PUBLISHED IN THE TORONTO STAR ON DECEMBER 28, 1998
DIANE WARREN, Hitmaker
California Dynamo Writes The Songs That Sell Millions
By Nick Krewen
WYNONNA JUDD, MARK CHESNUTT and a gaggle of country and non-country music celebrities paid $125 U.S. a head a few weeks ago to stuff themselves into Nashville's renowned Bluebird Cafe and witness a historic event:the first ever full-length concert by DIANE WARREN.
Unless you peruse the Billboard charts or read CD credits, Diane Warren is a stranger to you. But if you're CELINE DION, WHITNEY HOUSTON, MICHAEL BOLTON or AEROSMITH and you're looking for a hit song, then Diane Warren is a friend. A very, very good friend.
In fact, the name Diane Warren has probably made you stacks of money, as documented by the estimated 150 million albums sold bearing a Warren song or two.
Name a few? TONI BRAXTON's dramatic "Unbreak My Heart." Michael Bolton's lung-busting "When I'm Back On My Feet Again." Celine Dion's mesmerizing "If You Asked Me To" and poignant "Because You Loved Me," written in honor of Warren's father.
There's "How Do I Live," the heart-wrenching 1987 ballad that instituted a tug of war between country sirens LeANN RIMES and TRISHA YEARWOOD when they simultaneously released hit versions of the song. Both were crossover smashes: Yearwood's version appears in the film Con Air and nabbed an Academy Award nomination. Rimes' version Soundscanned two million copies and spent a recording-breaking 69 weeks in the Top 40 of Billboard's Hot 100. Diane Warren received the six-figure royalty cheques.
Oh, and then there's that most recent chart-topper, AEROSMITH's heart-wrenching love ballad "I Don't Want To Miss A Thing " from the film Armageddon -- the biggest hit of their 25-year career.
"We achieved a whole new visibility with that song," says Aerosmith's TOM HAMILTON.
"Not only is there a new recognition factor, but I even notice a bit of a fan frenzy when I walk down the street. It's brought us a much younger audience."
Career regeneration is just one advantage of a Warren pop masterpiece, discernible by its contagious melody and heart-driven message. Artists recently tapping into her gift for universal appeal include Whitney Houston, BRANDY, MYA, EN VOGUE and Celine Dion, all whom have recorded a Diane Warren tune -- or in Whitney's case, three of them -- for their latest albums.
JOHNNY MATHIS' latest album Because You Loved Me , is solely devoted to Warren. And over the past 15 years, over 100 A-List artists ranging from ACE OF BASE and AALIYAH to Trisha Yearwood and KISS have helped her songs cross pop, rock, R&B and country borders.
Film directors and producers have benefited from her expertise in such movies as Hope Floats, Space Jam, Con Air and the upcoming Prince Of Egypt, and she's been rewarded with ASCAP's Songwriter Of The Year Award thrice, Billboard Songwriter Of The Year twice, a Grammy, and countless Oscars and Golden Globe nominations.
Yet for all the success that makes Diane Warren a one-woman songwriting dynamo, she's an anomaly for the simple reason she isn't interested in stardom.
Instead, she prefers to shun the spotlight, which makes her Bluebird Cafe benefit for Nashville's Park Center's Safe Havens particularly noteworthy.
Would this taste of public adoration spark a change of heart?
"I'm not going to make a habit of it," said Warren, 42, Tuesday from a Los Angeles recording studio, where she was in the midst of recording and mixing her latest demos.
"Actually, it was fun. It was an audience of songwriters, so there was a lot of warmth. But I'm not really comfortable in front of people. I don't like being in front of people on stage, which is why I write songs and stay in the background.
"There were no late dormant artist aspirations coming to life," she confirms.
In fact, the workaholic Warren prefers the sanctity of Realsongs, the Sunset Boulevard publishing company she owns within ten minutes of the Hollywood Hills home she shares with four parrots and a couple of cats. She's in the office seven days a week at 9:00 a.m., and doesn't usually leave until 10:00 p.m.
