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Inside the (Surprising) Writer’s Room with Special Event Winner Jonny Born!

For our Fall 2021 SongU Special Event Pitch, “Staff Writer for a Day,” the Creative Director of Winsongs Music Publishing, Kirby Smith, listened to over 200 songs. She selected one writer, Jonny Born, to win the coveted “staff writer for a day” prize which featured a co-writing session with Winsongs’ artist/writer Eric Van Houten. This month Jonny flew from his home in Utah to Nashville, TN, for that session. He told me later that he was glad he made the trip to write in person because the visit was full of surprises, and the creative energy in the writer’s room was tangible. 

Jonny, how’d your staff writer session go?

It was amazing! In addition to Eric Van Houten from WinSongs, Kirby added a new artist/writer named Nick Boyd to the meeting as well, and I am so glad she did. Watch out for this kid. He is the real deal!

You had another happy surprise too, right?

We wrote in Liz Rose’s office and I was pumped. I can’t even imagine how many monsters have been written in those walls. I took a picture before the meeting. I know it looks like I’m not happy, but that’s my “Jon, get your head in the game and show up and contribute, it’s time to go to work” face!!! HAHA. Honestly, I just wanted to get a picture before anyone saw me taking a selfie and figured out I was a nervous rookie!

Songwriter, Jonny Born, in Liz Rose Music Writer’s Room

You don’t look like a rookie! What happened when Eric and Nick arrived?

After we chatted for a while and just got to know each other a bit, we talked about what we wanted to write.

How’d the writing process go?

I had about 15-20 hooks/ideas I’ve been saving for that day. I pulled out what I thought was the most intriguing one — a concept around the word “Unmade,” with the chorus starting out, “I can’t lie, the way you kissed me, left me drunker than the whiskey.” And ending with: “Now, I can’t lie, in this bed that we unmade.” They dug it, and we dove in. I was SUPER worried about keeping up and adding value in that room, but was happy that by the end of it, I’d contributed about 40+% of the lyric, most of the music/progressions, and the hook. I felt I belonged in the room.

That’s terrific! It’s great that you came prepared with so many ideas, even though they liked the first one you presented.

Those guys made it modern, and fresh, and really really cool. It’s certainly one of the better ones I’ve written, but those boys write every day. They also seemed happy with it.

Did you learn anything new about the writing process from this experience?

The experience did shine a light on some areas where I get to improve and up my writing game. New ways to approach a lyric, and a top line. How to get out of my comfort zone and do things lyrically, and musically, that aren’t expected and are new and fresh. Mixing up the lyric syncopation, etc. I’m going to dig in and really get to work on that. You’ll see an improvement in my writing because of this. It makes me wonder how good I could get if I was here, and had the chance to write with better writers every day.

What was your overall experience with the Staff Writer for a Day Special Event?

I just wanted to express my gratitude again for creating this opportunity for me. I feel really, really blessed to have had the chance to be part of SongU and get better at the craft, and have the chance to meet you, and be able show up and be “in the room.”

Jonny, THANK YOU for chatting about your “Staff Writer for a Day” experience so that we can all learn from it! Here’s the WORKTAPE of “Unmade” (with your vocal).

“Unmade” written by Jonny Born, Eric Van Houten, and Nick Boyd