Both Sides Now: From Manchester to Moscow

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Following a trip to Moscow as part of our Both Sides Now programme, songwriter and producer Poppy Roberts reflects on her time in the Russian capital and the importance of international cultural exchange…

Both Sides Now: From Manchester to Moscow
25th June 2019

Following a trip to Moscow as part of our Both Sides Now programme, songwriter and producer Poppy Roberts reflects on her time in the Russian capital and the importance of international cultural exchange…

In the UK-Russia Year of Music 2019 we headed to Moscow to deliver a two-day songwriting camp as part of our gender equality programme Both Sides Now. Songwriter and producer Poppy Roberts, who led the sessions, reflects on her time in the Russian capital and the importance of international cultural exchange…

When Brighter Sound approached me about getting involved with this project, I was already aware of their Both Sides Now initiative via industry friends. It’s a great mission statement and I’ve already witnessed the impact the programme has had on females and males alike. Even if it’s as simple as hearing others have the same struggles and moments of self-doubt – we take for granted that these spaces are not common and easily accessible. 

Immediately I knew I wanted the workshops in Moscow to cover some under-discussed – but universal – topics. Things like ‘imposter syndrome’, collaborative working relationships and self-promotion, along with songwriting and production tips. 

Woman in black and white shirt standing at the front of a classroom talking to a group of musicians
Poppy Roberts leading the songwriting workshop (Photo © Zhora Sirota)

For our two-day trip Lucy (from Brighter Sound) and I were based at Moscow Music School – an amazing hub of creativity. We were joined by 16 female artists from the city, all working towards a career in music and looking to develop their skills. 

From the very beginning I was so impressed by their participation and immersion in whatever we did. We began with lyrical ideas and many found this daunting, but the ladies were so forthcoming and supportive of each other. There were zero hang ups and we were sharing the most unexpected and intriguing narrative concepts I’ve heard in a long time.

For the workshops our friends at PRLL had sourced some incredible synths like a couple of Moog Sub Phatty’s, Arturia Minibrutes and Drumbrutes, so I prepared day two as being more based on synthesis, envelopes and some sound design tips. We got some amazing phat bass lines out of the groups considering most hadn’t touched a synth!

The last part of the second day was also about making plans for ourselves in order to overcome obstacles practically and realistically. This sounds like a no-brainer but it definitely isn’t, no matter what industry you’re in. 

Two women smiling and laughing with keyboards in front of them
Artists taking part in the workshop (Photo © Zhora Sirota)

A major highlight for me was when we shared what we felt were our biggest creative obstacles. Watching everyone realise that we share the same ones is a very special moment for an artist, especially solo artists who don’t often get to discuss this with other like-minded individuals. 

At the end of the final day we listened to everyone’s music for the first time. It was such an eye-opener after some intensive days together. Such a diverse mix of genres and personas, but all so strong and well-branded already – very impressive.

When I was preparing the workshops, I remember searching the internet to see what chart music we had in common with Russian pop and urban charts. I was shocked to find how hard it was, and soon realised we only get a very selective view of international input and output of culture. Even crazier was how many niche Manchester artists the people I met in Moscow had heard of…!

Woman high fives someone out of shot, woman with pink hair looks on smiling
Artists taking part in the workshops (Photo © Zhora Sirota)

You truly cannot get to know a culture until you’ve experienced it first-hand. The internet is never going to represent the subtle cultural differences and similarities we all have – and since returning to the UK, I’ve noticed people have been so keen to hear about Moscow, having such a limited idea of Russia’s scene and people.

When we listened to the artists’ projects, I heard a lot of traditional influences that I would never hear in UK music now – it was very modern but very authentic. It really made me look twice at my own writing and opened up my listening massively (I’m listening to loads of Kedr Livanskiy again!)

The work Brighter Sound is doing with Both Sides Now is crucial at this point in music. I’ve personally been in too many situations where I’ve been made to feel a certain way in creative environments and have had my achievements or input played down or questioned because of other people’s perspective on me as a female artist (I don’t actually just mean in all-male environments!)

We can’t pretend there aren’t negative stigmas towards females in the music industry, in the UK and beyond. Many people want this to change, but initiatives like Both Sides Now are actually putting this into practice.

Click here for more photos, and find out more about the Both Sides Now programme here.  

Poppy Roberts is a songwriter, top-line writer and producer. She has worked with various labels on projects such as Apollo R&S, Scissor and Thread and Fulfill Records alongside a number of different artists and co-producers. Poppy is currently working on her own project with band Lovescene and touring, while also running workshops on songwriting, structure, revamping ideas and general Ableton techniques. Follow Poppy on Instagram