PJ Ju is an aspiring songwriter who splits her time between NYC and Nashville. She has had two songs in the NSAI Top 40 as well as had her songs pitched to major labels and indie artist camps including George Strait, Luke Bryan, Craig Morgan and Kellie Pickler. She was kind enough to talk with us about her journey with songwriting and what’s ahead for her professionally.
Were music and songwriting something that you wanted to pursue from a young age?
Since I was a kid I was doing both computer programming and music. I was classically trained in piano at 5 ½ and attended Julliard. I started writing classical music, and my earlier songs I'd say were alt-indie-pop. I absolutely loved Sarah McLachlan and strived to write something as simple and poignant as "What I'd Say" (written by Robert Byrne and Will Robinson, cut by Gary Allan and Earl Thomas Conley) or "Trying to Get Over You" (Vince Gill). I started driving cross country in my late teens and listened to Country on the radio, falling in love with great songs that told a story so well they either ripped my heart out or made me wanna dance. I'm always trying to write great songs, and believe that just like Mozart can be played like Bach or vice versa, a great song can transcend genres. I've also written musical theatre and incidental music for film/TV/theatre.
When did you begin to focus more on writing country songs?
I dove into the Country songwriting and music business scene in 2013 for two reasons. One, a mentor and the first Nashville publisher I met told me "You can't go to Nashville and not become a better songwriter, no matter what genre you write.” And two, the realities of the business--there are more Country artists cutting songs other people wrote than there are in Pop, Indie, or others.
Is there a particular songwriter that you admire?
Brett James is my songwriter idol - I love his range. He can write a great Kelly Clarkson pop hit like "Mr. Know it All" and turn around with a Carrie Underwood pop/country power ballad "Jesus Take the Wheel" and the hip-hop/country near-rap that's Brantley Gilbert's "Bottoms Up."
You, like many aspiring musicians and songwriters have a “day job” for a large company in their computer department. How do you balance working and traveling to Nashville to write?
As a tech innovator for Consumer Reports, I am able to work remotely about half of the time. They are very supportive of what I do and very trusting of me as an employee. For that, I am really very fortunate. I started traveling to Nashville over the last two years. I typically go once a month, but lately I have been staying longer. In fact the last time I went I stayed for three weeks.
Co-writing is very popular in Nashville. Is that something you enjoy or do you prefer to write by yourself?
I wrote by myself for a lot of years and I still do because I am obsessive about my rewriting. I want to do it quickly and when I do it myself I have more flexibility. When you write alone, you only have to be demanding of yourself and you're not dependent on others. Now I do a lot of co-writing when I am in Nashville, sometimes three co-writing sessions in one day! In Nashville, there is a rhythm to it whereas in NY people tend to do everything themselves, from writing to recording to playing the instruments. Many artists in NY are independent and with co-writing you have to let go of ego and recognize writing is a collaboration. It’s also nice to write with someone who may have a complementary skill to yours, for example I am stronger with melody and someone else may be stronger lyrically.
Writing is a learned skill and attitude really. It wasn’t at all easy when I started, but I learned a lot from co-writing and the more people I co-write with the more I learn. It can be pretty easy now to go into a room for a three hour time period and write. When you go to a write, you have to kind of go with the flow, don’t try to force your way, especially if other people aren’t feeling it. Also, if people are and you aren’t [feeling it] then have some faith and go with it. Co-writing is really like dating for three hours!
Now that you have been co-writing for a while, do you have certain people that you tend to work well with?
There are definitely folks I click with and try to write with as often as I can. The people I want to write with are often the busiest, so I have learned to work quickly because I might not be able to write with that person again for months, especially if they are touring.
They say Nashville is a ten year town for artists, is that the same for songwriters?
It can be anywhere from five to ten years. It is very rare for people to show up and get something going immediately. Everyone thinks they write great songs, but it takes time to learn your craft and learn it well. You’ll know when you write a great song, people will notice! They’ll crawl out of a locked drawer!
Have any of your songs been picked up recently?
I have a lot of pickups! Several of my songs are being pitched to artists from both indie and major labels. I have had some keeps at major labels that lasted a bit, but then then fell off. "U.S. Highways," a song I co-wrote with Caylee Anna, got us into the Top 12 in the NSAI Best of Spring Training. It was chosen out of 200 submissions and that led to my performing the song at Tin Pan South this year. The people who have heard that song are really digging it!
Do you perform as well or are you focused mostly on songwriting?
I participate in songwriters’ rounds, but a writer once told me that once they stopped doing rounds and put the time into writing, that’s when things really started happening for them. It takes a different skill set to prepare and practice for a round than it does to write a song.
What are your plans for the next few months?
Well, my goal for this year is to write 52 songs and I am 42 songs in! So, at the end of April I will head to LA for the ASCAP Expo and a mini songwriting retreat. Then I will head to Key West for their Songwriters’ Festival for the first time.
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