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Staying Inspired After Writing 22 Top 40 Hits with Sam Hollander


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Ari Herstand
Ari Herstand
Ari Herstand is a Los Angeles based musician, the founder and CEO of Ari’s Take and the author of How to Make It in the New Music Business.
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Staying Inspired After Writing 22 Top 40 Hits with Sam Hollander

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With 22 US Top 40 hits to his name, Sam Hollander is one of the most talented and diverse writers and producers in the game. He has had multi-platinum success writing and producing for major artists such as One Direction, Katy Perry, Fitz and the Tantrums, Train, Daughtry, The Fray, Carole King, Panic! At The Disco, Weezer, and Gym Class Heroes, among others, and has had his work featured in iconic films and television shows. In 2008 Rolling Stone honored him with the Hot List Producer of the Year award. In 2012, Sam produced the Emmy-nominated “Voice in a Dream” for NBC’s Steven Spielberg-helmed series SMASH. This past fall, NBC tapped Hollander to write a Thursday Night Football theme based on his hit with Pentatonix, “Sing.” Most recently, Hollander co-wrote Fitz and the Tantrum’s smash single “HandClap,” along with 4 songs on the new Grammy-nominated Panic at the Disco album, which was one of the top 5 selling albums of 2016. He is also a writer on Rebelution’s 2016 Grammy-nominated album ‘Falling Into Place.’ Additionally, other recent releases include singles with Weezer, James TW, Olly Murs and more.

Pre-order 21-Hit Wonder: Flopping My Way to the Top of the Charts

05:17 Welcome
07:50 The life of a professional songwriter and collaborator
10:28 How the songwriting process has evolved
15:02 Understanding where your creative strengths are
23:08 The power of phonetics and melodic math
24:33 Advice for aspiring songwriters
29:50 The power of compliments and intellectual curiosity
33:47 The balance between the art and the craft
37:07 Do you know when you finish a song if it’s good or not?
39:20 How recording and writing sessions work
47:18 Why Sam sold his entire catalog to Hipgnosis
52:32 Where you’re getting paid and where you’re not
58:54 Story behind Sam’s forthcoming book ’21 Hit Wonder’
1:05:17 Age Sam was when he had his first hit song and working with legendary artists
1:08:23 Final question

Edited and mixed by Maxton Hunter
Music by Brassroots District
Produced by the team at Ari’s Take

Enrollment for Ari’s Take Academy closes October 20th! Use code NMB for 10% off on any of our 8 music business courses.

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Ari: Sam Hollander, welcome to the show. Hey, how are you sir? It’s good to meet you. Yeah, yeah, you too. I’m doing well. Um, so, uh, this is, uh, I’m excited to, to chat with you. You know, I don’t know if you know, or, or how often you browse the, uh, The Spotify songwriters, the, the new notable thing. But, uh, Spotify apparently says you, you have 334 songs that, uh, you’ve written that have currently been released. Did you know that ?

Sam: I didn’t, but I would tell you the 332nd wasn’t very strong , if I get that one back, , that’s the one that didn’t change at all, so. Right, right.

Ari: These are, that’s just the number that’s been released. If you had to guess how many songs you think you’ve written in your lifetime?

Sam: Oh man. You know, honest answer. I’ve probably written, you know, 1200 songs, maybe 1500 songs. Okay. And I’ve committed many musical crimes along the way, so

Ari: I’m sure, uh, that’s isn’t, that, isn’t that the point, ? Yeah. I mean, how you push the envelope.

Sam: That’s why I’m here, you know? Yeah. Hey, I’m a big fan, man. I love your show, but just so you know, man, I, uh, during the pandemic, I discovered you as I was hibernating in the woods here. You know, I was constantly scouring YouTube for some, some semblance of, uh, artistic reinvigoration. And I love what you were doing, man. I love what you’re doing because I think it’s empowering and I. You know, I have a 16 year old old kid who, who is musical and is interested in this industry as well. And I just think it’s what the messaging that you’re giving is fantastic because it really is about the, the new music, you know, and the new music business. Um, Yeah. And, uh, it is, it is changing so radically and you have to follow the paradigm and sort of be aware of it now that you’re, you seem to, you know, have your, uh, you know, your, uh, your eyes on it. And it’s very, it’s very, it’s very neat.

Ari: So, congratulations. Oh, Sam, thank you. I, I really appreciate that. That’s, uh, really nice to hear. Thank you. Um, so I, I’m, you know, I, I think you . Are in this, this field that, um, is quite elusive to most people. Well, definitely outside of the industry, I don’t think people quite grasp, uh, the profession of a, uh, of a songwriter, a professional songwriter, but even those in the industry, the artists that I speak to, um, you know, in the business. So if you could maybe just explain.

Sam: My day job. What do you do, ? You know, I’ll tell you, to be honest with you, I’m a shapeshifter because it, uh, it’s a radical reinvention based on the collaboration. I’m a, I’m a professional collaborator, so let me start with that. I like that, like I can sit down and I can certainly, uh, write my own song. I do it all the time. But I think the greatest attribute that I, I, I would sort of, uh, Uh, label my, you know, give myself, if I were to fix it to myself would be, uh, I collaborate well that, that role shifts, uh, uh, depending on the artist and I, I don’t write, uh, a ton of pitch songs. And, And what do you mean by pitch songs? So, pitch songs. I don’t write, uh, songs for placement, so I’ve not historically been a writer who, uh, sits and says, Hey, I wanna send this to Rihanna, or I wanna send this to so and so. Got it. I, I didn’t really enter the industry that way. And that is a, that wasn’t born out of any sort of cynicism or anything along those lines. When I attempted to do it, I felt like I was always doing carbon copy fsims of something that didn’t have my voice attached. And, What I do is, you know, I’m primarily, uh, uh, what, what’s deemed a top liner, so that’s writing American Melody. Okay. But, you know, uh, I think what what works for me is the fact that I produce so many records along the way early on, that in a session I can instantly swap roles and I, you know, if I need to make a beat, I can make a beat and I can arrange a song on the fly. So if I’m working with a younger writer who might be particularly lyrical, I might be able to, you know, I can take a step back. There’s no heavy lifting there, but I can shape the melodies and I know how to do that and sort of find the spaces and find the holes and know where to create tension. Mm-hmm. And, you know, some days I’m a therapist man, some days, you know, artists come in and my role is really to just sort of, uh, provide some form of, uh, a sounding board and hopefully. Uh, you know, some insight and maybe some catharsis in the process. And hopefully, you know, we can dig into something that channels something weightier, you know, so it it, it alternates based on the session, which is why I’ve been able to do it so long, because it has never been stale for me. Cuz it, you know, there’s always a curve ball based on the, on the week there’s somebody new and, you know, it’s always art fueled by experiment and just, you know, we do that thing until it connects.

Ari: So are most of your rooms, most of your sessions with artists that are intending to potentially cut this song that, uh, you are writing right there?

Sam: We would hope. Yeah. So sure. I prefer to work one on one with an artist. Um, you know, that, that, that in this day and age, that’s become tougher because it is there, there tends to be more committee, which I’m okay with cuz it’s akin to like writing a blockbuster film where it’s a lot of punch up along the way. So I’ve had songs with a lot of names on them, but I, I really, I’d like to believe on all of them. I, I think it’s pretty clear what I did. I, cuz I, I hear my voice, so, and I, I think that’s so, uh, that’s imperative for me or else I would disconnect from the, from the work.

