NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.
Last week, the Songwriters Hall of Fame inducted a new group of members: Bob Marley, Leonard Cohen and members of Earth, Wind and Fire, recognized for memorable lyrics and melodies that contributed to the soundtrack of our times.
Masters like that make it look easy, but if you've ever tried to come up with a song, you know better. Do you start with a melody, a catchphrase, a poem, anthem, ballad, fast, slow?
Diane Warren has been answering those questions and many more for the past 25 years. More than 100 of her songs hit the charts, including top 10s like Aerosmith's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing," Barbra Streisand's "We're Not Making Love Anymore," Cher's "If I Could Turn Back Time" and Toni Braxton's "Un-Break My Heart."
She won a Grammy Award for Best Song for the Celine Dion hit "Because You Loved Me," was ASCAP's Songwriter of the Year six times, inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame herself in 2001 and, last weekend, the recipient of the 2010 Icon Award from the National Music Publishers Association. And she joins us in just a moment.
If you're a songwriter and have questions about the craft, our phone number, 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. Thats at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Later in the program, census-takers get attitude along with answers, but first, Diane Warren. A CD of some of her most memorable songs reinterpreted by the group Due Voci is just out, and you may have seen a PBS special earlier this month, "Diane Warren Love Songs." She joins us now from our studios at NPR West. Nice to have you on the program today.
Ms. DIANE WARREN (Songwriter): Nice to be here. Hi.
CONAN: Hi, and if I could borrow Thomas Edison's famous formula, how much of songwriting is inspiration and how much is perspiration?
Mr. WARREN: Wow, what did he say again?
CONAN: He said 99 percent perspiration.
Mr. WARREN: You know, I think it's like 50-50.
Mr. WARREN: Yeah, you've got to you can't have one without the other, you know.
CONAN: Do you start your day walking down the beach waiting for that thunderbolt or do you sit at a desk?
Mr. WARREN: No, I don't I have a place at the beach, but I don't ever go there.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. WARREN: No, I go to my office and, you know, it's usually not a bolt of lightning. You know, usually I just sit at the piano. I mean, you know, I have ideas. You know, I like to have an idea that compels me to write it.
CONAN: And when you're working on it, what do you start with first? Is it a musical idea? Is it that infamous hook that you're trying to get first, or where do you start?
Mr. WARREN: You know, it's always different. I like to, you know, I like to start with an idea, but then again, I might be, you know, sitting at the keyboard and just playing a bunch of chords that sound cool together, you know, and, you know, something just inspires an idea from that, you know what I mean? It's how it usually happens like that, one of those...
CONAN: And do you work alone?
Mr. WARREN: Yeah, I write by myself.
CONAN: And have you ever considered a collaborator?
Mr. WARREN: No, I have collaborated with people before. I've co-written songs, but I think my best songs and, you know, probably my biggest hits and my favorite songs have been the ones, you know, I write on my own.
CONAN: And as you go about this work, do you set yourself a certain amount of time every day or just as long as it...
Mr. WARREN: Yeah, all day.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. WARREN: You know, I just it's my day job, you know, and it's just what I do. You know, I just you know, my whole life is built, you know, my whole life has always been built to basically just write songs.
CONAN: And 11:15, time for coffee, you know, is it structured like that?
Mr. WARREN: It's kind of pretty structured, you know. The coffee is before I get to work, and it's a lot of it.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: And there's a lot of it. Caffeine is generally the fuel...
Mr. WARREN: Caffeine's a good thing.
CONAN: ...of inspiration. So, 50-50 inspiration-perspiration. What is the is there one part of it that you find difficult?
Mr. WARREN: You know, I think the lyrics are what take the most time. You know, musically, I have an easier time. You know, but I mean, they both could be easy, too, but I work so hard to make the lyrics right, you know, and the music right. But the musically, you know, it's quicker. You know, lyrically, it takes time to really, you know, make sure, you know, the idea is, you know, really developed and really compelling and great.
CONAN: And you can tinker with something like that forever.
Mr. WARREN: No, I don't do that, though. I'm pretty I spend like about a week on a song, you know.
CONAN: A week on a song?
Mr. WARREN: Yeah.
