Hit singer-songwriter Alan O’Day has released his first new
album in 28 years. The “Undercover Angel”/Helen Reddy’s “Angie
Baby”/Righteous Brothers “Rock and Roll Heaven” hitmaker has
written or co-written all the songs on Alan's recent CD, “I Hear
Voices” which was released on September 15th, 2008.
In 1983 O'Day met singer-songwriter Janis
Liebhart, with whom he co-wrote a children's song for a new
Saturday morning animated TV show, Jim
Babies. Within eight years they had written almost 100 songs
for the program, which won an Emmy
Award, and has since been syndicated internationally.
The collaboration continued after Muppet Babies, as O'Day
and Liebhart co-wrote for other kid-focused projects, including
Wild Animals", a series of videos which they helped produce
and on which they also sang. They also worked on some children's
products for Alaska
His awards include:
Visit Alan and
his band-new CD news on http://alanoday.com or
Q & A Interview
Jan: What makes a great vs. just good
Alan: It's interesting, and confusing, how
sometimes a lyric can follow all the "rules" & still
just sit there. Or conversely, break some rules & yet be
successful. But most of the time, a great lyric follows the
rules, plus gives something "extra". A twist, a tug
at the heart, memorable imagery, use of the same words to mean
something different later in the song, maybe a moment of inspired
poetry. A great lyric is usually "universal", yet
"personal". And quite often, before you ever hear or
see it, a great lyric has been re-written, even though it looks like
it came easily.
Jan: How long does it usually take you to write a song
once you start it?
Alan: Well, I keep thinking I'll learn how
to just "toss them off" in a few hours, but I'm a tweaker,
a re-thinker, and a re-writer. Even though the lyrics we hear
on "hit" albums are sometimes full of holes, if we are
"outside writers" we have to be so damn good that we make
it past the gatekeepers. So for me, its often several days,
sometimes several weeks. "Angie Baby" took about
three months to complete. But when it hit number one, it
somehow felt worth the time!
Jan: Do you focus on one song at a time or work on a
few at a time?
Alan: Usually its just one, although on the few
times I've juggled two, they sometimes seemed to "feed"
each other. Maybe I'll try that again!
Jan: Approximately how much expense was involved
from song idea to song pitch?
Alan: Well, the writing doesn't cost
anything but time. Then I usually make a "MIDI" demo
of my song-in-progress, at my home project studio, so still not much
expense. But lately the type of writing I'm doing calls for
real musicians, and since I'm often in Nashville working at my old
friend Denny Martin's studio, we schedule basic tracks, overdubs,
lead & background vocals. Producers usually want to hear a
"little record", meaning a produced, completed version of
the song. So then with mixing it can easily cost $700 to $1000
for a completed recording. For pitching in Nashville, I use a
song plugger. Without going into detail, that adds to the
budget, although the plugger is of course pitching more than just one
Jan: Are there cases where a song can be pitched
with just a guitar & vocal, or piano & vocal?
Alan: Yes, but they are the vast minority.
Without stepping on any toes, I will say my belief is there were many
more "golden ears" on the business side of the desks in
years gone by than there are now. I'm referring to people who
could listen to a simple demo and hear it in their mind fully
completed, arranged, produced, and on the radio (remember radios?).
These days, if you find someone who can help you expand your
beginning musical ideas and have a vision of what your song or demo
should ultimately be, and you trust that person, you've found
Jan: What usually comes first: hook, title, melody,
Alan: A famous songwriter (wish I could recall
who), answered this question by saying "The phone call".
Of course if you're lucky enough to be asked to write for a project,
that's a tremendous motivation to your brain, which may start spewing
titles, melodies, pieces of lyric, faster than you can get them on
paper or recorded. For me, when I'm working on my own, a title
usually comes to my mind. The words of the title feed rhythm &
tempo ideas, these in turn feed lyric & melody choices. I
can write lyrics to an existing melody, but it works easier for me
the other way around. Melodies deserve re-writes, just as
Jan: Do you co-write/collaborate? If so, do you usually
collaborate with the same songwriters or with different ones? Any
advice on co-writing (where you could find an established co-writer
especially if you don't live in Nashville, New York, Los Angeles
Alan: I love co-writing with a competent
writer. We fill in each others blanks, pull each other out of
energy lapses, give each other courage to set a good approach aside
to try a better approach, keep each other chuckling with jokes based
on our (sometimes) sucky ideas, and maybe even laugh at our egos..
