Todays show we have a very creative teambuilding company called Song Division. Mike McAllen from Grass Shack Events & Media interviews Andy Sharpe the founder of the very clever and effective musical teambuilding company. You can also find more information at www.Songdivision.com
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Mike McAllen: Welcome back to the Meetings Podcast. In today’s show we have Andy Sharpe, Founder of Song Division. It’s an Australian company which also has a New York office now. Hi, Andy. Thanks for being on the show.
Andy Sharpe: Hi, Mike. Thanks for having me.
Mike McAllen: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your background?
Andy Sharpe: I guess I’m a half musician, half businessman I guess is probably the easiest way to describe myself and which explains where Song Division came from. I’m a professional songwriter and producer. I produced different bands and the songs that I wrote used in various projects and on various advertisements like a lot of Volvo, about six different Volvo commercials in Australia and New York.
And from a business perspective, I’ve spent I guess the bulk of my business career at IBM. I spent ten years there in various roles from finance to business redevelopment and they put me through an MBI.
Mike McAllen: Oh, that’s great. So, where did Song Division, where the idea came up from to do this?
Andy Sharpe: The idea was given to me. I’ve actually – I’ve had one idea for business and Song Division was given – it was basically handed to me and I have grabbed it with both hands and haven’t let go just in case I never have another one. But the – I was asked about six years ago and now I was asked by – there’s a big festival in the very north of Australia, a big indigenous festival which they hold it a year and part of the program, they get – they hold songwriting workshops with the indigenous school kids and I was asked to go up and ran those workshops one year and basically would get say five schools in a day of about you know 20 kids each and we’d have about two hours to write an original song from scratch and record it with a little portable recording setup and we’d – so at the end of the two hours we’d have this little solo and we’d ran out to the on site radio that was broadcasting from the festival and so the song was written and recorded and broadcast on a radio within the space of two hours.
Mike McAllen: Wow.
Andy Sharpe: Which was – so that was an amazing experience and then when I came back to Sydney, business is basically just started asking me if I could do a similar thing with their [cell phones 00:03:13] so Virgin was my basically my first customer and they asked to take this new management thing got Virgin Mobile into a recording CF and asked them, get them to write and record a song and so, it’s obviously at that stage I got an inkling that they might just be that I’d in this model and it and they had a ball so it was sort of handed to me.
Mike McAllen: So, tell me, tell me how it works. How does it work if I wanted to do this with you and I have my client? How do you do the whole thing? How do you run through it? What’s the …
Andy Sharpe: Well, I mean we do it in different shapes and sizes but there are some, there are some you know, the common principle of assignments is basically taking a group of people who don’t necessarily have – they don’t have to have any musical experience at all in a certain timeframe and it’s generally around like three hours although I’ll give you a few examples where it’s not.
` So, basically we got a bunch of people and that might be 15 people or 500 people and we’ve got them for three hours and we basically get that group of people to write an original song from scratch so the original music, original lyrics is not – we’re not changing the words to Hotel California or you know Sweet Child of Mine. We start with the music and that you know, as you know with nice people, if you ask a bunch of ten people, one of them at least had a couple of guitar lessons when they’re 15 or played a little bit of piano or you know, there’s always someone who had some very basic music at least so we’ll always – that’s a starting point where we get the cords from, from the client group and that can be very simple but basically they form the basis of it and then everybody, everybody can contribute to the lyrics so everyone, with the help of professional musicians and songwriters with them basically help them structure their own original words and thoughts into a song structure and then, and then the group performs as a group.
It’s not, it’s not American Idol. We’re not getting people to sing on their own or you know, it’s not a singing competition but as a group they will the song that they’ve just written and then it’s recorded. So, that form out of coming in with nothing and then at the end of the session, they walk away with the song that they know that they’re involved with from the very start to the very end and it’s something that they’ve created as a group and you know – so that’s the price that they too.
And I guess the other – the similarities from session to session, there’s usually a bit of a look of awed and they had to write a song at the start, a little bit of surprise or shock like you know but we don’t know, we’re not musicians, we don’t know how to write a song, that’s where the start, the sessions start and then the sessions end generally with people asking us who’s got copyright on the song because they think it’s a hit and it’s going to be on the radio and you know, they’re all, they’re all – they’re calling their girlfriends or husbands saying that they’re going to be late for dinner because they’re mixing the track and you know and it stick in there heads. You know what, we run you know hundred of sessions and I could only – anyone there I’ve personally been involved in. I could tell you the song but the danger of them is that they do stick on your head.
