At BMI’s “How I Wrote That Song”event at the Key Club in West Hollywood today, Cee-Lo Green, Seal, Dallas Austin, the Neptunes’ Chad Hugo and more shared stories about hits they have composed, which among them include “California Gurls, “F**k You” and “If I Were a Boy.” A packed house of aspiring songwriters, music publishers and fans heard Seal surmise, after listening to the other songwriters, that songs that become hits are the most difficult to recall when telling a story about what went into their creation.
From left: Cee-Lo Green, Dallas Austin, Chad Hugo, BMI’s Catherine Bruton, Seal, Claude Kelly and BC Jean (Photo: Phil Gallo)
Seal spoke at length about finding a “sound” that he could call his own and the steps he took to become more than just a strong, unique singer. Others on the panel — Jean and Bonnie McKee, especially — spoke of having to put the brakes on a performing career as more artists record your work.
Discussions of several songs revealed that the artists had specific sounds in mind before they started. McKee and Katy Perry set out to write “California Gurls” with the spirit of ” ’90s summertime pop,” starting with an attempt to rhyme with the word “popsicle”; Kelly said “Bittersweet” was the ninth song he wrote for Fantasia, basing it on the strength of her live shows in which she displays a connection to soul legends of the 1960s and ’70s. And Cee-Lo wrote “F**K You” to be “ridiculous … malicious” after recording 70 songs for his “Ladykillers” album.
Among the other pieces of advice/wisdom dispensed during the two-hour midday event Saturday: Claude Kelly, who penned “Grenade” with Bruno Mars and the lyrics to the Kelly Clarkson hit “My Life Would Suck Without You,” said to “be selfless. For me that means going in the booth and turning out the lights to write from the singer’s perspective, whether it’s a female or male.”
Bonnie McKee opined, “Once you get a good title, the song writes itself. I wanted to write a song about lighting up something [for Taio Cruz]. Once I had the word dynamite it kind of wrote itself.”
Cee-lo: “Diversify your listening.” Seal would later affirm that notion, saying he listened to Sly and the Family Stone’s “Fresh,” Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills & Nash and Jimi Hendrix before coming up with his “sound.”
Cee-Lo Green (Photo: Phil Gallo)