The power of collaboration: Ashton Lane on writing with fans

Collaboration

Collaboration is at the centre of Ashton Lane’s songwriting approach, with fans’ real life stories inspiring their latest album.

Ashton Lane’s unique fan-led approach to songwriting has long intrigued us here at iSingmag (we first wrote about it HERE).

While songwriting is a private or solitary task for many artists, husband and wife team Tim and Esther O’Connor actively encourage their fans to be part of the creative process. They invite them to submit possible songwriting ideas and lyrics. If the O’Connors like a proposal, they work with the fan/contributor to create a “bespoke song”.

When iSingmag spoke to Ashton Lane back in late 2017 this approach to collaboration was something of an interesting sideline for the band, but since then it’s grown to become central to what they do.

In fact, all 11 songs on their latest album The In-Between are the result of an Ashton Lane/fan collaboration. Fans were invited via social media to submit their song ideas. The successful pitches all explored the themes of love or love lost with the exception of Marilyn Curls. This song is inspired by the real life story of Ruth Ellis, the last woman hanged in the UK. (Ellis shot her violent racing driver lover with a Smith and Wesson revolver in a case that perplexed and fascinated post-war Britain).

Esther says: “I think our approach has inspired people to believe that their own stories and ideas have real value and can make an incredible song. The power in real stories is what continues to amaze me.”

Tim adds: “Writing in this way has been one of the most creatively rewarding things we’ve ever done.”

This novel approach to songwriting may keep the fans happy, but the real question is: are the songs any good? Music lovers think so. The In-Between charted at 1 on the UK country chart, 6 on the UK indie chart, 34 on the official Scottish chart, and 69 in the UK national physical album chart.

Esther’s tips for songwriting with fans
  • Spend time with people getting into the details of the story or idea. The more detail, the better.
  • Write the song quickly after you spoken with the fan, so that the concepts and ideas are fresh. It’s the best way to capture the essence of the story.
  • Go for ideas that come from real-life stories. Stories that come from the heart make the best songs.

Ashton Lane are currently planning their second fan-led collaboration album. You can read more about how they engage their fans on social media HERE.

Bronwyn Bidwell is an Australian journalist and editor based in London. She enjoys writing about music, books, history and popular culture.