Welcome back to Part 3 of the interview with Michael Peterson. Here he frankly talks about his transition from being a songwriter and an artist with a number one record to the season he is in now.
Peterson: So, now I was in a new season of being a songwriter: I was a professional songwriter. I had number one hits as an artist. I had other people recording my songs, who were artists that I had looked up to and admired from afar. I was signed at Warner Bros. On some level, I was one of “guys” of my “year group,” who was nominated for all the new awards an artist can be nominated for. I sold over a million records at Warner Bros., won a few awards.
It was a whole new different season. In that season I wrote because, well… it’s my job. I’m an official songwriter. Everyday, when I’m home and not on the road singing, I’ve got a writing appointment. Who am I writing with today and what are we going to write about? Five days a week, four weeks a month, 12 months a year. Here come some pretty sizeable paychecks. And it shifts things. It’s a different season, you know.
I got to write with incredible hall-of-fame songwriters, guys like John Bettis. John Bettis has had songs on records that sold over 200 million. He wrote One Moment In Time (Whitney Houston), Slow Hand (Pointer Sisters), Human Nature (Michael Jackson), and Crazy For You (Madonna). He had over 30 Carpenters cuts, a bunch of George Strait hits. This guy’s in the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame- both in Nashville and New York. I was working with people like that: Craig Wiseman, Jeffrey Steele, and Bob DePirro. I could make a long list of people I got to work with. And every time I wrote with one of those hall of fame, top hit songwriters, it made me better. I learned things. I found myself in a new season.
That’s a very long answer to your short question. I think the answer to why you write depends on which season you are in.
Now I’m in a new season again. I moved out of Nashville. I live in Las Vegas. I’m in a season in my life where I just finished my 17th album of my career. Wow, how did I get to my 17th album? I played 100 shows last year. I’m at a place where there’s a fan base. People come to hear me because they know my music and they want to experience my music and experience the show. I’m not at a place in my life anymore where I’m trying to get on the charts. With all the experiences I’ve had, in some ways, I’ve come full circle. I’m writing because I’m passionate about writing. I want to write because I love the feeling I get when I do. When you come up with a great song, it’s a great feeling. It’s not driven as much by, “It’s my job” anymore. It’s not driven by the need to make a name for myself anymore. It’s just sort of back to when I first started, when I felt like I had something I wanted to say. Now, it’s a different season than before. There are some great re-discoveries and some great new discoveries in this place. I think it depends on the season of writing that you’re in.
I’ve probably said too much on all that (laughs)…
HitSongTips.com: No, no… You answered about seven of the questions I was going to ask. I’ll just let you go on all you want (laughs). Many songwriters have fantasies about doing a lot of the things you just mentioned. But, it sounds like it became “just a job” there for a while. And now, you’ve re-discovered your love for writing again. Is that accurate?
Peterson: Yeah… I never got cynical about it. I never took it for granted. It was never, ‘Oh, crap! I’ve got to go write some songs today.’
I never felt like that. But, what I discovered was that there really is a difference between a great song and a hit song. Sometime they’re the same thing. Everybody has an opinion, right. And it’s my opinion, at this point in my life, that you can’t write hit songs. It takes a lot of elements to make a hit record. It takes the right artist, the right promotion, the right label, and the right song. There are a lot of things that go into making a hit record.
I know I’m not alone in this: I’ve heard it from a lot of writers. When you’re hot, you’re hot. And, when you’re not, you’re not. So, if you’re in a season where people are paying attention to what you’re doing on a professional level, you get more action. Because it’s the kind of listening they have for your work. When that season passes, you can write what you feel are better songs than you ever had hits with, but they’re not getting the green light. And why? It’s because there’s somebody else that they are listening to right now. So the last couple of years in Nashville, I felt like I wrote the best stuff I’ve ever written. But, I wasn’t getting cuts like I used to.
Continued next week…