An Interview with Mary Beth Stone and David Stewart, Grand Prize Winners in the 2009 NSAI Song Contest
Cindy caught up with Mary Beth Stone and her co-writer David Stewart on their recent success in winning the Grand Prize
I recently had the pleasure of catching up with Mary Beth Stone and her co-writer David Stewart on their recent success in winning the Grand Prize for the 2009 NSAI Song Contest.
In addition to having won the Grand Prize in the 2009 NSAI Song Contest with co-writer David Stewart, Mary Beth Stone has been recognized in a number of other prominent song contests, including the Lilith Fair and Billboard Song Contests. A reviewer for democheck.com, she has been a regional co-ordinator of the New York City chapter of the Nashville Songwriters Association International since 1998.
She is an alumna of the ASCAP Advanced Songwriters Workshop and has been an annual recipient under the ASCAP Plus Awards program for the last decade. Mary Beth's song, "Strange and Wonderful Thing," was the theme song for Brainline, a weekly inspirational radio show hosted by the late Rev. George Soroka. The song continues to be sold as a CD insert in his book, Focused or Dead: How to Live in Joy.
David Stewart is an award-winning songwriter who has had his songs published in Nashville, New York, and Los Angeles. He has had a number of cuts by indie artists such as Miko Marks (complete with music video) and numerous TV/film placements.
Dave is the Grand Prize Winner of this year's NSAI/CMT Song Contest, and has had four previous songs awarded Finalist (top 5) status in that contest. He has also been recognized with the Abe Olman scholarship from the Songwriter's Guild of America.
While most of his time is devoted to writing individual songs, he has been involved in numerous special music projects, ranging from playing with his band to composing and producing music for children's storybooks/tapes, and writing songs for various indie films (such as festival favorite "Chocolate Madness.")
Dave got some book-learnin' along the way and was able to make it pay off, being a champion on both Jeopardy and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. But music is and will always be his first love.
Hi Mary Beth and David. Congratulations on your recent success and winning the Grand Prize for the NSAI/CMT 2009 songwriting contest – that is huge. What inspired your song, "Dam, I Miss You?
[MBS] A very dear friend of mine—with whom I had a very close, but often contentious relationship—passed away suddenly. This was the emotional core of the song. In actuality, the relationship had been platonic—both the romance and the idea of the break-up were invented.
[DS] I knew this was where the idea came from, but I also knew that it was a universal idea for anyone who had ever broken up with anybody, so even though the inspiration was very personal to one of the writers, the other writer (in this case, me) was able to relate instantly.
I was wondering who sang on the demo, was that David or a demo singer? Great voice and production too!
[MBS] Perry Danos sang the demo. David produced the demo at the studio of Jim Prendergast in Nashville—with some pre-production input from me.
[DS] I only wish I could sing like that.
I was wondering did you get together in Nashville or, NYC, or over the phone or computer to co-write?
[MBS] We wrote the song in a few face-to-face sessions and phone conversations in New York..
How long did it take to create the song?
[MBS] I actually had written a verse or two (and a whole different chorus, which we later replaced entirely with the current one) some time before I brought the idea to David. I'm going to say it took maybe three meetings and a few phone calls—it was relatively quick.
[DS] As I remember it, I sort of could see the "shape" of the song when Mary Beth brought it in, and I came back to our next meeting with a chorus for her consideration. I knew the chorus should go up and should rock more. Almost like a Nirvana song where they do the verse with the pick style, and then when the chorus kicks in, he steps on the pedal and out come the power chords. I remember almost thinking of it in those terms.
Who wrote the music, who wrote the lyrics?
[MBS] We wrote both together.
[DS] That's typical for us.
Were there any parts that you got stuck on (with words or music)? How did you finally get the line or music part?
[MBS] This was one of those songs that pretty much fell out without lots of head-banging. I do remember struggling a little though with a line in the second verse—"I don't miss the constant ache of knowing we'd quit eventually"—the solution came to me in the shower!
[DS] We got stuck on this one much less than the norm. I remember a little sticking point for the final "alternate" chorus. I had the second line, which I liked a lot and thought was important to keep, but we couldn't find a first line we liked as well. But even that didn't take too long. I think that was the final piece of the puzzle, as I remember.
So what was the gig like in Nashville?
[MBS] It was really awesome. Very supportive crowd. You'd think that doing just one song, we wouldn't really have a chance to get the audience going, but they literally started clapping and cheering in the middle of the song.
[DS] Yes, that was pretty dang cool. We had a few people we knew in the audience, but mostly it was people we didn't know from Adam, so the response was pretty gratifying.
I read your blog that Rivers Rutherford introduced you, what was that like?
[MBS] A real honor. He's such an amazing writer—and he gave us an enthusiastic send-off.
That's terrific! Did you get chance to talk to Dave Berg, think he was playing that night too? I remember when he did a workshop for your NYC NSAI Chapter.
[MBS] Yes. It was great seeing him and he had very good things to say about the song.