So, it’s very, very effective in just letting reminding people that, that they are creative and you know and it also yes – so anyway that’s the basic, that’s the basic structure of the, of what we do and just do variations on that. Like for example if we’re getting – you know we might take 15 people into a studio and then next March, we’re actually getting 2,700 people on the phone to Sydney conference to write and record a song in 20 minutes. So …
Mike McAllen: Oh, my God.
Andy Sharpe: But the price is you know, it’s a like [leg a block 00:07:13], we just said to move the blocks around it. In the end it’s always about getting people to write and record a completely original song.
Mike McAllen: And is it always a – I mean, what if somebody – they can’t sing. Is it – I mean, do they have – do you have problems with that and you know people haven’t – I haven’t sang anything in my whole life.
Andy Sharpe: No. Yes, I’m not a singer myself so and I guess that the company and you know we’ve all had in Australia and the U.S. and the U.K. and we’re about to launch in Canada as well and I guess it’s infused with my lack of singing skills from the start. That’s why it’s not a singing competition. You know, I’m a songwriter and I guess that’s where it came from. It’s about the benefits and the joys of actual songwriting. And once you’re singing in a group, you’ve got 15 people or 2,700 people all singing at once. It just sounds fun when they’re all singing together and it’s all about – you know tweak and we don’t put it through [00:08:18] to make it sound right. We just record it as it is and it sounds like, I guess it’s got a bit of an English football you know song tops into it, a bit of a, you know …
Mike McAllen: Yes, yes.
Andy Sharpe: …a gang sort of vocal. So, it’s not about the singing performance and we don’t get people to sing on their own because if someone did that to me, I would run an absolute mile and I guess from my IBM experience when I was asked to participate in team building activities, I was the one who would probably disappear at the back you know and find it, he’s not to do it.
Mike McAllen: Yes.
Andy Sharpe: So, I guess the whole thing comes from the fact of being wanting to not be achieve a team building experience but it’s actually, it is very rock and roll you know with real musicians that played with you know, our musicians have played with the likes of Dave Bowen and (Richard Franklin 00:09:06) and they’re real musicians and we’re not picking on individual or people in terms of bank account contest.
Mike McAllen: Right.
Andy Sharpe: So, you don’t have to sing, you’re safe with that mic.
Mike McAllen: Do you ever have somebody who stands out, that is a really good singer and you – does that ever happened or somebody is …
Andy Sharpe: Yes, we’ve had some fantastic singers and we’ve had some fantastic guitar players and drummers and basically if you know, because there’s a lot of talented people out there in the corporate you know.
You know pople have a lot of talent in different areas and all fantastic musicians, not professional musicians so if there are really good people, we will, you know our producers will take advantage of that and highlight them but at the same time, they won’t – you know, we’ve got limited time so if it’s a 3-hour session, we’re not going – and someone is a great singer, all their attention doesn’t go to the singer but when we’re doing the final shot, they might have a set of area where that person gets, does the high harmony or does a little bit of a solo or whatever it is. And so we’ll feature that but we won’t detract – it’s a team building thing as opposed to a talent comp.
Mike McAllen: That’s very cool. So, what, what are like the biggest or the, and the smallest size groups that can work with you? Or what group have you worked with?
Andy Sharpe: The – I mean we do – we actually do sessions. Well, I guess we do – I guess they’re not classified as team building sessions but we do one-on-one sessions. So, we actually do non-corporate sessions.
For example, you know we might get some a guy and that it’s his 20th wedding anniversary and he wants to write a song for his wife but he doesn’t know, he doesn’t know how to write a song. So, our services will be asked for in those situations and we’ve done, you know we recently did a 40th birthday party for a whole a bunch of United Nation’s people at a big studio in Manhattan. So we do – you know we do sort of a non-corporate stuff but the you know, smallest group – you can go as small as you like really but the biggest group we will have ever done will be the 2,700 in March.
Mike McAllen: Yes.
Andy Sharpe: And later this year in Australia, we’re going to do basically a world – it’s a world record of a 10,000 people. It’s a charity event for an organization called Nordoff-Robbins who are music therapy organization. They’re global related music therapy who do a lot of work with kids with special needs and people with dementia and those other things. So, we’re actually doing a big fund raiser with them and bringing in some big celebrity like musicians from Ben like [00:11:49] half in Australia and the aim is to do 10,000 people.
