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SongLink Success Stories: Gordon Pogoda Interview
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Gordon Pogoda
Gordon Pogoda
Los Angeles songwriter Gordon Pogoda has had worldwide success in several mediums and has achieved many of his cuts thanks to leads published in SongLink over the past few years. In film, his credits include two songs featured in the Academy Award winning motion picture "Little Miss Sunshine", the top 5 film "Josie and the Pussycats", a Disney film starring Lindsay Lohan, and several others. In television, Gordon's songs have been featured in over 45 shows including "Sex and the City", "Hannah Montana", "CSI: Miami", "ER", "Will and Grace", "King of the Hill", "Everwood", "Samantha Who", and the Disney shows "Kim Possible" and "Suite Life of Zack & Cody". On CD, his songs can be found on major labels like Universal, Warner Brothers and EMI. Gordon has had songs recorded for "Pop Idol" (the European version of "American Idol") and has had a major hit in Russia that became the number 2 song of the year. He's had a platinum record with the Australian "Popstars" group Scandal'us, three platinum records with the Greek "Popstars" group Hi-5, a platinum recording for Finnish female hard rock band Tiktak and a top 5 hit for Universal artist Tereza Kerndlova in the Czech Republic - a song which was selected to be in the 2008 Eurovision Song Contest (voted on by the people of the Czech Republic to represent their country.) Gordon's songs have also been featured in six Disney releases, and he has had a top 10 hit on the U.S. Christian singles chart with sister group Aurora and another Christian single by Award Winning artist Natalie Grant. To hear Gordon's music, check out his Myspace page at www.myspace.com/gordonpogodasongwriter

Tell us about yourself.

I grew up in Massachusetts; started playing the piano at 13 and writing songs at 15. I had a lot of music theory training in high school, which was extremely helpful for my songwriting. I received my degree in Chemical Engineering, but after a few years in that field, I left and moved to L.A. to pursue songwriting full time. I write on the piano, and I write both music and lyrics, mostly with collaborators but occasionally by myself.

Are you stronger at music or lyrics?

Tiktak
Tiktak

I used to be stronger at music, initially, even at the point when I moved to L.A. And it really bothered me that my lyric writing wasn't as good as my music writing, so I decided to do something about it. I really studied lyric writing - not just the lyric writing books like the Sheila Davis books, but pop songwriting itself -- I studied my favorite pop music. Studying the great writers helped more than anything. And through a calculated method, I figured out what they were doing, that I wasn't. Very quickly, I "got" it. And since then, I think most of my co-writers will tell you I'm equally strong at lyrics and music. In one of my most successful songs, my Eurovision song, "Have Some Fun", my contribution was the lyric.

How did that song come about?

I wrote that with a Belgium producer named Stano Simor. We actually didn't write it for Eurovision at all. Since we were located so far apart, we decided he'd write the music, send me the mp3, and I'd write the lyric to it. The lyric came out very quickly. Sometimes, a song can take a long time to write, like many months, and sometimes a whole song can come out in an hour or two. I write in many different ways, but most often, I write all the music first, then the title, then the lyric. Usually, the hardest part for me is coming up with the right title. It has to fit the melody just right, it has to match the mood of the music, and you try to come up with either a unique title or a title that would at least set up a unique story. That's a lot of prerequisites for something you're trying to fit into five notes!

How did it feel to have a song performed in such a big event as the Eurovision Song Contest?

It's an incredible feeling. And being there, you get exposed to such a wide variety of songs and styles. In some countries, the music is just so different from anything we hear in, say, the US or UK. I'm told that the show is watched on TV across Europe and Australia by approximately 400 million people. Of all my songs, this one may be the one that's been heard by the most people -- although, I had a big hit in Russia, so those two have probably been heard the most.

What can you tell us about your Russian hit?