CONAN: Have I assume that there are more than a few that you have in your files that you say, I am never going to show that to anybody.
Mr. WARREN: I try not to write those anymore. I mean, yeah.
CONAN: But there are some like that, I think.
Mr. WARREN: Well, yeah, there's some in my catalog that, like, why did I write those? But, you know, I try to I try to not do that now. I try to write things I love, you know.
CONAN: Obviously, but you've been so successful, and you're such a professional at this. Are there times that you have been surprised?
Mr. WARREN: I'm surprised when anything is a hit because theres so many things that can go wrong, you know. I mean, you know, my job is to write a great song. So, you know, I try to do that as well as I can. And then it has to be you know, the right artist has to record it and that right artist has to sing it great. It has to be produced great. You know, a label has to promote it. People have to buy it. You know, so it's all these steps, you know, to getting to an actual person.
CONAN: So in addition to...
Mr. WARREN: And a million all those things can wrong, by the way. My job is to make the first one go right.
CONAN: Well, and I assume just as there might be a couple that you'd say, well, maybe not such a great effort. But there may be one or two, you're saying, you know, steps three, four and five really messed up with this one, but that's a great song.
Mr. WARREN: Yeah, and I give it to somebody else. You know, I've had a song called "Dont Turn Around," you know, it was cut 30 times before it was a hit with a group called Aswad, and then a group called Ace of Base had their biggest hit with it.
You know, I've had so many songs that, the first time around, they didn't work for whatever reason. And then that doesn't take anything away from the song. The song is still if the song is great, it's a great song, and you just find another home for it.
CONAN: Do you find another do you call up, excuse me, Mr. Ace of Base, would you like to try this song?
Mr. WARREN: Yeah, I mean, I definitely call artists, you know, when I have the right song. Or they're calling me. Or if I write something you know, I wrote a song that I thought was great for Lenny Kravitz, and I called him, and he ended up recording it.
So things like that. You know, I thought hey, this song would be, you know, the ultimate artist for that would be Lenny. So, you know, it didn't hurt me to call him, and he was receptive enough to record the song quite good.
CONAN: And when did you decide it was a great song for when you were writing it?
Mr. WARREN: Yeah, when I was writing it, I was like, you know, this really feels like, you know, just a perfect Lenny Kravitz song. And he agreed, which was nice.
CONAN: And was it a hit for him?
Mr. WARREN: They don't always agree.
CONAN: No, they don't always agree. What was the hardest sell you've ever had?
Mr. WARREN: Wow, oh, the hardest sale I've ever had? Okay, was Cher. Was Cher with "If I could Turn Back Time." I have to say that was the hardest and the one that you know, sometimes when they're hard, you really appreciate when they work out.
I had to literally this is an old story now, but I literally, she was in the studio doing, you know, another song of mine, and she had passed on "If I Could Turn Back Time" about 20 times, just, she just hated it.
And I literally went to the studio lounge where she was sitting, you know, grabbed her leg, said I will not let I will not take my hand off your leg, you're not going to leave the studio, you know, until you at least say, you know, I'm going to try it out.
And she goes, just, no, I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. I'm not I'm never doing it. I'm never trying it out. I go, okay, well, I have a lot of patience. I'll just sit here. And finally, she just said, okay, okay, I'll try it. So we went in and did it and, you know, it's probably still to this day her biggest hit.
CONAN: She gave in when you ordered lunch.
Mr. WARREN: Yeah, exactly, you know. And I just did something new for her that wasn't hard at all, that she liked.
CONAN: She liked.
Mr. WARREN: Yeah, everybody else around her didn't want her to do it, but she did.
CONAN: So, well, obviously somebody like Cher, I assume what Cher wants to do, Cher does.
Mr. WARREN: Yeah, oh yeah, until you hold her leg down.
CONAN: Until you hold her leg down. We are talking with Diane Warren, the Grammy Award-winning songwriter who's got 100 or more hits to her credit, 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. And why don't we get started with Daniel(ph), Daniel with us from San Jose.
DANIEL (Caller): Neal Conan, it's an honor to be on your show, first of all.
CONAN: Well, thank you for that.
DANIEL: I listen on my lunch break all the time. Now, Diane Warren, you're a legend. It's a pleasure to hear you on the show, first of all, hear you talking about songwriting.
