Interview with Brad McKinney, songwriter

by GSC Reporter, Daniel Reifsnyder

Brad McKinneyDan Reifsnyder: Tell us a little bit about yourself!

Brad McKinney: Well, I’m originally from Hyden, KY. Nobody knows where it is, but I always say it’s next to the city of Hazard.

DR: Oh, like where the Dukes of Hazard are from?

BM: Exactly! It’s a very, very small town, a population of about 500.  All my family is from there, we all lived in the same holler. In the mid 90’s I moved to Richmond, which is more central KY. I also started my day job in technology.

DR: What kind of technology?

BM: I’m a network engineer. I travel and work with school systems all over the state. So, I’ve got that during the day and then I’ve got the full-time job of songwriting. I try to write 4 or 5 times a week. It’s hard to find time for myself and my family and that balance. But I just try to make it work.

DR: So how did you get into music?

BM: Well, I had a very musical extended family. My uncle was a Grammy nominated songwriter in the Bluegrass genre. He wrote “Lefty’s Old Guitar” by J.D. Crowe. He and some uncles and cousins were in a Bluegrass band, so every family gathering there was always music. I never thought that’s who I was – I loved music and loved to sing but it wasn’t until 2013 that some friends said, “Maybe you should look into doing this in some capacity.” So, I thought “I wonder if I can write a song.” I sat down and wrote a song…it wasn’t great. Then I wrote another one and it was a little better. And then another one. And then another. The second song I wrote was recommended for the NSAI Publisher’s Luncheon and the third song got me onto the NSAI Ones to Watch list. I thought “This is easy!” But it’s not. *laugh* I just managed to catch some very very small bolts of lightning in a bottle. I was lucky enough to find GSC, and Songtown, and they’ve helped me to refine my writing skills. I discovered co-writing, and I love that. We’ve all got strengths, we’ve all got weaknesses, and that’s where I started to really write better songs – paired with other people whose strengths complemented my weaknesses. My only goal is to write quality songs and write more songs than I did last year.

DR: So, is Bluegrass one of your songwriting influences?

BM: It’s really not, as much as I hate to say it, sorry Uncle Dave. I was a hair band guy. Give me Def Leppard, Bon Jovi. Give me Poison. I didn’t even really discover Country until the 90’s. Then when I did, it was like home. Tim McGraw, Garth. Clint Black. Alan Jackson. It all just clicked.

DR: Do you consider yourself an artist as well as a writer?

BM: I consider myself more of a writer. I do release stuff from time to time but it’s more of a vanity project. I just want to get some music out while I can. The songs I end up releasing are usually solo writes or songs that fall through the cracks with publishers. My last release was December 2020, and I’ll probably release another song next year. My main goal is to be a writer.

DR: That’s great! What are some of your big dream board goals?

BM: Well, probably like most other people, major label holds and cuts. Staff writing deal. Sync placements. I’m a wine guy, I like a good Cabernet. My Cab of choice is Caymus – it’s not cheap, but it’s not on the very top end. It’s like $100 a bottle. So, I went out and got out a bottle. That’s my celebratory drink. When I have a success – staff writing deal, major label cut, I’ll crack it open. I can’t open it if it’s an indie cut or catalog placement or something. So far, I’ve not gotten to open it, but every day I walk by it and I think “What can I do today to help me crack that bottle?”

DR: Cabernet is for closers!

BM: There ya go!

DR: How did you get involved with GSC?

BM: I discovered GSC early on. When I first started writing I just tried to jump in and find as many organizations as I could. The problem was I didn’t really take advantage of everything Sheree had to offer. What I did – and what I thought you were supposed to do – was just demo everything. And I had these songs, and they weren’t terrible, but they were not door opening songs by any stretch. All I was doing with GSC early on was just pitching my songs. I didn’t really do anything else for a long time, but in 2020 I started back in with Sheree more seriously. She welcomed me in with open arms, and I knew that this is a person that really cares. She may legitimately be the nicest person I have ever met. She truly cares about the people she’s working with.

DR: I agree. I think she really walks beside the songwriters as they go through things.

BM: Yeah! You can kinda sense that when you talk to her. I knew immediately that this is the person that’s gonna help me. She’s gonna do everything she can to help.

DR: That’s Sheree! Do you have any projects coming up you want to talk about?

BM: I have a couple outside indie cuts. One with Matthew Wayne – he’s an up and comer. His most recent release has been added to a lot of Spotify playlists. I wrote that with Leslie Bowe and Kelly McKay. Then I’ve got two cuts coming out with a Norwegian artist named Tor Evanson. I wrote those with Bill O’Hanlon, Michelle Canning, Leslie Bowe and Kelly McKay. I had a catalog placement with Crucial Music the other day, too. I also won the Rising Star award from Songtown!

DR: Very cool!

BM: Yeah! The cool thing about that is that its peer voted. It wasn’t even a matter of a checked box, it was a write in. So, people had to take the time and effort to write me in. It’s amazing to be recognized by your peers. It was totally and completely unexpected!

DR: Nice! That’s amazing! I think that about wraps us up. Thanks for sitting down and talking today!

BM: Thanks!

Interview with Carrie Cunningham, Artist Writer

by GSC Reporter, Daniel Reifsnyder

Carrie CunninghamDan Reifsnyder: How did you get started in music?

Carrie Cunningham: I’m going to just word vomit and give you a brief history of my life and we can go from there. Music was kind of like a life-saver for me growing up. I had a very abusive childhood. I got a clock radio for my 8th birthday, and I would go to bed listening to music all night long. There was one night when I was laying in bed and I heard the song “Maneater” come on the radio. I’m lying there, and in my mind I just saw this dark scene of this woman attacking men. And she turned into a tiger! I just found this fascinating…this song created this in my mind! The song really resonated with me because I was being abused by my babysitter. Next thing you know, I started watching Hee-Haw, and then Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell sisters. Barbara was amazing in how she could sing, and act, and the whole stage performance. I grew up thinking I want to be an entertainer just like Barbara Mandrell, and I wanted to create music just like “Maneater.” And then I bought “Born In The U.S.A.” with my birthday money – it was my very first cassette tape, and I had it in my walkman. I just remember sitting in Nebraska on my front porch and listening to “Born In The U.S.A.” and “I’m On Fire”. It just started snowballing for me, and music became a way out. More things started happening mentally and physically with abuse and music was a way to keep me focused and keep me going since I was 8. I did choir through Junior High and High School…and it wasn’t until I was a Senior in High School and my choir went to Washington State University for their music program. I already had in my brain that I wasn’t going to even go to school because I’m dumb, I’m worthless, and there’s no way a school would accept me. So we went to the auditorium for this program and out comes this a capella group singing “Africa” by Toto, Pentatonix style. This was back in 1993! The only person I knew back then doing that kind of vocal percussion style was Bobby MacFerrin. I lost it! I was like “What! I’m coming here, I have to be part of this group! Maybe I will pursue music as a career!” And of course, I couldn’t afford to go there, not even to drive for the audition. But my choir teacher knew that I couldn’t afford to go, let alone that my parents wouldn’t even take me. So he brought the choir director to me! He auditioned me in my choir teacher’s office. I got a call about a week later with him saying that I did wonderful and he’d like to offer me a vocal scholarship to Washington State! The evil step mom said no I wasn’t allowed to go. So I shifted gears and went to community college which turned out to be really great – I went to Hawaii, won awards with our group there. And I started working on developing this duo and starting singing…I was known as the next Shania Twain from all the radio stations that were promoting me, of course this was back when Garth and Shania were huge. So I’m like “Oh yeah, I’m the next Shania Twain! Woo!” Then I got married and wanted to move to Nashville…my ex-husband said “yes” until we got married and then he said “no.” So I continued to perform locally until 2003. He was making it really tough on me and me working at a software company was driving me mad. So I went back to school for audio engineering in Seattle. During this time I had two kids, so I would go to school, work at a store afterwards to pay for my rent, drive to Spokane from Seattle in the middle of the night on Fridays, to go visit my kids and also intern at a casino for their AV dept . During that time at school, I ended up meeting the label rep for Divulge records, so I was on their label from 2005-2011, all the while working as a lead sound engineer at the casino…just tell me when to stop ‘cuz I’ll keep going!