Ari: Yeah. No, that’s great. Um, can you describe what you mean by punch up along the way and, and how. Uh, the process potentially has, has evolved and shifted from when you first started to what you mean by writing a by committee these days?

Sam: Sure. When I started out, um, there was a kumbaya aspect to writing, right? It was a, it was feel good, man, a couple acoustic guitars, and we’d sit there and, you know, it was lovely and it was very primal and I, I, I really connected to that forum. But once track, you know, entered the, the realm and then actually track became king in many situations, a on a track. There, there can be 10 writers attached to a track, because I wasn’t in the room. I have no idea how it was, how it was constructed. Maybe it’s rooted in a sample where there’re a bunch of writers on a sample clearance. Maybe there’s kids who did, one kid did the snare drum and he, he’s getting publishing cuz he’s the snare. You know, maybe there’s, there’s the high hat guy and, you know, I would love to tell you, I’m joking, but I’ve actually witnessed this. You know, we’ll get song splits and I’ll just, you know, call my publisher publisher up and say, Hey, by the way, man, there’s like 12 people on this. I’ve never heard of any of them say, Oh wait, no, that guy’s snare, that guy’s high hat. Like, you know. But the truth is, you know, in a, if you were writing a uh, Popcorn Summer movie, You would have, you know, the initial draft, then you’d have the rewriter and then you’d have people doing comedic punch up or dramatic punch up or whatever. And some people in film are credited, some aren’t. But I would say it, it is, um, it takes a village and, and this one, Um, to make something competitive in this day and age to raise its hand. Sometimes it takes that many people also, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it’s a 17 year old kid with really bad acne who was sitting behind his laptop and he made his first beat, and that’s the biggest thing in the world.

Ari: So Finn and Billy Eilish, right?

Sam: I mean, they made it all. I’m not commenting on his skin. I don’t know what his skin tone is like. So I’m in no position. I did not say that. I don’t know him. Geez, man.

Ari: Yeah, yeah. No, we had, uh, we had Ro Shaya on the show. Um, he was of course, uh, nominated for producer of the year last year. Mm-hmm. , He’s the piano on Travis Scott Syco mode, hence why he’s one of the 27 writers. I think that’s on that track or something absurd about that.

Sam: But you know what’s fantastic is you’ve already just identified what he did. Yes. You know? Yes. And, you know, I’ve always looked at writing and, um, I’ve always, uh, Voice connected writing in terms of a police lineup, right? Mm. If I could take a hundred writers that I’ve collaborated with along the way in Los Angeles or Nashville, and I went down the line, if I could, uh, if I can affix like a, a descriptive to somebody that’s unique mm-hmm. , I know they’re a real writer to me. Like there’s somebody that, that hits me. So, hey, she’s super lyrical, he’s super melodic. Uh, her tracks are incredible. His arrangements are incredibly good on the line. But if I just get to like, Oh, solid, it’s gonna be harder for the solid writer to make it, to cloth through. Ah, you know, it’s that competitive. You have to have something uniquely sort of, uh, distinctive about yourself. And if you’re collaborating, let’s say whatever the Rihanna song was, that I think it was work, or one of these records had like 40 writers on or whatever, and there was all this outcry, but people were furious about it. But the truth is, if I’m one of the 40. As long as I can define what I did and stand by it and say, Hey, this record doesn’t work unless I added this, sprinkle this little bit of pixie dust on it, then could you know, it’s tougher.

Ari: You know? Yeah. Well, I mean, that’s a really, uh, important thing to remember and, and I’m glad you brought that up because I think, um, but you know, how important it is for songwriters to have a voice and to be good at something or to, to be confident in, in something that they’re contributing to know what their strengths are. Like you said, you’re a top line or your lyrics and melody and knowing that strength, but knowing your voice and that you’re proud to be able to identify when the track comes out that, Oh yeah, this sounds like me. Even though there might be 15 writers on this, this my voice is still, uh, maintained throughout this process. And it’s distinctive. And you have that absolutely. In your songs. I can hear that. And it’s something that, um, I think it’s, it’s important for a lot of young writers to hear that and remember this because I think when a lot of, uh, maybe emerging songwriters are aspiring to be these. Songwriters that get the cuts, that get the hits and are like, Oh, this will be good for Rihanna, this will be good for, you know, Carrie Underwood, whatever. It’s kind of. , the lowest common denominator that they’re trying to appeal to is just like, Well, we don’t, you know? And then it’s like they’re creating songs that theoretically could be lifted and popped on any artist. But, you know, uh, there’s songwriters out there that have a distinctive voice. Like Julia Michaels is another one where it’s like, you can hear a song no matter who’s singing it. You know what, the Julia Michael’s song,

Sam: I can tell Julia’s stuff a mile away. I totally agree with that. Look, man, you know, when I, I, we’ve all been seduced by the play the, um, the placement game at one point or another. A great, tell you a quick story. I, uh, about 10 years ago, I just moved out to Los Angeles and I ended up going to get a coffee at Earth Cafe pouring outside. I’m sort of packed densely with all these sort of humans in a very tight space. Pre covid, obviously. Yeah. And, uh, Uh, uh, Betker is sitting right behind Mes an incredible world class publisher and she’s sitting behind me and she’s in a conversation with some Swedish cat and she’s pitching him on writing with her stable of writers and I’m listening to it cause I’m eavesdropping and not because I’m that guy, but because she’s literally we’re touching shoulders. And she said to me, you know, she said something and he said, Oh, with my band we did so and so did pretty accent. And I whipped my chair around and I said, Oh my God. You’re the guy from the cardigans. You’re the guy from the cardigans. And I started making this guy really uncomfortable. Yeah. . His name is Peter Fon, and you could tell he was a little, a little puzzled. I said, Oh, you remember that show in Tramps in New York City in 1995 and there were like 45 girls standing up front and one creepy guy. I was the guy , I was the super fan, you know? Yeah. So, you know, uh uh, Becca suggested that we write together. She paired us with, um, A track, uh, quote unquote track guy named Kojack, who’s a really great producer. And the three of us get together to write. Now, I was under the, uh, illusion falsely that we were gonna write a cardigan song, which for me would’ve been the Apex of Great. They made a record in probably a decade. I didn’t care. I thought that was the coolest thing ever. Yeah. And these guys had their eyes on the price and they said, Hey, why don’t we try to write something for One Direction? Mm-hmm. . So I knew, uh, what makes you beautiful? And, you know, I knew a couple of the other songs of that first record, so I thought, Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, sure. Now this was the hardest record to access that year, right? This was everybody in, in LA is trying to write for this record everywhere in London, et cetera. So I go outside and I scribble something on a piece of paper, and I, you know, I sort of have it in 10 minutes, literally. Something I heard in my head was called Rock Me. And I thought it was very, you know, it was kind of sexy and kinda fun and maybe boy band even a little more dangerous, blah, blah, you know? But I, I, I connected to it and I brought it inside and they said, Oh, that’s great. And then Peter starts singing this Swedish melody and it’s nuts because just the, you know, the sophistication of what he did was incredible. Kojack throws down a really fresh beat and we finish this demo two hours, we go eat some great Thai food in la great. No harm, no foul. Fun day with nice cash, right? Sure. Next day we get emails from Simon Fuller, maybe Simon Cow, Dr. Luke, Like, all these people are chiming in. It’s like hit, hit, hit. It’s going on. The record hit hit. So of course, you know, I, uh, like a moth through a flame. Suddenly I’m thinking, Oh, I’ve spent all these years with these needy artists. Right one on one in this emotional death trap with these people. Unpaid therapy. Unpaid therapy. You know, just completely miserable when I could have just ridden for 15 minutes and got a one direction cut. Wow. This is so empowering. So we spent the next 30 days together writing Man, and we wrote 30 songs, I would say. Mm-hmm. . And during that time, I can state with, with utter clarity that we wrote the 30 worst songs in my career. And the worst part of it is that I was the problem. Not these guys. Those guys were completely dialed in. I wasn’t because I was chasing something because this wasn’t what my heart, you know, um, my musical heart. This is never what I aspire to be. I aspire to be a guy. At the end of the day, I know what I look like. I look better behind a curtain. I love the idea of me and an artist in a room, and I am a screenwriter, and I’m, uh, something. Now, Rogers once said to me, it’s writing a sequel to a movie. It’s like, I, I always felt like I was writing an artist sequel when I write it. Mm. And that’s what brings me joy, man. It’s like that I, I, I love that. I love the idea that every day, man, I’m writing these little narratives or, or tales or just the, you know, just connecting stuff inside of me and also trying to find the voice of the artist and draw it out of them and find, find their tendencies, et cetera. And all of that was lost in my, my trying to write placement songs where I was doing my version of, Hey, maybe Rihanna cut this, or maybe someone cut this. And these songs were God awful. And I, I, uh, or I discussed this in my book, uh, 21 Hit Wonder. Mm-hmm. flopping my way to the top of the charts via Matt Hol Ben Bella, and. Penguin Random House on November 1st. You like that? I’m really trying to work on this.

