During the past five years, Breyan Isaac has emerged as a top songwriter in the pop and hip-hop fields. He has co-written four big hits during this time, co-writing “Good Feeling” and “Whistle” for Flo Rida, “Timber” for Pitbull featuring Kesha, and “One Call Away” for Charlie Puth. Isaac is also establishing himself as a successful producer; he now produces several of the cuts that he co-writes.
Based in Daytona Beach, Florida, Isaac travels frequently to Los Angeles and other cities to co-write. He has collaborated with Flo Rida, David Guetta, Pitbull, Wiz Khalifa, Nicki Minaj, Iggy Azalea, Charlie Puth, Waka Flocka Flame, Robin Thicke and other artists. In addition, Isaac has a music publishing deal with Mike Caren’s Artist Publishing Group and BMG, and he is managed by Sal & Co. (headed by Sal Slaiby). Isaac is also business partners with Dre Marshall in a production company.
Besides the four hit singles listed above, Isaac has impressively co-written six other singles which have made the Billboard Hot 100 chart: “Let It Roll,” ”Hello Friday” and “I Don’t Like It, I Love It” (for Flo Rida); “Get Low” (Waka Flocka Flame); “Hey Porsche” (Nelly); and “Bed of Lies” (Nicki Minaj). He has also had cuts with David Guetta, Britney Spears, Far East Movement, Jason Derulo, Wiz Khalifa & Iggy Azalea, Hardwell and Inna.
Isaac originally started out with gospel music—he was a praise & worship leader in church. He has also recorded songs as an artist. Most recently, he has co-written & produced songs for the upcoming movies: Fifty Shades Darker and Fast & Furious 8.
We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Breyan Issac. He tells how he got started, and recalls how he co-wrote hits for Flo Rida, Pitbull and Charlie Puth.
DK: How did you get started with music? I read that you’re from Boston.
Breyan Isaac: Well, I was born in Boston—my father’s side of the family is from Boston. I was born in Roxbury, spent a little time there, and when we were young, my father got a better job and we moved to Fort Lauderdale. I was glad that we moved to Florida.
DK: Currently, are you still based in Florida?
Isaac: Yes, I’ve been in Daytona Beach, pretty much since the beginning of my career, which has been the last six years. It’s funny…I moved here (from Fort Lauderdale) out of a rough circumstance. I was one of those people that got caught up in the housing bubble (during 2007-2012). I was in Fort Lauderdale at the time. My father was in real estate, so I owned my house as well as owned a couple of rental properties with my father. And when the bubble burst, it sort of burst on me as well, so I ended up having to get out of there and this is where I ended up.
Here’s the video of Charlie Puth’s hit song, “One Call Away,”
which was co-written by Breyan Isaac.
DK: Since you live in Daytona Beach, do you travel a lot to Los Angeles and other cities to co-write?
Isaac: Absolutely, I probably spend half of my month either in L.A. or somewhere else…I travel a lot.
DK: Besides L.A., where else do you travel?
Isaac: Oh man, I’ve been to so many other places. I’ve been to Jamaica, Romania, Sweden, Iceland, Poland…many different places.
DK: I’ve heard some of the songs you recorded as an artist five years ago. Are you still interested in being an artist, or are you mainly a songwriter & producer now?
Isaac: You know, I’ve pretty much been a writer & producer for the past five years. But in the last year, a lot of little projects have been coming up, that have been sort of forcing me back in that (artist) direction. So it’s cool. I’m not necessarily like head-long, let’s go do it (as an artist), but I wouldn’t fight it if the door opens.
DK: As a writer, do you mainly write the topline (melody & lyrics), or do you also create the tracks?
Isaac: I write topline, and I create the tracks as well; I play keyboards. I come from church, so I was a praise & worship leader as a young person. So playing keys is my first instrument.
DK: So you can write both topline and do the tracks?
Isaac: Yeah, I try to do whatever cuts the check (he laughs).
DK: I looked at your credits, and these days it’s very common for a hit song to have five or more writers on it. So how is it that you can write both the topline and tracks, yet the writing credits are often split with several other writers?
Isaac: It’s sort of funny. For me, because I come from [a different era], I never really knew that there were separate jobs. I didn’t know that there were people that just wrote songs, and there are people who just produce songs. I sort of grew up believing that…Hey, you just do everything…and I still approach it that way. So there may be times when I just come into the room, and [the other writers] are looking for topline from me, and there are times I’ll come in and I’m just the chord guy who starts the inception of the idea. And then sometimes I’ve got a full idea, and the other people in the room just format it, and get it to where it needs to go.
Here’s the video of Pitbull & Kesha’s hit song, “Timber,”
which was co-written by Breyan Isaac.
DK: In Daytona Beach, do you have a studio, and do artists come to Florida to write with you there?
Isaac: Yes. I’m in the process of building a bigger studio in Daytona, and we work here pretty religiously as well.
DK: As a songwriter, how did you get your first break?
