60 seconds with Pam Sheyne

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  • By Paul Nichols
  • 29 Jun 2011
  • min read
Pam Sheyne is one of the songwriters behind Christina Aguilera’s global smash Genie in a Bottle. She has also written big hits for Dream and Jessica Simpson, and worked on the Pokemon: the Movie soundtrack and several Disney productions. In 2000, Pam won an Ivor Novello Award and two BMI awards for Genie in a Bottle. M chatted to Pam about her successful career as a songwriter.

Did growing up in New Zealand affect your early songs and if so, has any of that influence remained?

Yes I think so. My parents were very much into their music, country music in particular. From an early age I played guitar and sang, and I think the importance of a strong melody and a big lyrical concept has influenced my writing over the years.

What were the first songs that made an impact on you?

Abba and country music made the first impact on me, and when I moved to the UK I discovered Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind & Fire and Luther Vandross. The musicianship and talent of these artists made me strive to be a better singer. I wasn’t a writer at that point but wanted to be an artist. I only fell into being a writer by accident because I didn’t get a record deal. When I started having success as a writer I wasn’t so hung up on the artist thing anymore. I figured I’d have more longevity being a writer so I stuck at it.

What is your favourite song you’ve written, and why?

I could say Genie in a Bottle since it’s been the most successful song to date, but it’s not necessarily my favourite. It’s funny how you get pigeonholed for one song in your career, but as a “topliner” [a topliner is a songwriter who works on everything on top of a track – lyrics, phrasing and melody] I write in many styles under the commercial umbrella and love to mix it up. I’m particularly fond of You Get Me, which I wrote about four years ago with an artist called Teitur Lassen. Teitur recorded the song and then last year his manager got it cut by Seal, who did the most amazing vocal on it. That was one of those career defining moments and I was overwhelmed the first time I heard it.

Has being married to a music publisher taught you anything about writing songs?

I know I’ve written a damn good ballad when I can make my husband cry. It’s normally the credit card bill he gets each month that brings him to tears! Thankfully he has always been honest with me and given me constructive feedback when it’s needed but most importantly I’ve learned about the business side of the industry.

How does the industry in LA compare to what you left behind in London?

I was really sad to leave but I felt over the past few years there were fewer opportunities for a topliner. It seems that LA has become the centre of the world for songwriters and producers and, along with the movie and TV industry, there are more opportunities here. I’ve got to the point in my career where I want to have more control over where my songs go and how they are produced so I have teamed up with my dear friend and collaborator Aron Friedman and we have formed a production team called 3-SIX-T.

Can you tell us how you wrote Genie in a Bottle?

My friend Jodie Wilson suggested I write with David Frank and Steve Kipner when I went to LA for a writing trip in 1998. David played Steve and I a few tracks and we chose that one because it was so different. We had one day to write it and the next day I went back to David’s studio and sang the demo. We had three artists fighting for it and I’m happy to say we went with Christina.

Is there a song in your catalogue that you think is ‘the one that got away’?

I’d like to believe there a few of them as I’ve learned that sometimes it can take years for a song to find it’s way to the right home. Ironically, I have a song called The One That Got Away.

Have you got one killer tip for up and coming songwriters?

As well as developing your craft as a songwriter, learn how the business side works. Being a successful songwriter is not just about writing songs, it’s being savvy on how the industry works and making your own opportunities happen. Like any business it’s all about relationships and networking.

Having had huge success, do you still have any ambitions as a songwriter that you haven’t yet realised?

I measure success by how happy I am doing the things I love and the people I spend my time with, it’s been a bonus to earn a living on top of all that. I’m really excited now about being part of a production team and building it up. As a songwriter I’ve always wanted to write one of those classic songs that stick around for decades.

Pam Sheyne was born in New Zealand and on moving to London made the transition from artist to hugely successful songwriter. She relocated to Los Angeles with husband Nigel Rush, where they set up the publishing company AppleTreeSongs Limited.