DR: No, this is good!

CC: Well, just when things were going good, my husband’s job as a US Marshal moved us down to Portland so I had to start all over. Finding a new AV job and building up a new fan base. A few months into Portland life, I found NSAI and left my husband. Two great things lol. In 2008 I became the NSAI coordinator for Portland until 2017 when my current husband’s job transferred us out here to California. In the Northwest I had been known as the go-to girl. I had opened up for over 50 national acts, all different ranges. From Chick Correa – who was the first person I shared a stage with! – to Collective Soul to Charlie Daniels, Sugarland, Diamond Rio, Kacey Musgraves… numerous country artists. When I moved down to California everything dried up. I wasn’t getting as many gigs and I couldn’t get a California band, so I had to keep using musicians from Nashville and the NW. Come November of 2018, I started having this breakdown. I left all the songwriting groups I was part of, became a person I didn’t like, and tried to just drive a wedge into everything I had loved. It wasn’t until I went to a dreamseekers event with Cathy Heller where I met my fear. After a few days of cleansing and getting to know the real Carrie, I was broken down even more. One night I called out to the universe and asked what I was going to do with my life. It was then when I heard my Grandfather whisper in my ear “Auctioneering, Carrie!”

DR: Wow!

CC: And I’m like “Yeah, why not?” The one thing I knew about myself is I have always been a helper. Many people say I help too much. I give away the farm with no money in return. It’s true. I’m working on that. Anyway, all the pieces started falling together. My grandfather was a cattle auctioneer, my great-grandfather was a cattle auctioneer. My grandfather, in WWII was selling war bonds, and he was able to auction off a blanket for $800 in 1942!

DR: Wow!

CC: I’m assuming that’s where I got my entertainment bug from, my grandfather. I knew that if I wanted to be on stage after my last tour of 2019, and still be able to touch lives as a helper, or even a healer for that matter, this was going to be my pivot.

So I went back to school – Mason City, Iowa to Worldwide College of Auctioneering. I’m with all these other cattle auctioneers and there were like 13 girls and about 50 men. So we’re there putting in rigorous hours doing this training. Like 12, 16 hours a day. By the time I was done I was certified as a Professional Colonel – when you go through auctioneering school, that’s what you’re called, a Colonel. I also got certified as a bi-lingual auctioneer, so I went through for Spanish and English. Then when I got through the process I decided I was gonna become a benefit auctioneer. In my heart of hearts, when I was singing up in Washington, I was still trying to give back to the kid I never got to be. The latchkey kid, or the kid that was being abused. I had already been a volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters for many years…I became a CASA which is a Court Appointed Special Advocate, which is the voice of a child in the court system. I was also part of the Lunch Buddy Program and Read Across America, and it made the decision easy when I decided to be a benefit auctioneer.

DR: Right.

CC: So that leads me up to right now where 2020 hit and it was a perfect moment because I was able to pivot. I started working on making sure everything was right with my publishing, and I wanted to become the liaison between the music business and the auctioneering world. These auctions were starting to go virtual because we couldn’t get together. But they were putting these events on over the internet and putting on unlicensed music and getting in trouble. That’s where I saw my window of being in the music world for over 20 years and being an asset in the auctioneering world. So that’s where I am right now! I have spent the last 8 months digging deep into building my brand as It shows me as an artist, my publishing side and also my auctioneering side. They all work really well together, or at least I work really well as the voice between the two worlds. It’s my niche. I also decided to make an album vs EPs. The new album is called “Showgirl” and I’m super excited.

DR: That is the most comprehensive answer I think I’ve ever gotten! That’s awesome!

CC: Thank you!

DR: Who are your musical influences?

CC: Well. That goes back. Starting off with Barbara Mandrell, and then Reba as far as stage performance goes. I was also heavily influenced by Diana Ross and the Supremes. Donna Summer and Lou Rawls, the Motown and the Disco scene, The BeeGees. Gretchen Peters as a songwriter! She was the first songwriter I knew or knew about. I fell in love with her in the 90’s…she was one of the reasons I felt like I needed to start writing. Patty Loveless is a huge component too. “Blame It On Your Heart” was the first song I sang in a Country competition. Her voice is so rich! She was able to cross over with Country music and Bluegrass – Mountain Soul and Mountain Soul 2 are two of the best albums out there. They’re so good! And Carl Jackson, he’s huge in the Bluegrass and Country world for being a producer and songwriter. I’ve known him and Sherrill Blackman since 2008 and their separate guidance over the years has helped me so much. There’s actually a ton of mentors over the years thanks to Nashville and just getting out there and networking. I don’t want to start naming people because I’m gonna forget somebody and next thing you know I’m in trouble! More recently, I’d say I like Old Dominion and Midland as far as music goes, but songwriters….geez, too many to name.

DR: Nice. How did you come to GSC?

CC: Well, like I said earlier I became the NSAI coordinator for Portland back in 2008, and Sheree was our mentor. She was our cheerleader for all the coordinators. So once everything started to fall apart, I stuck with her and I really loved her drive and determination. She’s infectious!

DR: She is!!

CC: Her and Debbie Cochran are awesome. And Trish Matthews!

DR: They all are wonderful! What are some songs you wish you’d written?

CC: I like some of the stuff Ingrid Andress is doing. I like her song “Lady Like” I think it’s so creative. “More Hearts Than Mine”would probably be the number one song I’d say I wish I’d written. I heard it the first time and I made my daughter listen to it as we were driving in the car. She looks at me and says “Mom! This is our song!” and I’m like “I know! Why didn’t I write this?” I fall in love with anybody my daughter brings home, even if she doesn’t. Im turning into a hopeless romantic. There are many more but that one resonates the most.

DR: And you talked a little bit about your projects…tell me some more about Showgirl.

