The A&R Report had the pleasure of engaging with hit Grammy award-winning songwriter Makeba Riddick-Woods. We talked about her recent Grammy nomination, her career as a hit songwriter, and her influences building her career in the music industry.
First and foremost I want to congratulate you on your Grammy nomination for Tamar Braxton’s – ‘Love & War’. Tell us about that record?
I’m really excited. The song took off and really became one of the biggest songs of the year. I’m happy that everyone enjoyed listening to the song and liked it so much. It’s definitely been one of my favorite records I’ve written.
How do you feel about the current state of R&B? Do you feel like it’s making a comeback?
I think there is so many great artists out there that aren’t even signed yet, especially on the indie side. I think R&B is such a classic genre of music. Regardless of what the current situation is, I feel like it will always be relevant.
What current new and upcoming R&B artists have you been feeling lately?
There is an artist here in LA by the name of Kenyon Dixon. He works a lot with TGT, does a lot of writing and backgrounds for them. I think he’s an amazing artist, and I’m definitely into his music. There’s also a new R&B/hip hop artist named T.Dot from New Jersey. He’s a writer and a rapper. He’s got a dope project that’s going to be amazing.
Other than your recent Grammy nomination, what else is new on the horizon?
I’ve been really busy working on this new Trey Songz project. I’ve also been working with Marsha Ambrosius, who’s also an amazing singer and talent, and recently a Latin artist by the name of Prince Royce. I find that it’s always nice to get out of your comfort zone and work with different artists.
How has your journey as a songwriter and an aspiring artist been? Which role do you actually prefer?
That’s a good question. I think that everyone’s journey is different, but in essence it’s the same. Everyone struggles. It’s hard to get out there and get your music heard. Regardless, I’ve learned so much along the way, I’ve met so many people, and I’ve also been so inspired in regards to what I’ve overcome. I remember living in Brooklyn, New York; interning at Sony and temping at Def Jam, going into the studio at night to record my demos. For a long time I kept that regimen up and it wasn’t easy. Eventually I pulled through and I got a couple of hit records in; now I’m here in Sunny California. It’s definitely been a journey.
I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m an aspiring artist, I just like to have fun. I’ve had the opportunity to be featured on records with David Guetta and Common to name a few. If someone wants me to feature in their song I do it, but I’m not looking for a record deal. I just like to have fun with it as much as I can.
As a songwriter, is it hard to give away records rather than keeping them for yourself?
I’ve had those moments when I’m like “I love this record,” after I’ve already written and referenced it. But at the same time I want those records to have life. I want my records to get out there for the world to hear it. For me, I don’t know when I’m going to have my first single or when I’m going to do an album. So if there’s a great artist that’s doing an album and they say “I love this song”, I’d rather have that record be heard by the world than me just sitting on it.
How has working with production house RocNation helped your career?
Being at RocNation was a very pivotal moment in my career. I had already done records with J’Lo and Beyonce. When I signed with them as management they hadn’t signed Rihanna yet. We were just getting started as the founders [of RocNation] were at Def Jam and they were A&R’s having me write on all their other projects.
When Rihanna came on board that’s when it got really serious. We were travelling all over the world, creating her album, and building her as an artist. It was an amazing experience working over there at RocNation. They treated me like a Queen and we had amazing success. I learned so much from Jay Brown and the team over there. So much was learnt about business, creating a brand, building a company, and most importantly building an artist. It was an amazing time in my career. I was young, still growing and still learning a lot about this business.
Speaking of the music business, it is also understood that you attended the Berklee College of Music obtaining a Bachelor’s degree. How did that help with your development in the music industry?
I think for me going to get a business degree it really helped me become a business woman. I didn’t only learn to write songs. I found it important to know about my publishing, royalty rates, accounting, branding and marketing. I think learning branding and marketing has helped me a lot as I’ve been able to learn how to brand and market myself, not only as a songwriter but as a business woman.
Would you recommend all artists and aspiring producers go to school to learn about the business? Do you find it cost-effective?
I do. I believe it’s important to know the business behind the music. It’s important to know about how your money is being collected internationally. Learning branding and marketing is definitely important as well as looking into characteristics in finding a good lawyer. You don’t want to go into a situation blindly and sign your life away. There are other ways you can learn about the music business but education is definitely helpful. It’s really important to do your research.