Ari: Oh, don’t worry. I got it on my notes and we’re gonna hit the book!

Sam: Whether running it up or not, they keep telling me to do that. They keep saying, Hey, don’t even worry. I got it on. I’m struggling with a daughter. I can’t even get the words out. I got it. I got it. But, but I’ll tell you, I’ll say the, uh, But yeah, no, the, uh, I chased this for a while and the funny thing is we were on our last demo, I’m flying back east and Peter Spon sent me a melody that they had started and they wanted the lyric for, and it went, I got to, got to go. I got to, got to go and. I’m not embellishing that. It really, that’s what it sounded like. So to me it sounded like a, something that maybe in Stockholm would be a fishing anthem or something, . But it did not sound like anything that I could connect to. So sure. I tried to write it and every time we were texting back and forth on the plane, I kept saying, Yeah, yeah, I can’t sing that. Can I, I’m gonna write something in place. They said, No, it has, the chorus has to start with, I got to, got to go, got to, got kept saying, got to, got to. And honestly it was making me nuts. We got off the plane, threw down my headset, I’m done. So we never wrote together again. So two years later, Ariana Ground drops, uh, drops. A single called Love Me Harder. That was a number one everywhere in the world. Mm-hmm. . And the, the lyric was, you got to, got to love me harder, written by Peter Spencer. Mm-hmm. . And I learned something in the process, which was, you know, there’s a reason why these cats do what they do and there’s a reason why I do what I do. Yeah. And so, um, Did that answer it?

Ari: Uh, I don’t remember the question, but yes, it answered it.

Sam: And, uh, so he, that’s the, we’re gonna go on many journeys. I always say, Man, we’re gonna drill. I love it. But you know, it’s

Ari: Swedes, you know, those, those damn Swedes. It, it doesn’t matter what if the lyrics really make sense or not. It’s like, uh, you know, I, I was, um, like, uh, I want it that way. You know, It’s like, what way? What are you talking about? What way do you want it? What do that Doesn’t make any sense, but it’s one of the biggest hits of the last 20 years. It’s just like, you know, it’s that kind of a thing that they keep doing so well. It’s like they know what it needs to sound like and they know what’s gonna be a hit. Doesn’t, Lyrics are kind of, you know, lyrics.

Sam: Lyrics, at least in my experiences mean nothing in the process are less so. But they certainly, the phonetics are everything. And the Yes. And the melodic math is everything. Yes. And these guys are really, all of these guys could put on lab coats and be world class scientists. Yeah. . Um, because they get under the hood of something. But I will tell you melodically. Every Swedish writer I’ve ever worked with, I hate to generalize, but they just have it. I think it’s born from, you know, folk songs and stuff that date back from the, I would say 18 or 19 hundreds that they’re just embedded in them. They just melodically their stuff is so much sharper, at least in my taste, you know, for certainly the pop end of it. So yeah, I’m a big, big fan. Um, but lyrically, you know, I, I, I try to write, you know, I’m a guy who grew up on Donald Fagan records in Steely Dan, and, you know, Joe Jackson and all this stuff that’s like slightly. Biting and snarky and I inject that stuff and it never registers. They don’t care. Nice. I guess. Does it But doesn’t sing well. Does not sing well.

Ari: Right, right right. Of course, of course. Yeah. You’re not writing death cab songs. No, no. . So, um, what would be your advice to kind of aspiring songwriters that are looking to do what you do, uh, especially this day and age, now that we have evolved so far from the Kumbaya stage of sitting in the room with guitars? Like what do you tell young songwriters when it was like, I wanna be a professional songwriter. I don’t wanna be the guy on stage. I don’t wanna be the artist. Like, I want to get songs cut. Where do I start? What do I do?

