Shelly Peiken is a multi-platinum Grammy nominated songwriter who is best known for her #1 hits, Christina Aguilera’s “What a Girl Wants” and “Come On Over Baby (All I Want is You).” She earned a Grammy nomination for the song “Bitch” recorded by Meredith Brooks. She’s had hundreds of songs placed on albums, and in TV and film. Her “Serial Songwriter” blog adds depth to conversations started on her Facebook page; it has become a forum for all things songwriting and ideas about navigating a changing music business as a creative person and parent.
Peiken is a contributing writer for “Songwriter Monthly,” and is well known in the music industry as mentor, panelist, consultant, and guest speaker. Her memoir Confessions Of A Serial Songwriter will be published in March 2016 by Backbeat Books. She is leading advocate for songwriter’s rights.
Shelly is a New Yorker at heart who enjoys her life in Los Angeles with her husband, composer Adam Gorgoni and their daughter, Layla.
1. Do you remember the first song you ever wrote?
Yes, but my father told me it very reminiscent of Hatikvah, the Isreali national anthem and I was devastated.
2. Was there a defining moment you knew you’d broken through or “made it?
Taylor Dayne. I was sure I was on my way.
[Shelly is referring to “Carry Your Heart,” a beautiful ballad from Dayne’s 1988 debut Arista album, Tell It to My Heart, produced by Ric Wake.]
3. What was the first time you heard one of your songs on the radio?
Natalie Cole. “I Can’t Cry.” It was an album cut. They played it anyway. I was in my apt on 12th street. All by myself. What a pity.
[“I Can’t Cry” was on Natalie’s 1989 album Good To Be Back and also produced by Ric Wake.]
4. What’s the first record you ever bought?
Beatles. “Penny Lane”? The 45?
5. What’s your favorite Burt Bacharach song?
Duh. “Close To You.”
6. Which song of yours should have been a big hit but wasn’t?
The Pretenders’ “Human.” You said so. And “Who You Are” by Jessie J.
7. Recording artist or songwriter you’d love to collaborate with.
8. What’s your favorite Carole King song?
“So Far Away.” It’s so sad.
9. Do you have a favorite pre-rock era standard?
What years are you actually talking about? Rock’s been around forever.
10. What most frustrates you about the way the business has changed?
Commerce before song.
11. From a songwriter’s perspective is there anything good about the many changes in the business?
Yes. Sadly, if you’re the 1% it’s FanTASTic.
13. On meeting your idols: person who you were glad you met?
14. On meeting your idols: person you might have been better off not meeting.
Nobody. There’s always a story to tell.
15. What’s your favorite Elton John song?
16. Have any recording artists emerged in the last few years that you particularly like?
Iggy A, Lianne La Havas, Family Of The Year, Best Coast.
17. There are two schools of thought about demos: that they should sound like masters or should they be simple, so the listener can project what they’d like to hear. What are your thoughts?
Depends who’s listening. Who am I kidding? Record quality wins.
18. Do you have any rituals before you begin a writing session?
I try to work out and/or hang upside down because it gets oxygen to my brain. Better for creativity.
19. Current projects that you’re excited about?
Can’t say. Jinx.
20. If you could share one piece of advice for aspiring an aspiring songwriter, what would it be?
Stay on your corner.
Coda: In researching this piece I came across a stunning Shelly Peiken/Greg Wells song called “Stumble” that was originally recorded by English singer Natasha Bedingfield (“Unwritten,” “Pocket Full of Sunshine.”) Here is Shelly’s beautiful piano/vocal version which is both simple and emotionally layered. Without anything but the her voice and the song itself, Shelly communicates so much.