How to Make a Hit: Adonis Shropshire

If you’ve purchased an R&B album or listened to the radio in the past few years, chances are you’ve heard one of Adonis Shropshire’s songs. The 29-year-old songwriter is a Chattanooga, Tennessee native who has made his mark on the music industry writing monster hits. He penned the single “My Boo” for Usher and both parts of Diddy’s “I Need a Girl.” If that’s not enough to turn your head, add Beyonce, Ciara, J. Holdiay, and Mary J. Blige to his roster of songwriting credits. His current work can be found on Mariah Carey’s E=MC2, plus albums for Day26 and Danity Kane.The difference between his life then and now is pretty big. Back when songwriters and producers weren’t the new rappers, Adonis tried to get shine submitting work to Diddy who turned his songs down more than once. Fast forward to the present and he’s earned himself a Grammy and his singles have climbed their way up the Billboard charts. So why don’t you know who he is? Simple. Unlike some songwriters who secretly want to be in the limelight solo, he has no ulterior motive. He just wants to keep making good music. In the middle of hard work and massive studio time, Adonis spoke with Alternatives to give us an introduction as to who Adonis is. In case you didn’t know, you better pay attention. Alternatives: How did you get your start songwriting?Adonis: I had a manager that knew this lady that was working for Puff’s publishing company. He called her and made a few phone calls and sent some records up there. Puff didn’t like them at first, so we took a trip to New York and I begged them to let me get in the studio with Puff. He didn’t like [the song] so he told me to write it again. So I wrote a totally different song, and he liked that one. That ended up being this song that was on Jennifer Lopez’s J-LO project. Then he moved me into his house in New York, and I signed like two months later.AHHA: So you went into it wanting to be more of an artist or wanting to be a songwriter?Adonis: Oh no, I always wanted to be an artist first. You’re not a songwriter when you’re eight years old! You’re a performer when you get the first idea that you have when you’re on stage. That comes at three or four years old. I started song writing when I was 15 to impress this girl. I tried to write a song about her. Really corny but it worked. I was like, “If I’m going to get that kind of reaction I’m going to keep doing this!”AHHA: Where did the artistry come from? Was it natural or did you grow up around a lot of music in your life?Adonis: My whole family on my mother’s side sings and dances. Just to help you understand, my uncle is the pastor of the church, my mom is the choir director and all of my aunties are the sopranos and altos. So that’s all we do is sit around – even when we get together to this day – we sit around and sing. I get on the piano and we just sing.AHHA: So it was always there?Adonis: Yeah.AHHA: Because you’ve been writing for a long time do you have a particular ritual? Do you write stuff down as soon as you think about it or do you write stuff for certain artists? Adonis: I usually try to write stuff specifically for artists. Because you know how they say you can have a great song and put it on the wrong artist and it’ll come off as though it’s a wack song? Then you can have a wack song, and put in the right artist and it’ll come of like it’s a great song. It’s all about the timing and placement, so I try to cater stuff directly for each artist. I make sure that I maximize the potential of each song that I play. [When writing] it’s not necessarily a ritual or anything like that. It’s rare that I’m not in the studio with an artist but the times that I’m not, what I’ll do is buy all their albums on iTunes and just listen to every album. For a couple of days, I’ll listen to every album, every song and pick the hits out and try to make a song that would be in the next evolution.AHHA: Kind of taking it to the next level? Adonis: Exactly.AHHA: Are there any artists that have been easier to work with? Ones that you click with the most, or is it always something new?Adonis: No a lot of time, the process is the same. We just go in, and I have a conversation with people. It isn’t like I sit down and spark a conversation, but we’ll just start talking. Inside of that conversation will spark something that’s funny. Then we’ll write a song about that. Or a lot of times an artist will come in and say “Hey tell me if you think this is crazy,” and they’ll talk about something that’s going on in their personal life just in a regular conversation. Then I’ll write a song about that. That way the artist is attached to it. It’s more real when they perform it. It’s a win, win situation for everybody.AHHA: What happens when the artist doesn’t come at you with a personal situation? Making a hit isn’t just singing lyrics off of a sheet, so how do you help artists connect with the song?Adonis: I sell it to them like it’s something that I went through. Me and you, we’ve never met, but I guarantee you we’ve went through some of the same experiences in relationships. I can almost 100% bet every dollar I have in my pocket.AHHA: How do you know? [laughs]Adonis: Trust me, we have. Because one thing about men and women; all men are the same in the fact they are men; and