Music producer Peter CottonTale talks about working with Google

  • On Wednesday, Google launched its Year in Search campaign, featuring an original song by music producer Peter CottonTale. It is the first time that Google has ordered an original song for its Year in Search campaign, the company confirmed to Business Insider.
  • The song features Chance the Rapper, singer and actress Cynthia Erivo and the Chicago Children’s Choir.
  • CottonTale, 29, told Insider that the aims of the song were both to highlight black creatives and the narrative of loss from the perspective of the black community, which was disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
  • CottonTale says more than 80 black artists, engineers, producers and businessmen came together to create the music.
  • Google will donate $ 35,000 to the Chicago Children’s Choir and $ 15,000 to the Merit School of Music. In 2020, only 3.7% of Google employees were black, compared to 2.4% in 2014, as reported by Fortune.
  • Visit the Business Insider home page for more stories.

This summer, Google sent an email to music producer Peter CottonTale. The tech giant wanted to know if the Grammy-winning artist, best known for his work with Chance the Rapper, could create a song that described last year for his Year in Search.

The year under survey shows key moments and trends from last year, based on the words or questions that people searched for continuously. For example, this year’s top trends include Juneteenth, Black Lives Matter and assassins. This is the first time that Google has an original song of the Year in Search, the company confirmed to Insider.

“Trying to make a sound that culminates in 2020 … it was honestly very sad,” CottonTale told Insider. “Because for many people [the year 2020] it felt like a loss, or it seemed like a lot of challenges in their personal lives. ”

Instead, CottonTale decided to “write the optimistic view of how we will get to 2021” from a black perspective – a community that has been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

More than 40% of black companies closed permanently during the pandemic, compared with 17% of whites-owned companies, CNBC reported in June; unemployment levels for blacks reached 14.6% in July, compared to 9.2% for whites; and black people were infected with COVID at rates three times higher than white people, according to the National Urban League.

CottonTale spent two months, covering multiple blocks and a COVID-19 scare, working remotely with the Google team and more than 80 black artists, engineers, producers and managers to create the song “Together” for Google. He released it independently and maintained all rights associated with the music.

The song features actress Cynthia Erivo and Chance the Rapper, as well as the Chicago Children’s Choir, and debuted on the Google homepage on Wednesday, along with a short film.

At a request from Cottondale and his manager, Binta Niambi Brown, Google is donating $ 50,000 to the Chicago Children’s Choir and the School of Music of Merit. The technology company’s diversity initiatives contrast with the fact that in 2020, only 3.7% of all Google employees were black. That number rose by 2.4% in 2014, as reported by Fortune.

“All the stars have lined up in this collaboration with Peter CottonTale,” Google Chief Production Officer Patrick Marzullo told Insider. “The tone and story he wanted to tell through the music perfectly aligned with our vision for the film, so from then on it was easy to give him time and space to do what he does best.”

Peter CottontTale

Courtesy of Peter CottonTale

CottonTale continued to work during COVID-19 shutdowns and strict regulations

With the release of the song, CottonTale (born Peter Wilkins) ends a year that has been, as it was for most entrepreneurs, a little turbulent.

He managed to release his first solo album earlier this year, but his recording studio in Chicago, which he opened just a year and a half ago, was affected by the blockades in the middle of the pandemic. While recording the song for Google, he was also struggling to keep his studio team and how to keep the recording studios extremely clean.

Then, in the middle of mixing the song, his engineer took the COVID-19 and CottonTale had to isolate himself for five days before taking the test. Its engineer had to lock himself in a room while finishing the demo tapes.

“As a businessman, I never had to deal with a pandemic in the workplace,” he said. “I never thought it would come down to coming to my place of work.”

“We had to close the studio for a week,” recalled Brown. “We would find ways to do what we could.”

For example, the 50-person orchestra that was used on the track was unable to enter the studio to record due to COVID-19 regulations. “They had to record over three days,” said Brown. “What took longer.”

CottonTale said he knew he was competing with other creative ideas that Google had out there for the year’s polls, which made him work even harder.

CottonTale’s main focus was to find a way to focus on the perspective of black women, a group he said he felt was “the most affected this year”.

“We knew we wanted a female voice,” Binta Niambi Brown, manager of CottonTale, told Insider, and Cynthia Erivo was an obvious choice. “We felt that the vocalist needed to be someone who really exuded the best of being a diva, and this is Cynthia.”

Cynthia Erivo

Cynthia Erivo is an Grammy-nominated, Emmy-winning actress and singer.

Tommaso Boddi / Stringer / Getty Images

In addition to bringing Erivo and his longtime collaborator Chance the Rapper, CottonTale incorporated singer Jamila Woods, the all-black orchestra Matt Jones Re-Collective Orchestra, and made the young poet Kofi Dadzie do a spoken narration for the film that accompanies the music.

In what CottonTale said was a good coincidence, all of these black artists also have black entrepreneurs. “I can’t take credit for that,” he said. “But I’m glad it worked.”

Allowing Black creatives to participate in this project was extremely important for CottonTale

Often, said CottonTale, blacks are those who stay away from the opportunities that would help them grow. For example, he said it was important to expose children at the Chicago Children’s Choir to “as many opportunities as possible”.

Brown said it was important to her and CottonTale that the children’s choir was compensated for their work on the song, and selected the Merit Music School because “part of their purpose is to ensure that children of all backgrounds come together through music” .

Chicago Children's Choir

The Chicago Children’s Choir performs during the Reception and Celebration of Members of the Chicago Recording Academy, at the Chicago Athletic Association on January 24, 2017 in Chicago.

Barry Brecheisen / Stringer / Getty Images

CottonTale said he used prayer to overcome the past few months. That, and he made a point of saving money for all those rainy days. Brown said he will never forget the phone call he made one day with Google PR, talking about all the black talent that was being brought into this project.

“From our first call, it was clear that he was inspired and knew exactly what he wanted to do,” said Marzullo. “We provided the survey data and it took him just a few days to show us the first signs of his magic in a demonstration.”

CottonTale said he used to be scared when big companies did commercials about black people. “I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I hope a black guy is in the writer’s office,'” he said. “The importance of employing Black is a necessity for the advancement of our culture.”

This time, there was.