MBW’s World’s Greatest Songwriters series celebrates the pop composers behind the globe’s biggest hits. This time, we talk to Claudia Brant, the Latin Grammy-winning Argentinian whose songs have been performed by the likes of Luis Fonsi, Barbra Streisand, Camila Cabello and John Legend. World’s Greatest Songwriters is supported by AMRA – the global digital music collection society which strives to maximize value for songwriters and publishers in the digital age.
When Claudia Brant was a little girl living in Argentina, she had a dream: “I wanted to live in America and write songs”.
She now does both, but it is interesting to note that, whilst the desire to relocate to a country she perceived as being the center of the music business was on script, the second part, about wanting to write songs, doesn’t quite fit the cliché.
She didn’t want to sing songs (although she does), or be a star (although she is), she wanted to write.
She wanted to be, creatively, in the same place as she perceived the US to be commercially – the center of things; the start and heart of things.
Brant has a reverence for great writers and the process of writing in her DNA. It drives her career and fuels her ongoing advocacy for better levels of remuneration and credit, neither of which, she believes, are currently up to scratch.
As a child in Argentina, as well as listening to Latin American artists such as Armando Manzanero and Tito Rodiguez, she looked up to singer songwriters such as James Taylor and Carole King. They established a blueprint.
She says: “From a very young age, probably seven or eight, I was inspired to start writing songs. I put together chords and write words in a notebook – and I’ve never stopped.”
Starting out as a session singer, Brant signed to Warner Music aged 22 and enjoyed success as an artist in South America.
In 1998 she moved to California to develop her career and focus more on songwriting for and with other artists – although she does continue to record, sporadically, under her own name, however, and her latest (sixth) album, Sincera (2018) won a Grammy for Best Latin Pop Album.
She had previously won a Latin Grammy as a writer for Song of The Year in 2009 (for Aqui estoy yo by Luis Fonsi – a key collaborator for two decades), as well as being named SESAC’s Latina Songwriter of the Year for three years in a row (2007-2009), and ASCAP’s Latina Songwriter of the Year in 2012 and 2015. In 2016 she was inducted into the Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame.
As she tells MBW, however, she is not a ‘Latin songwriter’; she is a songwriter, one whose work has been recorded by superstars including Barbra Streisand, Camila Cabello, Josh Groban, John Legend, Tim McGraw, Jenifer Lopez and many, many more…
Why did you opt from day one for a dual career as an artist in your own right and also a behind-the-scenes songwriter for other artists?
I think that from a very young age I had a very deep appreciation for songwriting. There was something there that I would really look up to; there was something inside me that said, One day, when I grow up, I want to live in the US and I want to write songs.
But I also really enjoy being an artist. I love it, but that’s not my passion. My biggest passion is to be in the studio, writing songs, and, more than anything, even more than writing on my own, writing with artists.
For me it’s like getting into a space suit and going to some planet that I’ve never been to; it’s fascinating. You get to go to their different worlds, planets and universes, it’s really nurturing for me.
How do you approach those situations, collaborating with artists?
Out of respect for the artist I’m going to work with, I do study each case ahead of time. So, I listen to their music, read some interviews, and then, when I have them here in my room, we might spend hours chatting, without playing one note. I really need to get to know them and to see where they’re at and what they’re feeling. Some are more open to share than others.
In this room where I’m right now talking to you, hundreds of songs have been written with different people, so there’s a vibe about it. That’s why I try not to go anywhere else, I try to have them come here. There’s something that’s in the air here and, I don’t know, they might mention something that happened to them two minutes ago, or a week ago, or five years ago, that will trigger the song.
Which of the songs that you’ve written are you proudest to have as part of your legacy?
That’s hard. There are some, like No Me Doy Por Vencido, with Luis Fonsi, or Creo en Mi, with Natalia Jimenez, that were on top of the charts. But, besides the fact that they were very, very successful, and they continue to be, those two in particular are songs that talk about hope.
