Well, the first actual “rock” record I ever heard was “Rock around the Clock” by Bill Haley and the Comets. At age 12, I couldn’t verbalize why it was great. I just knew it made me feel glad to be alive! The next record I heard after that – and I was still living in Scotland at the time – was “Heartbreak Hotel” by Elvis Presley. Then we moved to Canada and boom, it was rock ‘n roll all the time. Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Elvis. My parents, like most parents at the time, didn’t approve – they thought Lawrence Welk was the height of musical sophistication – but they weren’t too hard ass about it. But from then on, yeah, it was rock ‘n roll every moment I could get. Then, of course, Dylan and the Beatles changed not only my world but the world.
What was the first song you ever wrote and what do you think of it today?
Don’t remember the actual very first song I wrote but one of the early ones, right after the Beatles had first come out, was a Christmas parody I wrote called “God Rest Ye Hairy Gentleman”.
Did it ever make the light of day in another for form?
No, no way, but it was pretty funny!
Artists have so many different approaches to writing, what is your general philosophy?
Strive for excellence. That’s it. And do whatever it takes to achieve excellence. Trying to do that, even when I didn’t know what I was doing, is the only reason I can think of to explain the career I’ve enjoyed. Strive for excellence. No one buys average.
Great songs give people a certain feeling: is that one of your barometers in determining whether a track is ready to be recorded or is that reserved for the listener?
Learning to be a songwriter is learning to be a bridge builder. A good songwriter builds bridges of understanding between himself or herself and the audience. it might be emotional understanding, it might be intellectual understanding, but that’s the whole deal.
You have written with a whose who of international talents from Linda Rondstadt to Waylon Jennings to KISS: which collaboration, or collaborations, were the most challenging?
Well, the collaborations that turn out to be most “challenging” are generally those that, in the end, don’t work – and consequently, are ones that don’t produce work that lasts or you’ve even heard of. If you’re working with another writer, especially a writer who’s an established artist, every song you come up with has to get a thumbs-up from a lot of people before it makes the record; the artist, the record company, the producer, the promotion department and so on. Did I mention striving for excellence?
You offer personal song-writing coaching online @ AdamMitchellMusic.com: how does it work and do you end up sharing a writing credit if it’s really good?
Really, the best way to think of this is as one-on-one, song aid. Personal tuition. And no, since it would be a work for hire, I would not take part of the song. Anyone who’s interested should contact me at info@AdamMitchellmusic.com.
The industry has changed radically in the last two decades: do you think it is harder today for a songwriter to break in with major artists to get
I think in some respects it’s much harder to be a songwriter now because, unlike in previous times and even up until very recently, publishing companies very rarely now give a writer, particularly a new writer, a substantial enough draw – that is, advance against future royalties – to live on. In my own particular case, when I moved to Los Angeles, Warner Bros. was paying me to write songs for them and it was a paltry amount but I could get by. But by the end of my first year, so many artists had cut my songs that WB decided to renegotiate my contract and suddenly I was making about ten times what I had previously. I’m not sure you can do that now.
On the other hand, in many respects it’s much easier now. You can do great demo recordings at home, the Internet puts the whole world at your doorstep and I still believe that excellence prevails in spite of all difficulties. Everyone gets a break, sooner or later. The trick – the key thing – is to be ready when it happens. All the breaks in the world won’t help you if you’re not prepared.
Join me at SongCoachOnline.com. Great songs are at the heart of everything in music and I’ve helped many people improve dramatically in that respect. It’s what I love to do and you’ll get a lot of other information about recording, common career mistakes, great gear and so on. Remember, when you’re trying to get somewhere in music, it’s a competition, like anything else. And the most prepared – and those willing to work hardest – will win. It’s a cruel logic I know, but it’s true.
Jagger once famously sang “it’s the singer, not the song”, was he being ironic?
With all due respect to the His Majesty, the Prince of Darkness, I say “Bollocks!” The song is the most important thing by far in any performance. Look at it this way…You can have the greatest singer in the world singing a crap song and what do you then have? Zero. A well polished turd. Here’s an absolute, universal, once – and – forever, truth. If you don’t have a great song at the heart of what you’re doing…a hundred times nothin’ is still nothin’.
In a recent interview you said ACDC’s *Back In Black* would make it to your island playlist: would it have been even better with Bon Scott?
Not in my opinion. I think Brian Johnson is phenomenal. It’s very rare for a singer to do a great job replacing an original guy but I think Brian has done it. He and Bon are both incredibly good.