Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a very small town in Pennsylvania called Mount Gretna,
located around the Amish Country. It was very rural, not even one traffic
What brought you here?
My love of music. I had always been a music lover, first and foremost.
I went to Berklee College of Music to really learn songwriting and music.
I moved to New York City to pursue a musical career and landed a day
job at Rondor Music in the tape library. I did another tape library
job at Polygram Music where I did some song plugging as well. And that
led me to a job here at BMG. I've been here for three and a half years
On the writer/producer
end of things, we have some great ones like Manuel Seal who has worked
with Usher; We have also Malik Pendelton, who has a great album coming
out on Atlantic. We have Shawn Bryant and Ron Lawrence who are also
R&B producers. On the West Coast, we have a writer/production team called
Sean Hosein and Dane Deviller who are doing great things for 98 Degrees,
The Corrs, All 4 One, LFO, etc.. We also have Ashley Ingram who writes
with Desiree. He wrote "You Gotta Be." We also get to work with our
international roster that includes Phil Thornally who did the Natalie
Imbruglia material, Dave Stewart, and Ray Hedges who does the B*Witched
records. We have a really strong international writer/producer roster.
What are your roles here?
My job is to exploit the catalog in any way possible. This includes
the back catalog, but primarily the current writers we have signed.
Typically, 60-70% of my job is finding great songs from our writers
and getting them to the appropriate A&R people and artists so that they
can cover them. I also work with our back catalog. I continually re-demo
some of our older songs. I put new faces on them to get them covered
again. I try to get our songs on compilations. I also work with our
Film & TV department here. Because of my knowledge of the catalog, we
work well together. Lastly, I also look for new writers and artists
to bring into the company.
How big is your back catalog?
I think we have about 300,000 copyrights, so it's quite extensive. It
includes The Bee Gees, Eurythmics, Barry Manilow, Air Supply, Christopher
Cross, The Go-Go's, Santanaa really great artist and pop catalog.
Most of the writers that you mentioned are writer/producers. Do you
still have staff writers that only write and don't produce?
I just signed a writer who is just a songwriter. He is a budding talent
as a producer, but right now he is primarily a songwriter. It is becoming
more rare, but in special cases where we feel that there is a real special
and unique writing talent, we will sign them regardless of how good
their demos sound or what connections they have. In this case, we've
taken the position that this writer was delivering songs that were so
good, and he is so talented, that we are taking him under our arm. We
are hiring people in Los Angeles and overseeing the demos of his songs
so that we elevate the caliber of his original demos to the point where
they can be heard properly.
How did he come to your attention?
Through a lawyer and a manager, actually, from Nashville. But he lives
in Texas right now. Being in New York or Los Angeles, we're finding
is not essential in this case.
What genre does he write in?
Backstreet Boys and that kind of stuff?
Exactly. The staff writer is still very relevant today, I find. The
fact is there are very few hit songs and hit writers out there. When
you come across themno matter what, if they are writer/producers,
or just songwriters, or lyricistsyou've got to grab hold of them.
So he didn't already have cuts?
That's not a story we hear very often. Most of the time these days,
songwriters need to have songs already recorded by major artists before
publishers are interested.
In this case, it was obvious that these songs were great. My philosophy
has always been that great songs equal great covers and great activity.
You can't stop a good song, so regardless of what position he was in,
I wanted to be involved.
What about lyricists? Do you have anyone that specializes in lyrics?
The people that specialize in lyrics are mostly the people who also
do melody. I would say 75% of the time, they are also vocalists that
have been able to, through singing melodies, facilitate writing great
lyrics as well. So we have a couple of people here that do that. We
don't have one person that is per se just a lyricist. Those people would
include Manuel Seal, who also does tracks as well, and someone like
Trina Powell, who does a lot of R&B writing. I'm finding that there
are more R&B-based melody-lyric writers than there are on the Pop side.
Besides the artists you have signed, how many staff writers and writer/producers
do you currently have?
Probably ten on each coast. It's not so big that you can't manage it.
I think it is somewhere between a boutique feel and a place like Warner/Chappell
or EMI that have maybe fifty or more. It's a nice amount of people,
and it works very well.
Is it fair to say that for aspiring writers their chances are better
if they also produce as well as write?
I'd say, to simplify that, that their chances of making a living are
better if they can write hits. Just because someone can produce tracks
really doesn't mean anything unless it is a great song. Also, if their
productions aren't up to snuff, it's not going to help activity that
What were the demos like of your writer from Texas?
Though very representative of the song, they were fairly rough. They
were a 4-track kind of thing. He was singing his own demos. The vocals
were in tune, but it was not a demo that I could take to a record company
and they would feel confident playing to their artists. It was far from
being a finished, highly produced demo that you are typically getting
Are you finding more opportunity lately in the Rock and Modern Rock
world for outside songs?
Actually yes, I really am. I think that a lot of record people have
found that for these bands to have longevity and life beyond a one-hit
album, they are putting them together with hit songwriters. They are
actually taking outside songs and looking for outside songs, and cover
ideas too, like that band Orgy covering New Order's "Blue Monday." I'm
finding that A&R people are considering other non-typical ways of finding
hits for their artists.
So the artists are open to the idea as well?
The artists also understand that their longevity depends on hit songs.
I think most of them have resistance to the idea because they may have
had previous success, but I think they understand what the game is.
I'm finding that those doors are starting to open.
Do you sign single song deals?
Yes. The last one I did looks like it is going to be getting recorded
by Next on Arista. Single song deals are a really unique situation where
the song has really got to be a hit. My philosophy is I can't sign something
that doesn't have hit potential or is just a "good" song. It's got to
be tremendous, because that's what other people are looking for. Again
this was a case where the demo was decent, but it wasn't an amazing
production. I'm always on the lookout for incredible songs.
