For Ross Golan, Theory and Intuition Go Hand in Hand

Multi-platinum songwriter on his creative process, podcasting, and advocacy

Songwriter Ross Golan knows that hits aren’t written by mistake. “Composition is all about editing. That’s when theory thrives,” he says. “Most of the time, I trust the numbers over my instincts. But to know when to stop editing is all about intuition.”

After penning songs for the likes of Ariana Grande, Maroon 5, Justin Bieber, Nicki Minaj, Lady Antebellum, Michael Bublé, Selena Gomez, Keith Urban and CeeLo Green, the Chicago native’s approach to composition revolves heavily around what he calls “song math,” as well as the musical intuition he has cultivated.

“Theory and intuition go hand in hand,” Golan explains. “Theory equals math. Intuition equals taste. Personally, I like improvising melodies and freestyling lyrics to capture my instincts. And then I edit that intuition into a cohesive idea.”

Relying solely on those tools isn’t enough, however. In the cutthroat business of making pop hits, he says collaboration can be crucial: “I love writing alone, but it’s harder to get perspective and takes much longer. That said, co-writing takes the pressure off. A good co-writer can give you perspective immediately. Each writer you add in the room brings more perspective.”

 

Ross Golan. Photo by Matty Vogel

 

“Music doesn’t have to be expendable. It doesn’t have to be about skip rates.”

Writing solo has proven to be the lengthier — though more rewarding — endeavor, as with Golan’s concept album and musical The Wrong Man, which chronicles the woes of a Reno man on death row after being wrongly convicted of murder. The album is set for release in Spring 2019 on Interscope, and the off-Broadway musical will open in October 2019.

“It’s the most exciting thing I’ve ever worked on in my career,” Golan proudly remarks, explaining that in the 15 years since its conception, the project has aged gracefully. “Not recording the music until now has allowed it to live and grow. Every person who’s heard me play it in their apartment or house or loft or office has encouraged the material to become better and better.”

“Music doesn’t have to be expendable. It doesn’t have to be about skip rates. It can be about telling truths,” Golan says, and that truth-telling thrives in his podcast, And the Writer Is…, which gives listeners an intimate glimpse into the lives of the people behind their favorite hits. Guests share accounts of their successes, failures, struggles, insecurities, and fears. Each episode holds unique insights, and it’s no surprise that Golan can’t pick favorites.

“These are my friends. I love them all,” he says about the episodes. “These stories are gold and tell about a generation of songwriters, artists, and musicians who support each other in their endeavors to change culture. Some are emotional and honest, some are philosophical and brilliant, and some are virtuosic or legends. I won’t say who’s who … I’ll let the listeners decide that.”

Beyond peeling back the curtain on some of the industry’s most renowned hit-makers, Golan’s podcast has served as a platform for the advocacy of songwriters’ rights — an arena in which Golan has had a loud voice.He was a central figure in rallying grassroots support to pass the Music Modernization Act (MMA), which was successfully signed into law in October of 2018. A complex piece of legislation that amends outdated laws going as far back as 1909, the MMA essentially creates a more equitable market for the music industry, allowing judges to set royalty rates based on fair market value.

The passing of the MMA was a landmark victory for songwriters, artists, and the industry as a whole, but it was only the first step in the movement’s progress. The second is establishing a Music Licensing Collective (MLC) governed by songwriters and music publishers to oversee licensing and payments. “We’ve already seen an improvement in royalty statements, because we’ve gained the right to audit. But the long-term effects are still to be seen. We’re currently implementing the bill and creating an MLC to help transparency in distributing royalties,” says Golan.

Prior to the MMA, unclaimed royalties owed to unidentifiable songwriters and producers sat in massive funds held by digital service providers such as Spotify. Part of the MLC’s role will involve overseeing a consistent legal process to distribute these royalties to their rightful owners, as well as streamlining future distribution.

As to whether the effects of the MMA have been felt so far, Golan says, “The short answer is ‘not yet.’ But there won’t be a bloated black box fund that excludes writers and artists like it had in the past. There won’t be rate court judges who can’t use outside information to help establish a modern royalty anymore … Ask me this question in 2022.”

Ross Golan will perform The Wrong Man as part of the SXSW Music Festival and tape an episode of And The Writer Is… with special guest Wyclef Jean. “Song Math with Ross Golan” is a Featured Session in the Making & Marketing Music Track, presented by Playbook Hub.

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