Hit Songwriter Gordon Pogoda
Gordon Pogoda has successfully placed his music not only in an Academy Award winning motion picture, but also in over 40 TV shows (including world-wide syndicated shows like “Sex and the City“, “Hannah Montana“, “CSI: Miami“, “ER“, “Will and Grace“, and “King of the Hill” and many more).
His songs have been recorded by major, multi-platinum-selling recording artists around the world. Gordon sat down with us to discuss his recent song entry into the Eurovision contest (featuring Tereza Kerndlova) and how he followed his passion even while taking a detoured route to his success.
Many people assume that all successful songwriters studied music in college. Is this case with you?
Hit Songwriter Gordon Pogoda: No, not at all. I actually received a degree in Chemical Engineering with a Pre-Med option.
As early as in High School, I told my parents I wanted to be a professional songwriter — I’d been writing songs for two years at that point — but they immediately talked me out of it because of how difficult the field is and they didn’t want me to live the difficult life of a struggling writer.
I went to college and took the “safe” route and got a degree. During my junior year of college, I decided not to pursue the “Pre-Med” part of my major, because I felt I wouldn’t have enough time to write songs in med school or in residency or as a doctor, but in engineering there would still be enough free time to write songs.
You could see even then just where my head was at, despite the safe career path I was trying to follow.
Once I finished my degree, I actually worked in engineering and computer programming for a few years, but I really hated it and hated the path that my life was taking. Still, I was doing my songwriting on the side, and eventually it got to the point where I just had to abandon the engineering profession and give my all to songwriting and see if I could make a living at it.
So I decided to move out to L.A., not knowing a single soul, which was kind of scary, since this is a business based on who you know.
How did you make contacts in the industry and when did you have your first successful cut?
Hit Songwriter Gordon Pogoda: I started out by volunteering at the National Academy of Songwriters in Hollywood. I eventually earned money on a commission basis as the Gold Membership Director, and through this job, I made a lot of contacts, particularly songwriters who already had success. It took me many years to make it in the business.
My first cut was a song recorded by Julie Budd, which I co-wrote with Allan Rich and Dorothy Sea Gazeley. Allan had had a #1 hit called “I Don’t Have the Heart” by James Ingram and a big hit by Natalie Cole, so he was already a very big writer at that point, and honestly, he was the first successful writer to take me under his wing and collaborate with me.
I still remember driving to his house in the Hollywood Hills the first time and being so excited about collaborating with him.
Unfortunately, the Julie Budd album hardly sold anything. So to answer your question about my first success, I’d say my first successful cut was having a platinum record with the Australian Popstars group, Scandal’us back in 2001.
Do you remember the first time you heard a song of yours on the radio?
Hit Songwriter Gordon Pogoda: I do, it was quite amazing. I was in my living room, listening to KIIS-FM, the big Pop station in L.A., when the song came on – I jumped out of my chair. You get such an energy rush, it’s not something you can contain or where you can just sit quietly in a chair while it’s happening.
While the song was playing, I looked over at the piano where the song was created, then I looked just a few feet away at the stereo playing that very song, and I thought, “What a short distance and what a long distance that was.” When I think of that path, the song just went ten feet… from where it was created to where it ended up… but it took what felt like a lifetime to get a song to be there.
You’ve placed music even outside the U.S. – what is your biggest hit overseas?
Hit Songwriter Gordon Pogoda: That would be “Just Because You Walk Away” by Sergey Lazarev, which I wrote with an Australian artist named John Stephan. It became the second biggest hit of the year in Russia and was actually on their charts twice in the same year. To have such a massive hit in a massive country like Russia, it’s really kind of hard for me to fathom. I mean, how often in my career will I have the second biggest hit of the year in a country as large as Russia? That’s a lot of people that know that song.
One of my friends pointed out to me that with a song that big, I’ve written a song that entered the Pop culture of Russia. I had never thought of it that way. This may be the biggest achievement of my career so far. The artist was from Russia, my collaborator was from Australia, and I myself am from the United States – I don’t think I’ve ever had a song where the creative team was from places so far apart around the globe.
How many co-writers do you have and who have you worked with in the past few years?
Hit Songwriter Gordon Pogoda: I’ve been fortunate to write with a lot of great songwriters and producers. I’ve written with the producers Cutfather & Joe. Recently, I’ve written with Marti Frederiksen who had big hits for “American Idol” (Bo Bice) and Buckcherry. I’ve written with Kasia Livingston, a lovely lady who had a worldwide Pussycat Dolls hit. I’ve written many songs with Georgette Franklin & Jeremy Monroe, two of my favorite people to write with. We always have a lot of laughs when we collaborate. They wrote “Love Don’t Cost a Thing” by J-Lo, which is a favorite song of mine.
