BMI might as well have stood for Big Music Indeed last night, as the leading performing rights organization handed out awards and honors to its biggest and best songwriters at the 67th annual Pop Music Awards, hosted by BMI President and CEO Mike O’Neill and Vice President Worldwide Creative Barbara Cane. Sting was honored for his classic “Every Breath You Take” as the Most Performed Song in the entire BMI catalog, overtaking the Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil chestnut “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” with 15 million plays. Imagine Dragons received the BMI President’s Award and longtime music publishing executive Martin Bandier was named a BMI Icon. The heart of the night belonged to the songwriters and publishers of the past year’s 50 most-performed pop songs in the United States from BMI’s catalog of 14 million songs, capped with “Meant To Be,” the Bebe Rexha/Florida Georgia Line monster hit, taking Pop Song of the Year, and Ali Tamposi and Andrew Watt tying for Top Songwriters of the Year.
Held at the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills, the swanky affair was, as expected, big on noise, celebration and song. BMI President Mike O’Neill introduced Sting and noted the singer has a competitive edge. O’Neill recalled how he informed Sting at the BMI London Awards several years ago that “Every Breath You Take” was the second most-performed song in the BMI repertoire, the dapper Englishman replied, “Mike, what’s number one? How far behind am I?” After O’Neill’s introduction, Sting took the stage and strapped on a nylon-string acoustic and performed a haunting version of the song, originally written from an obsessive stalker point of view, but oftentimes misinterpreted as a love song.
Upon accepting the award, Sting offered a heartfelt speech on the importance of songwriting and the community. “I was a 13 year old in a seaport town on the northeast coast of England. And I’m already a budding songwriter, totally obsessed with music. Later in that year I will hear a song on the radio, and to this day I think it is one of the greatest records ever made. That song is called “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” by the Righteous Brothers. As you know, it’s a song of extraordinary passion and pathos, an historic Phil Spector production, written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. The drama of Bill Medley’s bass tenor matched by the passionate high tenor of Bobby Hatfield, the epic coda with the dueling voices and the final triumphant final chorus of ‘bring back that feeling.’ Well, it blew my 13-year old mind. I’m telling you this because the idea that a song of mine somehow superseding that one, at least in terms of performance and airplay, is simply not credible. And yet, here I stand in a room full of publishers and songwriters, as far away from my hometown as I can imagine receiving an extraordinary accolade that frankly humbles me.” He went on to acknowledge the legendary songwriters in the room. “But all of us here who write songs, we know in our hearts that when we write, we are already standing on the shoulders of giants, those who came before us. Mike Stoller (“Stand By Me” “Hound Dog”), I’m talking to you. They passed the ball to us. We just happened to be standing in the right place at the right time.”
Imagine Dragons performed a three-song acoustic set of their top songs “It’s Time,” “Believer” and “Radioactive.” Leader Dan Reynolds acknowledged the love of his mother (“Mom, you raised nine kids!”), and particularly his father who was always supportive of his teenage son’s musical compositions, no matter how bad they were. “My dad would listen to my songs when he was tired from working all day. He would put on his headphones and listen to all this terrible music that a thirteen year old would write. The first song was called “All By Himself” and it was five minutes of a teenager going through puberty. It was a lot of lamenting from this middle class kid who had this amazing life. My dad took off his headphones and said ‘this is great. You should continue doing it.” A moving video tribute to the band also recognized their philanthropic efforts, particularly the establishment of the Tyler Robinson Foundation, which honors a teenage fan who passed from cancer, and the Loveloud Foundation, which advocates for unconditional support of LGBTQ+ youth.
O’Neill spoke highly of longtime executive Bandier as fully qualified for the BMI Icon award, which is typically bestowed on a recording artist or songwriter. Bandier “is someone in our industry as deserving of this accolade as anyone who came before him.” Bandier recently stepped down as chairman of Sony/ATV Publishing and offered wise advice to all, many of whom have been longtime business associates. “BMI believed in me when I had no songs, no copyrights. What I did have was a partner in BMI. I still am taken with what I deem to be the most important part of the music business- the songs and the songwriters. You can’t have a hit without melody and lyrics… just as BMI backed me and believed in me at the start of my career, I hope that I have offered the same support and mentorship to those with whom I’ve worked with along the way.” Singer Steve Tyrell then paid tribute to Bandier with a performance of “Stand By Me,” co-written by Mike Stoller, who was in the audience.
