The songwriting process is a magical journey that only some people can have. Hookist can give people a glimpse of that magical process. You get to actually write a song and collaborate with your favorite artists in real-time. So if you ever dreamed of writing a song with Kalsey Kulyk or Brad Roberts from the Crash Test Dummies, Hookist is for you. Join Bree Noble as she talks to the CEO and co-founder of Hookist, Meredith Collins, about how this idea came to be. Discover the process of writing a Hookist song, from the theme of the song to the lyrics. Find out how they make money and the royalties that go with the song-making process. Meredith makes sure that Hookist serves the song and the artist.
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Hookist: Collaborating In The Songwriting Process With Your Fans With Meredith Collins
I am here with Meredith Collins from Hookist. We’re going to get into what in the world is Hookist. It sounds interesting. Anything that has the word hook in it is already going to hook you in. This is going to be a tool that is going to help you folks not only get closer to your fans but also be able to make a new income stream. That all sounds super intriguing. Let’s jump into that as soon as we find out a little bit about Meredith. Let us know.
I saw your back background is very diverse. I also saw that you started working at FAO Schwarz, and the minute I found out I was pregnant with my first daughter, I happened to have landed in New York. The first thing I did was go to FAO Schwarz and get her first stuffed animal. She still has it because it is so special. That store is an incredible place to be. You’ve done so many interesting and different things in relation to the arts and stuff like that. Let everybody know a little about your background and how that led you to start Hookist.
FAO Schwarz was when I was acting back in the day, and that was my survival job. I was, among other things, the hula hoop girl at the top of the stairs. I spent eight hours a day hula hooping.
Did it start to hurt your hips after a while?
I got fit. Initially, the first time I did it, I was like, “I cannot move.” It was major core action. Eventually, I was able to do three on each arm, three on my waist, and sometimes I could manage afoot depending on how I was feeling. If you do it for eight hours a day, you’re going to get good at it. That was one of the many survival jobs back when I was acting. I worked in the film industry. I was a camera person trying to avoid the life of being a starving actor but always interested in the creative process.
It’s a very diverse background, but that’s the one theme through it all. That’s what Hookist is. It’s how the magical people who know how to write songs do it. How do you capture the zeitgeist and get like 50,000 people or even 50 people to sing along with you? It’s the most amazing thing to me because I don’t have a musical bone in my body.
I’m so glad you said that because a lot of times, I have to convince artists that people want to understand their process. They’re like, “Why would they care? Everyone can do this.” I’m like, “No, they can’t.” People are intrigued by the process.
It’s magic. It’s beyond fascinating. It’s something that you go, “I have no idea how to do it.” My whole background is being a photographer and doing a lot of creative stuff. I ended up meeting a guy, as we all do. He’s a musician and a music producer here in New York. He produced for the Crash Test Dummies. He’s from Winnipeg, Canada, where The Dummies are from. Over time, he was friends with Brad, the lead singer. Over time, we got to know him.
It’s the guy with the insanely low voice.
Exactly. It’s funny because I wasn’t sure when Terry first mentioned him to me. You get them confused, like the guys with long dark hair. It’s like, “Is it Anthony? Is it Brad Roberts?” I’m not sure which one because they looked alike. They had the same gorgeous hair. One day, Brad called Terry. Terry was across the room, my partner. I heard Brad’s voice through the phone across the room. I was like, “I know who that is.”
He’s lovely, and his wife’s lovely. We got to be friends. I was always the person who always went to the show at the Q&A after with the director, actor, or whoever it was. I want to know like, “Why did you write that? What made you do that? How did this come about?” That’s always been my interest. I was lucky enough to be friends with a rock star. I was able to ask the goofy fan questions that everybody wants to ask.
I would slowly ask 1 or 2 questions, but he didn’t mind. Over time, we talked about streaming. That’s Crash Test Dummies. That’s a big band. In the 1990s, they sold thirteen million records. Streaming was not the same income stream. We talked about that. At the same time, social media was becoming a very clear thing that artists needed to participate in. One of the biggest artists of all time will remain nameless because I don’t want to embarrass him. He put out a new record. In order to promote it, his team offered fans the opportunity to play Ring Around the Rosie with an animated version of this person who is legendary, like one of the best of the best, and you got to free download. There has to be a more authentic way for artists to use social media.
That’s how Hookist came about because it was like, “What’s more authentic than writing a song with your fans?” That’s what we do. It’s a global songwriting collaboration. We look at it as a festival where we’ve gotten to this point where we can hold many collaborations at the same time. Now we have two. We have a new one with Gary Lucas starting. We are looking for artists who want to lead collaborations with their fans. It’s a great way to engage. I’m sure you have questions.