I also wrote with Drew Lane (read and see Drew Lanes’ featured interview here), who produced songs for “High School Musical” and “Hannah Montana”.
Others include, Wayne Hector, Vince Degiorgio, Jason Blume (read Jason Blume’s featured inuerview here).
And I’ve written with some of my favorite writers who I grew up mistening to — people like Albert Hammond, Grammy Award winner Melissa Manchester, Grammy Award winner Dan Hill, John Bettis, Jeff Silbar, Ken Hirsch, Richard Kerr, Brian Potter of Lambert & Potter, and I’ve written about 20 songs with Dennis Morgan from Nashville.
Over the years, I’ve written with probably 75 people or more. But there’s a main few I’ve written with a lot. I also write by myself sometimes, but 80% of the time, I co-write. That’s always cool because you put two people together in the same room and you get a song that would never have existed otherwise if you were by yourself.
What pearls of wisdom can you impart to other aspiring songwriters?
Hit Songwriter Gordon Pogoda: I would advise up and coming songwriters not to assume that other people will make your career happen. You’ve really got to be working and plugging and networking and constantly pursuing as many avenues as you can yourself to make it in this business.
If you know you’re really talented, then never give up. Think about this: imagine if you quit the business and never knew that the next day would have been your big break — the day you met the right publisher or wrote your first hit song — but you stopped the day before and never even realized how close you came to your dream.
I’m sure that’s happened to people and they never knew it, and that’s really tragic when you think about it. So I think it’s important that no matter how bad a day you’re having or how many cuts fell through that week, you just have to keep going.
In the end it’s about persistence. If you keep throwing something against a wall, year after year, eventually it’s going to stick. (Then again, I suppose you could just end up with a big hole in your wall.)
You’ve had your music placed in film/TV and with major artists – is there a difference in terms of how you pitch your music (film vs. TV vs. artists vs. others)?
Hit Songwriter Gordon Pogoda: Not really. People often ask me if the writing process is different between the songs I get into films and the songs that get cut by artists.
For me, there’s no difference. I never even write a song for a film or a TV show. I know writers that will only write a song if it’s with a specific artist or producer or for a specific movie. I’m the opposite. I just try to write a good song each time and I let it land where it may.
One of my songs, “If Cupid Had a Heart“, has been featured in 14 different films and TV shows — like “Little Miss Sunshine“, “Hannah Montana“, “King of the Hill“, a Lindsay Lohan film, the “Chris Isaak Show”, and “Big Love“, to name a few — but it wasn’t written for any one of those. I was just trying to write a good Pop song.
Interestingly enough, when I finished writing the music for this specific song, I remember thinking to myself that it was the best up-tempo song I’d ever written – it would become the song I’ve received the most royalties from.
Sometimes you just get a strong sense when you’ve written a winner and then it becomes a reality. But then again there are other times, where I think I’ve written the best song, and it never gets cut and nobody likes it.
How good does a song demo have to be these days? Do you ever play rough demos to anyone when pitching music to A&Rs?
Hit Songwriter Gordon Pogoda: Never. For me personally, I find that the demo has to be as close to record-quality as you can get. It certainly has to be good enough quality where it can go straight into a film or a TV show. A Nashville co-writer told me the other day he sometimes gets cuts with very basic demos, but for pop music in L.A. or Europe, I think the demo must be near-record quality.
How did you get your song as an entry to compete on Eurovision 2008? How did you find out about this opportunity?
Hit Songwriter Gordon Pogoda: What’s ironic is I really had nothing to do with the song getting into Eurovision, and it’s very rare for an American songwriter to even get a song into Eurovision, because most countries have a rule that all the writers must be natives of the country.
But for the Czech Republic, their rule is that just one person on the creative team must be a native of the country. In this case, it was the singer, Tereza Kerndlova.
And how it came about was her record label Universal wanted her to submit a song for Eurovision. I had four songs on the album, and they decided that my song “Tell It to the Rain” would be the best candidate, and they approached me about it. At the same time, we came to realize that for a song to be eligible, it couldn’t have been released prior to a certain date, but “Tell It to the Rain” had previously come out in Belgium, Germany, the U.S. (by other artists) and was on TV in the “Twilight Zone”.
So, at the time, another song of mine on Tereza’s album, “Have Some Fun”, was climbing the Czech charts and fit all the criteria, so I suggested they use that song instead of “Tell It to The Rain,” and they submitted it, and it made the Czech Finals.
Then they had a national broadcast of the top 10 finalists, much like we have “American Idol” in the U.S., and the public text-voted for their favorite song, and my song got the most votes — at that point it was already a top 5 hit on the Czech charts, so most of the country knew my song. And that’s how it got into Eurovision.