I’ve seen stadiums singing those songs, because the people, they cling to those songs, they give them hope. One says, ‘I won’t give up’, and the other says, ‘I believe in me’.
“I’ve seen stadiums singing those songs, because the people, they cling to those songs, they give them hope.”
So, those are songs that are really important to me, but of course, Josh Groban cut my songs, Santana cut my songs, Ricky Martin cut my songs.
Those are things that I would have never imagined happening to an immigrant from Argentina who came here as a dream, 20 something years ago. I couldn’t even think about that. So they are all important to me.
You mentioned Luis Fonsi; how did that creative relationship came about and how does it work?
That started many years ago, more than 20 years ago. I was introduced to him by this wonderful A&R from Universal, Eddie Fernandez. He said to me, ‘I think you need to work with this kid, he’s being developed by this producer and he’s very talented.’ We met and we immediately clicked.
I don’t know how many songs we’ve written together, but it’s always been so easy, it just flows. There are certain writers where that just happens.
And then we got a Grammy together, a Latin Grammy for Song of the Year [Aqui Estoy Yo, 2008]. He invited me on stage and that was just a beautiful moment for us. I love him.
Where do you think the story of Latin Music is up to right now? Is it beyond talk of it having ‘a moment’ and is actually now a permanent part of the mainstream?
I think that we are very close to being absolutely mainstream and global, but I’m not so sure that it’s a hundred percent yet. It’s getting closer, every time there’s a global hit. When I first got here, it was Livin’ La Vida Loca. And more recently there was Despacito.
Right now, I see there are a lot of collaborations, but I still don’t see it a hundred percent mainstream or global, I don’t think it’s there yet.
“[Latin music is] very close to being absolutely mainstream and global, but I’m not so sure that it’s a hundred percent yet.”
I’m a trustee for the Recording Academy. I’m one of the few Latinas there. I am so honored to be part of it and I try as much as I can to make sure that we have a strong presence, but, I don’t think it’s there yet. It’s a process. We’re on our way, but we’re not there yet.
What I would like to see more than anything is more than one type of Latin music crossing over, because now it’s mostly the urban and reggaeton stuff. And some of that is really incredible, really well done, very smart and well produced, but there’s so much more.
There’s so much interesting music going on in Brazil that is not necessarily urban. And in Spain, amazing. Puerto Rico, incredible stuff that also deserves to be globalized.
And do you think that the goal for a Latin songwriter or Latin artist is still a high profile collaboration with a US pop or hip-hop artists? And do you think that’s a healthy situation?
It’s a wonderful question, because it has been a question I have asked myself for the past, I would say, 10 years or so.
I was with Sony ATV for many years, then I was with Universal, now I’m very happy to be back with Sony, and this is a conversation we had from the get-go with Jorge Mejia [President and CEO, Latin and US Latin, Sony ATV]. Like, if I can write a melody from beginning to end, the whole harmony from beginning to end, and I can collaborate on the words with an Anglo songwriter – because of course, Spanish is my first language, so if I’m going to write a song in English, I need a great lyricist in the room.
“In the end you’re not a ‘Latin’ or an ‘Anglo’ songwriter, you’re a songwriter.”
If I take that into consideration, I should be in the room with Ariana [Grande] and I should be in the room with Justin [Bieber] and I should be in the room with any big artists on the Anglo side, because I am able to write the melody, I am able to write the harmony, and because I’m able to come up with a concept that’s maybe never occurred to them. Why not? Why not?
I’m not giving up, I’ve been working very hard on it, and my team at ATV is wonderful on that. But what I’m saying is that it should be a possibility for all good Latin songwriters, because in the end you’re not a ‘Latin’ or an ‘Anglo’ songwriter, you’re a songwriter.
It did happen, I would say, a consistent amount of time in my career, but it’s not a common situation. And of course I don’t get put in the room with an Anglo artist as often as I get with a Latin artist.
