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I Write the Songs
Jewel shares some songwriting insight and lets us know why she wanted to be a part of 'Platinum Hit.'
Welcome to my first blog for our new Bravo show, Platinum Hit!
Gosh, there's so much to talk about, I don't even know where to start! So let me give you some context first -- background on what being a hit songwriter even is, the show itself, and what my fellow judges and I are looking for from the contestants.
We shot our episodes in order obviously, so Episode 1 is my first time hosting a TV show of this nature. The result you will see is me learning a new skill, as well the contestants, who as they grapple with delivering fresh creativity in a high-pressure environment -- something every professional songwriter must do every day in the music business.
The reason I got involved with the show is because, as a songwriter myself, I am very passionate about songwriting, but it's a world many people don't know exists -- especially the world of the behind the scenes hit-makers. Bravo has a great track record of taking somewhat obscure topics, like dressmaking or cooking, and helping to educate the viewer about what the process is and what it takes to be great at it. I am excited to give people a glimpse into the world of these hit-makers -- writers whose job it has been to make hits for others since the Tin Pan Alley era and beyond, when writers like Gershwin and Cole Porter were tasked with writing hits that are still standards to this day.
The market has undoubtedly changed. Most hits come from radio now, and not from show tunes or musicals. Popular music is a constantly moving target, just as much as fashion is. But the job remains the same: you are given a job to do, a target to hit, and you must write a song the world will fall in love with; one that will hopefully stand the test of time, and write it all in a very short amount of time. After all it is art -- but it is also a job, and like all jobs there are deadlines.
I have had people ask me if the challenges on the show are realistic. I can assure you they are. Most co-writing sessions last three hours -- period. A whole song is written in that time. If the hook doesn't come in the first 20 or so minutes, then you have to abandon ship and try a new direction or face the fact that you and your co-writer are going to be very disappointed, and you won't be able to submit a song for whoever you were writing for.
This is a highly competitive field. Here is how it works: an A&R person, like our co-judge Keith Naftaly, will be doing a record for -- let's hypothetically say Ke$ha. He will put the word out that she needs material for a new album or a first single, and he needs it by a specific date. Writers from all over the world will begin to write what they hope is the first single, or at least an album cut, or a second or third single. The big money is at radio. One hit can yield millions of dollars, so everyone wants to write the radio hit.
It's the writer's job to listen to Ke$ha's sound, and be true to it to a degree, but look forward at where she might be going in the future. They must listen to where pop and club hits currently are, but keep in mind that the song won't hit the radio for at least nine months from when you write it. The song has to look forward to where you think music is going, so it sounds fresh and not dated. Sometimes there are guidelines to work within -- like an A&R will say the artist doesn't want to talk about relationships, or to stay away from anything that mirrors their personal life, or they want it to be about their life, or they want the song to be socially conscious...
The majority of all songs on the radio are co-written, and so we have our contestants learning to co-write on our show. This helps you, the viewer, see the actual writing process (instead of seeing a person alone in a room thinking!), and it lets our contestants learn the give and take and the delicate balance of being stubborn and tenacious enough to get your idea heard, while being open and yielding to an idea that's better than your own. How you behave in a co-write and how original the thoughts you bring, will determine if your co-writer will want to write with you again and if that writer will tell other writers you are worth their time. We have all been in sessions that were particularly slow or lackluster, and halfway through we make vows never to write with that person again. No one wants to waste time or have their own time wasted.
My goal in being involved was to give each contestant a better shot at being hit songwriters, whether they won the show or not. This is a hard business to break into, and there is NO SCHOOL that teaches it. As an artist and songwriter, I benefited so much from other artists taking me under their wing and schooling me. From Bob Dylan to Neil Young, they took me aside and gave me straightforward advice and information I badly needed as an aspiring singer-songwriter. And it became words to live by.
Granted, we are not looking for "singer-songwriters" on this show. We are not looking for the next great singer or even an artist. We are looking for craftsmen who can write the hit songs that great singers and artists need. Elvis did not write his own songs -- a stable of the best in the country did that for him. Where would Whitney Houston be without the song "I Will Always Love You," written by the great Dolly Parton, not to mention the other songs that were written to show off her amazing voice? Or Celine Dion without "My Heart Will Go On," written by James Horner and Will Jennings?
New sounds and great songs can expand an artist's career, help procure that elusive treasure LONGEVITY for an artist, and broaden a fan base, like "Halo" written by Platinum Hit executive producer Evan Boggart, and Ryan Tedder, and "If I Were A Boy," written by BC Jean and Toby Gad for Beyoncé.
I love my job. I love the written word, and I love songwriting and songwriters. They are a raw, emotional, talented mix of brave souls whose job it is to put lightning in a glass. They must be honest about their own lives and put confessions on tape and on page. And it has been my honor to work with this cast.
That brings us to the second, trickier half of my job on the show -- judging. This was by far the hardest part. I certainly don't relish offering critique to new talent, as no one wants to harm the dreams of someone who is working so hard. My approach was to be honest. Period. Not clever. Not mean, but also never to pander or pull a punch.
I also tried to be specific. There's nothing as an artist that I hate more than receiving vague feedback. "You just didn't bring it" is not a helpful critique. You can do nothing with that. If I did not like something on the show, I tried to be exact about what bothered me and also offer a solution. So if a lyric was too generic, I would site the offending lyric and offer an alternative to show an idea of what might work better. This was the hardest part of the show for me, but I figured placating someone gets them nowhere, and being honest is the best thing I could offer them, even if it was hard. And the contestants seemed to thrive on it. This is a serious group of young artists who are in it to win it.
I hope you all have as much fun watching as I did being part of the show.
Until next time,