CC: Showgirl really was a concept as I was driving home in 2019. Being the artist, I was the truck driver, hauling gear and musicians in my truck. We had just finished a tour that had us up in Washington, Oregon, North Dakota, Colorado. Doing this big loop. And we had just gotten home from the Pendleton Roundup, which was grueling – it was four shows a day for five days! I was driving home and I’m in Northern California thinking “I’m not gonna do this anymore” because I had just finished Auctioneering school and knew this was my last gig. So I started coming up with these words. “In fourteen miles I’ll have seven hundred more to go/I can’t wait til I climb out of these miles I’m wearing/at least until I’m back out on the road” and I was like “Yeah, I’ll always be a showgirl.” I grew up listening to Motown and Disco and Classic Rock and Country and I was influenced by all of it! And as I was thinking about this album I thought I’m not going to make this album be straight up Country – I’m going to take all those influences and put it in this album.

DR: Very cool. Where can people hear your album?

CC: Well right now, releases are by singles, everywhere. On all streaming platforms and my website. I’m not gonna release the whole album until sometime in the middle of the year when it’ll come in physical CD and vinyl. But the only way they can get those is through my website,, until the end of the year. That way the single releases still hold value digitally. I have a Showgirls series on my website and each month has a dedicated page. So right now I have January,- “Click” written with GSC member Diann Hammer and dueted with Clayton Jones. February- “Happy to me” with artist/writer Christen Cooper and March -”Showgirl” which is a solo write. People can check out all the interviews, press, social media links, streaming like Spotify and iTunes for each individual song, plus lyrics.

DR: Nice. Well, maybe this is a dangerous question, but do you have any closing thoughts?

CC: *laughs* I dunno, I just gave you my whole life! Except please visit my website and let’s be friends!

DR: Well, I’d say that about covers everything then. Thanks for sitting down with us!

CC: Thanks!

Interview with Daniel Schaefer, Artist Writer

by GSC Reporter, Daniel Reifsnyder

Daniel SchaeferDan Reifsnyder: How did you get started in music?

Daniel Schafer: I’ve been basically doing music all my life. When I was a teenager, I went through the band phase…punk bands and heavy rock all the way up to metal. Then I started rapping just for fun, and eventually I wanted to do more with music. There’s been a few times I tried to run away from music but then I ended up doing music anyway. So I figured maybe I’m born to do that.

I made it through college, but was always pursuing music on the side. The music was always present.

DR: So you’re from Germany which is a totally different area than Nashville. What ways is the music scene different there?

DS: For one, the language. It’s really hard to find people who write in English here. The music scene in Germany is further really exclusive. I can’t go to a major band and present songs to them, whileI get the feeling that in Nashville it’s more of a community. The first time I was in Nashville was 2013, and now when I go there I feel like I’m already part of that scene. I don’t feel like I need to go there to make connections because I already have made connections. It’s always great to catch up and see what everyone else is working on. Germany is also really technical, which was difficult for me at first. All these audio engineers we have are among the best on the planet. So when you have a pitch here, they tear it apart for things like frequencies being off, or kick drums being out of tune.

DR: That’s crazy!

DS: Even the mastering guys I work with get thrown off by the tiniest bits that no person would ever hear.

DR: Are they that way with the music and the lyrics as well?

DS: Not specifically with English lyrics because there’s not a big English songwriting scene. But with the German lyrics, yeah. It’s a little bit tricky, because we have German Pop-Rock, this is more lyric driven and there’s a story behind it. And then there’s this Schlager which is like party music. It just has to rhyme because the target audience is drunk.

DR: And it’s called “Schlager”? What does that mean?

DS: It’s like EDM but with really basic sounds and stupid lyrics.

DR: *laughing* wow!

DS: There’s one song called “Johnny Depp” and it’s just “Depp Depp Depp” and they repeat it over and over again.

DR: Wow! So what drew you to Nashville?

DS: It was basically a road trip! I was studying in Wisconsin at the time and I convinced my buddies that instead of Florida we should go to Music City because I always wanted to see it. They didn’t enjoy the trip too much, but I had the time of my life. I just kept coming back. There was a time when I was considering a PHD, so Vanderbilt was on the list. I always extended the stays to check out more live music and get a feel. This is where I discovered that “trying it in Nashville” is actually a pursuable goal. The A&R people actually watch you develop over time and you build relationships. I just kept coming back and wanted to be present.

DR: It’s a different feel even than in any other place in America. The scene in NY and LA is different too. Nashville is more of a community, as you said. And once you’re in it you’re part of the mix. Have you played any rounds here?

DS: Yes! I played one in November 2019 at Belcourt Taps.

DR: Good place! So let’s get into what kind of music you write.

DS: I write Pop music for the most part, Country is maybe number two, and I also write EDM which is for other producers who need a topliner. They give it to me, I write lyrics, I do a few revisions, and if they like it they send it out to somebody else who’s actually doing the cut.

DR: Nice! So for people who don’t know what toplining is, you would make a track and they would build out on that?

DS: No, over here it’s the other way around. So the producer gives me the finished instrumental and I add lyrics. Then they send it out to the artist who’s actually recording the vocals.

DR: I see! Here it’s the other way around. The topliner creates the tracks and others add to it. So you flip it over there! So how did you get connected to GSC?

DS: It’s a long story. There’s this girl Ava Paige…I visited her in the hospital two years ago. Melissa Bollea Rowe was there and we were all talking and hanging out. I connected with Melissa after that and she referred me to Sheree. I reached out to Sheree and that’s how I wound up at GSC!

DR: Yes! I know them both. Great people! Who are your musical influences?

DS: Ray Charles, definitely. I’m a big Guns N’ Roses fan, even if I don’t do a lot of rock related stuff right now. I have this rock and roll in me, that’s just part of it. I always have to reference Pantera because they were one of the biggest influences I’ve had. I love some of the newer stuff too…Jason Derulo. There’s a guy named Jay Sean from the UK, who is not really popular anymore. But at his peak he was doing really amazing Pop music. I could listen to that over and over again. Right now, Ariana Grande. I love her!

DR: What are some songs you wish you’d written?

DS: Church Bells by Carrie Underwood. Thank U, Next by Ariana Grande. There was another one…are you familiar with the TV show Empire?

DR: I haven’t seen it, but I know about it.

DS: There was a song on the show that was called Conqueror which is a really cool song. And I totally love Red by Taylor Swift.

DR: Cool! Can you talk a little bit about your experience with GSC. How do you feel it’s helped connect you?

DS: It’s been really helpful. I started gradually, I signed up for the “View Only” option with the online pitches to get an idea of how that works. You talk to some of the other songwriters while that’s going on, and I ended up getting some work for hire gigs piecing demos together, and some other writers that wanted to write with me. It’s been beneficial from two sides: on one hand I’m getting gigs for production and on another I’m getting gigs for co-writing.

DR: Excellent! Do you have any projects you want to promote?

DS: There is one project I’m doing with a producer from San Francisco. He made a concept album that’s revolving around the country and culture of Colombia. He went down there and recorded the sounds and asked if I wanted to contribute to that record. I was head over heels for that, and he gave me access to all the sounds, drums, and brass that he recorded there and I’m building a track out of it right now. I took his samples and fitted them to the tempo I wanted to do the track in, and there’s a Colombian girl here in Germany I’m working with because I can’t write in Spanish. We will soon start to work on the actual songwriting of it. Right now I’m just doing the production and arrangement.

