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Songwriters encouraged to explore new genres
By Mitchell Peters
LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - Up until recently, songwriter Claude Kelly -- who has co-written songs with Akon, Brandy and Chrisette Michele -- wouldn't have dreamed that his publishing company would fly him to Nashville to help write songs for country artist Carrie Underwood's upcoming album.
But Warner/Chappell Music has set out to match some of its genre-specific songwriters with artists outside of their traditional musical scope. The idea is to diversify songwriters' talent and ultimately find success on the charts, says Greg Sowders, senior VP/head of A&R (artists and repertoire) U.S. at Warner/Chappell Music.
"Pop music today is a mishmash of everything -- it's a hip-hop song next to a rock song, with maybe a Taylor Swift country ballad that sneaks in," Sowders says. "So to compete with the way things are now -- and to keep up with the iTunes market, where it's clearly a singles-driven business -- we had to take our writers and decide how to move forward."
Kelly, who signed to the company's urban department as an R&B writer, branched out to pop and co-wrote two hits: Kelly Clarkson's "My Life Would Suck Without You," which spent two weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in February, and Britney Spears' "Circus," which went to No. 3 on the Hot 100 last December.
And now, along with Underwood, Kelly recently wrote songs for Christina Aguilera, Miley Cyrus and Whitney Houston, among others. He says the chance to write for pop and country acts is opening new doors for his career.
"It shows people I'm not a one-trick pony," Kelly says. "The nature of this business is that you're only as good as your last hit. Now, because they've seen that I can gel with country writers as well as R&B, people are more willing to throw any kind of style at me and hope it will work -- and that's a songwriter's dream."
Songwriter/artist Kevin Rudolf, who's also signed to Warner/Chappell, began his career as a rock guitarist for a number of songs produced by Timbaland. His breakthrough came with the rap-rock track "Let It Rock" (featuring Lil Wayne), which peaked at No. 5 on the Hot 100 last October. Most recently, Rudolf co-wrote and produced Cobra Starship's "Good Girls Go Bad." The song, which features "Gossip Girl" actress Leighton Meester, is No. 10 this week on the Hot 100.
Recently, Rudolf wrote songs for Leona Lewis and the Backstreet Boys. "I always focus on music that is relatable to everybody, be it hip-hop, pop or rock," Rudolf says. "It has to be something that obviously can succeed on the radio and have mass appeal to it."
Sowders says that not all songwriters are suited for working in a multitude of genres but in the long term, branching out can result in greater revenue opportunities. "The more records you're on, the more opportunity you have to be on the radio," he says. "Once these writers have worked on these cross-genres it becomes less of a stretch to get them on the next one."
(Editing by DGoodman at Reuters)