"I work hard," says Warren, who recently printed her third songwriting folio The Ultimate Collection, through Warner Chappell Music.
"I've kept my nose to the grindstone. I'm very driven. I don't have much of a social life, but it doesn't bother me. I'm happy doing what I'm doing."
Warren is more interested in keeping alive the Tin Pan Alley tradition of dedicating herself solely to songwriting and developing it as a science.
"I was just always intrigued by it, right from when I was little." Warren admits. "I was always intrigued by who wrote those songs much more than the artist who sang them. I wanted to know who wrote them. I had a fascination with it, even before I lifted pen to paper."
Born and raised in Van Nuys, California, Warren says she was smitten at an early age.
"I've been listening to the radio since I was 2 or 3," she says. "I just loved the radio. It was my friend."
A confessed loner, she began writing songs at age 11. By the time she was 14, Warren was churning out three a day, determined that songwriting was her future.
She had a harder time convincing her mother.
"No one in my family is musical, so I was on my own, really,"she recalls. "My Mom wasn't supportive at all. My Dad would take me to publishers, give me a lot of support and really, really believe in me. My Mom would yell at my Dad for getting me a guitar and taking me to publishers.
"She never really encouraged me at all. Now of course, my Mom says she's responsible for me doing well."
She got her big break in 1983 when LAURA BRANIGAN turned "Solitaire" into a Top Ten hit. Then DeBARGE struck with "Rhythm Of The Night" and gave her her first taste of international success. STARSHIP's "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" was Warren's first chart-topper in 1987 and she hasn't looked back.She chooses not to.
"I would never rest on my laurels," says Warren. "I'd rather look ahead than look back at all times. I'm proud of what I've achieved, but it's always the next thing that's the most interesting to me.She takes greater pride in carving a niche for herself.
"It seems that a lot of people these days are hyphens: the writer-producer, the writer-artist," she explains. "It seems in this day and age you have a lot more of that. Unfortunately, you don't have the pure songwriter, although the pure songwriter still is important. And the rewards, Warren says, are bountiful.
"You know, there are so many great things about it," she says. "To just sit in a room by myself and come up with something great is really the greatest gift. You play for people and they love it, and that's a great gift. Someone records it, it becomes a hit, you make money -- they're all great gifts.
"But it just feels good when people love your music. And it feels good to write something of quality."
However, Warren admits it's heart-breaking when a song doesn't get properly noticed.
"It's devastated me at times," she admits. "It's terrible. When you believe in something, it's like your kid. You have all these high goals in mind for your child, and you want them to graduate with honors -- and they drop out in third grade. I want my songs to do well."
But Warren is pleased when her songs inspire.
"I've seen letters from people that have said a song like `When I'm Back On My Feet Again' have stopped them from killing themselves," she says.
"It gave them strength. I like to think of my songs as healing songs."
Above all, Diane Warren hopes her tunes strike a chord with their admirers.
"I hope people just get something out of a song," Warren wishes. "That they feel something, that it becomes part of their lives. Like how songs were part of my life growing up."
