Transcript from Pro Online Chat with Dave Berg (July 12, 2006)
Welcome to NSAI’s monthly Pro online chat. Tonight’s guest is Mr. Dave Berg. Dave is perhaps best known for his #1 hit "Somebody" performed by Reba McEntire and the Ty Herndon hit "I Want My Goodbye Back" which reached #5 on the charts. His most recent cut is current Rodney Atkins single “If You’re Going Through Hell”.
I’ll open the floor to questions momentarily. When we fill up with questions, I’ll close the floor to any new questions while we give Dave a chance to answer each one.
Q: As an accomplished songwriter do you feel it is necessary to concentrate on the length of a song or do you have more freedom once you are established?
Well, what kind of length are we talking about here? To be honest, it always helps (no matter who you are) to keep it 3 and a half or shorter. BUT if it takes longer to tell the story as a great song then that's just the way it is. Period.
Q: Hi Dave, if this to involved of a question . . . could you briefly tell us the thought flow and organizational pattern of how the song “Somebody” evolved?
I was walking around with most of that chorus…not exactly sure what it was or what to do with it. And then one day my co-writers, Sam and Annie Tate, put the hook on it. Their great story-telling abilities helped to finish it.
Q: Hey Dave, Love your latest tune, “Going Through Hell”. What went into that song? Can you tell us how it developed?
Well, first of all I would like to thank Winston Churchill for a great quote ?. We just wanted to write a very uplifting tune with some meat on the bones…and hopefully something that musically felt great.
Q: Did you do the whole Nashville, kiss butt, smoochie thing like the rest of us do each week?
If you’re asking if I paid my dues, absolutely I did. I was definitely lucky, no doubt about it. But I’ve worked very hard to get where I’m at, just like everyone who is successful in this business. Luck helps a lot, but if you don’t work hard and put in your time, luck is useless.
Q: Did you have any input into the “Somebody” video?
I had no input in that video...I wish I could take credit, though, because I thought it was a beautiful video. So, actually, yes I did have input…all the good stuff :-)
Q: What do you do when you hit a low point? I'm in one and looking for a way out.
I drink lots of beer. Nah, I just show up everyday. I know that somedays it's ok to put the proverbial crack pipe down and walk away from the guitar. Sometimes you need that.
Q: The chorus is key to that song . . . so you wrote the chorus and they wrote the rest?
Well, I don't want to say that because it was a complete collaborative effort.
Q: You seem a little more personable than some of the hit writers, I've met ,gonna stay that way?
Ha, well I try not to change too much no matter what.
Q: Hi Dave...just curious...How long were you in Nashville before you got your first deal?
Don't hate me…but about a month. I had contacts here prior to moving and came to town with a single already out called, “I Want My Goodbye Back”.
Q: What's is your biggest challenge as a writer?
My biggest challenge is finding fresh ideas
Q: Do you think the most effective writing method is verse chorus verse chorus? It always seems awfully simple for my style.
I think the song will tell you how it wants to be written. It will also tell you whether it wants to be cut or not. Yes, I said whether the song WANTS to be cut or not. Not every great song is meant to be cut…and that’s not a bad thing.
Q: Hope this question isn't too far out there, but would you know if CAL IV accepts song unsolicited submissions from unknown writers?
Sorry but CAL IV doesn't accept unsolicited material...most publishers I know are simply overwhelmed with keeping up with their own writers. In order to take the time out of their day to listen to new writers/material, it usually requires a referral from a credible source.
Q: Do you get ideas when you go to the movies?
What's the rating of the movie? ? Sure, I get ideas anywhere I can.
Q: Did NSAI help you when you got to town? HOW?
They've always been great to me but of course I was fortunate enough to land a deal pretty much right off the bus.
Q: Dave, could you comment on what helps you put emotional impact, lyrically, into a song?
Be real at all costs...write what means something to you...this is just my opinion, but I truly believe that heart can overcome a lot in a song.
Q: Where were you when you first heard your first single and did you jump up and down?
Actually, it woke me up! No lie...I had the radio on because I heard they were going to play it...I thought I was dreaming.
Q: Several companies told me that they're more likely to sign an artist/writer than to sign someone who is strictly a writer. I'm an above average singer, but not a knockout. What advice do you have for those of us who CAN sing our own songs?
It doesn’t hurt your chances if you are an artist/writer. If you are a great songwriter with a pretty good voice, your songs can overcome your voice...example Springsteen. No offense to any Springsteen fans, because I think he’s fantastic. But I don’t think anyone would try to argue that he’s got an amazing singing voice.
Q: Do you see any big changes in how Nashville does business in the next 5-10 years?
My brain was never intended for business so I am probably not the best candidate for the business questions.
Q: Is there anything in particular that you do to try and come up with a “fresh” idea for a song?
I try to mix it up...interpret that any way you want....and do your best not to grow up!
Q: Do you ever consider listening and possibly co writing with someone you aren't presently acquainted with?
I have a core group that I write with so my schedule stays pretty booked up. There's just not enough time in the day for me to do that, unfortunately.
Q: Would you say traditional, up-tempo is best now, no soldier or angel stuff?
Keep in mind that whatever you are hearing on the radio now is probably passé. Just write what you know. People hate hearing that sometimes, but it is so completely true. Writers get in trouble when they start chasing fads.
Q: Do lyrics come first for you or the melody?
Honestly, it depends on the day...it works both ways for me.
Q: A song plugger recently said the trend is returning back to traditional. Your thoughts?
