Ed Hill: Persistence & Inspiration
Inspiration plays a big part in our romantic visions of a songwriter's life. We imagine the writer jumping out of bed, fumbling for the guitar in the darkness and playing that million-dollar lick, or singing the line that will soon be a national catch phrase. The day-to-day life of a professional songwriter isn't quite so magical.
Ed Hill, who has had No. 1 cuts with Faith Hill (no relation) ("It Matters To Me"); Tracy Lawrence ("Runnin' Behind"); Reba McEntire ("The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter") and John Michael Montgomery ("Be My Baby Tonight"); doesn't discount inspiration, but he hasn't got the time to wait for it to arrive.
"I have nothing against artists that have to be inspired to write a song, but a professional songwriter doesn't wait to get inspired," Hill said. "Everyday I wake up, I'm inspired. I want to hone my craft and be a professional. I want to write something worthy every time I write and that's my inspiration. I don't always have great ideas, but I'm always inspired. Songwriting is what I do. It's how I support my family, and those who are waiting for inspiration aren't living my life."
Hill backs up his professional attitude by reporting to his office everyday and plugging away at his craft. "I can't write much at home since there are too many distractions. I usually sit down with a co-writer and these days I'm doing a lot with Shaye Smith and Casey Beathard, but I have other people that I write with off and on. When I write by myself, I can get a little frustrated making all the decisions, with no one to bounce the music off."
About every six weeks, Hill takes a batch of new songs to a studio and has them demoed so he can shop them around town. "I average a song a week, but it's not a sure thing. Some weeks I get nothing, some weeks I'll finish four songs. When I have a bunch, I book a studio, the players, the singers and get to work. I may do some singing, but if my voice isn't a good fit, I'll hire a few singers."
Throughout the years Hill's demo sessions have given jobs to Garth Brooks, Joe Diffie, Gretchen Wilson and Trisha Yearwood when they were newcomers. After the final mix the next day, which takes about an hour and a half per song, he takes them to BMG Songs, his publisher, and starts working them.
Hill's demos have provided material for Sara Evans, Martina McBride, Tim McGraw, Jo Dee Messina, George Strait, Clay Walker and Lee Ann Womack - quite a track record for a guy who once planned to enter law school after earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy.
"I grew up in Hanford, Calif., a farming community, surrounded by music," said Hill, whose father was a cotton farmer. "I was in the grammar school marching band and I played trumpet, French horn and drums. I learned how to read music and played piano in rock bands in high school and college, writing a lot of the material myself. I was about to go to law school when I realized that wasn't the life I wanted, which was a big disappointment to my parents."
Instead, in the early '70s, Hill moved to Bakersfield, Calif. to join a Country band that played in local clubs opening for artists including Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson.
"I was burning out on progressive rock and wanted a steady paycheck," Hill said. "We were a house band and the guitar player, Jim Williams, showed me how to play Country Music. He showed me color tones and pedal tones. He loved chords and could play blues and Country standards. He showed me how a song was built, which made me better at making up my own songs."
Hill left Bakersfield to play piano with the Palomino Riders, the house band at Los Angeles' Palomino Club. Mickey Gilley hired Hill in 1980 for his Urban Cowboy Band and the band won a GRAMMY that year for "Orange Blossom Special" from the Urban Cowboy soundtrack. By 1984, Hill was ready to take the plunge. He moved to Nashville to be a songwriter.
"I took my dad's truck, with a camper shell on the back of it, and drove to Nashville. When I heard the people playing the open mic at the Bluebird Café, I knew I'd have to knuckle down and get serious about my writing. I was glad I loved doing it, because there wasn't any money in it for quite a while. If my dad hadn't bailed me out a few times, I might have starved."
In 1987, Hill showed a few tunes to Karen Conrad and she took him on as a staff writer for her AMR/New Haven Music publishing house. Ten years later, the company was purchased by BMG Music Publishing. Conrad is now Senior Vice President of BMG Music Publishing's Nashville-based Country Music Division.
"Despite the regular paycheck, I was just about to leave town when Reba [McEntire] cut 'The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter,'" Hill said. "Then it became a single, then a hit and the money from that held me over till I got the next cut. And since then, every track has sustained me till the next one, but you have to have a lot of persistence to make it."
"Every song is different," Hill declared. "Some are great because of the groove, some have a good message, but my goal is to write songs that are still going to sound good in 10 years. Sometimes they come quick, sometimes I'm changing the lyrics right up to the time we get a singer to sing it, but it's a fun adventure cause you never know where the song may go. And I know I'll run out of time before I can do everything I want to do. I saw a recent interview with Robert Redford and they asked him when he was going to run out of ideas and he said 'I'm going to run out of time before I run out of ideas.' That's how I feel. I know I'm lucky to be able to do something I love for a living. I want to do something good with the time God is going to let me have."
Hill lives in Franklin, Tenn. with his wife Laura and their three children, Savanna, Gracen and Beaux.
© 2004 CMA Close Up News Service