1996 -- Grammy, Best Song Written Specifically For A Motion Picture Or For Television -- "Because You Loved Me (Theme from: Up Close And Personal)"
DIANE WARREN CUTS
1999 -- Christina Aguilera -- "I Turn To You"
1999 -- Christina Aguilera -- "Somebody's Somebody"
1999 -- All-4-One -- "On And On"
1999 -- Another Level -- "From The Heart"
1999 -- Tina Arena -- "If I Was A River"
1999 -- Susan Ashton, "Faith Of The Heart" - Capitol
1999 -- Aswad, "Don't Turn Around"
1999 -- Patti Austin, "If This Time Is The Last Time" -- Qwest
1999 -- Bad English, "When I See You Smile"
1999 -- Big Mountain, "I Would Find A Way"
1999 -- Mary J. Blige, "Give Me You" -- Universal
1999 -- Peabo Bryson, "Somebody In Your Life" -- Windham Hill
1999 -- C-Note -- "One Night With You (Every Day Of Your Life)"
1999 -- C-Note -- "Tell Me Where It Hurts"
1999 -- Raffaella Cavalli -- "Quando Mi Chiamerai"
1999 -- Cher, "Love And Understanding"
1999 -- Cher, "Don't Come Cryin'"
1999 -- Cher, "Does Anybody Really Fall In Love Anymore"
1999 -- Cher, "If I Could Turn Back Time"
1999 -- Cher, "Save Up All Your Tears"
1999 -- Cher, "Just Like Jesse James"
1999 -- Cherry, "Sacred Kiss"
1999 -- Cherry, "Saddest Song"
1999 -- Mark Chesnutt, "I Don't Want To Miss A Thing" Decca
1999 -- Eric Clapton, "Blue Eyes Blue" -- Columbia
1999 -- Anita Cochran, "Last Kiss" -- Warner
1999 -- Jennifer Day, "I Turn To You"
1999 -- Celine Dion, "Because You Loved Me" -- Epic
1999 -- Celine Dion, "I Want You To Need Me" -- Epic
1999 -- Celine Dion, "Run Like A River" -- Epic
1999 -- Celine Dion, "Would I Know" -- Epic
1999 -- Else, "Fooled By The Moon" -- Universal
1999 -- EYC, "Baby Be There" - BMG
1999 -- EYC, "I Keep Hoping" -- BMG
1999 -- Lara Fabian, "Love Found Me" -- Sony
1999 -- Linda Imperial, "How Do I Live"
1999 -- KISS, "Nothing Can Keep Me From You" -- Mercury
1999 -- Patti LaBelle, "If You Asked Me To"
1999 -- Ricky Martin, "I Count The Minutes" -- Sony
1999 -- Ricky Martin, "You Stay With Me"
1999 -- Edwin McCain, "I Could Not Ask For More" -- Hollywood
1999 -- Millie, "Como Vivir Sin Verte"
1999 -- Monica, "For You I Will"
1999 -- Debelah Morgan, "As Long As I Can Dream" Universal
1999 -- Chante Moore -- "I See You In A Different Light" -- Universal
1999 -- Mya , "My First Night With You"
1999 -- 'NSync, "Are You Gonna Be" -- RCA
1999 -- 'NSync, "One In This World" -- RCA
1999 -- 'NSync, "That's When I'll Stop Loving You" -- RCA
1999 -- Pandora, "Act Of Faith"
1999 -- The Pretenders, "Loving You Is All I Know"
1999 -- Nadine Renee, "Sincere" MCA
1999 -- LeAnn Rimes, "Leaving's Not Leaving" -- Atlantic
1999 -- Diana Ross, "Love Is All That Matters"
1999 -- Diana Ross, "Someone That You Loved Before" -- Motown
1999 -- Anna Saeki, "Anatano Subeteo"
1999 -- Sarina, "Can I Come Over"
1999 -- Sarina, "Wishing On The Same Star"
1999 -- Selena, "I'm Getting Used To You"
1999 -- Grace Slick, "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now"
1999 -- Kevin Sharp, "I Could Not Ask For More"
1999 -- Tracie Spencer, "Nothing Broken But My Heart"
1999 -- Henry Lee Summer, "'Til Somebody Loves You"
1999 -- TLC, "Come On Down"
1999 -- Total, "Your Letter"
1999 -- Wild Orchid, "I'll Believe It When I Feel It"
1999 -- Trisha Yearwood, "I'll Still Love You More"
