A VI­TAL SPOT­LIGHT FOR THE PEO­PLE WHO WRITE THE SONGS

Ross Golan’s pod­cast is chang­ing minds on pay and recog­ni­tion for the craft in the stream­ing era.

Los Angeles Times - - ARTS & BOOKS - By Au­gust Brown

Ross Golan has writ­ten hit songs for Ari­ana Grande, Se­lena Gomez, Justin Bieber and dozens of other stars. But his most im­por­tant con­tri­bu­tion to pop song­writ­ing to­day might be a pod­cast.

On each episode of his show “And the Writer Is…,” Golan sits down with a song­writ­ing peer. Some are well-known artists, oth­ers purely be­hind-the-scenes types. They talk about their writ­ing pro­cesses, their lives as work­ing mu­si­cians and their fears and tri­umphs in an of­ten-over­looked cor­ner of the pop mu­sic ma­chin­ery.

“It’s a myth that mu­sic is all magic,” Golan says. “It’s not. It’s a bunch of emo­tional wrecks sit­ting in a room try­ing to write a song.”

With the rise of stream­ing ser­vices dec­i­mat­ing song­writ­ing roy­al­ties, and as mar­quee pop al­bums take on huge casts of co-writ­ers, Golan sees these con­ver­sa­tions as a small but sig­nif­i­cant re­minder that fans’ fa­vorite songs don’t come out of nowhere. And given the Record­ing Academy’s re­cent rule change that now al­lows key song­writ­ers to re­ceive a Grammy in the al­bum of the year cat­e­gory, a change for which Golan lob­bied, he may al­ready be mak­ing an im­pact.

Golan’s ros­ter of song­writ­ing hits — the ti­tle track for Grande’s “Dan­ger­ous Woman” LP, sev­eral No. 1 sin­gles, in­clud­ing Gomez’s “Same Old Love” and Flo Rida’s “My House” — speaks for it­self. This year, he won the pub­lisher BMI’s award for Pop Song­writer of the Year.

For pop fans, his pod­cast “And the Writer Is…” is an en­tic­ing look not just be­hind the scenes of the mu­sic busi­ness but into those small, jit­tery rooms where writ­ers take sliv­ers of mum­bled lyrics and off-the-cuff chord changes and buff them into pol­ished pop tunes.

The craft is a weird mix of be­ing ex­tremely vul­ner­a­ble, tech­ni­cally nim­ble and com­pletely un­sen­ti­men­tal all at once.

“Try to imag­ine walk­ing into a room full of strangers, singing to them and then ask­ing what they think,” Golan says. “The first thing I do, even with ma­jor artists, is to sit down and ask them ‘How are you do­ing?’ ”

When Golan — who has put out his own al­bums as Ross Golan & the Mole­heads and Glacier Hik­ing and cre­ated the one-man mu­si­cal “The Wrong Man” — started the pod­cast in Jan­uary, he imag­ined it as a place to swap fa­vorite writ­ers’ tricks and in­sider mu­sic-biz sto­ries, riff­ing on the strange in­ti­macy of their line of work. He fig­ured that even if the audience would be “about 300 peo­ple in this lit­tle com­mu­nity” of song­writ­ers, it would be a fun di­ver­sion. In-de­mand writ­ers like Benny Blanco, Bon­nie McKee, coun­try mu­sic main­stay Luke Laird and Mikkel Erik­sen of Star­gate all dropped by early to talk shop.

But as the pod­cast pro­gressed and di­ver­si­fied (re­cent guests in­cluded clas­sic rock pen­man Des­mond Child and singer-writer Bebe Rexha), it found a much big­ger crowd — now in the tens of thou­sands per episode. Mu­sic school stu­dents, es­pe­cially at Golan’s alma mater, USC, started cit­ing it as an in­valu­able ref­er­ence.

