Hit artist, songwriter, producer and five-time Grammy Award winner Jack Antonoff has been announced as this year’s Artist-in-Residence at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. He joins musicians such as 100 gecs and Blood Orange, who were last year’s Artists-in-Residence.
Antonoff is best known for collaborating on albums with pop superstars Taylor Swift and Lorde. His credits are far-flung, spanning Lana Del Rey to Kevin Abstract to most recently, Clairo. Antonoff was also the lead guitarist for fun. — you might remember their 2012 song, “We Are Young” — before starting his solo project, Bleachers, in 2014.
The Clive Davis Institute hosted a Q&A event with Antonoff on Sept. 10. The Q&A was moderated by Jason King, Chair of the Clive Davis Institute, as well as two current Recorded Music students, juniors Lily Oppenheim and Stella Smyth. The pair are the founders of the organization Producers Against Misogyny which combats gender inequality in the music industry.
The Q&A was open to current Recorded Music students as well as alumni. It featured both pre-submitted questions and some that were asked directly by students. As Antonoff Zoomed in from the studio, donning his signature round glasses, he spoke about creativity, criticism and collaboration.
“1+1 = 1 million,” Antonoff said, answering a question about how he chooses projects; that equation is what he tries to achieve in his songwriting and production collaborations. His reasoning is that two people working together should strive towards creating something magical — instead of 1+1 adding up to two, it should add up to 1 million. If he doesn’t think he can accomplish that with his collaborators, he won’t take on their projects.
When he does join a project, the final product is often special. On “Blouse” by Clairo, the artist touches on the sexism and objectification she’s experienced in the music industry. “If touch could make them hear, then touch me now,” she sings, as a string arrangement flutters in and out. Antonoff’s production contributions — a flourish of delicate harp here, the lightest Mellotron melody there — heighten the song’s emotional impact.
Clairo is just one of the various female musicians Antonoff has partnered with in the past. He was asked about working with female collaborators — about his awareness of being perceived as a team, rather than as an artist/producer dynamic, where the two roles are separate. He noted that the media has gotten better at not being overtly misogynistic, but that these sentiments still lurk in the shadows. Antonoff continued to explain that when he works on an album with a man, no one ever brings gender up. Yet, when he works with a woman, gender always comes up, even if it has nothing to do with the album.
One student commented on how artists are getting younger and younger in the music industry and seem to be “expiring at a really silly age.” This is especially true for women, who are often seen as past their prime once they hit 30, though Taylor Swift, Lana Del Rey and FKA twigs are all in their thirties. Like many other musicians, Antonoff is no stranger to self-doubt, whether age-related or not. He encouraged students to work past it.
“If you don’t have imposter syndrome, you might be an imposter,” he said. “Buy into the delusion until it’s not anymore.”
The delusion he referred to was the idea of becoming a musician — whether that means an artist, songwriter, producer or anything else. For Recorded Music students, his advice was what they needed to hear. But this advice could also resonate with students across the university, regardless of their major.
Antonoff asked, “If you don’t believe [in yourself], how the fuck are you gonna get anyone else to?”
Antonoff will be holding masterclasses and workshops throughout the year as part of his residency, giving students a behind-the-scenes look into his creative process. If all goes well, our peers could become the songwriters and producers for the next Taylor Swifts and Lordes. We will just have to wait and find out.
Contact Yas Akdag at [email protected]