So, there’s actually not a real limit to the size. The prices that we have, we can actually be, you know can do on a starting situation.
Mike McAllen: That’s very cool.
Andy Sharpe: And then in those situations, obviously we don’t involve, every single person doesn’t write a verse to the song. It becomes I guess it gets, it slides more to the interactive entertainment thing but it is very, it’s – there’s a lot of crowd to the call in response where will pick the style of music and you know, we’ll get volunteers from the audience and that sort of thing.
Mike McAllen: That’s really fun. So, it’s a stand-alone event and normally did they come to you guys? Do you ever go on site somewhere and do it? I mean, I can see this for events that we would produce where you could come on and then add a day like one that maybe probably the first day just devoted to this and anyway, I just started thinking about it.
Andy Sharpe: Yes, yes. Now, we do – especially half the work we do is stand-alone so it will be you know, we’ll take a corporate advisory division of a bank, well you know maybe not in today’s current than we have in the past into a, you know 30 of them into a studio in Manhattan or Los Angeles or Chicago. That sort of half of our sessions, the other half is where we contracted involvement into companies as a special supplier and so it would be a, for example a 3-day of other recognition event or styles meeting and that will bring us in say on the – you know a lot of the times it’s on the last afternoon and that we’re going to do something fun and we’ll have into the last 3 hours and then our band will also double up and beat the end of time and at the go and you know ..
Mike McAllen: Oh, that’s great.
Andy Sharpe: … imply a party set and so there’s a big time …
Mike McAllen: That’s a great idea.
Andy Sharpe: … in terms of saving to the event’s company and also a cost savings because basically, they’re dipping into their team building end of time and budget and were also used a lot at a stuff events, of conferences. We were used by Microsoft recently. They had a 2-day business partner education and the thing that turned up the volume is the half [00:14:11] half sales reference and we had 200 of their partners in the CoPack of Microsoft at 8:00 o’clock in the morning and it was a surprise to them.
And we got them to write a song at 8:00 o’clock in the morning to kick off the education program because it was their business. They needed, they were looking for some sort of activity to very quickly get these 200 people who didn’t actually really know each other to integrate as much as you can in a 2-day period and so that the rest of the conference education was effective. So they brought us in which added some fun and then again the band played at the final note toward the whole thing back into a bit of a rock and roll thing.
Mike McAllen: Yes, that’s really great. It’s a great idea. I noticed you do like a rockumentary video and I could see that as a closing video actually for a conference for them all, everyone singing together but I just …
Andy Sharpe: That’s right. Yes, we get – I guess the people, I mean the video gets used. I mean, when it’s fitted into the budget, obviously we only can be quite expensive but if people go for that option then it gets filmed and it gets used for lots of different things.
I mean, we’ve been used by companies rolling out HR messaging so for example you know, rolling out co-principles which is a fairly, can be a fairly drill but important message so we’ve had so that it won’t be eight core principles and I will get eight different groups to write eight different songs and then I will get video and send out at the next kick off.
You know, it’s also we get used a lot by people trying to communicate a message and getting, I guess getting their “audience” to write the songs and that’s you know, it’s very educational when you’re actually writing a song that leaves messages you know. As rock and roll and fun as it is, it’s actually got a lot of values for the client.
Mike McAllen: Yes, and it sounds like it. It sounds like it. So, there’s no rock walls or rock courses involved in this then?
Andy Sharpe: No. These guitars …
Mike McAllen: That’s the normal thing. That’s why this is very, very cool because …
Andy Sharpe: That’s right. I guess there’s – in the last few years, there’s a bit more of a trend towards the creative you know, there’s a lot of, I mean there’s a lot of drum in the music sort of thing. There’s a little drum …
Mike McAllen: Yes.
Andy Sharpe: … hand drumming, team building companies, these aspects and you know, there’s a lot of cooking best but more on the art sort of thing. I guess you know the art sort of thing, it’s more inclusive, guys, girls you know, genders, culture and for us you know, the music, the songwriting thing is you know music is universal.
So, you know I mean we hold, we did a session recently with KPMG in Vietnam and that was a session I – it was a retention program because that was a brain drain of the certain level in the company and so they had a reward program and we’re brought in and that was the – they had employees from all over the globe and I thought that music was a very appropriate way of involving them all and so that was a big successful event for us.
