Nashville, TN People from Tennessee know that many move to Nashville with hopes of becoming the next big country star. But once you get here, you realize that it is so much more than that. Much of the music you hear on the radio, in many different genres is written right here in Music City.
I met up with Greg Friia, a multi-genre, bonafide songwriter and producer to find out how this former pet product salesperson from Maryland ended writing music in Nashville. Friia informed me that he took piano lessons when he was young and sang in the choir. He explained, “I wanted to be more than a piano player, playing other artists’ songs. And I knew I had something to say. When I was 13, I had my first girlfriend and I wanted to communicate how I felt about her and it was just easier to do it by writing a song.”
As a young man, Greg Friia states he was influenced by the Beatles, Billy Joel, the Carpenters and Motown, basically “anybody who played the piano.” “The music from the 60s and 70s was my childhood growing up and the 80s was my ‘coming of age’ music.” He is the first person I ever interviewed who openly admitted he was influenced by Barry Manilow’s music. Friia emphasized, “If anyone has an issue with [Barry Manilow], they don’t understand the depth of his catalog. You just forget how many songs he wrote.”
However, Friia admitted that Billy Joel probably had the biggest influence on him. He explained, “As you know, Nashville is co-writing town.” (Nashville is famous for its “writers’ rounds.”) “But Billy Joel wrote all his songs by himself. He never co-wrote. So the brilliance that he had with shaping his lyrics with his melodies, that was all him.”
When Friia first started writing music at around twenty years ago, he started in Nashville, but eventually ventured out to L.A. He states, “Back in the day, in the L.A. music scene writers like Dennis Matkosky and Chicago’s Jason Scheff, were all immersed in that writing scene and they would go into houses and write songs, kind of the way it is here.” So the Nashville writing scene is reminiscent of the way it was back in the 70s in L.A. However, as Friia explains, “Everything is L.A. is so spread out. It can take two hours to get to a location. I can get to writing session on Music Row in five minutes. But for the most part, it’s pretty similar.” His friends urged him, “Go back to Nashville, that’s where the magic is happening.”
Greg Friia writes everything from pop to dance and rock and even traditional county. “If I‘m set up with an artist that has a specific genre and I know where their direction is going, my job as a songwriter is kind of to be a chameleon that day and write something specifically for them. If I am just writing with another writer you can write about what you are actually feeling that day.”
For example, Friia wrote “Body Needs” recorded by Consuelo Costin and “Eeny Meeny Miney Moe” with Brady Seals. These two songs are about as different as two songs can be. “Eeny Meeny Miney Moe” is the more traditional Country while “Body Needs” is top 5 Billboard dance song played in clubs around the world. He clarified, “Consuelo Costin needed an upbeat dance song with kind of a sexual vibe for her demographic. I guess these two songs show the extremes of a professional songwriter. You can go this way one day and be completed torn another direction on another day and that keeps it interesting and keeps me from getting bored.”
Friia wrote for Sea the Desert Entertainment for six years and is now currently an independent writer/producer searching for a new deal. He explained that “A few years back if you had a song on a million-selling record, even if your song was not a hit, you still got enough money off of that song to get by. But these days if your song is not a top-selling single, you still need some other revenue streams.” That is why famous writers often have side jobs and ventures. “You do what you have to do to keep the writing going.” Songwriters still get performance royalties if their songs are played by anyone or if they are lucky enough to get TV and film placements.
Friia says that he has no desire to be a recording/performing artist per se but because he has been doing this for so many years he is fortunate enough to have a catalog with over 1600 songs that he has written. He expresses that he is satisfied with being a writer/producer and manager. “I love cultivating young artists and staying behind the scene.” He reminds us that he comes from a business background and that he loves all aspects of the music industry.
When asked about what he considered his personal type of music to be, Friia confirmed, “It would almost be a cross between Billy Joel and Tim McGraw. Musically/stylistically, it would be Billy Joel, while lyrically it would be Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney. Thank God that Tim and Kenny still search for great outside songs.” As I have found out and Friia confirmed, so many artists insist on performing their own songs. He expounds, “I’m not so sure that a lot of them are legendary songs in the making. George Straight’s 50 number one songs, he never wrote one of them.”
In 2014, Friia started “Songwriters Singing for Coffee” with Scott Reeves which is a Bluebird type show that started at the Starbucks on Hillsboro Pike in Nashville. “It was an opportunity for me to bring hit writers to Starbucks.” They have featured everyone from Jamie O Neal to James Slater and Rory Bourke to Marcus Hummon on the show not to mention Lainey Wilson whose debut record comes out on Broken Bow in the fall. Songwriters Singing for Coffee was/is a way to marry the brand of Starbucks to sponsors such as BMI and Audio-Technica while showcasing a writers’ talent. They have probably done 30-35 shows since its inception. It is a great vehicle for young writers and music students to learn first-hand what the songwriting industry is all about. (Click here for information about shows in August and September.)
Friia was recently called to be part of the TAPS program which cares for the families of fallen heroes. Songwriter Frank Myers started this program to be a collaborative project with Military Survivors and Nashville Songwriters. He will be getting together with the brother and mother of a particular fallen soldier and write a song with them. Frank Myers has already written/recorded one song with Lonestars’ Richie McDonald called “Love Lives On” about another fallen soldier. This is one of many great charities Nashville songwriters lend their talents to.
Most lately, Shooter Jennings has been playing a song Greg Friia wrote with Steve Padilla and Casey Breathard called “Me Before You” on his Electric Rodeo Show on Sirius Radio’s Outlaw County channel. He reiterates, “The thing I love about this town is you never know what opportunity is going to come. It’s always better than what you expect, always comes out of left field and never what you think it will be. The exhilaration that a rock climber may get, that’s what I get when I show up with an empty page and three hours later we have this whole new song.”
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