Sheppard Solomon on Songwriting for Paris Hilton & Why Britney Spears Is ‘Opposite’ What He Expected
The songwriter has co-written three Billboard Hot 100-charting hits, all of which reached the top 25: Ryan Cabrera's "True," which climbed to No. 18 in 2005; Paris Hilton's debut single "Stars Are…
Sheppard Solomon has been a creative force behind some of the biggest pop artists over the past two decades.
The songwriter has co-written three Billboard Hot 100-charting hits, all of which reached the top 25: Ryan Cabrera‘s “True,” which climbed to No. 18 in 2005; Paris Hilton‘s debut single “Stars Are Blind” (No. 18, 2006; it also topped the Dance Club Songs chart); and Daughtry‘s “Feels Like Tonight” (No. 24, 2008).
Solomon chatted with Billboard about his writing and production discography, which also includes, among others, songs recorded by Kelly Clarkson, Miranda Cosgrove, Celine Dion, Enrique Iglesias, Lisa Loeb, One Direction, LeAnn Rimes, Robin S. and Britney Spears.
How would you describe your approach to songwriting?
I always try to write a cool pop song that I would love as a listener, like when you hear [Britney Spears’] “Toxic” or [Kylie Minogue’s] “Can’t Get You Out of My Head.” I’m always trying to come up with that thing that really grabs your ears, you know?
When I was starting out, I used to be in a band, so I would say I like to bring more of a band[-inspired] artistic approach to pop songwriting.
Is your approach different when writing for, say Britney Spears or One Direction or Celine Dion? Since they’re all different, sonically.
No, it’s always just to try and write an amazing pop song that entices you.
What is the writing process like when you’re in the studio with these artists? Are you discussing your ideas directly?
It’s different every time. For example, the One Direction song [“Tell Me a Lie,” from the group’s 2012 debut LP, Up All Night] was written for them and they just came in and recorded the vocals, and we spent two days recording and comparing vocals.
For Britney Spears, we actually wrote with her in the studio. We wrote three songs that week and one got recorded [“Touch of My Hand,” from 2003’s In the Zone].
What was she like as a collaborator?
She was completely the opposite of what I thought she would be. She was a really lovely, well-mannered and totally giving person. The hardest-working person I’ve ever seen in the studio. I think all of that Mickey Mouse Club stuff trained her. She wouldn’t stop working until [the songs] were absolutely perfected, and she never complained once.
Is there a song of yours that you’ve written that is a personal favorite?
I wrote a song for Natalie Imbruglia called “Shiver” that was quite popular in Europe and I quite like that one. I just love her voice, it has this angelic thing to it.
I also like the song that I wrote for Paris Hilton called “Stars Are Blind.”
Yes, “Stars Are Blind” is tied with Ryan Cabrera’s “True” as your highest-charting Hot 100 hits. What are some of your memories of working on that song?
Basically I looked at it as, “This is so ridiculous that I have to do this!” But I was so excited about the possibilities of it because she was kind of the first reality star. And I just thought it was so kitschy and that it seemed like a fun thing to do, and it was like a challenge. How do you write a really, really good pop song with a good lyric for someone like this, that’s convincing?
Was Paris involved in the writing at all?
No. I wrote the song with Fernando Garibay. But how the process happened was, I met with an A&R person, Jeff Aldridge, and he said, “I would love to have something like a reggae song, like a really angelic, convincing reggae song for her.” I went back to the studio and we came up with the track and the melody, and a rough lyric idea for “Stars Are Blind.”
Then I was stumped on the lyric a little bit, so I actually called up Billy Steinberg, who I had known and written songs with, and he loved the song. He was busy at the time, so he recommended a friend of his, Ralph McCarthy, who was a poet/nonfiction writer, but not a songwriter. He came down to the studio, helped me, and we wrote the lyric.
I demoed the song with a friend of mine, and then we took it back to Jeff, he loved it. And then Jeff played it for Paris and she loved it.
Wow. The Billy Steinberg part is especially interesting
Another part of the backstory is that Jeff was really fighting for that song to be the single. Others wanted it to more of a hip-hop song, because that’s what radio was playing. And then somehow, “Stars Are Blind” leaked, and the following day it was playing all over the world; it was like a viral pop sensation. So they wound up going with “Stars Are Blind” as the single.
What’s next for you?
I’m promoting a book about my life called It’s All in the Speakers that should be coming out pretty soon. I’ve also had a lot of singles in the past year, with Headhunters, Dash Berlin, Schiller and Welshly Arms.
Any tips and strategies that you can share for writing a hit song?
Just find your own unique voice and just have fun doing it, because sometimes the business can really be disheartening and get you down. I hate to say this, but don’t listen to people in the business. I mean, I don’t think Bob Dylan listened to people in the business.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.