Golan saw that many of the most in­ter­est­ing mo­ments came from work­ing writ­ers talk­ing about their own lives. In the pop mu­sic peck­ing or­der, writ­ers ex­ist on a ledge be­tween ex­tremely fa­mous artists and a pre­car­i­ous gig econ­omy, where they’re only as buzzy as their last big hit, usu­ally with none of the name recog­ni­tion of the artist on the cover.

Out-of-date leg­is­la­tion re­gard­ing roy­alty pay­ments and sweet­heart deals be­tween stream­ing ser­vices and record la­bels (many of which are in­vestors in Spo­tify and such) of­ten mean that song­writ­ers in the stream­ing era are the last to get paid even com­i­cally small sums for their work.

When writ­ers like Ali Tam­posi (Kelly Clark­son’s “Stronger”) be­gan open­ing up about the anx­i­eties of sur­viv­ing in this kind of mar­ket, the can­dor of “And the Writer Is…” started feel­ing more rad­i­cal. Even some­one like Golan, whose cred­ited songs had more than a bil­lion streams on Spo­tify alone last year — feels that pres­sure, let alone a young as­pi­rant with­out a chart­top­ping sin­gle.

“We now have to bat­tle with Google, with Spo­tify and Ap­ple. They want ev­ery­thing to be free so they can sell your data,” Golan says. “We can’t com­pete. How do you make a liv­ing if there are no al­bum sales? It cre­ates a lot of rev­enue, but it all goes back to the record la­bels.”

Golan be­gan us­ing the pod­cast to high­light those dis­par­i­ties and give fel­low song­writ­ers a ref­er­ence point for their own chal­lenges. He spoke to Congress on the is­sue of roy­alty-rate leg­is­la­tion and along with writer-pro­ducer Evan Bog­art suc­cess­fully lob­bied the Record­ing Academy for the change that ac­knowl­edges song­writ­ers in its Al­bum of the Year awards.

For Ryan Press, co-head of A&R at the mu­sic pub­lisher Warner/Chappell (where Golan is signed), Golan’s ad­vo­cacy work with the pod­cast has started a new con­ver­sa­tion about rec­og­niz­ing — and pay­ing — song­writ­ers.

“There are no artists with­out writ­ers, and to be able to shed light on what’s hap­pen­ing be­hind the scenes is ex­tremely im­por­tant,” Press says. “The tim­ing of this pod­cast couldn’t be bet­ter. Writ­ers all strug­gle to get com­pen­sated prop­erly. When you think about a hit record and you see [stars] on so­cial me­dia, you think there’s so much money there. But writ­ers are so eas­ily over­looked.”

It’s hard to quan­tify what im­pact Golan’s pod­cast is mak­ing, but new fea­tures like Spo­tify’s “Secret Ge­nius” (which high­lights song­writ­ers be­hind ris­ing pop hits) sug­gests that not only do fans want to know about the song­writ­ers re­spon­si­ble for the hits, the ser­vices may be feel­ing a lit­tle guilty about ne­glect­ing them. “Even they rec­og­nize that it’s” screwed up, Golan says, us­ing a more pointed ex­ple­tive.

If EDM and hip-hop can have pro­duc­ers-turned-su­per­stars, and bill­boards laud­ing song­writ­ers can go up around Nashville’s Mu­sic Row, maybe mod­ern pop song­writ­ing can fi­nally have its mo­ment in the spot­light.

“Ca­role King, [Jerry] Leiber and [Mike] Stoller, they were all part of the zeit­geist of their time,” Golan says. “This is an­other mo­ment when song­writ­ers mat­ter.”

Chris­tian K. Lee Los An­ge­les Times

SONG­WRITER ROSS GOLAN has a pod­cast called “And the Writer Is…” in which he talks with fel­low work­ing song­writ­ers.

Ben Gabbe Getty Images

writ­ten hit songs for many mu­si­cal artists, in­clud­ing Justin Bieber, left, Se­lena Gomez, Ari­ana Grande and Flo Rida.

Christo­pher Polk Getty Images

GOLAN HAS

Chris Pizzello Invision / As­so­ci­ated Press

Dave Ho­gan AFP / Getty Images

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