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In the key of life: The art of songwriting

Worldbeat
MULTIMEDIA
CNN WorldBeat's Brooke Alexander brings you to New York-- where urban meets country for musical songwriting magic.
Windows Media 28K 80K

Web posted on: Monday, June 28, 1999 6:34:31 PM EDT


In this story:

Cooperation vs. competition

Songwriting: How'd they think of that?

'One-woman hit factory'

Realsongs, real life

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



NEW YORK (CNN) -- New York's Brill Building is a magnet for songwriters all over the world. It's there that such artists as Carole King have worked 9 to 5 on a conveyor belt of sorts, pumping out songs that make the whole world sing.

But just around the corner, an interesting experiment has been underway. Some of the best songwriters in New York have teamed up with their country counterparts from Nashville. Their common aim -- to write a hit record.

"We just sort of had an idea of just putting it together in New York and bringing Nashville here," says songwriter Ric Wake. "So we figured we'd just make a week of it and bring everybody together and put some good collaborations together."

"When people get out of their own environment," says Denise Rich, "and then they get into another environment, they become very creative in a different way. It's interesting. It opens up a lot of ideas."

Songwriter Peter Zizzo says the collaboration is giving him some inspiration for song titles.

"When I look at the titles of songs on the country charts versus the titles of songs on the pop charts," Zizzo says, "I'm constantly going, 'Oh, I wish I'd thought of that,' 'Oh, that's a cool thing.' I think there's no place else that (songwriting) is as alive-and-well as it is in Nashville."

"The more pure-country writers have more of a tendency to use double entendre and cliches as titles," says Sharon Vaughn. "And the skill in that is to make it 'non-cliché-ish' and not sound that way but to give it something that's a familiar home for the ear of the listener."

InteractiveINTERACTIVE:

The songwriting process differs from artist to artist. Sometimes a hit song is the result of several weeks of hard work. At other times it's a moment's flash of inspiration.

We got several notables to talk about the method in their creative madness

Cooperation vs. competition

The teams fuse together some powerful talent. Zizzo, Wake and the Carpenters' writer John Bettis together form a team whose songs have collectively sold more than 300 million albums. Last year's BMI songwriter of the year, Stephony Smith, was paired with Rich and Vaughn, who've written hits for Celine Dion, Willie Nelson and Reba McEntire.

"I'd like to think that the silly lines we've always had drawn between cities as far as types of writers go are getting blurred at least, if not disappearing," Zizzo says. "My experience of these writers is we're all part of the same family, part of the same tribe, and we can all write in several different directions."

The writers report the project appears to be working.

"We've probably got 25, 30 songs," Wake says, "new songs plus lots of ideas, you know, the merging of the Nashville-New York thing. I'm ecstatic -- some of the stuff I've heard, it's incredible. It really is. Hopefully, some big hits come in."

Dianne Warren

'One-woman hit factory'

It's hard to miss the spectacle of a high-octane band like Aerosmith. But behind the No. 1 single and countless other songs is a one-woman hit factory named Diane Warren. Few people outside the music industry may have heard of this songwriter, but for almost 20 years her songs have dominated the charts unlike those of any other composer.

Warren says that from as early as she can remember, writing music has been all she ever wanted to do.

"My parents had albums in the house," she says. "My sisters had records. I'd always look to see who wrote the songs, even when I was little. So I was just always kind of fascinated by the person who wrote the song."

That love of songwriting helped her persevere even when her childhood guitar teacher told her she should quit.

"He told my parents not to bring me back because I had no future in music. ... (It was) because I just didn't want to go -- you know, the scales, and I just didn't have any attention span for that. I was making up my own little songs and stuff."

SONGS BY DIANNE WARREN
  • "Because You Loved Me," Celine Dion
  • "Un-Break My Heart," Toni Braxton
  • "How Do I Live," LeAnn Rimes and Trisha Yearwood
  • "I Don't Want To Miss a Thing," Aerosmith
  • By her early teens, Warren was pitching her songs to dozens of Los Angeles music publishers. She scored her first top-ten hit in 1983 with the single, "Solitaire," performed by Laura Branigan.

    Warren's hits, awards, and nominations are legion. She's been recognized year after year by Hollywood's Academy Awards, the Golden Globe and the Grammys. The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers has named her Songwriter of the Year five of the last 10 years.

    Some recent wins? Warren's "I Don't Want To Miss a Thing" for Aerosmith was nominated for an Oscar this year, for its use in the Disney film "Armageddon." Warren wrote "How Do I Live" for Yearwood and Rimes, earning a 1998 song-of-the-year nomination from both the Academy of Country Music and the Grammys. (Yearwood's version was heard in the 1997 film "Con Air.") And Braxton won a 1997 Grammy with Warren's "Un-Break My Heart."

    Realsongs, real life

    Not only does Warren write both the lyrics and the melodies for her songs, but she also runs her own publishing company, Realsongs. It's considered known as the most successful female-owned business in the music industry.

    She does everything. She writes the songs, downloads them, calls radio stations and record-label promotion departments. Warren describes herself as a hands-on type. "They're my songs. They're my kids," she says.

    The secret of a truly good song? "A combination," Warren says, "of lyrics and melody that belong together, that move you -- that make you feel something, that touch you somehow."

    And listening to the passionate sweep of her words and music, you might get the feeling that Warren has lived her lyrics. Fortunately, she has a gracious sense of humor about that issue.

    "You think I have this amazing love life, right? I don't. Sometimes there's some of my life (in a song), but you know I don't have the most fascinating life.

    "If I wrote just about my life," Diane Warren quips, "they'd be really, really boring songs."



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