DR: Cool! Do you see yourself as more of a writer or more of a producer?

DS: I feel like I’m caught in the middle which I don’t think is a bad thing. When I write a song, I already have the production in mind. In my songwriting, I leave gaps because I already have in mind how I would fill them with delays and everything. Likewise, I can also do the production based on songwriting because I have both backgrounds. I can just bring these two pieces together.

DR: Is there one you prefer more than another?

DS: I love it all! Sometimes it’s writing time, sometimes it’s production time. I actually met a producer in Germany who’s basically working the same way I do, which nobody else does. We have a production phase where we have the sound design and just make it vibe. And then we export all the tracks and there’s a mixing phase and we clean it all up. When I get to the end of one phase I’m excited to do the other!

DR: Very cool Do you have any closing thoughts?

DS: This was just another sign for me that GSC works even for me out here, doing projects remotely. Before COVID, I was used to connecting through Zoom and sending files back and forth. I think GSC added a really valuable component where I can foster that and get better at both, songwriting and producing..

DR: Well, thanks for sitting down!

DS: Thanks for the interview!

Interview with Stella Prince, Artist Writer

by GSC Reporter, Daniel Reifsnyder

Stella PrinceDan Reifsnyder: Hey, Stella! Thanks for sitting down with us today. How did you get started in music?

Stella Prince: I’ve known pretty much my whole life that I was meant to do this. If I go one day without singing or songwriting I feel like a little part of me is dying inside. I’ve always seen music as the love of my life. It’s something I could never live without ever. It totally defines me and I know it’s what I’ll be doing for the rest of my life.

DR: Very cool. How would you describe your musical style?

SP: It’s definitely updated Folk music. I always like to say that Folk chose me, because when I started writing my own songs that was totally the sound that came out. My real goal is to bring Folk music to a new generation. I don’t see it as a throwback, but more as a bridge to music’s future. I think people are ready for a new sound and this genre of music really allows us to feel what might be possible someday and hear all those stories that Pop music, and a lot of music is really missing now.

DR: Yes. A lot of music is missing depth.

SP: Absolutely! It needs depth!

DR: Who are your influences?

SP: All the Folk greats. Emmylou Harris is one of my favorites. Joan Baez, Joanie Mitchell, Judy Collins. I think they’re all just amazing musicians.

DR: Nice! So how did you get hooked up with Sheree?

SP: It’s really pure fate. Two years ago when I was fourteen and just getting started here in New York, I hired a local songwriting coach to review my catalog. I told her that my dream was to go to Nashville and start my career. So when we finally went to Nashville  she gave me the numbers of some musicians that she knew…every one of them wrote back and said “Sheree at GSC will help you! Here is her E-mail!” The rest is history. We’ve been working together about six months now one on one and it’s been amazing.

DR: That’s awesome!

SP: It’s absolutely Nashville’s hidden gem for sure.

DR: So you graduated high school early! That’s exciting!

SP: I just graduated last week! Sort of an accelerated program through my local community college. Sheree and I decided together that I need to speed things up quickly because I’m excited to start my career and I’ve sort of been waiting my whole life! So it’s a very exciting time.

DR: Your parents must be very supportive.

SP: Very supportive. I’m an only child and my parents are both artists. We live in an 1850’s farmhouse on seven acres. It’s kind of like an artist residency. We all just hang out and do our art.

DR: Oh, nice! Are they musical?

SP: No, actually my mom is a painter and my dad writes nonfiction!

DR: Very cool. What are some songs you wish you’d written?

SP: My favorite song currently is “Boulder To Birmingham” by Emmylou Harris. I just recently learned it and added it to my setlist and I am in love with it! She’s one of my biggest idols for sure. One of my favorite quotes from her is “There are certain things that are true for everyone, we’re all gonna have our hearts broken and search for life’s meaning and a good song will find that place inside us because that’s what music is supposed to do.” That has always stayed with me.

DR: Are there any current projects you want to talk about?

SP: I’ve had a ton of really exciting opportunities I can’t mention yet, but I’ve been getting booked a lot for showcases with the New York Folk Guild and the New York Songwriter’s Circle. River Spirit Music, which is a NYC booking company, gave me my first hour long solo show a few weeks ago! And I just recently signed my whole catalog to a film and tv publishing company.

DR: That’s very exciting! Is there anything else you’d like to add?

SP: I’d just like to say how amazing GSC is as a community. Before this, it was so much lonelier and different without all of these amazing songwriters and artists surrounding me. I feel like I’ve grown ten years in the six months I’ve known all these people.

DR: It is a really cool thing. Well thank you for talking with us!

SP: Thanks!

Interview with Alexa Valentino, Artist Writer

by GSC Reporter, Daniel Reifsnyder

Alexa ValentinoDan Reifsnyder: How did you get started in music?                       

Alexa Valentino: About 10 years ago, I must have been in like pre-school. My mom used to take me to a lot of shows whether it was Broadway or a local production. In my town we have a really nice theater. It’s really high quality, and a lot of Broadway people come out. They did summer classes and after school acting, singing, and music. She put me in these classes and I really liked it and I did a lot of their productions. I started getting better and better roles and I was like “I really like theater!” So I started doing off Broadway shows at 9, and more productions in the city. My first show was actually  the U.S. premiere of “Number The Stars” which was about the Holocaust, and I got to play Ellen Rosen. It was a hard role to play because it’s a very serious show, and a hard role for a 9 year old. I really did not think I was gonna get the role either. A lot of times I’d walk out of an audition and be like “Nailed it!” and I wouldn’t get it. I actually showed up at the audition and there was one scene where we had to run around in a circle and I fell flat on my face! I was like “That’s it! I’m done!” I also had never auditioned for this woman before, and she was someone where the more you audition with her the more you go up in her company. She’s not someone where you get a role on the first try. So when I got a callback I was like “Huh?” I did Molly in “Annie”, I did “Les Mis” which is one of my favorites. I did “Dream Street”, I did “Suess” like three times. And that was all the way up until I was like 11. At that point that was all I knew. So I had envisioned myself having a long career in theater, and potentially Broadway. But a bunch of my friends from that community ended up joining an anti-bullying organization called Free To Love. You take a pledge online, they give you signs for your social media posts, and I was a part of it. They reached out to me and said they’d love it if I could write a theme song for them. And I did enjoy songwriting, but it hadn’t really clicked for me yet as something I really wanted to do with my life. So during the intermission of a New York Islander game, I took out this little notebook – that I still have – and in 15-20 minutes I wrote this song called “Free To Love”. I got this team of producers and managers and developers and started to work with them. I recorded the song at a studio in New Jersey and I made a music video! When I made the music video I think that’s when I knew I wanted to be an artist. It got a lot of shares, and the organization promoted it, and it was really great! One of my last Off-Broadway shows I did was written by Debbie Gibson’s nephew and directed by Debbie Gibson’s sister. Debbie came to the last show, and the director said “I told my sister that you write music, and she writes music and she’s gonna talk to you for a little bit!” My parents apparently worshiped her growing up so they’re on the other side of the theater like freaking out. And I was like “Hi, I have no idea who you are but it’s nice to meet you!” So Debbie and I started to FaceTime and she taught me a lot of what I know about songwriting. She helped me write my next couple singles, and I started to release music and got a manager and I’ve been an artist since then. I’ve obviously grown a lot, and gotten a lot more into songwriting now with going to Nashville and everything. But that was my start! It’s been a ride!