How did you find that one?
I met with the writer, actually, who was referred to me by a colleague.
What are some of the other ways you find writers and songs? Do you
accept unsolicited material?
Well, BMG's official position is that we don't. I'm finding great material
from independent sources such as TAXI. I've found some great things
from TAXI. There are also the typical ways like lawyer contacts, and
other A&R contacts, as well as managers. I'm finding a lot of great
things from other songwriters, a lot of other producers, and even vocalists.
Vocalists who sing demos for everyone in town can lead me to a new songwriter
that has just come into Los Angeles, or someone that they have worked
with recently. I even found one thing just through the mail. So it does
What about artist development deals? Do you do those here?
BMG really excels in artist development deals. Our best examples of
success in that area have been Beckwho was signed before his Geffen
dealCypress Hill, Elliott Smith, and Duncan Shiek. So we do do artist
development deals. We have recently signed two new artists that, within
a period of less than a half year, we've gotten major record label deals
On the Film & TV side, do you focus primarily on placing songs from
the catalog, or does BMG actively sign instrumental composers and compositions
I find that the instrumental side is not very exploitable for us, especially
in Film & TV. When the film supervisors need an instrumental cue, they
can go to a music library, or they can hire it out as a work-for-hire.
For us as a publisher, the whole definition of a song is melody and
lyric, so we typically don't look for instrumental composers. However,
someone like Jim Brickman, who is a great artist on Windham Hill Records
and who we publish, is an instrumental piano player. We have enjoyed
a great deal of success with him. However, his successes are also due
to co-writing with other lyricists for radio singles which comprise
20% of his album.
When your writers bring you a song, do you work with them on making
it the best song possible? For example, will they bring you a rough
demo before they make a complete demo and ask your opinion and get critiques
Yes and no. There are some writers that will call me on the phone, and
we'll listen to it together, and I'll make comments. Often the comments
that I'll offer will be constructive enough that they will re-approach
things, and the song will be better. That happens quite a bit. There
are some other writers that are more narrow-minded, that even after
they turn it in, you may suggest something that is obvious, but they
will be reluctant to go back and change it. I'm here for them to critique
their songs and make them the best as possible. Through that process,
and my knowledge of what A&R people and artists are looking for, we've
been able to turn good songs into potential hits.
Do you encourage collaboration?
Of course, absolutely. Though we love it when we can control songs 100%,
the bottom line is, whatever makes a song better is what I would encourage.
So absolutelycollaborations with other writers, with other producers,
and artists. It is especially a great thing if we can collaborate with
artists, because that would more likely guarantee a release.
What percentage of the songs that current staff writers bring in
end up getting cut?
It varies from songwriter to songwriter. I would say in the best case,
we have a writing/production team right now that are getting about 80%
of their songs placed. That includes current songs all the way back
to the day they started at BMG. The reason that is happening is they
are terrific songs, period. Although they are also great producers,
they always come up with unique melodies, unique lyrics, unique ways
to say things. They are on the case.
Are they currently having hits?
That must make it a lot easier.
It does make it easier, but the fact is they had to start out just like
everyone else here. They didn't have any hits at the beginning, and
no one knew them.. One of the first cuts we got for them went Top 10
in the U.S.
And yet 20% of the stuff they write still doesn't get cut.
Exactly. Then there are other writers where it is the total reverse.
Only 25% of their songs are getting recorded. We try to get those percentages
higher, but sometimes it just doesn't happen. The percentage of activity
is in direct relation to the quality of the song
How many pitches do you have to make of the average song before it
I'd say thirty or forty. Say you have 20 songs, and 17 of them get placed,
out of those 17, in your best case scenario, maybe one or two of them
will be singles. Maybe another one or two will be on an album that sells
a million records. Three or four may be on a project that never gets
released. A couple others may just sell 50,000 records. It's potluck
a lot of times. Surprisingly, only 190 out of 50,000 artists released
sell in excess of one million!
What advice would you offer a songwriter in Boise, Idaho who is trying
to make a living at this? How could they get people's attention?
The best thing to do, I have found, is to have patience and wait to
start soliciting your material until you are absolutely, 100% ready
to do so. That way, when your name comes across someone's desk for the
first time, it is immediately associated with great material. I think
after an A&R person or publisher hears someone's name for the third
or fourth time, and they haven't delivered good material, they will
pay less attention to listening to that material. Maybe they won't even
listen after a while. I would say to always make sure your songs are
uniquesaying something in a unique way, and using unique melodies
and lyrics. And just to be as creative as possible but still within
the confines of being mainstream, if that is your goal as a writer.
The power will always be in the great songs which usually turn out to
be hits. Concentrate on writing the best songs possible, and usually
all else will follow. The last thing I would say about that is, I find
that most songs fail for me on the lyrical end of things. That's the
most common reason why songs don't get placedthe lyric is not up to
Why do you think that is?
Because it's the hardest thing to do. It's the hardest part of creating
a great songwriting a unique lyrical idea and hook and making it work.
What would you say to someone who says, "You say lyrics are so important.
I can point to ten songs, particularly on the R&B charts, that are just
chock full of cliches and pretty weak lyrically?"
If you look at the songs on the charts right now, I would say for every
one song that is like that, there are another seven or eight that have
a real edgy lyric. A good example is a song like "Too Close," by Next.
The first time I heard the song I thought it was just o.k... until I
started listening to what the song was really about, which I can't really
go into detail about here! The lyrical game is to find unique new ways
to express ideas that may or may not have been previously said. I'm
finding that R&B lyrics are pretty adventurous most times. For every
rule, there is the exception. There is always that song that transcends
having a great lyric.
So it's best to compare yourself to the best and not to the worst.
Wanna publish this article on your website? Click here to find out how.