It’s not unusual for some successful singer/songwriters to write every tune on their albums. And it’s not really unusual for some to co-produce their albums. But it is unusual for a high school sophomore to undertake those feats and have the resulting debut product climb to the tip five in the Billboard pop charts. But then again Debbie Gibson isn’t your usual pop star.
“I was always into music. I always listened to the radio and when I was two I wanted a guitar. A two-year old can’t play a guitar so they got me a ukulele and I played it till it broke. I started to play piano by ear when I was four and when I was five I wrote my first song, ‘Make Sure You Know Your Classroom,'” the young artist recalls with a laugh. “I continued with classical piano and voice lessons and I really started writing again when I was 12.”
At 13 she and her parents sought the advice of a lawyer to check on proper procedure for protecting Debbie’s growing catalog of tunes. Impressed with the young entertainer’s ability, attorney Doug Breitbart became Debbie’s manager. During the next three years she continued to write and laid down demos of over 100 tunes in her home demo studio. One month after her 16th birthday she signed with Atlantic Records.
Her debut album, Out of the Blue was one of the most successful records of 1987, yielding the hit single, “Only In My Dreams.” In addition to writing all ten tunes, Gibson produced or co-produced four of the album’s cuts with veteran producer Fred Zarr who has worked with Madonna, Kashif, Arthur Baker and others.
Having experimented with her songs in her own demo studio, producing part of her album seemed a natural progression for Gibson. She says Atlantic had been listening to her tunes for over a year before she was signed. “I had a four-track and now I have a 12 track,” she said. “So Atlantic could hear me improving as I kept working on my tunes.”
She says she really learned a lot from co-producing some of her album with Fred Zarr. “I really enjoyed working with Fred,” she said. “It was good to work with someone and get new ideas. We think along the same lines production-wise so it worked out fine.”
Gibson is understandably pleased with her debut album. “My music came across just as I wrote it and has exactly the feel I expected it to have,” she comments. Gibson admits that her age has been a mixed blessing. It has attracted attention, yet at the same time was a hindrance in some respects because people don’t tend to take teenagers seriously.
But as her tunes climbed the charts it became obvious that Debbie Gibson’s talent transcended age barriers. Though some may wonder what experiences a teenager draws upon to write songs, Debbie says she uses personal experiences and keen observations. “I’m very observant of everything that goes on,” she said. “I think being a teenager, I naturally have a good understanding of young people, but I think what I have to say is universal.”
Gibson has written over 250 tunes. “When I write I write both words and music together. I’ve always had a creative mind and usually I come up with a catchy phrase and a catchy melody to go with it,” the young blonde comments. “I would say melodies come easier, but I really don’t sit down and write just melodies. I’ll sit and improvise on the piano for hours but when it comes to songwriting I write the words and music together.”
Since she’s proficient at both melody and lyrics, Gibson has yet to collaborate on any tunes. “I guess that would be something to do in the future, but right now not having ever collaborated I don’t really see how people do it. Songwriting to me is such a personal thing.”
Though some have dubbed her a child prodigy, Gibson doesn’t feel comfortable with the term. “I don’t think I could ever think of myself as a child prodigy,” she said. “what I do just comes naturally.” And she has tried to maintain as natural a life as is possible for a 17 year old pop singer. “I’m still in high school. I attend Calhoun High on Long Island and I record after school and tour when school isn’t in session. I go to the mall, the movies and other regular things.”
Her goals include winning a Grammy Award and doing a duet with her idol Billy Joel. “I think his lyrics are really great,” she enthuses. Though a duet with Joel isn’t yet in the works, she’s on her way to racking up other accolades. She is currently writing tunes for her next album as well as penning songs for movie soundtracks. She has a cut on the soundtrack album for the film Fatal Beauty and is writing songs for a Michael J. Fox movie called Bright Lights, Big City .
Though she’s one of the youngest entertainers on the charts, she’s already had a great deal of success with her debut release. Needless to say, she’s pleased with the momentum her career is enjoying and isn’t worried about her follow-up album being the victim of a sophomore slump. “I’m confident about my music and the progression I’ve made since I was 12,” she said. “And I haven’t let up on my writing and I’m always getting new ideas.”