Browse by Title
V W X Y Z #  

Tina Shafer
Tina runs the New York Songwriters Circle, whose exemplar is Jesse Harris, the man who wrote the Norah Jones hit "Don't Know Why."

Also a vocal coach and songwriter ("Love Is On The Way" from The First Wives Club soundtrack), Tina has a unique understanding of what it takes to both create and perform a successful song. She shared some of her insights on the craft, and told us how she helped Lana Del Rey overcome her biggest roadblock to stardom.
Tina Shafer
Carl Wiser (Songfacts): Looking over some of the folks that you've coached vocally - Avril Lavigne, Vanessa Carlton, Lana Del Rey - I notice that they are also songwriters. Is there a connection there?

Tina Shafer: I'm a songwriter myself, so people know I've been on both sides of the table.

Songfacts: But you don't teach the songwriting and the vocals at the same time, that's a completely separate practice?

Tina: Oh, absolutely. No, this is primarily for vocal coaching. I worked with Vanessa and I worked for a short time with Avril Lavigne when she was first starting out. And Lana I worked with vocally, but I also worked with her on stage fright. Definitely not the song thing.

Songfacts: So tell me about the stage fright thing.

Tina: [Laughs] Well, I think that it's really hard when all of the sudden your career takes off and you are catapulted onto various stages with lots of eyeballs watching. It's just terrifying for people.

You can become so popular overnight now with the Internet, and with Lana, she really had an Internet explosion. She's this really insular artist; she's very deep and she wasn't prepared for the amount of attention and amount of performing at the level of which she all of a sudden was forced to do. The risks are higher and the stakes are higher, and I think it just was terrifying on stage.

She's certainly not alone in feeling that way. Many, many famous artists have suffered - Carly Simon, Linda Ronstadt - lots of people suffer from stage fright. Even I suffer from stage fright.

Songfacts: Were you working with her before she became famous?

Tina: Actually, she played at my showcase the summer before she really catapulted into stardom. She had two managers at the time, and they called me in to work with her in the fall as "Video Games" was just taking off like crazy. So I was working with her as she was literally taking off. It was just so wild to watch.

Songfacts: I had a chance to speak with a guy that worked with Paula Abdul on her first album and was asking about how he could work with her voice. He explained that with the right processing, in a studio environment, you could make her sound really good. Now, Lana Del Rey does not have what you would consider a classic voice. Can you talk about what you did to work with her to make what she has work?

Tina: The way I work with all my students is I work with one technique and they can do with it whatever style of music they want to. But I really teach how the voice functions, I show them what it looks like, how the vocal cords vibrate. Like how you would know your instrument if you were a guitarist or a violinist. I really teach them how the structure of the voice works.

I work based around the Bel Canto technique along with just a lot of other things I've learned over the years through various doctors I've worked with and through having taught for 22 years. You learn techniques to work with various students. I believe in having a really solid technique before going into any studio and certainly before touring, because touring can really rip your voice up if you don't know what you're doing.

So I'm not an engineer that goes in there and modifies sound. That's not who I am at all. I'm someone that really teaches you your instrument, and hopefully you have to do a lot less work in the studio. With someone that knows their voice there's very little to do, really, for an engineer.

Songfacts: Well, can you identify strengths and weaknesses with certain artists? Like Avril Lavigne, can you say what she does really well as opposed to what she doesn't do well?

Tina: Sure. Every person that walks in that door is a unique person and they have a unique set of challenges. So my job is to diagnose what people bring to me and where their weaknesses are and where their strengths are and work with them from there. Avril was born with what I call a natural inclination to sing. Just a natural ability to sing. Her vocal technique was really like taking a camera lens and focusing it - she had so much there to work with. And other people you have to build brick by brick and they can get to great places, too. But it's just a longer, more studied road.

Songfacts: What about Lana Del Rey, what were the challenges with her?

Tina: Well, with Lana I would say that she has a natural, beautiful sound. But she was just so terrified. I was trying to get her to not be so afraid to make a sound.

The great thing about Lana, she has this beautiful deep speaking voice. So she's written tailor-made a lot of her songs around a comfortable speaking voice area of her voice. If you notice "Video Games" or "Young and Beautiful" or "Blue Jeans," those songs are very, very low. They're like her natural speaking voice, so she doesn't have to be belting high Bs and Cs and Ds, like Christina Aguilera would do. But she's been very aware of working around what her natural ability is. And then my job was just to make sure that she's safe and strong in that.

