Accomplished singer/songwriter/producer Russ Irwin has been honing his musical chops for over two decades, working with artists ranging from Meat Loaf to Clay Aiken, Aerosmith to Sting.
If you’ve seen Aerosmith over the past 15 years, you may recognize him. He’s the band’s touring keyboardist who’s now co-written the band’s latest single “What Could Have Been Love,” which is currently climbing the charts.
How does Russ stay inspired after all these years? He’s got the answers in this guest blog.
Writing music has been a part of my life for a long time. I started writing songs when I was very young. Probably around the time I was 15. At the time, I was listening to Billy Joel and the Police, and just having fun playing piano and singing the songs that I loved. When you’re young, it’s all based on intuition and your writing without any real craft.
As I developed as a musician and began working professionally, I learned to refine my process. All the classic records that I’d been listening to became the text books for my writing. Zeppelin, The Beatles and Elton John really got in my blood.
Of course after years of writing, inspiration can sometimes be hard to find. But there are ways to be ready when the ideas come. Sometimes it’s a newspaper article, something on TV or it can be just one word that someone say’s to you. I actually keep a list in my phone of song ideas, titles and themes.
When I write for other people, like Meat Loaf, Foreigner of Aerosmith, it’s a different process because I have an entire catalog of past material that I can use as a reference to generate new idea’s that can be put in context of a modern framework. I always find it’s cool to try and take a classic band and make them sound modern and current.
The time I’ve spent playing keys for Aerosmith really helped me realize that. There’s just something about playing the classics every night that gets into your blood and never goes away and really sets the bar for what you hope to achieve in your own career.
I co-wrote Aerosmith’s “What Could Have Been Love” off of their new record with Steven Tyler. It was originally written as a country song with Tim McGraw in mind. But then, Steven Tyler heard it and loved it, and he added his own twist to it. It’s been cultivated over a long time and it’s a song that I’m incredibly proud of.
But when you’re writing for yourself it’s different. It’s a blank slate with endless possibilities, so the process is much more intense. There’s a lot of soul-searching involved.
Once you have an idea, you need to decide on the music that supports it. Does this sound like a ballad? Or would this be more up-tempo? In the end, the song needs to be a marriage between the music and the lyrics.
For my album Get Me Home, I learned that working under pressure and spontaneity was an amazing experience for me. Before we went to record the album, I didn’t have any material. I was on a deadline and needed to get songs written before we got into the studio. It’s was when the pressure was on that I start writing songs left and right. For me, it’s a great way to work. The song ‘Manhattan’ I actually started writing on the plane from LA to New York on my way to the first sessions for the album. Get Me Home is the work that I’m most of proud of that I’ve done so far in my life.