Don Freeman knows a thing or two about songwriting. Growing up in Philadelphia, he quickly developed a strong reputation as a highly regarded session player in the Philly soul and jazz scene, which ultimately led to him inking his first artist deal with Philadelphia International Records. Since then, Don has continued to write, produce and perform all over the world, alongside a number of industry legends, including Michael Jackson, Robert Palmer, Bill Withers Sergio Mendes, Chaka Khan, The Temptations, Larry Carlton, Hugh Masekela, Jeffrey Osborne, Ramsey Lewis, Jon Anderson, the Manhattan Transfer, and many more. His illustrious career has spanned an extraordinary range of artists, styles, and genres.
On the second instalment of “Give Vance a Chance”, Ronny sat down with the legendary songwriter, vocalist, keyboardist, and producer to chat about his creative inspirations, career-defining moments, and tips for young songwriters trying to make it in the industry.
Here are some of our favourite soundbites from the episode:
On not overthinking things:
I would keep recording on the 8 track and putting down ideas without any preconception. I just kept throwing out ideas all the time, and I recommend doing that to any [emerging songwriter]. What I learned was to not overthink, to get out of your own way, and just put an idea down. Don't judge it, just keep throwing things together, and then you can piece it all together later.
On his musical inspirations:
Living in Philly and playing in bands. There were two black theatres there- the Uptown and the Nixon- and everybody that was anybody, whether they were from Motown or anything, etc, came through those theatres. So I was going to see that stuff live- Smokey Robinson, the Temptations…When I was like twelve/thirteen years old, I was already being exposed to that type of music.
On his career-defining moment:
After Japan, I moved to LA on the spur of the moment, and met Mike [Sembello], who was playing with Stevie Wonder. He could do all kinds of stuff. Not only was he really talented…but he worked at it, he built himself into what he was. He had the talent but he also had the discipline to research all that music and learn it all. He was a big inspiration, and that was a turning point when I moved to LA and started living with him.
On the importance of completing your songs:
I just experimented. I keep writing over and over, trying to make it better, and trying to complete things. You know it's one thing to have an idea, but in the end it has to be a completed song, or else it's not worth anything. I had to learn how to complete things and treat them the right way. [Songwriting] is a lot of fun and all that, but it is a job and it has to be done the right way.
On his advice for young songwriters:
Absorb everything you've been through, and try to keep an open mind. Even if there's somebody that you know you don't “do their kind of thing,” get together with them anyway. You never know what will happen from just meeting somebody. Be open to traveling (when that’s safe). Be open to meeting people and be open to listening to different things. If you're a songwriter: do it every day and stay on a schedule. If you want to make a career out of it, you have to wake up, do it, complete it, and get it out. Just like the way people go into the office. That's the way to approach it. It’s a job. It's a lot of fun, it's really creative, but the bottom line is you want your music to get heard.
For Don's full interview, and more episodes in our podcast series, click here