With a hit song climbing the charts, Eric Church‘s masterful ‘Springsteen,’ this is a good time to chat with songwriter Ryan Tyndell. Thanks to the cool people at his place of work, publishing company ole, we met up bright and early at their Music Row offices and settled into his comfortably decorated workspace for a conversation about songwriting. Naturally, the first topic was the current single and I kicked things off by asking about the writing session which hatched this potential #1 hit.
Ryan Tyndell: We wrote [‘Springsteen’] on the road. It was the last song we wrote that weekend. It was late, probably 1 o’clock in the morning at least. By that time we were all really burned. Eric came over after his show. I’d left the show early and was just sitting on the bus, picking some guitar. I knew we were going to write. So, he came over and I remember him sitting down across from me on the other side of the bus and looking at me and saying: “You’re going to think I’m nuts, you’re going to think it’s weird.” And he just goes: “Springsteen.” And I was like ‘um…okay.’ *smiles* Really, it was one of those things where the concept came out of midair. From there we just started grooving. Jeff Hyde, the other co-writer made his way over to the bus, we started rolling down the road and we started spitting out cadences. We crafted it from the concept but I’m not sure I can be more specific.
UCN: It must be hard to recall any specific session in great detail.
RT: Yes, we write so many songs. And every day is a grind. It’s not like we just sit around and write a few songs; I’ve probably written 100 songs this year at least. I do remember the ‘Springsteen’ write feeling special, and I remember it being fun, but it’s one of those things where I thought it was cool. Sometimes you don’t immediately know if the song’s good. You sort of have to step away from it, listen to it a week later. And [producer] Jay Joyce did such a great job with that track. He’s one of the best in the business and he does subtle things that make all the difference.
UCN: Obviously the idea came from the name ‘Springsteen’ but it’s kept separate from the lyrics in the song, and I like that. It’s unexpected. Do you remember that decision being made?
RT: That was the first decision that was made. What we were trying to do is encapsulate all these images we’ve built up which directly point towards this thing: Springsteen. By just saying “Springsteen” you’re getting for free the concert, the images, the experience. You encapsulate the whole thing. And I think that people get that. I think that’s what makes it special. We’re giving our audience the credit they deserve and know that we don’t have to explain things that don’t need to be explained just to make it clearer.
UCN: It’s the art of saying as much as possible with as few words as possible.
RT: Exactly. And making them rhyme. *laughs*
UCN: True. And your rhymes are cool. Very few perfect rhymes, I like that. You do use them, but then you do it to create rhythm, you use them for a reason.
RT: Absolutely. That’s for me one of the biggest things about songwriting that I preach. One of our jobs as songwriters is to make a song as hook-y as possible, and to make people want to sing it. You want to sing that rhythm just because you can’t help it. I’ve always been a fan of the imperfect rhyme if it’s used in an un-hokey manner, just because I think it’s more conversational; it’s more real. If everything rhymes perfectly, for me, it becomes a little robotic. And using imperfect rhymes opens up your vocabulary; there are more words to use.
UCN: Do you remember why you started writing?
RT: *takes a long pause* I really don’t… I came from a love of being a musician and playing different instruments. I think it’s just a natural progression to begin making up your own progressions and creating your own style. Songwriters develop their own styles, just like a guitar player does. I think the songwriting came from developing my own style on the guitar. It came naturally and it started just for fun. It’s another thing to do besides sit there and play along with records.
UCN: How old were you then?
RT: About 16. After a few years of learning a few things and playing in a few bands, I had a little 12-track recorder. It was just fun to start building tracks and start layering tracks.
UCN: If it came out of playing along with records, were you trying to emulate what you heard, or the opposite, trying to distinguish yourself from these players?
RT: Playing along with the records was just an exercise. You’re suddenly kind of playing with a band. From that, you develop sounds that you like. Not necessarily specific progressions or notes, but sound styles. You know, the sounds on a Pink Floyd record are different from the sounds on a Dwight Yoakam record. But I love both equally. I think that helps kickstart the process.
