers”
We got a lovely example of a unique collaboation with american pop star you worked on for one of the world's biggest game franchises, this sounds like a fantastic project to work.
[video about SYN collaboration with Ariana Grande is being projected on the big screen]
Nick: It's was a challenging project that we brought Ariana Grande to Final Fantasy in the launch of the mobile game, in that iconic franchise. It's for the mobile game Brave Exvius, they wanted that iconic pop star who could be comic character in the game, so we put the deal together between Ariana and Final Fantasy and Square Enix. She's a character in the game with supermusic powers and they used her little bunny ears; it's super low, you know, it's gif style, it's not so sofistacted 3D, it's like old school games. And then is a great collaboration because they wanted to bring it in the world of her social media, they loved her music, and they wanted to give a new modern twist. For her was like a chance to get her own music heard by gamers... is all of this cross collaboration which was very unique and then I got to remix one of her songs called Touch It and that was a challenge as we wanted bring her into the world of Final Fanatasy but modernize their sound as well, so was another big orcherstral remix and yeah, just very different to our usual commercial projects and really fun to do.
Well, what's the logistic in a project like this, did you all convene in the studio, how does it work?
Nick: It was really a case of us presenting a remix to her and her team and absolutely loving it straight away and they were just blown away by what we did likewise with Final Fantasy, so that was a real home running, we were super inspired on that one, only for the pleasure to do something spectacular and also is a great song and was something we really enjoyed working on... it was actually Simon's idea, during a lunch at Nobu Tokio where we were with the guys, after a few glasses of sake, they were asking us “who do you think...” and Simon went “Oh, i just met Ariana Grande and I thought she was lovely so we set out our target pretty high and we pulled it off.
“When you've got somebody playing keyboards and somebody else singing with them, with melodies,
things can happen
Below pictures of Simon and Nick taken during the making of Closer To Your Bed, in Santa Monica and London. Courtesy of SYN
So there's constant ongoing communication, collaboration between the pair of you and projects and stuff so it's important for you to keep, to be involved together.
Simon: Yeah we talk all the time, we are very rarely in the same continent, but we communicate all the time, there's always little things we can do for each other.
Nick: Simon is the one who brought in his opinion but they're normally very good, worth listeneing to... and his amazing network has been tremendous benefit to SYN and just great credibility, you know, having him as my partner and one of my dearest, closest friends it's really reassuring to have him involved in SYN.
You mention about the fact you are never in the same continent normally, thank you for being here today in actual person. Your latest project, is Closer To Your Bed, there's a lovely story about this project and how it started...
Simon: I was coming through Santa Monica and you said “come over to the hotel, see this little studio I've put together in the hotel room where I'm staying...” so I came in and he was working on a tv pilot for FOX. He was doing his stuff and I brought my guitar with me, didn't I? [Simon keep interacting with Nick while he explains] And I said “what if we do something? Record on anything...” I think you used your iPhone, didn't you? In one hour we had 5 embryonic ideas, because when you've got somebody playing keyboards and somebody else singing with them with melodies, things can happen very quickly, you came up with new ideas if, only if, you are listening what the other person is doing , that's very important part of it, you don't just listen to what you are doing, you have to be very aware of what the other person is doing... and we chose one of them.
Nick: I took that back to Japan and I developed it more and brought it into a logic and shared with the team in Tokio, we crafted a song out of it and then I shared that back to Simon, I was like “this is really good, this is a great track” I actually need to be in the same room as you so i'm gonna fly to London and let's spend a day and develope and get it into really good shape.
Cos those two worlds you kinda need both of them, the way the technology is now... if you collaborate with someone who is on another side of the world you need to be able to send files, add things, be able to work wherever you are...
Simon: which makes working so much more easier, so much more practical and so much cheaper, you know, you don't have to necessarily fly people around the world, you can just hook up with them over a wire or satellite connection.
