Andrea Martin: 30,000 songs and counting
New York singer/songwriter Andrea Martin is a real legend within urban music, responsible for penning some of the most memorable R&B classics of the 90s and beyond. From monster smashes like En Vogue’s “Don’t Let Go (Love)” and Leona Lewis’ “Better In Time”, to fan favourites such as “Wish I Didn’t Miss You” by Angie Stone, the hit maker is now signed to Roc Nation and recently collaborated with UK-based DJ Switch. Here she reminisces about her career, revealing how she’s written 30,000 songs, why En Vogue almost never released their iconic global hit and why she’s so excited about her current work with UK singer Yasmin.
How did you get your big break?
I was a singer primarily and once worked with this guy (and whenever anyone in the music industry gave me their details, I always kept up with them). I called his work and he wasn’t there anymore. When I got hold of him he told me he was a publisher now and I said; “Books?” I always thought a publisher just published books. He was like; “No, we do songs here”, so I said; “Well I can write songs”. A few weeks later he called me back and said; “You think you can do this? I’ll give you four songs and if you can write to one of them I’ll sign you”. I needed a job so I wrote to all four songs. I wrote them all in three hours and he was impressed and signed me there and then. And that’s when things started to take off for me.
When you said, “I can write songs”, when was it that you first realised that?
I was living by myself for a long time doing demos and I needed the money, and people would refer me to other people and I just had words with no melody and they were like; “If you sing it we’ll give you some money” and I’d say; “Well how does the song go?” They would say; “Well just sing it,” and that’s how it started, I didn’t even really know at the time that I was writing as such until I started hearing stuff that I did on the radio.
Monica’s “Before You Walk Out Of My Life” was your first hit. It was a US Top 10 and a UK Top 30. How did it feel having made what went on to be viewed as such a genre-defining record?
It was amazing! It was for this guy and was originally called “Before I Walk Out Of Your Life” but I thought that concept would be too conceited so I changed it. There was just a real story behind that whole thing. My sister used to keep up with music more than me and one day she was all excited and said “There was a block party and they played it!” and I was like “That’s not a hit is it?” and that’s how it all began. And it never ended, thank God.
Take me back to when you wrote the anthemic, Grammy nominated “Don’t Let Go (Love)” for En Vogue. It went on to be a Top 10 in over 10 countries, spent eight weeks in the UK Top 10 and was their biggest international hit.
When I first started working with En Vogue I felt it was my job to do something that they’d never done before and that’s how that track came about. I remember sitting down with (producers) Organized Noize and they kept running this track and it had this lead guitar hook (demonstrates by singing it) and I said, “This would be so dope for En Vogue!” and they looked at me and said; “This is for Mick Jagger!” So I was like “How about I sing something, and you guys can have the track back later today?” And then I rushed to the studio and was like “What’s it gonna beee…”
Did you already have any of the lyrics written down or in your head?
Not at all, I just freestyled it. I never thought it would end up being a hit.
How long does it take you to write a song and how many have you written?
Sometimes five minutes and it’s written. I’ve written 30,000 records. One time I was so addicted to writing I was making about three songs a day. Writing records comes naturally, as I said I didn’t really know I was writing songs until I was hearing a lot of my stuff on the radio. I write every record for myself, which is why it becomes a good song because it is coming from real experience. If I’m having a convo’ with my friend, she might be saying how bad her boyfriend’s treating her, so I might write a song about what she’s going through.
Are you ever unhappy with how an artist has sung your song?
At the end of the day if it becomes a hit, I’m never mad about it. Every artist has their own way of singing a song; I sing soulful records and I wouldn’t expect a pop artist to sing it in a soulful way.
Most of the songs you’ve written have been for women. How comes?
Sometimes I think the males don’t think a female could write a good record for them, they don’t think a female can understand what a man is going through, and that’s the biggest problem. Think about all the male groups and then think about who wrote their records.
You’ve been working with UK singer Yasmin recently, how did that come about?
It’s funny as her manager contacted my manager because she’s always wanted to meet me so it’s kind of cool. I guess I was like a dream come true for her and she was a dream come true for me because I’ve done a lot of pop music for urban artists but I’ve not done a lot of pop music for pop artists. So this was a good opportunity for me to show people what I can do, that I’ve always done it, but here it is…so I’m excited.
Do you have any advice for aspiring songwriters?
Don’t think too hard. Don’t try and write a record that’s already out there, write one that’s not already out there. Think of a title that nobody’s done. And even if they did do it, make it your own rendition of what it should be about. That’s more important than the technical aspect of it.
Tagged in: Andrea Martin, DJ Switch, En Vogue Don’t Let Go, Leona Lewis Better In Time, Monica Before You Walk Out Of My Life, music, Roc Nation, Wish I Didn’t Miss You Angie Stone, yasmin
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