Mike McAllen: It’s very cool. So, what are the biggest benefits you see companies getting from the whole song based on your experience?
Andy Sharpe: The three most, the three universal benefits from the session no matter who the client is, is that it reminds people that they’re creative at a young – I guess when we’re kids you want to get put in a, your creative (volume 00:18:12), not you know you’re an accountant or you’re you know, you’re a musician but really, we got plenty of very good accountants who are very good guitar players, the line – you don’t have to be one or the other but a lot of people forget that.
And just you know, it’s not going to fix the company’s problems but by putting a bunch of people in a – together and saying you know, “You guys are going to achieve this thing together and be creative together.” And at the end of it, they get, “Wow, we didn’t think we could do that and we could.” They can take that back into the workplace and you know be creative, express their thoughts freely and those three things you know, basically the necessary ingredients for a culture of innovation. You know, being creative, expressing your thoughts freely and being outside of their workplaces is a necessary part of staying alive and having a competitive advantage.
So, I think that creativity angle and also, just a communication, it allows and it’s very simple in terms of the communications. The fact that you’ll have you know, say a general manager and a marketing assistant or a genius sales person in a group together and I want normally have nothing in common with each other and musically they might have nothing in common but if you put them together for three hours and they’re writing a song, they will have a conversation and I guess along the line, they’ll you know, the general manager saying here that they love you know they love [00:019:45] one at Madison Square Garden and the genius sales person saying, lead who? You know, not knowing who it was but it’s – and they get to complain about each other’s music but whatever, at least they’re having a conversation.
Mike McAllen: Right.
Andy Sharpe: Because it is something that they have in common and so you get this – it just opens the doors and then the next they’re in the office, they’ve got something to talk about and …
Mike McAllen: Right.
Andy Sharpe: … it brings up that communication back in the office which is very important within those businesses and people like the general manager, the same way people actually knowing what’s happening at the call size and as I’m sure as you know, sometimes that can get block because people don’t know how to communicate with the old generation. You know, it’s like get between the …
Mike McAllen: Right.
Andy Sharpe: … the exes and the wives and the baby bonus but all of those generations love music.
Mike McAllen: Yes. No, it sounds great. Such a great way to kind of break the barriers in between different people once you’ve done something like this together.
Andy Sharpe: That’s right.
Mike McAllen: So, how about, how about a couple of examples or of what maybe some companies you’ve worked with? You’ve already given me a couple but I thought maybe …
Andy Sharpe: Yes. So, we mention Mark, (Sophia 00:21:05) and Kathy and David. We’ve talked about the Coca-Cola we did – a session with Coca-Cola which was for a different purpose. They’ve actually merged a distribution in the manufacturing centers. They’ve merged them together so they have been separate you know geographically.
They’re separate divisions and they actually merged them so that the management teams were all into one office and they came to us. They had their first annual planning session together and it was a 3-day planning session and they came to us on the first afternoon and basically there were 15 managers from both sides and it was – we had sort of have been briefed but not to the extent of the animosity between the two groups.
Mike McAllen: Oh, really.
Andy Sharpe: But basically – yes, you know I guess it’s just a typical – well, that’s an internal merger. It’s – you know we’ve been used by companies through external you know, it’s a same thing. Basically, after I know they have two divisions, that I’m you know whenever I get, it’s fairly to be sensitive and it’s seem a neutral I guess but what happened was our guys worked that pretty quickly that there wasn’t – there were definitely two groups and what they ended up, they ended up writing a song which was like a (Bob Delaney 00:22:28) type of song – well, I guess more of a Johnny [00:22:34] song actually where it was a guy and a girl and I guess the guy represented one of the divisions and the girl the other and it was basically – the topic was that they had a one night stand together and she wake up and he wake up in the morning and she looked at him and thought he’s not the prettiest thing she’d ever seen and vice versa and that was a bit of a bad start to a relationship and it was a really fine rock and roll song about this basically pretty rush, a forced marriage which was the situation.
So, basically they got to externalize the issue as well as getting to know each other during the afternoon. So, by the end of you know, it gets – you know it’s like therapy. They have expressed themselves, they’ve said we’ve got these issues and in doing so, they get it out of their systems and I had to get to have a bit of a last together and by the end of it, they’re a lot more – you know they’ve built some relationships and some you know – it’s a lot smoother than it was at the start of the session and then they go into a bit of a serious stuff and spend the next three days actually planning the rest of the year.