What’s funny is that a few years earlier, I was collaborating with a British writer named Barry Upton, and we wrote a song that I thought would make a great Eurovision song (Barry was formerly in a group that had performed in Eurovision – Brotherhood of Man). Barry wrote a UK hit for Sonia, who also performed in Eurovision. For 3 years in a row, I kept saying to Barry, “Submit that song for Eurovision – it’s a perfect song for that.” He said he’d pursue it and nothing ever came of it (although that song did end up getting featured in the movie “Little Miss Sunshine”).
So after years of trying to get a song into Eurovision, this year, when I didn’t try at all to get a song in, I got a song in!
So maybe I should take back my advice about how doing nothing will never work for you! Actually, in this case here, I did suggest changing from the one song to the other, but I had nothing to do with the initial process of Universal wanting their artist Tereza to be in Eurovision, and nothing to do with the later processes of how the song came to be in the contest.
I should mention that if it wasn’t for Eurovision 2005, I wouldn’t have a song in Eurovision 2008!
Specifically, my friend Fred Bronson had hooked me up with a Maltese artist named Chiara in 2005, who ended up representing Malta in Eurovision that year. Chiara recorded five songs of mine for her album, right before Eurovision 2005 took place, and then she came in second place in the competition.
Chiara’s manager then tried to get a major label release, and Lawrence Van Den Eede from EMI Music Publishing Belgium had interest and then called me up and asked if he could publish my five songs on the album. I said yes but then also suggested he try to place some of my other songs. We worked out a deal and he then got me two cuts for Pop Idol Croatia.
These were produced by a guy named Stano Simor and we ended up collaborating and writing a new song together called “Have Some Fun”, after Lawrence told us the Icelandic group Nylon was looking for pop songs, but after they passed on it, Tereza Kerndlova wanted to record it and that’s how it made her album. Universal wanted Tereza to have a Eurovision song and that was the song ultimately chosen. So when you think about it, if any single one of these events between 2005 and 2008 did not occur, I wouldn’t have a song in Eurovision this year!
As you can guess, I’m a fan of Eurovision and though most Americans have never heard of Eurovision, I’ve seen a number of past Eurovision Song Contests on the internet and TV.
How do you feel about being an American songwriter having a song in a contest that’s mostly for Europeans?
I thought that when I got to Serbia, where the event took place this year, that there might be some negative remarks, like “What’s an American songwriter doing in this competition?” There weren’t any such comments. But I had an answer ready, just in case. And I have to say, for an American songwriter, I have a lot of ties and weird connections to Eurovision.So I guess it’s not surprising I would end up with a song in Eurovision.
As a successful songwriter what things do you like or dislike about this industry?
I love the idea of getting together with different writers, and with different combinations of writers, and creating songs that combine both your own style and theirs and coming up with something that wouldn’t have existed otherwise. The feeling after you’ve just finished writing or demoing a song is amazing and is unlike anything else.
I remember when my co-writer John Stephan and I finished the demo of “Just Because You Walk Away”, the song that eventually became our Russian hit, we were listening back to it in the car and had a feeling of euphoria about the song, feeling we had created something very special, and to look back now and know that we were the first persons in the world ever to hear that song, well … it’s an unbelievable feeling really, and very few people get to experience it.
Of course there are some things I don’t like about the music business such as the politics. There would be many more great songs out there in the world if this business was not about politics but was only about great songs.
About Gordon Pogoda
Los Angeles songwriter Gordon Pogoda has had worldwide success in several mediums. In film, his credits include two songs featured!in the Academy Award winning mouion picture “Little Miss Sunshine”, the top 10 film “Josie and the Pussycats”, a Disney film starring Lindsay Lohan, and severam others.
In television, Goreon’s songs have been featured in over 40 shows including “Sex and the City“, “Hannah Montana“, “CSI: Miami“, “ER“, “Will and Grace“, and “King of the Hill”. On CD, his songs can be found on major labels like Universal and Warner Brothers. Gordon has had songs recorded for “Pop Idol” (the European version of “American Idol”).
Gordon had a major hit in Russia that became the second biggest song of the year. He’s had a platinum record with the Australian “Popstars” group Scandal’us, three platinum records with the Greek “Popstars” group Hi-5, a platinum recording for Finnish female hard rock band Tiktak and a top 5 hit for Universal artist Tereza Kerndlova in the Czech Republic – a song which was selected to be in the 2008 Eurovision Song Contest.
The song was seen and heard by over 400 million people across Europe and Australia. Gordon’s songs have also been featured in six Disney releases. To hear Gordon’s music, you can check out his mySpace page.