Not at all. I want to know all the things. You started with a cofounder.
Yes, my cofounder is my partner, who is my partner in real life. Like every good startup, we sat at the corner bar and had this idea on a napkin. We’ve got the napkin, but that’s how it came about. We went to Brad from the Dummies, and we’re like, “What do you think about this? Would you do this?” To be honest with you, we did. We’re both artists, so we knew nothing about building technology and did it in the dumbest way that we possibly could. People gave us money. We raised the money. We built it and then used a real rock star to test it in public with his fans. We are super lucky.
How did that go?
We didn’t even know enough to be worried, honestly. We put it out there. We were lucky because we found an owner of this development agency whose passion was music. He had a team that was in the place of junior people who were ready to move up to the next level. He gave it to them and gave us an amazing deal. They did an incredible job and built so much more than we could have afforded. It was great.
What happened is that on the day that we launched, Brad put it out on his socials. I don’t know if you know this, but I did not know this. When you put technology out, you put it out, and in different places, it will show up at different times. The development agency told us, “It’s live.” We’re hitting refresh. We’re like, “Where is it?” It wasn’t showing up in New York yet, but it turned out that when we finally saw it two hours later, people from around the world had been submitting lyrics. They had built profile pages. They were voting and commenting, and on day two, people paid to participate.
They don’t pay a lot of money. They pay between $0.49 and $0.79 to submit a lyric. It’s not a lot, but it’s enough to keep the trolls out. It’s enough to get a nice experience. It’s enough to encourage people to craft something rather than the direct thing you see on Twitter. That was the big question. Can you write a good song like this? We didn’t know if it would work or what. We have 40 songs, and they’re good.
The artist has the final say, right? Could they be like, “No,” for all the things that come in?
Yes, and sometimes they do, like Brad. One day, he scolded people, and I was like, “Do we want to be that mean?” He’s like, “They’re my fans. They know I’m tough.” They loved it. The artist has the final say. They can take a lyric verbatim. They can take it and tweak it. They can use it as inspiration for something else. They can take bits and pieces from different people’s lyrics and meld them together.
It’s like, “I like this particular word that they used,” versus it’s got more nuance or whatever.
At the end of the day, our total goal is to serve the song and the artist. We want the artist to be proud of the song. We want them to love the song. We want them to sing the song, record it, and put it out there. That’s the creative process. We’re seeing the journey that an artist goes through, and it’s magical. The fans freak out, and the artist looks like we put them on a pedestal. You see the magic of them creating something special. The fans are deeply invested in it.When collaborating with musicians, the goal is always to serve the song and the artist. Click To Tweet
For sure, they’re invested in it. They were involved in the process. That’s the best way. What does this start with? Does it start with nothing like a blank slate? Do they come in and like, “Here’s a melody. We’re writing lyrics to this?”
It’s whatever the artist wants. Our only rule at Hookist is that we have no rules. We don’t tell the artist what to do. We don’t tell them who to pick. We don’t tell them anything. You get to do whatever you want. As an artist, I don’t want somebody to tell me what to do, especially if I’m doing it in public. I want to be in total control of it. We respect the creative process, and artists can do whatever they want. Like Gary Lucas, he’s a Grammy nominee. He wrote Grace with Jeff Buckley. The Seminole record Rolling Stone called it one of the best records of all time, with David Bowie’s favorite record. He is an incredible writer. He is an incredible guitar player. He was called a Modern Guitar Miracle by the New York Times. It’s crazy to watch him play guitar.
He gives us a guitar part. The first time he wrote a song with it was for the 25th anniversary of Grace. He gave us a guitar part that he wrote for Jeff Buckley for Jeff to write the lyrics, but Jeff died. It was chilling. It was incredible. We wrote this beautiful song. We have a team that will often shoot a video for us. It’s a beautiful video. The song’s called Dance of Destiny. We have the video on our YouTube Channel at Hookist.
It can be that. The artist can give us an instrumental. They can give us one line. We finished a song with two songwriters, Jayne Sachs and Chris Robbins. They’re a songwriting duo in Nashville. Jane came up with a title called Missing Things and the First Line then we wrote to that. A fan had an idea. Originally it was Missing Things. She thought it was going to be some love story, but it ended up being about dementia. It’s a beautiful, very country song about the experience of a son and a mother realizing that the mother is missing things. It’s beautiful. It’s incredible. We do tons of stuff for charity, so that’s part of it as well. The artist comes up with a theme for the song, and people write to it. There may be one lyric, instrumental, or nothing, whatever you want.
