Cathy Dennis

Cathy Dennis, multiple Ivor Novello Award winner and writer of worldwide pop anthems, reveals the secrets of progressing from pop star to hit writer and publisher

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 6 Jul 2010
  • min read
Cathy Dennis, multiple Ivor Novello Award winner and writer of worldwide pop anthems, reveals the secrets of progressing from pop star to hit writer and publisher

People tend to think of me as an artist who became a writer, but I must say that’s a myth, because I have always written and produced my own material. I just stopped doing the artist thing.

I am naturally very shy so when I started songwriting, one of the hardest aspects was having to walk into situations and be the assertive one. I’ve always been very hard on myself about whether my ideas were good, even when I’ve written things that have actually gone on to be hits.

My time as a pop singer was a strange experience.  As much as I enjoyed being a successful artist, I have always been naturally rebellious, and I don’t like to be told what to do.

As a writer, I have to be disciplined. I work with lots of people who are much less disciplined than me, and I finish up feeling like the mother hen-come-slave driver. With a co-write, I spend the first couple of hours creeping around, to find out what I’m dealing with.

If you are all in a room together, it should be about relying on each other’s strengths, and hopefully making up for the deficits, wherever they might be. I usually play quite a heavy lyrical role. Although I am often asked, I never really go back on my co-writes and explain who did what, because I feel that it takes away from the song as a whole.

I rarely deal directly with the artist, although we do get to know each other via the song writing process. The key relationship is with the record company, and specifically their A&R people. Another writer said to me the other day, ‘The only reason that I’ve got my house is because the A&R person put a cut on that big record for me.’ It wasn’t that it was a single, or an amazing song. It was because of the relationship with the A&R person.

In terms of do’s and don’ts for aspiring writers, I would say don’t ever give up. That may sound very obvious, but I don’t think I got where I am today because of talent, I think it’s because I’m tenacious.  Also, I’d say get a lawyer, and get a good one.

A good publisher is key and they will always stand behind you. I have always said that if I’m a good writer now, it’s because I was given that freedom, I was given that responsibility when I probably didn’t deserve it.

I’m a publisher now myself, I’ve signed nine people, mostly in America, and I’d like to think that I’m always loyal and passionate about what they’re doing, and understand that there’s a level of personal nurturing as well.

A good manager can also play a pivotal role. Simon Fuller is still my manager after all this time. He came to me with the Spice Girls, then with S Club 7, and by that time I started to believe that I might be able to do this.

My other advice is this: try to expose yourself to as many different external elements as possible, whether that’s writers, experiences, books or culture. Although I grew up with pop music, because of my dad I also grew up listening to jazz and classical, so I’ve always had a freedom musically.

Finally, try to find a unique sound. The challenge is, even if you write a familiar lyrical idea again, to twist it and make it fresh. There’s always a way of doing it. Everything’s been written, but not necessarily in every way, and that’s why we keep going.