11 May 2017

Chapter 42 – Looking for the elusive ‘hit song’

If there was one thing I came to loathe about my experience with Sony it was the constant pressure to find the ‘hit song.’ My repertoire was building up slowly and while Muff loved a lot of the songs I was writing I still needed THE song that would launch me. Consequently the process of going into every session with the intention of leaving with a hit song ended up having such a detrimental effect on me, I eventually came close to wanting to stop writing altogether … and eventually I did, but that wasn’t until much later.

As I’ve mentioned before, songwriting had always been a very natural and private experience for me … but I was now on a conveyor belt of songwriting sessions and I was fast becoming numb to the process. Each experience I had depended on the songwriter I was working with. Many songwriters are musicians first and foremost – and often you are cut from the same cloth and have a mutual love / respect for music – so you create something of worth and leave feeling good about it. If you do find you have a fruitful relationship with another songwriter it’s always worth developing and nurturing that relationship. In those sessions our aim would be to sit and write a great song together, and if that song is later deemed a ‘hit song’ then great! But entering a session with the primary goal of writing a ‘hit song’ can put an incredible amount of pressure on a session. Some writers may thrive on it, though I suspect many may not. After a while I started to feel like a whore to my craft … and just a bit of a cheap sell out. Everything was about hooks, big choruses and provocative edgy lyrics. The feel had gone. I’d go home and listen back to what we’d created and I’d just feel sad.

Because I was a major label artist I’d often walk into some of those songwriting sessions feeling like a prize bull … of course it was in the other writers interest to bag a song on my album but as a result they would (sometimes) totally disregard what I was trying to achieve (whether it was in terms of the sound / direction etc) and they would push the session into a place they thought Sony would like … ie a poptastic house of horrors. I might say something like … “look I’m sorry, this is just not me at all, perhaps if we tried this here blah blah blah” but they would argue their point, and if there was no give I’d just give up and go along with it just to get the session over with – knowing full well this song would never see light of day. Which was a sorry shame. Perhaps those writers assumed I was a pop-dolly who didn’t have a say in what got used on the album … but that wasn’t the case – If I didn’t like it, it wouldn’t be used and funnily enough Muff wasn’t never keen on those songs either, because they just weren’t me.

Of course I needed to have hit songs in order to make this a success, but how you get there seems to make all the difference. If you’re a jobbing songwriter who writes songs for other artists your approach is often different from a artist who writes for themselves. It’s different for every writer of course, but when I sit down to write for myself my process and the headspace I’m in is very different from when I sit down to write for another artist – I wear two completely different hats and it’s very hard to wear them both at the same time when writing for yourself. As a result of my experience I now realise how fragile the creative soul is … and how easily it is to dilute it, or worse still, destroy it altogether. As a result, twice in my life I’ve walked away from music for a long period, not knowing if I’d ever return to it. The first time being when I left Sony. I was completely empty. I no longer loved making music, or even listening to music – I didn’t feel anything for it which was a pretty heartbreaking realisation. It had been such a big part of my life for so long, and it took me almost two years to find my way back to it. When I did eventually find my way back I decided I’d only ever wrote alone, or with Andy, and I continue to work like that today. Even if I don’t write a song for months it’s ok, because when I do whatever comes is the genuine article – it hasn’t been forced, or written with an audience / radio station in mind, and even if no one hears it, it still has worth.

Anyway, that was much later on in the story. Back to the matter at hand … it was time to embark on an adventure to the US to write with the big leagues!