After college, Jenn (@jenndx) had a finance job that left her unfulfilled creatively.
An opportunity brought her to LA and she soon became a pop songwriter.
She’s now represented by the same management as Lady Gaga and has already written songs for artists such as Sean Kingston and Akon.
She’s 28 years old.
Dan Feld: Episode 4 of Prologue Profiles. My name is Dan Feld. My guest today is Jenn Decilveo.
Jenn Decilveo: Hi this is Jenn Decilveo. I’m a songwriter. And you’re listening to Prologue Profiles.
Jenn: I have been a songwriter professionally now for 2 years–
Dan: –but you weren’t a songwriter at first…
Jenn: I have a very untraditional path. I went to school for finance, I did post deal valuation at Deloitte for 2 years downtown in the lovely Manhattan. I worked at Deloitte from ’06 to ’08. I was 23.
Dan: Ok so when did you decide to move to LA?
Jenn: I moved to LA when I started working for Coldplay. I was moved by Coldplay, they paid for everything; the relocation expenses. I worked with the band on the business side not on the creative side. And I was always kind of running towards things that were more creative and that’s when I decided that I was just going to be creative and stop trying to be associated with something creative.
Dan: So was that thought process going in your head when you decided to become a songwriter full-time?
Jenn: I was actually just talking about this yesterday but I wasn’t thinking [Laughs] I was feeling. I was going with what I felt inside and I followed my gut and luckily I was fortunate enough to have saved a lot of money from working in finance and because of that it enabled me to pursue songwriting without a job full-time. And when I decided to take the plunge into doing it, I just went full-speed ahead, I didn’t look back.
Dan: So how did you break into the industry? Were you knocking on doors and sending out your songs?
Jenn: I haven’t done that in so long because I have a manager now that handles all that stuff but, yea, I absolutely would just e-mail people all the time like “I want to get together I have some songs I would like to show you, just give me a chance”. The first person I ever e-mailed was Kara DioGuardi. I saw her performing on YouTube when I was Deloitte and I realized she’s a songwriter. I looked her up she had written everything I pretty much had heard on radio. So I wrote her and she listened to my records and told me I need to improve and I’m going to be meeting her next week.
That’s five years ago. It took me 5 years to get a meeting with her. It’s an incredible accomplishment to be inspired by someone and to finally meet them and show them my work. They are looking at me like kind of as an equal now. I’m not like this kid who’s interested in it. Like she is interested in “Do you have songs for my artists?”. Because she is one of the heads of Warner Brothers now.
Dan: And I hear you and Akon have a Dropbox…
Jenn: Yes we do. It’s called “‘Kon Jenn” [Laughs]
Dan: So describe a typical day as a songwriter.
Jenn: I wake up every day around 7, 7:30. Most songwriters wake up around noon [Laughs]. I get up at 7, 7.30 I go for a run, I do my e-mails, I check in with business. I tend to have all my meetings between the hours of 9 and 1 and then I go to my sessions.
Dan: Who do you usually meet with?
Jenn: I meet with managers. I meet potentially with other creatives like producers, songwriters. I meet with A&R executive–those are the people that receive the songs from people like me to give to their artists. Sometimes I meet with my friends for a coffee because I can and sometimes I don’t do anything like this morning I did yoga.
Dan: So tell me where do you work?
Jenn: I work in my bedroom. When a producer sends me beats and I sit there and I have a little recording studio where I sing the song into a microphone and mix it and edit it and send it back. I also work in studios with producers. Sometimes I work outside at the beach writing with an artist, you can write wherever you want.
Dan: So you use the old paper and pen?
Jenn: Never. [Laughs] I write everything down. I used to write with a pen and paper but with computer now I have over 400 songs. It’s too much. I have to send people lyrics every day so it’s just on the computer. I have a Google doc that I share with different people depending on what it is.
Dan: So how would you describe the process as a songwriter?
Jenn: I would say that the thing I follow is my gut and my feeling with inspiration. And whether it be a melody that I come up with, a lyrical idea, or music that I hear–something that inspires me and then it kind of starts the engine.
Dan: All right what’s an example?
Jenn: I was in the studio last week and I was with an artist and she sang a melody and she skipped over it. And I said “Hold on, hold on. What was that?”. And she’s like “Oh I don’t know”. I was like “That’s amazing. Let’s massage that melody”. Because it was a little choppy but I heard there were parts of genius in it. And we worked it out.