Songfacts: That's very interesting. Tell me about writing the song "Love Is On The Way."

Tina: Well, I wrote that with my ex-husband Peter Zizzo, who I'm still very close friends with. He's a writer/producer. And Denise Rich, who was actually in charge of a publishing company that we were signed to with Ric Wake at the time. We wrote that song originally for another student of mine, Billy Porter, who recently won the Tony Award for Kinky Boots. Billy was an unknown singer at the time, and I had introduced him to Ric Wake and Denise and got him a deal in A&M Records. This was going to be his first single - "Love Is On The Way" was his original single.

We had sung it at a party that Denise had for Bette Midler to raise money for the parks. Bette was standing in front of me and heard the song and wrote on her cocktail napkin, "Can you please submit this song to The First Wives Club," which was a $100 million grossing film, which was so amazing. Because I had tried for years to get songs to Bette Midler, banged on the door and nothing ever happened. And here we were at this party and we sung the song at the party thinking no one's ever going to listen to us, and she was listening. That is really how I got my first break, is through Bette Midler and Billy Porter singing that song.

My ex-husband Peter produced it along with Ric, and that later went on to also be a track for Celine Dion on her album Let's Talk About Love, the one that has the Titanic song on it.

Songfacts: When you write these songs, do they have any personal meaning for you, or are you strictly trying to get yourself a hit?

Tina: Any song that I write comes from a really deep place of who I am.

I came into the studio with the introduction to that song. I had some thoughts and feelings about moving on in my life. I had recently gone through a breakup, and that was the seed of that song.

Peter, when we wrote together, I would come up a lot with the verses and he would come in with a killer chorus, which he certainly did with that song. But yes, to answer your question, they all come from a deeply personal place. A kind of place that's much further ahead of where I am, actually. My songs are smarter than I am, let me say that.

Songfacts: That's a good way to put it. Did Jesse Harris perform "Don't Know Why" at the Songwriters Circle before Norah Jones got to it?

Tina: Yeah. Jesse used to perform it. I love Jesse Harris. He was a student of mine for a couple of years. He used to play that song and I used to look at him and say, "You are like the Woody Allen of songwriting." He would just write these beautiful vignettes. They were so unique and so poetic. He used to play that at the Circle; he used to play at the Circle all the time, he and Richard Julian before he met Norah. And then when they went out to the University of North Texas, Norah was kind of their tour guide when they went to the school out there to perform. He brought Norah back with him - she was totally unsigned at the time. Yeah, he played that song long before she sang it. But how lucky that she did.

Songfacts: In hindsight it's easy to say that is a wonderful song, and it just takes some promotion and the right voice to make it a hit. But when he was performing it in front of 20 people, did you have any sense for if that song had the hit potential?

Tina: That's the golden question, isn't it? I feel like I do have a gift for hearing great songs and great artists. I don't know what that thing is in you that recognizes another soul's talent, but I do feel I have that. I've certainly been wrong, but I heard Jesse as a special talent. Whether it's a hit song, you and I both know there are so many variables that go into making that. But you certainly know if it's a great song. That's what I can say.

Songfacts: Do established artists ever show up at the Songwriting Circle?

Tina: I will have what are called Profile Nights, and that's when a lot of them show up. But most artists who are high profile are too busy to just drop in. But when I do have unknown artists that are performing, a lot of their friends come to support them.

Songfacts: In terms of the Songwriting Circle, you always hear about how this kind of stuff goes on in Nashville all the time and it's very common, a great way for people to get together and swap songs. How is the vibe in the New York songwriting scene?

Tina: That's a great question. Like The Bluebird in Nashville, it was really devised to be something in New York that gave a community for artists. That was in 1991, so it's my 23rd year running it, and I would say it's always had such a great vibe. It's a community, and with New York there's just so little of that - the arts are so lonely. Let's face it, it's a lonely life being a writer. So when people come together, I find that almost every artist is warm and embracing. They're not as up to singing on each other's songs as they are in Nashville, because everybody kind of knows each other's work down there, it's a smaller community. But these people embrace each other here. And a lot of stuff has come out of the Circle. Even marriages have come out of the Circle.