DR: Heck of a start! How would you describe your sound?

AV: I would say my style is like an edgy pop. Very similar to Tate McRae or Halsey. The Pop lane, but not like an Ariana Grande mainstream. I use a lot of minor chords and synthy productions. I would say in that realm. 

DR: How did you get hooked up with GSC?

AV: I was 13 and my mom was like “I think Nashville is a really good place for songwriters!” so we just got in the car and just drove. I did a lot of touristy stuff, like I went to the What Lifts You wall in the Gulch. I went to Broadway and performed at the Bluebird. And my mom was just Googling stuff and she found NSAI and GSC. I wanted to join both of them, and I did. On our last day there, my mom got a call from a 615 number and it was Sheree! She was like “Why don’t you come down to my home and we can chat?” And I was like “Aw, she’s nice!” So we drove to Sheree’s house and were there for like 3 hours. That was when my songwriting really began. She just brought out this songwriter in me that I didn’t really know existed. Everything I know about songwriting or Nashville goes back to her. She’s like my Nashville mom. She’s like the Oprah of Nashville!

DR: I call her that too! She really is! 

AV:She’s the best. From then on it’s been amazing.

DR: What are some songs you wish you’d written?

AV: Every Lady Gaga song. Let’s start there. Definitely the first 45 seconds of “Bohemian Rhapsody”. I know I was talking about Tate McRae definitely “You Broke Me First”, that song is so soso good. And, a solid half of the “Reputation” album by Taylor Swift. 

DR: Good stuff! Do you have any projects you’re working on?

AV: Yes! So I released a single a month ago now called “Scorpio” featuring artist Jake Ryan, who’s like a rapper. It did really well, and I was really happy about that. It’s the first single off my EP that’s coming. And the second single “Bad Boy Good” is out now with the music video yay! I haven’t filmed or released a music video in well over a year, but I wanted to do it for this one because it’s the best song I’ve ever written. Last month when I posted a little behind the scenes clip and it got like 134,000 views and I was shocked! I’ve never passed the 100,000 view or stream mark so the pressure was on. And I do have my EP coming out in January.

DR: You must be really good on social media if you’re getting that many views!

AV: I do spend a lot of time on social media! Sheree is always like “Can you teach me?”. I used to be spread out across all the different platforms, but I’ve been focusing all my energy on Instagram and I think that’s really helped that grow.

DR: So what are some challenges you face as a younger artist? You’regonna be 16 soon.

AV: I would definitely say a lot of people don’t take you very seriously when you’re younger. That’s why if I’m on the phone with somebody about something I never tell people my age unless I have to. The minute you tell someone your age they’re like “Aw, really?” I feel like I’ve experienced a lot of things at a very young age that I normally wouldn’t have experienced yet. So I feel a lot older than I actually am. I would say not being taken as seriously is the biggest thing. That’s why I’m really happy that Billie Eilish blew up. She blew up when she was my age. Tate McRae too. To see a young artist have the spotlight is inspiring. I actually wrote a song one time – a solo write – called “15”. Just about being underestimated for my age. It certainly is a struggle.

DR: Well cool! Do you have any closing thoughts?

AV: Follow me on instagram – alexavalentino!

GSC Member Doug Folkins Hits 100 Cut Milestone

By Kelli Johnson

Doug FolkinsGSC is a GLOBAL songwriting community and in the October edition of our newsletter we recognized several of our GSC Canadian Artist/Songwriter members and their achievements and accomplishments. GSC Member Doug Folkins is celebrating the milestone of reaching over 100 Cuts!! GSC Administrative Assistant, Kelli Johnson, spoke with Doug about some of his favorite milestones and memories.

Kelli Johnson: Tell us about your First cut:

Doug Folkins: My first cut is special for a number of reasons beyond the obvious. It was in 2012 with a Canadian artist named Rick Stavely. I’d been trying to set up a co-write with the producer on Rick’s project, a professional writer (and Canadian legend) named Larry Wayne Clark. Larry was too busy to write with a green writer like me, but Rick liked the song I pitched him called “I Don’t Want To Love You Like That”.

Larry suggested some edits to the lyrics, and I made the changes and gave Larry songwriter credits (he didn’t ask for them). This cut sparked a wonderful mentoring relationship with Larry as he took me under his wing. We lost Larry to cancer a few years ago and I miss him dearly. When the song came out he told me that it would be the first of many. I didn’t really believe him at the time, but I’m sure he would smile and wink at me now and be proud of hitting the 100 cut milestone.

KJ: What are some of the songs that are most special to you:

DF: I’m so grateful to all the artists that have cut my songs, invested in recording them, completed radio campaigns, music videos, and continue to play them out live in their shows. While all the songs are special to me, there are a few that have garnered some acclaim along the way or are special to me for other reasons.

“California Sunrise” co-written with Heather Davis. This is the first song that I signed for a single-song publishing deal that eventually led to my publishing deal with Lynn Gann Music Enterprises in 2014.

“When Those Sirens Are Gone” co-written with Kevin Davison, a tribute to first responders. This song hits hard and is responsible for a lot of “lump in your throat” comments and feedback. Over 1.6 million YouTube views.

“Midnight & Bourbon” co-written with Ajaye Jardine. This one is special as it earned me my very first BCCMA songwriter of the year nomination. It was the title track on Ajaye’s EP that launched her journey to Nashville.

KJ: How did you get your songs cut?

DF: I could probably talk about this for a long time and fill a podcast, but for me it’s a number of factors.

First, I dedicated myself to getting better all the time by increasing my skills and knowledge through courses, mentorship, and writing a lot of songs. GSC is all about this part of the journey and I am deeply grateful to Sheree for every step of my journey.

I also got a great piece of advice early when I started pitching songs from Steve Bloch, who told me that “no one is going to care more about your songs than you.” I took that to heart and started to pitch songs directly to indie artists in Canada that I networked with through industry events. I also sought out talented indie artists and requested co-writing appointments which is a great way of getting songs cut.

Another powerful technique is to get to know and network with producers at all levels. Artists will often already have relationships established with a producer so a level of trust is in place. Producers will bring me in on co-writes, as well as ask me for song pitches for projects that they are working on. This is a great win-win situation because I can help with high quality songs/songwriting and together we can get songs cut.


Interview: The Harder I Work, The Luckier I Get

by Dan Reifsnyder, GSC Reporter

Dan Reifsnyder: Thank you Avrim, Donna and Scott for sitting down with us today! First off, do you have a particular system or work philosophy when it comes to songwriting?