The full list of winners can be found here:
On the red carpet prior to the dinner, American Songwriter chatted with several of the winning songwriters:
Producers Grey (on producing “The Middle”): “When we first heard the top line of the song, it was so magical and insane. We were so excited to work on it. I feel like it came super natural. I think we spent a day or two on it, added some of our flair, sound effects and weird things that we didn’t think would be in a pop song.”
Producer Oak Felder (on his thoughts on the year ahead for music and his production style): “I feel like R&B, artists like Sza, Kehlani, Lauren from Fifth Harmony, HER, Khalid, is getting ready to move to the forefront. It was more of an underground thing over the last two or three years. That’s the next evolution of mainstream music.”
“I change my production style every day. I change as I change as a person. I’m not the same person I was a year ago, and neither is my production style. And I think that’s a good thing. That’s the reason why I’ve been able to work for the last 15 years. For example, I just got the new Slate touch screen MTZ. It literally was delivered today and I can’t wait to install it!”
Andrew Watt and Ali Tamposi (on writing “Let Me Love You”):
“Let Me Love You” is a great story. We had been acquaintances and Ali was throwing a party at the Chateau Marmont and invited me. We all had a crazy night. At some point in the night she agreed to write a song with me. I knew she was an amazing songwriter who had written Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger” among others. I had to work with her. The next morning I woke up hung over and couldn’t find my guitar and was calling her because it was in her room.
“He calls it accidental. I call it intentional.”
Watt: “So she said she would bring the guitar to the studio but didn’t want to write because she was also hung over. I started finger picking this Fleetwood Mac, Beatles-ish riff and she started singing the first verse. And that was pretty much it. The first song we ever wrote together.”
Tamposi: “I think the lyrics came in the session. There was chemistry between Andrew, Ryan, Lou and I. It was undeniable and a long time since I felt that energy amongst other writers. It felt like we were all writing as artists. At the time, I was on my own, falling out of love with music. And from that moment on my life has completely changed. My relationship to songwriting is completely different. It’s a more spiritual experience now and it’s euphoric working with incredible collaborators. He pulls out the best in me and gives me all the confidence I need. I’m so grateful he left his guitar at the Chateau Marmont!”
“Stay” was written in the early ‘90s and I wrote it mainly around the opening guitar lick. It was very important to me to write a guitar lick and be able to sing over it. I used a capo and my Taylor cutaway, which was important because I go way high up on the neck. I was also trying to write a song for Daryl Hall of Hall and Oates. So that’s why it has the R&B groove. I was trying to copy that old school “Sara Smile” vibe, which was their take on blues and R&B. It was a very personal song and I can’t believe it’s the song’s 25th anniversary this year!”
Jamie Hartman (Backstreet Boys “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”): I’m very proud of this song. My co-writer Stuart Crichton and another writer Steven Wrabel, both fantastic writers, got it to the Backstreet Boys. We wrote it the first day we were together. Stuart was on his way to see the band and he played this one and a few others for them and the rest is history. All that we did was try to recreate the magic of the demo and they definitely did that. They are fantastic professionals.”
Rogét Chahayed (Halsey “Bad At Love”):
I’m a classically trained pianist and play keyboards and synths so my main form of songwriting is analog and organic instruments. I work with Fruity Loops for drums. It’s not necessarily the best drums but the sounds you can pick are hard to beat. I worked on and co-produced “Bad At Love “with Ricky Reed. We were working together creating tracks and that day he went into a session with Halsey. They turned our track into “Bad At Love.” We made the track in 2016 and they ended up working on it and cutting it about a year later. So it was in the vault for a while and Ricky saw it as a good idea for Halsey.”
Jason Evigan: I try to stay inspired and not mess up and then things come out. On “Girls Like You” Starrah was in the booth finishing another song and on top of what she was singing I heard this real percussive guitar riff in my head. I figured it out and came back in the room and the song wrote itself in 35 minutes. Starrah is very quick with lyrics. Producer Cirkut and I spent about a month figuring out the right production for it. We tried four on the floor and all sorts of things. Then we went minimal and simplistic. One day I was driving in Malibu Canyon (playing the roughs). The guitar is so rhythmic so I thought to keep the kick simple. So taking walks on the beach, around the house, driving, or just hanging out- that’s when all the ideas usually come.”