Writing Up: Interview With Combustion Music's Pete Sallis
We are in the conference room at Combustion Music, on Music Row in Nashville, with pro songwriter Pete Sallis. Pete recently signed his first songwriting publishing agreement with Combustion Music.
[Doak Turner] Pete, where are you from?
Pete Sallis Originally from Wheaton, Illinois. It is a town about 40 miles northwest of Chicago.
[Doak Turner] How did you get into songwriting and how did growing up in Wheaton influence your songwriting?
Pete Sallis In the 5th grade, I started playing the snare drum in a concert band and concentrated on playing snare and becoming a great drummer. Starting in the 5th grade and all through high school, I played in bands and all I wanted to do was be a professional drummer.
I played in cover bands and our favorite groups were so different, from Journey, Ozzy Osborne to Air Supply. In high school, I was in a band with Billy Corrigan, later known for fame in Smashing Pumpkins, and I was the drummer. We did the heavier metal covers in the talent and variety shows. I started becoming aware of the songwriting as a craft in my junior year of high school. I started playing in another band and writing my own songs, we played in a talent show and played my song in the junior year. I sang my first song I ever wrote in one of those talent shows. We didn't win, and the song was something like "I Love You, I Love You" or something that would be really bad these days. That was when I first got the songwriting bug; people said it was great to hear an original song.
From the time I was sixteen, I started concentrating on songwriting, taught myself to play piano and guitar, because I knew I was going to start writing songs. I started seeking out all of those singer/songwriters that were around in the late ‘80s: Elton John, Billy Joel, James Taylor, Jim Croce and others like them.
At age 18, I moved to San Diego with the intention of going to San Diego State, and never started to school. I was working construction instead, but I was writing a lot of songs, mostly bad songs.
[Doak Turner] Were you playing in any bands?
Pete Sallis No, pretty much by myself for the first time in a while. I started getting serious about the craft. I was at a crossroad of going to film school or going to Nashville. I had a passion for movies, how they were made, the writing behind them. I chose music, looked in a college directory of music schools in Nashville. I saw Belmont University in Nashville. I enrolled in 1992 as a freshman, and attended for 3 and a half years. Someday I will finish my degree.
[Doak Turner] What was your major?
Pete Sallis Music business, with an emphasis in publishing. They had a great music business program. At that time, I was playing drums for several Christian artists through friends that I made at Belmont. It is a great place to network and I met a lot of people who are doing real well now in the music profession. It got to a point where I had to either stay in school or go out on the road full time. In 1995, I started going on the road full time. The whole time I would be going to the writer nights in town. The drumming kept me busy on the road.
[Doak Turner] Who were you playing drums for on the road?
Pete Sallis Bob Carlisle of "Butterfly Kisses" fame. I went to Sweden with him. Charlie Peacock, Michael English, Terry McMillan. Then I met different people who were in the country music industry and started playing for Mindy McCready, Tim Rushlow (of Little Texas fame), and also did a three-year gig with a corporate band traveling all over the world for corporate events. We also played in churches on the road.
[Doak Turner] What is a corporate band?
Pete Sallis A band that plays for corporations such as Ford Motor Company or Amway that will have a big conference for their customers or employees, with a band for entertainment at the end of a day of seminars. We would play cover songs with a couple originals songs. They would hire a big name to be the feature band, such as Suzy Boggess, Jo Dee Messina, or someone like that for the headliner. It was a great experience, traveling all over the world playing drums for a living. Playing the cover tunes, I could see what would work and what did not work; I was learning the structure and craft by playing those songs. It was a very valuable experience.
[Doak Turner] Were you writing songs at this time?
Pete Sallis I would write maybe thirty or forty songs a year while I was on the road. About 1998, after being on the road for three years, I really just wanted to learn to write songs. I started buying several songwriting books. I started learning more about the songwriters than the artists. Don Schlitz was one of my first songwriters that I studied at the time. I would re-write their lyrics and structure, see where the rhymes fell, the phrasing. When I would hear songs that just killed me, I would take the song apart and find out why I liked it so much, what made me go, "Man, I wish I wrote that song".
[Doak Turner] Why did you like particular songs, what made them stand out for you?