Donna DeSopoDonna De Sopo: I’m a purpose-driven commercial songwriter. Before I start writing a song, I must know whether I’m writing for an artist, film/TV placement, consumer brand or creative brief. Each one is different so I need to think a bit differently depending on the task at hand. Overall, it’s important for me to not only focus on the song itself but also capture the right vibe, emotion, lyrical tone or character, and melody that best serves the integrity of the artist, scene, or brand. If I’m writing with a new artist, I need to spend some time getting to know who the artist is, what the artist wants to say, understand vocal range or capabilities, and make sure that I’m elevating the authenticity of that artist.

Once we land on a hook or idea, I typically ask the writer(s) in the room: “What’s this song about in 1 sentence”. That way, we are all on the same page, the story line or lyrics won’t meander or “fall off the line of the song”, and move seamlessly from one thought to another in a straight line right to the hook. If the song drifts away from the single-minded idea, the listener will drift away as well. We want them to stay with us on a musical journey from beginning to end.

While writing songs, I worked as a staff writer for healthcare advertising agencies, launching and building blockbuster pharmaceutical brands. I developed concepts and created promotional and educational communications for 3 distinct target audiences—direct-to-physician, direct-to-consumer, and managed markets. A few years ago,  realized that there are many similarities between songwriting and copywriting. When we turn on the radio, we hear commercial ads play before and after a series of songs sung by artists or “brands”. These 2 audible ideas, commercials and songs, share the same goal in moving us emotionally so that we part with the dollars in our pockets and buy that brand’s product.

Currently, I’m in the process of writing a book with the working title, What Makes a Great Ad Makes a Great Song, which explores 5 key ideals or criteria that make for award-winning ad campaigns and Grammy-winning songs. I use these 5 ideals as a checklist to determine whether or not my song hits the mark. To reach the level of greatness, my song must be:

  • Visually arresting
    • Do my lyrics paint a picture like the visual in a print ad?
  • Intellectually stimulating
    • Am I conveying an interesting message? (“Make me think but not too much”)
  • Emotionally powerful
    • How do I want the listener to feel?
  • Culturally relevant
    • Is my song resonating with the masses?
  • Sonically delicious
    • Are my melodies undeniably delicious using contour, forward movement, riveting lyrics and melodic hooks?
    • Does my production include more “ear candy” to further elevate the song?


DR: Wow. Excellent answer. How about you, Scott?

Scott BarrierScott Barrier: I had to start looking myself as a business owner who is in charge of running my career. So, I starting scheduling my day, much the way someone who goes to an office and has tasks to finish by a certain time, or laying out certain priorities to get done during a business day. I started this process by blocking out a morning write and an afternoon write. I also had to block out days for recording, and pitching songs. I’m still working on getting a better flow between the three, because each part of the process is important as the other.

I also had to start writing in a strategic way that would most benefit each song that I write and/or co-write. If I’m writing with an artist, we look at writing a song the artist will record and release to the public, and not just write for fun with no specific purpose, where the song may never go anywhere. If it’s for a major label pitch, my co-writers and I look at what kind of song (theme, vibe, style) will fit the needs of a given major label artist so he or she will want to record it. For film/tv sync placement songs, my co-writers and I map out what type of vibe and theme will fit a particular ask from a music supervisor for given a TV show or film. Becoming more strategic with the songs, and also running my career as a business, has really helped move me forward in the music industry.

DR: Yes! Making the best use of our limited time is crucial. Avrim, what are your thoughts?

Avrim TopelAvrim Topel: While I’ve been writing songs regularly for most of my life, I decided to take my craft to the next level about 10 years ago when I discovered one could actually study songwriting. I know, it’s like I was living under a rock, but the truth is once I stopped performing when I was in my early 20’s, I always wrote alone and just for me, (or an occasional friend or lover), and my self-imposed isolation hurt me in several ways. 

Fast forward to nowadays, I still write first and foremost for the joy it brings me. I write daily, often coming up with hooks before breakfast and when I walk my dog each morning, and finishing at least a rough draft over breakfast.  These days my songwriting is divided pretty evenly between solo writes and co-writing. When writing alone, I write both for myself (including non-commercial pieces which I often call “art songs”), and for commercial cuts.  With co-writing, I’ve learned over time that things always work best when I enter the room intending to try to support my fellow writers by helping them to be the best they can be that day. When I do that it seems to raise the bar for everyone, and I rise to the occasion as well. Whether it’s a solo or co-written song, I am a big proponent of sharing my songs with peers and pros and asking for help to make sure the song is everything it can be before demoing it. It’s a wonderful way for me to continue to learn and grow.

DR: Great answer. You guys have all had successes. What would you say have been your luckiest breaks so far?

AT: Aside from discovering that one can study song craft, my luckiest break in this journey is actually two-fold. But let me begin by saying that I truly believe each of us is solely responsible for making our own luck. Having the courage and passion to follow my dreams by showing up in rooms where I was completely clueless about how it works and where I didn’t know a soul was a big deal for me. Taking that risk traveling alone to different cities to attend workshops and retreats was challenging, but my shyness and insecurities were quickly diminished by the overwhelming sense of community that embraced me once I began. I felt like after a lifetime of doing it alone that I had finally found my tribe. I had spent a few years attending songwriting functions all over the country, including functions like week long retreats in Canada led by Jason Blume and other mentors, and  participating did indeed move the needle for me. But, without a doubt, meeting Sheree Spoltore marked a major turning point in my songwriting life. I had been told by more than one songwriter or mentor that I should join NSAI and meet Sheree, but I never did. Then, a few years later, after becoming terribly frustrated by rejection, I looked her up and found she had recently started her own organization, Global Songwriters Connection. Long story short, I arranged for a 5 hour meeting with her (2 consecutive days, 2.5 hours per day) for her to listen to 25-30 of my songs to identify my strengths and weaknesses as a songwriter, and to recommend a path for me to become better songwriter. I wanted someone to really know me and my music, and for me, it was the best thing I ever did. Even after this, it still took me another few years to actually become an active member of the GSC family, and today there is nothing else on God’s green earth that I’d rather be doing.

DD: I believe “lucky breaks” come when you’re disciplined in working on the craft of writing, setting goals, and always aiming to write great songs while consistently building and nurturing relationships with people in all aspects of the music business.

About 15 years ago, I met Vic Kaply, the President of West Wood Music Group, through a friend of mine who lives in New Jersey. Established in 1985, West Wood Music Group represents various music publishing catalogs and secures synchronization licensing with major motion picture studios, film production companies, TV and Cable Networks, and advertising agencies.

Vic expressed an interest in my music. A year later, I signed a non-exclusive agreement with West Wood Music Group and was added to the roster of songwriters featured on the company website.

Vic had a profound influence on me. He encouraged me to listen closely to the music playing throughout the scenes in films and TV series. This opened up my mind to a whole new world—the world of synch. Although Vic already had a robust catalog of my country songs, I told Vic to expect something completely different because I was focusing more on writing songs for Film & TV. So I got busy writing songs more specifically for synch, routinely submitting them to Vic and Steve Willoughby, Creative Director, for consideration in the music library.

