Songwriter Profile: Noel Zancanella (Maroon 5, One Republic, the Wanted)

Song biz 8 profile noel zancanella“This could be a really good life,” sings Ryan Tedder in the OneRepublic hit, “Good Life.” Tedder’s co-writer on the song, Noel Zancanella, can certainly confirm this sentiment. It wasn’t too long ago that he was fetching coffee at Village Recorders in Los Angeles; a job he procured after moving to California from Colorado. Now with a slate of notable covers––including “Love Somebody” and “Lucky Strike” from Maroon 5’s astronomically successful Overexposed, plus cuts with the Wanted, Gym Class Heroes, Demi Lovato and B.o.B, and production gigs for A-list artists Gavin DeGraw, K’naan and Colbie Calliat, Zancanella’s fortunes are certainly brighter.

“I cannot say enough positive things about the pop game right now,” Zancanella testifies. “I want to work in pop/Top 40 because it’s the freest of genres. People that don’t understand it or have bad things to say about it just don’t understand. So many different kinds of people are writing pop records. I’ve written with Sam Endicott (the Bravery) and even the Weezer guys write in the pop sphere. My favorite writer now is Jeff Bhasker, who is writing amazing pop songs.”

Back in Colorado, Zancanella, who was writing hip-hop, learned to engineer in order to record his own tracks. “I moved to L.A. on a wing and a prayer and lived in Venice Beach. It was either be a waiter or get a job as an engineer,” he remembers. “Right before my cash was going to run out I got a gig at the Village Recorders. This was like a Harvard education for me.” Working under the studio’s mercurial owner, Jeff Greenberg, Zancanella says, “Straightened me out and made a man out of me.”

He says that with his engineering background, he is able to pick up immediate vibes from other promising studio wizards. “When I hire engineers I can sniff out who is real and who is fake. I can do my own thing too. I have that whole background.”

Zancanella worked as an engineer with rock artists, including a Smashing Pumpkins project that was recorded to analog tape. Growing up and loving rock, he identified with the amplified angst of punk. “I will be damned if this stuff doesn’t come back. When Kanye West performed on Saturday Night Live, the whole style was Misfits and Nine Inch Nails with him screaming on the mic. I was super excited about it––nobody would think that hip-hop would merge with punk.”

In the milieu of modern songwriting, it is not unusual to see a host of names contributing to one short song. While this might not be the most profitable method, it does make for finely crafted, airtight pop hits. “Older guys who blew up in the ’90s and before don’t do this,” says Zancanella. “Some Nashville writers won’t touch something with more than three writers on it. I totally subscribe to a ‘Dr. Luke mindset.’ He brings in whoever he thinks can bring value to the song. That’s how you end up with nine or 10 writers on songs that are epic.”

Signed to Ryan Tedder’s Patriot Games publishing company for the past four years, Zancanella divides his time between his native Colorado and Los Angeles. “Ryan built a stunning studio,” he says, “and he wants to bring everyone over there. When you bring an artist to Denver, they don’t know anyone, so they’re stuck with you; this makes for huge relationships. We had B.o.B there, and we loved adventuring with Adam Levine. People were double-checking, ‘Wait a second––what is Adam Levine doing eating at a Chipotle in Denver?’”

While the engineering to songwriting and production track that Zancanella traversed has led to platinum destinations, he observes that it wasn’t the easiest track. “I took one of the toughest roads to get in the business. With engineering, it’s hard to get into, and so hard to get out of it. Try to figure out what you want to do. There are guys like Mike Caren (Warner Music Group) who are scouring the Internet to get hits. You don’t have to be in L.A. or America: You just have to write a great song. If they’re great, they will find a home.”

By Dan Kimpel

Contact Elissa Felman, AAM Inc., elissa@aaminc.com