Pete Sallis It would be a unique idea, most of the time. The feel, the phrasing really knocked me out, saying it so different. A good example would be the second verse of Steve Seskin's song, sung by Tim McGraw, "I Don't know Why They Say Grown Men Don't Cry". The lyrics, "I keep having this dream about my old man, he was a slave to his job and never could be around". Whatever it was, I would keep it in my mind to be different.
[Doak Turner] What happened next for Pete?
Pete Sallis I was going to writers’ nights in 1998; I would catch Don Schlitz as often as I could. It was great going to all those writers' nights, like going to college every night in Nashville. You could always find a great writer in town.
[Doak Turner] What are you looking for when you go to these songwriter nights, why do you say it is like going to college?
Pete Sallis They are just so much better than I am. It is like a teacher showing a student how to write a song. If you are perceptive enough, you can pick out what made it great. They can write the same title that you write, and they are going to nail it. It seems that way. Of course, what you don't know is they wrote a hundred others that suck, but the ones they play out are great. You have to put your time in, and that is how you learn.
[Doak Turner] Did you network at these songwriter nights?
Pete Sallis No, I never did network. That is why it took me eleven years to get a publishing deal. I was out of town and on the road for six of those years. I never asked anyone to write with me. I even had friends that had staff deals for years, and I never asked them to write with me. I always figured they would ask me when the time came. I never felt confident in asking them to co-write. When people would ask me what I wanted to do, I would tell them I wanted to be a songwriter.
[Doak Turner] Was it fear that kept you from asking them to co-write?
Pete Sallis No. But I would do it the same way.
[Doak Turner] Why is that?
Pete Sallis You hear too many stories about people being too pushy, and stepping on wrong toes. Back then; my songs would not have been good enough. If I had a co-writer back then, I would not have been asked back to co-write. The songs themselves tell you when you are ready. If the pro writers want to write with you, it is because they have heard something that you have written. It is like dating, "I heard your girlfriend is hot, so I want to take her out".
[Doak Turner] So, you are on the road for this period in your life. Tell me about your family. Are they supportive of what you are doing for a living?
Pete Sallis I grew up as the youngest of seven children, with four sisters and two brothers. Music is all that I have ever done, and they have always been supportive. There has never been a question in anyone's mind as to what I wanted to do with my life. I never wanted to be a doctor, lawyer, or anything else in this world. All my family plays music. That was a big influence. They were big into playing music at church. I couldn't have the rock music in the house, but gospel & country were acceptable, but I never listened to country until 1990.
[Doak Turner] What changed to make you want to listen to country music?
Pete Sallis Growing up, I remember my sisters having "The Gambler" by Kenny Rogers, and the group, Alabama. I was into rock n' roll, pop rock and Foreigner, music that was on the radio at the time. I did not like the country sounds in the eighties. The thing that changed it all for me, it was in 1990 or 1991, when I heard the Vince Gill song, "Never Knew Lonely". I heard that voice and went, "Who in the heck is that"? The song did not sound like all those other voices of country and what I perceived was every other country singer. I wanted to know more about the singer, started watching for the video. Vince really opened the door for the country music scene for me.
I thought it was all about, you play a country song backwards, and you get your house, your dog, and wife back (laughs). I heard that voice of Vince Gill made me go wow; there is something besides the twangy voice.
It was my ignorance of country music, because it was certainly not all just twang at the time. From 1991 on is when I got into the country music. I started college late, at the age of 23. I wanted to be in the music scene, could have decided to move to LA or New York, but wanted to go where the songwriters are, in Nashville. Over the last ten years, I have been able to work into a developing songwriter.
[Doak Turner] How have you been able to develop into the songwriter that you have become over the years?
Pete Sallis Writing a lot, learning from friends that have publishing agreements. They have always given me little things like, you have to practice anything in life to be good, "You have to put the time behind the pen" as Kris Bergsnes says. You have to write a lot of bad songs.
[Doak Turner] What have you been doing the last couple of years in Nashville?
Pete Sallis I have been playing drums on the road with Derryl Perry, who is working on a record deal. He is unsigned, but getting closer to signing with a record company. Playing in bars and clubs all over this country. That was a lot of fun. It really inspired me to get a publishing deal. We have written a lot of great songs together, so it was well worth it to travel with him. We wrote even before we had a band together. In the past year and a half, I got into a different mode of writing every day, just consuming the songwriting. I saw a change in my songwriting, like anything that you do consistently. It is like working out. If you do it one day a week, it is not going to show. If you do it six days a week, it is really going to show, the same as songwriting.