Mr. WARREN: Thank you.
DANIEL: I'm a songwriter myself, an aspiring songwriter myself, and I wonder if you could talk about collaboration and how it's benefitted you, what kind of collaborations just how it's benefitted you and how it's also hindered you. If you've ever had, you know, kind of Big Brother looming over your shoulder, tampering with your work and kind of how you dealt with that, what's good and bad about that. And, yeah, talk about that because I'm sure lots of us struggle with it when you're not Diane Warren, having people question your vision.
Ms. WARREN: Well, I think oh, sorry.
DANIEL: Oh no, go for it.
Ms. WARREN: You know, I mean, I'm pretty much a lone wolf with all this. So I really, you know, I'm not the best collaborator, but I think collaboration is really good.
You know, when you find you know, it depends on what you you might have more of a strength for lyrics or more of a strength for music, and it's finding that person that really, you know, you can fit with, that you can benefit each other. Do you know what I mean?
So it's like, so it could be, you could you know, you could get in a room and inspire each other, and someone could just take you to somewhere you didn't think of going, musically or lyrically. I mean, there's really benefits to it.
CONAN: Do you start are collaborations something you decide to work on in advance, or you say I have an idea and this would really work great with so and so?
Ms. WARREN: Well, I mean again, I'm somebody who doesn't really, who so rarely, who's probably co-written, you know, a couple times in 10 years. So you know, you know, when I start something, I want to finish it. But, you know, just, you know, you probably I'm not exactly the person to talk to with collaborations, although I've done it, and I've done it, and I've enjoyed it when I have, you know, with certain things, and certain things I haven't.
You know, one thing with me is, like, if I write a song with an artist, and they don't do like a lot of times, I've written with artists, and I've written most of the song, and if they don't do that song, and then their name's on it.
CONAN: I see. So you leave them blank spaces. If they can rhyme with moon and tune...
Ms. WARREN: No, I mean, I've actually sat in I never do that. I never leave open spaces. I mean, if I've, you know, written with an artist, I'm in a room, you know...
CONAN: With them and working...
Ms. WARREN: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I've never done that. I can't do that. But I know a lot of people that do do that. They'll leave a couple lines open in the bridge, you know, or something like that.
CONAN: For the artist to work it.
Ms. WARREN: To say yeah, and, and but, and then they're a co-writer.
CONAN: They're a co-writer. Daniel, do you work with a collaborator?
DANIEL: Not one specific. I've I kind of try to be like Diane and be a lone wolf on my own, but I wonder if you could talk about people that you dont necessarily invite to be your collaborators and they kind of, they're there saying, you know, this would really sound great if you change this, or this would really sound great if we added...
CONAN: Daniel, it sounds like that list includes almost everybody.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: So that could be a long answer.
Ms. WARREN: But you know what, I'm open to people, to ideas, though. You know, like an artist might say, you know, when they're doing a song, can I change this? This note's a little hard, can I sing it this way? But then again, that's not collaborating. Does that make sense?
CONAN: That's fine-tuning, yeah.
DANIEL: Interpretation, maybe.
Ms. WARREN: Yes, interpretation, or it might be just fine-tuning it for somebody. It might maybe there's too many words. I mean, I have a lot of words in my songs, and maybe it's taking a couple of words out and making it easier to sing, yeah.
DANIEL: And those things aren't sacred. Those things aren't...
Ms. WARREN: No, no. I'm pretty cool with that, you know, with making something fit somebody.
CONAN: Are you always and Daniel, thanks for the call are you always in the studio when somebody's recording one of your songs?
Ms. WARREN: Not always. You know, not always, but sometimes I am.
CONAN: Well, this is one of your songs. This is from that Due Voci CD we mentioned earlier, Diane Warren. So we'll listen to this on the way out. We'll have more with you in just a moment. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(Soundbite of song, "Un-Break My Heart")
DUE VOCI (Music Group): (Singing) I cried so many nights. Un-break my heart, my heart.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.
We're talking today about the art of songwriting. If you're a songwriter and have questions about the craft, 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation on our website at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
NPR Music of course has its own documentary series about the art of songwriting, "Project Song." They've brought in artists like Moby and Chris Walla of Death Cab for Cutie and gave them two days to write and record an original song. They shot a video of the entire process as they do it. You can watch it all online. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION for the link.