TOP TEN HITS
1983 -- Laura Branigan, "Solitaire"
1985 -- Debarge, "Rhythm Of The Night"
1987 -- Belinda Carlisle, "I Get Weak"
1987 -- Starship, "Set The Night To Music"
1987 -- Heart, "Who Will You Run To"
1988 -- J.T. & Regina Belle, "All I Want Is Forever"
1988 -- Aswad, "Give A Little Love"
1988 -- Chicago, "I Don't Wanna To Live Without Your Love"
1989 -- Barbra Streisand, "We're Not Making Love Anymore"
1989 -- Sadao Watanabe, Patti Austin, "Any Other Fool"
1989 -- Taylor Dayne, "Can't Fight Fate"
1989 -- Michael Bolton, "How Can We Be Lovers"
1989 -- Taylor Dayne, "I'll Be Your Shelter"
1989 -- Cher, "If I Could Turn Back Time"
1989 -- Patti LaBelle, "If You Asked Me To"
1989 -- Aretha Franklin/Elton John, "Through The Storm"
1989 -- Joe Cocker, "When The Night Comes"
1989 -- Michael Bolton, "When I'm Back On My Feet Again"
1989 -- Expose, "Your Baby Never Looked Good In Blue"
1990 -- Michael McDonald, "Take It To Heart"
1991 -- Michael Bolton, "Missing You Now"
1991 -- Michael Bolton, "Time, Love And Tenderness"
1991 -- Kathy Troccoli, "Everything Changes"
1991 -- Gloria Estefan, "Live For Loving You"
1991 -- Cher, "Love And Understanding"
1991 -- Celine Dion, "Love Can Move Mountains"
1991 -- Celine Dion, "Nothing Broken But My Heart"
1991 -- Roberta Flack, Maxi Priest "Set The Night To Music"
1991 -- Celine Dion, "Water From The Moon"
1992 -- Kenny G, Peabo Bryson, "By The Time This Night Is Over"
1992 -- Ace of Base, "Don't Turn Around"
1992 -- Joe Cocker, "Feels Like Forever"
1992 -- Michael W. Smith, "I Will Be Here For You"
1992 -- Expose, "I'll Never Get Over You Getting Over Me"
1992 -- Expose, "In Walked Love"
1992 -- Shanice, "Saving Forever For You"
1993 -- Michael Bolton, "Completely"
1993 -- Aaron Neville, "Don't Take Away My Heaven"
1994 -- Michael Bolton, "Once In A Lifetime"
1995 -- Meatloaf, "I'd Lie For You (And That's The Truth)"
1996 -- Monica, "For You I Will"
1996 -- All-4-One, "I Turn To You"
1996 -- Gloria Estefan, "Reach"
1996 -- Whitney Houston, "You Were Loved"
1997 -- LeAnn Rimes, "How Do I Live"
1997 -- Trisha Yearwood, "How Do I Live"
1997 -- Aaliyah, "The One I Gave My Heart To"
1997 -- Natalie Cole, "A Smile As Beautiful As Yours"
1998 -- Xscape, "The Arms Of The One Who Loves You"
1998 -- Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, "Just To Hear You Say That You Love Me"
1999 -- Mark Chesnutt, "I Don't Want To Miss A Thing"
1999 -- Rod Stewart, "Faith Of The Heart"
BILLBOARD HOT 100 #1s
1987 -- Starship, "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now"
1988 -- Chicago, "Look Away"
1989 -- Milli Vanilli, "Blame It On The Rain"
1989 -- Taylor Dayne, "Love Will Lead You Back"
1989 -- Bad English, "When I See You Smile"
1996 -- Celine Dion, "Because You Loved Me"
1996 -- Toni Braxton, "Unbreak My Heart"
1998 -- Aerosmith, "I Don't Want To Miss A Thing"
1999 -- Brandy, "Have You Ever"
MOTION PICTURE RELEASES
An Innocent Man -- Joe Cocker, "When The Night Comes"
Arachnophobia -- Russell Hitchcock, "Sweat To Your Heart"
Armageddon -- Aerosmith, "I Don't Want To Miss A Thing"
A Smile Like Yours -- Natalie Cole, "A Smile Like Yours"
Caddyshack II -- Patty Smyth, "I Run Right Back"
-- The Pointer Sisters, "Power Of Persuasion"
