You grew up in a musical family and have been around music all your life. Did the decision to pursue a career in the field creep up on you or was it a conscious decision?
It totally snuck up on me. My family was constantly doing music around the house and the community and it was always fun. No one I knew made money at music, so I really had no idea that THAT was even a possibility.
In many careers and life stories, there are defining moments that steer a person onwards on the path to where they are today. Which song, or moment, made that crucial difference for you, if any?
That would be when I met the guys in the band that I came to Nashville with. It was an all-vocal band of four singers who wanted to start doing music with instruments. In the course of a year, I went from managing a one-hour photo shop in my hometown to being signed to a Nashville label and being on tour. Pretty crazy spin.
What was it like hearing your first song cut by a major artist on the radio for the first time?
Haha! Just imagine the scene in “That Thing You Do” when they go running through the streets screaming “our song is on the radio!!!,” that would be me, haha.
Since starting out, you’ve written songs across most genres. Is there one style in which you feel the most “at home”?
Pop is definitely where my mind lives most of the time, even if I’m working on country or christian or R&B.
Tell us about your creative process. How does normally a song come to life for you? What are your mechanics of getting an idea down? Do you record a super rough demo or do strive to get a presentable production underway right from the start?
Hmmmm, creative process… Mainly two different starting points for me. The first is when I’m not doing music, just doing everyday things around the house or when I’m in the car, an idea just pops in my head. I’ll then pull out the iPhone and mouth a version of it to a voice memo. I’ll usually do the drums first followed by any melodic, lyric or basslines in my head, all by mouth. The second way is the way most writing sessions go down. Pulling up a blank template with some instruments in it (enter EZkeys and EZdrummer) and talking to the artist and seeing if there’s anything that’s been on their mind to get out. Literally while they’re talking, something they say will spark a ‘vibe’ in my head and I’ll start pulling that together real quick to see if everyone else is feeling it.
As a professional songwriter, do you “go to work” even though you may have an empty book of ideas and no real leads? Walk us through a typical day in-the-life-of Chuck Butler.
A typical day can really vary. Some days I’m totally in production world and not writing at all. That could be a week or two at a time depending. Then some weeks I’m writing a couple days a week, sometimes more. Almost all writing sessions are with artists and not just writers writing to pitch songs. That doesn’t happen hardly any at all anymore.
On what motivates you to write, you’ve expressed that you can’t get music out of your head…but there must surely have been times when you’ve run our of ideas or hit the wall? How do you handle writer’s block?
Serious answer, haha, I go to YouTube and watch something completely unrelated to what I’m working on. An artist once commented “you’re easily distracted, aren’t you?” My answer has stuck with me as a mantra ever since: “I find inspiration in the distraction.” Sometimes I have to just step out of the studio and go to the restroom or grab a snack or take a break and grab lunch. Just something to get my head out of where it was when getting stuck. I also will intentionally seek out new music I haven’t heard or wouldn’t normally listen to to pull my brain out of a dead spot.
In the last ten plus years, you’ve written more than 345 songs (!). If you look back on your entire catalogue up until now, is there any one song that stands out to you on a personal level? A song that means a lot to you and if so, why?
Of course, but the thing is, they’re usually the ones that no one has ever heard because they weren’t ‘commercial’ enough for radio etc. “Hills and Valleys” by Tauren Wells is one that still resonates with me, from the day we wrote it until now. For me at least, I am usually a fan of other writers’ songs over my own, so when I have a song that I hear and say “man, I wish I had written that song” and it IS my song, then those are the special ones.
Even with 345 plus songs on your track record, there must be one song or artist collaboration still on your bucket list. Tell us!
My last bucket list write-to-happen was India.Arie. I have tons of writes I’d love to do, haha. John Mayer, Dua Lipa, just to name a couple. my list is still very long.
Do you enjoy writing in teams? What are some of the up and downsides of co-writing? Is it something you’d recommend to new, aspiring writers?
I would definitely recommend co-writing to anyone. For one, way less chance of hitting a block. Also, I find it super inspiring being around others that have a different take on music than I do. You learn your strengths and find others that excel in your weak areas and combine to have a great song across the board. I honestly can’t remember the last song I wrote on my own…
If you weren’t writing music for a living, what do you think you’d do for a career?
I think I’d be a lawyer or in some kind of animation job.
Finally, your number one tip to all the aspiring songwriters out there looking to get their music and voices heard?
Social media and electronic communication in general has completely changed the way we can be heard. Just make your music and throw it out there. These days it’s a totally different ballgame and landscape than when I started. You used to have to really know someone and the stream and chances of those people hearing you were really slim. So many avenues are available to a much wider pool than ever before, and it’s only going to get better in that regard.