Reservoir Media Management - SONGWRITER Q&A: MIKE CAMPBELL
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Reservoir caught up with recent roster addition Mike Campbell to discuss the ins and outs of writing hit songs like 2015 Grammy-winning sensation "Say Something”, Daya's current Top 40 anthem "Sit Still, Look Pretty”, and Dutch Idol contestant Kimberly Fransens’ new release “How Bad”. Here, Mike provides priceless insight into how he navigates multiple musical genres while wearing both topline songwriter and producer hats. Read the interview below:

You collaborate across a wide range of genres—adult contemporary, indie pop, EDM. Does your approach to songwriting change when writing in different genres?

Sure – you’re loosely aware of different lyrical and melodic conventions. A lyric or melody that works in AC [adult contemporary] doesn’t necessarily fly in indie pop or R&B. The governing thought in my mind though is to write the best song possible – and generally a song that still is effective if you strip away all the production. That’s probably my number one goal – production styles change but lyric and melody are forever.

Daya’s new single, “Sit Still Look Pretty”, which you co-wrote, is being called an anthem for young girls. How do you relate to a song’s message when, like this one, it isn’t necessarily reflective of your own experience?

I think songwriting is about relating to an artist’s experience and helping them translate it into a song. “Sit Still, Look Pretty” relates to Daya’s experience and her message that girls and women are capable of whatever they put their minds to and that they don’t have to stick to what someone else expects of them. Guy or girl, I think we all can relate to feeling ambitious and like we don’t want anyone to dictate what we can and can't accomplish. On a personal note, I have a lot of strong women in my life and I consider myself a feminist, so that message resonates with me in that way as well.

Your first global hit, “Say Something”, became somewhat of an overnight sensation, storming the charts in 2014 and going on to win the Grammy for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance in 2015. What were your feelings about the song when you first wrote it—did it stand out as a winner, or were you surprised when it took off?

Completely shocked and surprised. Never in my wildest dreams did I think it could do what it did. I thought it was a nice song, but I think I didn’t have a vision for how tracks can get passed around in the music business until something makes its way to a superstar like Christina Aguilera who can knock it out of the park. The track was around for a while, but when Christina happened on it, it was kind of like pouring a tanker of gasoline on a match. It completely changes your life overnight. What I can say is, more often than not, my friends in the business tell me similar stories about their hits – that they had no idea they had a hit on their hands until it blew up, so I think I’m in good company.

How does your experience differ when writing topline versus producing a track?

With toplining, your vibe is sort of established by the track you’re given, so you have to work the melodies and lyrics to fit the vibe. With production, you’re searching to establish your own unique vibe. It sometimes feels like building a house without a blueprint. You know in the end you’re going to have some version of a house with a roof and doors and windows, but you might not quite know what it will look like. After hours of working at it and experimenting, you might add something, like a synth riff and suddenly, it feels right, and you go “That’s it! That’s a house!” Having that “eureka” moment is easier some days than others.

What’s the daily grind like for a songwriter like you? How many hours per week would you say you spend writing and producing? Is the majority of your time spent writing with others, or creating songs on your own to pitch later?

I book anywhere between 2-5 sessions a week, sometimes some of those are follow ups from previous songs/sessions. Usually sessions are during the day, but sometimes they’re at night, which can lead to late nights. I’ve never clocked it, but the hours a week are way over 40 because I usually work at night on headphones; mixing and producing if it’s a demo I’m delivering. There’s also all the emailing you have to do to set up sessions and keep up with things. I spend most of my time writing with others, but I try to always have at least one thing I’m working on alone as well.

Do you have any interest in releasing the music you write as a recording artist?

That’s a loaded question! You know, maybe one day I’ll wake up and say “I want to be an artist!” But for now, there is something quite nice about being able to create music and not having to be in the spotlight, maintain an image and perform in front of hundreds of people (assuming anyone was interested in what I was doing anyway). I admire artists for what they do and the hours they put in to do it. I think there's a lot of skill involved in giving life and identity to songs and communicating and connecting with an audience, so throwing my hat in that ring feels like a big decision. I can say I won’t rule it out, but maybe ask me again in a few months.

What would a dream collaboration look like for you?

Well, hopefully I’d get to work with someone I admire and have a good time doing it. I read somewhere that Adele wrote with some writers and producers for “25” that she idolized and she ended up having a pretty tough time and having that image/aura sort of shattered, which is a bummer. That being said, I’m a big fan of Sara Bareilles, John Mayer, Ed Sheeran and Bon Iver (Justin Vernon). They each resonate with me creatively in a unique way, and, more basically, they make great tunes that I like to listen to, so I think having the chance to work with any of them in the future would be awesome.

What advice do you have for other songwriters and producers based on your own experiences?

Be nice. That’d be number one. The business is small, people talk, memories are long and your reputation is all you have, so I try to be nice. Also, have faith in your ability and put in the work. There are so many things you can’t control in this business, but you can control your work ethic and, so long as you put in the work and stay driven, something will stick. I’d also say, don’t be too precious with your ideas. Most songs in their demo form will change drastically when they’re finished – so try to always stay open so you can write the best song, even if it’s not the song you initially intended. And lastly, you have to have fun. If it’s not fun, there’s really no point. My best sessions and best songs are generally from fun sessions with good people. Fun is the secret sauce.

Do you have a Spotify playlist of all-time faves we can share? :)

I thought you’d never ask.

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