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Kelly McKay, Winner of “Staff Writer for A Day,” Tells Us About Her Experience.

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I was thrilled to speak with Kelly McKay, SongU member since 2013, and the winner of our Spring 2020 Special Event Pitch, “Staff Writer for a Day” with WinSongs Music Publishing! Kelly is clearly a talented songwriter, but she is also a role model for what it takes to succeed in this business:

  • the desire to keep growing and learning
  • the ability to network bravely yet humbly
  • the persistence to carry on in the face of daunting odds 
Songwriter, Kelly McKay

Kelly, I’m so excited to hear about your co-write session and listen to the song that you wrote. But first, tell me about the pitch. How did you decide which of your song(s) to submit to the “Staff Writer for a Day” Special Event Pitch with WinSongs’ Creative Director, Kirby Smith?

I submitted four songs. Kirby said she likes fun, uptempo songs and unique hooks that surprise her, so I kept that in mind. I submitted “Kissed the Hell Outta Me” mainly because it was brand new and I was excited about it and that was the one she picked. 

What were your first thoughts when you found out that you were the winner?

I was just excited. Little victories are a big deal to me (see what I did there?), so any time someone digs a song, it’s a great feeling. 

What was it like when you first contacted WinSongs’ Creative Director, Kirby Smith, after the event?

Kirby was really nice and got a date locked in really fast.  

Your co-write session was supposed to be with hit songwriter, Sandy Ramos, but Kirby added Winsongs’ staff songwriter, Chase Fouraker. Why?

She added Chase so that we could write to a track. 

How did you prepare yourself ahead of time for the co-write session, which was online, I assume?

Yes, it was over Zoom. I had a bunch of ideas ready to go, some deeper ones and some fun ones. I basically wanted to have all my bases covered so if they wanted to write a certain vibe, I had a hook that could fit. I also listened to Chase’s material that he’s released as an artist to get a feel for what he does. 

How long was your writing session? Can you walk us through the process a bit?

We finished in about 2 hours, 45 minutes. We talked a little when we first jumped on. Sandy and Chase hadn’t written before, so we all introduced ourselves and got to know each other a bit. Sandy said she wanted to write a fun uptempo and they both liked the first idea I threw out, so we were off and running pretty quickly.

What do you feel is your “strength” as a writer? In other words, are you more lyric-driven or music-driven, or something else? What did you feel your co-writer’s strengths seemed to be?

I can be more lyric-driven or more melody-driven depending on the team I’m writing with. I think that’s probably true for Sandy and Chase too. Just based on that session, Sandy focused mainly on lyrics while Chase focused more on melody and track. But I got the feeling they both probably play different roles in the writing room on any given day. 

Did you learn anything new about the craft of songwriting during the session?

I loved seeing how Sandy approaches a lyric and how she would go back and make little changes that made a big difference to the song. It reinforced not to settle for the first thing that sounds cool, but to make sure you nail it. And Chase was sharing his screen so we were able to watch him build the track along the way. That was actually really cool. I’ve written with a lot of different track guys and girls, but I’ve never really had the chance to watch that process that closely while the song is being written. 

When you say you watched Chase build the track along the way, how did that fit into the writing?

We started with a chord progression and a loose melodic direction and he started building the track from there. At times, he was focusing on the track while Sandy and I were working on lyrics. For the most part, it was all happening simultaneously.

Any other thoughts or feelings you’d like to share about these two pros and/or the writing session itself?

Sandy was the first person to critique one of my songs at NSAI years ago. I’ve learned a lot from her, so I was really excited to write with her. She’s an amazing writer and just made the whole session so easy. And Chase is a multi-tasking wizard. I had a starting melody for the chorus and he took it to another level while he was building the track and helping with lyrics. He’s got a killer voice too. I could listen to him sing all day. 

Your overall experience with the Staff Writer for a Day Special Event?

It was an awesome experience that I’m truly grateful for. The Big Reveal session itself was really helpful. Sara, you asked a lot of great questions and Kirby offered a lot of insight. I really appreciate the opportunity to learn from two pro writers, the chance to connect with Kirby and to add another song to my catalog all at the same time. I can’t say enough good things about it. Thank you Sara, Danny, Sandy, Kirby and Chase! 

Kelly, you’re so welcome! Thank YOU for sharing your experience so we can all learn from it.

And now, without further adieu, here is the work tape of the awesome song that came out of the session…

“Heart’s A Drunk” by Ramos/McKay/Fouraker

Great work, Kelly! I’m imagining myself on the dance floor right now with the one I love. I hope we will hear this on the radio soon!

Author: Sara Light

Sara Light has been writing professionally in Nashville since 1996. Her credits include the John Michael Montgomery title track and the hit single "Home To You" which received an ASCAP airplay award in addition to being named SESAC song of the year for having garnered 2 million spins on radio. She also composed songs for the musical "Urban Cowboy, The Musical" which opened on Broadway in March 2003 and was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Original Score." Sara has always combined her love of teaching with her love of songwriting and has given countless songwriting seminars throughout the U.S. and Canada. In 2001 she co-founded, along with her husband Danny Arena, the online educational website www.SongU.com. Besides being one of the main administrators (and now bloggers) Sara teaches Song Feedback and Lyric Writing at SongU.com.

One thought on “Kelly McKay, Winner of “Staff Writer for A Day,” Tells Us About Her Experience.

  1. Yay! Great title Kelly, Awesome song by the three of you!

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