Class Action -- Taylor Dayne, "Can't Fight Fate"
Con Air -- Trisha Yearwood, "How Do I Live"
Dance With Me --- Vanessa Williams, Chayanne -- "You Are My Home"
Detroit Rock City -- KISS, "Nothing Can Keep Me From You"
Disorderlies -- Lauren Hunter, "Work Me Down"
Evening Star -- Cheap Trick, "Ghost Town"
For The Boys -- Bette Midler, "Every Road Leads Back To You"
Free Willy 2 -- Expose, "I'll Say Goodbye For The Two Of Us"
Ghostbusters -- Laura Branigan, "Hot Nights"
Ghost Dad -- Gladys Knight, "Strong As Steel"
Golden Child -- Melisa Morgan, "A Deeper Love"
Hope Floats -- Lila McCann, "To Get Me To You"
Karate Kid III -- The Boys Club, "This Could Take All Night"
- - The Jets, "Under Any Moon"
Look Who's Talking Now -- Cheap Trick, "Wherever I Would Be"
License To Kill -- Patti LaBelle, "If You Asked Me To"
Mannequin, Mannequin II -- Starship, "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now"
Men At Work -- Ziggy Marley, "Give A Little Love"
Message In A Bottle -- Edwin McCain, "I Could Not Ask For More"
Notting Hill -- Another Level, "From The Heart"
Only You -- Michael Bolton, "Once In A Lifetime"
Patch Adams -- Rod Stewart, "Faith Of The Heart"
Sing -- Bill Champlin, "Something To Believe In"
Space Jam -- Monica, "For You I Will"
-- All-4-One, "I Turn To You"
Speed II -- Tamia, "Make Tonight Beautiful"
Taps -- J.T. & Regina Belle, "All I Want Is Forever"
Tequila Sunrise -- Ziggy Marley, "Give A Little Love"
The Associate -- Cher, "If I Could Turn Back Time"
-- Wynonna, "Makin' My Way (Any Way That I Can)"
The Cutting Edge -- Joe Cocker, "Feels Like Forever"
The Last Dragon -- DeBarge, "Rhythm Of The Night"
The Other Sister -- The Pretenders, "Loving You is All I Know"
The Pagemaster -- Lisa Stansfield & Babyface, "Dream Away"
The Preacher's Wife -- Whitney Houston, "You Were Loved"
The Prince Of Egypt -- BoyzIIMen, "I Will Get There"
The Specialist -- Donna Allen, "Real"
Up Close And Personal -- Celine Dion, "Because You Loved Me"
Vice Versa -- Starship, "Set The Night To Music"
While You Were Sleeping, Daryl Hall/Dusty Springfield, "Wherever Would I Be"
White Men Can't Jump -- Jody Watley, "Let Me Make It Up To You"
Why Do Fools Fall In Love -- En Vogue, "No Fool No More"
Young Blood -- Mickey Thomas, "Stand In The Fire"
THANKS: John Ferri, Betsy Powell, Lorrie Logan, Sean Stanley
©1998, 1999 Nick Krewen, Octopus Media Ink
About Octopus Media Ink
Diane Warren, songwriter extraordinaire
Interview by Michael Laskow
"I just kept doing it. In a nutshell, I just kept doing it no matter what. I'm a nose-to-the-grindstone kind of person".
Diane Warren has probably touched your life at least once a day during that last ten or fifteen years and you may not have even known it. She has written songs for the likes of The Starship, Michael Bolton, DeBarge, Gladys Knight, The Jets, Joe Cocker, Cheap Trick, Dusty Springfield, Daryl Hall, Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Kenny G., Peabo Bryson, Aaron Neville, Ace of Base, Monica, Chicago, Belinda Carlisle, Meat Loaf, Cher, Patti LaBelle, Taylor Dayne, Expose, Gloria Estefan, Roberta Flack, Michael McDonald, Elton John, Aretha Franklin, Toni Braxton, Barbara Streisand, Heart, and many, many more top artists.
