Diane Warren’s Protest Song
Her name is on the building.
That’s the power of songs. It buys you six floors on Cahuenga, you’ve got a permanent piece of the rock, it illustrates…
You made it.
Do you know how hard it is to make it?
Music ain’t like Wall Street, where your relatives give you a leg up, ensure your career. Sure, your name might get you a gig on the business side, but on the creative side? It’s every person for themselves.
And all that education you’ve got, that fancy degree, it don’t mean nothin’ in Hollywood, where it’s only about hits, can you write one?
This is a completely different business from performing. Where you can go on the road and earn bucks in this crazy era. No, either what you write goes up the chart and coin rains down…
Or it doesn’t.
Diane comes from Van Nuys. There are some upscale communities in the San Fernando Valley, but that’s not one of them. Her father sold insurance. Her two siblings were much older.
But she was born to write songs.
Now when you hang with the business people you get loudmouthed glad-handers. If you ain’t got the gift of gab, you ain’t gonna make it on that side of the aisle. It’s all about relationships, and if you’ve got smarts, you can make it to the top, otherwise there’s no room for you. The people my age are either running the enterprise or they’re out. Because people are lining up to work for free, and no one wants to hear about your family commitments on your fat salary, they’ll just hire someone younger and hungrier who will give them their all.
And Diane Warren is hungry. She shows up at nine every morning and writes till…whenever. She’s got friends, she goes out to dinner now and again, but her work is her life. She doesn’t feel like she’s sacrificing, but to an outsider..? No kids? Almost no vacations? No weekends? But that’s what it takes to make it. And you only work this hard if you’re driven.
Diane is driven.
So she e-mailed me.
Normally we see each other at restaurants. We’re strangely simpatico. Diane has no airs, maybe a bit of self-discomfort, but she’s open, she’ll talk and reveal, and we connect. So when we spoke on the phone and she asked me to come to her studio to hear the song she’s most proud of…
I said I would.
But I didn’t expect her to own the building.
It’s where Mike Caren and Atlantic Records used to be set up, next to the Hotel Cafe. You can drive by and see her name, even if you can’t get in, security is just that tight, there are weirdos everywhere these days. But when you’re a wannabe, and we all were at one time, these establishments are iconic. Not only the Capitol Tower, I remember coming to L.A. in the sixties and noticing Liberty Records was across the street from our hotel. I had no idea who Simon Waronker was (although I was a huge fan of the Chipmunks!), never mind his son Lenny, but I got up my gumption and crossed the street and a receptionist who couldn’t have cared less answered my question, gave me a list of titles for the new Jan & Dean album, they were my favorites.
All over L.A., there are edifices wherein…
The magic is made, in the room where it happens.
So the last time I was in this studio, Flo Rida was cutting a hit.
But Diane told me it was owned by SOLAR, but then Dick Griffey lost it in a divorce, and then Death Row moved in (there are still bullet holes in the ceiling), and then Atlantic and I probably missed one or two residents, but Diane’s there now. She’s moved from her abode around the corner, her office of 32 years, with her studio that’s never ever been cleaned.
She doesn’t want anybody touching her stuff. Not because they’re gonna compromise a new tune, move a lyric sheet, but because it’s HER STUFF! And she needs to feel comfortable there.
Me too. My place is a dump. No one can come in. Same with her old studio. Some stuff may have not been touched in years, but we know exactly where it is.
So the story is the song was written for a movie, about Thurgood Marshall, coming out in October.
You see Diane had the couplet in her head for a while now:
“It all means nothingIf you don’t stand up for something”
But when she found out about the movie and the producer said he was open to a song, she went to work.
She sits at a keyboard and…
She says she can’t describe her process, but if you’re a creator you understand it. She puts her fingers to the keys and…
Something comes out.
The chorus in twenty minutes. The second verse took longer thereafter.
Days to do the first verse.
Every word counts. Hell, there was that recent song a star wanted to cover, but this person rewrote the lyrics to the point it was lousy. Diane said no, she will bend, but she will not break.