UCN: After it starting out as fun, when did you decide to really learn how to write songs?
RT: I’m still learning how to write songs, are you kidding me? *laughs*
RT: That process never stops. There was a point after college where I decided to put all my stuff in the back of my truck and drive here. I didn’t know anything other than that I wanted to write songs and find somewhere someone would pay me to play guitar and sing. Just being in this town was an education. You have to learn the publishing business, all the little things, the administration, the whole process of how things work. There’s a different side of the business, how things really work, that’s really the bigger part of it. Anybody can work hard; I try to work harder than anybody in this town, that’s why I get here early and leave late. But the biggest part is if you work smart, and who you’re working with. If you work hard and smart, you’re working efficiently and you’ll be able to make something happen.
UCN: There is also a big part of this often unseen by music fans.
RT: The biggest part of my success so far has been because I have the best team around me to put me in situations to succeed. That starts with Arthur Buenahora, he signed me at Sony. I wrote for Sony/ATV for 5 years. He moved on to working in A&R but by the time he decided to get back into publishing my deal with Sony was up. [note: Buenahora is now at ole] He’s the mastermind behind anything I do. ‘Springsteen’ was the result of him setting all that stuff up. He signed Eric to Sony and works on the records with him. He’s the guy who puts me in the position to succeed.
UCN: I think people outside of the business often don’t get how hard you guys work. Take people through the process.
RT: Well, for me the process never stops. If I’m not sitting here trying to craft a song, or typing lyrics, I’m at the computer working on a track, or I’m putting a vocal on something I’ve finished. Usually, when a song is finished I build a demo. When the final product is ready I play it for the staff here to get an idea of what the song is, find out if it’s a thumbs-up or a maybe. From there, they sit down and discuss who’s cutting songs, who has the connections where, where we can get in. We turn in the lyrics, add a date of creation, make sure all that is documented. Then it’s sent out into the world and it can either get picked up or… Songwriting is a funny business! *smiles* You can write a song, make it the best you can, and then it can sit there for 5 years. And then in the 6th year, it can be a top 5 hit. It’s happened a lot that a big hit is a few years old.
UCN: Yes, or more.
RT: Yes. You sort of have to look at it as building equity in your catalogue. I guess it’s no different than any other business.
UCN: I like the ‘building equity’ phrase. You can have 100 songs registered and it only takes one song being picked up for people to go look at the other 99, then they find another one they like, maybe from a few years ago, and all of a sudden you’ve got it rolling.
RT: Yes, and then your catalogue is working for you! And you know, in this climate, artist co-writes are the way to go. It’s always nice when you can write with the artist where you don’t have to worry about ‘are you going to demo this or not?’ because sometimes they will just cut it.
UCN: And again, it helps put you on the radar.
UCN: Do you remember the first cut you got?
RT: Yes, and it felt great! The first cut was in 2006, I think. It was a Lost Trailers cut. I remember feeling elated that someone had heard one of my songs and put it on their record. I remember feeling amazed! *smiles* When you finally get your first cut it gives you a boost and makes you think ‘wow, it can happen!’ It’s a big mark, no matter who it is with.
UCN: When you hear other people’s versions of your songs, what does that do to you?
RT: It’s great! I have yet to have a bad experience where I heard something and didn’t like what they did with it so, so far it’s great. And it’s even better when you hear it on the radio! *smiles*
UCN: I bet! What was that like the first time?
RT: The first single I got was on the current Clay Walker record. I remember driving to see my parents, they live in East Texas, and the song came on the radio. I remember I flipped out a little bit… *smiles* It was a good feeling to know I made the airwaves somewhere.
UCN: It must be the coolest feeling.
RT: Yes, and it makes you want to work that much harder to get the next one.
UCN: Being from Texas, why Nashville and not Austin?
RT: Basically because Nashville was where most of the records were being made and this is where all of the artists you hear on the radio are from.
UCN: The material you want to make comes out of Nashville rather than Austin?
