On March 21, 2014, a panel of accomplished songwriters spoke at South City Campus for the “2014 Songwriter’s Summit: Where Music Speaks” Students’ Workshop.
The panel included Season 10 “American Idol” contestant Paul McDonald, country songwriter Dean Dillon and Three-time Grammy Nominee Steve Dorff. The panel answered questions from the audience and gave insight on how to be a distinguished songwriter.
“The [main] ingredient in any song – you got to have a great lyrical hook or melodic hook,” says songwriter Dean Dillon. “My life revolves around words and melodies.”
Dillon has written songs for country music sensations George Strait, Kenny Chesney and Toby Keith. He is also in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. His journey as a songwriter started when he was a teenager. He moved to Nashville and began looking for work, but it wasn’t so easy.
“I walked down music row and beat on doors,” he says.
He, along with McDonald and Dorff, brought out the point that any songwriter wanting to make it in the music industry needs to work hard for what he or she wants. It takes dedication and networking. Songwriters can’t expect their first song to be a top-charting hit.
During the discussion, the panel pointed at the audience and told everyone to get to know each other after the workshop; that is how successful connections start.
Dillon talked about his experience with writer’s block, and his solution was to write with another person. It saves frustration and is very rare that writer’s block will occur for both people at the same time.
People who are strictly songwriters must find a singer who will want their music and write according to that singer. Someone like George Strait wouldn’t want heavy metal lyrics in his country songs.
“Make [music] relative to the artist,” says McDonald.
The challenge for songwriters is to write what no one else has written about. Dillon doesn’t listen to the radio before writing a song or melody, just to make certain he doesn’t write what another artist has already written.
“Evolve with the music – I can’t write what I wrote 35 years ago,” says Dillon.
A songwriter’s biggest accomplishment is when his or her lyrics are published. Once he or she is in the door, it opens up opportunity for something bigger.
“I’m just happy when anyone wants to record my songs – they’re my hero,” says Dorff.