A few months ago I shot an interview with legendary songwriter Diane Warren for a friend’s documentary project. Although I recognized her name, I wasn’t familiar with her body of work. It’s impressive to say the least: She’s had 9 number-one songs, 32 top-ten songs, and she’s the first songwriter in history to have 7 hits, all by different artists, on the singles chart at the same time. She’s won a Grammy Award, an Emmy Award, and a Golden Globe, and she has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
When we arrived at her offices — the entire top floor of a building on Sunset Blvd — I stepped out of the elevator into a hallway lined with more gold and platinum records than I’ve ever seen at one time. I’ve been to major record labels that have fewer on the walls. It was insane. Then I glanced over at the reception desk, where a sign that reads “I’ll be nicer if you’ll be smarter” sits in front of a trophy succinctly labeled: #1 CUNT 2015. Needless to say, I liked her before we had even met.
We set up for the interview in her office/screening room/living room, a huge corner office with 180 degree views of the Hollywood Hills. A grand piano and tables displaying her various awards sparkled, backlit in the afternoon sun. Clearly this was the pinnacle of songwriting success.
Diane finally blows into the room and takes a seat for the interview. Dressed kind of rock ’n’ roll casual, she was friendly and freewheeling, but also very direct. It was obvious immediately that Diane was not one for bullshit. And although she was forthright in answering our questions, we could sense she was becoming restless, if not downright impatient. Then she started following each of her answers with, “Okay, is that it? Are we done?” Our time was quickly running out.
Then we asked about her process. It turns out she writes songs in her studio seven days a week. She literally never misses a day. And frequently she works for 12 hours at a time. She doesn’t like going out, hitting hotspots, or mingling with celebs. Never married, she didn’t even seem interested in dating. I believe she said something like, “I’m not very good in relationships. I write about romance in my songs, but I don’t care for that stuff in my life.” She does her actual songwriting in a small office that’s off-limits to others, because she’s superstitious, and to her it’s a sacred, private space. She said she hasn’t changed anything in that office for 17 years.
And at that point the interview ended. Diane bounded off the sofa, practically ripping off the lavalier mic before the sound guy could reach her, said a quick goodbye and rushed out of the room. And at that moment I had a powerful recognition of the secret to Diane Warren’s success. Of course she’s talented, but LA is full of talented songwriters. Her secret is simply her unwavering, relentless dedication to doing the thing she loves, everything else be damned. After all, this is a woman in her 60s, who makes something like $14 million a year in songwriting royalties, who’s won every award there is to win, who could retire to a private island and live out the rest of her days sipping piña coladas by her infinity pool. Instead, she spends 12 hours a day alone in a small, cluttered office, cranking out songs. She’s not even using that huge, sparkling corner office as her songwriting space!
I have no idea whether she’s happy in life, but clearly she’s in love with songwriting. The term “fiercely in love” comes to mind. Like she’ll fight to the death to defend her songwriting from any intrusions that come her way. She stakes out her territory. She doesn’t suffer fools. And that would certainly explain her trophy on the reception desk.
I don’t know about you, but that inspires the hell out of me. So this year let’s all resolve to earn the #1 CUNT trophy.