Tommy Brown, p/k/a TBHits, filled the Zoom room on October 18 to mentor and encourage several talented New York City Department of Education public high school students with their songwriting skills for the latest Songwriters Hall of Fame Master Session, hosted by Stuyvesant's Vocal Music & Music Technology professor / SHOF NY Education Committee vice chair, Harold Stephan.
TBHits is an American record producer, songwriter and rapper who has produced several Grammy-winning songs as well as receiving multiple awards from ASCAP. He has scored many chart-topping albums while working with Ariana Grande on all six of her studio albums as well as executive producing Grande’s 2020 album Positions. In addition to Grande, Brown’s most recent work includes Justin Bieber’s single Holy, Blackpink’s Ice Cream feat. Selena Gomez and Bet You Wanna (feat. Cardi B). Brown has also collected production credits for three songs on Grammy-award-winning artist Meghan Trainor's second album, Thank You.
Stephan kicked off the session by asking about Brown's diverse approach to production and aesthetics. He said he has “A strong team with a lot of collaborators from different walks of life and the process is different every time. I never know when I go in what we will do.”
Stephan asked, “How do you get artists to feel safe with their emotions and feelings?”
Brown responded, “They know when they come into a room it will be a safe place, and you have to be mindful of people's feelings. It’s a ‘no judgement and leave your ego at home’ room.”
In response to a student question: “How did you overcome challenges and what motivated you to punch through?” Brown said, “I have gratitude for the challenges I have, knowing I can overcome them and have a greater day tomorrow. It is OK to fail sometimes and come back with a good work ethic.”
Another student asked, “How did you make connections?” Brown said, “I took the street team approach, starting as a teenager. I’d burn CDs and pass them out in high school for free. Then I moved to Atlanta at 19, made 20 beats to start, burned 50 CDs and passed them out at open mics, so people started calling me. One day I got a call from an engineer to create beats for an artist and I gave up everything else to do it.”
He went on to say, “Follow the magic...the amount of what you put into it is what you get out of it. Have the mindset that you're going to win, and make sure you put your DNA into the song. Always look for something to make it sound original. Make it sound like you.”
Stephan then opened up the session to five pre-selected students and played one original song by each, following up with Q&A and comments from Brown to inspire them.
“Music is a great place to express yourself, and when creativity comes, it comes, so I try to keep something on my phone to record ideas. My beat machine is my instrument, and you can figure out what instrument works for you. We do it or we don't, there is no ‘try.’”
A student asked, “How do you find people to work with to finish demos?” Brown responded, “Sometimes I find singers, but don’t be afraid to sing your demos yourself, even if you feel you can’t sing well. I worked with one of the top songwriters out there, (SHOF inductee) Diane Warren. She makes simple demos playing piano and singing, and she tapes herself, so we copied the chords and had Ariana sing it, and then I understood the process. You don't want to intimidate the artist with a demo that sounds too good.”
While listening to the student’s songs, Brown commented, “Crazy how much better you all are at this age than I was then.”
In answering the question, “What is the most defining factor that makes a song when you work with artists?” He replied, “Honesty is most important, truly being honest about what inspired you...a lot of people go through the same thing and everyone connects with it. The key to everything is learning every day.”
In response to a question regarding women producers, he said, “I’m such a fan of women producers because it's a different feel and touch, and I’m loving that more women are getting to producing songs...it’s so tight to me, and I love being a part of it.”
When asked about dealing with writer’s block, Brown said, “You have to write through it. Every song is not going to be good, and you figure out how you'll get past this. Just keep going.”
Stephan said, “You have to push through the negative voices." He then asked, “When do you know you're done with a song?” Brown said, “It's like brushing your teeth or showering...you cover all the bases and you can't hold it forever, you have to put it out into the world. The magic just happens when I don't overthink it and just trust it.”
Brown remarked, “We need more love in the world. Can you all write a love song so I can hear one on the radio? If you do, tell me so I can say maybe I inspired you to write a love song.”
Stephan brought the session to a close with congratulations to Brown on all of his well-deserved success, and thanking him for counseling the students in a safe space that allowed answers to some of their most pressing questions as they develop their songwriting craft.
This Master Session was streamed live on the SHOF YouTube channel and is available for viewing HERE.
The Songwriters Hall of Fame and SHOF New York Education Committee chair April Anderson are grateful to Tommy Brown, p/k/a TBHits, David Gray, EVP/Head Of A&R, Universal Music Publishing Group, Simone Dixon, A&R / Creative, Universal Music Publishing Group and Elizabeth M. Guglielmo, Director of Music, New York City Department of Education for her continued support of these events and opportunities for public school students!
The SHOF Master Sessions at Stuyvesant program has hosted events for NYC public school students highlighting both the business and creative sides of the music industry since 2018, with past sessions featuring Sam Ashworth, Denzel Baptiste & David Biral p/k/a Take A Daytrip, Khari “Needlz” Cain, Steven Van Zandt, Steve Greenberg, Mark Hudson, Samantha Cox, Leyla Blue, Maude Latour, Laundry Day, Pom Pom, Mike Campbell, Billy Mann, Gregg Wattenberg and Rich Christina.