As well as being a board member for the Recording Academy, you also set up your own organization, Canción de Autor Oficial, to champion songwriters and their rights. What’s the biggest challenge that songwriters face from a business point of view?
Well, I’ve been in advocacy groups for many years, I went to Washington with the Academy etc., but right now I’m championing, I don’t know if that’s the right word, a whole foundation movement for international songwriters, mostly Latinos, because we really think we deserve… Well, first of all the whole thing with streaming is not right, because we’re not getting paid what we deserve.
There’s a lot of work to do there and we have to fight for what we deserve, because without a song, there’s no artist, there’s no career, no stadium tours, no recording, there’s nothing. The song is the number one thing you need to start. So, we deserve to be recognized, to be paid fairly, for our credits to be right.
“First of all the whole thing with streaming is not right, because [songwriters are] not getting paid what we deserve.”
When an artist goes up on stage and he gets an award, the first thing he has to do is to thank the songwriters, because if it wasn’t for that song, he wouldn’t have gotten in the charts, in fact he wouldn’t have sold one record.
There was a tradition before, many years ago, of, ‘Oh my God, the songwriter, the songwriter, oh, thank you so much for giving me this wonderful song.’ And this has been watered down to 12 writers on a song and no one really understanding who wrote what.
I grew up in a world where it was Lennon and McCartney, or it was Carole King, or it was Bob Dylan. You didn’t need 12 writers to write You’ve Got a Friend.
So, although I understand that music has changed in many ways: there’s streaming and there’s the collaborations and the producer and the track guy and the beat maker… Yes, I get all of that because I’m very active, I’m in the room all the time with these situations, but still we need to fight to get the payment we deserve. We need to get the right credit. And if you were not in the room, you cannot take a piece of a song because I didn’t see you, you weren’t there, so please do something else.
“When I’m teaching, I do some seminars on songwriting, and the kids ask me, ‘So, Claudia, if streaming doesn’t pay well, and the songs are split between 10 writers, what’s out there for us?’ And the sad thing is, I don’t have an answer.”
It’s like #youwerenotintheroom; that’s something that’s really important for me, and I think that we songwriters need to fight… no, it’s not a fight, it’s a movement that needs to happen so that we get what we deserve. Because, honestly, my catalog… I’m 54 years old, and my catalog is very big, so my kids are going to be okay. But, if you are a songwriter and you started three years ago, you’re very good at your craft, what’s out there for you, if you don’t get paid fairly and you have to split your credits with eight more people? It doesn’t make any sense to me.
When I’m teaching, I do some seminars on songwriting, and the kids ask me, ‘So, Claudia, if streaming doesn’t pay well, and the songs are split between 10 writers, what’s out there for us?’ And the sad thing is, I don’t have an answer.
You mentioned returning to Sony/ATV earlier this year; can you tell us how that came about?
My first experience with Sony was great, especially because they were really supporting me in the crossover situation. I was sent to write in Sweden and in London and in Nashville. They were very, very nurturing to me and I grew a lot through that.
And then I was tempted to move to Universal with some other writing scenarios and I took the chance, and that was good, but I was still really missing the other kind of… I think that at ATV now, with Jon Platt, and Jorge, he’s always supported my career so much, I felt that I had to go back.
I needed their feedback. When I write a song and I send it over, it’s very rare that I don’t get a call next morning or in a couple of days, with really helpful comments. And that feedback is so important for me, because they know music, they know songwriting, and they’re there for me.
What would your advice be for a young songwriter just starting out?
First of all, write every day. And try to collaborate with the writers from other genres, that’s where your education is.
You can go to college, you can get a degree in songwriting, You can go to Berklee College of Music, I understand, great. But I didn’t have that luxury; I couldn’t afford any of those. I learned through experience, by writing with so many people from all over the world. Nothing is better than that.
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