Our guest is Diane Warren, a Grammy Award-winning songwriter, 2001 inductee into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Diane, could you imagine being under the gun like that, given two days on video to write a song?
Ms. WARREN: I wouldn't really want to be on video.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. WARREN: I don't want anybody to see me hitting my head against the wall, you know.
CONAN: You don't punish yourself, do you?
Ms. WARREN: No, I don't really, but I wouldn't want a camera when I'm you know, that's pretty cool they did that, though.
CONAN: Harn(ph) is on the line from Palo Alto.
HARN (Caller): Hi, Neal, Diane, thank you so much for the show. I have one quick question for Diane. Has the business of songwriting changed much over your career, from the earlier days, where there were strong record labels in publishing and today's file-sharing and downloads world?
Ms. WARREN: Yeah, I mean, but it still comes what has stayed the same is it's still all about a great song. But yeah, a lot of, you know, things have changed where a lot of artists write their own songs. But then again, a lot of artists always wrote their own songs, since The Beatles, pretty much, so I mean, yeah, and a record selling as much as they did? No. But is it still can a great song still sell records? Yeah. So it's changed, and it hasn't.
HARN: Does it change the financial arrangements that you've had in the past, with current?
Ms. WARREN: I mean, if records sell, you know, less, then a certain artist will sell less, then I would make less money if I have a song on their record. I mean, yeah, I mean, everybody's been hit by, you know, records selling less these days.
HARN: Well, thank you very much.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the call.
Ms. WARREN: You're welcome. Thank you.
CONAN: I've read that your inspirations were, to some degree, some of the people who wrote in the Brill Building in the old days.
Ms. WARREN: Yeah, yeah definitely.
CONAN: And professional songwriters who went out...
Ms. WARREN: Went to work every day.
CONAN: Went to work every day and wrote songs. Do you worry that someday, that spring of inspiration is ever going to dry up?
Ms. WARREN: No, I don't think about that because I think there's ideas everywhere, and if you're open to them, they will always be there, you know? I don't look at it like that.
CONAN: Joining us now is Jack Perricone. He chairs the songwriting department at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Ms. WARREN: Wow.
CONAN: He's composed jingles, music for theater and film, has written and recorded songs for the likes of Lou Rawls and Michael Jackson. Jack Perricone joins us from the studios of member station WBUR in Boston. Nice to have you with us, Jack.
Mr. JACK PERRICONE (Chair, Songwriting Department, Berklee College of Music): Thanks. It's a pleasure.
CONAN: I wonder, do you study the music of Diane Warren at Berklee?
Mr. PERRICONE: Absolutely.
Ms. WARREN: Wow, that's kind of cool.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. PERRICONE: Well, I'd love her to visit, also.
Ms. WARREN: Really? That sounds fun. Wow.
Mr. PERRICONE: Sure.
CONAN: Maybe she could write a song for you.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. PERRICONE: She writes for the millions.
CONAN: She writes for the millions, absolutely. You need to audition to get I assume Diane Warren would not need to but to get into Berklee.
Ms. WARREN: I never would've gotten into Berklee.
Ms. WARREN: No. I wasn't really a music I mean, I was a college dropout, and I didn't really major in music. I didn't you know, I had one theory class. So I'm not I think Jack is a far better musician than I.
CONAN: I wonder, do you audition people specifically for songwriting, Jack?
Mr. PERRICONE: Not specifically. Basically, the audition is checking out their musicianship, whether they sing in tune, whether they could read music. And actually, even that's not so important as much as basic talent and musicianship and musicality.
CONAN: And is there a panel of judges, a little like "American Idol"?
Mr. PERRICONE: Yeah, usually two faculty members or a chair.
Ms. WARREN: Are you Simon or Paula?
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: I assume that they're they don't issue their denunciations or their plaudits immediately after the student performs.
Mr. PERRICONE: Not so, although sometimes probably they jump up and down if the student is really wonderful.
Ms. WARREN: Or they run out the door.
Mr. PERRICONE: They don't do that.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. WARREN: Don't do that, okay.
