Diane Warren : An Overall Songwriter
As American Songwriter‘s overall songwriter of the year, honoree Diane Warren adds another accolade to a long list of accomplishments that defines her as the most successful pop singer/songwriter of our generation. Warren penned the Celine Dion hit “Because You Loved Me,” which is this year’s winner in the pop and overall song of the year categories in AS‘s annual awards issue. The song topped the Billboard Adult Contemporary Chart for an unprecedented 19 weeks and the Billboard Hot 100 airplay chart for 14 weeks.
Warren’s list of credits is impressive, reading like a who’s who of pop music. She has written more than 75 top ten hits. Among her most popular cuts are Toni Braxton’s “Unbreak My Heart,” Gloria Estefan’s “Reach” (which was the official song for the 1996 Olympics), Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time,” Ace of Base’s “Don’t Turn Around,” Kathy Troccoli’s “Everything Changes,” Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” and several Michael Bolton hits including “How Can We Be Lovers,” and “Time, Love and Tenderness.”
Her songs have been included in numerous movies including For The Boys, The Specialist, Tap, Free Willy 2, The Associate, While You Were Sleeping, and Only You. Most recently she’s had tunes recorded for Space Jam and The Preacher’s Wife, which includes Whitney Houston singing the Warren composition “You Are Loved.”
Warren’s songs have contributed to the sale of over 125,000,000 collective units, among them 50 platinum selling albums. She was the first songwriter in the history of Billboard magazine to have seven hits, all by different artists, on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart. She’s the only female songwriter to be named ASCAP’s songwriter of the year three times (1990, 1991, 1993). She has also won ASCAP’s Voice Of Music Award. She’s been named Billboard’s Songwriter of the Year twice, and won the National Academy of Songwriters’ 1996 Songwriter of the Year Award.
US Air, Delta, and United Airlines have devoted in-flight channels to the music of Diane Warren. Passengers can choose from two hits collection, Completely Diane Warren, An Anthology of Music, or Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now and the Hits of Diane Warren.
Such impressive credits are the result of a lifetime devoted to the craft of songwriting. A native of Van Nuys, CA, Warren began writing songs when she was 11. The fact that a guitar teacher told her she was tone deaf didn’t dampen her drive, and she says by the time she was 14 she was writing three songs a day and was very serious about her chosen career.
Where did the aspiring tunesmith learn about crafting a song? “I think by listening to the radio my whole life, you know kind of soaking in song structure,” she says. “I grew up from the time I was a baby, listening to music, just working at it. I didn’t really have a songwriting teacher. I just learned, I just listened to the radio. That was my teacher.”
Like all young songwriters, Warren began the process of sending tapes to publishers and trying to get her songs cut “In the beginning it’s hard to get anyone to take you seriously, if you don’t have a track record. I struggled,” she says. “I called people who didn’t call me back. I knocked on doors that nobody answered, but that’s the way it is. If you believe in yourself and what you do, that’s not going to hold you back.”
Her first big break came in 1982 when Laura Branigan had a hit with Warren’s tune “Solitaire.” “Laura was my first [cut],” she says. “I had some Japanese artists do some of my songs, but Laura was the first artist to start cutting my songs. That’s when she started doing real well. So that was kind of a break for me. Up until then I wasn’t really making much money doing it. Then when DeBarge did “Rhythm of the Night,” that really solidified it. That was the first hit that I wrote all by myself that was a big hit all over the world.”
In the years since that big hit, not only has Warren amassed an incredible number of cuts as a songwriter, she’s also developed REALSONGS, one of the most successful publishing companies in the industry and widely respected as the top publishing company operated by a female publisher. She says she started the company out of necessity. “I became my own publisher because I was in a lawsuit and I couldn’t sign with anybody,” she recalls. “That kind of forced me to own my own publishing company, because no one was allowed to sign me or else they would have become part of the lawsuit. So the whole publishing company started by accident pretty much.”
Warren is the company’s only songwriter. “[There are] no other writers,” she says. “I don’t have the desire to sign anybody else. That’s not what I’m in this for.”
Warren is also not in the business to be an artist. Though many, if not most, songwriters also aspire to perform their own tunes, Warren says she’s not at all interested in being an artist, a fact she says surprises most people. “They want to do that record, and they want to be an artist,” Warren says of other songwriter’s artist aspirations. “I never did. I was always into writing songs. I never had any remote desire to be an artist.”
One advantage that artists do have is that through performing live, they have an opportunity to see the impact that songs have on the audience. Warren admits she rarely gets feedback. “I don’t walk down the street and people come up to me and say ‘I love your songs.’ They don’t really know who I am,” she says. “But some artists will send me letters they get, and [in the letters] they’ll be talking about how a song saved their live or something, or touched them when they were going through a rough time. I remember a song I wrote fro Michael Bolton, “When I’m Back on My Feet Again,” someone literally said it saved their life. They were suicidal, and when they heard the song, it gave them strength. What more can you ask for than to have a song do something like that. It’s pretty cool. It really feels good because I sit alone in a room. I don’t know the effect my songs have, but they really touch people, if they come from the heart. They really can do a lot of good for people.”
Warren is a very personable, professional interview. Her answers are very direct and she minces few words, seemingly preferring to let her songs speak for themselves. When asked just how she keeps churning out such an impressive catalog, she replies, “I spend twelve to fourteen hour days in my office, not every second writing, but most of the time the writing.”
As to how she begins a tune there is no set pattern or approach. “It’s always very different,” she says. “but it helps to have a title, something to compel you to write the song.”
Though she has co-written from time to time, most frequently with Michael Bolton, Warren says she prefers to write alone. “I really don’t like to co-write,” she says. “It’s not what I do. I think my best songs are the ones I write by myself. The most success I’ve had is with songs I wrote myself. They just mean more to me.”
Even though she writes from an observational stance most of the time, she says there’s always a little bit of the songwriter’s own life in every song. “Part of who you are is going to come into the song,” she says. “I wrote “Because You Loved Me” for the movie Up Close And Personal, but I was thinking about my father who passed away nine years ago. Even though it wasn’t written about my Dad, emotionally, part of the time in that song, I was there. Part of you can’t help but come through in what you are writing.
“Emotions are universal. If something touches me, makes me cry or something, then hopefully it will have that effect on other people. I try to write stuff that I would want to hear.”
Warren says that the demos she records are pretty much finished records. She likes it when producers copy her demos, but admits on the whole, writers don’t have a lot of control over how the song is cut. “The artist can interpret it how they want to,” she says. “I’m not the producer. So it’s frustrating. Sometimes some producers and artists like me to be there, which is great, and then I can put my two cents in. But, by and large, I don’t have control. So it’s like sending your kids out into the world and hoping they are okay.”
Warren admits she really doesn’t aspire to being a producer. “I don’t want to sit in the studio for three days getting snare sounds,” she confesses. “I’ve co-produced on a couple of Cher things, but I’m more of an executive producer and I’m pretty good at that. I know what’s right or wrong with a record. I get into more of that. As for the nuts and bolts of producing a record, it’s not really what I want to do, except for the vocals. I like doing vocals.”
But ultimately what Diane Warren loves most and is best at is writing songs. “It’s not a business,” she says. “It’s my love and my life. It’s like breathing, you know. I’m still as enthusiastic as I ever was. I haven’t lost the enthusiasm. I just keep doing it, keep writing songs.”