The BMI Pop Awards were handed out this week at the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills, CA. Mark Ronson was awarded the Champion Award for his contribution to both music and charitable efforts. The BMI Pop Song of the Year went to BMI songwriters Johnny McDaid and Ed Sheeran for “Shape of You,” which spent 12 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart and 33 consecutive weeks in the Top 10, the longest run for a single in the history of the chart. Songwriter Justin Tranter took home the coveted Songwriter of the Year award for the second year in a row for his hand in co-writing hit singles “Believer” performed by Imagine Dragons, “Cold” performed by Maroon 5 featuring Future, “Heavy” performed by Linkin Park and “Issues” by Juliana Michaels. Sony/ATV Music Publishing took home Publisher of the Year for representing 26 of the top 50 most performed songs of the previous year.
For a complete list of 2018 winners and photo slideshow, visit bmi.com.
American Songwriter caught up with several of the award-winning songwriters on the red carpet to discuss the writing process, influences and how being a fun, positive person makes all the difference.
Mark Ronson (“Uptown Funk,” “Valerie,” “Back To Black,” “Locked Out Of Heaven”):
“Uptown Funk” was a seven-month process but it started as fun night jamming in Bruno’s studio. He had been playing this James Brown-type beat in his live show, rapping Trinidad James over it. So we started messing around with it one night, changing the words up but keeping the cadence. Bruno was on drums and I was on bass, Jeff Bhasker on keys. We left that first night with a really fun groove that we cut down from a six-hour jam to parts we liked and the first verse. And then it took seven months to finish. With a lot of songs, when the first seed of inspiration is so good, nothing you ever do when you get back in seems to rival it. It’s like losing your virginity again. Everyone knows what the potential of the song could be because you’ve got this X factor of what you knew it could be from the first night. But you’re chasing it. We must have rewritten it fifty times. The title didn’t even come until the end. I liked the idea of putting two things together that don’t normally go together. There were so many bass lines and drum grooves. That bass line run at the end of the song came about because Bruno played a similar sounding drum fill. But it didn’t work on its own. So we had everyone play a syncopated fill on top of it. We recorded the song in so many different studios in different cities. We worked it within an inch of its life.”
James Arthur (“Say You Won’t Let Go”):
“On the day I wrote the song I was hung over and just wanted to get in and out of the session as quickly as possible. My A&R rep said I had to try and write a love song since the album was very autobiographical but was missing the heartwarming stories. I figured I just had to be honest. I didn’t think it was going to be a single and didn’t realize how special it was. In hindsight I suppose it’s the honesty in the song.”
Neil Ormandy (co-writer “Say You Won’t Let Go”):
“It was like a dream session. Steve came up with the guitar riff and we came up with a melody pretty quickly. And then we just tried to write the perfect love song.”
Steven Solomon (co-writer “Say You Won’t Let Go”):
“James was a big part of it. He knew what he wanted.”
Justin Tranter (“Believer,” “Issues,” “Cold”):
“I’ve been interested in songwriting for a long time, whether it’s pop writers who write for other people or the roots-y Americana singer/songwriter. I got into making music when I was in musical theater. I was a little gay kid in the suburbs of Chicago. Community theater was the only option for me. I loved it but didn’t like any of the songs written for boys. They weren’t dramatic enough. So I wrote my own. I was obsessed with Ani DiFranco, Patty Griffin, Patty Larkin and Tori Amos at that time, really masterful songwriters. And then I joined a glam-rock band and now I write pop songs, so who knows!”
“I get to help artists tell their story and tell the most honest, beautiful stories they can. The goal for me with music is to tell the truth. And the truth doesn’t have a genre.”
Daniel Bryer (“This Town”):
“Guitar or piano is where my songs always start. I start with melody and then build up the lyric. I first started songwriting when I was fifteen years old in a band in school, a really bad band (laughs). I started listening to bands like Arctic Monkeys and the stories they would tell in their songs. They were massively important to me. And that led to Motown and classic songwriters like Billy Joel. The more I studied them the more my songwriting style changed and grew.”
Ross Golan (“Fresh Eyes”):
“About eight years ago a bunch of us new writers were snuck into just the cocktail hour for these awards but couldn’t get in to the dinner. So to see my peers rise up to prominence together is pretty exciting. BMI put a lot of effort in to make sure the right people listened to my songs. When I had no cuts, BMI was putting me in the room with other writers. Which led to the next thing and now here I am.”
“No one cares about where the song winds up. You’d just rather have a good day than a good song. You’ll go home at the end of the day and say ‘that was a good time.’
Warren “Oak” Felder (producer “Scars to Your Beautiful”) on the song’s title:
“There’s this concept of taking an adjective and applying it as a noun. ‘You have a beautiful and there are no scars to your beautiful.’ And that’s how that phrase was created. And it spoke to a lot of people. There were people who said we should change it. I’m glad I didn’t listen.”
Ricky Reed (“Handclaps”):
“I had a cover band in high school in Oakland. My girlfriend and I were on the rocks. My band had a concert and we covered Blink 182 songs trying to get her back but it didn’t really do the trick. I realized I had to write my own songs and maybe that would be more effective (laughs).
There was an event in the Bay Area that BMI was part of and they made contact with me after seeing my band. I cold-called BMI and told them I wanted to write for rappers and singers. They were really helpful and hooked me up. Fast forward a couple years and I had my first hit with Jason Derulo, which led to Twenty One Pilots and more.
Ari Leff, who performs as LAUV (“No Promises):
“I put out my song “The Other” on Spotify and then two years later somebody added it to a playlist. I watched it go from eight million streams to a hundred million. Things are more democratized now with streaming. An artist can put something out and, if it’s given some type of exposure, audiences can decide how they feel about it. Then I put out “I Like Me Better” and that was a crazy ride.
Asia Whiteacre (“Starving”):
“My life and my friend’s tumultuous dating life is songwriting gold for me. People don’t realize they speak in lyrics a lot of the time and I grab bits of conversations and write them down. Then I sit with my producer and I’ll let them start a vibe and pull stuff from there. I find that for the most part if I love a person and have a great time with them then we can often write good songs. I find the best songs don’t come from briefs (from executives). Magic comes on accident.”
Rob Ingraham, Zack Feinberg and Michael Girardot (The Revivalists) (“Wish I Knew You”):
“We’re from New Orleans. It’s an amazing music culture, which is why I moved there. It’s not hard to get gigs. We met in college. Half of us went to Loyola and half went to Tulane, except for our lead singer Dave who came from Ohio. I met him when he was singing and playing guitar on his porch. So we’ve been friends for a long time.”
Matt Russell and Trevor Dahl of Cheat Codes (“No Promises”) discuss being a successful songwriting team:
Matt: “Trevor comes from a singer/songwriter background and we take the song first and bounce ideas off back and forth. We’ve been friends for a while and it feels very natural.
Trevor: “I used to do a lot of acoustic music for about seven years. I toured around the country and booked shows. I liked doing that and performing but I wanted to be creative in the studio so I stopped. Then I got into dance music. It was a slow process of doing it year after year, writing and producing and trying to make good music.”
Rozzi- (“Never Over You”):
“I was less social when I was a kid and was always making up songs. The ‘a-ha’ moment for me was when I performed a Jewel song at my first grade talent show. I’ve never heard as clear a moment in my life since then. I just knew that was what I was going to do. Adam Levine heard a song I wrote with a friend and signed me. I toured with him, opening up for Maroon 5 and also singing the Christina Aguilera part in ‘Moves Like Jagger.’ But the deal didn’t work out for whatever reason and that’s when I knew that I had to focus and become a writer and make that my whole life.”