Brett McLaughlin is a multi-platinum, award-winning singer/songwriter signed to Sony/ATV Music Publishing. Brett has written such songs as “Hide Away” for Daya, “Youth” for Troye Sivan and “Vowels” for Capital Cities, and has also written for Selena Gomez, Andy Grammer, Rachel Platten and Hilary Duff, in addition to his artist project Leland. He's also one of hundreds of pro music creators who will share their wisdom with you at the ASCAP "I Create Music" EXPO in LA, April 13-15. To celebrate the 12th annual EXPO, we threw 12 questions Brett's way.
All music creators have experienced that moment when music – and the desire to pursue it as a career – first grabs hold of you and doesn’t let go. What motivated you? What was the first significant break in your career?
My main motivation for continuing to pursue songwriting was knowing that one song could change my life. For me there wasn’t an alternative. I had this feeling that if I stuck it out and wrote song after song, eventually I would write one that would break through. My first significant break in my career was being signed to EMI Publishing by Jon Platt. Jon was one the first people in the music industry to see that I had potential and offered me an opportunity to continue developing.
What form of musical education or experience best contributed to you being prepared when you were given the opportunity to advance?
Being as self-sufficient as possible is a major advantage when it comes to working your way up as a songwriter. Teaching myself LOGIC and basic recording skills allowed me to get my ideas down without relying on anyone. Even if they weren’t the greatest quality, it was still a way for me to send an idea to someone. It was an essential part of helping me get signed.
On your own career path, what was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome?
The biggest hurdle I had to face was getting people to take me seriously as a songwriter, even after getting signed. I got through by surrounding myself with other songwriters who were equally as driven and together we stuck it out.
Everyone attending the EXPO knows that pursuing a music career is hard work. What sort of sacrifices have you had to make in your career and how do you deal with the compromises you’ve had to make?
One of the toughest sacrifices I had to make was moving from Nashville to Los Angeles after college. My family was close to me in Nashville and my best friends were all staying there to establish their careers. The loneliness I went through those first couple years was really tough but eventually I found a great group of friends.
Most music creators start out by playing to their strengths – writing a certain style of music. Have you ever worked on something that initially you felt to be outside of your comfort zone but ultimately turned into a blessing for your career?
Absolutely. Working on Troye Sivan’s first album Blue Neighbourhood, I didn’t feel cool enough for the type of music we were writing but because of my collaborators we were able to balance each others strengths and weaknesses.
After achieving success, everyone still needs to face that blank page, that guitar or piano sitting in the corner of the room, or a recording session. How do you sustain inspiration and fresh ideas well into your career?
There are a couple different methods I use to continue the flow of inspiration into songs. One is by bringing in new collaborators to offer a fresh perspective of saying things that have already been said before. Another way is by listening to lots of music, new and old. I take note of specific synths I like or vocal production techniques.
Writing music can be a solitary endeavor. But in most cases, it is a collaborative process. What are some of the benefits, both expected and unexpected, that can come out of collaborating? And how can you best foster a fruitful collaboration?
Collaboration is one of the most fun parts about being a songwriter. Once you find a group of people you enjoy spending time with and being creative with, there’s nothing better. The songs I’ve had success with would not exist if I hadn’t collaborated on them with others. Sometimes the best songs come out of new and uncomfortable collaborations.
Other than possessing a strong musical talent, what other qualities do you see in yourselves that have helped you succeed in your career?
A skill I’ve found helpful in my songwriting journey is to be a good communicator. When you meet someone, be sure to remember them next time you run into that person. Strengthening and maintaining friendships and working relationships is vital to taking those next steps.
When you sit down to create, do you write for yourself, or do you write for an intended audience?
I used to write for an intended audience and it never worked out well. When I now go to sessions I only write for what myself and the other writers like. If we want to listen to it then hopefully others will too.
From a purely creative standpoint, what does success change for you? What doesn’t change?
When I heard a song I’d written on the radio for the first time it was a cool moment but I didn’t feel different. Nothing changed. My group of friends didn’t change, my attitude didn’t change and my outlook didn’t change. The only thing that changed was that I can travel a bit more and see my family and friends more often than I used to be able to.
Emerging artists today are faced with a dizzying array of information and opportunities. The challenge is sorting through all of your options to focus on what is most important. In your opinion, what is that?
In my experience, I would say to focus on your strengths so that they become exceptional. You want to be considered an expert in your craft, whether it’s as a topliner or a producer. Each hour you spend honing your skills makes you all the more likely to be prepared when you get that one opportunity that could change everything.
Who are the most important people you work with that help you conduct your career successfully? How has ASCAP played a role?
My immediate team at Sony/ATV are critical in my success. They help babysit songs from start to finish and relentlessly shop songs to labels and artists. They are also therapists and are patient when I need to call and vent about something.
ASCAP has been instrumental in my success as a songwriter. I joined ASCAP when I was 18, and if it were not for Dan Keen and the Pop Songwriters Workshop he petitioned for me to be in, I would not have the connections, skills or confidence I have now. ASCAP continues to empower me and support me. They have given me opportunities and placed me in settings that have changed my life.
Follow Brett on Twitter and Instagram at @LelandOfficial.
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