DIANE WARREN: Real Songs for Real People
“I grew up in the 1960s in southern California listening to Top 40 radio,” Diane Warren says. “By the time I was seven, I knew I wanted to be a songwriter. I didn’t even know what a songwriter was, but I wanted that word ‘songwriter’ by my name.”
Mission decidedly accomplished. In fact, Warren is arguably the most successful contemporary pop songwriter working today. The San Fernando Valley native first hit the Billboard pop charts in 1983, when Laura Branigan took her “Solitaire” into the Top 10. It’s unlikely that Warren, who has charted more than 100 songs since, could’ve imagined the heights she would reach; consider if you will just four of her songs: DeBarge’s “Rhythm of the Night,” Milli Vanilli’s “Blame It On the Rain,” Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time” and Toni Braxton’s “Un-break My Heart.”
The range of artists who have cut her songs is even more astonishing-Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, KISS, LeAnn Rimes, Joe Cocker, The Pet Shop Boys, Britney Spears, The Scorpions, Whitney Houston, Belinda Carlisle, Reba McEntire, Eric Clapton and Natalie Cole. Talk about diversity. If that abbreviated list doesn’t prove Warren’s limitless appeal, here’s another to add to it: Meat Loaf, Cyndi Lauper, Gladys Knight and Bryan Adams.
A run-down of her accolades suggests that Warren’s most successful collaborations have been for soundtracks. Three of her more familiar, Oscar-nominated tunes include Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want To Miss a Thing” (from Armageddon, also charted by country artist Mark Chesnutt), Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” (Mannequin) and Faith Hill’s “There You’ll Be” (Pearl Harbor). She has been nominated for a total of nine Grammy Awards, six Academy Awards and four Golden Globes. If Diane Warren needed absolute proof that she’s accomplished her childhood goal, her 2001 induction into the Songwriting Hall of Fame should have provided it. Her star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame only enforces the evidence.
Who influenced you as an aspiring songwriter?
I grew up in such a great, classic time for songwriting. I listened to The Beatles, my parents playing show tune albums, Motown…I listened to the radio, and at that time it wasn’t fragmented the way it is today when you only hear one type of music. You heard The Beatles and Frank Sinatra and Motown and all the hits of the day. The ‘60s was clearly a golden age of songwriting.
Let’s talk about the songwriting discipline. You write every day and never travel without a keyboard?
It’s hard to get the piano on the plane, you know [laughs]. I’m going to New York in a few days, and I’ll have a keyboard put in my hotel room because I have to work. I’ve always been self-disciplined-a self-starter. Until I found songwriting, I was such a fuck-off. I was kicked out of a lot of schools, and I just didn’t care about anything. But when I really got into music, the discipline was just there. No one had to tell me to work hard…I wanted to be great and really learn my craft.
Where do your songs come from-out of thin air or from that discipline?
I believe both. I mean, the ideas come to you, but you also have to work at it. I would say it’s like being an athlete; you really have to build your muscles. In songwriting, it is mental muscles and musical muscles, and you have to constantly keep up and work at it. Sure, there has to be inspiration, but a lot of it is just hard work. I usually get to the office pretty early, around 8:15. Morning’s my best time to write. I write throughout the day, but I’m not a night person. I don’t write much at night. One song at a time, though-they become too schizophrenic if I work on more than one.
What draws you to ballads?
Melodies. I love melodies. I love writing songs for singers and hearing them sing my melodies. I don’t just write ballads, but I’m definitely known for them.
Do you feel that melody is the most important part of a song, then, or can it be the lyric?
Both. They have to be important together and they have to work together. I mean, if a song has a good melody and shit lyrics, it’s a shit song. Same with a great lyric and a shit melody; that’s just not a good song. It’s missing. It’s not right. That’s just not a song yet.
How do you define a great song?
Boy, you feel it, don’t you? I guess it’s subjective, but there are certain songs that you can’t deny. It’s like a great movie. It’s a perfect balance of art and craft and emotion. It makes you feel something.