RT: Yes, but it’s not necessarily the material but more the business side. I knew that I would get a free education in publishing and administration here if I came to town and learned how these guys were running things. It was a business decision. You can write any kind of music you want wherever you are, but I knew if I wanted to get a publishing deal, the route that I had to go was to move here.
UCN: Some publishing deals lead to a fair amount of pressure to turn in a certain amount of songs. Is that something you feel?
RT: Not at all. I turn in a lot of songs, more than my quota, so I don’t worry about it. I don’t really get writers block as I can always switch to a different task and go build tracks in ProTools for a while so I can rest the other part of my brain that needs to think up lyrics. I don’t worry about quotas. *smiles*
UCN: What have you learned from co-writers?
RT: Everything! *smiles* You learn from every writer you write with. But not all writers are compatible. Some of my best friends, we’re just not compatible creatively. There are a few people I have been writing with a significant amount of years where you sort of learn each other’s language and you learn how the other guy’s brain works. Then you work as one unit basically. It’s a bit like match-making. Some people are melody-driven and not so much on the lyrics side, some people are lyric people who are not so melodic. Some people are great musicians and have a great knack for arrangement. From having written with every type of writer you can imagine, you pick up something from every one of them. A big part of the game is paying attention. You find the guys who are making it happen and you pay attention to what they’re doing. And the bigger part of it is finding out what you do as a writer that’s special and to focus on that. You want to find things you can do and shape them to be a certain brand, something that can become your strength.
UCN: Well, I was looking through you catalogue with BMI and looking at the co-writers. Brett Beavers, Carson Chamberlain, Bobby Pinson, Kix Brooks, Eric Church of course, Leslie Satcher,… All these big, big names. The first time you get put in a room with a hit-songwriter like Bobby Pinson, what is that like? Confidence booster or intimidating?
RT: You can look at it however you want to. Like in anything, like in sports, you can step up to the plate and be prepared to swing and knock it out of the park, or…
UCN: Or let it scare you?
RT: Yes, and there’s really no place for fear. I wouldn’t want to be in a room with someone who was scared and timid, because the whole point of getting together is to create something together. For me, it was a booster because I was eager to get in. There’s a fine line of listening to them and making sure that you’re not letting them run all over you. The biggest thing I can say about co-writing is that the songwriting process, you personally, you should always be working on something. So if you’re having to write with someone who’s a heavy hitter, you can come in there with a few ideas, with whatever you think might work.
UCN: Yes, rather than walk in and just expect them to carry the session.
RT: Yes, it’s about having things ready to go.
UCN: How easy was it at first to fall into that of sharing any idea you thought was worthy of being heard?
RT: I had a good group of guys around me. Brett Beavers in particular was someone who really kickstarted me and gave me confidence to go find what I had to offer. He believed in me early on, along with Arthur. He made it easier for me, especially because we were buddies. And still most of the people I work with are friends. It makes it easier. Sometimes in songwriting it’s hard to open up about certain things with a complete stranger.
UCN: Oh yes, I know. But I’ve seen it happen though.
RT: Yes, it does happen, it’s part of the gig.
UCN: How much of you is in your songs?
RT: I think there’s a little bit in all of them…
UCN: You said “there’s no place for fear” and I’m wondering if that extends to bringing the really personal into these songs.
RT: Well, to be personal you don’t necessarily have to completely spell it out. There’s always emotions to pull from. And especially if you have a co-write with an artist, you want to pull from what they’re feeling. It’s not always about your own feelings.
UCN: And they’re the ones who are going to have to sing it.
RT: Absolutely. Everyone has a list of every emotion they’ve lived that they can pull from and channel. A lot of it is learning how to stay real without having to spell it out.
UCN: Do you ever create characters to speak for you? This came up before where a writer told me “I could never say this to a girl in real life, I wish I could but I can’t, but then I can do that in a song.”
RT: Yes, but when you come to a situation like that where you’re wondering if you would say it, it doesn’t matter if you would say it or not. It matters if someone would say it. It matter if it’s believable. There’s a lot of things I like in songs that I might not say because we’re just different personalities or whatever. But it’s about would somebody say it or would this character say it, is this character believable.
