Above, L-R: Luke Laird, B.o.B, Snoop Dogg, BMI VP of writer/publisher relations Catherine Brewton, Evan Bogart and Busta Rhymes. (Photo: Joe Scarnici)
This year's edition of BMI's annual “How I Wrote That Song” panel, held Feb. 9 at the Roxy in West Hollywood, Calif., skewed toward hip-hop and R&B, with performers B.o.B., Busta Rhymes and Snoop Dogg making up more than half the panel.
But it was full of insights into the process of writing hits, ranging from anecdotes about No. 1 songs written in hours to stories of addiction propelling songs you've heard hundreds of times. It also was a testament to the overarching power of urban music, with country songsmith Luke Laird beatboxing through his twangy songs, and pop songwriter/producer Evan Bogart expressing his deep love for De La Soul.
The buzz before the panel, of course, was about the actual Grammy Awards on Sunday. Bogart and Laird told Billboard their votes for Album Of the Year went to fun.'s “Some Nights,” as did “Call Me Maybe” co-songwriter Josh Ramsay, who was in the audience for the panel. This is Ramsay's first Grammy ceremony as an attendee and he still seems awestruck at the invitation.
BMI senior VP of writer/publisher relations Phil Graham and BMI VP/GM of writer/publisher relations Barbara Cane VP with Snoop Dogg. (Photo: Joe Scarnici)
“None of us could have predicted the song doing what it did, and we all feel grateful and lucky for it to have done what it did,” Ramsay told Billboard.biz. “I never even considered that it was going to happen. I didn't see it coming at all. I found out on Twitter!”
Bogart's excitement for the ceremony comes from what he sees as a particularly strong batch of nominees for the larger categories -- a specific source of pride, since he serves on the Grammy nominating committee.
“Real, authentic, true-to-themselves artists in music are coming back, fully demonstrated in the Album of the Year and Best New Artist categories, which I think got all five nominations in each category absolutely dead-on,” Bogart said. “That's very inspiring with where music has been -- and where it's going.”
Left to right: BMI's Catherine Brewton, David Claassen and Nicole Plantin; Luke Laird; BMI's Barbara Cane and Malik Levy; B.o.B; Snoop Dogg; Evan Bogart; Busta Rhymes; and BMI's Byron Wright and Alison Smith. (Photo: Joe Scarnici)
He echoed those statements during the panel -- which took place in a smokey haze caused by a giant blunt ignited by Snoop -- and was moderated by BMI VP writer/publisher relations Catherine Brewton and functioned as a round-robin, with each songwriter discussing the background behind some of their biggest hits. That ranged from stories about the gangsta-rap classic “Nothing But a G Thang” (“I wrote that in jail,” admitted Snoop Dogg) to Hot Chelle Rae's “Tonight Tonight” (Bogart came clean that its funky lick was “Jackson-5 ripoff-y”) to “A Little Bit Stronger,” a song of Lairds recorded by Sara Evans – and originally intended for Lady Antebellum.
Other anecdotes of note: according to Busta Rhymes, the verses on Tribe Called Quest's “Scenario” weren't heard by the other rappers until after they were recorded -- there was no “cheating” by listening in on the collaborators' lyrics. Rhianna's “SOS” -- a song partially inspired by Bogart's then-new sobriety -- was his first recorded cut ever and his first No. 1. B.o.B's vocal track on “Don't Let Me Fall” was recorded in a closet in his the apartment he was living in at the time.
One of the panel's highlights -- and a brief reminder that Grammy Week magic can happen at any time -- was a short version of B.o.B. backing himself for an acoustic rendition of the song... with Laird, of course, joining in for a little impromptu beatboxing.