Jim Vellutato, Vice President of A&R at Sony/ATV Music in Los Angeles, has placed many songs during his career which subsequently became hit singles. He’s also set up collaborations between songwriters & artists, which have led to hit songs being created. Notably during the past year, Vellutato has played a role in the making of two, #1 pop hits, “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus and “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” by Kelly Clarkson.
For “Wrecking Ball,” Vellutato set up a writing collaboration between top songwriters Sacha Skarbek (who co-wrote James Blunt’s hit “You’re Beautiful”), Stephan Moccio (Celine Dion’s “A New Day Has Come”) and MoZella (recording artist and a top writer for film & TV placements). The trio wrote “Wrecking Ball” in Los Angeles (with additional production/writing by Dr. Luke & Cirkut), and it was pitched to Miley Cyrus. Cyrus loved the song, and almost a year later, it was a #1 single on the Billboard Hot 100.
For “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)”, Vellutato helped to coordinate with Robin Godfrey-Cass a writing session between Ali Tamposi, Jorgen Elofsson (hit writer for Britney Spears and Kelly Clarkson), and David Gamson (hit writer & former member of pop band Scritti Politti). Tamposi’s manager, Tom Maffei, was the first to pitch this song to Jeff Aldrich (then A&R exec for Kelly Clarkson). “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” was produced (with additional co-writing) by Greg Kurstin and was nominated for several Grammy awards, including Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Best Pop Solo Performance (which Clarkson won).
In addition, during the past two years, Vellutato and Sony/ATV Co-President Jody Gerson helped connect rap star Pitbull (who is signed to Sony/ATV) with an artist & production team called TJR, and jointly they wrote Pitbull’s hit song, “Don’t Stop The Party.” Vellutato also set up a co-writing session with Jonas Jerberg’s manager Laurent Besencon for his writer Corey Chorus, which led to Chorus’ co-writing of Demi Lovato’s single, “Made In The USA.”
In the music business, where job turnover is always high, Vellutato has worked at Sony/ATV for a remarkable 21 years. For more information about Vellutato’s career and credits, you can read his 2010 article with SongwriterUniverse.
We’re pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Jim Vellutato. He tells how “Wrecking Ball” and “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” were written, and about other placements he’s worked on. Vellutato also provides insights for songwriters on how they can succeed in the music business today.
DK: Congratulations on your success with “Wrecking Ball” and “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)”. How was “Wrecking Ball” written?
Vellutato: It’s an interesting story. I had worked before with Sacha Skarbek (who is based in London) and Stephan Moccio (from Toronto) on other projects. Both happened to be in Los Angeles looking for places to live in their move to L.A., and we discussed writing a song for Miley Cyrus—I heard she was looking for a hit ballad. I wanted to set up a writing session for them with my writer, MoZella. Sacha’s manager, Mike Dixon, was able to secure a writing room (at HoriPro Entertainment Group’s office), so the three of them got together and knocked the song out in three hours. When “Wrecking Ball” was demoed, MoZella sent it directly to Miley because she had previously established a connection with her. Miley heard and loved “Wrecking Ball”. She sent it to (top producer) Dr. Luke, who contributed to the production and songwriting along with Cirkut (who works with Dr. Luke).
At the time, we knew placing a song with Miley would be a terrific cut, but this was before Miley’s single “We Can’t Stop” became a big hit, and before Miley became one of the hottest celebrities. “Wrecking Ball” was released as her next single, and it reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming Miley’s first #1 hit. It also broke the record for most streams in a 24-hour period. All the planets lined up.
DK: “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” was also a huge hit. How was this song written?
Vellutato: We signed a writer named Ali Tamposi, via a joint venture publishing deal with Perfect Storm (run by Robin Godfrey Cass & Jorgen Elofsson). Part of my job is to help set up writing collaborations for her and pitch her songs. David Gray (A&R exec for Syco Music, Simon Cowell’s company) was putting together a writing camp for Leona Lewis, so Robin and I set up Ali, Jorgen Elofsson and David Gamson to write for Leona. They scheduled a writing session, but then Ali called me—she said she’d just broken up with her boyfriend of seven years, and she wanted to cancel the session. However, luckily, Ali spoke with her mother earlier that day, who said something along the lines of “it’s not going to kill you, it will make you stronger.” I also gave her my personal pep talk that every time she walks into a writing session, the song could change your life. Ali made the drive to Long Beach to attend the writing session, and she used her mother’s words to help write this great song. Originally, the song title was “What Doesn’t Kill You”; it was later changed to “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)”.
When the song was first written, Ali, Jorgen & David decided it wasn’t quite right for Leona Lewis. Then Ali’s manager, Tom Maffei, was first to pitch the demo to Jeff Aldrich (then A&R exec for Kelly Clarkson at RCA Records). Jeff loved the song and played it for Kelly Clarkson and her manager, Narvel Blackstock, who both loved the song. Jeff then hired Greg Kurstin to produce, and he contributed additional writing to the song.
