The oft-forgotten recipe for a sustainable career in music is TALENT, versatility and determination. Notice the emphasis on talent. While this isn’t necessarily the formula for success, I’ve been lucky enough to witness several cases of organic career growth and success stories in the making based on these very traits.
Over the last three years the career growth of one musician in particular has been extremely fun to watch. Los Angeles based songwriter, Drew Lawrence has balanced music, life, family, and bills to build a sustainable career in music over that span. A classically trained Pianist and graduate of Berklee College of Music, Drew has a career record that includes gigging around LA, a few west coast and US tours, teaching music lessons to families in Beverly Hills and a more recent focus in songwriting for heavy hitters like Christina Perri, Kelly Clarkson and a ton of up and comers.
So what can we learn from Drew?
His evolution as a professional musician and current songwriting contract with Warner Chappell, can be attributed to his ability to get himself out there and take chances and most importantly his versatility as a musician. After reading our interview with him below you should leave with a better understanding of what it takes to get into songwriting and how to make the most of every opportunity.
Intro by Chris Cave
A Conversation with Singer Songwriter Drew Lawrence
Presskit.to: After graduating from Berklee and moving to LA how were you able to adjust to the new location and network within an unfamiliar scene?
Drew Lawrence: It took me a while - eventually I tapped into some of the alumni events through Berklee. I also connected w/ people on Craigslist when forming my own band. It’s funny, but one of them is now the drummer for One Republic. I could have done it quicker If I had gone to publishing companies, management companies or especially ASCAP or BMI and requested meetings. These people are there to help and they will set up sessions for you.
Pk: You’ve had a varied career in music including teaching and gigging. When and why did you start focusing on songwriting?
DL: It kind of fell into my lap! One of my friends got signed to Sony and it occurred to me - after 3 years of trying to get my own deal - that maybe I could at least get a song on somebody else’s album. The result was my first major label cut in 2006.
Pk: Is there a specific number of songs that songwriters should have written or certain level of success reached before they move to LA or Nashville? ie. Should I get my shit together before I head West or should I jump right in?
DL: No, just dive in. There is no better way to learn the business. Network, go to shows, and do as many sessions as possible. If I could do it again I would have got to LA immediately after school.
Pk: You’ve seen the industry from multiple perspectives. Is networking as a songwriter different than networking as an artist in a band who writes and performs his or her own songs? If so, how?
DL: As a songwriter you can be a little more versatile in your networking. If you’re open to really learning different styles you can work with urban producers in LA one week and be in Nashville the next.
Pk: When writing, do you collaborate with the performing artist during the writing process? Or is it a finished product by the time you pitch it to them?
If you pitch finished songs, what criteria do you use when deciding which artists should perform which songs?
DL: Both. I love to write with the artist whenever possible. The pitching game is tricky and very political. There are thousands of writers and producers in the country trying to get a cut with an artist like Rihanna or Pink. The truth is, there are only a few writers and producers that end up getting those cuts. The best route is to think a little left. Write the songs no one else is writing. Also, write with the unknown artists that are on their way up. Make sure they have a good team i.e. publisher or manager and ride up with them. Christina Perri was an unsigned waitress when I worked with her. But she was managed by Bill Silva.
As far as deciding who does the songs, usually you write with a certain artist in mind. As it’s so challenging to get songs cut - you’re pretty happy if any signed artist will cut your song!! The publisher will hit the big ones first if the song is good enough. Then you start hitting up the lesser knowns.
Pk: Has this process changed since you joined Warner Chappell?
DL: Warner puts me in the ring. I will admit, I needed it. I think someone could hustle and create a lot of the opportunities I’ve had if he/she was very resourceful and persistent. Or one could get a manger to do a lot of what Warner does for me. Either way, if you get an Indy deal with a manager or, in certain cases, you have a good A&R at a major, you’re out 25%.
Pk: From your experience is the recording quality of a demo an important factor when pitching your songs?
DL: It has to be radio quality. Although, if the song is strong enough a good piano/ vocal with an amazing singer will sometimes work as well.
Pk: What business tools/services do you use to keep track of royalties that you are due? Does Warner provide any of these for you?
DL: Warner and ASCAP and someday…an auditor. Kobalt has a very cutting edge system allowing their writer to follow all royalties on-line.
Pk: Do you have a manager/when do you think it’s necessary to get a manager as a songwriter? Are there other team members that are important for songwriters?
DL: I’ve recently just taken on a manager. My publisher has been very instrumental in hooking up sessions but if you don’t have a ton of cuts or hits I think it’s very helpful to have another fighter in your corner.
Pk: Can you tell us a little more about the “Jar of Hearts” songwriting process and how you came to work with Christina Perri?
DL: She was a waitress at the time although she did have a deal with Jason Mraz’s management company. I usually only write with artists if they have either a record deal, a publishing deal or a really good manager. My friend who produced the song knew her manager and so we took a week to work with her in the very early stages of her career.
Pk: When “Jar of Hearts” blew up after being featured on “So You Think You Can Dance,” were you prepared from a legal standpoint to receive the correct royalties? Looking back, would you have done anything differently?
DL: My lawyer was my first phone call. It’s important to look into a publisher after you have a cut like that. Otherwise royalties will be sitting around uncollected - especially internationally.
Pk: How were your rights affected by her signing to a major label, if at all?
DL: I maintained my equal split and my rightful control of my portion of the song although my lawyer and my publisher had to go to bat for me.
Pk: Aside from content being king, do you have any other advice for songwriters reading this?
DL: Humility, you can always be better. Perception, fake it till you make it. It’s sounds like they cancel each other out but really a confident humility will get you a long way!
With his band Lunar Sway, Drew has toured the country and released 2 EP’s.
He is best known for co-writing the international hit “Jar of Hearts” with Christina Perri which has been certified triple Platinum in the US. Drew’s song “Bang Bang Bang” is also featured on her album Lovestrong.
Most recently his songs have been recorded by Kelly Clarkson, Katherine McPhee, Backstreet Boys, David Nail, Billy Currington, Tyler Bryant and Faber Drive.
He has worked with such producers as Toby Gad, JR Rotem, Cutfather, Alex Gerringas and Igloo.