And then there's something uniquely wonderful and special like being in that old fashion, traditional studio.
Simon: yeah, I'm a big fan of studios, I love the places, I love my working my life in the studio, they smell great, they look great, find interesting people in them...
Nick: studio... I mean working in hotel rooms or in Simon's front room... are great but when you have a proper acoustic room that has been treated and designed for making music, it's still one of my favourite places to spend time and create and work with amazing musicians. We've been fortunate to have our own great studio in Japan... that's wondeful.
I imagine, in terms of the industry, that SYN is into technology as it's such an important part of the process, to be able to continue those collaborations in different parts of the world.
Nick: yeah, I mean the string on Arianna Grande were recorded in Eastern Europe but we were in Japan watching them on screen and hearing it back and being able to talk to the conductors, so not having to fly there and spending time and money, you know, it's tremendous... it can make the difference of making it real or not, in that case worked out really well.
Simon and Nick invited the Cannes Lions audience to contribute to the song by taping themselves on their iPhones singing along and snapping fingers. Audience members were asked to email their recording, which would be incorporated into the final song, and released online. Loved to take part in all this!
Nick: “so everyone knows how to flick their fingers, who has an iPhone with them? We basically wanna do a collective recording, not everyone needs to do this but certainly front, middle and back, two or three of you in all of these sections could gets your iPhones out and put it in record and at the end of this session we're going to give you an email address and we want you to send us your files, we're gonna add them into our song and let you hear it in a few days or week on the Cannes Lions website”.
Some of you are in charge of recordings... so if you wanna be the producer you are the producer.
Simon points at me and says: “you!”
Nick: “go to your voice memo, just put it in record, we gonna start by fingers claps, snapping along to the track, you gonna hear eight clicks, and then you hear our track with the fingers click, just join in; then we're gonna play the chorus... we'll run it round three times so you can learn it... the lyrics will come up, then you can sing along!
Simon: if you are good about singing... it doesn't matter if you are out of tune, I have been doing it for 30 years [laughs] and nobody noticed it!
Simon and Salvo on the Croisette in Cannes
What makes you says yes to a project? What's the thing you look for, if you get a brief or whatever, is there anything in particlar or a combination of things?
Nick: I think it's the idea, the creativity and how are they gonna use the music and then does that excite us? Does it looks like we all have fun? You know, lots of these works are incredibly intense and challanging but you still wanna smile and feel good about yourself, you wanna bring something to the table but it's not just a job, it's not just dealing with it, it's passion and excitement and feeling good at the end of it as well, you know, being proud of the work is the payoff.
Do you think music is now more involved at the start of project? Do you see it happening more, is it something that is happening more that people recognize and appreciate it?
Nick: I think so, yeah, I mean I think there's an incredible movement in terms of creativity in music and how it's being used, I think we are in a really good time, I mean music is sometimes undervalued in terms of what it brings and the results is going to achieve but I think there are definitely many people in this room who really understand and appreciate how important is and again we feel very blessed that we're part of that, you know, so we wanna do more...
We wanna do more now... if we can... we are talking about collaboration...
[Edith asks to the audience] so how would like to feature on their new song? Closer to your Bed, do you fancy being on that song?
Simon: we'd like to get you guys to became part of it if you willing to, it's something you could do... [big applause]
Nick and Simon [with Edith] orchestrated a live collaboration with the audience on Synmusic’s latest project, ‘Closer to your Bed’. The finger snapping and communal singing was captured by them and turned into something special. All of the people who recorded the moment were invited to send their clips to SYN via email
Simon and Nick were so happy with the final result. It's the perfect example of creative collaboration, and the first time Cannes Lions audience has been included into an original song."
Special thanks to Simon Le Bon, Nick Wood and Cannes Lions
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An old picture of Simon and Salvo taken in September 1995, when Le Bon came to Modena to sing at the Pavarotti
“We are very rarely in the same continent,
but we communicate all the time”