Sam: Well, I mean, obviously TikTok changed the landscape, right? Because I could, I could, I will answer this, but the flip side is there will be some kids someplace tonight who puts up that track and tomorrow has a million dollar offer and it has a whirlwind and might be out of the business in a year and a half. So yeah, it’s, it’s transient, but it’s hard. So it’s hard for me to proselytize, you know, these notions without mentioning that the flip side is for me, um, everything was born out of tenacity, so, Okay. Um, when I began, you know, I, uh, I wasn’t the most gifted. I wasn’t the best looking. I certainly wasn’t. You know, I, I, I had a lot of holes in my game, man. But the one thing, I was lyrical and I was tenacious, and I, you know, I, I say this all the time, but I used to stand outside of the Black Rock building where CBS Records was, and I had an app sack full of cassettes. And I, you know, and. Unlike every other kid Hawking demos. I was the one who went to the news stand on both at 72nd and Columbus, where I lived in next to my brother’s apartment, which is down on uh, 21st and sixth Avenue. And I would memorize billboard cover to cover cause I wouldn’t pay for the subscription. I was struggling. But I would memorize the photos in particularly the golden platinum presentation photos. Mm-hmm. And the a r faces I would memorize, so it didn’t matter if it was at co records or, you know, or it would be a Sylvia Ro or something like that, you know. Sure. Uh, Electro with Krasnow was there, or if it was during the Donny Iner, Mitchell Cohen, guys like that, you know, I memorized, you know, um, what’s his name, Guy lived in there. This guy who lived up here too. Uh, I memorize their names and faces Sure. And I would acco them, but I would do it with respect and just walk up and say hi. I’m Sam. This is my demo, and I am a huge fan of the record that U N A A and R that just went platinum and blah, blah, blah, blah, and I just, you know, it was the facial recognition that I think set me apart because I took the time and I put in the due diligence to respect people’s time. Then at night, I hung out at every club in the city. Um, from, you know, the Luna Lounge and Max Fish all the way to, to, um, you know, to, uh, Brownies and Mercury Lounge and just AKAs, just all the venues in Manhattan. And I met everybody and I never met, you know, uh, I wasn’t privy to upper level A and r but I met all the assistants and I met all the assistants to the lawyers in town. And, you know, I met junior publicists and along the way I connected and made friendships with people who I built with. And the most important thing is the landscape continually shifts, but one thing that we all know is that the next generation will rise. So I came up with, uh, some incredible people along the way, and these are people I think who believed in me. They didn’t , they didn’t understand where I really stood in the playing field yet. Sure, they didn’t realize that they shouldn’t be believing me yet. But there are people who really, uh, took flyers on me as a human and you know, man, those sort of the relationships that changed my life truthfully. So the most important thing I would say is craft is king. Study, study, study. We’ll get into that, you know. We’ll, I’d love to discuss it further. Totally. But the one thing that gets lost is networking supersedes all in the music industry. If you are, um, if you are, uh, just, uh, genetically sort of, uh, predisposed to being an introvert and you’re, you’re, you’re more comfortable on your couch, then you know what, Maybe partner with somebody, either a young aspiring manager or a partner who is on the streets hustling because you’re not gonna get heard. And when I grew up, remember there, you know, I came of age in an era of no internet. . And I say that to, you know, to people, and sometimes it doesn’t, the magnitude of that statement doesn’t connect. But man, there was no internet. Right. So my life was sending cassettes in the mail, in the rain, and Yeah. Doing, you know, and it was such, the stakes were so much higher. Sure. Because it was so hard to permeate. Now anybody can like, hack into any list of a executives and power. Everyone’s accessible these days. Everyone’s accessible. Nobody was accessible back then. Sure. So you really had to go above and beyond. I was one of those cats who did it. You know,

Ari: I mean, you brought up, there’s, there’s a lot of really great, uh, takeaways from how you did in your story and a lot. Uh, relates to today. And I think, you know, the big thing is like what you said when you went up to one of these, a andrs that you recognized from Billboard, from the photos in Billboard Magazine, um, a Free Billboard magazine, The free Right, Free Billboard magazine from the news stands. Yeah. Um, and you opened with a compliment. You said, I really loved the record that you a and r, there’s so much in that one opening sentence that I, you know, I think we all lose track of. Everyone’s a human being. Like everyone out there appreciates a compliment, maybe some recognition, especially the business people who do not get the glory of being on stage every night. They’re behind the scenes. How often do you think they’re getting compliments or being thanked? Very rare.

Sam: I’ll wake up in the morning and I’ll go into my dms either on, um, Instagram or Facebook, sometimes Twitter. And, uh, a lot of young artists will hit me up, right? A lot of writers, et cetera. And there’s one common theme, 98% of them never. Ever think to acknowledge any music that I’ve created, You know, and it blows my mind, and there’s no ego involved. It’s not about ego. I don’t care. I just wanna know that you took the five minutes to actually think this through. Because if you don’t have that intellectual curiosity, then as a writer, I don’t know how intellectually curious you are as a writer in a room. I don’t know what you’re capable of, because if you’re just sort of doing cut paste, cut and paste, and you’re not thinking, you know, two steps ahead. I, I don’t, you know, I, I don’t know, Um, if we’re the right fit.

Ari: That’s a, I mean, that’s a really great point and it’s just like, so much about collaborating. You said you’re a professional collaborator. So much about the collaboration process and the songwriting process is about the hang. Is this gonna be a good hang? Is this gonna be a relationship that I want to cultivate? Is this someone that I wanna be intimate with in a room for three, four hours or longer or whatever? And like, if it’s just, Hey, wanna write with me, like, Hey, I’m the best writer you’ll ever meet. You should mi I’m about to get, you know, it’s just like, that doesn’t feel like someone that you’d wanna be in the room with, uh, let alone, you know, I say that all the time.

Sam: That’s gonna be the same guy who, if I check out his page, we’ll have 200 posts with hashtags that say, wrote four smashes. Yeah, wrote five Smashes Smash Town. Oh my six smash in one hour I’ve run. You know, it’s like, you know, man, look, youth is wasted on the young. It’s awesome. You know, it’s awesome. I love the fire and I love the spark. Yeah, but you have to understand, I have, um, I have such reverence for the art, you know, because unlike many writers, I never conceptualized a plan B for me. This was the only passion that I was ever able to articulate, and that started 14 or 15 years old, 14 years old. So because of that, I will do anything to stay in it creatively, I’ll get better and better and better, which is why it’s hard to box me out of it, because while people are sleeping, I’m out working, you know? Yeah. Yeah. I want it that bad. I respect kids. I respect the OGs. You know, I can learn from anybody in a session and I, um, I’m just always sort of trying to, you know, make sure that I manifest knowledge at the end of the day, that I pulled from these different, disparate, disparate sort of sources to create something rad. And that’s why I wake up in the morning, and if I can do that, that it was the best day on earth and I can’t believe I got to do it.

Ari: You know? I love that. And that, I mean, it’s so important to hold true to that. And like you were talking about before, it’s just like you, you wrote that, that one direction cut and then the 30 worst songs of your career because you were chasing and you were doing it for the wrong reasons. You know, Quincy Jones, uh, said to me is like, you know, if you do it for the money, God walks out of the room and, uh, , it’s like it’s true. True. It’s true. And, and you a hundred percent, yeah, you were starry-eyed and you were like, Oh, let’s do a bunch more of these. And oh my God, I’m, you know, and then it’s like, but then when you, like you just mentioned art and I think. you know, we lose track of that songs. This is an art form and songwriting is an art form and, and songs are pieces of art and there’s a lot of craft that goes into it. No doubt. Of course. I mean, you’re a pop songwriter and like you, you know, there’s a formula and there’s a craft and everything, but talk to me about that balance between the art and the craft.

Sam: Well, I was blessed along the way to collaborate with people who were masters of craft when I had Arter inclinations, so, That was, um, that was really imperative in my growth as a writer because when I started out, like everybody else, I began journaling with bad teenage poetry and Stans and stuff like that. Sure. And just all this unrequited stuff of sort of being like a funny looking dude who struggle with chicks, you know? And as I, um, began to, you know, began to twist and turn these things into songs, I worked with many folks along the way who had really mastercraft, who taught me how to take my thing and shape it, but never to like, uh, strip the, strip the me out of it. And that has been the secret to my success. And look, man, at the end of the day, I’ve always viewed my career through a lens of, um, I’m not Swedish. I am not look at, I mean look at me. I’m certainly not speech , but I am, I, so I’m incapable of shaping something to such specific melodic sort of math and just sort of that, uh, perfection on one end. Sure. I’m also not arcade fire. , right? So I exist in this, some, some sort of amorphous space like in the middle where I’m like slightly cool, you know? And what happens with that is, uh, I’m able to maintain my voice in the process. So I know lyrically my stuff’s always gonna have like quirks and little, little, there’s little tricks that I have I’ve created of my own, that work within the framing of craft, but are still sort of out there and trippy. That sort, uh, that make it somewhat definably my thing, you know? And that took probably the 1500, 1200 songs to get it right, you know? Right. This wasn’t something I had early on. This was just trial error, error error, error error, error error, trial error, you know? And that’s how you get there.

