Producer Crosstalk: Philip Lawrence
Producer and songwriter Philip Lawrence was an under-appreciated Los Angeles artist in 2008 when he, Bruno Mars and Ari Levine formed the production powerhouse, the Smeezingtons. The team have since worked with Lil Wayne, Adam Lambert, Cee Lo Green and have produced many hits including the Mars-accompanied B.o.B No. 1 “Nothin’ on You.” They have also produced Mars’ Doo-Wops & Hooligans and Unorthodox Jukebox. Mars’ single “When I Was Your Man” reached No. 1.
The drive for the team formation was initially one of necessity. “I met Bruno about seven years ago,” Lawrence recalls. “We were both out here trying to make it as artists. Along the way, we learned that we’d go work with these well-known producers and, if we were ever to get a song placed, they would get a check from the record label. The writers would have to wait until the publishing came in, which sometimes could be well over a year. One day we were sitting in the car with no money in our pockets. That’s when we decided to try producing for ourselves and we enlisted the help of Ari [Levine].”
Early on, Lawrence recognized the advantages of working with a team. “There’s strength in numbers,” he observes. “Especially if they’re guys you trust and who know you at your best. I can’t always say that the dynamic between us is better [than working alone] but I know that it’s different and certainly more effective. If I’m working on an idea by myself, I could be going off in a direction that later I’ll discover was wrong. When I’m with the group, they can say, ‘Dude, that’s kind of corny.’”
Each songwriter has his or her views on elements crucial to a successful song. In Lawrence’s estimation, there has to be a discernable authenticity. “There are different ways to go about songwriting,” he says. “There’s the popular radio way and then there’s just outright creativity. I don’t think one is any better than the other. But even in those two mediums, the one ingredient has to be talking about something that people care about, whether that’s love, heartbreak or something political. If you can find a point of view and see it through, that’s one thing a song can’t be without.”
The development he’s seen in himself in the last few years has been substantial. “The difference between Doo-Wops & Hooligans and Unorthodox Jukebox is huge,” Lawrence explains. “The growth from one album to the next was exponential. We had toured and performed in front of large audiences. Being on stage gives you a different feel on what you could be singing. For example, I remember thinking ‘I wish this part of the song lasted longer because people really dig it.’ Maybe when we approach a new song, we’ll add more of that to it.”
To aspiring producers and songwriters, Lawrence advises learning as much as possible. “The more you know about your craft, the better you’re going to be,” he asserts. “If you want the quick, shortcut way, you’re going to have quick, shortcut-sounding songs. When I was coming up, I studied the people that were doing what I wanted to do.”
When MC spoke with him, Lawrence was immersed in his own album Letters I Never Sent, slated for release on Atlantic.