We had the pleasure of chatting with producer/singer-songwriter’s Ester Dean and Shane McAnally from NBC’s Songland premiering TONIGHT on NBC.
Top music producers Ester Dean, Shane McAnally and Ryan Tedder help create the next hit song as undiscovered songwriters pitch to superstar artists, including John Legend, the Jonas Brothers and more. Songland premieres Tuesday, May 28 at 10/9c on NBC.
FoF – Thank you both for your time today and Happy Memorial Day.
Ester – You took time out too, so thank you.
Shane – Thank you.
FoF – This is a question for both of you. Going into this process for Songland, before the premiere started taping what were your expectations then till when you saw/heard these artists/writers for the first time?
Ester – My mind was blown. When they came to us about four years ago. I remember the showrunner and the producer Audrey Morrissey and Dave Stewart they tried to tell me what it was going to be, and I said how does that work? As a songwriter, I wanted to be so sure of what the process was for another songwriter. I was in a real viable place to be in to get songs to the air and to make up words in the air when I would do that in the privacy of my own home studio.
Shane – That is such a great think to talk about because a lot of times we have to dare to suck. That’s what I always say. You have to feel comfortable enough to say something that might be stupid. That’s hard place to get.
Ester – It’s like a jam session on a TV show. It’s like yaye, you may want to be on TV or I like to be on TV and do what I really do in real life.
Shane – It’s like taking your clothes off, almost.
Ester – I definitely wanted to know more about the show and after the show, I was like oh my God what if I would have said no.
Shane – I think about all the time.
Ester – Thinking about that makes me sick. I would have missed out on the biggest showbusiness opportunity that I would have never known about. I would be sick to my stomach If I said no and people in front of me did say no.
Shane – I know somebody said for me to end up on this (laughs).
Ester – (laughs) Thank you, you.
Shane – Thank you, you (laughs)
Ester – I’m sorry we lost focus.
FoF – We are seeing the whole audition process from the beginning to win a winner is selected within an hour. Obviously, it takes longer than an hour once the top three are chosen and the songs reworked for the final audition. How long does the process actually take for the episodes?
Shane – Yes, it takes about a week from when we first meet the original songwriter with their unknown song to spending time in the studio to then the artist recording it. Some of this takes place at different times and we do have the element of, we were doing multiple episodes during that week.
Ester – We stay engaged with the songwriter the whole time.
Shane – And beyond.
Ester – And beyond.
Shane – We are all like, I don’t know how we will do this multiple seasons.
Ester – I still have everyone’s number in my cell.
Shane – Me too.
Ester – Then I would get, Ester what do I do on this song? I’m like ummm, one second, you do this. We are building a songwriting community and the world needs to know about this songwriting community because we are all welcoming with open arms. It’s for all those people that have songs in their heart, who didn’t know that they had a home. We made a home for it.
FoF – When the final winner is selected each week, do you still stay in touch with those that didn’t advance or didn’t win? Where do you see their careers going?
Shane – Absolutely all of them. I’ve written with multiple people I did, and I didn’t work with on the show. The concept of quote, “winning” is a little funny because sometimes it just came down to that it wasn’t the song that fit what that artist is doing. It wasn’t about winning or losing and that is what is really great to tell from social media interaction and the fact that we are still in touch with these people. They all won.
Ester – Yes, they all won.
Shane – But we were the biggest winners. We got to meet this entire community of songwriters we wouldn’t have had the chance to because in our world we are a bit like protected from getting to meet every songwriter out there. We don’t have the time.
Ester – You are not really allowed to go around and say hey I’m a songwriter let me hear what you did today. You cannot its intellectual property.
Shane – If you listen to it and then somehow something of yours similar just coincidently you could be sued for that. We aren’t able to just listen to random songs but on Songland we have the safe environment of getting to know these people who hadn’t had a shot who were where we were a few years ago and its really on.
Ester – One of these songwriters asked the ideas you sung, can I use them, and we were like yaye. We are successful songwriters giving a wave of information. Just like a Tony Robbins or Brian Tracy, we are giving our insight.
Shane – I like to say, it like magic almost. A magician showing you tricks and although it’s very natural to us we have been doing it a long time. It is natural because we have done it so long and giving a crash course.
Ester – We do share, we are at a point in our life that we can be shareable, we can actually say, hey this will go this way and you can do it this way and I worked with this guy and I could tell what he is like. I didn’t have it right all the time, we all don’t.
FoF – What advice would either of you give to an aspiring songwriter who is watching Songland?
Shane – Send your songs in. This is really how people got on this show. I think people think and I think Ester has experienced this to that so many people have reached out to me directly and said I have a friend, I have a cousin, I know someone with a song. I’m like send it in. That’s how every single person got on the show, none of it was done through a favor of us.
They actually listened to these songs and they looked for the right songs for these artists because they need the best songs for let’s say John Legend and it’s not that it’s just the best song, it’s what he’s looking for. So, send your songs in because you may have one that works.
Ester – That’s what we do every day as a songwriter. We spend tons and tons of time across the platform of just believing in ourselves and saying hey I’m going to close my eyes and push this button and it’s going to come back a yes or no and sometimes you hear nothing. This is an opportunity, a crash course for songwriters to get in front of an artist and hear what they need.
If you have enough guts to send your stuff and then be open to change. Every song you write, is not for that artist but you must be correct yourself, correct the song and actually present it again. Then be ready to hear no or yes again. It takes guts to be a song writer.
FoF – As someone who grew up and loves music this was a great show to see. I wanted to thank you both again for taking time to speak with us today and wanted again to wish you both a Happy Memorial Day!
Shane – It was absolutely our pleasure, thank you.
Ester – Thank you so much.
We would like to thank Ester Dean and Shane McAnally for taking time out of their schedule to chat with us. We would also like to thank our great friends at NBC for helping put this together. Be sure to tune in TONIGHT for the premiere of Songland on NBC.