Isaac: Right after I moved here to Daytona, I had a buddy who called me and said, “Hey, I have this opportunity to work with Flo Rida for a couple days. You should come down and work with him.” So I came down, and we messed around a little bit. We came up with some ideas, and one of the first co-writes we did was (the hit) “Good Feeling” for Flo Rida. So that was basically the start of my career. It was such a big record—it just opened up so many doors. So I’m thankful for that.
DK: I read the credits for Flo Rida’s Wild Ones album, and you co-wrote four of the songs. The big hit “Whistle” was also on that album. Can you tell me how you co-wrote both “Good Feeling” and “Whistle”?
Isaac: With “Good Feeling,” it sort of came out of an idea that Mike (Caren, Head of APG Music & Creative Officer at Warner Music) had. Mike works closely with Flo Rida on all of his projects. He had an idea to use the sample from the Etta James song (“Something’s Got a Hold on Me”), and it blossomed into a whole other thing. And then Flo came in, and we worked on the verses and the bridge, and we worked out the idea of the song together. There were also other writers who contributed to this song.
With “Whistle,” there’s a guy named David Glass who came in with the initial whistle idea for the hook (he starts whistling the hook). He also had this cool beat. And I came in the room, just as they were playing the beginning of the idea to Flo (Rida), and the magic just happened so quickly on that song. It came together in one session, and within a day or two, the majority of the song was done.
DK: In 2013, you had another big hit, co-writing “Timber” for Pitbull & Kesha. How did this song come together?
Isaac: It was amazing situation. There’s this producer named Sermstyle—he had this beat, and he played it for me and (songwriter) Priscilla Renea in the session. I totally remember working on it—it was my first time meeting Priscilla. I would say within 30 minutes, we came up with the idea so fast, that we almost thought it was too easy. So then we spent the rest of the session working on another song that we thought [could be better]. It was like, “Hey, this [new song] is the one—forget that first song, ‘Timber’.” So we spent most of the day working on this other beat. And by the time the A&R (execs) came back in, they actually paid no attention to the second song— “Timber” was the one that they really gravitated to. It turned into an amazing situation for both of us.
Here’s the video of Flo Rida’s hit song, “Whistle,”
which was co-written by Breyan Isaac.
DK: Then last year, you had a big pop hit, co-writing “One Call Away” for Charlie Puth. How did this song happen?
Isaac: We were in a writer’s camp for Charlie Puth in Montecito (near Santa Barbara, CA). Charlie is like my little brother. It was one of those nights where everybody had gotten together, and we were sitting by a campfire. It was one of those legitimate campfire songs where the guitar comes out around the fire, with marshmallows roasting. Then the idea started with (writer/producer) DJ Frank E coming up with the chords, and everybody kind of pitched in on that song. It turned out to be amazing…I’m really happy about it.
DK: A lot of your placements have been with hip-hop artists. I know you can write the topline and create tracks, but do you also sometimes help write the raps?
Isaac: When we’re in a session writing, we’re all contributing to the overall song. Sometimes it’s the verses, sometimes I help [the rappers] with the verses to get them where they need to go. Sometimes it’s the [pre-chorus], sometimes it’s the hook. Sometimes they’ve got an amazing verse and hook, but it needs to be swagged out a little bit and given some love. It happens every kind of way.
DK: More recently, you’ve also been credited as a producer. How did the producing side happen?
Isaac: It’s funny…I never really wanted to be a writer. I wanted to be a producer when I was younger. That’s sort of how I was pursuing music. And then when I actually started getting a break, [music execs] didn’t want production from me—they just wanted songwriting, because they already had great beats. So I sort of became a recluse with the production, and I only co-wrote songs and did topline. But then I started noticing that if I turned in a song that felt really good, it didn’t matter whose beat it was over, because they liked the song. So that was a door opening for me to say…Hey, let me start slipping me in songs that I produced. The first one was “Get Low,” which was Waka Flocka Flame’s song with Tyga, Nicki Minaj & Flo Rida. That was the first one I produced. I also produced “Bed of Lies” for Nicki Minaj, and I helped to produce “What I Did For Love” for David Guetta. So I’d been doing production, but it wasn’t my primary thing. But now, it’s doing production as well as topline on most of the songs that are coming out. I also have co-producers.
DK: Currently, do you have some new cuts coming out, that you’re excited about?
Isaac: Yeah. There’s a song called “Bom Bidi Bom“ by Nick Jonas & Nicki Minaj, which is the second single from the (movie soundtrack), Fifty Shades Darker. It’s Nick Jonas’ song—Nicki Minaj has a super-crazy bridge section that takes the song in a whole, another direction, but it’s really dope.
I’m really excited about some other cuts, too. There’s a song coming out with Lil Uzi Vert, Travis Scott and Quavo (from the group, Migos) that’s going to be the theme song for Fast & Furious 8. That will be a single out in March, or close to when the movie comes out in April. Then there’s another single called “Jordan” that I’m actually featured on with an artist named Lecrae. It’s from a movie called The Shack (starring Sam Worthington and Octavia Spencer). And then I have a song coming out on Timbaland’s Shock Value 4 (album), and I have songs coming out with Pitbull and Flo Rida.