[Doak Turner] You started getting really serious about the songwriting. What changed - networking habits, writing different songs?
Pete Sallis I started seeing a lot of musicians, maybe in their fifties, when they got their next paycheck is when they got their next gig, eating from gig to gig. If that artist quits, or if they fold, you do not own anything. I did not want to be in that situation. After 2000, I started investigating other opportunities. I knew you had to own something for the future. I do not want to be fifty, and waiting on the phone to ring for my next gig. I wanted to write songs, something that I could own for the rest of my life.
[Doak Turner] How did you eventually get your publishing deal with Combustion Music?
Pete Sallis The whole time I was on the road in 1998, and my roommate worked with Warner Chapel. He gave a CD with a couple of my songs to songwriter Steve Bogart. Steve called me three days later at 7 AM. He told me I had some great ideas and melodies. It really surprised him as to how good the songs were on the CD. But, he only wrote with about five other co-writers, and did not have any time to develop a songwriter. He gave me the names of industry professionals. One of those names was Pat Rolfe, at ASCAP. I had never been a member of ASCAP, BMI, NSAI or any of those organizations. I would do that process different now, and got involved in these organizations years ago.
I went to see Pat once a month whenever I was back in town. She got to hear a lot of my bad songs. I could kill myself, my girlfriend left me and she dies in the verse and bridge, all those bad things in a song. I played her songs once a month, sometimes every two weeks, for three years. She would say certain things work, or that is pretty good. I would go back to my house, make changes, and go back to see her. She said at one point told me, " I see you more than I see my own son, and this isn't good". She gave me Scott Gunter's name at Almo Irving Publishing. Scott and Chris Ogelsby at BMG Publishing were looking for songwriters to develop. This was about a year ago. These two publishers would meet with me after hours, such as 5:30 and until 7:00 PM, extending their own day and not getting paid for that, to let me play my songs for them. They would say, "That is good, or that kills me, or na, not that one". I would listen to what they said, get four or five other songs together and see them in a couple of weeks.
The first time I met Scott, we went to his office and the only chair to it in was in the corner. He turned his chair away from me.I couldn't see his face, plays the song, he shakes his head and I am wondering if he is going to love my song. He just said, "Cool, that is cool". He put the next one in the CD player. I was nervous and scared.
[Doak Turner] What was your fear?
Pete Sallis That he would not ask me back. That he would say that is good and to keep writing. I figured he would say that NSAI has a great workshop in town that you should attend their weekly meetings. I probably played him five songs that first time, and he said, "Man, you have to bring me back more songs". At least the door was open with Scott and Chris and I worked with them for the next six or seven months, playing songs. At first it was once a month, and when I got that open door, I wrote four songs a week by myself. I was always polite and professional. If they called I would always switch my schedule if they needed to change the times of the meetings. They were making the time for me, I was not pushy, but took advantage of what they were offering. I wrote a lot so I could say, "Here is five new songs".
Every week or two, whenever I would get home from the road, I would call to set an appointment with them. I got to see the other side of the table, from the publishers standpoint, when you bring your CD in with songs you think are going to change the world, then you see about a thousand CDs scattered all over the office, on the floor, around the desk and on racks against the walls. You feel like you are only one of a million songs in a given week. You think this guy has heard everything. You have to learn to stand out, like that girl in the movie, “Schindler's List.” She wore a red coat in a black and white movie, and she is what everyone remembers about the movie.
[Doak Turner] Why do you think they kept inviting you back?
Pete Sallis The third song I ever played Scott, he said it just floored him. In the first verse, I just slayed him. He told me after a while of bringing him songs that he saw great lines in every song. They may not be hit songs, but it was about getting that whole song like that, with all killer lines. He could see the seedlings of what he liked in a song. I guess if it got to the point where he did not see that anymore, he might not have been receptive to seeing me anymore in the future.
[Doak Turner] You were playing for two people, then what happened?
Pete Sallis The whole time I was going to Jason Blume's workshop at BMI.
[Doak Turner] What was Jason's workshop doing for your songwriting?