Ari: Do you know when you finish a song if it’s good or not?

Sam: Yeah, a hundred percent. Yeah. I, The ones that it. I’ve rarely missed in terms of the ones that, um, the ones that, uh, lived on and survived and actually thrived. I get, uh, instantly of Galvan responses. You know, I know there’s just something, uh, something innate in the process that you feel, and it, it’s hard to, it, it’s not particularly tangible, but I would say I know when it happens. And the ones that are good. They’re always gonna be good, man. Like honestly, for the most part, I’m a professional songwriter. A professional songwriter should have a good song every time out. Not a great song, but you should be at least get a good song because you know enough to get it across the line to a finished product that sort of works where everything is logical. Sure. But the ones that go to the next level and just continue to, uh, build, I can feel it, man. I can feel it. And I have really specific memories of each of them. If I go down my discography, all the ones that really worked, I know, I remember the moment where I’m like, Oh wow. Yeah. Wow. Ooh, ooh. That’s, that’s nasty channels right through you.

Ari: Yeah. Hundred percent vessel. That’s ushering it out. Hundred percent the world. Yeah. Hundred percent. Hundred percent. Yeah. That’s awesome. Um, so talk to me, uh, about,

Sam: And by the way, I’m sorry, my room is so disgusting by the way. We are, uh, in the process of renovating a house, so everything is so, I don’t even know what’s behind me. I haven’t even looked at it.

Ari: Um, well, I see a microphone that I was curious. I’m just like, Are you talking through? You’re just talking, Mike.

Sam: It’s, it’s my kid set up for Got it. Uh, for her, her demos and, uh, see a norm. I co-opted her space. I, yeah, I kicked her out. I kicked her out. This was my wife’s office. Now it’s my kids. Sort of, uh, uh, mini studio and well, most people are just listening to this without visuals. Uh, so hey, you, you know what, Ari’s staring at a palatial palace with inquisite design.

Ari: I was gonna say, I mean that marble, it’s perfectly polished. I see myself from here through it. Thanks. Um, . So, um, what would. I guess getting to the, while you’re in the room and, um, kind of the dynamics, like you’re saying, you know, you are typically a top liner. Um, talk to me about most sessions that you’re doing these days and who is usually in the room. You mentioned that artists are usually in the room. I, is it typically like there’s a producer, like they sometimes call it the driver, the track guy you mentioned the artist maybe who’s kind of there, you know, and then you or, or how does session these days?

Sam: that’s it. I’ll tell you, I’m give away a little, a little secret here. Yeah. Um, but you know, ordinarily at this point it’s gonna be somebody, uh, track person who is sort of handling, you know, the beat and just sort of keeping it going. Mm-hmm. , unless we’re just, if I’m writing with a singer songwriter, and it’s intimate. I wanna keep it intimate at all costs. Engineer me, singer, songwriter, right? Mm-hmm. . Mm-hmm. . But if it’s something that is rhythm based or, or you know, a band is gonna hit or whatever, there’s probably a track guy in the room. Track person. Mm-hmm. . And it is, uh, and myself in the artist. And what I’ve done is going into that session, let’s say the sessions on a Monday, Let’s say I have two days with the artist. Monday and Tuesday, the Saturday and Sunday before I’ve scoured the internet for any interview with the artist, both on YouTube and or on print. And I’ve made notes of, uh, their patterns of speech in terms of their vernacular. Things they like to say are the, you know, are they coy, are they funny? Are the, you know, Um, are they giving me any insight into where they’re headed with the record? I don’t wait till I get in a room with an artist where I say, Hey, what do you wanna do? And I get some canned response of like, Well, I don’t wanna do what I’ve done before. I, I want to get everything I can find on the internet about an artist. And when I have that intel, then I sit down on my own. I poet a guitar. I took my, you know, five random chords that are, are at my disposal, , and I, uh, I strum. And what I’m doing is I’m really just trying to find a pocket and a feel. And, you know, I I, I’m hoping that I’m sort, sort of way station or something where, you know, these ideas are gonna land and something’s gonna funnel down. But the second I hear something that, that I can build upon, I instantly just start singing different variations of what it could be. And although my chords are pedestrian, at best, what I’m doing is I’m hearing where melodies sit, then I go and listen to the artist and I sort of figure out where their range is right and what you know. So let’s get in a key of where their stuff has been historically. Then I’m gonna write a verse and a chorus, and I’m gonna hit pocket two ideas. And they’re gonna be pretty high conceptual in terms of when I walk in the room. Um, because I know how competitive it is. I’m gonna write crazy, I’m gonna try to write crazier than the next person. And if I fail, I know it’s probably not the right fit. But if they’re, if they’re, um, amused, then I know we can mold. I have these in my, my back pocket when I walk in the room. Now the flip side is sometimes I’ll do some Tom Cruise as a salesman in, in, uh, in, uh, Magnolia type bit or whatever. I just do, you know, to try to sell it through. And sometimes I’m full of shit and I just come in and I, you know, I say, Oh, you know, I just, this, Oh, I hear it right now, , Oh, you know, I do it method. I have no fear of method acting. I do what I have to do. But the point is I’m gonna try to at least introduce two ideas that I am passionate about, specifically for the artists. These are not ideas that I pitch to the last artist down the street. These are sort of concepts that I’ve written with a, with a, you know, with a framework of who this person is. I’ve watched all their previous videos. I’ve done the, I’ve done the work as they say, I’ve done the work. Mm. And what happens with that is, look, man, I can, I can be greeted with literally, uh, a, a jaw drop. Of, you know, where someone’s just absolutely blown away and I can be greeted with a look of horror by somebody who’s like, This is the worst fit ever. Please get me out of this room, . But the truth is, you know, um, as my friend Shep and his band, the American author said, Go bigger, Go home. Mm-hmm. , I, I, I am not attempting to bunt, I am attempting to like be heard because I understand that the artist will then the next day when I’m done, get back on the treadmill and write with the next cat, and then the next cat and the next cat. And I want to reem, I wanna be memorable. I wanna do something that makes the, at least either the artist or certainly the a and r think wow. He really thought it through, he put the effort in, you know?