Diane has had her songs in more than 50 major motion pictures. She's had multiple Grammy nominations, as well as Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations. She was the first songwriter in the history of Billboard to have SEVEN HITS, all by different artists, on the singles chart at the same time.
During one unprecedented week she occupied the number one and number two slots on the singles chart, then reversed them the next week! She is the only female writer in history to be named ASCAP's writer of the year three times.
Her company, Realsongs, is the most successful female-owned and operated business in the music industry, and she is a philanthropist of significant proportion.
After spending some time interviewing her, I think the most amazing thing about Diane Warren is that she truly believes that she is capable of much more than she has already accomplished in a relatively short amount of time. Hey Diane! I truly believe it too.
If you've ever wondered what it takes to be the very best at songwriting, or for that matter, anything, then this interview is not only something you should read--it's something you should read every morning when you get up.
Where did you grow up?
In Van Nuys and Northridge, California--that area of the San Fernando Valley ("the valley").
What is your first recollection of what you wanted to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to be a songwriter.
How old were you when you first knew that?
Probably about six or seven.
How old were you when you wrote your first song?
Probably around ten or so.
What inspired you at six or seven years old? Did you hear something on the radio or see a singer/songwriter?
I used to live in a radio, basically. The radio was like my best friend growing up. I have two older sisters, and it was great because they had all of these records. My parents loved music too, so I got to hear all kinds of music growing up. I would always look on my sisters' little 45s to see who wrote the songs. I did that even when I was little. I didn't care to sing them. I haven't changed! [laughs] I just loved music, and I just thought that I could make up my own songs. It wasn't coming from a place of wanting to be a singer.
So you never tried to be a singer/songwriter?
No. This is the gig I always dreamed of having. Being an artist is a whole different world. You have to be up front, and people know who you are, and they bother you. When you're behind the scenes, you don't have to deal with those things.
But, don't people bother you? As far as songwriters go--maybe just shy of Lennon and McCartney--you're probably the best known songwriter certainly of this generation.
People usually don't know what I look like, which is good. Sometimes it's funny, though. Like if I'm at a restaurant paying the check, and they might say, "Oh are you the same Diane Warren that's the songwriter?" and stuff like that. But usually people don't know who I am. I kind of like that. I like the anonymity of it, but yet a lot of people will know the work. And your peers will know, which is good enough for me.
John Braheny once told me about you at fourteen years old coming to the Los Angeles Songwriters Showcase. He said that even at that age, you appeared to be professional, and you handled rejection well.
I didn't handle rejection well. I'd probably say, "That's good advice. Screw you! What do you know?" [laughs] I had a lot of anger, though. I would go, "What do they know?" which kind of kept me going in a way. It was like, "I'll show them. I'll come up with better songs next time." I was nice about it, though. I also went to a lot of publishers early in my career. They'd say, "Oh you've got potential." I used to hate that word "potential." Yeah, but potential doesn't have a check attached to it. I've always been pretty confident that I was going to be successful. No matter what anybody said, this is what I was going to do.
How often did you write?
At that time, when I was about fourteen, I wrote about three songs a day. But they all sucked.
Did the songs you wrote back then follow traditional song form? Did you even know about form at that age?
Yeah, I kind of always had a good sense of structure. I think I developed that more the more I did it, but I've always had a good sense of it. Like I said, I grew up listening to a radio. Even when I was a baby, there were radios and music playing in my house. I don't remember a time when there wasn't some kind of music playing. It was what was popular music. It was show tunes, the radio, the Beatles--everything. My influences were basically commercial music.
