In a time filled with people concerned about whether Timbaland, Missy, or Pharrell produced a track, rarely do people stop, open a CD booklet and see who actually wrote the song. If they did, one name would show up often; that name is Bryan-Michael Cox. Cox has written songs for everyone from Bow-Wow to Whitney Houston, and shows no signs of slowing down. His smash hit “Be Without You,” off Mary J. Bliges The Breakthrough, even won a Grammy in 2006.
Known for having an ear for what sounds good, without a doubt, Bryan-Michael Cox has written one of your favorite songs. Talking to this Houston native, one would never know of his success. He is as humble and open as his music. Cox was kind enough to grant AllHipHop.com the chance to step into his world when we crossed paths at the Ozone Awards while he was promoting his new rap artist. That world was filled with insight, respect for those who paved his way, and a glimpse of what makes him one of most sought after songwriters/producers in R&B.
AllHipHop.com: How did get your start with song writing?
Bryan-Michael Cox: I started with a company called Noontime Music in 1997. From there I started working with Brian and Brandon Casey [of Jagged Edge]. They introduced me to Jermaine [Dupri] and from there it has just been “one kind of those things.”
AllHipHop.Com: What are some of the things you have taken from Jermaine Dupri and his success?
Bryan-Michael Cox: [I took from him] consistency and the understanding that there is a formula for making a hit record. You have to have a good hook, good ear candy and good a melody. I learned all of that from working with Jermaine.
AllHipHop.com: How do you get yourself in a creative place to write songs?
Bryan-Michael Cox: Depends on where I wanna go [with the music]. If I’m on some real R&B s**t I may listen to Jodeci. Matter of fact, I listened to Jodeci for like five days straight. Then I went in the studio and wrote 10 songs. Sometimes I go back and play s**t from the 70s, I listen to songs that will put me into character.
AllHipHop.com: A lot of people may recognize you from The Making The Band series on MTV. How was it working with Puffy and the Making The Band cast?
Bryan-Michael Cox: Puff was cool; people would expect a certain thing when you talk about him but he was aight. I dig the fact that he trusts my ear enough to let me do my thing. I did 4 songs on the girls album [Danity Kane] and for the guys [Making the Band 4] I’m doing a majority of their album. [Puffy] is a businessman and a beast. You can try to hate him all you want but he is still a beast!
AllHipHop.com: I know that it is impossible for you to list all of the songs you’ve written, but can you drop a few?
Bryan-Michael-Cox: My most obvious work is “Be With You” by Mary J. Blige. Jagged Edges “He Cant Love You,” “Promise.” If you basically name any one of [Jagged Edges] hits, I wrote it. I wrote Ushers “You Got It Bad,” “Burn,” and Confessions. Then there’s Mariah Careys “Shake It Off” and “Don’t Forget About Us.” My first Grammy came from Niveas “Don’t Mess With My Man.” Its so many records; I know that I am missing something.
AllHipHop.com: I also understand that you had the pleasure of working with Luther Vandross before he passed. How was that?
Bryan-Michael Cox: I was actually the last person to work with Luther [Vandross] before he had his stroke. I did a song for him called “Got You Home,” it’s on The Ultimate Luther Vandross Collection. Working with him was a great experience, he was an ultimate professional. It only took him two hours [to complete the session]. He came in the studio and killed it.
AllHipHop.com: Was it Big Luther or Small Luther?
Bryan-Michael Cox: [Laughs] Big Luther.
AllHipHop.com: What advice would you have to offer people who write songs and want to get into this business?
Bryan-Michael Cox: Keep your feet to the pavement. Also, try to let people hear as much as you can and understand the level that you are entering on. I’ve been in the game for ten years and I feel like I’m just scratching the surface. I just continue to treat this business as a learning experience.
AllHipHop.com: Since you did treat this a learning experience, what would you advise people to be cautious about?
Bryan-Michael Cox: Speaking from experience, you have to protect yourself and be a good judge of character. For me, I was blessed to hook up with a crew of guys that have good character. From working with Noontime [Records] to Jermaine, they are all honorable guys. I didn’t really have to worry about that part of the game so much. I have people around me that have been down with me for some years and have my best interest at heart. Always have somebody that you trust running your business.
AllHipHop.com: In the beginning of your career, did you ever have to ghostwrite?
Bryan-Michael Cox: You can call it ghostwriting, but I still got my credit. Working with Jermaine, there is some behind the scenes work. On the flip side, I was still getting that money. In all, I have never experienced anything unfair. Jermaine is one of the fairest people I have ever worked with.
AllHipHop.com: A big thing with protecting yourself in the song writing/production and publishing business is by forming a split sheet. Could you break down what a “split sheet” actually is?
