From party anthems "Party in the U.S.A." and "Circus" to baby-makers "Pieces of Me" and "Beautiful Surprise" to tearjerkers "Grenade" and "Bittersweet," No. 1-selling, Grammy-nominated producer Claude Kelly can really create or enhance a mood through music. He does this by getting to know his artists and inspiring them in the studio with evocative movies.
The New York native and Berklee College of Music grad's career first skyrocketed after he worked with R&B heavyweight Akon. He has since lent his songwriting talents to a diverse array of artists such as Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears, Kelly Clarkson, Christina Aguilera, Jessie J, Carrie Underwood, Adam Lambert, Fantasia, Tamia, Eve, and many, many others.
Download.com chatted with Claude Kelly about his recording process, how he uses software in the studio, Miley Cyrus's infamous VMA performance, his artist wish list, and his favorite mobile apps.
Reading your bio, I was impressed by the importance your mom placed on swimming, dancing, and traveling so you'd enjoy a more well-rounded childhood. With kids today parked in front of their devices, have we lost anything?
What they're missing, which is important to me as a songwriter, are the experiences that their parents had, which influence who they become, the careers that they choose, and even the music that they like.
When you're writing music, do you write with specific artists in mind?
Yes, I usually do. Now I get calls from labels asking me for songs for specific people, so I write with artists directly in mind, and it usually gets straight to the artist and gets feedback right away.
When you're working with an artist on a song, what's your preferred collaboration method?
I prefer it to be myself and the artist in a room with a producer, because that's how you get the most heartfelt, honest songs.
When producing a song, how does software play into the process?
At this point it's an integral part -- from I'm using my iPhone to record melodies and ideas on Voice Memo and sending it over to the artist, and of course when I'm recording, I'm using everything from Pro Tools onwards -- and even the most organic-sounding songs are the result of computer-generated effects. I'm a very computer-based writer. I don't write anything down by hand. When I'm writing, I am heavily reliant on software to do what I do.
When does inspiration strike you?
I consider my songwriting therapy, so I tend to get inspired when I'm sitting in a room with somebody and asking them questions about what's on their mind, what's making them happy, and what's concerning them. And somehow in those conversations, we're getting songs out of it, because songs come from their stories. So I guess people inspire me.
I read that to increase inspiration you have artists watch particular movies before they begin recording to create a vibe. Or sometimes you'll have the movie playing on a loop with the volume off while recording.
They're usually on mute, because I have a huge TV in my studio and a massive box of DVDs, and it's about setting the tone for the session. It's also great because you get to know what kinds of things people are into. It sets the tone for what I'm writing that day. If we want something big and grand, I put on "Avatar" or "300," or if we want to capture emotion in a song, I'll put on the final scene in "Thelma and Louise" -- and that really helps the creative process. Sometimes we'll even go to YouTube or iTunes or Netflix to get something I don't already have.
I also get a kick out of working with new artists, because you can really help create new sounds and put an artist on the map. Working with Jessie J from the first album, I've really been involved in how she sounds and helping to define her as an artist.
Since you've worked with Miley Cyrus, what was going through your mind when you watched her now notorious VMA performance?
It's funny. I understand the pop world and know what it takes to be a star. I wasn't surprised that it was as shocking as it was, because that's what the VMAs are all about. I had to remind myself that when we did "Party in the U.S.A.," she was only, I believe, 15. It's not that what she did was bad; it's just that we were watching her grow. I'm glad that she's being bold and confident, and [I'm] proud that I have a song that's part of her legacy, because I think she'll be around for quite some time.
Which apps do you use most?
I use Twitter and Instagram a lot and get a lot of inspiration from Tumblr. I actually have more followers on Tumblr than Twitter, and I think it's because people dig the pictures I post. I get inspiration from modern art and quotes, and it's my favorite app on my phone -- especially for my work.
Because I'm a songwriter, I love Words With Friends and get very completive and angry about it, because I think I'm the best and am unfortunately not, and it's the same with Scrabble. Unfortunately I'm obsessed with Candy Crush Saga. My saving grace is Voice Memo, so if inspiration strikes, it goes into my Voice Memo. Those are pretty much my favorite ones. I am moody with my apps, where I add or delete them, but those stay on my phone, come hell or high water.
What are your thoughts on the Words With Friends and Candy Crush Saga cheat apps?
I hate it when people cheat. I get so competitive with Words With Friends and Candy Crush Saga and know that people like to cheat on those. But for me, I'm so busy during the day, so those are my moments of escapism, so I'm like, "Come on, everyone. Be fair."