The people who write the songs that power the music industry carve their own unique road to the Grammys.
From Nashville to Los Angeles, songwriters are the less-publicized counterparts to the high-profile recording artists who soak up the spotlight on Grammy night. You may not know their names, but their work gets stuck in your head like an unforgettable memory. And by their own admission, it’s an odd way to make a living – equal parts poet, mathematician and therapist, reports CBS News correspondent Don Dahler.
Kara DioGuardi, Justin Tranter and Ross Golan are responsible for some of the most memorable pop music in the past decade, from P!nk’s “Sober” to Flo Rida’s “My House” and Justin Beiber’s “Sorry.”
That Bieber hit dropped after his much-publicized breakup with fellow pop star Selena Gomez.
“You’ve written with Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez. Do you sometimes feel like you’re a relationship counselor at those times?” Dahler asked Tranter. “You’re writing and you’re almost writing to each of them?”
“Being aware of the fact of what pop culture was viewing him as in that moment, I knew an apology would be good,” Tranter said.
“So there was no awkward moment there with… working on both?” Dahler asked.
“No, not at all,” Tranter said.
“Because you don’t want to get caught in these people’s lives,” DioGuardi jumped in.
“Because they’re real lives! “ Tranter added.
“Right. And they tell you things, and of course, those are secret things you would never say to anybody,” DioGuardi said.
“The studio is really kind of a confessional,” Golan said.
“It is,” DioGuardi agreed.
It’s not always someone else’s secrets being exposed, but the writer’s own demons instead. When DioGuardi co-wrote “Sober” with P!nk, she was inspired by her own teenage battle with an eating disorder.
“Was that scary for you, to expose your own experiences and pain that way?” Dahler asked.
“Songwriting is the best therapy that I never paid for,” DioGuardi said. “We trade in a commodity of truth. And we have to be really honest with ourselves in order to put that out and have it affect somebody else. When I stopped writing so much and I go to concerts and I look around, and these kids would be singing words that I have written and you realize there’s a spiritual element to what you do.”
What they do rarely gets recorded the way it was originally intended. When Ross Golan first wrote the Flo Rida hit “My House,” it was a ballad about the joys of domestic bliss.
“Yeah, my wife and I don’t go out. I mean, I haven’t been to a club in years. I was at the Rose Bowl, and they sing the national anthem, and then there’s this huge flyover, and then ‘My House’ comes on. And I’m like, this is so surreal because this song is about how my wife and I don’t go out,” Golan said, laughing.
“It’s the exact opposite of how you envisioned it,” Dahler said.
“Well, to Flo Rida’s credit, he starts writing the bridge. He did the rap, and he says in it, ‘Home run, slam dunk, touchdown pass,’ which has nothing to do with the song. But he just turns to me and he goes, ‘Trust me,’” Golan said.
“He was right,” DioGuardi said, laughing.
“But is it poetry by committee?” Dahler asked
“Sometimes,” Tranter said.
“Can be,” DioGuardi said.
“You have to check your ego at the door. So if you walk in and you think that you’re the best writer in the room, first of all, you’re probably not,” Golan said, laughing.
For these songwriters, it’s less about inspiration, and more about hard work and perseverance — sitting in a room from 9 to 5, hammering together music and lyrics to build something special.
Last year alone, Golan and Tranter had eight top 20 hits — five that went to number one. But on the day we sat in the room, it was DioGuardi who brought in the seed that grew into a melody.
“You got to fall to stand up,” the three of them sang together, as Golan jammed out on the guitar.
And that very easily could become the next great pop song at near year’s Grammy Awards.
There seems to be an unwritten songwriters rule because DioGuardi, Tranter and Golan all said that the secrets discussed in the studio say there and are not shared with friends or the public, except of course when they’re turned into hit lyrics.