Diane Warren Receives MusExpo International Music Industry Person of the Year Award, Shares Stories of Songwriting Success

From left: Lucian Grainge, Diane Warren and Sat Bisla

KC Morse for A&R Worldwide

Diane Warren received the MusExpo International Music Industry Person of the Year Award on Tuesday following a Q&A with conference attendees at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. 

Universal Music Publishing North America president Evan Lamberg moderated the session by first making clear that Warren’s songwriting achievements are singular in terms of a) her working alone; b) having written for an astonishing number of artists who work in multiple genres; and c) the length of time she has been amassing hits on Billboard’s many charts. He then allowed the audience to ask questions for 45 minutes while he kept track of how often she used the f word. (Final tally was 17).

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“I’m jealous of her,” ASCAP president Paul Williams said during a lunch at the Hard Rock Café prior to Universal Music Group chairman/CEO Lucian Grainge presenting the award to Warren. “Most songwriters are jealous of her. Not her success. It’s the dedication, the unwavering passion to create a song that hits people in the center of the chest.”

Known for “Because You Loved Me” by Celine Dion, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” by Aerosmith, “Un-break My Heart” by Toni Braxton and close to another hundred top 40 hits, Warren shared anecdotes on writing, perseverance and dedication during the hourlong chat. A few of the tidbits:

Writing for film: “I like to have an idea (when I start) and sometimes I just play around with chords. A lyric never comes first. A concept or a title, which is sort of a lyric, (does). Concept is important for me. (For film work) it’s about getting inspired and making a song that fits the movie and fits outside the movie. ‘Because You Loved Me’ (from “Up Close & Personal”) was odd because it became popular at weddings even though it had an ‘e d.’ It could be a divorce song.”

Upcoming songs: Rascal Flatts perform “Compass” in “Heaven is For Real” and she has a song slated for “Hercules” but no performer assigned yet. 

Work schedule: “I show up at 8:30, quarter to nine every day and try to wrote the best song I can, hit my head against the wall if I have to. I try to stay out of the office on Sundays.”

One good story: “There was a song I wrote 2-1/2 years ago and I had no idea what to do with it. I heard Paloma Faith and said that’s the act I want to record it. I set up a dinner with her and asked if she would listen to it. She said ‘no way am I doing a song I didn’t write.’ I did think the song was going to be a hit. I said would you just keep an open mind and just listen to it. (Later) I spoke to her on the phone and she said ‘f--- you,’ slammed the phone down and said ‘I’m booking a flight to come record it.’ I knew it was right – that this was who the song was born for.”

Biggest influence: “The radio was my best influence. I was glued to the radio. I learned song structure in the ‘60s, music from the Brill Building – it doesn’t get any better.”

Favorite singer of all time: Dusty Springfield.

Writing hits: “I think they’re all hits. Maybe I delude myself.”

Her favorite story: “ ‘I Was Here’ was a really open song when I wrote it on my guitar. It could be Beyonce, it could be Susan Boyle. I’m friends with Beyonce’s A&R rep, but I thought I’m going to go to Jay Z – let me do something different. I also sent it to Simon Cowell. Jay Z didn’t return my calls at first, but then I got a hold of him and said I want to play you a song. I felt that this was, if not my best song, in the top five. I think this was on a Monday and Beyonce was busy doing ‘Oprah’ or something. (Jay Z wanted her to record the song). Beyonce said ‘look, my album is supposed to be mastered on Friday.’ I went into the studio on Wednesday and we were there until 2:30, 3 in the morning. I think she delivered one of her best performances. I saw that I got an email from (an unspecified A&R office in England) that said ‘it’s an OK song, but it doesn’t go all the way for us.’ I responded ‘I’m in the studio with the biggest artist in the world and it went all the way for her. (Smiley face).’ ”