Sometimes, things work out exactly how they’re supposed to.
Singer/songwriters Maggie Rogers and Andy Seltzer never planned to work with each other. Rogers was already amassing a steady following via her homegrown blend of soulful, folk-inspired electronic pop. Seltzer, meanwhile, had cut his teeth and honed his chops in teenage punk bands, but his musical ambitions found him wanting to do, explore, produce and collaborate more. The pair was brought together by a networking initiative presented by the New York headquarters of their shared performing rights organization, BMI, called Speed Dating for Songwriters™.
Established in 2013, BMI’s Speed Dating for Songwriters™ initially began as a way to introduce and foster creativity among some of BMI’s most promising NYC-based songwriters, producers, and artists whose paths may not have otherwise crossed. Since then, the program has expanded to Los Angeles and Nashville, bringing together a number of BMI songwriters with the intention of establishing collaborative creative partnerships.
Rogers and Seltzer demonstrated an immediate chemistry that caught the BMI New York team’s attention and the duo was recruited to work on a song for another artist. But when that artist failed to materialize, the two music creators seized the opportunity to collaborate with each other. The end result was “Split Stones,” a shimmering slice of emotive pop that showcased both writers’ distinctive gifts. The track was so stirring, in fact, that The North Face ended up selecting it for placement in an advertising campaign, going so far as to even feature Rogers in the commercials.
How did you first get involved with BMI and what were your expectations when you were asked to participate in Speed Dating for Songwriters?
Maggie Rogers: I became a member of BMI while living in Boston, attending Berklee School of Music’s Five-Week Program. Becoming a member of a PRO seemed as good of a first step as any. I was looking to explore the world of co-writing and writing for other artists when a friend connected me to the New York team. I’m not actually sure what I thought would come out of it [Speed Dating for Songwriters]. I remember being really nerdy and over-prepared. I made a three-minute edit of a couple different songs so people could get a wider sense of where I came from [folk music] and what I was working on at the moment [electronic]. I maybe even brought business cards? I was definitely the first person there.
Andy Seltzer: I think I had randomly signed my pop-punk band up in high school when I was 16 without knowing what the company truly did. It wasn’t until I had moved to New York City in 2015, [that I met the New York team]. I showed up with a messenger bag of my college demos, and [they] sat with me for hours talking and getting to know me. I consider them family and they’ve been my core and life support in the city ever since! As for Speed Dating for Songwriters, I was nervous and intimidated imagining myself in a room showcasing my music individually to 10-15 other songwriters, but excited at a new opportunity to meet a new set of writers with a shared goal of keeping the New York City music scene alive. For some context, I was running late from my internship in midtown, and everyone was waiting to start when I got there. I didn’t have time to prepare a playlist of my music, so I gaged what songs I would play within the first minute or so of meeting each writer. Everybody there was so open and supportive, and it solidified my feeling that BMI was going to become a second family to me. I met Maggie Rogers that night, as well as close friends like Jess Carvo, Micky Blue, Totem, Carter Matschullat, and Rob Grimaldi whom I still talk and work with to this day.
How does the process of songwriting differ when you’re co-writing?
MR: I’m pretty particular about lyrics and love being involved in the production. If I’m co-writing for my own project, I usually like to get in the studio and start playing around with a beat or a chord progression. Once there’s a solid idea going, I’ll usually find a way in through melody and the lyrics come pretty quickly from there. To be completely honest, I haven’t really done too much songwriting for other people, but it’s something I’d really love to do. I can imagine I would be much less precious about lyrics, or rather just work to structure them in someone else’s voice and within someone else’s narrative instead of stressing my own.
AS: When I’m co-writing as opposed to writing alone, at its core I feel the added responsibility to put my best self forward and to be there for the other writer in the room, because suddenly it’s not about me anymore, it’s about creating a song out of thin air with another person. Co-writing is a very in-the-moment feeling, and the accountability of not wanting to let the other person down causes me to get out of my head and not be so precious with holding onto ideas, which in return, I think, causes me to open up and come up with different kinds of melodies/lyrics I wouldn’t have thought of alone! When I’m alone, I can be inconsistent — either bursts of a full song or only two lines of a verse. I’ll write about things so deeply personal that I get caught in tunnel vision and very in my head, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but just difficult for me to be as objective. My foundation as a person has always gravitated towards being a supporting role — growing up, I was the bassist in bands, and my day-to-day role as a producer is to do my absolute best to see an artist’s vision through. When I’m co-writing, I take that sentiment and usually am the one asking the other writer what’s been going on in their life, and bouncing ideas and concepts off of deep conversation and listening to their stories. Co-writing takes a lot of empathy and openness, and when both people have that mixed with a willingness to create, the room becomes a safe haven for a great song to be written.