Does the artist have to have fans to bring to this experience? Have you guys built up a group of people who love doing this, and they’ll write to anyone’s song?
Both. Your fans are going to appreciate this more than anybody else. We have a community that writes with us. They are there for mostly everyone. We have an international community. We wrote a song with Jill Sobule, and it became a very American song. It was about disinformation.
That sounds American.
One of the first lines was the American Underground. There were a lot of people, in the end. Our international community didn’t participate in that because they felt, “I don’t want to be America-bashing in public.” A lot of people did because both sides don’t like disinformation. It became a bipartisan song, which was fascinating. It can be anything, but a lot of them are for charity or for some good cause, whether it’s somebody in your band who is sick. We can do that thing. We have done that. Those are powerful songs. We did one with Paul Williams, the President of ASCAP for a charity called Facing Addiction.
When you say it’s for charity, does the charity use the song, or is the money raised for charity or both?
Both. The artists can decide how much they want to give to charity. If the artist gives to charity, we give to charity as well. What we do in the financials of it is people pay between $0.49 and $0.79 to submit a lyric. The artist comes up with a theme for the song. They shoot a little iPhone video, very casual. The whole point is to give them a behind-the-scenes experience. Some people are like, “Do I have to have hair and makeup?” No. Ellen Reid from Crash Test Dummies did it in her bathrobe with no makeup. Sometimes she’d say, “I haven’t even brushed my teeth,” with a cup of coffee. It was as intimate and experienced as it possibly could be. The fans loved it.Your fans love intimate experiences, so you should be as authentic as you can be. Click To Tweet
They shoot a little iPhone video, and we call it an inspiration video, where they invite their fans to write an original song with them at Hookist. They tell them what the inspiration or theme for the song is, and they say, “Go to Hookist.com and submit what you think would make the best first line or couplet in a song about celebrating recovery.” That’s what Paul Williams’s song was about. People do that. They submit their line. Some people submit 50 and 60 lines. We have whales that spend $100 and $200 over the course of the collaboration. It can add up. That’s why you want to invite your super fans to participate. They’re going to freak out.
Our community is excited to discover your music as well. People can also vote, comment, invite their friends to vote for them, and build a profile page like you would on MySpace, your Facebook, or your Instagram. You can build a profile page so people can get to know you and get to know what your musical interests are and that thing. An artist or aspiring artist can also link to their Spotify, YouTube, or whatever channel they want.
There’s some discovery there from your community discovering new artists.
For every artist, we build a profile page for them. For every artist that leads a collaboration, we build a special profile page for them so that our community can discover their music. We have a lot of photos so we can get to know you. We link to your website, your Spotify, your YouTube channel, and any specific videos to which you want to be linked. Our goal is to help you sell more music and get more fans. If you have a Patreon, we link to that. We have photos, so it looks nice. It’s a whole beautiful profile page custom-built for you so that we can do all of that. We can help you grow your fan base, sell more music, sell tickets, and link to your tickets, that whole deal.
As the artist, does it have to be more of a universal theme? What if the artist wants to write something more in a specific spiritual vein, like Christian or Pagan? Does it need to be something that’s going to appeal to everybody?
No. As I said, our only rule is that we have no rules. You can pick whatever you want. I would encourage nothing hateful because that’s going to ruin the vibe. I’ll be honest, it sounds corny, but we talk about Hookist as a nice place on the internet because our people are good to each other. They’re excited for each other when someone else wins. That’s the thing. Every time an artist chooses a winning lyric, they shoot a new iPhone video where they say like, “John Smith, I got a shoutout for you. I liked what you submitted. Susie, I liked what you submitted. Janet, I liked what you submitted. Bree, I loved yours, and I’m going to use it as a first line in the song.” It’s like Paul McCartney grabs his guitar and sings your line.Hookist is 'the' nice place on the internet. Click To Tweet
Your head explodes. It’s the ultimate fan experience. You are going to share that video all over your socials, but everyone else in the community does, too, because they feel like they’re a part of this process. They’re like, “I’m writing a song with Paul McCartney,” or whoever it is. They freak out. It’s a great way to get a lot of new content. Every week the artist chooses a new winning lyric building on what’s already been established.
How long does this go on?
