Grammy Award Winner Kandi
Grammy Award winner Kandi took the time to speak to us about her career and her future plans and what it takes to succeed in the industry, how important it is to clear publishing splits before you complete a song and how she pitches music to some of the biggest acts in the industry. As a veteran in the music industry, Kandi has worked with A-list artists including Destiny’s Child, Alicia Keys, Whitney Houston, ‘N SYNC, TLC, Pink, Mariah Carey, Boyz II Men and countless others.
Tell us a bit about how you got involved with music in the first place?
Grammy Award winner Kandi: I always loved to sing, but my family didn’t recognize that I could sing until I was in the 7th or 8th grade. At that time a friend of mine was going to audition for a Performing Arts school and she asked me to audition with her. As fate would have it, I ended up making it into the school, but she didn’t.
So when I went to the that school, that’s where I met Tamika and LaTocha Scott and we started singing together at talent shows, churches, and a host of other venues. People started telling us we should start an official group. At first, LaTocha did not want to start a group because she had been in a group before that did not do go in the direction she had hoped for. As such we simply continued to sing together without declaring ourselves an “official” group.
Finally one day, a lady that they used to work with before I met them held auditions for a girl group, and another friend of mine asked me to accompany her. When I got there, Tameka and Tocha were there as well, I was like “I thought you all did not want to be in a group!” Long story short, in the audition process, we were put together and were finally declared an official group, Tiny was added and another girl was a part of the situation for a little while but it did not work out so we were a four girl group.
What happened next?
Grammy Award winner Kandi: Atlanta was a great spot to be, as it broke ground for groups like ABC and TLC. My brother introduced us to Ian Burke who actually discovered TLC, Arrested Development as well as us. Ian took us to none other than Jermaine Dupri, who liked us a lot. At the time, however, Jermaine had his plate full with acts like Kris Kross, etc. and indicated that we could touch back at a later point in time.
Interestingly enough, we never prepared a demo and instead we just sang live for different people.
There were so many people who said they were going to help us, but nothing ever happened.
Finally, on a BET teen talent showcase, we sang “Hold On” accapela by En Vogue alongside Tocha’s beat boxing. Guess who was there? Jermaine Dupri who literally said: “I love ya’ll and ya’ll look like the ghetto En Vogue”. As a result of that performance, we signed our first deal. It was also the time when Kris Kross (“Jump”) bolstered Columbia Record and we were looking forward to embark on this new venture alongside Jermaine to do the same.
Did you get to write to your own music at that point? How did that part in your career develop?
Grammy Award winner Kandi: Unfortunately not at that point, as I was only 16 when we signed our first record deal. Jermaine helmed most of production, so he would let us write a little bit here and there; but it wasn’t anything major.
When one of our members wanted to leave the group and go solo that made everything fall apart, which forced me think about what I was going to do. So one of the other group members and I thought about launching a duo project. But before asking permission from the label we thought it prudent to record a demo tape where we would write all of the songs, so they could see that we can write our own music.
That song earned you a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song.
Grammy Award winner Kandi: That song alone changed my whole life. From there, Shekspere and I continued to work together as a writing team, so we were able to do the Destiny’s Child project, and it would just get to the point where everybody was calling, “Hey, work with us, work with us”. We just became in demand overnight.
We recorded “No Scrubs” in November, and by January it was playing on the radio and it just took off, and the next thing you know we are in the studio with everyone I could have dreamed of working with. We wrote “Bills Bills Bills” (Destiny’s Child), “Bug a Boo” (Destiny’s Child), and “There You Go” for Pink back to back – and so we were just on a roll!
There are other artists that I haven’t had the chance to work with, but I’d love to work with Britney, because she’s edgy, and I like to do edgy records. I am also a big fan of Janet Jackson with whom I almost had the opportunity to do something, but it didn’t come together, so I’m still waiting on that one.
What is your process of putting together a song; do you hum it, do you put it on a piece of paper?