And this is different from the collaboration city that dominates the music business today. Sometimes Diane co-writes, but most of the time…
It’s just her and the keyboard.
So she played me the tune from her phone.
I chuckled. I came all this way and I’m not listening to the full spectrum master? I mean we were behind the console, with the keyboard customized for Pro Tools, and the zillion faders, with the Yamahas and the Genelecs and the no-name speakers in the wall, and the music was playing through there…
And I immediately got it.
“Stand Up For Something” was gonna get nominated for an Oscar. There was no doubt in my mind. It was gonna play great in the film, have gravitas.
But I wasn’t as sure it was gonna be a pop hit. Because today pop is all hip-hop and…
But “Stand Up For Something” is performed by Andra Day, with a rap by Common, and the rap isn’t overdone and it was not calculated, Common ran into Diane and when she told him what she was working on he asked…
And the whole number is shy of four minutes and…
The chorus is anthemic.
“It all means nothingIf you don’t stand up for something. You can’t just talk the talk. You got to walk that walk, yes you do”
Finally someone singing it straight. A counterweight to a society where money is everything and if you ain’t got it, you don’t count. Kinda like that inane Louise Linton, wife of Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, who thinks since she walks in designer clothing she has the answers.
She does not.
“You can have all the money in your hands. All the possessions anyone can ever have. But it’s all worthless treasure. True worth is only measured not by what you got. But what you got in your heart. You can have, you can have everything. But what does it, what does it mean”
Criticize Warren if you want, but she made it and you didn’t. That’s America for you, full of sour grapes. Someone else has your job, you coulda made it if only…
If only what? If you put your nose to the grindstone? If you didn’t do so much dope? If you put yourself in uncomfortable positions? If you moved to Hollywood and got kicked around before you broke through?
Now you can write songs about love all day long. And love makes the world go ’round, it truly does. But now, thinking people are starting to wonder… How long is that world gonna last? Are we gonna get cooked by heat or blown up in war and we haven’t seen this level of tumult since the sixties.
And in the sixties, we had anthems that engendered belief and pushed us forward.
Diane Warren is doing her part.
WHAT ARE YOU DOING?
There’s an endless supply of magnificent songs that come out of Diane’s complex and genius mind, but this is definitely a special one.She played it for me (on the phone) right after she’d written it. You see, we’ve known each other for decades and I’m proud to be one of the few she shares her new songs with long before the world gets to hear and be moved by them.And moved so many will be by the power of this important song, the timeliness of it’s message and the artistry of Andra’s performance. I’m proud of having introduced these two brilliantly talented women and deeply inspired by what has been created.
And I think this might be Oscar time….
Excellent piece and yes I agree wholeheartedly.
Diane of course great to see it and you know, always happy to see, and hear what she does.
As we talked daily and got “Till it Happens To You” up and running and we took it to AC radio, ran the campaign on our own. And brought it to number 11 by the Oscars. And as Lady G said, it won the Oscar but just didn’t get the award.
And there you have the talent but even more the drive and work ethic. I heard the song after the New York Times article about The Hunting Ground. I called Diane on the Friday after Thanksgiving, and of course she answered the phone as at least the 2 of us were working that day. And we talked almost every day from then until the Oscars, through the Grammys, through the discussions on whether or not Interscope would support it or if LadyG would.
I’m so glad I had that opportunity and many many more over the years with Diane. And I’m proud to know her and have worked with her music. And the funny conversations and conference calls and of course the meals.
Can’t wait to hear more and I hope this is truly Oscar time for her!
Regards, Jeff McClusky
Few deserve more than Diane. She’s one of only a handful who have figured out how not to let (immense!) success get in the way of her connection to the source.
She can be infuriating but when it comes to writing timeless hits very few can touch her and the ones that might are the most iconic of all time.