In regards to the digital world it’s affected everyone in the music business. What are your thoughts on that?
I think it’s a good and bad thing. About 6 years ago we did an event called ‘Think Tank’. There were people in various facets of the music industry. We talked about ways to prevent illegal file sharing and leaking and honestly we came up with nothing. I’ve realized that this is something that we must embrace. It’s not something that we can prevent, we just need to figure out and find new ways on how we can work along with what’s currently happening.
Are there any digital outlets you use to stream your music like Spotify, Pandora, etc.? How do you feel it benefits artist and songwriters?
To be honest with you I use Pandora. As a songwriter and someone who makes my livelihood off music, I’m not a huge fan of Spotify, as they don’t offer royalties for that service yet. I feel it’s not necessarily beneficial for anyone but the consumer, as they get a chance to hear the music for free. But as a songwriter spending 14 hours in the studio writing a song for the world to sing and dance to – it’s not always in my best interest.
What is your thought process when it comes to writing a new song?
PRAYER, first. It’s different with every situation. Sometimes I write with the artist in mind and sometimes I record demos and send them to everyone. It’s kind of like throwing your ‘fishing hook’ in the water and seeing who bites. My thought process is very different with each and every project.
Which artist or producer do you feel you’ve learned and benefited from the most and why?
One producer I’ve learned from the most is Rodney Jerkins. I’m like a sponge when I’m in the studio with him. Rodney is so knowledgeable about music, the business of music, life, and the world. I love being in the room with him. Also, Troy Taylor. Troy developed Trey Songz and discovered him. Troy is also a well of knowledge, and an incredible musician and singer. I love being in the same room as producers like him because it’s a learning experience every time I go in.
Has there been any music executives in the music industry who have helped cultivate your career?
Absolutely! I have to start off with Max Gousse. I had a demo CD with 17 songs. He flew to New York just to meet with me. I played all the 17 songs for him. He told me I was ‘special’ and said, “one day, you’re going to be so huge!” I will never forget what Max did for me in the beginning, just by helping me to believe in my craft and believe in what I was doing. Max was responsible for getting me my very first placement which became Jennifer Lopez’ #1 single “All I Have” feat. LL Cool J. He really opened the door and started that process for me.
From Max it went to Jack Knight at Bad Boy Publishing. He really believed in me and campaigned for Bad Boy to sign me. I also cannot forget Jay Brown, who gave me so many opportunities that I could never repay him for. I could write a book on the knowledge of everything that I learned from him. He gave me a chance to see the world and record records with rockstars.
Also, ‘Big Jon’ (Platt) when he was at EMI. He was like a big mentor and gave me many opportunities. I remember when I was 20 years old and he said “Janet Jackson wants to meet you, you wrote a song that we love and she wants to cut it.” She’s flying you to LA to come and hang at her house.” Before I knew it I was on a plane, in Malibu, at Janet Jackson’s house. Big Jon was definitely an influential part of my career in regards to publishing.
The real ‘Godfather’ is Sean Puffy Combs. He signed me to my first publishing deal when I was 20 years old. He believed in me. Anywhere that I wanted to go in the world to work and record he sponsored me and championed me along the way. I have nothing but great memories about Bad Boy Publishing and everything that he did for me, helping me to believe in myself as a female writer. He taught me a lot in regards to work ethic. His work ethic is impeccable and just being around that, seeing that, and seeing the way that he worked from the beginning has helped me become that type of ‘grinder’. Sometimes people think women grind differently than men, not me. I’m thinking about one thing and that’s SUCCESS; leaving a legacy for my daughter and all the other young girls that can relate to my story.
What tips do you have for new and upcoming publishers and managers looking to land their client their first publishing deal, and/or opportunity?
Be good with communication and follow up. Be aware of the projects that are going on, and what record labels are going for. Be diligent. Get answers. Over your career, become as powerful as you can. Gain your respect. In this business you never know who your boss is going to end up being one day.
What are some of the things you look out for when it comes to writing a song to ensure that it’s ‘universally accepted’?
A catchy hook, not too much slang, a great melody that people will not forget – a track that feels good!
Are you looking for any new artists to work with? What’s the best way they can reach out to you?
Yes! You can find me on Blazetrak and any of my social networks.
Connect with Makeba on Instagram via @MakebaTheBarbie