How To Make a Hit Song: Bryan Michael Cox

Bryan-Michael Cox is simply a creative therapist. His method of conceptualizing hit records for artists like Jermaine Dupri, Usher, Mary J Blige, and the ladies of Destiny’s Child, is talking it out. This unrelenting drive and talent has produced five Grammy awards, several SESAC songwriting awards and a slew of recognitions from peers and mentors. Music and the gift of gab have been in his blood since the age of eleven, when he wrote his first song about his desires for the opposite sex in the studio with his mom. That was eons before chartbusters like Usher’s “Burn,” Mary J’s Grammy-winning “Be Without You” and Trey Songz’s emotionally-charged “Last Time.” And now, he’s a multi-Grammy winner, senior songwriter, song producer, beat-maker and conversationalist. Bryan feels blessed to get paid handsomely for what he loves to do – create hits and develop lasting friendships. But he enjoys the perks and unadulterated free-flowing environment of a music studio. He treasures his relationships developed in those walls, and boasts that men have feelings too.Recently Bryan made a stop in Washington DC to talk to Howard University students about the music business. sat down with Bryan at Wilson’s Soul Food Restaurant over iced tea and chicken wings to talk about how therapeutic music making has been for the young super producer and songwriter. He says it’s how he develops close bonds with hit-making artists like Trey Songz, Usher, and even Mariah. They all have a story to tell. So, too, does Bryan-Michael Alternatives: What’s your story, Bryan-Michael Cox?Bryan-Michael Cox: I grew up in Houston with a mom who was extremely musical. My mom and her sisters had a singing group, and they’d take me into the studio while they were making music. I saw from the beginning the process involved in creating a song. I knew when I was 11 years old that I wanted to be a producer. I remember reading the back of the Thriller album reading about Quincy Jones. AHHA: Is there a science to creating a hit? I remember a quote from Eric Sermon that read, “Music is boring now; whatever I make is a hit.” Can that be true for a producer that keeps making hit after hit?Bryan-Michael Cox: I like to talk, and I believe that every hit comes from a good story, and good stories come from conversation…directly from a conversation that I might have had with Mariah or Jermaine [Dupri]. We talked for two hours before we went and created the tracks for “Don’t Forget About Us.” Somebody in the room is always going through something…either with their girl or their man. When me, Jermaine and Usher wrote “Burn,” it was about somebody’s ex-girlfriend. Trey Songz was the same way – I wrote that song for Trey about one of my friends who really did have a bad habit with two girlfriends just like in the lyrics of “Last Time.” All of my records come through good ass conversations. It’s where we’re able to be honest with each other, and that’s what makes a hit, to me.AHHA: Set up your usual process of making a song.Bryan-Michael Cox: Everything starts with a melody for me. I might wake up in the morning and hear something in my head. I’ll call the artist and see how the track makes them feel, if they can catch it. We might get together, smoke some cigars. Mostly we’ll just talk, about relationship stuff, women. I remember the conversation I had with Usher about when a woman changes your life. Of course, every process is different. I worked with Monica both times she was pregnant. Rocko was blowing up and living that world. As a songwriter, I help to translate what the artist is feeling – really taking you into somebody else’s world. Music, after all, does evoke emotion. This is the process.AHHA: Creating music is really therapeutic for everybody involved?Bryan-Michael Cox: We all deal with our issues through music. Most of the songs that [are] hits are loved-based. They tell a story of what’s going on. I remember one of my ex- girlfriends calling me telling me to stop writing songs about her. We hadn’t spoke in over a year, but she hears a song on the radio that I produced. We are creative people; it’s how we get through. It’s really a way to understand the male perspective. I can look back at songs that I’ve helped to create and remember the first time I was in love or how I dealt with a relationship. AHHA: What are you working on now since the explosive season of Making the Band?Bryan-Michael Cox: Mariah just dropped this month and we got the Usher joint coming out this summer, and I been really inspired by people like Timbaland’s and Kanye’s album. So I’ve been toying with the idea for an album. There’s an entire music spectrum of things that I want to explore. Labels like to put you in a box and those guys have really inspired me to make albums that have a different sound.