She’s got hits for every artist on the top 40 and all those hits later (I think it’s 98 Top 10’s) the world still hasn’t heard her best songs
PS And she does it 6 days a week!
I had the privilege of spending an afternoon with her listening to songs for artist when I was at Dreamworks back in 2000. We picked a couple of songs and she said, maybe we should write sometime. I regret never taking her up on it. Great Lady and amazing talent.
Chapin Music Group
The building Diane now owns was where Tracey Edmund’s had Yab Yum Record and Babyface owned or leased the building. it was called Edmunds Tower after SOLAR was shuttered. I was working on a record and met Snoop Dog on the way to the Solar studio on the 3rd floor which was the reason I got to cut over at Westlake on Santa Monica for a group that might have sold 2 copies LOL.
Kenneth H. Williams
Until last week I’d never heard of Diane Warren. But I like to type in composers names on my iTunes and I had to figure out if Aerosmith really wrote that song Jessica Sanchez killed back in 2012. Diane Warren? I typed it into my own iTunes and out popped a dozen songs I already have even my favorite Marshall Crenshaw’s Some Hearts. Then I wikipedia’d and fell over. 7 hit singles at once. 32 top 10. I found that Wiki page, “List of songs written by Diane Warren. ” 677 of them – somebody even added Stand Up. Thanks Bob. If anybody could create an anthem I’m glad it was her.
Glad you went to Diane’s building to hear her new song.
She was once a client and I’d drive all the way there in heavy traffic to deliver her custom made organic delicacies.
Every time she’d make me stay and interact. A little awkward, yet I felt her heart was pure. We’d go into a room with a low dark glass table wherein she’d rip the top off of each container, grab a plastic fork and take a taste one after another to then cry out, “this is the shit!! This is THE SHIT!!”
What a gal. What a song. That is THE SHIT!
Diane is just simply otherworldly. When I had my little Teac 4 track studio set up in my little house in Van Nuys in 1976, my girlfriend Dianne Steinberg had a deal on ABC Dunhill and we were writing songs for the record. Freddie Washington called one day and said he wanted us to meet a new writer he had been working with to possibly write some songs with us. We said sure bring over and well check her out. The next day in walks this disheveled looking young girl with Freddie. She wasn’t very sociable but seemed serious about her work. We had a Fender Rhodes suitcase piano set up and she played a couple things but she wasn’t that much of a singer so we were polite. Then she says “I have a cassette here of a demo of an idea I did this week if you want to help me finish it”. I said sure and popped it in the boom box. The song was amazing. I still have that tape somewhere in storage but can’t recall the name of it. Dianne and I just sat there staring at each other with our mouths agape. Freddie gave us a wink and Diane W says, “I know it’s kinda shitty quality but maybe there’s something there?” Dianne and I immediately said in unison, “It’s perfect! There’s nothing to do on this song…it’s a hit!”
She then looked at us kinda disappointed and said, “Really? I think it still needs work. I’ll leave the tape with you. See if you can make it better.” Then she and Freddie take off. To this day I can’t imagine what co-writing a song with Diane Warren must be like, but I’m sure it’s intense. A couple years later she was writing hits for everyone and we lost contact with her. What a monster talent!
Kenny Lee Lewis
Thank you for this one Bob. I’ve known Diane since before she ever had a hit. She worked the same way then as she does now. She came in every day, wrote for hours, and went home. And I loved it and her and I still do. Over the decades, we have worked on several of her big hits together. She works the same way now that she did in those early years. Her and her piano and her talent. Every single day. I know people who criticize her, but I don’t think she cares and neither do I. And I’ve NEVER heard a major artist or producer criticize her either. In other words, if you know hit music, you know how rare and fantastic Diane Warren is.I haven’t yet heard the song you mention here, but I already hope she wins that Oscar. She is owed many of them. Thank you Bob and thank you Diane. Diane will always send out those beautiful ships., and I will always delight at seeing her sails on the horizon.
Awesome story, Diane Warren is bad-ass….
Diane Warren… always a threat.