What was the songwriting process like with each other?
MR: When I think of Andy as a collaborator, the first word that comes to mind is selfless. His work is completely in service of the artist he’s working with and the story they’re trying to tell. Andy is one of the most compassionate and generous people I’ve ever worked with.For us, “Split Stones” started with two sound samples I brought in; one of my breath that I had recorded while hiking in Oregon, and the other of two sticks against an empty silo across from my family’s house in Maryland. Andy and I started working them into the beat you hear in the intro of the song. Once that was settled, he picked up the guitar and started playing the song’s progression; I started writing the first verse.
The song was done by the end of the day. In between verses, Andy talked me through the story I was telling, asking about the root of the person and the experience I was trying to get on paper. He earned my trust quickly and has kept it wholeheartedly. I think Andy and I will be friends for a long, long time. Something worth noting after the speed dating session, Andy and I were actually paired to work together with and for another artist, but she never showed up to the session. Sometimes, things work out exactly how they’re supposed to.
AS: Maggie is a jack-of-all-trades and incredibly gifted musician — she writes, produces, and is a multi-instrumentalist, so my first thought was what my best role could be writing with her that day and how I could support her vision. She has an uncanny sense of herself, intuitive, and as real as it gets when in conversation, which made me feel comfortable and inspired to write with someone who shared an equal passion for art. She had just gotten back from a trip, and collected a ton of cool environment sounds with her field recorder — including the sound of a stick stuck rattling in a windmill and the sounds of her breathing while meditating. The first thing she suggested was if we could try sampling these sounds and possibly turn them into a drum loop. Within a few minutes of tweaking, quantizing, and experimenting, the windmill-turned-drums became the first blip of “Split Stones,” and she pulled out her notebook and immediately began writing the lyrics out by hand while I arranged out the drums and added some chordal structure.
I don’t remember us talking to each other much in those hours because we were both so in the zone until it came time to demo out the vocals. She had something personal to her life she wanted to write about that day, so instead of chiming in, I made sure to make myself available as a sounding board to bounce ideas off of when needed. It was an inspiring day, to say the least, and we both felt proud of how honest and natural the song felt for having just met each other.
How did you feel when you heard it was going to be used in that ad?
MR: Definitely a pretty wild feeling. I’ve never done anything in the ad space and this is definitely…in the ad space. I’m still trying to figure out how much of that kind of stuff I want to do, but when it came to the North Face ad, I’m a really big fan of the athletes in the video; Jimmy Chin, Emily Harrington, Alex Honnold. Seeing them in their element, in all of these beautiful, natural spaces – it’s amazingly inspiring and an honor to have my craft intertwined with theirs.
AS: I think Maggie and I shared the same determination, openness, and curiosity that day to experiment and create a new sound together. I didn’t sense any pressure or goal other than to try writing and see what happens. Maggie told me it was going to be featured in a North Face ad backstage at her sold-out show at Brooklyn Steel — in that moment, I had just seen her perform a song we wrote in my bedroom only a year prior now to 1,800 people, so I was filled to the brim with pride and happiness for my friend.
My initial reaction to the ad was excitement that something tangible, let alone a huge brand, had validated our song. I then became afraid and skeptical because I was so proud of the song itself that I didn’t want anything else clouding its release, and I wanted the “Split Stones” to stand on its own with the purpose we intended and not associated with another brand or vision other than Maggie’s. However, once I saw the ad, I thought it was understated, seamless, cool, and the number of people who discovered “Split Stones” first because of the ad’s reach gave me perspective that it was a helpful force to facilitate our reach of the song.
Andy, you’ve just signed a publishing deal with Warner-Chappell. What are you currently working on?
AS: In the first month of being signed to Warner/Chappell, I’ve been in writing sessions and working on demos with Hailey Knox, Kimbra, Tyler Glenn of Neon Trees, Sophie Beem, All Time Low, Wes Period, Katy Tiz, Jacob Sartorius, T.O. Speers, Alice Kristiansen, and James A.M. Downes. I have singles coming out this fall with Zuri Marley and Penguin Prison which I’m really excited about and can’t wait for everyone to hear!
Maggie, it’s been rumored that you’re stepping away from the limelight in the wake of “Split Stones”? What is your next chapter?
MR: I’ve taken the past couple months to just be very, very quiet and very, very still. Daily dates with the collected works of Joan Didion and Virginia Woolf, long walks and phone calls with friends — it’s been the first bit of processing I’ve done all year. So much has changed for me since graduating from college and with the pace of things, I started to find that I was having difficulty remembering things or having a moment of wonder at all of it. I’ve taken a good chunk of time to find my feet again, to have new vision. Now, I’m just so overjoyed at the idea of writing and creating again. And so the cycle continues!