Sergey Lazarev
Sergey Lazarev

It's a song called "Just Because You Walk Away", recorded by Sergey Lazarev, and I wrote it with an artist named John Stephan from Australia. It became the #2 song of the year in Russia in 2006. It's still hard for me to fathom that, since I've never been to Russia or gotten to hear the song on the radio there. Interestingly, when I wrote the song with John, I had started writing the chorus music shortly before he arrived for our writing session and I had envisioned it as an uptempo song, and that's how I played it for him. We were actually writing the song for John - as an artist. And when he heard it, he thought -- and practically insisted -- that it should be a ballad. I thought it worked as a ballad and an uptempo but wanted it as an uptempo. But since John was the intended artist for the song and he wanted it as a ballad, I caved in and said, "OK." Interestingly, when it was recorded a few years later by Sergey, he first released the album with just one version of the song -- as a ballad -- in English. Then when it became so successful, they re-released the album with three versions of the song -- they added the Russian language version, also a ballad, and an uptempo dance remix. So it finally became an uptempo song, too. But after it became the #2 song of the year, as a ballad, I said to my co-writer John, "You know, I think you were probably right in suggesting we convert it into a ballad." Now John is pursuing a country career, and we got together to write for him again recently, and we decided to write an uptempo song for him. It was turning out nice but about halfway through the writing session, John said, "We should make this a ballad!" And as much as I wanted to fight him again on this, and I kind of did, even knowing we were writing it for John, I thought, "Who am I to argue when John thinks an uptempo song should be converted to a ballad?"

But some day, I would like to write an uptempo song with this guy! Something that stays uptempo.

Also, a couple interesting points -- I got this cut because of Sergey Lazarev being listed in a SongLink tip. But what's strange is that I met my co-writer of the song, John Stephan, because years earlier John himself was listed in SongLink as an artist looking for songs, and I sent over some material! If either one of those tips had not been listed in SongLink, John and I would not have had the #2 song of the year in Russia. It's strange when you think about the sequence of events that must take place for every cut to happen; I've also had cuts that fell through because one link in the chain got broken, so it can work both ways.

What can you tell us about your song in the film "Josie & the Pussycats"?


"I've gotten more CD cuts
through SongLink
than through any other method."

David Young and I wrote "I.C.U.", which was also in "CSI: Miami". We originally intended it as a female dance song, but this was around 1999, and during the writing process, one of us - I think it was me - suggested that we do it as a boyband song, since teen pop was really popular then. So we slowed the tempo a bit from 130 to 120 bpm and did it as an uptempo pop song, and that recording was what was used in "Josie & the Pussycats". I was told that there were 137 musical cues in that movie and that this was the 137th cue chosen for the movie, so it got in at the very last minute. But interestingly, last month David and I decided to re-cut the demo -- as a female dance song. We went back to what we initially intended it to be - with the new version about 130 bpm, and it works. Doing this sort of thing is one of the keys to my success -- If I really believe in a song, and a few years later I feel it hasn't reached its full potential and that the demo style is now dated, I'll re-cut the song in a totally new way. I re-cut "Don't Ever Love a Romeo", which I had written in 1997 and recorded as a Robyn-type song, which actually ended up sounding more like a Britney Spears type pop/R&B song because 3 months after I recorded "Don't Ever Love A Romeo", Britney's first single "Baby One More Time" came out, and it was very much in that vein. Then about 3 or 4 years later, when my song didn't have the success I thought it should have and the demo was becoming dated, I decided I'd re-record it as a much faster hard-rock, almost-punk song, which people said sounded like a female Green Day song! It's kind of hard to imagine a song working as a Britney Spears song and a Green Day song, but surprisingly this one did, which is really odd because it has some really strange chord progressions in it. But it worked as both teenybopper and punk. The hard rock version then got cut by a very successful female rock band in Finland named Tiktak and became a platinum record. They actually made the recording a bit more Led Zeppelin-like, especially in the verses, and no one hearing their recording of it would ever think it started out sounding like a Britney Spears type song. I feel funny mentioning Britney Spears and Led Zeppelin in the same sentence, let alone comparing them in the same song, because their styles are on absolutely opposite ends of the musical spectrum. But if you hear both demos, they both completely work in their genres, and I'd like to think that a good song can be arranged in many different ways. And by the way, the Tiktak cut came about because of a tip in SongLink.

And your songs in "Little Miss Sunshine"?

I wrote "Dancing in the Driver's Seat" with a British writer named Barry Upton, whom, once again I met through an ad in SongLink, when he was needing songs for an artist he was producing. In 1999, he flew to L.A. for writing sessions with me and some other guy, and Barry and I had two days together. We wrote four complete songs in that time -- one was this one, and one was a song used in "Will & Grace." But with regards to "Dancing in the Driver's Seat", we wrote it to be a cross between the Beach Boys and Motown. And someone pointed out that the bridge was kind of Beatle-ish and felt that we had combined the 3 greatest musical influences of the '60s -- Beatles, Beach Boys, Motown - into one song. That was a nice compliment but I don't think we ever thought of the bridge as Beatles-esque when we were writing it. When it got time for Barry to make the demo in Britain, it came out less Beach Boys and more Motown, but Motown meets teen pop. A friend who saw "Little Miss Sunshine" the first day it came out -- he had no idea I co-wrote the song and remarked that he thought it might be by the A-Teens! So it's an interesting blend, but mostly retro. The other song in the movie was a song I wrote myself, "If Cupid Had a Heart", which has been used for many TV shows and films, including "Hannah Montana."