On Wednesday, November 21, 2019, at 7:45PM, Vic sent me an email: “CBS contacted us about using “Merry Christmas With You” in their FOX Series “A Moody Christmas. This series is on a Major Network in Prime Time.  Vic needed to get back to CBS by Friday—within 48 hours, which underscores how quickly music supervisors need to get clearance and closure on possible TV placements.

My co-writers, Scott Barrier and Keegan Ferrell, and producer, Nate Cornell, were elated by the news! We scheduled a “Watch Party” at Nate’s place. As soon as I heard Keegan’s piano lead in, I cheered, “Here it is! Our song, “Merry Christmas With You”, played through the entire scene that lasted for about 1 minute 30 seconds. What an amazing feeling!

Vic also sent an email less than an hour before the showed aired: “Great News! CBS confirmed “Merry Christmas With You”  featured in “THE MOODYS” (Fox) – Monday, Dec. 9 (9PM). I’m still over the moon and can’t wait for the next placement!

SB: My co-writers Donna De Sopo and Keegan Ferrell just had our song “Merry Christmas With You” featured on episode 3 of the “Moody’s Christmas” on FOX. We are very thankful that Westwood Music got the placement for us! This is a fairly recent placement, but we are all hoping that this opportunity will help us get more songs placed for film and TV and to open more doors for us in the music industry.

DR: Great! And lastly, what advice would you give to another songwriter looking to improve their craft?

SB: What really helped me to move forward as a writer was to set a consistent schedule for myself to be constantly working on my craft to always grow as a better writer. Also, consistently working on building a growing network of stronger relationships with co-writers, artists, and industry professionals (publishers, managers, producers, label reps) has given me breakthroughs in my career. Whether you’re writing part time or full time, depending upon your work schedule and life schedule, being consistent will help bring results over time.It takes patience and perseverance to be successful!!!

AT: There are plenty of great books and videos that address all kinds of facets and areas about song writing that anyone can access on line. But once you have a basic understanding, in my opinion, working with a mentor who has achieved some modicum of success and who is actually in the industry is priceless. I’ve come to the conclusion that in most cases professional songwriters who are working their craft on a daily basis are the best mentors. Also, having a team of mentors by becoming part of a community is like manna from heaven. In my experience, relationships are everything in the songwriting universe.

There are several terrific songwriting organizations in Nashville (as well as hundreds of local groups around the world) that can provide stewardship and guidance for songwriters at practically every level. Once again, in my opinion, it all comes down to how badly someone wants it. Neither money, time, careers, or other obligations are ever valid excuses when it comes to learning and improving one’s craft, as we all have our own challenges in life. It all comes down to passion. I believe some of us are born or somehow become programmed this way, and when it kicks in it’s not something we can choose to turn off or or not do. It’s set in our DNA, and while it can certainly be challenging at times, it’s a wonderful condition to have.

DD: Keep learning. Keep writing. Take advantage of songwriting workshops, retreats, and critiques offered by Global Songwriters Connection. You’ll keep adding more tools in your songwriting toolbox and can integrate new insights in your next song.

Enroll in songwriting classes. I’m grateful for incredible songwriters and mentors such as Hugh Prestwood, Patti Ryan, and Pat Pattison who taught the craft of songwriting and shared incredible “light bulb” moments that helped me become a better writer.

Read great books such as “The Artist Way”, Julia Cameron, and “On Writing”, Stephen King. Experiment with various song structures, rhymes, and rhyme schemes. Try using your voice to create melodies and write to a groove or track. Have fun and don’t be afraid to shake things up!

DR: Thanks for taking the time, and for the excellent insight!


Interview with Singer-Songwriter Ceri Earle

by Dan Reifsnyder, GSC Reporter

Ceri EarleDan Reifsnyder: Hey, Ceri! Thanks for sitting down with us today. How did you get into songwriting? 

Ceri Earle: My mom was a pianist and music teacher so I took piano and violin lessons from about 8. I’ve landed on the lyrical side of the fence though, and although I don’t really play anymore all that classical training helps with that a lot. 

I kind of fell in love with Country music around 2000 and as a writer considered it the most succinct storytelling out there. One day I was running and had an idea for a song title, so I Googled how to write a song. That first one took me a couple weeks to write and it was at best a rhyming story. Still, I got it demoed – pretty funny story and too long for here, but suffice it to say it got me to the next song, and the next etc.

DR: Interesting! Who are some of your musical influences?

CE: I always wondered if I’d ever be asked this and what I’d say. Not being an actual musician I don’t consciously draw on anything or anyone musically, but when it comes to Country there’s no way I don’t have the 2000s in my head because they’re who I ‘grew up’ with: Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney (that was my first country concert) Faith Hill, Shania Twain, Martina McBride. But I was/am also into Top 40 pop like Maroon 5 and Justin Timberlake, even Brittney Spears years ago, so you’re gonna get a mix if you write with me. 

DR: That’s a great mix. What are some songs you wish you’d written?

CE: Off the top of my head, I Can’t Make You Love Me – obviously. Write This Down – this was the song that sucked me into Country so maybe I’m glad I didn’t haha. Too Much Fun – not sure I wish I wrote it but I love it, and it’s really true. I Don’t Know About You – there’s something off-the-charts clever and sincere and girl-friendly about this song and I’m crazy about the ‘Nashville twist’ on the hook. I heard it more than a year ago but it just went number 1 in the fall – deservedly so in my opinion.   I’m a Shane McAnally fan, so anything he’s written on gets my well-deserved envy.

DR: I love the ‘Nashville twist’ too. Great lyrics in those! How did you get connected with GSC?

CE: Carrie Cunningham was the first person I heard mention it and it was a text convo with Dave Quirk (whom I met through her too) that got me to sign up. Then I met Sheree and she was so amazingly encouraging and helpful the rest is becoming history.

DR: She is definitely an encourager! Now you’ve had some cuts…what has been your most exciting one?

CE: Gosh is there anything more exciting than the first? I’ve had a bunch of indie cuts but writing an album with a 16-year-old who ended up moving to Nashville was an incredible experience. Every cut is a compliment and of course I want everyone to get noticed because I so believe in the artists I get to write with.

DR: I understand you’re an editor by profession. How has that informed your writing process?

CE: Lord have mercy, it took a while to learn to shut down that pesky skillset but I had to because the editor doesn’t let the creator create. That being said, it does help to let it peek through the door in a write now and then to keep the plot, or the story, or the flow in line, make sure that tenses and pronouns are consistent, and with all the creativity going on, make sure the lyric makes sense during the write rather than a week later when you then have to get the team back together or write emails etc. I think my co-writers appreciate that as much as I appreciate that they can do chord progressions, melodies and strum patterns. They all have my permission to shut me down when I start over-thinking!

DR: I had similar issues…the critical editor has a place in writing the song, just not necessarily during creative moments! Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to tell us about?

CE: I have a few things on the burner that are other artist projects that I’m not really at liberty to mention. Mostly I just love coming into town and writing and meeting with those who’ve been open to work with me on this crazy ride. Sheree is just amazing and I’m so grateful to her.

DR: Great. Any closing thoughts?