July 24, 2013.
Get more at and

Comments: 1

What an interesting interview!
-Jannie Mariie from Atlanta, TX

Where are you from?
Your Comment
 security code

La La Brooks of The CrystalsLa La Brooks of The Crystals
The lead singer on "Da Doo Ron Ron" and "Then He Kissed Me," La La explains how and why Phil Spector replaced The Crystals with Darlene Love on "He's A Rebel."
Curt Kirkwood of Meat PuppetsCurt Kirkwood of Meat Puppets
The (Meat)puppetmaster takes us through songs like "Lake Of Fire" and "Backwater," and talks about performing with Kurt Cobain on MTV Unplugged.
Petula ClarkPetula Clark
Petula talks about her hits "Downtown" and "Don't Sleep In The Subway," and explains her Michael Jackson connection.
Songs Discussed in MoviesSongs Discussed in Movies
Bridesmaids, Reservoir Dogs, Willy Wonka. Just a few of the flicks where characters discuss specific songs, sometimes as a prelude to murder.

Search in Songwriter Interviews
Songwriter Interviews titles
Aaron Beam of Red Fang
Aaron Gillespie
Aaron Lewis
Adam Duritz of Counting Crows
Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne
Adam Young of Owl City
Al Anderson of NRBQ
Al Jourgensen of Ministry
Al Kooper
Alan Merrill of The Arrows
Alex Call (867-5309)
Allee Willis: Boogie Wonderland, Friends theme
Amanda Palmer
Amy Grant
Andy McClusky of OMD
Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash
Angelo Moore of Fishbone
Ann Hampton Callaway
Anna Canoni about Woody Guthrie
Annie Haslam of Renaissance
Anthony Raneri of Bayside
Antigone Rising
Art Alexakis of Everclear
Asher Roth
Badi Assad
Bart Millard of MercyMe
Becca Stevens
Ben Watt of Everything But The Girl
Benny Mardones
Biff Byford of Saxon
Bill Medley of The Righteous Brothers
Bill Withers
Billy Gould of Faith No More
Billy Joe Shaver
Billy Montana ("More Than A Memory" - Garth Brooks)
Billy Steinberg
Bo Bice
Bob Daisley
Bobby Liebling of Pentagram
Bobby Whitlock
Boz Scaggs
Brad Arnold from 3 Doors Down
Brad Smith of Blind Melon
Brandi Carlile
Brandon Heath
Brenda Russell
Brian "Head" Welch of Korn, Love and Death
Bronze Radio Return
Bruce Robison
Bryan Adams
Butch Vig
Buzz Osborne of the Melvins
Carol Kaye
Chad Channing (Nirvana, Before Cars)
Chad Urmston of Dispatch
Chan Kinchla of Blues Traveler
Charles Fox
Charlie Benante of Anthrax
Charlie Daniels
Charlotte Caffey of The Go-Go's
Chris August
Chris Fehn of Slipknot
Chris Isaak
Chris Knight
Chris Robinson of The Black Crowes
Chris Squire of Yes
Chris Tomlin
Chris Willis
Chris Wilson of The Flamin' Groovies
Christopher Cross
Chuck Billy of Testament
Cody Hanson of Hinder
Colbie Caillat
Corey Hart
Craig Goldy of Dio
Curt Kirkwood of Meat Puppets
Cy Curnin of The Fixx
Dan Haseltine of Jars of Clay
Dan Reed
Daniel Moore ("Shambala," "My Maria")
Danko Jones
Danny Kortchmar
Dar Williams
Darren King of MUTEMATH
Darryl Worley
Dave Clark
Dave Innis of Restless Heart
Dave Mason
Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum
Dave Stewart of Eurythmics
Dave Wakeling of The English Beat
Dean Pitchford
Denny Randell
Desmond Child
Devin Townsend
Dexys (Kevin Rowland and Jim Paterson)
Dez Fafara of DevilDriver and Coal Chamber
Dick Wagner (Alice Cooper/Lou Reed)
Dino Cazares of Fear Factory
Don Brewer of Grand Funk
Don Felder
Donald Fagen
Donnie Iris (Ah! Leah!, The Rapper)
Dr. John
Dropkick Murphys