Bryan-Michael Cox: At the end of a [studio] session, everyone’s name is on a sheet. A song is 100%. Depending on what you contribute, you get a portion of the percentage. I had a situation where someone tried to claim they wrote more than what they really did. With that, I would advise people to create a split sheet in order to protect yourself.
AllHipHop.com: As a producer, what is your ultimate goal?
Bryan-Michael Cox: My main goal is to break an artist. I have a rap artist, Doughboy. In order to make it as a celebrity producer you have to break artists. I can write hits for Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey all day long. [However] I’m not going to get credit for breaking someone that has helped to break me.
AllHipHop.com: Do you ever want to cut your own album?
Bryan-Michael Cox: I want to do an album, but on some other s**t. When I do it, [its] going to be completely left field. I’m artistic by nature, so I’m trying to blow out the frame. I don’t want to be in the same lane as the artists that I write for. As for right now, I’m under the radar, recording here and there.
AllHipHop.com: Since you are potentially a songwriter/producer turned singer, how will you deal with the Ne-Yo comparison and maintaining your own identity?
Bryan-Michael Cox: As an artist, I am not doing R&B. That’s what I do as a songwriter. I’m trying to get into s**t like 80s Pop. When it comes to Ne-Yo, he is great. I don’t want to get anywhere near his lane, he is killing it right now. Like I said, I want to stick out like a sore thumb, going totally against the grain in all aspects; that includes my signing a rap artist.
AllHipHop.com: Why did you decide to sign a rap artist?
Bryan-Michael Cox: I think it was imperative for me to diversify my s**t. Hip-Hop is my culture and I grew up on it. I love Hip-Hop just as much as I love R&B. I’m a child of the Hip-Hop culture. I am a music head all the way around.
AllHipHop.com: What do you do in order to always keep your material fresh so that every song doesn’t sound the same?
Bryan-Michael Cox: I’ve been blessed by just being able to work with artists. I have conversations like, “What do you want to talk about?” I’m [also] in the studio with all of the artists that I work with. Sometimes an artist will say to me, “Can we switch it up, this kinda sounds like so and so?” I don’t take anything personal. I’m just like, “Okay cool, let’s switch it up. How can we make this better?”
AllHipHop.com: How do you work with difficult personalities in the studio?
Bryan-Michael Cox: Patience. I used to be impatient and real short when I first started out, [but] as a leader you have to be patient. If someone is difficult, just get through the session and get the song done. Never let anyone compromise your bread.
AllHipHop.com: What is the Bryan-Michael Cox Formula for making a hit record?
Bryan-Michael Cox: Through conversations, concepts come. And through concepts, you get melodies. I consider myself a melody guru. I have 30 years of songs stuck in my head. After the melody, you start putting [the] concepts together in your head. There may have [been] phrases that were said in a conversation, which eventually turn into a song. Every song that I have ever written to this formula has been crazy!
AllHipHop.com: Wow, so much to digest. What is usually the first part of the song that you create?
Bryan-Michael Cox: I like to write the hook first. The hook is the most important part of the song, it’s the story. I may go back and do over-dubs [and] things like that. [ I ] play around with instruments.
AllHipHop.com: Do you ever find yourself holding back as a songwriter in order to make your music more commercial?
Bryan-Michael Cox: Of course, but that’s the beauty of it. Its great that I have learned [how to pull myself back in]. When I first started to produce, I would write these crazy songs with dramatic intros and what not. Then I would play it for Jermaine. He would be like, “This is crazy, but its too much.”
AllHipHop.com: Can you give an example of what you mean?
Bryan-Michael Cox: Right now I am the executive producer for Bilal’s upcoming album. He is so artistic, [so what] I’m trying to do is take his material and turn it into something that the general public can digest without compromising his fan base.
AllHipHop.com: How do you work with singers that have limited vocal ability?
Bryan-Michael Cox: [ I ] Write songs that are in line with [their] ability. I go in with the mentality that I am not working with someone who is a Mariah Carey. They all know who they are. Those singers play their position and know their lane. I wish more artists did the same.
AllHipHop.com: Is there any artist in particular you would like to reach out to?
Bryan-Michael Cox: Britney Spears. If Britney don’t have a hot album this time, its going to be her fault. Everybody wants to work with her.
AllHipHop.com: What is your favorite Bryan Cox Song?
Bryan-Michael Cox: So many, but Remedy [by Jagged Edge] is my favorite. I produced the track, but Brian and Brandon [Casey] wrote the lyrics. However, my favorite co-write is “Burn” by Usher.
AllHipHop.com: How do prevent this industry from changing who you are?
Bryan-Michael Cox: I enjoy the simple s**t and treat it like a job. People use this industry to validate themselves. I needed this career to complete me, not make me.