Pete Sallis It took my songwriting to another level. Between meeting with these publishers, hearing Jason's teaching about being different, slapping these publishers out of their trance, as they listen to several songs a day. Jason teaches melody and lyrics, and I already had the basics of those parts of songwriting. The perspective of what the publishers are looking for, what is going to make your song great, that the publisher has to cut your song over the songs their own staff writers can write ten times. Jason made me see things that can slap the publishers out of their trance, which is what you have to do as a songwriter. I attended Jason's workshop every month for a year. After seeing Scott at Almo Irving for a year, and Chris Ogelsby at BMG for about seven months, I was at Chris's office, talking about me being on the road. Chris said, "Man, we have to get you a publishing agreement. You do not need to be behind a drum set in Idaho, we have to get you a deal."I said, "I agree"! He asked me for ten companies that I would like to meet. He gave me the names and phone numbers, and told me to use his name when I called the publishers.
I had ten publishers in one day, which meant I had to make more CDs of my songs, more lyrics, and prepare for the meetings. Burning the CDs and preparing the lyrics is a full time job in itself, not to mention all the other things I was doing at the time. I called all ten publishers and got seven responses from the publishers. I met all seven publishers. I was still on the road, spend one day back demoing my songs, and the next day in meetings with the publishers. That was my life for almost a year, go on the road, come back and demo the songs on my digital eight track at home, make my own booklets of lyrics on Microsoft Publisher. I was just doing guitar/vocals for the demos. I did not want the publisher to say. "What did he say in that line of the song"?
A couple of the publishers would ask me to drop off the CD to their office. I would meet the other five publishers that day. I started doing the same thing that I had done with Scot and Chris, playing five songs and they would invite me back to play more songs the next time I am in town. I really wanted them to see that I was a songwriter, that I wrote a lot of songs and that I could write songs for a living.
[Doak Turner] Were they all fresh ideas, or did you go back to your old songs for ideas and songs to present to the publishers?
Pete Sallis I rewrote a couple of the older songs, but by that point, the newer songs were so much better than what I was writing, it was mostly new songs. Everything that I played them was a solo write. In a year's time I think I only co-wrote once or twice. I would not play those songs that were cowritten for the publisher. I wanted the publisher to see what I could do as a songwriter. I would tell anyone to write as much as you can by yourself.
When I eventually got my publishing deal, which happened so quickly the publisher did not need to figure out what I could do as a songwriter. They told me when I got the deal they knew I could write melodies and my own lyrics, do my own demos and they did not have anymore guess work to do regarding my songwriting skills. I didn't have any three way writes on songs.,They knew what I could do when it came time to writing songs.
[Doak Turner] You had seven companies looking at you as a songwriter, what were you thinking as a songwriter and why are they not signing you?
Pete Sallis I felt like I was hitting a brick wall. They would all say I wrote cool songs. All these creative directors know each other, they are friends, on the same panels together for industry events, and were mentioning my name in their circles. I would get phone calls from other publishers, as they were all talking about me as a songwriter. It sure seems like they will not sign you until they have passed you around to all of their friends to get the view from everyone about you as a songwriter. I could be totally wrong, but it sure seemed that way to me.
[Doak Turner] Did you get any single song agreements, and did they help you get your deal here at Combustion Music?
Pete Sallis I had a couple offers for single song contracts, but I did not sign any of them.
[Doak Turner] Why did you not sign single song agreements with the publishers?
Pete Sallis I wanted to give the song to whoever signed me as a staff writer.
[Doak Turner] Where did you learn this part of the business, as most songwriters would have been glad to have a single song contract with a publisher?
Pete Sallis I learned this in college, that I would have more bargaining power to take all my songs to a publisher. So, I was doing all of these meetings, and a couple of the companies could not get their owners to say "He is great, just like you say he is". Whether the song plugger likes you or not, it is up to the moneyman at the publishing company to sign the publishing deal.
After going through this routine for what seemed a long time, a friend of mine, Joel Shewmake, who is a songwriter at BMG, (we had played a couple songwriters rounds together) gave me a phone call one Monday night. He said they had a songwriter drop out of the round. I was on my way home, tired and not really in the mood for playing a songwriters round. However, I turned around and went back to The Broken Spoke to play a couple songs. It was Joel Shewmake, Luke Laird and myself for the round. We played four songs each and after it was over, I met Terry Malone, who is a song plugger at Combustion Music. He was at the event to see Joel and came up to me afterwards, told me I was great, gave me his business card, and asked me to come to his office the next day. I was thinking this is great, I get to go and play him songs for eight months (laughs).
