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Songwriter Spotlight: Robyn Collins and Jordan Reynolds

Songwriter Spotlight: Robyn Collins and Jordan Reynolds

As the winners of the SongTown USA songwriting contest with their song, “Love is Like Rain," Robyn Collins and Jordan Reynolds prove their undeniable writing chemistry. Competing against hundreds of entries, Robyn and Jordan struck a chord with the team of judges, lead by hit Nashville songwriters Marty Dodson and Clay Mills. The reward of the contest? A co-writing session with these two master writers!

Here we talk to this songwriting team about their winning song, their journey and what's next.

Tell me a little bit about your musical backgrounds. Do you play an instrument?

Robyn: I played piano and French horn as a child, sang in plenty of church choirs, so I can read music and carry a tune. I just got a guitar this past February, it’s a process. I have mad respect for guitar players. My guitar’s name is “JT,” and I usually bring him to writing sessions and ask better players to pour the good juju in and give him the love he needs until I’m able to do it myself.

Jordan: I grew up playing classical violin. I went to Belmont to study commercial music and specialized in vocal performance. I didn’t have any specific goals in mind, I just loved music, and was tired of classical violin. I had been doing it since 3rd grade. In my freshman year of college I decided to pick up the guitar, because I saw some cool opportunities. I knew if I could play for people different doors would open. I can fake my way through on the piano, mandolin, banjo and of course the ganjo [editor’s note: Ganjo: A banjo guitar].

How long have you been writing?

R: Well, i’ve been a writer and storyteller for 20 years, but I wrote my first song two years ago, and found the thing I was made for. One fellow songwriter, Jason Dyba, said, “You used to put your songs into stories, now you’re putting your stories into songs.” I love the challenge of telling a whole story in three minutes. The economy of words, always pushing for the BEST way to say something. I love that you experience a song more than once. You don’t rerun a book, an article, newsletter, or sometimes a TV show - all things I’ve written before. Songwriting has captured my heart, demanded my attention and revealed itself to me in the most beautiful, and demanding way. For me, co-writing is where the magic happens. You have your personal best, their personal best, and your together personal best. Plus, I’m really strong with lyrics, so it’s best when I write with people who are strong melodically (eh hem, Jordan Reynolds)

J: Technically, I started writing music for my rock band in high school, but none of the lyrics made sense. We did six shows, but our band, “Simeon,” was awesome. I started writing country music about three years ago. The first song I wrote was called “Take It Out on Me,” I wrote it with my friend Jake Hartsfield. We kind of wrote it as a joke, but Jeremy Brown recorded it for us and people ended up liking it. I thought I could try this. I love co-writing and collaborating, and being with people who are just as passionate about music.

How did you guys start writing together? Have you written many songs as a team?

R & J: I knew Jordan was a brilliant singer and musician, so I asked if he would help me write a song for a volunteer event. Being as gracious and humble as he is, he was willing to write with a newbie. Our first song was called “Give the Love You Need.” In July of 2012 we wrote a song that changed everything for our writing partnership. Jordan had just purchased an engagement ring for his future bride. He was smushy, and we wrote to that emotion. The song is called “Sweeter.” You can see a live performance of the song on my Robyn Collins Songwriter Facebook page. We continued to write, and eventually set a recurring appointment. So far, we have written 14 or maybe more songs. And we have writes ahead of us together and with others, so that number will continue to rise.

How do you approach writing a new song? Do you start with the music, lyrics, a title?

R & J: Actually, first we start with what we call our “writer’s prayer” “Don’t let us put one word in that isn’t meant to be, or leave out one word that is meant to be.”

Then, typically one of us will have come into the situation with a hook or idea. If not, we run through our ongoing lists of ideas, or talk about where we are at individually. Then we start to imagine the story that should support the hook. About this time, Jordan starts picking around on the guitar and humming. He finds the music to match the story. Once we figure out how the hook fits with the melody, we let the music tell us how much to say. Most often we will have a bridge, because that’s the opportunity to try to say it all at once. We typically get pretty close to completing a song in each session, although I can think of three different songs with bridges that were a text sent later on, like in “Love is Like Rain.” I sent it to Jordan, we talked about whether it fit. We wanted to make sure the whole song highlighted the object of affection, and not the singer. We decided it made sense, and then he made it fit.

What have been your biggest challenges as a writer? What are your writing goals?

R: The thing is, I have to write songs. I can’t not.

The biggest challenge in the beginning was getting people to co-write. You are told to “write up” or write with people who are further along in the process than you are, but they don’t necessarily want to take the risk on an unknown. At first it was frustrating, because I didn’t understand. Now, I realize it’s like asking a lawyer to give you hours of billable time, when you have nothing to give him in return, or asking a doctor for a free diagnosis, or anyone whose time and ideas are the way they make a living. It’s a risk with no promise of return on investment. Gerald Trottman was my first co-writer. At this point I’m grateful to have been able to write with some incredibly talented writers.

Now the greatest challenge is getting to the next step. I want to write songs that artists will be proud to sing, and people will want to sing along. I love supporting other writers and participating in the songwriting community. I have a secret list of songwriters that I admire, and hope to write with one day. Marty Dodson and Clay Mills were both on that list, and now we’re going to get to write with them! I love that.

J: My biggest challenge is trying to keep familiarity within the country genre, but also trying to push the envelope. Finding the right balance of freshness, and staying true to the form.

My primary goal is to stay relevant as a writer until I retire. Writing number ones would be nice, but if they don’t come I’m still doing what I’m passionate and excited about. You don’t have to have number ones to get a reward from songwriting. Sometimes the best reward is being able to say what you couldn’t say in a conversation, in a song.

When did you join SongTown USA? What are your thoughts about the organization?

R: I joined SongTownUSA in August of 2013 after attending the Smoky Mountain Music Festival with SongTown USA member Alisha Sheely. I was compelled by the supportive nature of the community. Marty and Clay are extremely kind and patient. They are experts that don’t act like they are better than anyone else. I love when people honor the gifts they have been given by sharing them. I think the thing that has been most impactful is the wisdom. The songwriting community is not that big. You don’t want to screw yourself just because you were ignorant to the process or etiquette. SongTown USA has been running a series of “TOP 5’s” and they have been most helpful. Like, how to “not be a deadbeat co-writer” or “what not to do when you get a new co-writer”...

Tell me about your song, “Love is Like Rain.” What is the story behind the song?

R: That particular day Jordan came in wanting to write a love song for his wife’s birthday. We had another hook we were chasing, but somehow “your love is like rain pouring down” came out. We decided to jump into the rain. Jordan wanted it to sound different, so he decided to play piano for this write. I started asking him questions about her, and things he loved about her. Once we knew where we were headed, we thought of every water reference we could - I think when we wrote, “You baptize me like Sunday morning,” we just looked at each other and smiled. Actually, I’m pretty sure Jordan said, “That’s tight!” (That’s when I know we’re writing something great. As soon as he says “That’s tight” we know we’re on the right track).

Hear "Love is Like Rain" here:

What are you looking forward to most from your co-write with Marty and Clay?

R & J: Hmmm. most? We are looking forward to writing with pros. It’s always such an amazing experience. There is a level of adeptness and intuitiveness about what to say and when to say it that will humble you tremendously. But what we’re really stoked about is the song that we will write. We love their work so much, and they must love what they’ve heard from us or we wouldn’t be getting to write with them. Writing with people who just get it and understand what needs to happen to get a hit song, and then (Jordan) being able to work on a demo from the song.

Is there somewhere folks can hear your music?

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