Kelly recorded the song and it was the second single released from her album, Stronger. The song went to #1 on the Hot 100 for three weeks, plus #1 on the AC chart. It was nominated for four Grammy awards—it was great to see the writers get nominated for Song of the Year. It was also BMI Song of the Year in Europe.
DK: That’s a great success story. I know you were also involved with the hit “Don’t Stop The Party” for Pitbull. How did this song happen?
Vellutato: Nick Raphael (Label head at Sony Music U.K. at the time) played me a track his artist & production team TJR wrote for their first single. Nick wanted a rapper to guest on the single for the UK. I spoke to him about Flo Rida and Pitbull who are signed to SonyATV. Jody Gerson (Co-President of Sony/ATV) introduced me and the track to Charles Chavez, who is Pitbull’s manager. He played it for Pitbull, who really liked the track and wanted to write to it. Pitbull then co-wrote the song, creating the title hook and the rap, and it came out incredibly well. Pitbull released it as a single, featuring TJR and we were able to place it in a huge, Bud Lite commercial. This commercial was a Saturday and Sunday staple played many times on football and basketball TV broadcasts, which helped the song sell over two million units worldwide.
DK: What other cuts have you worked on during the past year?
Vellutato: I pitched a couple of songs on the current Maroon 5 album. One of the songs was co-written by our writer JR Rotem called “Wipe Your Eyes,” which was recorded by Maroon 5. Katie Welle (A&R exec at Sony/ATV) and Jamie Zeluck set up a collaboration with our writer Brian West and Marius Moga, and they co-wrote the song “The Man Who Never Lied”. Adam Levine took the song, added his lyric and melody changes and completed the writing of the song for their album.
We also co-publish the Demi Lovato single,”Made In The USA.” Laurent Besencon and I set up a cowrite with my writer Corey Chorus , his writer Jonas Jeberg (of Geneva Lake Entertainment), Jason Evigan & Blair Perkins for Blair and his artst demo. Mio Vukovic (Senior VP of A&R at Hollywood Records) heard the song and liked it, so he played the song for Demi. She added co-writing and recorded the song, and it came out as her second single. There was also a country version produced by Mike Daly (Hollywood Records A&R) of this song.
DK: Which songwriters at Sony/ATV do you regularly work with?
Vellutato: There are many excellent writers at Sony/ATV, both in the U.S. and from overseas. Some of the writers I work with include Ali Tamposi, MoZella, Louis Biancaniello, The Jam production team (Mike Mani & Jordan Omley), Corporal, Chantal Kreviazuk and Raine Maida, Lazonate Franklin, Corey Chorus, Cory Rooney, Eric Bellinger, J Kash, Jason Reeves and Danelle Leverett, JR Rotem, Linda Perry, Nasri, Nolan & Ryan, Sheppard Solomon, Arturo Ayers, Stefan Skarbek, Tom Douglas, Wayne Wilkins and Brian Howes.
DK: The music business continues to evolve. Is it still a good environment for songwriters to be successful?
Vellutato: I believe it’s an excellent time for songwriters to be in the business, because every pop artist needs to have a significant hit single to get people’s attention. If a songwriter can write that hit song, they’ll be able to have a huge impact, helping an artist have a big career-making song.
As a publisher, I believe in taking a good song and working with the writers, to try to make it great. It’s also important for writers to come up with unique ideas to make a song special. “Royals” by Lorde is a good example of an unique idea. She worked with a our producer, Joel Little, and it came out and exploded on the internet. Macklemore, with his song “Thrift Shop,” is another good example. “Thrift Shop” was such a unique idea that it caught everyone’s attention—you had to listen to it, you couldn’t ignore it.
DK: What other tips can you recommend to songwriters?
Vellutato: It’s important to know which recording projects are in current production mode. If you are in the mix and communicating with other songwriters, you can find out that information. Also, if you’re a good songwriter and have established some credibility, there are many execs (A&R, publishers, managers) who are willing to give you information on which artists immediately need songs.
For example, Jessie J and Jennifer Lopez are two artists who are currently recording (and may need songs), whereas Demi Lovato has finished her album (and won’t be needing songs for awhile). Try to write a song which is great, because it’s not enough to just write a good song. It has to be a great song, from start to finish.
When you find out which artists need outside songs, then try to focus on writing songs for a specific artist. Write 5 to 10 songs for that artist in hopes that the one magical song connects and gets placed. Songwriters often try to write songs for many artists and they spread themselves too thin. It’s better to focus on one or two artists who really need a song. You have to find out how you work best. Some writers are not able to do their best work writing for a particular artist. They just need to write for themselves.
For new songwriters who are trying to get into the business and collaborate, they should find other new writers to grow with, and not try so hard to jump in with established writers. Songwriters need to learn their craft first. They should work with people who are at the same level, and then grow as a writer so when they get the opportunity to work with an established writer, they will feel comfortable and be able to compete and contribute at that level.