Emily Warren and Scott Harris: Songwriters
Emily Warren and Scott Harris are young New York-based songwriters who are perhaps best known for collaborating to write the recent Chainsmokers hit “Don’t Let Me Down.” The 10,000 sat down with Emily and Scott to learn how they got into the business, what goes into writing a hit song, and the joys and challenges of doing what they do.
How did you get your start as songwriters?
Scott: I was in a band in high school. I did a bunch of touring, and I realized midway through that the writing was what was getting me excited. So I started honing the craft by meeting a bunch of different people, seeing how other people wrote songs. And it all led to this.
Emily: I was playing in a band in high school and this intern at Atlantic Records kept coming to our shows. She was interested, but she kept being like, “This needs a lot of work.” When I got to college, my band split up, and I just kept writing. I ended up sending her a few songs. She had just moved to a publishing company that I ended up signing to. The first session I ever had was with Scott, and at the time I was still just writing for myself. I got basically forced into this session. I didn’t say a word the whole time. [Laughs] But Scott called me the next day and wanted to try again, and here we are.
What was your first break?
Scott: It’s funny what defines the word “break.” Sometimes you end up writing a good song and even if it doesn’t end up anywhere, you feel like, “Whoa, that just changed everything!” So I don’t really know what song was the song.
But when did you realize that you could do this for a living?
Scott: Last week? [Laughs]
Emily: I’ve been pretty lucky in that it’s always been enough to support myself. I think it comes off as a bit more glamorous than it is. It’s a lot of hours and it’s a lot of work, and you don’t know how much money you’re going to make and you don’t know when you’re going to make it. But we both signed publishing deals early on that supported us enough to get us to this point. It’s actually ridiculous that this is a way to make a living, because as many hours as it might be, we’re literally writing songs every day. It’s the best thing ever.
Tell me about the process of writing a song. How many drafts do you go through?
Emily: We don’t really do drafts. I find it really hard to rewrite stuff. We put the song together then sometimes they’ll be like, “We need to change this verse.” And maybe it’s the wrong attitude, but I’m like, “You like this song or you don’t. We’ll write another one.”
Scott: I 100% agree. There are a lot of times you’ll get, “Oh, it’d be cooler if the chorus did this,” and we’re like, “Okay, new song.”
Emily: The two of us are really intense about the lyrics. I think that’s the most important part: to tell a story. So when you start rattling that and pulling holes out of the story, it kind of messes up the whole vibe.
Do you have a song you’re the most proud of?
Emily: We’ve written a song called “Just Click” that I’m actually going to put out under my own artist name soon.
Do you sing it?
Emily: Yeah. And it’s just a guitar and vocals and we ended up putting this complete story together. You have to listen all the way to the end to hear the whole thing unfold.
Scott: I would agree with that being one of the songs we’re the most proud of, but we definitely have to be proud of [The Chainsmokers] “Don’t Let Me Down.”
Emily: Yeah. “Don’t Let Me Down” really sounds like us. It’s cool to have something work like that, where we weren’t trying to do anything else. We were just doing what we do and it caught on, which is amazing.
What do you think the biggest misconception about songwriting is?
Emily: I think one thing is that most people don’t know there is this songwriting community.
Scott: Like when we’re listening to the radio with people, more often than not it’s friends of ours who’ve written a song. And when you say “Oh, I know the person who wrote that song,” you’re disappointing everybody. They’re all like, “What? [The person who sings it] didn’t write it?”
Emily, you’ve said that you want to use songwriting to influence social change. Tell us a little bit about that.
Emily: As people in music, and especially as people writing words, there’s a huge responsibility to say the right thing. I think there are a lot of songs on the radio that send the wrong message, but because they’re such catchy songs, no one’s flinching, no one’s considering what they’re saying. But if you just read the lyrics, you’re like, “Whoa, this is really messed up.” It’s sometimes the kind of thing where I think in fifty years, they’ll look back and be like, “[I can’t believe] this was okay in 2016.” It’s important for me especially, because the songwriting business is heavily male-dominated. It’s a lot of dudes writing songs for girls for what they think girls should or would say. So that’s why I love getting in with female artists, because then they have someone who they can not be scared to say shit to. There’s such a fine line with being honest, and then being feminist, and finding the right thing to say. But you have every little girl in the country potentially singing along to your song, so you want to say something that they should hear.
What’s next for you?
Scott: Personally I’m very excited about the Shawn Mendes album that’s about to come out. It’s done, but it’s exciting that all the stuff we just did is finally going to be heard by everybody.
Emily: I just did my friend Ava Lily’s album, which I’m really excited about. And I’m going to start putting stuff out [under my own name]. I’m most excited about that being whatever we want it to be; there’s no pressure, no one looking for a certain type of song. But yeah, just writing more great songs. And working with people and helping them say what they’re trying to say.
What’s the best part of doing what you do?
Emily: It’s sick. [Laughs]
Scott: It’s like a high that you can’t get from anything else. It’s the excitement of that moment in the room where everyone’s like, “Whoa we just created something really amazing.” I’m very grateful that we get to do it every day. I just try to take that in from time to time. We get to hang out with our friends and write music, which is really, really cool.
Emily: And not forgetting that as things get more and more intense and busy, that it’s all about just being in a room with a guitar and writing your feelings.