The Art of Collaboration

Songwriters & Music Publishers Making Music & History Together

The latest in the Songwriters Hall of Fame events, The Art of Collaboration: Songwriters and Music Publishers Making Music and History Together, took place October 20, 2016 to a packed house in the Clive Davis Theatre at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles. The evening featured three of today’s illustrious and Grammy-nominated and award-winning songwriters, Jack Antonoff (Bleachers, Fun, Rachel Platten, Taylor Swift), Bonnie McKee (Bonnie McKee, Katy Perry, Christina Aguilera, Taio Cruz) and Dan Wilson (Adele, John Legend, Dixie Chicks, P!nk) and their respective publishers, Jennifer Knoepfle, Senior VP, Sony/ATV Songs, Scott Cutler, Founding Partner, Pulse Music Group and Kenny MacPherson, Founding Partner and President, Big Deal Music. The group shared their inspiring stories about the beginnings of both professional and creative careers that have transcended time and evolved into inspiring and creatively enriching relationships. The event was moderated by multi-platinum songwriter, Ross Golan (Maroon 5, Justin Bieber, Flo Rida, Ariana Grande) and for the first time, will be featured in his podcast series, “And The Writer Is…” co-produced with award winning songwriter, Joe London.

“The Songwriters Hall of Fame was thrilled to be able to offer an opportunity to show the importance of a songwriter selecting a publisher who is best suited to his/her talents, who is not only trustworthy, but who can provide guidance and collaboration,” said SHOF President & CEO Linda Moran. “The SHOF and the songwriting community could not have been represented better than they were by this panel of prominent songwriters and publishers.”

Panel discussion included insightful and compelling stories about their personal and professional collaborations, boundaries between the two and how songwriter and music publisher work to merge them to influence the creative process and overcoming obstacles between them; publisher and writer exploring projects that address craft as writer vs. career as artist.

As a friend, genuine fan, fellow collaborator and hit songwriter himself, moderator Ross Golan offered unique and valuable perspective inside the publisher/writer relationship. He brought light to the fact that sometimes even the writer doesn’t know how a song will evolve when they start. Bringing light to the fact that Flo Rida’s “My House” started as an emotional Adele style ballad. 

Jack Antonoff discussed the value of a great publisher being one who has the ability to give their opinion - allowing the songwriter the opportunity to listen and creating a collaborative culture and relationship. His publisher Jennifer Knoepfle also touched upon the importance of writers having their own ideas and relationships, which eventually led to Antonoff’s collaboration with Taylor Swift and their hit “Out Of The Woods.”

Kenny MacPherson and Dan Wilson discussed the opportunity that both publishers and writers have to challenge, protest, and be courageous in their process, when reflecting upon co-writing the Dixie Chicks’ controversial hit, Grammy Award-winning “Not Ready To Make Nice.”

Bonnie McKee and Scott Cutler revealed that even songs as lighthearted and seemingly effortless as Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” and Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite” can come from an unexpectedly vulnerable place for the songwriter as she further explained that “Dynamite” was originally written about surrender during a really dark time in her life.

Ross asked Jack how his song “We Are Young” got performed on the hit show Glee and in ads before it was ever released on the album. To which Jack explained that John Janick who was the A&R for the record sent it to Glee because he specifically thought it would be a good song for the show, and he thinks that you get those results when your representation is thoughtful about their pitching.

Dan Wilson shared the story behind his hit song with his band Semisonic, “Closing Time.” He explained part of its origin was from trying to write a song he had already written again. Additionally, he had been touring for a long time in bars and “closing time” became a metaphor for his life. Lastly when he was writing the song he and his wife was expecting a child and so he hid the “story of a being born in the metaphor of being kicked out of a bar.”

When asked by a young aspiring songwriter, “What advice would you give your 19 year old self?” all agreed that that collaborating with other writers is important.  Bonnie explained, “Two heads are better than one” and said she has learned so much through collaboration. In the beginning of her career she was focused on trying to be the only writer of her songs and wished she had started collaborating earlier.

Dan seconded that advice and stressed the importance of community. He said there is no “Sky hook” that is going to come and pull you up to where you want to be. Rather that those opportunities will come through the community of people who are coming up in the business with you.

Ross related to that sentiment recalling the beginning of his career when fellow songwriter and friend, Ricky Reed would take the bus to his home to write songs on his couch as just two friends, and now they get to write songs for a living.

The evening was chaired by SHOF Committee member, Casey Robison and kudos also go to West Coast Event Director and SHOF West Coast Committee member, Barbara Cane. Mary Jo Mennella, SHOF Board Member and Chair of West Coast Events welcomed the guests and was joined by fellow Committee members Kathy Spanberger, West Coast Vice-Chair, and Donna Caseine. Proceeds from the event benefit the educational programs of the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Grammy Museum.