Told by her guitar teacher she was tone deaf, Diane Warren has matured to become one of the most prolific and popular songwriters of her generation.
Just this past September, she had three songs in Billboard’s top five adult contemporary at the same time — “Blue Eyes Blue” performed by Eric Clapton from “Runaway Bride,” “I Could Not Ask For More” performed by Edwin McCain from “Message in a Bottle” and “Music Of My Heart” performed by Gloria Estefan from “Music of the Heart.” A sampling of the other films in which her songs were featured in 1999 includes “Notting Hill,” “Detroit Rock City” and “Stuart Little.” Not bad for a California girl who grew up in Van Nuys listening to top-40 radio.
In terms of movies, Warren says she never really thought about writing for the screen. “It wasn’t like as a little kid I aspired to write songs for movies, but I do think of my songs visually, almost like mini-movies.”
And film had a definite early impact on what she listened to. “‘A Hard Day’s Night’ (1964) was the one that really taught me how songs and film worked,” says Warren. “(It also) taught me how to run out and buy the soundtrack.”
With those inspirations, Warren wrote her own songs from age 11, practicing and practicing over and over on a guitar bought by her father. Now in her early 40s, her work ethic is just as fierce.
“God forbid you call her if she’s working,” exclaims Kathy Nelson, president of music for the Buena Vista Motion Picture Group, a close friend who worked with Warren on “Up Close and Personal” (1996), “Con Air” (1997), and Armageddon (1998). “She goes to work everyday at 8:30 a.m. She’s dedicated almost to the verge of obsession” Nelson says. Warren’s early determination was boosted by her late father, who took her to meet producers and publishers when she was still only 15. Warren is the first to admit that she “bugged everybody,” to the extent of throwing a tape of one of her songs on stage when Johnny Rivers was playing at Disneyland.
The big break
Her break finally came in 1982 when Warren scored a job writing for a producer named Jack White, who was working with Laura Branigan. Given the job of coming up with English lyrics for a French song, Warren wrote “Solitaire.” The song went top-10 and put her on a roll that hasn’t stopped since.
In 1985, Warren began her relationship with Hollywood when DeBarge recorded “Rhythm of the Night” for “The Last Dragon” soundtrack. The song went to No. 1 on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart and garnered Warren the first of many Golden Globe noms.
That’s when the Industry started to listen. It’s stayed listening as the songs in Warren’s huge eclectic catalog have become chartbusters, award-winners and mainstays of Hollywood’s biggest hits.
In 1997 alone, her “Because You Loved Me” from Touchstone’s “Up Close and Personal” performed by Celine Dion stayed at No. 1 for 19 weeks on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart, while “For You I Will” performed by Monica for Warner’s “Space Jam” went platinum.
Outside the film world that year, Warren was just about the biggest in the songwriting biz, as Leann Rimes’ version of her “How Do I Live” was the No. 1 Country single sold, and went double platinum. As if that weren’t enough, Toni Braxton’s rendition of “Un-Break My Heart” also went double platinum, stayed at No. 1 on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary Chart for 14 weeks and won Braxton a Grammy.
“Why is she so good?’ That’s like asking ‘Why is Van Gogh such a good painter?'” enthuses Nelson. “She has a gift.”
Nelson says she’s most impressed by Warren’s consistent ability to come through with exactly the song a movie needs. “Many songwriters can’t design to what’s needed, but she really can. I don’t think she would know how to write a song which is not a success.” Producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who — on Nelson’s recommendation — hired Warren to write songs for his hit movies “Con Air” (1997) and “Armageddon” (1998), is also very impressed with how the songwriter can so quickly come up with songs that “have unique emotions and very strong melodies.”
Those same emotions and melodies got “Armageddon’s” “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” noms at both the Grammies and Oscars last year, and also allowed the song to cross over as a No. 1 Country single when Mark Chesnutt recorded it.
Bruckheimer’s faith in Warren’s ability to find the core emotion in any story is such that he will use her songs in a many of his upcoming films, including the crime drama “Gone in Sixty Seconds,” starring Nicolas Cage, the romantic comedy “Coyote Ugly” and the epic “Pearl Harbor.”
Music industry kudos
Outside the film industry, for the last half decade Warren has been ASCAP Songwriter of the Year, her work played and performed more than anyone else. “She seems to know what people are feeling and thinking and can express that” says Karen Sherry, ASCAP senior VP of Industry Affairs. “Her work is so diverse and eclectic, but there is a commonality which reaches out to touch and speak to people” says Sherry, who remembers first meeting Warren many years ago at an ASCAP Foundation songwriters’ workshop.
“She stood out then in terms of talent, originality and commitment” says Nelson, who also mentions the “remarkable focus and discipline” which has enabled Warren to become one of today’s most successful songwriters.
Another admirer is music mogul and Arista Records chairman Clive Davis, who’s reaped the fruits of Warren’s talents with label artists Braxton, Whitney Houston and Deborah Cox.
Davis says simply: “Diane Warren represents contemporary songwriting at its very best. She’s at the peak of her powers right now, and I and so many of our artists are all in her debt.”