Songwriter:  MIKE CAMPBELL

Music Video: “Sit Still, Look Pretty

Mike Campbell is an award-winning, multi-platinum singer/songwriter based in Brooklyn, NY. He is one of the cowriters of the 2014 Grammy Award winning hit “Say Something” (made popular by the duet of A Great Big World and Christina Aguilera). It sold over 6 million copies worldwide—that’s RIAA certified 6x Platinum status. And it won Best Pop Duo/Group Performance in 2015.

Campbell also co-wrote Daya’s hot 2016 Top 40 anthem “Sit Still, Look Pretty,” and he works with New York City Creative Community. NYC3 is holding their fourth annual Music Industry Mixer on June 12, 2017 at The Cutting Room in New York City. It kicks off the celebration to the Songwriters Hall of Fame week of events.

NYC3 was co-founded in early 2014 by two New York City creative professionals Linda Lorence Critelli and Sharon Tapper. “We started this group out of necessity” says Lorence-Critelli, Music Consultant and former VP of SESAC, “and a need to communicate with each other about the changes we were all experiencing in New York.”

NYC3 is a grassroots group of creative professionals in the New York City music publishing industry who have joined forces to revitalize the city’s professional songwriting community. Over 200 creative professionals, including music publishers, managers, songwriters, producers, artists, performing rights organizations and attorneys will attend this invite-only event. Immediately following the mixer will be NYC3’s first Songwriters Showcase featuring fourteen songwriter/artists, including featured performer Mike Campbell.

We talked with Mike Campbell about his passion for songwriting, his creative process, the most recent hit, “Sit Still, Look Pretty,” and the road that elevated him to one of the highly sought-after songwriters of 2017.

Mike Campbell with A Great Big World's Ian Axel & Chad King

Mike Campbell with A Great Big World’s Ian Axel & Chad King

MIKE CAMPBELL Web-Exclusive Interview
with M Music & Musicians magazine publisher, Merlin David

Tell us how you got involved with NYC3.
I’ve been going to the NYC3 mixers for a couple of years, and I actually met my publisher, Reservoir Media, through them. It was at a random mixer where I bumped into one of their A&R, who is my day-to-day, Olivia. One of my friends, Aurora Pfeiffer, is also from Albany, NY. I work with her artists, and she works with NYC3 and with Olivia and Reservoir. It’s great to have an organization in the city that brings people together. I’m always connecting with people. It’s the only thing that can keep New York going. (Laughs)

How did the idea of “Sit Still, Look Pretty” come to you?
I was in Los Angeles for the 2015 BMI Pop Awards for “Say Something.” Pink was the guest of honor that year. I wanted to write while I was out there and my songwriter friend Nisha Asnani connected me with some writer friends: Gino Barletta and Britten Newbill. The session was the day after the awards, and after seeing Pink accept her award and watching a retrospective of all her hits—I was inspired. The next day, I walked into the writing session and said “Hey, we should write something kind of empowering and sassy like Pink.” While singing one of the melodies, the phrase “Sit Still, Look Pretty” came out of my mouth and stuck. Gino was working with Daya, and “Hide Away” was getting traction. And it went from there. Every day there’s an opportunity for something to happen—and it can become something huge.

How so?
Last month, I was at the BMI Pop Awards for “Sit Still, Look Pretty,” and Barbara Cane told that story. That’s exactly how it happened. It was a moment of tapping into something randomly because of an inspiration. I obviously knew Pink’s hits, but when they stacked them all up in the retrospective honoring her, it was so impressive. I thought, “She is just a juggernaut.” I went into my writing session off that little high and that’s where we put our creative energy—into this song. Three months later, Daya cut the song. I think we peaked at number 8 on Pop, and maybe somewhere in the 30s in Hot 100. But to get to that point, you have to clear so many hurdles.

Tell us a little about that process.
When the song got on the EP, we thought it was cool. Then we waited to find out if it would be chosen as the next single—then maybe it’ll go to radio. And then, maybe other stations will pick it up. Then, maybe it’ll start charting. It’s a crazy succession of events. It’s like shooting hoops—and you’re trying to get a chain of hoops together. And it takes a lot of them to get to that “hit” status. But when you write a song, you have no vision of what it will do. I had hopes. (Laughs) I think my hopes were exceeded. But it starts with showing up and writing.

What made you want to write songs?
Growing up in my parents’ home, music was always in my house. They played all sorts of stuff from the 70s, 80s and 90s. I always loved listening, but I didn’t really get into music until fourth grade—after I bombed a music test to get into band. I was miffed, so I signed up for violin—as my way in. In middle school, I became interested in guitar and after I got my first electric, I became obsessed. (Laughs) I joined a band, started writing songs with lyrics and melodies, while secretly falling in love with the pop music on the radio in the late 90s. We used to tape the radio, and I found myself wanting to do what those artists were doing: make songs of my own.