At that point, I had been making about twenty CDs a week, the lyric books, and thought this would be another one to add to the list. I felt like I was beating my head up against the wall, but I wasn't going to stop. I went to his office that Tuesday morning and played him six songs, and he was smiling and laughing at every one of the songs. I was really digging this meeting. He said he was going to play them for his boss, Chris Farren, and get back to me on Wednesday. I had other meetings scheduled for the rest of the day and went to those meetings.
Wednesday morning, Terry Malone at Combustion called and asked if I could meet with him. I walked into his office and Terry, Chris and the company's two song pluggers were in the room. I had never met Chris Farren, and asked what was going on, it looks like a gang-up meeting (laughs). Chris said he listened to my songs the day before and that morning and they really liked what I was writing. They offered me a publishing deal right there, after I just met Terry Monday night. Wednesday morning, we had a handshake deal. It was so weird. After what I had been doing for the past year, this is a publisher that sees me one time at a writers’ night, and now they want to sign me to their company.
[Doak Turner] Had he heard about you before you played the writers’ night?
Pete Sallis No, but the funny thing is, I found out later that Terry called Scott Gunter of Almo Irving Music, who had been working with me all this time. Terry called him while I was playing! Terry asked Scot if he had heard of me, and Scot told Terry that he should meet me. If I had not met Scott a year ago and did all that I did with Scot, I do not know what would have happened. It was like a seal of approval.
[Doak Turner] A Monday night fill-in got you your publishing agreement?
Pete Sallis Exactly - Always do writers’ nights when you get the opportunity! However, I had been on the road so much, it was not like I was home to do a lot of them in the past couple of years. When I got home, the last thing I wanted to do was go play music. But I did it anyway, and glad I did it that Monday night!
[Doak Turner] What did you know about writers’ nights, what to do and not to do to while playing in the rounds?
Pete Sallis I had done less than ten writers’ nights, I figured out not to play a lot of ballads, as they just slowed everything down. Always play up tempos and maybe one ballad. It is funny, since I have been writing at Combustion for a month, I haven't even written a ballad as of today. Everyone wants up-tempo songs.
[Doak Turner] You just started with Combustion Music a little over a month ago, what has happened during that time?
Pete Sallis They started getting me co-writes with the company writers, and with songwriters at other publishing companies.
[Doak Turner] What were you looking for in a songwriting agreement with a publisher?
Pete Sallis As far as what I wanted? I was offered deals, but none were a great offer.
[Doak Turner] What was a great offer to you at the time?
Pete Sallis A deal that would let me come off the road and not have to get another job, to write songs full time. The first offer was nice, but I did not want to have to work at Home Depot and write songs. I politely told the company no thank you. Luckily, I hooked up with Combustion.
[Doak Turner] Did you have your own entertainment attorney?
Pete Sallis Not until I was offered a deal. I had a friend who is an artist with DreamWorks (record company) and asked her who she uses for her attorney. I called their manager to find out a couple attorney names. He gave me three or four different names of attorneys. You can always find an attorney when you need one (laughs). That took about three or four weeks to get all of that straightened out with the publishing company. The deal put a big smile on my face, just to be able to write songs every day and not to have another job is a great feeling. It is not a million dollars or anything like that, but it good to be able to do what I love.
[Doak Turner] Thinking of songwriters who are close to having a publishing deal, are there certain things that they should do, or to look for on an agreement?
Pete Sallis I have had friends in town with publishing deals, and I would ask them what made them happy and not happy. I would ask them on days when we would be talking, they would be complaining about, since they have a writing deal. They would be mad about the publishing company.
[Doak Turner] What would they be mad about?
Pete Sallis They would say the company is not pitching their songs, which is the biggest thing that a publishing company does for a songwriter. You should sign with a company that gets what you do and they love the songs that you write. Do not take just any deal, just because they want you to sign with them. What good is it to write a thousand songs that no one can hear? You can only do so much yourself. The reason that I chose to write at Combustion was because when I first played Terry the songs, he was laughing and smiling at every one of them. I always watched and read people's faces when I played them my songs, I could see that glazed look like they were in some other world, or I could see they are getting my song, or when that great line is coming up, they actually see and hear it when it is played in the song. Every song that I played for Terry, he just got it.
