James Bryan has a preferred method in his collaborations. “Most of my success and excitement comes from working directly with a singer-songwriter with their own vision and something to say,” he explains. “It feels more authentic when you have personal conversations with the artist about what they want to express. That gets me motivated.”
Both Bryan and Jon Levine have had major success with female artists. Bryan co-wrote and co-produced songs on Nelly Furtado’s 2009 Grammy-winning album Mi Plan. He’s also co-written songs for Divine Brown (he wrote, played on and produced her hit “Old Skool Love”), Lisa-Marie Presley, Malaysian star Yuna, and many others. Levine has similarly co-written songs for Furtado, Fefe Dobson, Kreesha Turner, Anjulie and Serena Ryder (including her breakthrough album Harmony).
So are these guys in touch with their feminine sides? “I do practise yoga regularly,” laughs Bryan. “Eighty per cent of the music I’ve always loved listening to is female singers. Also, once you have success in one particular area, people see that as your calling card.”
Both Bryan and Levine signed publishing deals with Sony/ATV Music Publishing in Canada from the early days of Philosopher Kings, an ongoing relationship. Both are now based outside Canada (Bryan in London, Levine in L.A.), so many of the work leads they get come from other connections.
“My L.A. manager goes out and gets drunk with the industry here regularly,” jokes Levine. “It’s an incestuous scene, and stuff comes from him forcing me into situations I’d normally be a little reluctant about.”
Bryan doesn’t have to leave his London building for work to find him. Since 2010, he’s operated out of Kensaltown Studios, a bustling creative hub founded by songwriter/producer Martin Terefe. Recent credits include co-writing songs for Lisa Marie Presley, Backstreet Boys, Yuna, Jessie J, Jason Mraz and Olly Murs. He’s been working with Canadian artists too, including Lesley Pike, Nikki Yanofsky, Divine Brown, and Lowell.
In L.A., Levine has been working with such international artists as Leona Lewis and Hudson Taylor, and was recently a music producer on X-Factor. He sees songwriting and producing as interwoven.
“It’s almost 100 per cent now that everything I’ve written, I’ve produced too,” he says. “In my mind, writing for someone else is similar to production anyway. You’re trying to realize someone’s vision. You always need that hat on.”
Other songwriting hit-makers
Behind the scenes only:
- Boi 1-Da (Drake, Jay-Z)
- Simon Wilcox (Three Days Grace, The Trews),
- Tebey Ottoh (Big & Rich, Pixie Lott)
- Thomas “Tawgs” Salter (Josh Groban, Lights)
- Chin Injeti (Dr. Dre, 50 Cent)
- Brian West (Maroon 5, AWOLNation)
- Gerald Eaton (K’NAAN, Furtado)
- Gordie Sampson (Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban)
- Nasri Atweh (Christina Aguilera, Justin Bieber)
- Adam Messinger (Bieber, Chris Brown)
Maintaining solo careers as well:
- Chantal Kreviazuk (Avril Lavigne, Kelly Clarkson, Groban)
- Raine Maida (Clarkson, Underwood)
- Stephan Moccio (Céline Dion, Yanofsky)
Given space constraints, it was not possible to mention all of the SOCAN members who have written “behind the scenes” for hit songs by high-profile artists.