Muni Long Built Her Music Career Through Songwriting

When songwriter, Muni Long, goes into the studio for a day or two, she’ll often come out with 10 or 15 songs. Long may, in fact, be one of the most prolific songwriters on earth. And she’s definitely one of the most successful. The artist, who splits time between living with her family in Florida and venturing across the country to Los Angeles for creative sessions, has co-written tracks for Rihanna, Madonna, Carrie Underwood, Ariana Grande and Florida Georgia Line, among others. Long, who used to write under her given name, Priscilla Renea, has more recently taken center mark and assumed a stage name with significant meaning (more on that later). Long is writing more and more for herself. In November, she released her cozy EP, Black Like This, and she says she plans to release more work as the new year unfurls, including singles and EPs. For a person who used to play dress-up as a girl with her grandmother’s bed sheets and costume jewelry, Long says that it feels like now she’s living in a film she’s scribed for herself. 

Videos by American Songwriter

“My parents won a Mini-Cooper on The Price Is Right,” Long says. “It’s my car now and it’s this little convertible. So, I’ll take the top off and just drive through the canyons. There’s one canyon in Calabasas and when I drive through, the mountains open up. I’ll put on ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ by The Verve and I’ll be like, ‘This is a movie, this is the score of my life!’” 

Long’s newfound success is not without serious hard work behind it. As a child, Long began singing at the age of two. Her family noticed her talent and, she says, her mother would volunteer her to sing at weddings, funerals and special family events. The thing was, though, that Long hated it. She especially hated singing at funerals. She began to feel fed up at the jobs her family would force her into so, as she got older, she began to refuse. For Long, music was never a lark, a parlor trick. Instead, it was something very personal and she wanted to tend to her talents in a personal manner. In a way, her voice was all she had.

Long’s family moved around a lot when she was a kid. Her father was in the Navy and she was always changing schools. To find a sense of normalcy, Long sang and sought out the school’s drama department. Art was an escape. 

“Every time I went to a new school,” she says, “I would always make sure to be in theater. If they had choir, I would join choir. They were my thing. Once people found out I could sing in school, I became semi-popular, even though I was as loner. At lunch time, they’d say, ‘Come over here, come sing for us.’” 

But Long also had to develop other skills along the way. Given her family’s penchant for moving from place to place, Long had to learn how to be observant. 

“I learned how to adapt to whatever environment I was in,” she says. “Picking up accents, picking up slang words. Learning the way people dress.” 

When considering herself as a young person, Long says she was a “little weird” growing up. But in another way, that designation points to a unique sense of self and a strong imagination. Growing up in Black neighborhoods, Long says, she was often met with raised eyebrows or snickering when she told people she liked theater, and musical theater at that—“There aren’t a lot of Black people at Broadway shows,” she says, “on stage or in the audience.” Yet, she was not deterred. She continued to expose herself to what interested her, developing the creative spark inside.

Eventually, her interests and skillsets crossed over to Los Angeles. As an aspiring artist in Florida, Long says she had two choices to follow her dreams: move to New York or L.A. She chose the Sunshine State, which is where she thought she’d have more success. Long, who had already released music and videos independently on YouTube, earned industry attention. Once she was in Los Angeles, she signed a deal with Capitol Records and released a Billboard charting single. But then, she says, “shit stalled.”

“I really didn’t want to go home,” Long says. “So, I was like, ‘okay, what can I do?’ I started calling around and the idea of being a songwriter kept getting tossed into the conversations. So I said, ‘fuck it’ and called my publisher and said I want to write with other people, set up some sessions.” 

While Long didn’t start out writing for huge names, she quickly wrote her first number one single, 2012’s “Promises,” for the U.K. artist, Cheryl Cole. With that success, Long began working like mad. For the next 18 months, she regularly participated in five writing sessions a day, and in each, she would write at least two new songs. Her day started at 10 a.m. working with Disney, then she’d go to a pop music session, followed by R&B work and, late at night, she’d write hooks for rap tracks. It was a ton of work, but it paid off. 

“That’s how I started getting crazy cuts,” she says. “But I wouldn’t recommend that to anybody else.”

To write for other artists, Long would “channel” them. To do so, she asked questions, got to know their cadences, their mannerisms, word choices and sonic aspirations. As such, Long is as much a detective or interviewer as she is a composer or lyricist. But as her prowess for writing for others grew, both in ability and notoriety, Long began to want to write for herself. To do this, she took some time away to reinvent. She dropped her support team for the sake of building a new one with this new direction in mind. She took her new name—“Muni,” which means, “To think deeply, to look from within” in Filipino and also allows for a double-entendre. Long says she pronounces it like “Money.” And she added the last name so that when people think of her, they associate her with extended riches. But while celebrating cash in this way may seen ostentatious to some, Long says she does so largely to inspire others to understand that the world can indeed be their oyster, too. 

“I’m that little girl sitting in front of the TV watching Aaliyah’s ‘Are You That Somebody,’” Long says. “And I want to be that person for somebody else.” 

Leave a Reply

Watch Sundance ASCAP Music Café Highlights From Chris Stapleton, St. Vincent, Mikel Jollet, MILCK And More