[Doak Turner] What is the last month of Pete Salis' life been like, as far a mentally, and your songwriting?
Pete Sallis Everyone says I am a lot happier than I have ever been, and that is true! I have been very blessed. On the same day that I signed my deal with the publisher, there were 20,000 other songwriters looking for a deal.
[Doak Turner] What has the first month been like at Combustion Music?
Pete Sallis When I first signed, they (my publishers) were trying to figure out how much I should co-write, and how much to continue writing by myself. Everyone's favorite songs are the ones I write by myself. That is not to say anything I co-write now wouldn't be great, but it is not 100% me. Nobody writes like you, we are all different as songwriters.
[Doak Turner] The writing up process, is this your first time in writing up with hit songwriters?
Pete Sallis Totally, I had friends that were staff writers, but did not write with them. I maybe wrote a couple times five or six years ago, and felt if anything I wrote back then was good, was because they were in the room.
[Doak Turner] What is the writing up process like for you?
Pete Sallis It is like dating. You are in a room with a person that you do not know, and you have to write a song with them.
[Doak Turner] How do the co-writes happen, who sets up the meetings?
Pete Sallis I met the seven publishers a year ago and now I know them. I can pretty much call them and ask them to set me up with a songwriting appointment with their songwriters. It is the publisher's call to make it happen, if they think I would write a good song with one of their songwriters. I called Scott Gunter the other day to ask him to set me up a co-writing session with one of his writers, and we are meeting next Wednesday to write a song. It is all about relationships, and my song pluggers at Combustion set me up with songwriters here at the company. I am writing with Chris Farren, who produce the CD with the song "Strawberry Wine" that was a hit for Deanna Carter, and he wrote some of the songs on the CD. Chris also wrote, "How Do You Get There From Here" for Deanna Carter, the Boy Howdy song, "She'd Give Anything and Everything". Chris has a ton of songs that have been cut over the years.
[Doak Turner] What was it like, going into the co-writing session with Chris Farren for your first write up session? Do you feel like you are auditioning, is it a level playing field, do you have something to prove? How do you prepare for a co-writing session?
Pete Sallis I get prepared, and know that the newer songwriters are expected to come up with the ideas. Craig Wiseman has written everything at least ten times. You have to come prepared, doing your homework, such as researching titles. I have my hook book, which is maybe titles, a couple of lines that may work for a chorus or verse. You can always use that resource to throw out and hope one of them strikes as a good start to a song. It is like dating, in that sometimes it does not work.
I have been here a month, and really only had one co-writing appointment that I did not like. I did not know how I was going to react to the situation of writing everyday with someone that I did not know and how it would work. We discussed it in the office, and came up with the plan that I was going to co-write three times a week, and the other days by myself. Now, I want to co-write more because I am writing songs that I never would have written by myself.
[Doak Turner] What advantages of co-writing have you learned in the past month?
Pete Sallis Those songs that you would have not written by yourself, lyrically, melodically and everyone is different with the song. You go a different way with a co-writer for that song. Maybe they have an idea that you would have never thought of, that makes the songs better than if you had written it by yourself. If they have a great lyric sense, then I use my melodic head that day. If they are good at melodies, then I use my lyric head more that day. That is the variety of the job that makes it fun.
[Doak Turner] Are you writing mostly with the songwriters at Combustion Music?
Pete Sallis It started off that way, with me writing with everyone at the company for the first three weeks. We have a great bunch of staff writers at the company. Some of them may come in form out of town for a week or two. I enjoyed co-writing with Houston Robert. He wrote the song "Smoke Rings in the Dark" that Gary Allen had a single on the radio with a couple years ago. He has been a lot of fun to write and hang out with when he is in town. The hard thing to get used to with the situation is I am used to having a week to finish a song, writing by myself. When you co-write, many of these writers have their schedule booked two or three months in advance. If you do not finish the song that day, it may be three months to finish the song, they are that booked up. I have a hand full of songs that I wish I had finished in the appointments. I did not know at first that they were going to be tied up for a long period of time. I would ask if they could get together the next day to finish the song, and they did not have an opening for two months!