What's it like having a song in something so popular as a TV show like "Hannah Montana"?

Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus
Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus

It's wild. When I googled "If Cupid Had a Heart", I came across, literally, thousands of kids complimenting the song and asking all sorts of questions about it, like who was the actual singer, and where could they buy it (and as a result, we put it up on i-Tunes). And they were already aware that the song had been in a Lindsay Lohan film and "Little Miss Sunshine" and others. But the most surprising thing I found when I googled the song title was that many kids had made their own homemade videos of "If Cupid Had a Heart", some with animation, many with the lyrics floating across the screen. I was shocked and amazed and it really was the most wonderful thing, for them to be so affected by the song that they wanted to make a video of it. I remember as a kid how strongly I reacted to music and my favorite songs (I still do), so to see this in kids today, reacting to MY song, well it's an interesting circle that's somehow completed.

Did you have a hit on the Christian chart?

Yes, which brings up another example of what I was just talking about before. I have a song called "Going Going Gone", written with Johnny Elkins, also done in that same period, around 1999, ala a Britney Spears type pop/R&B song, and a few years later I did a pop/rock version of it; the original demo led to both a Christian cut (which became a top 10 hit on the US Christian chart by sister act Aurora) and a Latin release by Gioia Bruno, a lead singer of Expose; and the rock demo led to a country cut - and someone wanted it as a boyband song back then. So the song exists as a pop/R&B song, a rock song, a Christian song, a Latin song, a country song, and a boyband song. Interestingly, the Gioia Bruno cut came about through SongLink, too.

What do you do for inspiration?

I live in an inspirational place. There are five lakes here and many streams with wooden bridges, and waterfalls, and it's almost like a forest here ... even though it's a suburb of L.A. And I take walks through here almost every day. When I was looking for a home to buy and I found this place, I thought, "This is the perfect place for a writer to live." I never want to move from here.

What do you think is the difference between a great melody and a good melody?

I think it's all about motifs - musical patterns. For me, that's the most important thing. Melodies that run through a section, whether it's a verse or a chorus, are all a succession of notes and melodic patterns, and the rhythm of one line will influence the rhythm of the next. I tend to think about those things when writing melodies. But also, a very important factor in all this is the chord choice that goes under those melodies. One set of chord progressions could make the song great, but choosing a different set of chords for the same melody could make it boring or generic.

When you create, is it coming more from the brain or the heart?

For me, it's a combination of both - a 50/50 split. I do think about chords and melodic moments, and I happen to have been taught a lot of music theory in school, but what I'm writing has to hit me on an emotional level as well, and that's most important. I've worked with some writers where I felt they wrote completely from their brain, and of course, many writers write completely from the heart. They don't think about music theory because a lot of songwriters don't have any musical training, including many great songwriters.

You have your own publishing company and pitch your own songs. How do you split the time?

That's like a 50/50 split, too. Half the time I'm writing or recording my songs, and half the time I'm sending out my songs. I spend a lot of time on the publishing side, more than most songwriters I know. It's not a fun part of songwriting - I'd much prefer writing the songs - but it's a necessary part. However, in terms of cuts on CDs, I've gotten 6 cuts through Lawrence Van Den Eede at EMI Music Publishing, who represents some of my catalog for Europe, and I've gotten the 2 Christian cuts through Billy Meshel, a publisher in Hollywood who used to run Arista Publishing for Clive Davis. But the majority of CD cuts, I've gotten myself by subscribing to tip sheets like SongLink. In fact, I've gotten more CD cuts through SongLink than through any other method.

What other artists have released your songs thanks to tips published in SongLink?

Besides all the ones I've already mentioned, there was my platinum record in Australia for the Popstars group Scandal'Us, I had 3 platinum & gold records for the Greek Popstars group Hi-5, also cuts with a Canadian artist Joanna Rader, a Belgium artist Noa Neal, a U.S. country artist named Shelley Ruffin, The Kidmans, Untamed, and others.

Check out Gordon's Myspace page at:
www.myspace.com/gordonpogodasongwriter
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