Grammy Award winner Kandi: Different ways. A lot of producers simply give me tracks, or have me come to the studio to listen to them, and I always think about the concept first. When I say “concept” I usually contemplate what a specific track makes me want to think about, or if there’s something everybody can relate to.
The melodies always seem to come very naturally to me, so that’s usually quite easy.
I believe I write best when I’m driving in the car. I can effortlessly write entire songs from the top of my head and later just drop the studio to work alongside a producer to craft the rest around the idea I incubated in the car.
As a Grammy Award winning songwriter, do you use any special equipment? Do tell us your secrets!
Grammy Award winner Kandi: I have an iPodand a microphone piece that attaches to it, so I can sing and record myself right then and there. It’s a little digital recorder which can be used anywhere. Later I can just transfer the recording to my computer and distribute it to whoever I like.
As far as writing “equipment”, I like this program on my computer called “Masterwriter”, which is really cool, because you can keep any and all of your various song writings on it. If you get stuck or you need a word to rhyme on another, you just click on it and the software gives you all kinds of words and phrases that exactly match your requirements. In that way, I can get more creative as it multiplies my vocabulary and matches it to what I am trying to achieve.
Although I have all these great little gadgets, lately I have been a wee-bit lazy and haven’t written as much as I used to. Not because I can’t write more, but I need to take out some more time. Currently, I have only written about three songs a week.
In what ways has the internet influenced your songwriting?
Grammy Award winner Kandi: I have a studio at home, and when producers send me tracks, we collaborate instantly by sending songs to each other electronically. We don’t even have to be in the same place at the same time to record entire songs. I can submit tracks electronically to whoever I’m working with[i.e. Jonathan “J.R” Rotem].
I remember a long time ago Shekspere and I were doing a record with Mariah Carey. She was located in another country and we wrote the song“Ex-Girlfriend” over the phone. I put down the vocals here in Atlanta and then we send the songs via the internet to her while she was in the studio. We were never in the studio together and yet completed that song.
From a songwriting perspective, who have you collaborated with?
Other people I collaborate with include Bryan-Michael Cox (Brandy, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Chris Brown), Jonathan “J.R” Rotem (Britney Spears, Sean Kingston), Scott Storch and most recently Mr. DJ (Outkast), Drumma Boy (Plies) I love his beats. Here in Atlanta, I’ve been working with Malay (John Legend, Big Boi, Donny Klang, Danity Kane), who just produced John Legend’s hit “Green Light”.
I feel I can get along with almost everybody, because I’ve been in the industry for so long which always creates a mutual respect, so it’s easy to get in and work on various projects.
Interestingly enough, I now rarely, if ever, collaborate with lyric and melody writers, because I generally end up writing the complete song. So I mostly work with people who produce the tracks.
Having looked at your career as somebody who has written so many great songs, if someone’s an up-and-coming songwriter, what advice do you have?
Grammy Award winner Kandi: Get an understanding on the publishing before the song is completed. Sometimes, it’s not just you and/or the producer writing a song, but two, three or more people adding their input into a song.
When that happens, make sure you don’t walk away without an understanding of what percentage you’re getting on the record. Otherwise, you may find yourself getting into a dispute. Magically, some people can catch temporary amnesia! I’ve seen so many people have writer’s disputes and it holds up publishing and the money being paid on the album. You should know that a dispute can, in fact, hold up the publishing on the whole album. I’ve run into that and know other people who have too – it’s very common.
Usually I break it down to who’s there and who covers which aspect of the song. So, the person who creates the track gets 50%. For the person who creates the “hook” – the actual lyric and melody part that define the “hook” – receives the biggest percentage, and the rest gets split however you want to split it. Sometimes you have 3 writers and you all get 33 1/3.
One time I was in Nashville to write with some country songwriters, and it’s common to divide everything into equal splits there, regardless of how small or big your involvement with the song was. Just because you wrote only a small part doesn’t mean anything – everyone is created equal, so to speak.
But here in Atlanta, it doesn’t work as simple as that and it’s more common to break it down into exact splits.
