Songland season 2 premieres tonight (April 13) on NBC. Songwriters will compete to have their tune recorded by that week’s mega-artist. Tonight, it’s country super group, Lady Antebellum. Songwriter/producers Ryan Tedder, Shane McAnally and Ester Dean will help the contestants bring their ideas to life.
Everything you need to know about tonight’s premiere:
The trio are excited to be on the show. “It’s write up our ally,” one says. The three started out as songwriters. They’re looking for “stuff that has an interesting musical component.”
Tim Halperin – Losing You – Originally from Omaha, Nebraska, Tim competed on American Idol in 2011 as a Top 24 contestant. He performed an original “The Last Song” as his final solo in Hollywood–the FIRST Idol contestant to compete with an original song on the show. That’s quite a bench mark. I remember him very well. Tim was inspired by his recent marriage. He realized it was a thing worth fighting for. Tim recounts handing Ryan a cassette of his songs at a college concert. He hopes he DID NOT listen to it. This isn’t a country song per se. It’s got a good hook though! But it’s really a pop rock song. I can’t imagine Lady D performing it without a ton of revision. Shane thinks it sounds like a hit. The band notes the song’s pop feel. Ryan would tweak the lyrics. Shane tosses off a few new lines. It needs to feel more intense, he says. Hillary sings a bit of it, before the three harmonize. Ryan changes a lyric “I’m too afraid to say it…” The new lyrics raises the stakes in the song even higher.
Steven Battey – Feels Good To Me – This Savannah, Georgia native is already writing songs for country artists. His tune “One Number Away,” recorded by Luke Combs became a No 1 hit. He also wrote Grammy nominated songs for Justin Bieber, Madonna and Bruno Mars. The song is R&B, but so are Lady D. There’s a bit of banjo to give it a country feel. There are country artists who could pull this off, probably. but Lady D? Shane thinks the melody is “very Lady D.” However, Ryan doesn’t think it has a chorus. Ester asks him to make up a chorus on the fly, and he does! The band is looking for more simple melodies. Hillary thinks the song has potential. All agree that the song still needs a hook.
Madeline Merlo – I’ll Drink to That – Madeline is grew up in Maple Ridge Canada, but currently lives in Nashville. She is a CCMA Award and two-time BCCMA Award winning artist, with five Canadian Top 15 singles under her belt. Ester loves Madeline’s pants. Heh. Madeline became a country fan after attending a Shania Twain concert with her mom. This is your typical country call and response song. The song is trite. But so are a bunch of big hits on country radio. It’s the kind of song a crowd can sing along with. Hillary relates to the song, and looks forward to tweaking it. The band calls the groove “killer.” Shane makes a point: “In the country world, we’ve heard this.” He’d completely re-write the lyrics. The group gives the song a reggae beat and declares it a summer song. Shane adds the lyric, “drinking beer on a champagne night.”
Ryan Innes – Long Way Home – Thatcher AZ – Ryan moved to Provo, Utah to study music at Brigham Young University. He auditioned for The Voice season 4, nabbed a four chair turn and a spot on Team Usher. He left the competition at the The Knockouts. “I’d be a little less alive if I wasn’t a songwriter,” he says. The panel recognizes him from a residency he played in Park City. Ryan’s song, a pretty ballad, is so intimate, it’s hard to imagine a vocal group singing it. Everyone agrees the song needs a chorus, before collaborating on a new melody.
It’s time to eliminate a songwriter. Tim Halperin, Madeline Mero and Ryan Innes move on to the producer round. Steven Battey is eliminated. The group assures Steven he’s a talented songwriter, but feels the composition needs TOO much retooling.
In the producer sessions, Ryan Innes will work with Ester Dean, Madeline Merlo will team up with Shane McAnally. And Tim Halperin will partner with Ryan Tedder.
Ester gets to work restructuring the song. She explains that pop songs are more complicated than Ryan’s original format. “We got to make this for radio…we’re going to get some money!” Straightforward. I like it. Ryan likes that she repurposes parts of his song, rather than re-writing it completely. Ester is looking for a strong lyric and hook. She thinks the last verse of the song fits the bill.
Shane and Madeline re-write the lyrics. He notes that if you copy what’s on the radio now, a songwriter is already behind. Madeline is happy with the new take. Shane and Madeline work on some new rhymes. “Shane is the king of lyrics,” she says. He is indeed. Currently, Shane is the hottest songwriter of the three.
Ryan Tedder is trying to break into country music. Oh boy. The two are a good match, but two country newbies together? Tim could have used a country vet, I think, to help shape his song. Ryan will completely change the production, to transform it into a true mid-tempo. Ryan wants to “drive a nail through the heart” as far as emotion is concerned. Because Hillary and Charles want to sing it as a duet, Tim suggests he bring a friend along for his final performance.
Tim Halperin – Losing You produced by Ryan Tedder – His friend? Hayley Orrantia, X Factor alum and Goldbergs star. The two have actually recorded videos together. The melody is still intact. But the production has more punch. The song works well as a duet. I’m still not hearing it as a country song, however. The group LOVES the chorus.
Madeline Mero – Champaign Night produced by Shane McAnally – Not only has the song changed, but the title has too. The spirit of the song is the same, but the lyrics are less hackneyed. Still hackneyed, but less so. It’s the most country song of the three. But these songs about country life and plastic cups and beer on a Friday night, we’re just simple country folk BLAH BLAH BLAH. Not my jam, I guess.
Ryan Innes – Long Way Home produced by Ester Dean – Ester bumped up the tempo, but kept the melody the same, says Ryan. He’s happy about that. It’s definitely more radio friendly. The new chorus makes he difference. Shane loves the lyrics.
Time to choose! Lady Antebellum chooses Champaign Night by Madeline Mero. Not surprising. It’s the most country sounding of the three. When Shane was assigned the song, Madeline’s win was inevitable. Hillary says it’s the kind of song they need right now, especially as they head out on tour.
The official music video has that RECORDED ON ZOOM look, which I’m already totally sick of. Sigh.