(L-R) Sarah Hudson, Rodney Jerkins, MarcLo, Shane Stevens & busbee
Photo: Antonio Espino
Hit-Makers Share The Specialized, Intuitive Art Of Crafting The Perfect Song
Yesterday, April 12, a large, diverse group of musicians, artists and music lovers began the annual trek to the desert for weekend one of Coachella. Working with this creative, inspired energy, the Los Angeles Chapter of the Recording Academy brought together songwriters with an impressive roster of hits to share their wisdom with aspiring songwriters and artists for a hands-on Craft Session at a beautiful house in Palm Springs.
During the first half of the intimate event, songwriters busbee, Rodney Jerkins aka Darkchild, MarcLo of Monsters & Strangerz (part of team behind Zedd's GRAMMY-nominated "The Middle"), Sarah Hudson (who has written for Camila Cabello, Katy Perry and others) and Shane Stevens went deep into the art of crafting the perfect track and the things they've learned along the way in their quest to navigate and excel in the music industry. They discussed the weaving journeys each took that led them to their first hit and eventually to where they are today, as successful songwriters and producers.
Photo: Antonio Espino
Their stories all underscored the importance of perseverance, believing in yourself and really putting your work out there, as you never know when the right person will be in the right place to hear or share your song. "You start with nothing, then all of a sudden, there it is," Stevens underscored. all of them have a "song mountain," as busbee, who received a GRAMMY nomination for co-writing with Maren Morris on "My Church," put it, of tracks that may never see the light of day, but helped them learn, make mistakes, improve and grow as creatives.
The insights made clear that not only is there not one path or five hard-set rules to becoming a hit songwriter, there is also no formula to making great songs. Even GRAMMY winner Jerkins, who began making his mark in the late '90s with his work with Whitney Houston, Jennifer Lopez, Destiny's Child (with "Say My Name in 1999 and "Lose My Breath" in 2004, among others), agreed that each session is different.
They all agree that building good rapport and understanding with each artist you work with is vital to the process. For example, when Jerkins met with a then-up-and-coming Lopez in the 1999, while they had just met for the first time in the studio, and she had yet to release music, he asked himself what might she want to say to a man that he could express for her in the track. He wanted to express vulnerability in a way that felt real to her experience, and her debut hit single, "If You Had My Love," was born.
"No one knows what a hit is until it happens...I truly believe that if is meant to be, its meant to be," -Rodney Jerkins
"No one knows what a hit is until it happens," Jerkins said. "I truly believe that if is meant to be, its meant to be."
"We couldn't be doing anything else. It's passion, passion meets you at the door," added Stevens, who began as an aspiring singer/songwriter in Nashville and at one point switched to his "back-up career" of hair styling, until, as he puts it, fate had other ideas, and now he's become an in-demand songwriter in both pop and country, working with the likes of Lady Antebellum to Selena Gomez.
His comment, and similar ones from the other mentors, all underscored the importance of not giving up on your dreams, and not letting your fears get in the way of using the skills and passion you were meant to share with the world.
"Nobody else is going to get what's yours," busbee said. He added, "You never know who's going to make the decision that changes the course of your life."
After the discussion, which left the audience visibly inspired and excited to create, the group broke out into work sessions led by each mentor; who gave individual guidance to demo songs presented by each participant, allowing them the space to ask more specific questions to their work and aspirations.
Photo: Antonio Espino
In busbee's breakout session, he made sure he had context for each group member's aspirations and personal background, so that his advice would be as tailored as possible. Even then, he reminded the group that at the end of the day, everyone's feedback is based on their opinions, so it's important to know your north, and put yourself in the other person's shoes to best understand where they are coming from and how to move forward, which is sound advice for any professional relationship.