CE: Yeah I think it’s important to mention that I, like everyone, wouldn’t be here without others. I know this is a GSC newsletter, but NSAI and Songtown have been really important in my world. I met my co-writer Chelsey Satterlee at an NSAI event, and we wrote the song that was the overall winner of the Great American Song Contest last year. That changed my life because the prizes were fantastic and I made the most of them all. Coming on the back of a finalist place in the NSAI song contest (for a different song) was really encouraging to me as ‘just a lyricist’. I’m never gonna be and artist or an amazing singer, and I just started taking guitar a year and a half ago, so I’m incredibly indebted to all my co-writers who repeatedly let me into their lives and their writing rooms. Songwriting has made my life a wonderful place to be and I can’t do it worth a damn without them.

DR: Well said. We definitely wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for others. Thanks for talking with us today!

CE: Thanks for talking with me – this was really fun!!


Interview with Singer-Songwriter Ryan Hydro

by Dan Reifsnyder, GSC Reporter

Ryan Hydro

Dan Reifsnyder:  So tell me about yourself. Do you consider yourself an artist, a songwriter…?

Ryan Hydro: Songwriter! Non performing songwriter.

DR: How did you get started with songwriting?

RH:  Well, back in 2003 I was in a relationship and it didn’t work out so well. I just started writing down different emotions and feelings…I wasn’t sure what it was. I ended up reading some books like Songwriters on Songwriting and people like Bon Jovi and Tom Petty they had the same sort of thing – they wrote stuff down and couldn’t sleep at night. I thought “Hey, this might be a songwriting type of thing. And back in the day I joined NSAI and did their song camps, and I got bit by the songwriting bug.”

DR: Very cool. Are you predominantly lyrics or music?

RH: Predominantly lyrics. When I was growing up I took guitar and drum lessons but never really stuck with it. Unfortunately, the drum teacher I had back then just quit teaching. I always loved music but didn’t really play any instruments. Then when I went through that breakup it sort of sparked something. As a kid I had this ability to put funny lyrics to a song on the radio…almost Adam Sandler-esque. I never really knew what it was, but looking back maybe that was the start of songwriting?

DR: Who are your biggest songwriting influences?

RH:  For me growing up in the 80’s, it was Aerosmith and Bon Jovi. Garth Brooks in the early to mid 90’s was huge. Alabama too. From a songwriting perspective probably Craig Wiseman and Desmond Child. He wrote hundreds of hits any kid in the 80’s grew up with.

DR: Speaking of songs…what are some songs you wish you’d written?

RH: “It’s A Great Day To Be Alive” that Travis Tritt sings. “How Do You Like Me Now” by Toby Keith. “Live Like You Were Dying” by Tim McGraw. “Love In The First Degree” by Alabama. And I guess “Ain’t Nothin’ About You” by Brooks and Dunn. Those are my top few. And one of the most evergreen songs of all time, Lonestar’s “Amazed”. I’d love to have written that one. That’s the pinnacle of songwriting.

DR: Dude, that’s a great one. Funny story, the first week that I moved here I walked into the NSAI offices and one of the guys who wrote “Amazed” played it for everyone in the lobby. It was a very Nashville moment.

RH: Yeah!

DR: So you’re going to be opening up the Pennsylvania chapter of GSC. How did that come about?

RH:  So the very first trip I made to Nashville, I met Sheree. I’ve known her from almost day one from my 16 years of songwriting. And when she opened up GSC I was one of the first few members that joined and I participated in the first FOCUS event that she had. We’ve been good friends ever since. She reached out to me and asked if I’d be interested in helping her out and I said yes. Her and Lou have been very supportive of my songwriting career.

DR: They’re great people! What would your dream cut be? 

RH: It’s hard to say one person, but I would say either Tim McGraw, Blake Shelton, or Alan Jackson. Those would be my top 3. Current, new artist I’d love to get a cut with would be Luke Combs. I like a lot of Pop stuff too. Somebody like Pink or Kelly Clarkson would be cool too.

DR: Now you’re from PA originally?

RH:  Yeah, I was raised in a small town in Northeastern PA called Jim Thorpe. Named after the athlete. About half hour north of Allentown. It’s very much a coal region and old railroad town.

DR: That sounds familiar…I’m from the Philly area originally. Do you have any projects you’re working on? 

RH:  I have an artist that cut a few of my songs named Chase Tyler. and he’s doing pretty well. He’s getting inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame…he’s got a big following in that area. To get into that is a pretty big deal…Tim McGraw got in there in 2012. He’s opening up for current Idol winner Lane Hardy, too.  I’m hoping that’s a sign of big things to come. He just released a song of mine as a single, which is pretty cool. I’ve been doing a lot of pro writes too.

DR: Excellent! So I guess you mostly Skype write?

RH: I mostly Skype. I lived in Atlanta with my wife for about 6 years. I was going to Nashville once or twice a month when we lived there in Atlanta. I made a lot of headway during that time, but we moved back to PA because my wife – she’s the youngest of 5 – missed her sisters. Now, I make about 3 to 4 trips to Nashville a year and write in person then too.

DR: Do you have any goals for the rest of this year, or the beginning of next?

RH: My goal is just to write the best songs I can possibly write, and to network. I’m hoping in 2020 to be able to write with some more artists. My long term goal is to find a publisher who’d be willing to work with me as more of a co-pub deal. I’m always looking for new people to write with too.

DR: Great! Thanks for taking the time to talk to us!

RH: Thanks!


Interview with Singer-Songwriter Briana Domenica

by Dan Reifsnyder, GSC Reporter

Briana Domenica

Dan Reifsnyder:  I know you got into music at a young age…can you tell us about that?

Briana Domenica: Yeah! I started singing when I was in diapers. The first song I learned was “Jesus Loves Me” and there’s literally video footage of me in my diaper singing it.

DR: Could be a music video!

BD:  *laughs* It could, it could. Quite frankly I’d rather that stay hidden. But I’ve always loved music and my parents have always had music playing in the house. All different types of music from like Andrew Lloyd Webber to Andrea Bocelli, Celine, Whitney. It was always something that was a big part of my life. And then in second grade I started actually taking voice lessons and I was like “this is my passion, this is what I’m meant to be doing.”

DR: Where are you from originally?

BD: I was born in Falmouth, Massachusetts but I lived in Saint Thomas, USVI for three years, and I was primarily raised in Lighthouse Point, South Florida.

DR: Nice. When did you come here?

BD:  I actually moved here a little over a year ago! My one-year Nashiversary was August 10th!

DR: Awesome. How do you like it?

BD: I actually love it. I hate being away from my family because we are really close. That’s the one downside. If I could move my whole family up here it’d be ideal.

DR: Who were some of your musical influences?

BD: In my genre, my two biggest influences are For King And Country and Lauren Daigle.

DR: I love Lauren Daigle! I think she’s going to cross over, if she hasn’t already. She’s gonna be big.

BD: I totally agree! My non-Christian influences, it would be Whitney and Celine…

DR: The big voices.

BD:  Yes! Oh gosh. I have so many influences, because my parents had me listening to music all over the spectrum. I love all genres.

Read more