dUg Pinnick of King's X
Duncan Phillips of Newsboys
Dwight Twilley
Eddie Carswell of NewSong
Eddie Reeves
Edwin McCain
El Sloan of Crossfade
Elvin Bishop
Emilio Castillo from Tower of Power
Emily Saliers of Indigo Girls
Emmylou Harris
Eric Burdon
Eric Kretz of Stone Temple Pilots
Francesca Battistelli
Francis Rossi of Status Quo
Gary Brooker of Procol Harum
Gary Lewis
Gary Louris of The Jayhawks
Gary Numan
Gentle Giant
Georgia Middleman of Blue Sky Riders
Gilby Clarke
Glen Burtnik
Glen Phillips of Toad the Wet Sprocket
Gordon Bahary
Graham Bonnet (Alcatrazz, Rainbow)
Graham Parker
Graham Russell of Air Supply
Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Greg Puciato of Killer Be Killed and Dillinger Escape Plan
Gretchen Peters (Independence Day)
Guy Clark
Gym Class Heroes
Hal Ketchum
Harold Brown of War
Harry Shearer
Hayes Carll
Henry McCullough
Henry Paul of The Outlaws, Blackhawk
Holly Knight
Holly Williams
Howard Bellamy
Howard Jones
Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull
Ian Anderson: "The delight in making music is that you don't have a formula"
Ian Astbury of The Cult
Ian Thornley of Big Wreck
Ingrid Croce
J.D. Souther
Jack Blades of Night Ranger and Damn Yankees
Jake Owen
James Williamson of Iggy & the Stooges
Jamey Jasta of Hatebreed
Jamie O'Neal
Jane Wiedlin from the Go-Go`s
Janis Ian
Jann Klose
Jaret Reddick of Bowling for Soup
Jason Michael Carroll
Jason Newsted (ex-Metallica)
Jason Reeves
Jason Roy of Building 429
Jay Graydon
Jeff Walker of Carcass
Jello Biafra
Jeph Howard of The Used
Jeremy DePoyster of The Devil Wears Prada
Jess Origliasso of The Veronicas
Jesse Valenzuela of Gin Blossoms
Jim McCarty of The Yardbirds
Jimbeau Hinson
Jimmy Jam
Jimmy Webb
JJ Burnel of The Stranglers
Jo Dee Messina
Joe Elliott of Def Leppard
Joe Ely
Joe Grushecky
Joe Jackson
Joe King Carrasco
Joe Rickard of Red
Joel Crouse
Joey + Rory
Joey Burns of Calexico
John Doe of X
John Gallagher of Raven
John Lee Hooker
John Oates
John Rzeznik of Goo Goo Dolls
John Waite
John Wheeler of Hayseed Dixie
Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde
Johnny Winter
Jon Anderson of Yes
Jon Foreman of Switchfoot
Jon Oliva of Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Jon Tiven
Josh Kelley
Josh Shilling
Josh Thompson
Judas Priest
Julian Lennon
Justin Hayward of The Moody Blues
Kasim Sulton (Utopia, Meat Loaf)
Keith Morris of Black Flag and OFF!
Keith Reid of Procol Harum
Kelvin Swaby of The Heavy
Ken Block of Sister Hazel
Kenneth Nixon of Framing Hanley
Kenny Vance
Kerry Livgren of Kansas
Kim Thayil of Soundgarden
Kip Winger
Kirk Franklin
Kristian Bush of Sugarland
Kristine W
Lajon Witherspoon of Sevendust
Larry Burnett of Firefall
Larry Wiegand of Crow
Laura Bell Bundy
Lee Ranaldo
Les Claypool
Leslie West of Mountain
Lindi Ortega
Lisa Loeb
Lita Ford
Little Big Town
Lori McKenna
Loudon Wainwright III
Louie Perez of Los Lobos
Lukas Nelson
Mac Powell of Third Day
Marc Roberge of O.A.R. (Of A Revolution)
Marcy Playground
Maria Muldaur
Maria Neckam
Mark Arm of Mudhoney
Marshall Crenshaw
Martin Gordon
Martin Page
Martin Smith of Delirous?
Martyn Ware of Heaven 17
Marvin Etzioni of Lone Justice
Mary Gauthier
Mat Kearney
Matt Pike of High On Fire
Matt Pryor of Get Up Kids
Matt Scannell of Vertical Horizon
Matt Sorum
Matt Thiessen of Relient K
Matthew West
