Aretha Franklin

Jamie Scott on the Secret to Writing Hits for One Direction, Justin Bieber & Niall Horan

Jamie Scott is currently on his way back home from his Richmond, U.K. studio after a day with Canadian artist Royal Wood. “I’m working with him for a couple of weeks,” says Scott. “I’m a fan of his music, so we’re making a few records for his new album. He’s really cool.” If Scott’s track record is any indication, Royal Wood should brace himself for superstardom considering Scott’s eclectic discography as a songwriter is filled to the brim with career-defining or trajectory-changing hits.

It’s Scott, after all, who was with One Direction during their first-ever writing session and later guided them toward musical adulthood by helping radically change their sound from teen bubblegum pop to mature adult material. It was also Scott who gave One Direction’s Niall Horan his first solo hit with the thoughtful career-launching singer-songwriter jam, “This Town.” It was even Scott who contributed to Justin Bieber’s latest dance hit alongside Major Lazer and MO, “Cold Water.” 

“The one thing I have to my advantage or experience is that I’m also an artist and I’ve been in the position that these artists are when they come to my studio,” Scott hypothesizes. If there’s anyone who’s fully aware of the ups and downs of the fickle music industry, it’s him. Initially signed to Sony as an artist in 2002, the release of his debut album was later derailed thanks to company’s 2004 merger with BMG. From there, he regrouped and released music under the name Jamie & The Town (and later, as part of the duo Graffiti6). However, Scott’s career took a left turn in 2010 after pitching a song to a new boy band hot off the U.K. version of The X Factor dubbed One Direction. That pitch, the soon-to-be-single “More Than This,” wound up on the band’s debut album Up All Night, and Scott subsequently turned into one of their closest creative consultants and musical gurus.

“Over the years I’ve written with them and for them, and have also offered advice,” says Scott. “I’ve witnessed their success, but as they became more and more famous, the kind of advice I was able to offer to them went out the window, because being that famous and having that kind of life isn’t something I’m so familiar with,” Scott says with a laugh. “I mean, just try to fathom what their life is like. Just getting your head around a machine that big is bonkers.”

Scott collaborated with One Direction on all five of their albums, playing a crucial part in fostering the growth of their sound. “I remember when we did ‘Drag Me Down’ for the boys, we had a really good feeling about it in terms of it being a cool place for them to go," he says of the single from their 2015 album Made in the A.M. "We wanted to shake it up a bit and cross these guys over. It was a bit risky, but the label heard it and loved it and the boys loved it and we went with it.”

Perhaps it was that finesse that led One Direction member Horan to recruit Scott to help launch his debut solo project, the lead single of which is “This Town,” a global hit currently sitting at No. 25 on the Hot 100. The song, a collaboration between Scott and Horan as well as writers Mike Needle and Daniel Byer, took an hour to write. “I’d obviously known Niall for years and I remember that particular session being just honest,” says Scott of what’s a recurring theme when discussing his songwriting philosophy. “I’m not into writing good music. It’s never about chasing album cuts or chasing okay songs. I want great music from great artists and for that to happen, there has to be a level of honesty in a session where you feel free to say things without worrying about anything. Great music comes out of a room where people trust each other, whether it’s a producer and engineer or producer and a writer. Everyone in that room has to be on the same page.” And how does Scott achieve that level of honesty and trust? “Before I even sit down to write, I’ll find myself hanging out for two or three hours with artists. I’ll even sometimes meet up with them for a coffee before we start. Because the worst that could happen is that you come into the studio and you’re not quite on the same wavelength and you amicably say, 'There’s no point to this.' That very seldom happens, but I’d much rather do that than struggle with a session where two people aren’t on the same page.”

It was a similar vibe when Scott found himself at mega-producer Benny Blanco’s New York studio with Ed Sheeran. “I was working with Benny on a couple of projects at the time and he had just written and produced Ed’s second album, so we all were together one night and got out our guitars and started writing a song for no other reason than to write a song,” says Scott of the track that’d later turn into “Cold Water” for Bieber. “That was about it really. Five months later I was told Major Lazer was working on a cut of it with Justin, so that’s just one of those nice phone calls you get.” 

Scott has since capitalized on his hit-making abilities by founding Catherine Songs, a publishing company based in the U.K. which boasts clients such as the aforementioned Needle and Byer, as well as singer-songwriter River Matthews, who is also signed to Scott’s independent label, Catherine Records, as an artist. (Scott released his most recent solo album, 2015’s My Hurricane, through Catherine.) Both publishing company and label are built on the idea of being laid-back avenues to freely create, not music factories that mindlessly churn out tracks. “I don’t really have a routine. I can’t sit down and write 365 days a year, it’s not possible for me,” Scott says of his process. “Most of the songs I’ve written that have done me proud and done me well are always the most authentic and honest ones. I’d rather do 10 or 15 of those a year, rather write than a song every day.” Besides Royal Wood, Scott has a variety of upcoming tracks with both household names and obscure names, all of which he’s tight lipped about. “There are about 10 or 15 songs coming out in the next three or four months that I’m really excited for,” he teases. “I never know what I’m allowed to reveal.”

One artist he can spill the beans about, however, is Rag'n'Bone Man, the moniker of British singer-songwriter Rory Graham who’s currently rising up the charts in Europe with the raw folk track “Human” which is garnering critical acclaim. A fan of Graham first, Scott signed on as an executive producer of his upcoming album set to come out this coming March. “I met him halfway through the process,” Scott says of Graham. “I love his voice, it’s incredible. We started collaborating and realized we had something special in the studio, so I wound up getting involved.” No doubt Scott felt the similar vibes with Graham that he felt with Horan, Blanco, Sheeran, or any of his other collaborators. “When you’re in the studio, as long as everyone can say exactly what they believe, then you’re fine. Without that moment, it’s too hard to manufacture.”