Gino Barletta has emerged as a successful songwriter and producer in the music industry. He helped discover pop star Daya, and co-wrote two of her hits, “Hide Away” and “Sit Still, Look Pretty.” He most recently helped co-write Katy Perry’s newest single, “Never Really Over”, alongside Perry, Zedd, Dan Haywood, Leah Haywood, Dagny, Michelle Buzz, Jason Gill, and Hayley Warner.
I got the chance to talk with Gino about how he got started as a songwriter, the songwriting process for “Never Really Over”, his advice for new songwriters and so much more! Keep reading to see what he had to say!
How did you get started in songwriting?
Believe it or not, I got my start courtesy of Craigslist. I moved to LA to pursue a career as a singer, and while I was in the midst of looking for an apartment, a friend of mine told me to use Craigslist to find a place. Before I knew it, I was spending countless hours on the talent section, instead of looking for that apartment I needed. I replied to an ad from a producer who was looking for engineers, which I wasn’t; in fact, I didn’t even know what an engineer was. But his music sounded really great, and I wanted to sing for him, hoping he’d want to record me, so I emailed him for a meeting. When we met, he asked me if I was a songwriter, to which I replied, “I guess I could be!” Up until that point, I had only really done some choral arranging and orchestral composition in my music theory courses. I was by no means a seasoned pop writer, but was up for a challenge. He opened up a folder of instrumental tracks, and told me he’d give me an hour to try writing something. So, I did. Long story short, a friend of mine who had just graduated Berklee College of Music demoed the song a few weeks later, and I put it on YouTube. She was close friends with JoJo, and after posting the demo to her Facebook page, JoJo reposted it on her Tumblr page. Weeks after, I got a call from her management, asking if she could record the song, as they were looking for a single. About a year and some months later, the song (called “Disaster”) was released, went to radio, and became my first Top 40 record. Talk about luck!
Was there a specific moment or person that made you realize that being a songwriter is what you wanted to do as a full time career?
Well, if the JoJo song wasn’t that moment, I don’t possibly know what could have been! I took that as a sure sign from the universe that songwriting was a really great way into the music industry. It was also around that time that artist/writers like Sia and Ne-Yo’s stories were being told, so I felt confident that songwriting was a great entry point to the industry, bringing value as more than just as a singer. Ultimately, it’s to any label’s benefit to work with artists who can [successfully] drive their own creative train. An artist is nothing without great songs, so if you can write your own, then you’re a big step ahead.
What do you see as your greatest strength as a songwriter?
Hmmm… that probably depends on the day! I love all aspects of the writing process —— melody, concept, lyric, and production —— and am well-equipped at this point to tackle whichever I’m in the mood for. I guess my greatest strength would be my ability and want to always push for the best possible product. I think my co-writers would probably classify this as my OCD and perfectionism. I don’t like to settle on ideas too quickly, unless they feel absolutely undeniable from the instant they’re put down, so I’ll spend a lot of time questioning and reexamining things. Great songs have a balance of all components, which for me means making sure every component of the song is realized in the best way possible.
Let’s talk about Katy Perry’s new single that you cowrote, “Never Really Over”. What’s the story behind that song? What inspired it?
The concept actually came from one of my co-writers on the song, Hayley Warner, who had been carrying the title around for well over a year. She was precious about it and wanted to make sure it was done justice, so after we had developed a great rapport over the last two years, she finally felt ready to dive into it with me. Both of us had recently experienced some pretty heavy heartbreak and related about that feeling of being done with a relationship, but the emotions and memories of that relationship never really being over. The good and bad memories linger with you for quite some time, maybe even forever, no matter how much you fight to get them out of your head and heart.
I love hearing about the actual songwriting process, so what was it like for “Never Really Over”? I know there were quite a few songwriters for this song, did that make it easier or harder?
NRO had a really interesting process to it. It started with Hayley and I sitting at a piano, talking through the concept. Her initial idea was to create a beautiful heartbreak ballad, which I liked the idea of, but I thought it would be much more interesting to flip it into an uptempo song. The subject matter was already so heavy, that I thought, why not make it feel happy? Especially because, when a lot of us end relationships, we’ve all had that time (or two, or three) of calling an ex over to your place a little too late at night… and quite honestly, that’s not always a bad feeling! So, I was curious to explore putting a twist on it.
A few days later, we were in the studio with Dreamlab, and we shared the fragments of what we had started. They both loved the concept, so we spent two full days really diving into the song. By the end of day two, we knew we had something special, and Katy was the first artist that came to my mind. So, we sent it to her A&R, Chris Anokute, who loved the demo and passed it along to her. She immediately replied and said she loved what we had started and wanted to work on it. Katy is an incredible writer and a true artist, so she wanted to take the framework of what we had sent and spend some time really personalizing the record for herself. At that time, she was on tour, with Zedd opening on some of her dates, so next thing we knew, he had heard the song and wanted to get on it as well. Over the months that followed, the six of us collaborated via email mostly, tweaking lyrics, adding a bridge, finalizing production, and all the rest. Through all of that, “Never Really Over” as you hear it now was born!
How did the songwriting process for “Never Really Over” differ from your general songwriting process, if it did at all?
I don’t know that a “general” process exists in songwriting anymore. It’s always a different experience, writing music. I’ve written one hit song in 45 minutes, and another over the course of days. So much of it depends on your collaborators and what the goal of the session is. With this song, the most unique part, I’d say, was co-writing without all of the creators being in the same room together. It was also really cool hearing the song evolve once it got to Katy. With some artists, they’ll take a song from a pitch and record it exactly as it sounds in demo form, not changing lyrics or adding/taking away elements. With “Never Really Over”, there was so much magic and artistry added by Katy and Zedd, and hearing those pieces come into play was awesome.
Is it fairly easy or is it a challenge to write with an artist, and come up with concepts that they’ll be able to relate to?
Totally depends on the artist! Trust me, some of them are easy, and others… well… 🙂 Katy was a pure pleasure to collaborate with. She is not only an amazing artist and writer, but a total professional in all aspects. That made this process easy. As far as relatable concepts go, I think when you write something exceptional, based on a universal emotion, the record instantly becomes undeniable.
Going back to “Never Really Over”, were you a part of the recording process of the song in any way? If so, were there any major changes made to that happened once Katy got into the recording studio, whether it be in the lyrics or something sonically?
Katy recorded all of her vocals with Zedd, so I wasn’t in the room for that part. Though, you can catch me singing backgrounds on the record. As I mentioned before, there were a lot of changes made as the song developed, both lyrically and sonically, since Katy put her pen on the topline and Zedd stepped in to put his take on the production.
For new songwriters who want to break into the music business, is there any advice or tips you can give them?
Some of it is talent, and some of it is pure luck. So, I wouldn’t say there’s a “way in”. Just write what you know. The best songs come from real experiences. Don’t get caught up on what’s trending at the moment, because trends are fleeting and can’t always be predicted. Be yourself and tell your story, in a way that the world can relate to it.
Last question — we’re called Talk Nerdy With Us because we all have an inner nerd so what is something that you’re currently nerding out about?
My best friend recently got me to binge-watch every single Marvel movie in one month, just so that I could go to see Avengers: Endgame with him. I have to admit, it was totally worth it. Now I’m just waiting for the next Spiderman movie to come out!