Max Cavalera of Soulfly (ex-Sepultura)
Meshell Ndegeocello
Mia Doi Todd
Michael Bolton
Michael Franti
Michael Gilbert of Flotsam and Jetsam
Michael Glabicki of Rusted Root
Michael Schenker
Michael Sweet of Stryper
Michael W. Smith
Mick Jones of Foreigner
Mike Campbell
Mike Donehey of Tenth Avenue North
Mike Love of The Beach Boys
Mike Muir of Suicidal Tendencies
Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater
Miles Doughty of Slightly Stoopid
Millie Jackson
Mitch Myers about Shel Silverstein
Mitts of Madball
Mountain Heart
Neil Fallon of Clutch
Neil Giraldo
Nick Van Eede from Cutting Crew
Nick Waterhouse
Nick Wheeler of The All-American Rejects
Nina Persson of The Cardigans
Nona Hendryx
Oliver Leiber
Our Lady Peace
Pam Tillis
Pat Alger ("The Thunder Rolls", "Unanswered Prayers")
Paul Dean of Loverboy
Paul Evans
Paul Williams
Pegi Young
Penny Ford of Snap!
Pete Anderson
Peter Lord
Petula Clark
Phil Hurtt ("I'll Be Around")
Philip Cody
Queensr├┐che founder Geoff Tate
Radney Foster
Ralph Casale - Session Pro
Randy Goodrum (Oh Sherrie)
Randy Houser
Randy Montana
Randy Newman
Randy Sharp (From Glen Campbell to Edgar Winter)
Randy Stonehill
Rebecca St. James
Reverend Horton Heat
Rhonda Vincent
Richard Hell
Richard Marx
Richard Patrick of Filter
Richie McDonald of Lonestar
Richie Wise (Kiss producer, Dust)
Rick Finch
Rick Springfield
Rick Wartell of Trouble
Rik Emmett of Triumph
Robert Ellis
Roger Clyne
Rosanne Cash
Rupert Hine
Ryan Star
Sam Phillips
Sandy Chapin
Sarah Brightman
Scorpions Rudolf Schenker
Scott Gorham of Thin Lizzy and Black Star Riders
Scott Jason of Thriving Ivory
Scott Stapp
Scotty Emerick (Beer For My Horses)
Sebu Simonian of Capital Cities
Serena Ryder
Seth Swirsky
Shane Volk of One Bad Son
Shaun Morgan of Seether
Shawn Smith of Brad
Shelby Lynne
Skip Ewing ("Love, Me," "The Gospel According To Luke")
Sonny Sandoval of P.O.D.
Speech of Arrested Development
Spooner Oldham
Squeeze: Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford
Stan Ridgway
Steel Magnolia
Stephen Christian of Anberlin
Steve "Zetro" Souza of Exodus and Hatriot
Steve Azar
Steve Hindalong of The Choir
Steven Tyler of Aerosmith
Stuart Braithwaite of Mogwai
Sum 41
Sunny Sweeney
Supertramp founder Roger Hodgson
Tanita Tikaram
Taylor Dayne
Terry Cashman
Terry Jacks ("Seasons in the Sun")
Terry Taylor of Daniel Amos and Lost Dogs
The Asteroids Galaxy Tour
The Dandy Warhols
The Fratellis
The Limousines
They Might Be Giants
Thomas Dolby
Tim Butler of The Psychedelic Furs
Timothy B. Schmit of the Eagles
Tina Shafer
Tobin Esperance of Papa Roach
Toby Lightman
Todd Harrell of 3 Doors Down and 7dayBinge
Tom Gabel of Against Me!
Tom Johnston from The Doobie Brothers
Tom Keifer of Cinderella
Tommy James
Tommy Lee James ("She's My Kind Of Rain")
Toni Wine
Tonio K
Tony Hiller and Brotherhood of Man
Tony Joe White
Travis Stever of Coheed and Cambria
Trent Wagler of The Steel Wheels
Udo Dirkschneider (UDO, ex-Accept)
Van Dyke Parks
Vanessa Carlton
Ville Valo of HIM
Vince Clarke
Vince Gill
Vinny May of Kodaline
Vonda Shepard
Wayne Hussey of The Mission
Wayne Swinny of Saliva
Wednesday 13
Wes Borland of Limp Bizkit and Black Light Burns
Will Jennings
Yael Naim
Yoko Ono
Zac Hanson
Zakk Wylde
Other Songfacts Blogs
Songwriter Interviews
Song Writing
Music Quiz
Fact or Fiction
They're Playing My Song