The impressive, behind-the-scenes songwriter for the likes of One Direction, Kelly Clarkson and Beyoncé shares her advice for successful co-writing
For the past two years I’ve been consistently working with the same people, the same co-writer Andrew Watt. We met three years ago and in our first session together we wrote Let Me Love You for DJ Snake and Justin Bieber and in that session there was Brian Lee. So for the most part it’s been Brian Lee, Andrew Watt and I and we’ve really stuck together in the years since that first session. I think having the consistency with people that I have creative chemistry is most important and has a lot to do with the success that I’ve had recently.
I’ve been in the industry for a really long time. Stronger for Kelly Clarkson was my first major placement and between that and Let Me Love You I’d had a few other placements, like Where Do Broken Hearts Go for One Direction, but I hadn’t really had a big single. That was because I didn’t have that safe space to really create with people that I felt comfortable with. I was really testing the waters with a bunch of new writers and it was tough, it was like speed dating with new collaborators and I felt that was really challenging.
It takes a lot for me to open up and feel comfortable with new people. Over the past three years the pressure has been taken off tremendously and so I have been able to focus more on finding new inspiration outside of the studio. I have a rhythm every day before a session – I’ll wake up, I’ll work out, I’ll meditate for 10 minutes. I’ve been sober for almost three years now so my life is completely transformed from three years ago – it was go out, party and just wing it the next day. Now I have a different strategy.
Know who it’s for
We know who we’re writing for the most part every session. That makes it easier and it makes it more enjoyable, because we’re not just shooting darts in the dark, we have a specific agenda and it’s much more enjoyable and I’m able to explore different spaces creatively because I have the right balance with my collaborators and it’s a very therapeutic process.
There’s a lot that go into the songwriting session between Andrew, Brian and I. I think individually we’re artists in our own ways and so conceptually we bring our own emotion and things that we’re going through to the sessions. So every lyric and every concept comes from an honest place. I think a lot of creatives bring a lot of pain to the process. I can’t speak for every writer but it’s about stimulating pain that is released through the song, so we’re able to get out all of our emotions and it’s a really compelling experience and it’s very freeing.
Hope for the best
It doesn’t always line up. Unfortunately there’s no way to harness creativity – I’ve tried in every way possible. I’ve tried outsourcing, I’ve tried drinking to maintain the flow, even with the regime that I’m on now, you never really know how the day is going to turn out and that’s the challenge we always face. You can always just hope for the best and hope that everyone’s energy is in the right place to maintain the rhythm but there’s always this underlying anxiety that I can’t shake before going into the studio, and that is ‘Will the creative gods be lined up with me today, will I be able to execute to the best of my ability?’ Sometimes it doesn’t work. Shaking off a bad session is one of the biggest challenges I face in my everyday life. If I feel challenged I have these internal battles with myself. I have imposter syndrome and I feel like a fraud and all of the above, but for the most part the past couple of years have been really good and I have different techniques for handling writers block now.
If you try to make it specific to an artist it never really works out. I think authenticity is key and an artist can really feel when it sounds sincere, or when a song sounds forced. If we’re trying to write a song for someone like Selena Gomez we know sonically which lane she’s hoping for, which direction they want to go – an alternative style or R&B. So production-wise and melodic sensibilities, I think we designate the style towards the particular artist that we’re aiming for, but lyrically and conceptually that comes from the spaces that we’re in.