We didn’t know what the song is going to be about. We had no idea but we followed the music. We followed the melody and she and I worked together and were able to create something that I think is incredible. Whether or not it sees the light of day I have no idea but for that moment I was present, she was present, and we created something that was special.
Dan: What is the biggest challenge you face as a song writer?
Jenn: The job of a songwriter, you do not get paid when you write every day. Whether you’re writing with a no-name or whether you’re writing with Katy Perry you don’t get paid. Unless you’re the best of the best and even then you might not get paid. It’s all paid on the back end. When things are on the radio or when a CD is sold you get paid either performance or mechanical royalties, radio and CD sales respectively. So I technically work for free every day.
Dan: So where do you feel like you are in your career right now?
Jenn: I would say right now in my career I’m in-between the successful stage and the middle stage. And right now I struggle with because of who I am wondering what my future is gonna hold with the financial situation, the unknown. It kind of worries me.
My parents are accountants, like everything was taken care of financially when we younger in terms of planning for college, what we would do after college, what types of jobs were we supposed to get. And music is freelance. And I worry about that. That’s probably a ridiculous thing to worry about because that has nothing to do with the craft.
Dan: Why do you think it is ridiculous?
Jenn: Because most musicians that you meet will never answer these questions probably this way, they will probably tell you “I worry my sound as I become old” or “I worry about me fading out or not being viable any more”. And in my mind this is, for me, I create from what I feel and if somebody doesn’t like it it’s what I want to make and I do it honestly and if it’s not cool anymore I don’t care because it’s what I feel. And whether that makes me great or makes me fail I’m doing it honestly, I’m doing it with integrity and that’s a lot more than a lot of other people who write from the wallet.
Dan: How do you see yourself in the future?
Jenn: Letting go and feeling and just following that feeling. It’s like taking little steps as opposed to looking at what your 50th step is gonna be. We can only chew off so little at once, why are we are trying to eat everything right away?
Dan: So what are some of the next steps you’ve planned for yourself?
Jenn: I want to be writing with certain types of producers and artists so it’s working with those people and planning my schedule for the next few months to see what projects are going on and getting myself into rooms with those people. It’s also getting myself into rooms with people that are extremely relevant and regardless of what I’m doing it’s writing the best songs that I can.
I can’t think about what I’m gonna to write in 10 days I can only think about what I’m gonna write now. And I think about ideas and I have them and they come to me and I remember them if they are worth remembering but it’s just focusing on today.
Dan: Do you ever think about quitting?
Jenn: Yeah sure, absolutely. I mean it’s scary like, listen I could be making few hundred thousand dollars by now if I would be working in finance. Everything would have been taken of financially. I could go on vacation, like two weeks a year. My benefits, I mean my health insurance is so expensive it’s ridiculous but I’m doing what I love.
I think if you walk away from something it’s because you’ve come to peace with it and that you don’t want to do it anymore…or you just never cared enough. I don’t believe in walking away with regret and I think quitting isn’t really an option because regardless of where I am I’m always going to write. I need it. It’s kind of like oxygen for me.
Dan: So what keeps you motivated?
Jenn: Music does, I listen to things I am inspired by other artists. Certain pop songs I hear on the radio I just shake my head and go “This is trash. This is trash. Great, good.” Am I going to create this? No because I don’t want to. But when I do hear that magic, when I hear that song that just speaks to me that gives me chills that makes me realize that this is why am doing what am doing…it makes me feel better.
Dan: So Jenn what advice would you give to someone thinking about becoming a songwriter?
Jenn: I would say that music is a difficult business, but if you’re good…you can do it. And that being successful in music–we’re talking about successful in music it’s obviously getting your songs on the radio or people buying your CD’s or being a huge touring band–it’s a combination of timing and talent. Which I think is luck.
As Oprah says “If you’re prepared when the opportunity strikes you capitalize. If you’re not prepared, you fail.” All of the opportunities in the world could come but if you’re not prepared, you will fail. But you could be more prepared than anyone in the word and if you sit in your bedroom every day you’re not going to get an opportunity. So it’s hustling and it’s being good at what you and it’s believing in yourself.
There are so many uphills and downhills in music. When you are high, you are high. But you could be working with the most famous artist in the world one day and then you could not be doing something the next week. You never know. It’s just doing what you love, stay true to it and having faith.
Perfecting your craft. Becoming a master at your craft. And always, always always be open to learning.