Ghostwriters Collective Frees Artists From Label Constraints Without Jeopardising Their Paychecks

Nik Brinkman and Ghostwriters Collective allow musicians to experiment, collaborate on and share songs without worrying about pissing off their labels.

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16 February 2016, 3:45am

Image: Anna Wickenden

Like many musicians, Nik Brinkman has felt the crushing creative control of a record deal. As a go-to songwriter in New Zealand, he’s spent the better part of a decade dealing with various labels including Warner, EMI and Sony.

The latter even sent him overseas to write with some of the biggest alt-pop songwriters in the world, including Peter Moren from Peter, Björn and John, and Pete Davis, a frequent New Order collaborator. Nik’s produced underground hits with some of the country’s leading artists, such as Ladyhawke, and last year he toured the US with French artist Soko. But all of this doesn’t mean he’s been immune to rejection by his record labels.

“With [my band] Junica I felt like I couldn’t do certain things—I had to use chorus [effect] on my guitar,” he says. “There were ideas that I wanted to try but I knew that they wouldn’t fit—that's what used to bug me about the label set-up. And you have to wait so long between releasing songs, which I find really weird.”

Image: Liz Platova

So inspired by the freedom he felt while experimenting with those international hitmakers, Brinkman has launched Ghostwriters Collective, a website where he and his musician mates can experiment, collaborate on and share songs that bypass their usual sounds without worrying about pissing off their labels.

“It’s the perfect way to showcase new styles or ideas without having to start a new project,” he says. “You can spend an afternoon or two with someone making a song and then move on.”

After talking to many bands around the world who were also battling controlling label deals, he’d started to realise he wasn’t alone in craving more creative freedom. “Personally, I like so many different styles that I can’t just be one thing anymore. And I know a lot of people who are really similar—they wanna try new things, but they can’t because it doesn’t fit their project.”

With Ghostwriters Collective, the emphasis is on experimentation and the spotlight is on the songs, not the people behind them. So you could visit the site and potentially hear French alt-pop artist Soko try her hand at death metal, Ladyhawke rapping or The Naked and Famous go garage punk. But instead of just jamming with mates and leaving the recordings to languish on a hard drive somewhere, Nik says the songs will be available online and distributed to iTunes, Spotify and other major streaming services by Flying Nun.

To launch the site, Nik held a bunch of co-writing sessions with a who’s who of New Zealand music, including Kody Nielson of Silicon, Samuel Flynn Scott from Phoenix Foundation, Grayson Gilmour (ex-So So Modern) and Bevan Smith of Introverted Dancefloor. Twelve of those sessions will be released as the first Ghostwriter Collective tracks, with one uploaded every fortnight, “like an advent calendar,” Nik says.

After the first lot of songs is up, Nik plans to relocate to Los Angeles, where he’ll approach other artists he’s worked with, including Soko, Adam Olenius from Shout Out Louds and Peter Moren from Peter, Björn and John. “They’re all good mates of mine and we’ve kept in touch over the years, so I’ll definitely get them involved.”

While he’s carefully curated the group involved so far and performed on most of the initial tracks to get the site started, Nik wants Ghostwriters Collective to eventually open up to other artists outside of those he’s already worked with. “I want it to be a place where people send a song they’ve done that doesn’t have a home.”

Hear more at Ghostwriters Collective website.

Sarah is a Melbourne writer. Follow her @sarahgooding