Artist: Meghan Trainor
Writers: Meghan Trainor and Kevin Kadish
Chart Positions: US: #1, UK: #1
A few years later, when I interviewed him for my book Working Musicians: Defining Moments from the Road, the Studio, and the Stage, he was just glimpsing a light at the end of his long personal tunnel toward making a living in music. "I'd have to say that the hardest things to deal with in the music business are all the false promises," he said at the time. "People like to hype you up using words like 'genius' and 'smash,' but frankly these words get to be so overused that after a while they don't really mean anything." After being in and out of bands, and in and out of performing as a solo artist, he was about to become a staff songwriter in Matt Serletic's (Matchbox 20) stable. But it would mean giving up his dream of performing.
"I'd spent the last four years of my life basically not working so that I could focus on writing songs and honing my craft," he said. "Total dedication is what it takes to make it as a working musician. At the same time, I definitely knew my main priority at that point had to be to get out of debt."
Soon after he signed, he was back on the brink of fame once again. "There's a song I have called 'Go' that everyone thinks is a smash," Kadish sighed. "I'm so jaded by that word, that I'm like OK, that's great, it's a smash. Just show me the money."
Nothing became of "Go," but then Kevin placed a couple of songs with Willie Nelson. His writing and producing portfolio started bulging with cuts by Stacie Orrico, Jason Mraz, Kris Allen, and Bif Naked. "There are some people who have hits for five years straight and just sort of relax," he said recently. "But for me, it's like every three to five years I'd have a single that sustained me for those three to five years. This single will sustain me for the rest of my life."
The single he was talking about was "All About That Bass," one of the top songs of 2014 and a worldwide, dare we say, smash. It came as the product of a typical workday for a working songwriter.
"I'll have meetings two or three times a week, depending on my schedule," said Kadish. Trainor's publisher had asked Kadish if he would meet with this unknown teenager. Kadish wanted to hear some of her songs first. "Her songs were okay, but I loved her voice." It was not the ditsy Shirelles-meet-Salt-N-Pepa growl you hear on the hit. "If you heard the stuff she did before me it did not sound like that," Kadish said. "But she did have that swagger and she did have the patois. So, I said, yeah, I'll do a day with her."
It was a day that changed his life.
We wrote it in July . Her publisher pitched it to Epic Records. I heard that [label President] LA Reid liked it in November, but I didn't know anything else besides that. In February, Meghan called me. She said, "Are you sitting down? You're gonna shit your pants. LA Reid signed me on the spot for our song and basically wants to release your track and send it to radio."
I was like, that's awesome. I definitely knew the song was something special because I played it for my wife and my wife was like, "Can I send it to my sister?" I played it for my sister and she's like, "Can I send it to my friends?" They never do that, so now I know that if they actually like one of my songs it's gonna be a good one.
The video was a really big part of what broke it. It was very polarizing. This tastemaker music blog, The Idolator, did a premiere and they said it got the most views for any artist they ever had. In the meantime, we were writing her album every day and then we get a call. Entertainment Tonight wants to come to your studio to interview Meghan. I'm like, What? The producer walks into the room and he says, "Meghan's song just went to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100." And she started crying.
The Grammy nominations were just mind blowing. I know how hard it is to get a nomination in the big four categories, and we actually got two. I remember the Record of the Year announcement came first, and I was super grateful. But when the Song of the Year nomination came in, I was in my studio and I kind of lost it. I walked over to my house, like 75 feet away, and my wife and I just hugged. It was the greatest honor of my career. Better than the sales, better than the airplay. It was recognition from my peers and the industry heavy hitters on the Grammy committee that I created one of the best pieces of music that year. I was very proud to be recognized for that.
I talked to a friend in publishing and he said, "It's not like you wrote the fourth single on Demi Lovato's third record. You wrote a song that changed the way little girls look at themselves in the mirror. This song will be a game changer for you."
Eventually, of course, the whole thing got ridiculous. Critics tried to say the song was anti-feminist. What critics didn't understand was that the song was a joke. We weren't seriously calling people skinny bitches, but I don't know any girl who hasn't called another girl a skinny bitch. It was not body-shaming or skinny-shaming or whatever it was. Come on. It was ridiculous to put all that into it, but you know what? There's no such thing as bad press. I'm thankful for all their nitpicking.
Meanwhile, my phone started ringing off the hook, because I didn't have a publishing deal. I had been independent for five years. I was with Warner Chappell for a decade before this happened and I decided that I wanted to venture out on my own. This is where my years in the music business really paid off. Basically, I stayed independent until it went to #1. It was #1 for two or three weeks before I signed a publishing deal. I had hired a guy to do independent administration for me and paid him hourly. I had done all my own administration before that, but it just got to be too much for me to do it myself and still write. There were two offers that were head and shoulders above the others, but when you have 50% of the biggest song in the world, and seven other songs on a #1 album, everybody comes out of the woodwork, including publishers who had offered me terrible deals in the five-year period that I was independent. Or people who actually said that my music was irrelevant. That's just the music business: You're only as valuable as your most recent success. Basically, you just have to believe in yourself and believe that you're making the right decisions. I consulted with my wife and with my attorney regularly about it, and we figured out what was best for our family.
I've always had success writing and developing young talent. Writing with other established writers and artists has never really been my goal. So, I decided instead of chasing cuts, what I wanted to do was develop artists and actually write songs that would be used on records that I was making and that I controlled, that I could release or partner with a label. I started Starts With Music with Nathan Chapman, who developed Taylor Swift. We just got our first artist signed to Atlantic with a partnership through Red Light and it's really great.
What I've learned is that you can't predict anything when you release a record. No matter how much the label loves it and spends money on it and you believe the song is a hit and everyone's telling you it's a hit, if the public doesn't react to it, none of it matters. Even if you get the science down of how to do it again you still can't predict it's going to do the same thing. There's a disconnect because songwriters have no control beyond the writing. I may think the song is something special and think it's a hit but if the label doesn't see it, or the right artist doesn't cut it, nothing comes to fruition. So, seeing something come to fruition was really an interesting experience.
I'd had successes and failures with other artists but this was different. This was like being strapped to a rocket ship. I've been doing this for a long time so I knew how to deal with it. I think if this happened when I was younger, it would have been different. I'm just happy to have been on the ride for a minute. And I'm happy that I'll be able to make music for the rest of my life.
June 5, 2018
Further reading: The story of "Wrecking Ball" by Miley Cyrus
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