I have people waiting to co-write with me, so I guess I give good
If I were away from Los Angeles, or
Nashville, I'd look for local songwriting organizations or clubs that
feature a writer's night, I'd look for a co-writer online (being
careful to lay down, in a nice way, a mutual understanding of who
will own what), I'd hang around a local music store, and I'd visit
the nearest recording studio. I'd have a lyric, or a
melody, ready in presentable form. These ideas, with some
patience, should yield something positive. I would find ways to
keep myself motivated & upbeat, but I would be open to critiques
from qualified pro's. Painful, but sometimes educational.
Jan: What's your best song so far?
Alan: Haven't written it yet. But hear my
upcoming CD, maybe I'm wrong!
Jan: What's your style in writing (do you write
fast as the lines just flow out i.e.a few songs daily/staff writer
style) or do you write slower with many re-writes to make sure your
piece is perfect?
Alan: Often I write rapidly at the point of
inspiration, then slower & more purposefully (if that's a word)
as I put the jigsaw puzzle together. At some point I will
usually play my current draft for one or two trusted "pro"
friends and ask for feedback, to see if the song holds up.
Sometimes I'll take it to a song critiquing meeting, such as Pete &
Pat Luboff's, if I'm in Nashville. I believe regardless of
one's experience or track record, this kind of feedback can be very
Jan: Any advice for new or partially new songwriters?
Alan: These days in the "music business"
are a time of transition. Staff writer layoffs, illegal
downloading (gee, really?) and general economic challenges. The
technology is running ahead of the law. Its hard to find
support, and easy to conclude that there's no room for your
contributions. But if as a writer you discipline your mind,
learn the basics of the biz, and polish your craft, there are at
least opportunities to be found. Feedback is extremely
important in improving your craft. The computer can be a big
help in this endeavor. Did you know that as of recently, the US
Copyright Office allows you to copyright your work, and if its a
recording, actually email them the mp3! Success probably won't
happen quickly, and it may not happen at all, but if you love the
process, there's a lot of satisfaction in creating something from
nothing, something that can entertain and move people.
Jan: How do you deal with rejection when pitching your
Alan: Not as well as I wish. After all
this time, I still can slip into taking it personally. But I
get over it quickly, realizing that although my song came from me,
its not me who's being rejected. And a contact who rejects one
song may love the next one. Years ago, my friend Artie Wayne
was a manager at Warner Brothers, when I was a staff writer there.
He was probably the most aggressive & tenacious in getting
producers to hear new songs, of anyone in the biz I've ever met.
As he tells it, he pitched one song to 122 different producers and
artists, getting turned down each time. But producer number 123
said yes, & the song became a hit! The song was "You're
16 (You're Beautiful And You're Mine)", Ringo Starr cut it and
sold 5,000,000 records!
Jan: What was the hardest obstacle to overcome while
Alan: Staying focused. Its insane for me
to drift away from something I love so much, but hey, I need a
nap/some decafe/to check my email/have a snack... I do
allow myself to go for a walk with the song in my head, because the
change of scene & physical activity can often start a new
Jan: Do you feel your ideas sometimes come from another
source (God, dreams, etc...)?
Alan: Absolutely. Ideas come through me,
more than from me. And its not under my control. But if I
show up to do the "grunt work" of considering my story
line, where to have things happen in the song, in other words just
live in the song for awhile, sometimes a spark of magic will hit me
when I least expect it. Though I've tried to control my life,
and others' lives, too much, I've always felt a personal relationship
with God, and I've had some experiences that have made it very
obvious that we're here to grow and to love. I try to stay out
of my own way during the inspiration process, and remain patient
during the inevitable re-writing & editing.
Jan: Do you always carry a paper and pen with you in
case an idea occurs?
Alan: I carry a PDA that allows recording of
audio memos. So I can catch the inspiration as it flies by!
Be careful while driving though!
Jan: Do you feel that people know you through your
Alan: I'm pretty open in my songwriting, but
still its probably an "idealized" reflection of me.
These days I write mostly "uplifting" material, but the
truth is I'm not always in a positive mood, I can be a bit of a
grouch, and I occasionally need some time alone. I am so lucky
to have a wife who just waits for my little "storms" to
blow over, at which time I apologize. I guess I show my best
self in my songs, and in my live performances. I get to really
entertain people, and make them smile, and audiences give back so
much love, if you can just learn to feel it.
Jan: How would you like to be remembered?
Jan: How is writing for your own CD different than
writing for another performing artist's CD?
Alan: I like to say I know this recording artist
named Alan O'Day, and I really enjoy working with him, because he
loves practically everything I write. Seriously, I have much
more control in writing for myself, and I find that I create more
freely because I'm worrying less about what "the industry"
wants. Having said that, I still rigorously tweak &
re-write the songs I will be performing. But I have a sense of
how my own voice, and my own attitude, can best come across, and