Google tapped this 29-year-old producer to create its Year in Search song and he brought together over 80 Black artists, engineers, producers, and managers
- Google’s 2020 Year in Search campaign featured a song by music producer Peter CottonTale, the first original song ever commissioned for the campaign, the company confirmed to Business Insider.
- The song features Chance the Rapper, singer and actress Cynthia Erivo, and the Chicago Children’s Choir, among others.
- The 29-year-old CottonTale told Insider the song’s goals were both to highlight Black creatives and the narrative of loss through the perspective of the Black community, which has been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
- CottonTale says over 80 Black artists, engineers, producers, and managers came together to create the song.
- Google will donate $35,000 to the Chicago Children’s Choir and $15,000 to the Merit School of Music. In 2020, just 3.7% of Google employees were Black, up from 2.4% in 2014, as reported by Fortune.
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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 the past year for its Year in Search.
The Year in Search showcases moments and top trends from the past year, based on the words or questions that people continuously searched. For example, this year’s top trends included Juneteenth, Black Lives Matter, and murder hornets. This is the first time Google has ever had a Year in Search original song, the company confirmed to Insider.
“Trying to make a sound that culminates 2020 … was honestly way too sad,” CottonTale told Insider. “Because for a lot of people [the year 2020] sounded like loss, or it sounded like a lot of challenges in their personal lives.”
Instead, CottonTale decided to “write the optimistic view of how we will make it into 2021” through the perspective of Black people — a community that’s been hit disproportionately hard by the pandemic.
Over 40% of Black businesses have closed for good during the pandemic, compared to 17% of white-owned businesses, CNBC reported in June; unemployment levels for Black people reached 14.6% in July compared to 9.2% for white people; 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, encompassing multiple lockdowns and a COVID-19 scare, working remotely with the Google team and over 80 Black artists, engineers, producers, and managers to create the song “Together” for Google. He released it independently and has retained all rights associated with the song.
Per a request by CottonTale and his manager, Binta Niambi Brown, Google is donating $50,000 to the Chicago’s Children Choir and the Merit School of Music. The tech firm’s diversity initiatives contrast with the fact that in 2020, just 3.7% of all Google employees were Black. That number is up from 2.4% in 2014, as reported by Fortune.
“All the stars aligned on this collaboration with Peter CottonTale,” Google’s Head of Production Patrick Marzullo told Insider. “The tone and story he wanted to tell through music aligned perfectly with our vision for the film, so from there it was easy to give him the time and space to do what he does best.”
Courtesy of Peter CottonTale
CottonTale kept working through COVID-19 shutdowns and tight regulations
With the release of the song, CottonTale (born Peter Wilkins) wraps up a year that has, as it has for most entrepreneurs, been a bit bumpy.
He was able to release his debut solo album earlier this year, but his Chicago-based recording studio, which he opened just a year-and-a-half ago, was affected by the lockdowns amid the pandemic. As he was recording the song for Google, he was also juggling how to keep his studio staff, and how to keep the recording studios extremely clean.
Then, in the middle of mixing the song, his engineer caught COVID-19 and CottonTale had to isolate himself for five days before he could get tested. His engineer had to lock himself in a room while finishing up the demo tapes.
“As a business owner, I’ve never had to deal with a pandemic in the workplace,” he said. “I never thought it would boil down to coming all the way into my workplace.”
“We had to shut down the studio for a week,” Brown recalled. “We would find ways to do what we could.”
For example, the 50-person orchestra that was used on the track could not come into the studio to record due to COVID-19 regulations. “They had to record over the course of three days,” Brown said. “Which made it take longer.”
CottonTale said he knew he was competing against other creative ideas that Google had floating around for the Year in Search, which made him work even harder.
A main focus for CottonTale was finding a way to center the perspective of Black women, a group that he said he feels felt had been “affected the most by this year.”
“We knew we wanted a female voice,” Binta Niambi Brown, CottonTale’s manager, told Insider, and Cynthia Erivo was an obvious choice. “We felt like the vocalist needed to be somebody who actually exudes the best of being a diva, and that’s Cynthia.”
Cynthia Erivo is an Emmy-award winning, Grammy-nominated actress and singer. Tommaso Boddi / Stringer / Getty Images
In addition to bringing on Erivo and his longtime collaborator Chance the Rapper, CottonTale incorporated singer Jamila Woods, the all-Black Matt Jones Re-Collective Orchestra, and had youth poet Kofi Dadzie do a spoken-word voiceover for the song’s accompanying film.
In what CottonTale said was a nice coincidence, all these Black artists also have Black managers. “I can’t take credit for that,” he said. “But I’m glad it worked out.”
Allowing Black creatives to participate in this project was incredibly important to CottonTale
So often, CottonTale said, Black people are the ones kept away from the opportunities that would help them grow. For example, he said it was important to expose the children in 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 be compensated for its work on the song, and selected the Merit School of Music because “part of its purpose is to make sure that children of all backgrounds come together through music.” The Chicago Children’s Choir perform during the Recording Academy Chicago Chapter Nominee Reception and Membership Celebration, at the Chicago Athletic Association on January 24, 2017 in Chicago. Barry Brecheisen / Stringer / Getty Images
CottonTale said he used prayer to get through these past few months. That, and he made sure to save finances for all those rainy days. Brown said she will never forget the phone call that took place with Google’s PR one day, talking about all the Black talent that was being brought on for this project.
“From our first call, it was clear he was inspired and knew exactly what he wanted to make,” Marzullo said. “We provided the Search data and it only took him a few days to show us the first signs of his magic in a demo.”
CottonTale said he used to get scared when big companies would put out commercials about Black people. “I’m like, ‘Oh my God, hope a Black person is in the writer’s room,'” he said. “The importance of employing Black is such a necessity for the advance of our culture.”
This time, there was.