It can vary. With Chris Barron from the Spin Doctors, it went on for three months. It’s an eight-minute song. You could do it in six weeks. You could do a fast one in four weeks. You can do it every day for a week if you want. You make more money the longer it is and get more exposure. Let’s face it. One of the big things is that we’re helping you create original content. It gets hard. You’ve got a new record coming out. How many different ways can you come up with to say like, “I have a new record? Buy my new record.” At a certain point, “I get it, you got a new record,” as a fan, but you got to keep promoting it.
Here’s the way to promote it in an authentic way that you’re not hawking something. You’re promoting it and saying, “By the way, I have a new record. Did you check out my new record? Let me know what you think about my new record,” at the end of this or the beginning or whatever. We promote it too. We are sharing these videos. We are going to say like, “I need to check out. We have Impossible Kings now.” That’s my partner’s band. They have a new record coming out. We’re promoting it, but we promote everyone. Jill Sobule has a show coming out. She was in a musical in LA. Now she has another show that she wrote here in New York. We promote it. We’re going to help you in every way that we can on our social channels and on our platform.
That’s very cool. Have you had a lot of independent artists? There are people that read this that are more established, but there are also a lot of indie artists. Have you had all the gamut?
Yes. We have had Paul Williams, Crash Test Dummies, like those big ones, Jack Tempchin, Peaceful Ego, and Peaceful Easy Feeling. Those are huge successful guys and gals but also independent artists. In fact, Morgan Myles wrote an incredible song with us.
I’ve interviewed her on my show before.
She’s amazing. We love her. You can see it on all of our social channels. She’s on The Voice now. She got four chairs. John Legend said, “This was the best audition I have ever seen on this show.” We’re promoting that for her because she’s amazing. She wrote this beautiful song with us. It’s called Contagious if you want to check it out. It’s about making love contagious. We wrote it during the pandemic.
We don’t care what you write about. We hope you write something compelling and inclusive because that serves everyone better. We don’t care about it and don’t care if you’re independent. If you are not active on social media, those are the people that we would not encourage because you’re not going to do this well. If you don’t care about social media, this is social media. If you care about social media and understand the value of engaging with your fans, this is going to be amazing for you because your fans are going to freak out. Morgan fans are freaked out.
Like Kalsey Kulyk, we did a song with her. We did the Springs. We are in an accelerator in Nashville. It’s sponsored by the Country Music Association and the Nashville Entrepreneur Center to support startups that are innovating in the music space and supporting artists and helping them deal with this new environment. We have a lot of artists from Nashville up and coming. The Brothers Landreth had 200 followers at the time that we wrote a song with them, and now they’re doing amazing. They’re incredible. Bonnie Raitt recorded one of their songs. They won a JUNO Award for best new songwriters. That was before we wrote with them. If you get social media, you’ll get this, and we’re into it.
Here’s the one big question I had as soon as I heard about what this is and how it works. How do you deal with the royalties? Once the song is done, I’m assuming that anyone that submits lyrics has to say like, “I don’t claim any rights over this song.”
You don’t have to give up your rights at all. In fact, we would never do that. It was very interesting at the beginning of this because we went around. We have two attorneys. One is the general counsel for the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. We made sure everything was structured so that songwriters would like it and be respected. I’m an artist, and my partner’s an artist. We would never take your art and say, “I’m going to make money, and you don’t get any.”True artists would never take somebody else's art and make money off of it. Click To Tweet
On top of building a music startup, which is about the most insane thing to do in the world, we created a publishing company so that we could pay people whose lyrics make it into the song. If you submit a lyric, you own it forever. We do not own your lyric, but if your lyric is chosen to be a part of the song, we are on the copyright, and you get paid for it. We tried to get publishers to tell us that it was okay that they didn’t mind having twenty people from around the world who don’t know about copyright with their artist. They were not buying it.
What they said was, and this is what the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, our attorney, the general counselor there, suggested that we create a publishing company, so we split the royalties 50/50 with the artist. With our portion, we pay the users whose lyrics make it into the song. As an artist, to put out that song, you only have to deal with Hookist. It’s a conversation in that way. We respect your art, and we pay you. We lay it out in the terms and conditions in legalese and English because we don’t want to trick anybody. I don’t want anyone to feel bad. We want people to feel like, “I wrote a song with an artist.”
That’s awesome, but I didn’t think that could work. I was like, “How can they deal with it? You have 30 people that submitted lyrics that got chosen? How do you handle that?” You’ve already looked into all of that and got it figured out.
It was hellacious.
I’m sure. I was like, “There’s no way. How can this be? People must give up their right to that lyric.”
No, they don’t. If it’s chosen to be a part of the song, that’s when you can’t use it again.