Mike Campbell-3bWhat is your creative process for writing songs?
Writing usually begins before you even get in the room. I live and die by the “Notes” and “Voice Memos” apps on my iPhone. I have a running list of lyrical and melodic ideas I use to start writing. In a session, I like to talk for a while and loosen up before getting into writing. It makes you more comfortable to present your ideas to your cowriters—since opening up in that way makes you feel vulnerable and exposed. Once we all vibe on something, whether it’s a melody or a lyrical concept, I go for the chorus—that’s the part of the song everyone loves. Once we have that down, I like to build it out from there. Sometimes it can take multiple sessions and revisions before a song can be deemed “complete.”

Do you write every day?
I have fits and spurts of creativity—maybe go for a couple of weeks. Then I go out and do something—live life—to fill myself back up. You have to live a little bit before you can write. You keep going and sometimes you run out, and you fill yourself back up. It’s like taking your car to the gas station—you need to live a little before you write again.

Tell us one experience where something unique inspired you to write a song.
I go to the Adirondacks every year with some friends, and we like to free swim to this island in the middle of the lake. I was in the middle of a swim last year—just thinking about the concept of “not being able to touch bottom”—since I literally couldn’t—and how it’s sort of overwhelming and exciting but also a bit scary. I wrote it down and took it into a session where we wrote a song about being head over heels into someone: “I’m falling in deep with you /And I can’t touch the bottom / No I don’t really care / If we ever come up for air.” This is a classic example of how neat it is to see random, erroneous thoughts morph into a song that I like.

What songwriting tip would you like to offer?
Don’t force it. Seriously. In my experience, the most creative mind is an idle mind. Half of my ideas come to me in the shower or when I’m doing something else that isn’t centered on songwriting. I think there can be a lot of pressure to “get it done” in one sitting, but many times the best thing you can do is walk away. It will come.

Who inspired you to write songs?
I was, and remain, a big John Mayer fan. When he put out his first EP Inside Wants Out back in 1999, I was mesmerized. He was playing these songs all by himself on guitar—with the kinds of riffs you actually had to look up a tab to learn. (Laughs) His lyrics were super clever and his melodies were really catchy. I think most guys who play guitar have at some point tried to master Neon, though I can’t say that I have. I just thought it was the coolest thing.

Mike Campbell-1What instruments/equipment can you not live without—that helps you write, record or perform?
I love my Taylor GS Mini—that’s my go-to guitar in my home studio. Since it’s so small and maneuverable, it’s great to curl up on the couch with, and it has a wonderful sound. I also play piano and violin. As far as recording goes, I primarily use an Akai Professional MPK261 as my midi controller, but I also have their LPK25 when I travel. I love my Audio-Technica ATH-M50x headphones—for night work and travel. I probably could not live without those, since they allow my wife to sleep while I work into the night. (Laughs) Lastly, I love my Manley Reference Cardioid Microphone—it delivers vocals that sound just like the radio.

Do you remember the first time you heard one of your songs on the radio?
Yes. The first time I heard “Say Something” publicly, I was at the McCarren Park ice skating rink with my wife—around Christmas. They were playing music on the speakers and “Say Something” came on. It was a surreal feeling of elation—for both of us—that I will never forget. I think I literally went around the rink saying “I wrote this song!”—and no one paid me any mind. (Laughs) There’s something sort of comical knowing that what I was saying was 100% true, but at that time, also seemed absurd to me that this song I helped write was on the radio.

What PRO are you with?
I am a proud member of BMI. They have been beyond good to me. They’ve been a source of support and guidance in my career—from talking me through publishing, to setting up sessions and putting me in songwriting camps, to just being great people to talk with and be around. I love them. Thanks, BMI.

Top 5 Musicians who continue to inspire you.
I mentioned John Mayer before. I was also really inspired by Rob Thomas [Matchbox Twenty]—he was a big early influence. In my parents’ home, Carole King and James Taylor were played liberally, and they’re both titans of songwriting and artistry. I also love film scores. I used to transcribe John Williams’ scores in Finale. I think I had a lot of time on my hands back then. (Laughs)

What are your Top 5 favorite albums of all time?
Dark Side of the Moon (1973)—Pink Floyd
Yourself or Someone Like You (1996)—Matchbox Twenty
Heavier Things (2003)—John Mayer
Songs about Jane (2002)—Maroon 5
Bon Iver (2011)—Bon Iver

Mike CampbellBest advice you’d like to give.
I’m sort of convinced that “success” is something that happens when you are not looking. It can be hard to accept—because on some level, we all want to be successful in what we do, and we’d love for it to be something we can summon. But in music, I think success happens when you block out what might happen in the future and just surrender to the present moment—whether it’s a session or experience. This is something you have to do over and over again—kind of like meditation. I feel this when I’m fully immersed in my work for several days in a row—exhausting as it may be. In that “meditative” state, the big idea or the big song has a better chance of coming because you’re less tied to the outcome. And honesty—talk about things that real to you. Don’t be concerned with what might happen next. Keep doing it, and know that anything is possible.

Where can your new fans get more info and stay updated? (my publisher)

In the coming weeks, we’ll post another interview with Mike Campbell—where he talks more about songwriting, his creative process and details about his Grammy-winning hit, “Say Something.”

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