An Interview with Phil Galdston, Steinhardt’s Songwriter-in-Residence

You are NYU Steinhardt’s first Songwriter-in-Residence. What does a songwriter-in-residence do?

It’s a happily loosely-defined position, which I’m most honored to have! In developing Steinhardt’s songwriting concentration for a master’s degree program in music composition, my role is primarily to bring the songwriter’s sensibility to our current teaching, both in composition and in music business, and to our planning and implementation. My ongoing collaboration with Ron Sadoff, director of film scoring, is focused on the development of the integral creative and curricular links of the concentration.

What are the Songwriters Hall of Fame Master Sessions @ NYU?

The Master Sessions, a collaboration with the Songwriters Hall of Fame, are part lecture, part performance, and part in-depth interview, concluding with a Q&A. They’re designed to inform and entertain, bringing the audience right up close to the inspirations, process, experience, and insights of our guests. The primary purpose is to bridge the gap between music fans and music-makers .

You will be interviewing legendary musician, songwriter and producer, Nile Rodgers for this Master Session, how do you know Mr. Rodgers?

As Nile is one of the most successful and influential songwriters of our time, I got to know him through his incredible body of work. We became friends and sometime-collaborators after we met and served together at The Recording Academy (the GRAMMY® people).

Congratulations on being signed to Imagem USA. What will be your new relationship with the music publisher powerhouse?

Imagem will be representing my current, future, and past songs, including all of my better-known tunes, like Save the Best For Last, I Owe You One, The Sweetest Days, Fly, One Voice, and Someone Watching Over You. They’ll now be cared for (and promoted!) by Imagem’s exceptional global team of professionals. It’s a great opportunity and a thrill to have found the right home.

Tell us a little about writing, ‘Save the Best for Last.’  What is the writing process like for you — do you have music in advance, do you have someone in mind, a character, a situation, when you are writing?  Where do you create best?  (Do you need a dark room, a cup of espresso…?)

I’ve often said that I’m one of the most promiscuous songwriters you’re likely to find: I’ve done it with everybody, in every way possible, in every situation imaginable. That said, my favorite way to write is from the ground up: get in a room with an interesting and talented collaborator (hopefully, more talented than me!) and see what happens. I love to start with a title, but songs have come from everywhere I can think of and plenty of places I haven’t yet seen. Each one is not only some kind of blessing, each one is born with the hope that they’ll touch a lot of people. Some, I’m incredibly grateful to say, have.

Jon Lind and I wrote almost all of the music to Save the Best For Last in Los Angeles in less than 30 minutes, while taking a break from another song that was driving us crazy. Wendy Waldman and I wrote the lyrics in Nashville over a weekend, when she was expecting a baby any second.

By the way, if you can email that cup of espresso to my dark room, I’ll be most thankful.

What advice do you have for Steinhardt’s aspiring songwriters?

Our goal in the Steinhardt songwriting concentration is to help our students be the best songwriters they can be as they define it. We’re not here to teach anyone how to write “hit” songs, as we’ve concluded that can’t be done, nor is it particularly healthy for the creator or the art and craft.

My advice is to be true to your heart and your inspirations, learn well the tools of the trade — one of our missions is to teach those tools — then go out and use them to build what you envision.