all women are the same in the fact that they are women. So we’re always going to interact the same way. The results may be different, but the interaction will always be the same. So those general types of things are things that you always try to write about. That way the artist always feels like, “Damn I’ve been there before.” They may not be going through it right now, or they may not have been through it, but they know somebody that’s been through it. It’s always a generalization that allows everybody to agree on one particular thing. AHHA: Do you write hearing the music first, or do you know when you're writing a song, it’s a hit right off the bat?Adonis: You get that feeling. There’s a certain feeling that you get when you write a song. Some producers they can get inspiration and feel a beat and know. So when you write a song you know which one is what. It’s a certain feeling; you can’t really explain it. Have you ever woken up one day and just been like I’m the sh** today? You look in the mirror and whatever you put on looks crazy. Your hair is in place. Everything is on point. Or like for a basketball player and they get on the court and every shot he puts up goes in. That’s the feeling of knowing I just wrote a hit song.AHHA: What do you think of the insurgence of songwriters stepping into the forefront of artistry. Why is it so popular now?Adonis: Just to be honest with you, I think this always happens. We can go back to Smokey Robinson, Babyface, and Stevie Wonder. All those dudes were songwriters and artists first. But I think the difference is that they made their mark as artists. They didn’t make their mark as songwriters, they were songwriters for other people but they made their mark as artists. I think today, everybody is so enamored with the behind the scenes thing, because it’s become cool now to be a producer and a songwriter. Before everybody wanted to be a rapper and a singer; now if you’re an artist the first they say is “I write” or “I do my own beats.” So I think that’s why it’s a situation that’s so prevalent now. Being that they have the extra talents that also puts just an extra check in their pocket. And most songwriters were artists first anyway, so they get to get that off their chest; get a check and still get to do what they do to make money– which is write songs.AHHA: What’s the next step in your career? Is it becoming a solo artist? Adonis: I’m thinking about it. You know when snap music came out? When everybody was doing the dance? It got corny when everybody started to do it. It was cool when a couple people started doing it, but when like 15 billion people started doing it, it got corny. It got played. I don’t want to be the bandwagon dude. I have never been that. Even though that’s a desire of mine, but at the same time, I’ve never been a follower. My birthday is even on the first! So no matter how bad that’s burning me up, if the situation presents itself and somebody comes to me with it then cool. But I’m not avidly pursuing it.AHHA: So the pull to be a songwriter is greater now?Adonis: Yeah, to be an executive; to be the guy who breaks an artist. There is only one producer in the history of producers – well two, two producers – that have ever broken their own acts. That’s Babyface and J.D. (Jimmy) Jam and (Terry) Lewis had Janet but she wasn’t signed to them. Timbaland broke Missy, but she wasn’t signed to him. Rich Harrison broke Amerie a little, but not to the capacity where she was a mega star. Even Swizz kind of broke Cassidy, but he didn’t break him like on a scale of like a Jay-Z. Cassidy is hot. Definitely hot. But as far as record sales, there’s only one producer that has really had a multi-million dollar platinum artist every time he puts an artist out and that’s J.D. So I want to try to establish myself as the guy who can do that. I know these guys are much better producers than the average guy, and in most cases much better producers than me. It’s hard for them; I know it’s going to be hard for me. But I always gravitate to the hard thing is because then I appreciate it more. The easy stuff we can do that all day but the hard stuff, that’s what I want. I want to do that.AHHA: The artists that you’re looking to break…are they in one genre or do they run the gamut?Adonis: I feel like where I’m at now, it’s whatever is hot. Whatever is going to make people stop looking at something else and look my way, that’s what I want to do. Of course I have my expertise, which is R&B and pop – those are the two genres that I’m great at. Like if I’m a basketball player and I can’t shoot with my left, in the game I’ll shoot with my right. But in practice, I’ll shoot with my left because I already know I can shoot with my right. So the thing is for me to add something extra to my arsenal; to get good at it first by myself behind closed doors, then I can present it to the world. Then I can get in the game and shoot the game winning three with my left. You know what I mean? That’s just the way that I’m attacking my whole career. Whatever is the most difficult for me, that’s what I want to work on the most. Adonis' songwriting skills put to work:Usher - "My Boo" featuring Alicia KeysDiddy - "I Need a Girl"Part One (feat Usher and Loon)Diddy - "I Need a Girl" Part Two (feat Ginuwine, Loon, and Mario Winans)