CONAN: There's a course listing in the songwriting department. There are classes entitled The Music of John Lennon, one called The Songs of Paul Simon. What is it about their styles that warrant an entire class?
Mr. PERRICONE: Well, I think these are both iconic figures, and John the John Lennon class was started soon after his untimely demise. And we have a real fan in the teacher, John Stevens(ph), who has written a book, too, based on John Lennon's songs.
Paul Simon, he's, you know, he's just a giant among songwriters. I'm sure Diane Warren would agree with that.
Ms. WARREN: Oh, yeah. Both of them are geniuses.
Mr. PERRICONE: His music certainly is worthy work, not only his music, his lyrics and his whole approach is worthy of study. So...
Ms. WARREN: Yeah, I agree.
CONAN: Let's see if we can get a caller on the line. This is Dan(ph), Dan with us from Palo Alto.
DAN (Caller): Thank you very much for taking the call. I want to say I'm a big fan of pop music, but I also write and perform open mic. And I'm really interested in the sort of interplay and codependence of music and lyrics because when you strip away the music, and if you just read the lyrics of a lot of even very good pop songs, they're actually pretty lame.
And I wonder, you know, so your comment on the interplay, and why can't the lyrics sometimes be a little bit more sophisticated or a little bit more thoughtful?
Ms. WARREN: I love that can I answer? I love that term codependence of lyrics and music. It really is. They are really codependent. They need each other.
CONAN: They need each other.
Ms. WARREN: They can't live without each other. You know, like a lyric is supposed to be sung, and a I mean, they have to be, they're married, and whether we like it or not, they have to be together. Does that make sense?
CONAN: But I don't think Dan is the first to observe that occasional pop song lyrics can be lame.
Ms. WARREN: Yeah, they can. I try to make mine as un-lame as possible, but I'm sure I have lame ones, too. Because yeah, it's meant to be a song is meant to be heard and sung, and you can't really look at it and, you know, every word, you know, like you're reading it.
CONAN: Jack Perricone, I wonder if you could - had something to contribute about the sophistication that Dan was looking for?
Mr. PERRICONE: Well, it depends on the style of music and the presentation. Basically for singer-songwriters in an intimate setting, you can get fairly deep with lyrics. I mean, for instance, even Paul Simon's, most of Paul Simon's songs are fairly deep or Joni Mitchell, that type of writer.
But if you're writing for the masses, often what really enhances them is the beat - what captures them. You know, the body gets involved first of all, you know, in the reaction, and then the lyrics just is fun, even if it's not sophisticated or even very good. The listener would accept it, simply because the body feels, the body of the listener feels so good that that's the main attraction.
So there are a lot of dance records that don't have very good lyrics at all, but they still work in terms of what they give the listener, which is a feeling.
CONAN: Sometimes, I don't even hear, I can't understand the lyric until I've heard the song four or five or six times. So it's certainly something else that makes me listen to it the first five times.
Ms. WARREN: Right, and it's also about simplicity, too, in a lyric. You want something that you can, you know, understand.
CONAN: Dan, thanks very much for the call.
DAN: Thank you.
CONAN: All right. Let's see if we can go next to this is another Dan(ph), this one from Gainesville in Florida.
DAN (Caller): Hi. Thanks very much for taking the call, and thanks for the conversation. This has been inspiring and informative. Can you hear me okay?
DAN: Okay. I guess I'm a I love writing songs, and I've gotten a lot of positive feedback on my lyrics, and I usually sing with friends or kind of smaller gatherings. But I've got a hard drive full and lots of notebooks full of stuff that I think a lot of it is really great.
So I'm basically I'm asking for a little bit of advice. I don't have Lenny Kravitz' cell phone number, and I don't know where Cher goes for lunch. So short of that, what would you advise some first steps or next steps to kind of promote my words?
Ms. WARREN: I would say find a publisher. Do you live in L.A.? Do you live in New York? Do you live in Nashville?
DAN: I live in Gainesville, but a lot of my family is in New York, and I have thought seriously often about going back to New York for a span of time. And I've got some friends...
Ms. WARREN: Yeah, if you're serious you need if you're serious, you need to be in one of those places.
CONAN: One of those three cities?
