Hitmakers Share Stories Behind Their Work

BMI event feature photo
Grammy award-winning musicians talk about the process behind writing hit-songs. / Photo by Itzel Quintana
Grammy award-winning musicians talk about the process behind writing hit-songs. / Photo by Itzel Quintana
Grammy award-winning musicians talk about the process behind writing hit-songs. / Photo by Itzel Quintana

By Itzel Quintana

 When you hear that song by Mariah Carey that reminds you of your childhood or your new favorite Taylor Swift song it is easy to overlook the details that make those songs so catchy.

  The producers and songwriters behind many of the hit songs of the last quarter century gathered at the Roxy Theatre on February 13 at Broadcast Music, Inc.’s “How I Wrote that Song” panel event to share the stories behind their music.

 The four panelists included Bilal “The Chef” Hajii, Stevie J, Liz Rose and Jerry “Wonda” Duplessis. Some of the artists that these producers and songwriters have worked with include The Fugees, Biggie Smalls, Jennifer Lopez. Mariah Carey, Shakira and Taylor Swift.

  The panel began while Sean Kingston’s hit “Fire Burning” was playing. Hajii laughed and danced along to the hit song he wrote and produced. When the volume was turned down, Hajii began sharing the story behind the song that everyone was dancing to moments before.

  “We met up at the studio at nine in the morning and I told him to just play something and let me vibe to it,” Hajii said.

 The hook then just came together, without anything written down, according to Hajii. The only thing required for that song to become a hit were 2 artists feeding off each other’s creativity.

 Stevie J, a Grammy award winning producer and songwriter for Bad Boy Entertainment, was then introduced. The list of hit songs he produced and wrote is extensive. He is the mastermind behind Biggie Small’s “Mo Money, Mo Problems”, Mariah Carey’s “Honey” and Eve’s “Let me Blow Ya Mind”- just to name a few.

  “You don’t go in thinking [the song] is going to be a hit,” Stevie J said.

  He recounted spending countless hours behind a piano with Mariah Carey. He also discussed what it was like working with Biggie Smalls and described him as someone who would sit back in a room full of people, listening in on conversations to piece together songs about real life experiences.

  The third panelist was Liz Rose, a Grammy award-winning lyricist who has worked with artists like Taylor Swift and Little Big Town.

  Rose emphasized the importance of family and said that if she were not able to work alongside her family her work would not be worth it. She founded a publishing company called Liz Rose Music alongside her son, Scott Ponce. Her daughter, Caitlin Rose is also signed to her publishing company.  

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  She shared her memory of working with Little Big Town and her descriptions sounded like she took in the band as part of her family. The Grammy award-winning hit song “Girl Crush” was crafted in Rose’s home, while they were cooking breakfast.

  “We were making breakfast and one of the girls said she wanted to write a song about having a girl crush,” Rose said.

 That same day, the girls went over to Rose’s home studio and started exchanging ideas about the story in the song. They all agreed it would be about being envious of an ex’s new love interest, and then one of the girls started playing a melody on her guitar that sounded like a “girl crush.” A few days later the song was cut and later won Best Country Song at the 2016 Grammys.

  The last of the fours panelists, Jerry “Wonda” Duplessis is a Grammy winning producer and multi-instrumentalist that worked with artists like The Fugees and Shakira.

  Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie” started playing over the speakers and everyone in the audience started dancing while Duplessis laughed and bobbed his head around to the music.

 “That song was originally supposed to be for another artist and it had more of a hip hop sound,” Duplessis said.

 He described the day Shakira’s manager came into his studio and heard the song that would become “Hips Don’t Lie.” They changed the drums to give the song a reggaeton sound but Duplessis insists that at the core, the original song has a hip-hop beat.

 He also mentioned his work with The Fugees. He co-produced “The Score”, one of the best selling hip-hop albums of all time, in the basement of his home in New Jersey. He got so excited while talking about “Killing me Softly” that he started playing the bassline with his tri-colored rasta bass guitar.

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