If there’s one takeaway for the hundreds of ASCAP Expo attendees who sat for a Saturday afternoon panel featuring Ariana Grande’s “songwriting dream team” of Tommy Brown, Victoria Monet and Social House, it’s that the craft of making hits takes time, tenacity and sacrifice. In the case of Social House member Mikey Foster, he recently calculated that over 10 years of writing songs, he earned, on average, 24 cents an hour.
The reveal was a moment that elicited an audible gasp from the assembled, as if realizing for the first time the long road they’re facing. Of course, that’s exactly the purpose of the PRO’s annual confab, which offers a three-day crash course in everything from publishing to syncs to recording. In its more than 13 years in existence, the ASCAP “I Create Music” Expo has become a must-attend event for those looking to make their first forays into the music business, particularly on the creative side.
What it won’t teach you, however, is how to find that artist “who you vibe with.” As Monet explained, her friendship with Grande goes as far back as Nickelodeon’s “Victorious.” And as Brown elaborated, the songwriters endured years of “album cuts” without scoring the essential single — the song that gets the biggest push.
That’s not for lack of trying, but the elusive hit would not come until the latest Grande album. “Thank U, Next,” the song, “came like popcorn,” said Monet of the catch phrase, a favorite of Grande’s particularly when she delivered it “in a Joan Crawford voice,” she demonstrated to panel moderator and music video director Hannah Lux Davis.
Similarly, “7 Rings” came as a result of a trip by Grande to Tiffany’s. Returning with diamond rings for her seven collaborators, which she purchased as a surprise, Social House’s Scootie Anderson recalled: “Ariana was, like, ‘We should do something like the Sound of Music, but, like not.'” He also noted that an unidentified industry person said “those chords wouldn’t work on the radio.”
But did they ever. In addition to being a No. 1 for multiple weeks on multiple charts, the song ended up an empowerment anthem, with the sultry refrain “I want it, I got it” signaling that a material girl can be of her own making.
Ultimately, the magic of a Grande hit comes to being comfortable with each other. Said Monet: “It’s about being observant and empathetic enough to relate to what they’re feeling.” And “too much champagne” doesn’t hurt, cracked Brown, who recently launched his own boutique label through Universal Music Group called Champagne Therapy Music Group.
Other sage advice offered onstage: “Ignore the brief and do you,” said Monet in response to nonsensical requests for particular sounds (like: “2 Chainz meets Adele”). She also encouraged that songwriters read their contracts. Particularly when it comes to signing away publishing rights, “People go hard with the scams,” she said. “Make sure you know who you’re working with and what the contract says.”