Mike McAllen: That’s great. It’s a great idea. So …
Andy Sharpe: And in that – sorry. In that particular session, they were actually picked up from the meeting in some big stretched hammers and dropped off at a bigger recording studio. So, and a few drinks were involved, drinks aren’t always involved I mean, but sometimes they are on that peculiar occasion to make it a little bit rock and roll but was very effective.
Mike McAllen: That’s great. What a great idea, the limos. So, how can people …
Andy Sharpe: But we …
Mike McAllen: Oh, go ahead, I’m sorry.
Andy Sharpe: You got a remark of the song.
Mike McAllen: No, no. I was just going to ask how people could get a hold of you but if you have more to talk about …
Andy Sharpe: Oh no. Well, I was just going to say, I guess we intend to minimize – we that there’s always the one process and it’s always about writing and recording an original song but we do, I guess depending on our client and the budget, you can rock and roll as much as you want from the limos to a bigger recording studios and also, we do bring in celebrity musicians you know, based on budget but that being said, at the lower end you know, the very minimum, we always use you know, we got world class musicians and they’re fantastic musicians with credits. They’ve all played on records on the radio. They’re fantastic, they’re fantastic. We’ve played once so that yes, it’s always a great but you know we can, we can turn it up when we have to …
Mike McAllen: Right.
Andy Sharpe: … which is always fun.
Mike McAllen: That is great. It’s great to be flexible too especially nowadays with the …
Andy Sharpe: Yes, that’s right. Time is tough.
Mike McAllen: … a lot of things going on. Yes, but it’s going to get better so this is great. So, tell me how people can get a hold of you, Song Division?
Andy Sharpe: We, I mean our website is like I mentioned that is SongDivision.com, so it’s www.SongDivision.com. I guess I’m going to ask you but it was inspired by Joy Division which it wasn’t directly although I am a fan of Joy Division. It’s more of a reference to, you’ve got the Finance Division and the Marketing Division and then there’s the Song Division.
Mike McAllen: That’s very cool. You have a very cool website. It’s very well done.
Andy Sharpe: Thank you.
Andy Sharpe: It’s like – we’re actually there to do a bigger event tonight to make it a lot more interactive. We’re about to start having like chats, I guess like (double 00:26:19) chats so that you know songs got there and you can you know we’re actually start running a country-based and then global song competitions.
Mike McAllen: That’s great. That is a great idea.
Andy Sharpe: So anyways, so, we’re going to give it a one side of it but thank you and yes, I’m actually here in New York but the company is you know – our office for the States is in the U.S. but we do run – we have things all across the U.S. and we’ve just launched in Canada as well.
So, we don’t actually have to – I guess want to have you know, a distinguishing features choice that we’re not – it’s not like that we’ve got one Song Division band and we fly them all around for these sessions. If there’s a session in Vegas place, we’ve got a Song Division team in Vegas [00:27:12] or Boston or Miami. So, it’s a big network of very good you know, very good musicians and facilitators and we’ve also, we’ve also got as I mentioned before in Australia where we started and in the U.K. So, we can actually service events all around, all around the planet.
Mike McAllen: Great.
Andy Sharpe: We got fantastic band. We got the best band in Dubai and we have the best band in Singapore. So, these other places where there are these big events. In Macau, we’ve got fantastic musicians. So, it is a global …
Mike McAllen: Wow.
Andy Sharpe: … a global service.
Mike McAllen: That’s fantastic. All right. Well, maybe we can talk again in a few months and we can find out how things are going.
Andy Sharpe: Love to give you the update.
Mike McAllen: Yes, and thank you again and I hope to talk to you soon.
Andy Sharpe: Thanks for having me, Mike. Thanks to Meetings Podcast. Cheers.
Mike McAllen: Okay. Bye-bye.
Female: We appreciate and thank you for listening to the Meetings Podcast. You can find Mike McAllen at grassshackroad.com, Jon Trask at alliantevents.com, and Tom Hillmer at creativegroupinc.com. The Meetings Podcast theme music comes from the Delgado Brothers which can be found at DelgadoBrothers.com. Special thanks to RipTideGraphics.com for the audio editing of this podcast.