Ms. WARREN: Yeah, you really do. That's where, you know...
CONAN: In the age of the Internet?
Ms. WARREN: Yeah, but you need to meet people. You need to, you know, meet publishers. I mean, if you're are you a singer-songwriter or just a songwriter?
DAN: I love to sing. I have sung some in public, but I haven't explored nearly as much as I'd like to.
Ms. WARREN: Maybe you need to get a following, you need to you know, even where you are, say if you play and develop a following so record companies will kind of know who you are, you know, that's a different thing than, you know, being just a songwriter.
I'd say if you were just a songwriter, move to you need to move to one of those three cities, but if you're an artist, you could create a following wherever you are.
CONAN: Jack Perricone, do you tell students who are songwriters that they need to, after they graduate there from Berklee in Boston, move on to New York or Nashville or Los Angeles?
Mr. PERRICONE: Yes, basically it's the right idea because you have to be in the right place at the right time, and getting to the right place is probably those three areas.
Meeting and collaborating with other songwriters, especially songwriters that have had some success is one way to get beyond knocking on doors, because you've already basically entered the room with the songwriter. So if you're good, I think even if the person has had charted records or success, that person will recognize talent and you might very well end up co-writing. It's one of the fastest ways to get into the business if you're not a singer-songwriter, if you're just a writer.
Ms. WARREN: Yeah.
DAN: One other question, is finding a publisher sort of like finding an agent in the literary world, that I'd look for somebody who publishes the kind of things that...
Ms. WARREN: Yeah.
DAN: ...are like mine?
Ms. WARREN: Yeah.
CONAN: So find somebody who publishes material like yours and then write them a letter?
Ms. WARREN: Or, you know, check out artists or writers that - and see who publishes them. Call them. Send them your stuff.
CONAN: Dan, it doesn't sound like you lack for confidence and that's a big step so...
Ms. WARREN: Yeah. You got to have that.
DAN: Thanks very much.
CONAN: All right. Bye-bye. And this is a related email question from Seth(ph). Could you please ask Diane how she became noticed, how was she able to get her songwriting skills noticed by other musicians?
Ms. WARREN: I just knocked on doors since I was 14 years old. So, eventually...
CONAN: But they didn't notice for, like, 10 years.
Ms. WARREN: Yeah, they didn't notice for a while, but it didn't stop me and I just kept honing my craft and kept on - kept working. And I'm the same as I am now - I mean, I do it still to this day. But you really have to, you know, do whatever you can to, you know, open that door, kick in that door, and then you better be really good because once you're in the door, you know, you better have the goods or they're just going to throw you right out that door.
CONAN: And show business is getting used to the word no a lot.
Ms. WARREN: Yeah, yeah.
CONAN: And so...
Ms. WARREN: I hate that word.
CONAN: Everybody hates that word.
Ms. WARREN: Yeah.
CONAN: But some people are more tolerant of it than others.
Ms. WARREN: Yeah. You have to have thick skin.
CONAN: Yeah. Jack Perricone, that's so difficult for young people to come to understand that if they're young actors, young songwriters, performers, whatever, they're going to hear no a lot more than they're going to hear yes, especially when they're young.
Mr. PERRICONE: It's really true. And it's very hard to get beyond kind of the ego-driven reaction to songs and to see the bigger picture and to understand why a lot of people will love a song. You may be writing about yourself continually and forget about other people, even though you think that you're reaching other people because you're so involved with it.
So to actually see the bigger picture and to write for a larger audience, I think, is part of growing up in a number of ways as a human being and as a writer. One reason I think Diane's songs touched so many people is they're highly emotional and they're universal, and so people can relate.
CONAN: We're talking with Jack Perricone who chairs the songwriting department at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, author of "Melody in Songwriting: Tools and Techniques for Writing Hit Songs." And also with us, Diane Warren, the Grammy Award winner songwriter, member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, a new CD of her song is out, it's called "Due Voci."
You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And I wanted to ask you both about another specialized form of songwriting. And, Diane, it's - I have to confess. I know you wrote the theme song for "Enterprise" - "Star Trek: Enterprise?"
Ms. WARREN: Yeah.
CONAN: I love that song.