Ari: Mm, That’s great. I love that. And oh my gosh, there’s so many gems there. And it’s just like, you know, I think we hear a lot of times about the song starts like coming to a session with some starts, and that’s like where you, you know, have these song ideas, but you don’t do that. You prepare for the artists that you’re gonna be working with, which I think is, I mean, that’s, that’s, um, it’s why you’re so successful. I mean, because you, you’re not just you, you’re not just paint by numbers here. You’re not going to a session and be like, Oh, well I’m great. I got 22 hits under my belt. I got billions of streams here. I’ve won so many awards and platinum records. Like, they should be so honored to write with me. But you’re the opposite. You’re like, I’m putting in the work, I’m preparing for this artist, and I can’t wait to see what we can kind of create together.

Sam: Because you know what, there’s a, there’s a, there’s gonna be an 18 year old kid who’s a freshman at some school, be it Berkeley, Belmont, or community college in the middle of this country. Sure. Who is already. Um, would have a better inside track of permeating that record because he is, he or she is young and cool and, you know, dialed into whatever is happening in the second, Maybe they’re a huge fan of that artist and they are, and I’m competing with that. They’re gonna be able to party with the artist after the session. I’m gonna go home and eat SpaghettiOs on my couch, . Right. So, you know, I, I know I, I, I’ve never, I, I just. I don’t take this for granted, man. Yeah. You know? Yeah. I, yeah. Like you said, it’s great to have accolades and success, but trust me, I have a lot of friends in this business who had a lot of accolades and success, who sort of have been put out to pasture. Sure. And it’s not by a lack of, um, ability. They’re fantastic. But the game changed and it constantly evolves and the artists evolved and the temperament of artists evolved and even, you know, not to, not to sort of, uh, Not to, uh, to sort of, uh, flip this to sports, but the one thing I would say is if you look at sports, right? If you talk to an old school coach, a parel in football, or one of these guys, you know, they have to coach players in each generation different, you know, you are, the baby boomer football players wore leather helmets or something and knocked each other in the head and blood were coming to their face and they would stop. And then the Gen X players were a little different and the millennials, you know, needed a different sort of touch and feel. And it is constantly evolving. I mean, each generation is different, um, socially, and, you know, have, have to be able to adapt to that. And sometimes old school wiring. You know, we’ll get you nowhere. Yeah. So for me, the most important thing is to constantly learn and constantly outwork out, hustle, outlast, survivor, Jeff Pro, cbs, just constantly, you know, that’s the game, man. You know? That’s great. If you want to be in this like you have to.

Ari: Yeah. That’s great. So, uh, a few years ago, I guess like three years ago, you sold your catalog to H Hypnosis. Can you discuss that a little bit? What does that mean and why’d you do it? Okay.

Sam: Wow. Um, you know, it was a very, uh, it was a tricky situation in terms of, you know, I had never even. Pondered the idea of a catalog sale because, you know, I remember 10 or 11 years ago, I believe, uh, Carrie D Guard, Claude Kelly, and some of the other writers of that aerosol catalogs, and I had never even heard the term. I’m not joking, you know, I’m not business minded. I, thankfully, you know, I’m surrounded by people who know what they’re doing and I don’t. So, you know, um, I’ve been blessed, but I really, it was one of those terms that was floating around. And then I believe it was when songs sold to Cobalt, I started reading articles about multiples. And the multiples were increasing in these deals and blah blah. So what did that mean? Multiples, Uh, you’re gonna help me verbalize it. But the, the, the multiple, the, they, they, they, The price that’s affixed your catalog when they give you an offer, they’ve worked out a figure over whatever your earnings are for one year. Yeah. I believe they multiply it over. You can negotiate but 15 to 17 to 20 times that number is the check they’re giving you. Okay. You know, and that it’s very mathematical cause they’re working off of, obviously they have all the data in front of them, so they’re working off of both, uh, streaming numbers and where they believe streaming will be in a few years based on legalities, et cetera. And then obviously radio play and recurrent play, et cetera. And they have these formulas that I have no idea how they figure this stuff out. Sure. You know, I, I was in New York, uh, I went over Thanksgiving and I had coffee with a, a really close friend of mine who’s a writer named Greg Wattenberg. He’s a great writer. And, you know, we were just catching up and we’re just doing shop talk about sessions cuz you know, there’s a bunch of us who’ve been in it this long that we share material. We’re we’re just all that tight. Sure. And, you know, sort of who’s working, who’s writing what artists are great, what artists aren’t the right fit, blah, blah, blah. And he said, Hey man, he said, You’ve obviously put your catalog in the market. And I just looked at him puzzled, why, why would I put my catalog in the market? He said, Oh man. He said, You gotta, you got a lot of hits at the right time, This is the time to do it. And I said, Oh, well look, I’ve had, you know, hits for 10 years, 12 years, whatever. I don’t know what’s different. He said, No, but this is your moment. They’re gonna, And what sold me was that, um, When we bundled it together, they were willing to do a, uh, they were willing to do, uh, the multiples based on a very specific period of time. Mm-hmm. over four or five years of my career, and work it off of that mathematical thing and multiples of that. And honestly, it was a lot of money. And for me, I would tell you that I saw it, uh, I thought it would reinvigorate me. And what I mean by that is I had spent, I’ve been writing, you know, I’ve been doing this 30 years mm-hmm. and the first 15 years of my career were mired in futility at a level that no one will ever process. Which is why I did write this book because, uh, I, I just, everything I touched, failed and flopped and blah, blah, blah. And I really, I was at the bottom. And then the next 15 years have been magical for me at least. And I wanted to, uh, to, to get to that level, whatever level I got to. I was doing whatever, 200 sessions of the year, man, I was grinding and I was taking a lot of sessions that aesthetically I might have passed on if I had had the opportunity, but I knew I had to take it because there were a lot of tickets. And you never know. And you never know and you never know. But what I felt that was doing was conflicting with my art in terms of there were passion projects in my life and ideas that I wanted to chase, and I never had the time to do it. Mm. And what the catalog sale, Um, you know what, what, um, the, the, the end result was I was free finally to really follow my musical lead more than my wallet and. That has been the most empowering thing that’s ever happened to me because I’m writing harder than ever now, but I’m doing things that I never could have taken. The shot I’m developing a musical like and all these other things that I wouldn’t have taken a flyer on because I thought it would take me out of the game and maybe I’m outta the game for nine months and I’m out. It did a TV show for NBC last year called Ordinary Joe that rode and produced all the songs on the original songs. And what’s funny about that is that was 10 months of. Real work. Yeah. And you know what? So it, I had limited sessions during that time. I would’ve been killing myself if I hadn’t done this. I would’ve been doing sessions every morning from nine till noon, then getting on the show and stuff like that. That’s not healthy, that’s not quality of life. I wanted to see my daughter grow. I wanted to be a human man.

Ari: You know, because, No, it makes a lot of sense. And I mean, because you’re saying you’d be killing yourself for the lottery tickets. Just to explain that a little bit. When you write a song, you’re not being paid for the session. While you’re in the session writing that song, no one is paying you to sit down and write a song with an artist or the brother.