Let me give you an example, prefaced by saying this is a while back, when I was working with well-known Grammy Award winning R&B group, who I very much liked and respected. We were, in fact, friends even long before we got to work together for the first time.
I came in with the first song in hand to which we, as a group, added the second verse and commenced work on the next song which they wrote most of and I did not contribute as much.
Around three in the morning we were getting ready to leave and laughed, talked, and reminisced about the old days when we hung out.
As we were getting ready to leave, I asked one of the collaborators “So, how do you normally do your splits?” He looked at me with a crazy look and said “Splits, oh, oh, you want to talk about splits now?” To which I said, “No problem, let’s do it tomorrow! It’s late!” I didn’t think it was that big of a deal and yet got another reply “Oh, no, let’s talk about it now, let’s talk about it now!”
At that point he suggested that normally we can split it equally, and what he meant was, there are four members of the group, no matter if they were all there or not, they expect to get an equal split – they suggested 10,10,10,10 – in that I would receive 10%. But mind you, the first song, when they came in, was basically done. After offering that insight, they offered an alternative split of 25/25. In addition, they suggested also to use the 25/25 split in cases where I didn’t contribute as much on a song we wrote – so I thought that’s fair.
As soon as they walked out the door, they called my manager and said, “How can she possibly talk about splits? She shouldn’t even be asking us those kind of questions”, suggesting that I should be grateful to even work on their album.
Turns out that even after agreeing to a 25/25 split, they changed their mind claiming 40% of the song I wrote and offering only 10% on the song where I assisted.
The next day, they were supposed to come back to the studio to meet about it. I was standing at the door, so when they got there, I opened the door for them, they brushed past me and didn’t even speak or accept my presence in the meeting and only spoke to Shekspere and my manager.
What was disturbing was that we were not strangers but knew each other over many years. On top of that, I already had multiple #1 records, towards which that exchange seemed somewhat undignified.
And it’s worth mentioning at this point that some artists will take advantage of a new writer – they’ll say: “In order to get on my album, you’ve got to give me half the split off the record, “ or something crazy like that. Sometimes they feel they can do that because you’ve never had a placement, but in my case I have already been quite successful.
After much discussion, we got it worked and it ended up okay, but after that, I never felt the same way.
How do you go about getting your music to a Britney Spears project?
Grammy Award winner Kandi: There’s a few different ways you can do it.
(1) you can have your publisher shop your record for you
(2) send A&Rs songs electronically
(3) take on-site meetings with the A&R on the project
(4) go directly to the artist’s manager
(5) work with the artist directly (when possible)
(6) collaborate with a hot producer on the scene that can get your record played to the right people
You have to be relentless when you’re trying to shop a record because sometimes the record never gets to the artist and gets shot down before it even gets played to anyone. Which translates to – you may need to do any or all of the above and try to use all the tools you can get your hands on.
For example, I use the Internet to send songs directly to A&Rs almost every day – of course, if you can meet the A&R directly that’s even better. Keep in mind that although some A&Rs can listen to rough demos, I usually don’t leave it open to chance and only send songs that are produced to their best – radio quality. Some A&Rs may otherwise not get it.
For those that are still up-and-coming, try to collaborate with hot producers on the scene. Even though some A&Rs are open to meet directly with new writers, it’s easier to open the door when you can attach yourself to someone that has had a previous success.
In fact, I always tell people who are more of lyric and melody writers that there are so many people out here who have a million of tracks, but don’t have anybody who writes for their tracks. So you can use this to your advantage by setting up a meeting with a producer, who you know is getting a lot of work. You then sit down with that producer and offer to write to a couple tracks, and if he or she likes them, then we can continue to collaborate together. And if you got what it takes, then you know they will play it for someone big in the industry.
As an example, this is exactly what happened to a friend of mine, who started collaborating with Polow Da Don, and now she has 3 singles about to come out. And so by collaborating with a producer who is getting work, she was able to get herself on the map.
Are there any trends you see in the A&R world?