UCN: See, now I’m thinking about ‘Breathe You In.’ [which was recorded by Dierks Bentley] That’s very romantic and that’s what the other writer was talking about when he said he’s not that guy, but he can be in a song.
RT: Well, I’m a newly-wed so it was easy. *smiles*
UCN: So you could just go ‘well, this is just what I’m feeling right now.’ That’s cool. You can just write about everything you feel and experience. Does that ever get weird?
RT: Nah, not for me, it doesn’t. That’s what makes it fun! I can’t imagine doing anything else. I suppose there’s a lot of other things I could do, but I can’t imagine doing anything else that would fulfill me like this does. It’s fun to want to go to work! *smiles* For the past 8 years, this is what I’ve known and once you get used to it, you don’t want to do anything else.
UCN: Well, finally, let’s talk about hits. How aware are you when you write about doing it in a way that means it might get on the radio, or do you just write whatever you want. Do you consider hit-potential at all?
RT: I think everyone does in the back of their mind, but I think there’s a place you can get to where you’re unconsciously doing it and not sacrificing any artistic integrity. I mean, I’m not going to write about anything I don’t want to write about, I’m just not. I think the key is to show up and do what you do, because that’s why they like your work, that’s why they’re digging what you’re doing. There are some guidelines we operate under, that’s just how it is. I’m not going to come in here and write a 7-minute song, that’s not going to happen.
UCN: I guess you could but it wouldn’t go anywhere.
RT: Well yeah, I could but I wouldn’t want to. There’s no need to do that. For the most part, we come in to write songs and make them feel good, make people want to hear them. I know that’s simple but at the end of the day, we’re not writing songs for us. It’s like you don’t write books for yourself, you write them for people to read.
UCN: Art is always for an audience. When artists tell me they only do it for themselves, I always want to hack into that a little. Because, if that’s really true, why then work so hard to get your music out there?
RT: Yeah, I don’t buy it. *smiles*
UCN: Me neither. *laughs*
RT: Yes, we’re talking about making a living here.
UCN: And when it comes to the mechanics of making a song people want to hear, are you more the lyricist or the melody maker?
RT: I think I’ve learned to be whichever guy I need to be. Writing with others has really paid off; if you pay attention to what others do. I think Tony Martin told me one time, I think it was him, he said don’t use adjectives, use verbs. Use verbs as adjectives and put it in motion.
UCN: Ooh…I like that.
RT: Little tricks like that will make a big difference and can change the skyline of a lyric completely.
UCN: I wrote a song review a while back where I critiqued the lyrics for not giving any details about the characters; I couldn’t care about them because I didn’t know anything about them. Someone on Twitter responded saying ‘well, do we need these details? It’s just a nice melody.’ But, yes, I do need that in a story. How aware are you of all the furniture you add to a song lyric?
RT: The beauty of that is that there are certain types of music that can make you relate to a lyric, if that makes sense. If you’ve done your job, people will be able to relate to it. Not everybody is going to like every song. I think the target is to make as many people as possible relate, and further than relate, to make them feel it. And that’s where the music can come in; it can evoke an emotion even if they don’t necessarily know all the details.
UCN: This keeps coming up in these interviews and if it keeps coming up, there must be something to it – it’s the idea of not writing universal. If you do add details, even specific things, people will still connect to the emotion behind it. ‘Springsteen’ is a perfect example. I remember a summer hanging out with a guy, and it wasn’t Springsteen concerts, it was Bon Jovi and Bryan Adams. But I remember that same feeling that’s in the song.
RT: The premise is always the idea behind the song, rather than the details. The idea has to be what people connect to. I think the details that aren’t maybe specifically relatable, I think people can then put their own details in when they hear it. They can connect the dots and still see the same bigger picture.
UCN: That’s a great way to put it. Thank you so much for your time!
RT: Thank you! This was very nice.
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