Sam: Right, Brother. We have no sexy 401ks. We have no stock options . Right. We have, you know, I don’t have a corner office with a view of Central Park. Right. I, I’m a sole practitioner in my, in my little, little hub. And yeah, there are certain writers who, um, who have been, um, who are able to demand, uh, writer fees. You know, I never even entertained the thought of it, because at the end of the day, look, I wanna stand by my work. I’m confident in what I do. I believe if, if an artist is in a room with me, we’re gonna do something pretty. If, if the match is right, we’ll do something great. But the flip side is, man, nothing’s guaranteed. Right. So, you know, the, these are all, it’s like we’re gambling every single day. And you’re gambling, you’re betting on yourself. Yeah. Because if the song I. , you’re only really making money if the song becomes a radio hit. Is that right? It, the only money I’ve ever seen were radio hits and in performance world and songs that sync in sync, right?

Ari: And so even though, you know, we’re in this streaming era, but unfortunately, if you get, you know, a deep cut on an album, that doesn’t become a hit on the radio. Because radio, just for people listening, uh, you know, the money that songwriters earn from radio, it’s, its performance royalties from your p o, your ask cap, your bmi, and that can add up to be a significant amount from terrestrial radio play versus streaming revenue. You know, the most current rate, which they just increase the rates and all of that, blah, blah, blah. You’re looking at, you know, Uh, about a fifth of what the artists are making from streaming. That’s right. And you know, the artists in the labels. And so it’s, it’s small. And you might think, Oh, like, you know, you know, the artists aren’t making a lot from streaming. Well, guess what? The songwriters are making a fifth of that. So, right?

Sam: Yeah. I, What, what, It’s funny because when artists post, uh, with these di tribes against Spotify, I’m always like, Hello. Think of how we feel. Right. . Um, but, but you know that you’re completely correct and, you know, I, um, it, it, it’s tricky man. It’s like, you know, it’s, uh, um, a radio hit will change your life to some extent. Absolutely. Depending on what it is and the, and the enormity of it. And it’s amazing. But radio is also not what radio was. Sure. That’s changing too. Yeah. So look for writers coming up, man, in the new music business. See what I did there. Um, the one thing I would say is, you know, the, you’re gonna, the approach is so different because everything is just shifting on a dime. And I don’t know how all the finances will work out. You know, the flip side is, you know, in Spotify’s defense, you know, it’s pretty neat that in the old days we called them demos and there were cassettes and nothing ever happened with them. But you hope that maybe someone listened and now you put that same demo on Spotify and if you get a few million listeners or whatever, you suddenly made 8,000. You have the master, whatever, that, that can fuel you to make creative moves, you know? Right. So it is changing and I just, you know, as a landscape shifts, it’s, you know, I just think you have to sometimes take an honest, um, An honest, uh, look in the mirror and say, Where do I fit into all of this? Mm-hmm. . And for me, you know, by selling a catalog, it freed me to, to make all sorts of, um, sort of, uh, creative, uh, moves that I wanted to make, but more importantly, it lit a match under me, man, because, Huh? I want to do it again. I wanna do it all over again. I own everything I’ve done from 2020 on, and I’m thinking to myself, and it doesn’t mean I don’t want, like, it’s not about money, but it just gives you something else. Like, there, there sometimes we need a shove. You know, I have all sorts of emotional callouses that sit all over me. And I, I have to, um, you know, I have to, uh, sometimes stimulate them and wake them up and say, Oh, remember this? Yeah, remember that? Because to wake up in the morning, some days I don’t wanna wake up and do this. Yeah. But I know, man, that you can do it. You know, remember when, remember when you know that the, that asshole of a football coach, you know, um, picked on you in front of the whole team. Sure. You know, I can st that stimulates me, man. I wake up. I thought, Alright, you know, I’m not, I’m not done. I got, I gotta keep going. I gotta keep going. Yeah. So I still think sometimes we need things to light a match.

Ari: No, that’s great. And that’s great to hear. I mean, I, I think, uh, I, my perception would’ve been, uh, you saw the catalog make a bunch of money and then go live on an island or something and like, boom, you’re retired. But it’s like, you kind of want the opposite ways. It’s like you’re, it let that match and let that fire. Because just to, to clarify, just so I understand this correctly, people are listening who have no concept of selling catalogs like you just said, you didn’t understand that before either. Uh, and I might still not sure. So just, just baseline, top level. Yeah. You’re essentially sold your publishing. You’re no longer gonna be making royalties in any form.

Sam: I sold my writers and my publishing, I sold a hundred percent.

Ari: You sold everything away. So no more royalties are flowing in from anywhere for the previous songs, they’re now at hypnosis and they’re collecting all the performance.

Sam: Yeah. And it’s, what’s funny about it is, you know, when, when songs err in commercials from my catalog mm-hmm. , no one even alerts me. So, uh, , , You dunno. I’ll have a friend hit me and say, Hey, I just heard your song in something. I said, Oh, really? Wow. Cool. But you know what? Look, I, I, cool. No, it makes sense for, but my name, you know, the most important thing is they can’t take my name off of it. It was my art, it was my work. That’s right. And that, that means more to me than the money or anything. It just means that I, I created something. Yeah. And I have no idea how long it will, uh, stay in the consciousness, but every day that it does. It was the coolest thing I ever did in my life outside of having, you know, getting, having a away kid.

Ari: I love it. So, so tell what inspired you to write this book, 21 Hit Wonder Why the book and when did you realize you needed to write this and, and, and what do you hope people are, are gonna take away from this? Well,

