Exec Profile: Claude Kelly

As a songwriter, Claude Kelly has penned hits for Christina Aguilera, Kelly Clarkson and Whitney Houston. Despite this, he yearned for new creative horizons. Along with writing partner Chuck Harmony, he formed Weirdo Workshop to work exclusively with artists of their choosing.

Everyone’s Songwriter
Been songwriting for 10 years and got a degree from Berklee College of Music in business. I worked my way through tough sessions to figure out my passion. I put singing and the rest on the back burner to make songwriting my business.

In 2007, my hard work paid off with big singles—“My Life Would Suck Without You” by Kelly Clarkson, which I wrote with Max Martin and Dr. Luke, and “Circus” by Britney Spears, which I did with Dr. Luke and Benny Blanco. I ended up in the studio with Akon, and that led to Michael Jackson. It became a perfect storm. Music’s like a runaway train—to head for success, you’ve got to keep moving. So for the next seven to eight years I pretty much had blinders on and sought after every person I wanted to work with.

Needing a Challenge
What starts as a blessing can become a drag if you’re not being challenged. I’d accomplished many goals and felt I wasn’t being stretched creatively. I’m good at vocal producing and getting the best out of artists, especially females, so producers would call me to bring it home. It’s an awesome privilege but also not very creative, because at that point the album is sort of created and they just need that last big hit.

Finding Harmony
A good friend of mine, Chuck Harmony, was going through the same thing. We had a conversation about how we were frustrated and considered walking away from it all. We had to do something to challenge our brains, maybe go back to school or try a different avenue.

That frustration turned into us throwing away the rulebook and doing a song to see what came out. That’s the birth of Weirdo Workshop. The process by which we created that song was unconventional to how we had been working for the past couple years. We didn’t care about radio format or genre or whom the record was even for. It opened up our creativity.

Tearing Down Walls
Every time we had a day off, we’d get together and do a song, not realizing we were formulating our own band: Louis York. I’m from New York and Chuck’s from St. Louis, so it’s a combination of where we’re from. The process itself was creatively satisfying, but also emotionally cathartic. We were able to find ourselves in the music business, and also as people. It became much more than just writing songs to sell.

I’ve always been a singer, but I’d never put myself forward. I arrange vocals. Everyone from Whitney Houston said, “Why aren’t you doing an album?” That’s always been there and I shied away from it. But this process was so bold and out of my control that it forced me to do what I had been avoiding.

Slave No More
I’ve moved away from what I was known for—a songwriter for hire. I said, “I’m not going to whore out my talent anymore. I only write for artists who I want to write for. I’m not a slave to the record industry in a way that I put myself in a position to be before.”

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