I've heard that and I think it's true to some extent. But on the other hand I think the genre is more wide open now then ever...example Big and Rich…and yes, they are BIG and RICH :-)
Q: When attending song camps at NSAI, should the songs we bring be only country?
No. Again, write what you know but be smart about it. If you want to pitch them on the row then they ought to have some “twang”.
Q: Have you always written? And, are any of the songs you might have written early still an interest for the market?
I've written since I was 12 and up till 5 years ago I sucked! HONEST!
Q: Are you a believer in re-writing? Or do you edit as you go?
Big believer in re-writing...I love to look at a song with fresh brain cells the next day.
Q: Do you find most writers today play it too safe and don't step out of the box when writing for radio?
It's tough. We have to make a living, of course, but we also want to be true to our craft and ourselves. We are all looking for little songs that walk the line.
Q: Song contest, did you enter a bunch?
I entered a few contests because I had limited outlets for my rock material here in Nashville.
Q: Dave, is it a bad idea to get a rock or blues song evaluated with Nashville's NSAI?
I would say it's NSAI's job to critique songs for commercial potential, regardless of genre. You can always request evaluators with specific experience (rock, pop, gospel, etc).
Q: Dave, how would you rate the various ways to try and get a song cut: direct contact with a publisher, independent songplugger, contact with a friend of a friend of the artist?
They all have validity. There is no one way to get things done in this town ...that is why we all run around like chickens with our heads cut off.
Q: So, what made your writing better?
Nashville. Living here and learning from what I would consider to be the best writers in the world is what I attribute much of my improvement to.
Q: You got your first cut off the bus, how did you do it?
Sexual favors...hahaha...no not really...I had a friend who had a deal here already. He would take my ideas and co-write them with music row writers.
Q: What changed your writing 5 years ago? Did you take a quantum leap? How did you improve?
I improved by not even noticing that I was improving...just by being here and writing everyday something happened...the light bulb went off or on.
Q: Are you your own publisher?
I own some of my publishing.
Q: What would you say are some main differences between writing for rock vs. country?
Obviously rock has much larger boundaries to work within. You don't really have to make sense if you don't want to...it just has to feel good in some cases.
Q: Do you leave some of your songs for days or months to breath before coming back to them?
If I had the freedom to do that with all of my songs, I definitely would. Unfortunately, I don't. I need to produce songs on a fairly regular basis. I don’t want to become known as the guy who takes forever to finish a song.
Q: Do you think it is harder now for an unknown songwriter to get a cut than it was, say, 5 years ago?
I would say NO. It’s never been easy. You just have to write a song that they just can’t say no to.
Q: What did you do before writing?
EVERYTHING from selling insurance, pumping gas, washing dishes, landscaping...oh yeah, life was good.
Q: I've read a number of the songwriting books on the market. Can you pass on something I won't find in them?
Songwriting is not a science. It's imperative that you know the craft, of course, but after that it's all about finding your voice and being unique...in my humble opinion.
Q: Since you're a rocker, I assume you write on guitar?
You are correct sir, or, miss...eh, whatever
Q: Have you written anything with Rodney Atkins?
Yes we have...he cut “If You’re Going Through Hell” and was interested in writing with me. I ended up getting two more cuts on his record; one co-written with him and the Tate's, and the other I pitched directly to him.
Q: What's the last song you heard that made you say, "Man, I wish I wrote that?"
“Almost Home” by Craig Morgan
Q: Who’s your favorite Nash hit writer?
You mean other then myself, of course . I’d have to say Rivers Rutherford. . .
Q: Dave, I live in East TX and don't get to Nashville often. What advice can you give me in re: getting that first cut?
I'm not going to lie, it's tough. I would try to come here as often as you can and make as many contacts and co-writing friends as possible.
Q: Have you and Rivers ever co-written?
Rivers and I co-write all the time. I'm the only one that he writes with who is not filthy rich!
Q: Miscellaneous thought . . . just finished reading a book last night about the Brill Building writers. Fellow named Ben Weisman wrote 57 songs that Elvis cut. Bit of trivia for you.
I was just in New York and the Brill Building was just around the corner from my hotel so thanks for that.
Q: Do you use masterwriter software?
Master what???...yes I do.
Q: Do you use a laptop?
Yes. I would be lost without it. I can't read my writing!
Q: Scary question but would you say writers kinda have a half-life in Nashville, meaning they get hot and then sorta sizzle out??
I think that could be true. BUT the good ones stick with it and it usually comes back to them. It’s similar to artists in music. There are flashes in the pan, and there are steady, consistent acts.
Q: Do you demo your own songs?
I do good work tapes...and will try that first
Q: Who was the person who gave you your first shot?
A shot of what? That would be Ken Levitan of Vector Management. I was left of center and his publishing company looked fondly upon that.
Q: Any suggestions on the best places to hookup with a co-writer that already has some chops in N'ville?
I'm not going to make a joke here but you shouldn't set me up this well I would say if you're playing out and you're GOOD eventually good writers will see you and want to work with you.
Q: How long will you keep pitching a song that you believe in when you keep getting no's ?
If we're talking about a ton of no's, you might need to take a good hard look at your song. Maybe it's a simple change here or there, but if your heart tells you it's great don't give up on it...just be open to constructive criticism with those in positions of power.
Final thoughts from Mr. Dave Berg.
Thanks so much for logging on and chatting with me. It was a pleasure. Feel free to check out my www.myspace.com/davebergmusic...Sometimes I blog after a beer and might actually say something useful to fellow songwriters!!