Sam: Ari, I’ll tell you, um, my, um, my parents. Were incredible artists themselves. Um, they were fascinating. And there were these ma, there were these world class intellectuals who were also, you know, uh, my old man was a modern dance over the Jose Lamone troop. And then, um, when he retired, went back to Yale and, uh, became an architect and was with Philip Johnson and just was like this heavy cat. My mom was equally heavy and you know, as you will learn in chapter one in the book, you know, I don’t give, you know, she was Andy Warhol’s partner in, uh, um, in a, in a little restaurant. She, you know, they, they went in on that together and she was also his interior decorator for a moment in time. And I spent a lot of time with them. Not a lot of time, a little time with them. And that’s how chapter one is framed. But the, the, my parents were fascinated and they were infinitely more interesting than I am. And they died back to back. And when they passed away, Um, I, I, I scoured the internet for mentions of them because I wanted my daughter to know the backstory of her grandparents, who she didn’t get to know very well. And there was so little out there, you know, there was so little out there. There was, you know, I found a Vogue article about my mom in 1978, but then a book took the article and a book came out and she had sort of been whitewashed from the, from the history. And, you know, my dad, there’s mentions, but. It didn’t get to the soul of who these people were and how they thought, and when they died back to back, it sort of, uh, I spiraled a little bit and I thought, Well, you know what? I, um, I want my life on record for my kid. And that’s what birthed it. But was funny about it was as I went into this, you know, I began to really connect with the side of myself that was honestly the consummate underdog in this industry. And, you know, I, I just, I struggled for so many years and when I struggled and failed, a a as you’ll learn man, like the first six records I made, um, well, I was an art, first of all. I was a failed rapper, a failed dj, a failed, uh, rapper with a imitation German accent. A failed techno beat maker. A failed house beat maker, a failed drum and base beat maker. Yeah. Um, I spent my 34th year on the planet, uh, doing drum programming on kids’ BOP records. Not producing, but doing the drum programming and editing ring tones for jam bands. So I would take 40 minute Opes and cut them down to 15 seconds. Wow. And what happens at that point if you’re 34? And the first six albums you’ve made for major labels. Five weren’t released. The six came out in September 11th, 2001, and was basically a, a very aggressive rap album with an American flag cover. The band was dropped by Warner Brothers two weeks after the record was released and pulled off tour. You know, it was the right, it was the wrong messaging for America at the time. Right. Um, you know, uh, the seventh was a group called The Cooler Kids that were signed to Dreamwork Dreamworks immediately folded. Interscope Band dropped. I had, um, everything I touched was a absolute colossal disaster. And what I realized was there is a segment of the creative population that has not been served in songwriting memoirs. And what I mean by that is there have been some great books, but I’ll meet a young writer and. You know, uh, I’ll ask them, Hey, you know, have you read any sort of, uh, books by professional songwriters? You know, and they’ll always say, Oh yeah, the Dave Grohl book’s awesome. You know, Oh, the Jeff Tweety book’s great. Right? They are great. Yeah. But that’s a different business, man. Yes. If you’re trying to do what we do for a living. Yeah. There haven’t been that many books. You’ve certainly written one, uh, Shelly Pike, and I liked Shelly’s book a lot, but you know, there, I just felt like there was a voice for that, that, um, for the, uh, creatively underserved of those who have been doing this over and over and are hitting a wall. And it, the only sort of, uh, the, the, the, the, the sign above their heads is futility. And the problem is those, those people. , I’ve done this for 30 years and I had two careers. I had that career and then I had another career. And I try to just illustrate all the examples of in these records and all these colossal misses that I had, the role that I played. Because, you know, it’s so easy. I’ve read so many books where, you know, we vilify a record label or this or that, but that’s not the problem. It begins with us as the writer, the producer. You have to be able to identify the flaws in your art and your work and figure out what could have been different if you’re looking to do things on a broader level. And that’s what I get under the hood of my own mistakes creatively. And then, um, and then, you know, eventually we get to the shift. And how did that happen? How did I put myself in a position for it to happen? And then once I got there and I had a bunch of hits in a row and it was everything I dreamed of, then suddenly it dried up. instantly. How did I react to it? Drying up instantly. How did I shift, How did I, you know, uh, change lanes and change genres? How did I, you know, um, constantly move and maneuver to stay in this while getting better at the art? And I think it’s an important book for kids man who are starting out. I also equally think it’s a, it’s written for the 60 year old who has retired from one job and always wanted to write a damn song. And here’s how it went about it.

Ari: How old were you when you wrote your first hit?

Sam: I was 35 years old when I had my first hit. 35. Phil Goldston had his first hit, I believe at 42 was saved the best for Last for Vanessa Williams.

Ari: Dan Wilson was 37 when he wrote closing time and 45, I think when he won the Grammy for the Dixie Chicks album. And even older 50 maybe when he wrote Someone like You with Adele. A hundred percent.

Sam: Yeah. You know, great. The, I think, you know, when I was young, the one thing I would say is that even when I was young and snotty, I was never ever an ageist because I was smart enough to know that the ones who came before me were masters at the craft. Yeah. And I respected them. And I never ever put anybody mentally out to pasture because I thought, man, if they’ve done it, look, I, I’m one of those people who believes anybody can have one hit. I really do. Yeah. And that’s what I cheer that on. I do not believe everybody can have two hits. Okay. I believe everybody can have one. Sure. But, you know, but after one man, there’s like, you gotta get really, you gotta figure that, You gotta really figure it out. You know? It doesn’t happen, you know, you know, you, you shoot that dart at the moon and sometimes you hit it, but you don’t hit it twice. So I love it. I would say, um, at the end of the day for. For me, you know, I look at Dan, I look at, you know, you know Diane Warren. Mm-hmm. , you know, who’s had this just impeccable career, you know, And look, here’s how, Look man, whenever my kid looks at me with the eye of like, Dude, you’re old. I think to myself, I’m like, you know, I’m younger than JayZ. I’m younger than Diddy by a couple of months. Sure. Come on man. They’re still innovating. They’re fresh as they’re fresh. They, Hell yeah. Nas and Kanye are close. Like, Oh my gosh, all. Oh, I’m good. I’m good. Yeah, yeah. You know, so I, I, I, I, I don’t believe age really is a number. And I’ll tell you, I’ve worked with a lot of, uh, of the old guard man. I’ve worked with, you know, Carol King and Ringo Star and, you know, the ojs and Mike Levin, Tom Jones. And one thing I can tell you about all these people, the vitality in these people, uh, is significantly, uh, more revved up than any kid I’ve ever met. You know, I mean, if you see Ringo, if you’re in a room with Ringo and he’s digging the idea that we’re writing, he starts pogo up and down, Dude, , it’s like you’re at a rage. Like he reminds you of one those kids who’s done a ton of ecstasy, like he is, he is so incredibly driven and focused and limb, and it’s just so you see that and you think, man, like it never ends. Just, just keep going and, and, and love it and good things happen. Well,

Ari: Sam, so many gems. Uh, so appreciate you coming on and sharing all of this with everyone. I know everyone listening to this, uh, tremendously appreciate. I have one final question that I have asked everyone who comes on the show and what does it mean to you to make it in the new music business?

Sam: Okay. I like that quest. , I would say to make it, it means that you honestly have been seduced by anarchy. You know, , you, you are innately, you are a, a, a disruptor, and you are you, you are entering the stage knowing that. This is insanity. Everything you learned throw out previously because it is shifting and just stay alert, stay focused, and realize most importantly, that there are many lanes to success, and success is no longer, you know, um, something that is as definable as it was. There are a million types of success and there’s a success for you. Everybody can find a home in this thing if you are really put the work in. I’ll give you a perfect example, right. This summer, I, I wrote one of these deaf leopard singles that came out, right? I went to see Def Leppard Play City, Field Let’s a stadium. Mm-hmm. , They killed it. They played the song. When it was over, I went to Spotify. The song has a million streams to. Right. If I do the math and you and I are actually doing the formula, I don’t know if that paid my gas to get out to the stadium as a songwriter, , right? But the flip side is I worked with Def Lepard and I song my song in a stadium. So, and that is what I can wake up in the morning fulfilled by, you know, at the end of the day, find out just inside of you as you go forward in this new music business. You know, keep your eyes open, keep your vision focused, but most importantly, just, just, Figure out what brings you joy in this and what is the ceiling, what the, you know, if you’ve created a ceiling shattered and make a new one and go higher, but no matter what, never, um, never adhere to the, to the lessons of, um, you know, of the industry in the past because it has all been thrown out. It is a brand new game, and they, and most importantly, the gatekeepers no longer hold the power that they did. Some were patrons of the arts back in the day. Many weren’t, you know, many were just capitalists. And the most important thing now is if you two keep like a punk DIY mentality as you approach this, you hold the cards more than they do, and that’s the most powerful feeling in the world. And if I could be 18 again and experience that, oh my, You know, I love it. I’d be Jello Bay Africa.

Ari: Sam Hollander, thank you so much.

Sam: That was great, brother. Thank you so much, man.

About The Author

Ari Herstand
Ari Herstand
Ari Herstand is a Los Angeles based musician, the founder and CEO of Ari’s Take and the author of How to Make It in the New Music Business.

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