Songwriter Claude Kelly Talks Writing For Michael Jackson, Working In Different Genres

By Carl Lamarre  |  10/30/2009

Claude KellyI love my job. Not a lot people could rightfully say those four words without cringing, or vehemently throwing a temper tantrum reminiscent of Tommy from the Rugrats. It's hard for someone to fall in love with a J-O-B, if the intrigue has simmered down, or, if the passion has passed its stages of amorous infatuation, and has entered a dead end.

Songwriter, Claude Kelly, has been in a long relationship with music since his day of birth. Singing at an early age, enabled Claude to venture into the Neverland of music, and segue his way into songwriting. Penning for the likes of Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Akon, Britney Spears, Kelly Clarkson and more, has allowed Claude to develop a love that not too many have with their day jobs.

In this one-on-one interview with Ballerstatus, Claude revealed his love for music, writing in different genres, writing for the late Michael Jackson, and whether he's ready for a music career of his own. Can you give the readers some insight, as far as who you have worked with in your career?

Claude Kelly: Sure. I've worked with Britney Spears, Kelly Clarkson, Whitney Houston, Leona Lewis, Akon, R. Kelly -- just to name a few. Being able to write for different artists of different genres today is such a rarity. How important do you think it is to be versatile when becoming a songwriter?

Claude Kelly: I think it's the main part of being a songwriter. If you don't know how to flip, and work with different sounds, then that could be a disadvantage. It's been special for me to work with Britney Spears, and then, a couple days later, work with Akon. Just being able to jump genre to genre is real important today, especially when you know your homework. Do you have preference as far as genre when writing?

Claude Kelly: You know, I don't really have a preference, because there are some things with each genre I love. I've listened to every kind of music, which I think is responsible, for the way I write right now. But, I think variety is best, because I get bored quickly. So, if I do straight R&B for too long, I'll get out there and throw a rock track, or a pop record. I kind of love them all honestly. That's interesting, because what still bugs me out is, how you're able to jump from one spectrum, consisting of the Britney Spears, the Miley Cyrus', and the Kelly Clarksons, to the Akons, the Whitney Houstons, and the Michael Jacksons. What's your thought process behind that?

Claude Kelly: It's really a reflection of what I've been listening to be honest with you. I grew up in New York City, and at that time, I've heard all those different genres at once. In the 80s and 90s, I think that's when music was super popping. I was really into the rock-alternative, Hhp-hop. I grew up as fan of every different kind of music, so it isn't as hard for me. I know some writers are good just at one genre, because they really have just a specialty. For me, I really try to be diverse in all of them. It all turns my head. Like, doing a rock type of record is natural for me as doing an R&B record. I know Michael Jackson was a huge inspiration for you.

Claude Kelly: Absolutely. He was the king of blending genres. You couldn't really categorize his records. You couldn't say it was an R&B record, a hip-hop record, or a Rock record. His songs would have rock guitars, and pop drums. Where were you on the day of his passing?

Claude Kelly: I was actually in New York, and on the computer reading my emails. When I looked on the TV, and the Internet, I just didn't believe it for a couple of hours. I was actually in shock for the first few days. That was the biggest lost in the music industry -- possibly one of the biggest losses ever -- if not, over the past 30 years, because he was that influential. It's crazy, because just recently, I realized, you wrote the "Hold My Hand" record for Mike, and Akon. What was the process for writing that song?

Claude Kelly: You know, it was real unfortunate that though I wrote the song, I was never able to work him in person. As for the process of the song -- I wrote the song, and Akon produced the track. This track was supposed to go in the direction of Whitney Houston, so that questions out why I was writing songs for Whitney Houston. I was sort of hoping you caught that. As for the song, it sort of got bigger, and bigger. Since Akon produced it, he heard it, and loved it. So he decided to use it. At the time, he and Michael were working on some new music. Michael heard it, and loved it. He wanted it done right away. By the time it was done, it became a duet with Michael and Akon on it, and I had backgrounds on there still. It was beautiful accident basically. I'm really grateful to say that. I thank God. I lived a dream even though I wasn't able to meet him. That's an interesting story. You know, with you working with all these big time artists in the studio, was there ever a time you sat back and watched as a fan, more than a songwriter, or just a fellow co-worker?

Claude Kelly: You know, I rarely get star struck. When I'm in the studio, I normally have my game face on so strong. My goal is to get the most possible performance out ever, and you really can't do that if you're a fan. There's always a time afterwards -- always afterwards, never in the moment, because there's no time to do that in the studio when you're trying to get everything done. You know, Whitney Houston was definitely one of them. Another one was R. Kelly, which I'm an equal fan of as well, and I've worked with him. Like I said, that's all afterwards, when the music is done. You spoke slightly on this in regards to Whitney Houston. I was reading a quote, and she was praising you, as far as your skills are concerned. Have you ever thought about taking it a step further, and pursue a career of your own rather than songwriting?

Claude Kelly: I definitely think that would be a natural progression. I wouldn't want to force anything. I'm a singer at heart, and a singer at birth. I've actually been singing longer than I've been writing because singing was my first love. I mean, if the opportunity was right, and I had a great team behind me, backing me up, then absolutely. Since we're speaking hypothetically, who would you want to be on your album?

Claude Kelly: Oh man. (laughs) That's the hard part because I've worked on so many albums. It's like: "Who do you have? Who do you not piss off?" It would be hard. I would have to do a triple disc. I don't know. But, another thing is, I have so much to say myself, that I might do it with no features. But, we'll see -- time will tell. Actually, ask me that question when I'm cutting it.

Claude (Laughs) I'm going to hold you to it.

Claude Kelly: Trust me. I want you too. (laughs) I got you. As far as songwriting is concerned though, has there ever been a time you were like: "Oh. I don't feel like going to work today. I don't feel like writing this type of song." Did that ever happen to you at one point?

Claude Kelly: Never. I always try to remind myself that so much given much is required. I definitely feel like I've been given a gift in music with my voice, and writing. I have an awesome job. I have no room -- no place -- to be complaining. If you're doing what you love, you shouldn't be complaining period. I'm so grateful that I'm doing what I love, and what I love is able to pay the bills, so no complaints here. Speaking of paying the bills, I need some confirmation on this one: Do songwriters get paid more than artists on a track?

Claude Kelly: Uhhh. That's actually a question I can't answer, because I don't know. I mean, there's so many different ways to make money. Obviously you have your publishing, but artists have the touring, the marketing, and all those types of stuff. That's a good question, because I don't have the answer to that one ... (pauses) That doesn't say hit songs doesn't make money for everybody. That's fair enough. As for writing a song for someone else, have you ever implemented your own personal experiences into the records you've written?

Claude Kelly: All the time, all the time. I mean I've written stuff that I've gone through and what my friends have experienced. Like I don't try to make the record be about me when I'm writing it, but if I hear a crazy story about a relationship issue, then it's going to be in a song. Sometimes television helps too. If I saw a storyline or something from a movie, I might just write a song after that. Have you ever written a song, and afterwards, you were like: "This song could possibly be the soundtrack to my life?"

Claude Kelly: You know what, I don't think that song has been written yet, and you know why? It's because I'm constantly growing, and evolving everyday with every song I write. I mean, there are definitely aspects as for songs that I've written where I could relate to, and some that I can't. But, there's always a little piece of me in every song I write or it wouldn't' be real.