A "Jack" of the Songwriting Trade

Taken from the column 'Music Notes'
By Mark T. Gould
Sound Waves Magazine

For the past few weeks, I’ve found myself spending more time in my car, traveling for business, a bit more than I usually do. That’s given me more than ample time to listen to music on the radio.

And that’s not always a good thing.

I say that because, on the radio, it’s so difficult to find those songs that I really, really enjoy. You know, the ones that you hum time and again, the ones that remind you of a day, a person, a situation, sometime in your past.

Yes, for lack of a better term, hit songs.

So, that got me thinking. Just what’s it like to write a hit song, one that people are going to remember. Probably, because of the lure of that, in our music capitals, in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Nashville, Austin, Miami, and other places, you can’t swing your arm without hitting a songwriter.

Or, at least someone who thinks they are a songwriter.

So, taking a break from holiday shopping, I decided to ask a real songwriter just how a "hit song" comes about. I posed the question to Jack Sundrud, who, in addition to leading his own band, Great Plains, and playing with the current Poco lineup, has written a number of hits for artists like the Judds, Ty Herndon and, recently, Kenny Rogers. As one of his playing partners has noted, "everybody in Nashville thinks they are a songwriter; the difference for Jack is that he’s actually written some hits."

And, according to Sundrud, those hits are not the result of any magic formula, just coming up with some good ideas and working on them.

"It’s the old ‘10% inspiration, 90% perspiration’ adage, I’m afraid," he said. "I learned the craft by hanging around Nashville and working with
the people who were ahead of me."

"I really just try to let it flow to be true to any real inspiration that comes my way," said Sundrud, "although I have found that when I try to write for a specific artist or project, I miss every time."

As an independent writer, Sundrud is signed with a publishing company, Curb Magnatone Music Publishing in Nashville. When he comes up with a song, he works with them to place it with an artist.

"I bring them the song," he explaiined, "we talk about possible artists for it, and they meet with the record company, or the producer, or, some times, the artist, and play it for them."

"It is a process," Sundrud said, that has give him some very gratifying results.

"I have quite a few friends who have had songs ‘ruined’ by recording artists," he said. "But I’m very proud of every cover an artist has done (on my songs)."

"My first one was a song called ‘Talk About Love,’ which was written with Carl Struck," he recalled. It was on the Judds’ ‘Love Can Build A
Bridge’ CD. I was beside myself with excitement."

Interestingly, Sundrud says that being in Nashville, rather than New York or Los Angeles, is a blessing for him as a writer.

"There is so much osmosis and cross-pollination going on in Nashville; it’s an exciting place," he said. "I have no desire to move to New York or L.A. The talent pool here is so deep, so diverse.

"Stylistically, there’s everything here from the hotbed of contemporary Christian music to death-punk-rap-rip-arms-off-kill family members kind of stuff to the greatest acoustic players on the planet," he said. "Sometimes, I miss a smaller town or some place where the summers aren’t so hot, but I’m in no need or rush to move on."

As a result, the inspiration strikes Sundrud, and results in those songs that we search for, and long to hear, on hit radio.

"The inspirations come from ‘out there’," he said, "but I wouldn’t know what to do with them unless the craft was honed.

"The desire to write, if you don’t have it . . . forget it."