Do you remember what some of your earliest influences might have been?
Motown, the Beatles. The great thing about radio then was they played everything. Top-40 radio wasn't as fragmented then as it is now. You could really hear all kinds of music.
It was certainly a better time for music I think. The '60s were phenomenal. There was some shit there too, but there were a lot of great songs. It definitely seemed to be an inspired time as far as songwriting and experimentation are concerned.
I don't know that the '90s will be remembered by the publishing community as a decade that they could make a lot of money from in the future.
I don't know if there are a lot of copyrights (that will be exploitable). There are great songs being written, but it's not like if you look at a lot of those Motown songs. There was a reason why Barry Gordy sold Motown Records and didn't sell Jobete. (Three hours after I did this interview I read that Berry Gordy sold half of Jobete Music to EMI Music Publishing for $132 Million. He retained the other half--ed). That stuff lasts forever. Those songs are great.
What did you do to perfect your craft over the years?
I just kept doing it. In a nutshell, I just kept doing it no matter what. I'm a nose-to-the-grindstone kind of person. To this day, I'm a serious workaholic. I have a real hard time pulling myself away from my work. I've just been like this forever.
Did you co-write? Did you have a mentor?
No, but I have had people that believed in me through the years and stuff like that.
Do you think it's important for aspiring songwriters to educate themselves about songwriting, as well as keeping their nose to the grindstone?
Well, yes you should listen to songs and listen to what works. Listen to why a song is a hit. Check it out--not to imitate it, but there are certain things that work--hooks and melodies. Hear what works through the ages.
You seem to have an intuitive sense for analyzing a song, though.
I don't really sit and analyze a song. I don't really pull things apart and analyze them.
You don't look at a song and say, "Oh it's got an eight-bar intro. I would have done four?"
Oh yeah, I do that. I say, "That's really cool, that key change there," or whatever. But I don't use that side of my brain too much.
Do you favor writing lyrics or music first?
I do both, and I much prefer to do it by myself, which is what I usually do.
Where do you get inspired?
Anywhere and everywhere.
Do you keep a recorder with you everywhere you go?
No, it's not worth recording unless it's good. I'll sing it onto my answering machine if I have to.
How often do you write today?
Seven days a week basically. Hours and hours and hours. I can't give you an exact count. I'm in the office everyday. I'm in meetings, and I'm on the phone and doing other things too. But I'm writing a lot of the time--studio, writing, studio, writing. That's the story of my life.
Do you often get a call to do a rewrite if a section isn't working while an artist is in the studio?
Not too much, not really. Usually when somebody takes my songs, they take the songs. Things aren't usually changed much in them. Maybe we'll change a line or two that somebody is having difficulty with vocally or something.
How many songs do you start in a month, and how many of those songs do you finish?
It's hard to say because it's always different. I don't finish anything unless I think it's great. I don't look at it like I write a hundred songs to get one. I look at it like I write one to get one, or else I'm not going to write it. It's got to be great. I don't have time to waste writing crap.
Do you ever have an artist in mind when you write?
Sometimes. Usually I don't though. Usually I just try to make a great song. Then the song itself will tell you who it's good for--what the casting should be. It's like a movie part.
What motivates you other than your work ethic?
Hunger. The hunger is still there. I think there are so many more heights to reach. I just want to keep getting better. I have a long way to go I think in my own mind. I haven't written my best songs yet. I think I've written some great songs, but I think I'm going to write better.
I love the process of going through it and making up songs. It's the best thing in the world, and I can't believe I am well paid for it. I would be doing this for nothing. I did it for nothing for enough years. I didn't really make a living at it until I was like 24 or 25--a living that I could survive on. Just before that it was hardly any money--it was still macaroni and cheese days, peanut butter, and things like that. I didn't make really significant money until I was about 30. But then it became very significant money. But money, no matter how much I've earned, has never been a motivating factor. It's been the quality of the work and the work itself. It's the journey.
