Winner of our February/March 2021 SongU Special Event Pitch “Staff Writer for a Day with Curb/Word Entertainment,” Matt Soileau (pronounced in Louisiana French as “swallow”) answered our questions about his writing process. He also filled us in on the co-write session set up by Senior Creative Director of Publishing Ciara Shortridge with hit songwriter Bobby Tomberlin (“One More Day”).
Matt’s interest in songwriting started in 2016 in Texas from a random conversation about songwriting with one of his physical therapy patients. He was hooked when he learned that he could write the words to a song without the music. Until then, he didn’t even know there was such a thing as a “lyricist.” He admits that his first attempts were “horrible.” He and a co-worker would banter back and forth. He would create titles and lyrics to songs from the conversations, but they were always joke-type songs. They would watch a Country Music channel sometimes at work and would hear songs like T-Shirt and Trailer Hitch and say, “man, that’s pretty easy, simple, everyday stuff right there. We can make up lyrics and titles like that.” He learned later that it was a little more complicated than that.
Like many new songwriters, Matt says the ideas for songs, titles, and twists on clichés were not the problem, but writing a complete song in a song-form to a melody was. Motivated to enter his lyrics into song contests, he teamed up to co-write with musicians and vocalists and started submitting his first “bad” songs. The contests led him to educational sites for songwriters, including SongU, and he began studying everything he could find about songwriting.
He wrote in secret for a year in fear that he “may not be good enough” and that those around him would laugh and think this was crazy. Eventually, he started to get some honorable mentions in songwriting contests, then semi-finalist, then finalist placements. He says that only then did he feel comfortable telling his wife and friends that he had entered into this new mid-life experiment. He says, “I didn’t understand why it was happening at that time but I just knew I felt so fulfilled when I was writing that this must be my purpose in life.”
How often do you write? Do you have any set schedule or unique ways to enhance your creative process?
I “work” on songwriting every morning, but I do not write songs every morning. I have a family with three kids and a wife, and a day job. For that reason, my writing time is anywhere from 4 AM to 9 AM before my family wakes up. That sounds bad, but I am an early riser that needs little sleep to operate. I like a quiet setting and some strong coffee to aid the process. I get to go longer on weekends if the kids don’t have early activities. I have dry spells like every other writer. When I’m not feeling inspired, I do clerical work related to my songs, like organizing e-mails, reading educational things, and looking for new networking opportunities. If the lyrics aren’t there, I sometimes find new ideas for titles or songs in general. Some mornings I listen to other artists, and that spurs ideas.
Tell us about the pitching for this Special Event with Ciara Shortridge, Curb/Word Publishing Creative Director. Four of your songs ended up on the contenders’ list! How did you decide which of your song to submit to the Special Event Pitch?
This was difficult for me. I have demos of a lot of songs already completed because it seems like my creativity is a steamroller at times and won’t stop. I enjoy that completion process so much. It is hard for me to choose my best song because you think all of them are good when you create them. But then, if you get into an evaluation or pitching process with professionals, you start to realize their flaws. But I was simply submitting a few Country songs and few Contemporary Christian songs. I have had several bursts of inspiration in Contemporary Christian, which I think are some of my best songs. I’m glad that Ciara agreed when she judged the contest.
That seems like an excellent strategy to show your range as a writer. What were your first thoughts when you found out that you were the winner?
It was such an honor and validation to have a professional from a major label saying good things about my songs and picking me as the winner. Ciara’s comments were so nice and just gave me a good feeling about what I had done with my songs and how they could affect people in a positive way. She said that my song, So Help Me God, “resonates with me,” and she “loved it,” and “the double meaning of the hook knocked me out.” I played this song for a family member, and they cried because of its emotional impact. Even if this song never gets on the radio, it has still changed the world in some way and touched people already. That’s a great feeling and one of the goals of my writing.
I was also immediately anticipating the gift of a pro co-write with Bobby as well, and it was a really neat experience. This win [in addition to the Nashville Songwriter’s Contest win] has led to a couple of in-person co-writes when I make a trip to Nashville in November.
Here’s the song that rose the to top of the Special Event Pitch contenders list for Emily:
I noticed that you submitted very well-done guitar/vocals rather than full-band productions. Ciara seemed to be drawn to them, which says a lot about the quality of the writing. You invited one of your co-writers to the session as well (with permission from Ciara and Bobby). Why was that?
I write with Brandon Chase, who does the vocals for most of my songs. He is now singing with the Christian group I Am They and was a former Voice contestant. His vocals are amazing! He is also very strong with melody, and that’s how we usually divide up the labor in our writes even though he has lyric skills as well. I just knew having him present would enhance the writing. I also wanted to invite him to show my gratitude since he was a co-writer on most of my contest songs, and I couldn’t have won without him.
How did you prepare yourself ahead of time for the co-write session with hit writer Bobby Tomberlin? Did you come with ideas or just let the ideas flow after you got in the “writer’s room” (aka online meeting)?
Because I consider myself the “idea and lyric guy,” I prepped by going through a lot of my song ideas stored on my phone and in my e-mail. I’m constantly jotting down new titles, ideas, and lines. So I suggested a few different songs, and we then decided on “Happy Accidents” as the best choice for our write. I can’t contribute to melody much because of my skill set, so I wanted to try to really contribute on the front end of the song. We completed it in two writing sessions about a month apart. I prepared for our second writing session by doing a lot of lyric writing on my own for the second verse and bridge. I can write and contribute in the moment during a writing session, but, because of the way I usually write, I like to slowly ruminate on lyrics in the early morning hours.
Can you walk us through the writing process a bit?
It was a Zoom session since I live in Texas. We did introduce ourselves and just said a few things about ourselves to get started. There was a little talking and joking, but we started getting into the write quickly. I shot out a few ideas, and Bobby picked the one he liked the best. Brandon agreed and very quickly started playing some melody options on his guitar. We did two sessions to complete the song. The first was about 40 minutes after dealing with some tech issues and the second one was about an hour to finish up.
Are you, Brandon, and Bobby happy with the song you wrote? Is anything happening with it in terms of pitching?
The writing team was happy with the song when we finished it. We thought it was a unique presentation of the common but never old theme of love. We felt like the chorus was pretty “catchy” and could get listeners singing along. We didn’t get a lot of feedback yet from the Creative Director. We have not decided to do a full demo on this song yet, only a phone recording so far. I’ve learned that to pitch a song effectively, you can’t just throw it out there to everyone. It took me a while to learn that. But pitches should be strategic and targeted to specific artists that are looking for specific types of songs. So far, we haven’t found a match for our song in that way, so it is not being pitched. But if I see the right opportunity, I will definitely put it out there.
Thanks for sharing the worktape that came out of the session…
Your overall experience with the Staff Writer for a Day Special Event?
It was a great experience and opportunity. It was great to meet Bobby and write with him when you look at his songwriting accomplishments and cuts. I am very grateful and will always give SongU credit for my first co-write with a major-label pro writer. It’s just a great way to get a more quality writing experience in my back pocket to move the songwriting journey forward. It’s another step along the way to network and also hopefully get closer to my goal of getting some cuts in Nashville and commuting there regularly to write at some point..
Matt, thanks so much! We appreciate your sharing your experience so we can all learn from it.