Grammy Award winner Kandi: A&Rs are not really developing a lot of new artists right now. Instead, many new artists try to create a buzz themselves, release an independent record and have it catch fire on the air and it is only when the hype has been built, that the A&R steps in to sign them.
Back in the day, you didn’t really have to have “a following” to get a deal, because you know that the A&Rs would develop you. But now, they kind of want you already together; already to have a following, a sound, and have everything packaged up and ready to go.
I can understand why A&Rs go this route, because I too tried a few times to develop new artists and I kind of backed off, because a lot of people expect success to happen overnight, and when it doesn’t, then they get all distraught, and it becomes way too much work.
So I’d rather just work with somebody who already has “a bill”, since I’m investing a lot of money with somebody, I don’t want to hear you’re ready to jump ship, because you didn’t get a deal the first time you auditioned with somebody.
You know you have a serious artist with passion and drive, when he or she goes out to get the records played on their own, pay their own money to get their records printed up – basically, try get everything done by themselves. And that’s what is alluring to an A&R, since they know they have an artist who is truly serious about his or her work.
But the downside to that is, a lot of times when these people get their records jumping off, they only have one single and have nothing to back it up.
So when the label signs the act, it has happened often-times that they spend a lot of money to find and sign the right act, but the record starts to die off and have nothing to back it up.
The label will rush to put an album out because they’re trying to catch up with this single that’s already started to catch, but lose the potential of the artist, because not enough music was created.
Is the music business a love-hate relationship for you?
Grammy Award winner Kandi: Yes, indeed! I love the silliness of it all; it’s often ‘over-the top’. I love how we’re almost in a different world than everybody else is. The funny thing is a lot of times we don’t even realize it.
On the flipside, it can become quite fake and so some of the things we do in music are not real – we just glamorize it as if it is. That’s something that I don’t like.
As far as the behind-the-scenes part, I hate when people put your hopes up high and when the album comes out, you’re not on it and all your work seems to evaporate.
And what I really hate is when I submit a song to many of the people involved on a project and all but the maybe the A&R like the song. You then wait for the record to drop and you hear what was picked instead – something that completely bombed in the charts. Which makes me think “and you turned down my record…hmm…”
What are your future plans?
Grammy Award winner Kandi: Right now I’m still writing and co-producing for other artists, including the likes of Tiffany Evans, LeToya Luckett, Tyra (Warner Bros) and a number of other hot artists.
I’m also back in the studio to organize my solo work and once I get the “right” sound, then I’ll focus even more on that. The funny thing is that I collaborate with all of different producers and I like all kinds of music, so it’s hard when you do that because you can’t get one specific sound – you want to do everything, but the thing is that I don’t want the album to be all over the place, so I’m trying to figure out what direction I’m trying to take it.
And finally, a TV show is also in the works! Tiny myself, and two other ladies, Antonia Carter (Little Wayne’s ex-wife) and Joy Bound (Lyfe “L” Jennings manager and fiancι) are expected to host the show, though the network is yet to be announced.
To survive in the industry, you need…
Grammy Award winner Kandi: To pray, for one. Next, not quitting, and always trying to stay in the mix. If you’re never around people who do what you do, then you’re bound to jump out of the loop. So it’s all about having the right people around, to motivate yourself and make you hungry. So keep up with your contacts.
You should also try to seek out ways to improve yourself. For example, for myself even getting my own studio has been a help because I can record records whenever I want to and that always keeps me in it.
I’ve been in the industry for so long, I’ve seen my other peers come and go – some of my friends sold many more records than I ever did, but now they’re not in the business anymore.
As for me, I don’t even know how to do anything else, I’ve never had a job outside of music and entertainment and couldn’t imagine not being an entertainer. I was lucky in that I did not need to do other temporary jobs before I could “make” it.
About Kandi Burruss
As a songwriter, Kandi earned her first Grammy Award for her work for TLC’s song “No Scrubs” and was named ASCAP’s R&B Songwriter of the Year in 2000 – a great achievement considering she was the first woman to receive this honor.