How do you feel about publishing in general and publishers?
Let's put it this way, I have my own company. I'd much rather have my own company than be with publishers.
Do you think they do a good job for the artists they represent?
It depends on who they represent. They can function as a bank. Some publishers go out and get covers for their writers. I've just always loved to be in control. I'm too much of a control freak really to be with anybody. I kind of have to control my own destiny.
Did you ever have a publisher when you were younger?
Yeah, I was signed to somebody who produced Laura Brannigan. Through him, I was signed at Arista Publishing, which was the weirdest experience actually. I remember sitting in a room playing a ballad and the president of the company coming in and yelling, "It's got to be 120 beats per minute. It has to be 120 beats per minute!" And I had to sing him songs a cappella before I'd be able to demo them. But I got a big cover there which was "Rhythm of the Night." Shortly after that I owned everything. Being with a publisher was an interesting experience, one that I would not want to repeat. But that's me. I think most writers would do good to have a publisher because they are the key to the world of artists.
In general, is it better for a songwriter to attempt to get cuts by hanging out with artists, or knowing the bus drivers, or pitching stuff to A&R people? What are some of the more productive routes?
It's so dependent on the situation. Obviously, the more personal relationships you have the better. Not everybody has the capability of hanging out with Celine Dion, though. You have to usually go through people. I don't think the bus driver is the best person to get a song to an artist, but you never know. I'd say the best route for a new writer is a publisher. I really would.
You're one of the few writers who is fluent in many genres of music and has had chart-topping songs in several of them . . .
Right now I have a song on every chart, I just realized, in this week's Billboard. I don't think I've seen anybody do that at the same time. I have a song on the R&B charts, the country charts, the adult charts, the dance charts--I guess the only one I don't have something on is the alternative chart. All different songs.
Do you wake up in the morning and pinch yourself?
Yeah, when I think about what has happened it is kind of a trip. A couple of years ago I was ASCAP Songwriter of the Year, and they showed a video of a bunch of my hits. I was sitting there as a viewer thinking, "Oh wow! I didn't know I wrote all of those songs." I don't think in the past, I just kind of go forward. It's amazing. But I'm always about, okay I've done that. Now what's next? I have a short attention span.
How do you write in all of these genres so well?
I think it goes back to what I said before about growing up and hearing so many different kinds of music. I heard everything. I don't like to write just one kind of song, although I love writing ballads. I like to give songs to all kinds of different people. It just keeps it interesting. I just wrote a song for an upcoming movie called Shut Up and Dance. It's a Latin-themed movie that Vanessa Williams stars in, and I think it is going to be a pretty big movie. They did a salsa version of the song which they sent me this morning, and it was so cool. It was a totally salsa, really legitimate version of the song. So maybe I'll have a salsa hit too.
Does technical stuff stick in your brain, even though you may not consciously think about it?
I guess everything you do is in there somewhere. Everything you experience or hear is there on some kind of subliminal level.
You've been honored more times than Mahatma Ghandi. Is there any particular award that touched you most?
The awards like ASCAP Songwriter of the Year, and the Grammy, and all of that. It was pretty cool getting a Grammy. It's cool getting all of them. It's not like one was any more than anything else. It's great to be recognized. To me, the greatest honor of all is to write a great song. I was in Tower Records buying some records last week, and someone was in back of me buying a copy of my Monica single. That's an honor!
Do you remember the very first time you heard one of your songs on the radio?
Yeah, "Rhythm of the Night." I remember hearing that and freaking out pretty much. I was in the car on Sunset beaming away. I still love to hear my songs on the radio. Being a kid who was in love with the radio, and now the fact that someone is going to hear my songs and be touched by them is a full-circle kind of cool thing. I know songs touch people, and that's really a wonderful feeling. You asked about honors, what could be more of an honor than that?
What has been your favorite part about your life so far?
My favorite part of my life is that I'm able to do what I love and love what I do.