Guest Blog: Charlie Midnight, “What Matters Is The Song”

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Unloading trains was work. Checking groceries at Waldbaums was work.  My father cutting cardboard boxes in a factory was work. Although I work hard at songwriting it never feels like work.

There is no ABC of songwriting, no empirical formula that is guaranteed to work. Be inspired. Work Hard. Write, Write, Write. Learn from listening, collaborating, and doing. Let your idiosyncrasies loose. Write a fifteen-minute song if you feel inspired but never forget that you are working in a popular medium and one of your desires is to be a communicator. We all want to write songs that affect an audience. Very few songs affect every audience. There are billions of people in the world. If a song sells ten million copies then most people in the world have not bought it. There are amazing artists all over the world, most of whom we have never heard. You want to be heard and we are privileged to live in an environment that allows for that possibility. It is not our birthright to have an audience but it is our good fortune to have that possibility. So perhaps it is incumbent upon us to not waste the opportunity.

In the decades I have spent making music it has never been easy to carve out a career as a songwriter and although it might have been easier before the digital age to have a realistic dream of your song being on a platinum album, it never felt or was ‘easy’. However, it was easier to: record a basic song demo (piano, guitar, vocal) and have an artist listen and record it; get paid by a club owner for performing; and make a living as a songwriter. But read “easi-er,” not “easy.” Some things are easier, you might even say easy, now: getting a platform for your recorded work (The Internet); recording your music (digital recording); giving yourself a chance to be seen (YouTube).

My songwriting developed from listening to a transistor radio and going to sleep with it under my pillow. Learning now to write a song is about doing and listening and doing some more and listening some more. Every great songwriter has been influenced by what they listen to and then that influence is filtered through their own vision and idiosyncrasies. Have the guts to go with your own muse but the open-mindedness to allow other ideas into the mix.

James Brown, Barbra Streisand, Joni Mitchell, Billy Joel, Cher, Hilary Duff, Christina Aguilera, Chaka Khan, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Big Time Rush, Joe Cocker, Miranda Cosgrove, Jamey Johnson: I have had the good fortune to write for them all.

Each one called for a different point of view but my job didn’t change. Understand the context and write a song that fits the artist.

I was asked in an interview how I could write for such a range of artists: James Brown, Joni Mitchell, Cher, Streisand, Hilary Duff.

Survival: I developed the ability to move through different genres, of empathizing with an artist’s point of view and then writing something to fit that vision.

I do not make a judgment about the artist when I take an assignment. I respect the job and the artist. What matters is the song. I got as much satisfaction from co-writing “So Yesterday,” for Hilary Duff as I did from writing “Living In America,” for James Brown.  

Why? Because I live for the moment when the song is written and it is everything I hoped it would be. When that moment occurs I am satiated. And I feel the same each time I reach that point and to steal a line from James Brown, “I FEEL GOOD.”

Charlie Midnight has been involved in the writing, conceptualization and production of albums throughout his career that have sold in excess of 50 million copies. His work has been heard on numerous Grammy-winning, Grammy-nominated recordings, and most recently his song, “I Can Still See Your Face” sung by Barbara Streisand hit No 1 on the Billboard charts. Because of his versatility as a writer and producer, Midnight has been privileged to write for and produce such notable and varied artists as: James Brown, Cher, Billy Joel, Joni Mitchell, Barbra Streisand, Andrea Bocelli, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Jamey Johnson, Idina Menzel, Hilary Duff, Chaka Khan, Joe Cocker, The Doobie Brothers, Anastacia, John Waite, George Thorogood, Dan Hartman, and Paul Young, to name a few.

Midnight’s Grammy nomination for “Living in America,” one of the legendary James Brown’s biggest hits, earned him a storied place in music history in a career that has spanned over thirty years. Some of his other notable achievements have been: receiving a nomination for a Golden Globe Award for writing the song “Why Should I Worry,” sung by Billy Joel, for Disney’s “Oliver and Company”; a Golden Globe nomination for  “A Woman Loves A Man,” sung by Joe Cocker from the Feature Film “Bull Durham”; and writing “How Do You Stop,” for  “Turbulent Indigo,” the Joni Mitchell album that won the 1996 Grammy Award for Best Pop Album.

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