[Doak Turner] Will you go ahead and finish the songs that you were co-writing, or wait until you got back together with them?
Pete Sallis Up until now, I wait until I get back with them, unless they would tell me to go ahead and finish the second verse. Another thing I have figured out is that if that co-writer is really digging that song, they are going to find a way to finish it soon.
[Doak Turner] Is the first month what you thought it would be as a staff writer?
Pete Sallis It is great!
[Doak Turner] Your perception of how the days would go as a staff writer, is it close to what you envisioned?
Pete Sallis I have seen so many of my friends doing it, so I had a pretty good idea of what it is like. However, I know some songwriters that have three co-writing sessions a day, six days a week. To me, that is not really that good. You cannot write about life if you are not living it. I will not be like the great songwriter Hugh Prestwood, to only write twelve songs, and all of them are great, that is not my style.
[Doak Turner] Any advice to aspiring songwriters and songwriters that have moved or thinking about moving to Nashville?
Pete Sallis First of all, move to town if you want to write songs. If you want it bad enough, you will find a way to Nashville. Iron sharpens iron; being in this town makes you a better songwriter. Just going to the clubs, hearing the hit songwriters can help make you a better songwriter. You will hear things the hit songwriters have done, and that you should have done for your songs.
[Doak Turner] When new songwriters first move to Nashville, what should they NOT do?
Pete Sallis I have seen people go up to hit songwriters, in fact it was recently that I was at The Broken Spoke, this pretty big songwriter was walking out with his girlfriend. A songwriter came up to him and said he had been in Nashville for a month, and they have to write songs together. He told the hit songwriter that his is the best stuff you will ever hear. The pro writer was being polite and told the new songwriter to drop off a CD at his office. The new songwriter told the pro that they have to set the appointment now. The pro was polite, and just walked away. The new writer started cussing at the pro, and I could not believe what I was seeing! For me, when my songs get good enough, the hit songwriters will want to write with me. That may have been why it took me so long to get a deal, because I was not pushy with it or marketing myself. I just let my songs do the talking.
[Doak Turner] Any books you would recommend to songwriters?
Pete Sallis Definitely Jason Blume's first book, "6 Steps to Songwriting Success", on Billboard Books. I just bought his second book, "Songwriting, Getting To The HEART Of Creativity", on Billboard Books. My favorite thing to do is to buy CDs that the songwriters themselves have for sale, Gary Burr, Byron Hill, and other hit songwriters that you can learn from by listening to their CDs. Find out what makes them so unique as songwriters.
[Doak Turner] Tell me about your songwriting goals.
Pete Sallis This is only the beginning. This is like getting drafted in the NFL. You work your whole life, workout, learn how to play defensive tackle or whatever, learn the plays, get to college, do well, but your dream is the NFL. It is like being drafted, as I am in rookie camp right now, and I have to prove myself even more. My goal in the next year is to write a lot of great songs. Realistically in the next year, I want a cut on a CD. I want the company to be really happy with signing me, to give them a reason for signing me in the first place.
Writing up with hit songwriters is another goal that I am working with my pluggers to do for my songwriting. My pluggers will make CDs of my songs, and drop it off to anther publishing company for a certain writer, and hopefully that songwriter will give me a call. I am doing a session for my new songs, and my goal is to write with Anthony Smith. I want to get the session done, and drop it off to his box at his publishing company. I hope he calls me back. That is as pushy as I will get, dropping off a CD. It is out of my hands at that point.
[Doak Turner] Have you always been a goal setter?
Pete Sallis I did not set goals until a couple years ago. Maybe that is why it took me so long to get a publishing deal. It does not surprise me now, the way the results came out like they did, because two years ago, I finally put time behind the pen.
[Doak Turner] Any ideas that you have to get titles for your songs?
Pete Sallis I spend a lot of time at the library just looking at titles of books. I figure if they spent all that money making the book, the title should be pretty good. I have seen other hit songwriters doing the same! We will be hearing more from songwriter Pete Sallis in the future. He is an example of once you set your goals, have the persistence and attitude of wanting to learn how to write great songs, never giving up on the goal of a songwriting deal with a publisher. Keep the positive attitude, have the work ethic, build relationships in the songwriting industry and, as Pete said a couple of times, "Put the time behind the pen"!