[DS] Yeah, he kind of went out of his way to say he'd listened to it on the NSAI site before we performed, and how much he liked it. Nice, nice guy.
What was the grand prize you received? I know part of the prize was getting to perform with hit songwriters in Nashville.
[MBS] That's right. The list is actually quite long, but it included a bunch of swag—capos, T-shirts, etc., plus these cool business cards that have guitar picks in them and a very nice Gibson guitar—but, more important, career development opportunities, including mentoring sessions with Big Kenny and Regie Hamm (who wrote the 2008 American Idol winning song). Oh, and we get a tour of CMT's studios!
[DS] We've had the session with Reggie Hamm already, but still have Big Kenny to go.
Know it's a bit soon, but has winning this award and getting recognition started to open more doors for you and how?
[MBS] You're right…it is a little soon to tell, but at this point it's certainly upped our name recognition. One concrete thing that's happened is that, pretty much immediately after we won, a very credible Nashville plugger contacted us –she'd heard the song and just loved it—and has been pitching the song for us to film and TV. There seems also to be an increase in the stream of indie opportunities that have crossed our paths recently. I believe in the Law of Attraction—and I think the win has built our confidence, making these things come to us more readily.
[DS] I have a plugger in Nashville, and he actually made up a banner of congratulations like you often see on Music Row, and put it out there for all to see. That was really nice.
Who are some of your favorite songwriters and artists?
[MBS] I love love love Tony Lane—he wrote "A Little Past Little Rock" and "Run." Of course, Rivers and Dave Berg. And Gary Burr, Hugh Prestwood…I could go on. Steve Seskin. Oh, and Hillary Lindsey and Brett James. "Jesus, Take the Wheel" is one of my favorites. Also like Leslie Satcher a lot.
As far as artists go, I love Sarah Buxton (great writer also). Carrie Underwood, of course, Lee Ann Womack, Trisha Yearwood. Always been a big Dwight Yoakam fan too. Love John Mayer.
[DS] I can ditto all of those; I'd add some non-country influences like the Beatles obviously, Elvis Costello, John Fogerty, Robbie Robertson, John Hiatt, Jim Croce… although all of those obviously have some country in them, don't they? For artists I'm liking Josh Turner a lot now, and I could listen to Tony Bennett and kd lang sing anything – separately or together.
Any advice to aspiring songwriters on co-writing?
[MBS] Another co-writer/friend of mine, Rob Taube, said he felt it was his job as a co-writer to elicit the best from the person he's writing with. What a great way to approach co-writing! Make it your goal to help the other person express what's inside him/her. You have to always listen to the other person—even when you don't want to!—and try to keep your judgment out of it—never make your editing personal.
[DS] I'd say listen to other writers and don't be afraid to ask the ones you like to write with you. And if the first or second session doesn't go so well, or the first song is only so-so, don't give up. I've rarely written a good first song with anybody. It can take time for the dynamic of any particular pairing to come into its own.
Do you think it's easier or tougher to get a song cut these days in Nashville or through other opportunities?
[MBS] I'm told it's much harder to get a major-label cut these days, but I don't like to focus on what may be perceived as difficulties…there's no percentage in that. Plus, there are now huge opportunities in getting indie cuts that didn't exist even ten years ago.
[DS] Yes, the drop in CD sales has meant tougher placements for major-label cuts than ever, everyone says. But I've gotten some indie cuts, and some TV and movie placements, which are easier for unknowns to get in the days of home studios and the internet, for sure.
Does NSAI help to pitch the song or is that solely up to you and David? What's the next step?
[MBS] That's actually part of our prize—yes, NSAI will be pitching the song.
Are you going to be speaking to other NSAI groups. Know you're going to be doing a talk in North Carolina.
[MBS] We did speak to the North Carolina workshop.
[DS] We didn't actually talk in North Carolina, but we did a video session on Skype for the NC NSAI group.
[MBS] We haven't been approached by any other NSAI groups, but we'd be glad to speak to them if we are asked.
Have either of you ever considered moving to Nashville, are you going to be making more trips there now?
[MBS] It is my long-term goal to move there. I actually already own a condo there. It seems I am going to be making more trips there in the meantime.
[DS] I don't have any immediate plans to; ideally I could do a Steve Seskin thing; he said once that he was able to live in San Francisco, but be in Nashville enough that people thought he lived there.
Is there anything else you wanted to add that we didn't cover today? Wishing you both much success with this song and your other endeavors. Keep me posted!
[MBS] I do want to add that I'm very grateful for the recognition and the long-time support of the NSAI. I'm also very grateful to my co-writer, David, for sharing his knowledge and his time with me and for honoring and accommodating what I'm trying to say in our songs. I am indeed blessed!
[DS] Well, you keep saying all the best things, and I just have to say "ditto," like an idiot. So, "ditto, like an idiot."
Thank you Mary Beth and David. We wish you much continued success!
[MBS] Thanks Cindy.