Freddy Wexler Turns Dreams into Songwriting Success with Billy Joel, Justin Bieber, Celine Dion and More

Freddy Wexler’s first stab at songwriting was an unrequited, sarcastic take on love called  “No Reason.” “It was a piano-driven song about falling out of love with someone—whatever my idea of love was—and asking them not to take it personally if you can imagine the nerve in that lyric.” As Wexler tells American Songwriter from his home in Los Angeles, “Around 16, I started writing songs, and music became a form of catharsis for me. I was writing what was in my soul.”

Years later, Wexler started working as an A&R intern at Sony Music. He started producing early demos for an artist named Stefani Germanotta, before she became Lady Gaga. At the time, Wexler, who later signed his own record deal with Virgin, had dreams of becoming the youngest president of Sony along with the guy who discovered Lady Gaga. 

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Calling her “the next Madonna,” Wexler prompted a scout to come to one of Germanotta’s early gigs at the Bitter End in New York City. Though he takes no credit for Gaga’s ultimate success, his career would eventually include collaborations with pop luminaries such as Diana Ross, Celine Dion, Post Malone, Selena Gomez, Lil Wayne, Jonas Brothers, Demi Lovato, Halsey, P!nk, and Wyclef Jean. Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber’s 2020 No. 1 hit, “Stuck With U,” stands as a co-writing and co-producing highlight.

“When I started writing for other artists, and that became a big piece of my career, that was a very different process,” shares Wexler. “Instead of trying to write my authentic truth, I was trying to help other people express theirs.”

By 2021, Wexler also helped push Billy Joel out of a songwriting retirement and co-wrote his first new song in 17 years, ‘Turn the Lights Back On.” A turning point in their brainstorming together was when Joel shared a CD of his unfinished songs from the ’70s and ’80s. “I received it via FedEx,” says Wexler, “and it was like winning the lottery.”

From there, the two spent another year and a half completing some of Joel’s songs.“Billy’s a total perfectionist,” says Wexler. “I am too, which is probably partly why we get on. The difference is that to satisfy my perfectionism, I have always collaborated with other people because trying to achieve the level of quality that I hear in my head by myself would be either impossible or painstaking.”

Billy Joel with Freddy Wexler (Photo Courtesy 42 West)

Then Wexler shared an incomplete song of his own, “Turn the Lights Back On,” and Joel immediately connected to the melody, chord progression, and time signature. They began writing around it.

“There’s a reason Billy Joel is a legend,” says Wexler. “What he did with this record, from the phrasing to the emotion to the changes, really took it to a place that was far beyond what I had imagined, and that is the greatest feeling as a songwriter.”

For Wexler, the best songs are written “when you feel uninhibited, when you’re not trying too hard, and when you become a sort of vessel for inspiration,” he says. “At the beginning of my songwriting career, I didn’t realize that. I thought I was much more in control over everything.” He adds, “My growth as a songwriter has been surrendering to the idea that creativity cannot be fully explained by science. It’s ephemeral. It’s a reminder that we’re human.”

Music will always be a priority for the 37-year-old, but he’s also staked his future on something bigger: his multimedia entertainment firm, The Freddy Wexler Company. Projects for studios like Disney, Universal, and Nickelodeon are in the works, including two films with inspirational premises Wexler is producing. One tells the true story of an all-deaf football team on their way to a state championship; the other is a fantasy about a young Black girl who teams up with a magical street performer to save her community through music.

“I’ve always been a storyteller, and for the past 15 years or so I’ve told stories through music,” says Wexler. “Now, I want to tell them through different mediums, through television, film, theater, and animation, and through a line of inspiring content with the mission of reminding people of the light, even in the darkest situations.”

Before connecting with Joel, Wexler was at a crossroads in his career; he’s since been reminded why he’s still in the business. “When I got into music, it was fun,” says Wexler. “It was euphoric, and when I look back over the years and think about what has brought me the most satisfaction, joy, and happiness. It’s not these Billboard No. 1s on the wall. It’s not a royalty check.

“Those are necessary aspects, and hopefully [you’re] making a living out of doing what you love. But it’s remembering that you are, in fact, doing what you love.”

Main image by John Russo

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