You’re part of a song that’s going to be published.
It’s being published by a well-known artist, so it’s fun. That was a big thing for us because some other people were saying to us where we went around, and they’re like, “No, you got to make people sign away their rights.” My partner and I were like, “I’ll die. I can’t do it.”
That’s great. I assumed that was part of the deal. That is so great that you figured out a way around that.
It nearly killed us, and it was so expensive to do. It wouldn’t be good karma.
You’re like, “This is non-negotiable. We have to figure this out.”
We had to figure it out.
How does Hookist get paid? I know you said you’re the publisher for half of it. Do you get a percentage of the amount that people are submitting? I always ask this about startups because I’m always worried. How are you guys paying yourselves? I know you’re always worried about the artists and making sure that people feel like they have a stake and are getting paid. You want to make sure the artists are getting paid for their work and all that, but then like, “I want you guys to continue.” How do you guys fund yourselves?
We have not taken a salary for the entire time we’ve built it. It’s a total labor of love. We believe in it. My partner does run a recording studio here in New York, so he records most of the songs with the artist that comes through.
I was wondering about that. He does help get the songs recorded once they’re done.
Yes. With Chris and Jayne, who finished their song, Chris has a recording studio in Knoxville. He and his team are doing that one all on their own. Sometimes, with Morgan’s song and Kalsey Kulyk’s song, we had them record the vocals in Nashville at a studio we know. They worked together with Terry, my partner here in New York, and he did all the music, then we put it out that way.
Don’t you have anything built into the structure to keep a portion to keep Hookist running?
We split everything essentially 50/50. Not everything. We take 50% of the proceeds from the collaboration. We split it 50/50 with the artist and take a cut of the publishing as well. We pay the users with our 50%, and we take a piece. We’re building more features and opportunities for artists to make money, and we’ll take a piece of it. We also have a tip jar, but we don’t take a piece of that. We cover the fees for PayPal gateway because that feels gross. It’s like, “I don’t want to take your tip.”
Did you say you can now run multiple collaborations at once?
Yes. That was our original vision, a collaborative songwriting festival where different artists from different genres are writing songs with their fans, like older artists, legacy artists, younger artists, up and coming and established. Everyone can grow their fan bases. It gives fans the opportunity to discover new music and get unprecedented insight into the creative process of their favorite artists. It’s like you come for one artist in the same way as you go to Coachella. You discover new music and meet new people. That’s part of it too. It’s a very social experience. You make friends on this platform as well.
I love the combination of all of those things. I need to try it now. This sounds so cool. Are you guys on socials? Can they connect with you there and see what you guys are sharing that’s happening?
Yes. We’re just starting TikTok. If there are any TikTok artists out there, we’re looking for that.
This is very TikTok-worthy, for sure.
I think so too. I know. Sometimes we are a small team, and the bandwidth where you’re like, “I’m going to wait to see if this one’s going to stick,” and it’s sticking.
Is it @Hookist at all of those places?
Check it out, Hookist.com. Try it out. See what it’s like. Be a collaborator, and maybe you’ll want to bring your fans over there and do a collaboration. It sounds like an innovative, interesting process. Thank you so much, Meredith. This has been interesting. I love this model. It’s something that I wasn’t sure how it could ever work, but you folks had made it work, so I love it.
We weren’t sure how it was going to work either, but when there’s a will, there’s a way. It is a labor of love, so we’re psyched about it. We welcome you. My email is Meredith@Hookist.com. Anybody can email me if you’re interested or DM me. We’re looking for artists. We’re at this place now where we have this platform, and we’re able to hold multiple collaborations. We’re looking for artists who want to do it, so let me know.
Thank you so much for sharing all of this with our readers.
Thank you so much for having me. It was great.
- Hookist – YouTube Channel
- Facing Addiction – Facebook
- Country Music Association
- Nashville Entrepreneur Center
- @HookistMusic – Instagram
- Twitter – Hookist
- Facebook – Hookist
About Meredith Collins
Meredith Collins is CEO and co-founder of Hookist, a global songwriting FESTIVAL & music social network where music artists write original songs with their fans, often for good causes. It’s about the most authentic way an artist can engage with their fans while creating a new income stream or raising money for charity, and fans absolutely FREAK!
Meredith lives in NYC, started her career as hula hooper at FAO Schwartz, then became a cameraperson on major motion pictures like Meet Joe Black and The Insider ,and has performed in theatre film and television. She is endlessly fascinated by the creative process of artists, hence Hookist!