Ms. WARREN: Oh, thank you so much. The one song they used in "Star Trek," first time they ever used a theme.
CONAN: And it is a wonderful song.
Ms. WARREN: Thank you.
CONAN: And I know, Jack Perricone, you've written similar, you know, the idea of writing a jingle, something to fit a certain amount of time, a certain - tell us about that process.
Mr. PERRICONE: It's basically the same process. If you're called by a Madison Avenue company, they basically want you to involve the listener's emotions. So you'd simply write - if you're writing a jingle, you write a very short verse and get to the hook very fast but with the same...
Ms. WARREN: Don't bore us, get to the chorus.
Mr. PERRICONE: Yeah, exactly.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. PERRICONE: You get to the point as soon as possible, and make it emotional though, because you have to involve the listener.
CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller in. This is Christian(ph), Christian calling from Knoxville.
CHRISTIAN (Caller): Hi. How's it going, Jack and Diane?
CONAN: Not too bad.
CHRISTIAN: There might be a song there.
Ms. WARREN: You never know.
CHRISTIAN: Thanks for taking my call. My question is - I'm a songwriter. I've been doing it for years and I tour with a band too. And I know playing in a band is, like, first of all, harder than ever now, and also it's not the kind of thing that's really going to last forever unless you're The Stones or something. Were you guys performers before you got into writing songs for other people? And if so, how did you make that transition?
Ms. WARREN: I never was. I never - the first money I ever made was to get - asked to get off the stage.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. WARREN: I mean, I didn't want to be there in the first place. I was trying to play at my friend's dad's restaurant and thinking I'd get discovered at 14. And I was asked by the owner to stop and given $20, so I'm not...
(Soundbite of laughter)
CHRISTIAN: That was it.
CONAN: And that man's name was? Anyway...
Ms. WARREN: Yeah, I don't even know.
CONAN: Jack Perricone, were you a performer?
Mr. PERRICONE: No. Basically, I started writing songs very late. I was about nearly 30 years old when I decided to become a songwriter. And I have a degree in music. I have a degree in music theory and music composition. So I just study a lot of songs and finally decided to do that. And, luckily, I was successful.
CONAN: Hmm. Christian, thanks very much.
CHRISTIAN: Thank you.
CONAN: As you study other people's songs, Jack Perricone, did you derive a formula, you know, AABA? I mean, is there something that works?
Mr. PERRICONE: Well, there are song forms that are very common that show up time and time again, pretty much like - I tell my students it's very much like something like going into a liquor store and seeing bottles of wine. Some are priced at 3.98 and some at 39.98. And the form is always pretty much the same, but it's the content that counts. And it's really the content that counts in songs as well.
So these forms - verse, verse, chorus or verse, pre-chorus, chorus or AABA, whatever - these are common forms. Everybody pretty much knows them and feels comfortable with them because they work. They always have the element of repetition in them. But what you put into that, the song idea is probably the most important thing, and then how you treat that idea is very important as well.
CONAN: Diane, is that form important to you?
Ms. WARREN: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, there's a form - personally, I like to mess around with the form a little bit. I like to have five-bar structures maybe just mess around with it. But you need to know the form before you can do that.
CONAN: You need to be mastering of the form before you can play around with it.
Ms. WARREN: Yeah, you do. You do.
CONAN: Have you ever been in the middle of writing a song and say, wait a minute, I've done this before?
Ms. WARREN: Yeah. Yeah, I have, like, wow, you know? And hopefully, it's not something someone else has done before.
CONAN: You'd get in trouble for that.
Ms. WARREN: You have the tune and you go, ah. Yeah, so then you start something else.
CONAN: Well, Diane Warren, I can't tell you how much - what a pleasure it's been to have you on the program today, continued good luck to you.
Ms. WARREN: Thank you. Thank you so much.
CONAN: Diane Warren, a Grammy Award-winning songwriter, member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Jack Perricone, thank you, too, and good luck to you.
Mr. PERRICONE: Thank you.
CONAN: Jack Perricone chairs the songwriting department at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. And he joined us today from our member station there at WBUR.
Coming up, we're going to be talking about the plight of the census taker along with the difficulties in getting the records on the U.S. population. They've been getting some attitude this year. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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