Born in Birmingham, AL, songwriter Taura Stinson is proud to have grown up in Oakland, CA. “How could you not love music growing up in Oakland?” she says. “If you have any kind of creative blood flowing through your veins it’s the best place to be––that whole region is.”
In an industry where many compete for ever-elusive record deals, Stinson is an anomaly. “I knew I was a writer, and I thought maybe I would be a journalist. To satisfy my musical urges, I started a girl group. It never occurred to me that we’d get a record deal.”
Signed with the trio Emage, to a deal with Mercury Records, she experienced an epiphany. “I realized I had this thing about being in front of large crowds. I was terrified. One of the girls was a ham. She would take over and I was totally fine about that. When the group got dropped I was happy. ‘Really? I can write full-time now?’”
The writing vocation is paying excellent dividends. Now based in Los Angeles, she has written songs for Destiny’s Child, Kelis, Kelly Rowland and Deborah Cox. Her newest niche is penning songs for films. She and her writing partner Raphael Saddiq wrote and produced tracks for Black Nativity, a feature film starring Forest Whitaker, Jennifer Hudson, Angela Bassett, Jacob Latimore, Mary J Blige, Luke James, Tyrese and Nas.
Stinson and Saddiq also penned the main title song “Beautiful Creature” for Rio 2, slated to open in April 2014. “These amazing writers in Brazil have written songs that I have to come in and restructure,” she says. “The creative staff has gotten used to the phonetic sounds of the Portuguese words, so I have to find a clever way to pronounce the words with same rhythmic pace. It’s challenging, but I’d do it a million times.”
She has also established a strong working relationship with composer John Powell. “He’s like a sci-fi character who has been sent here to save the world with his piano—he’s really interesting. He has the most amazing family and work ethic.”
Another big-screen credit for Stinson and Saddiq is the song “Gonna Be Alright,” as sung from the indomitable Steven Tyler, to be included in the animated film Epic, starring Beyonce. Stinson notes that the song is “…not characteristic of what Steven Tyler sings. He put in some ad libs that were perfect.”
Writing for specific singers, especially those with signature sounds, is not advisable, according to Stinson. “You get in trouble if you approach anything like that; for example, that you’re going to write a song for Beyonce. It’s not coming from an organic place. Radiate positive vibes, because that’s what makes people want to work with you.”
In addition to writing the songs, Stinson is also an experienced vocal producer. “It’s one of my favorite things to do,” she enthuses. “You end up building this amazing rapport with the vocalist.” Rapport comes naturally: between her girl group endeavors and her songwriting success, she worked as a personal assistant for notable celebrities Paris Hilton and Sean “Puffy” Combs.
Banned from listening to secular music as a child, Stinson had to catch up in the pop realm. “My mom would let me listen to Deniece Williams and Minnie Ripperton because they had good clean songs.” She believes that keeping kids from hearing current music is counter-productive. “You’re teaching them how to hide things from you.”
Stinson says that, as a songwriter, her incentive is to tell the story. “I work hard on sentences. It drives me crazy when I co-write if someone says, ‘The sky is blue.’ Obviously we’ve heard that a million times. How do we make that description a little more vibrant for someone who can’t see? I dig deep to find the quirkier way to say a sentence. I love words more than music in some respects. And I love the English language.”
But she hears music constantly, all around her. “I was born with a million melodies in my brain that I regenerate. It’s something I’ve done ever since I was a kid. I write by ear, by heart by soul—it just comes out.”
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