Jonathan George, the founder of JG Entertainment, is an artist development coach with over 25 years of experience as a performer, songwriter and artist consultant. He is the winner of Grand Champion on Ed McMahon’s Next Big Star, and he has been a mentor to artists such as the Pussycat Dolls, artists on American Idol, Canadian Idol, America’s Got Talent, America’s Most Talented Kids, Dance Wars, as well as Lady Phoenix (formerly known as Dream on Bad Boy Records), Caitlyn Taylor Love (Disney’s “I’m With the Band”), Malese Jow (iCarley, Vampire Diaries), Joseph “Sir” Castanon (Click), and Morgan Lilly (2012, Henry Poole is Here, He’s Just Not That Into You), to name just a few. He was the 2009 Songwriter of the Year (La Music Awards) as well as the 2009 Grand Champion at the USA Songwriting Competition. Most recently, he was nominated for two LA Music Awards for songs he co-wrote. Sarah McMullen is up for Pop Artist of the Year and Madisen Hill is up for Pop Single of the Year, which are all songs Jonathan wrote with them.
Interview by Songwriters Marketplace:
Jonathan George, it’s wonderful that you agreed to do this interview, So many aspiring songwriters, we are sure, will be motivated and inspired by your story. So let’s get right to it. Briefly tell us of your background and upbringing.
I was born and raised in Dallas TX. I come from a long lineage of preachers and gospel singers and musicians. My parents were evangelists and both play multiple instruments and sing. My grandma was really big in the gospel music arena and has 4 albums. All of my cousins are great singers and instrumentalists and successful in the gospel arena as well. We were often called the White Winans! lol Our family functions were focused around the piano and singing. It is truly an amazing experience when our family gets together. I guess you can say that music is in my blood.
Your accomplishments have been remarkable. What compelled you to start writing songs?
It’s almost embarrassing to say but I can remember me and mom singing our conversations to each other…we could carry on a 30 min convo singing to each other. We made up the craziest stuff! I guess I was always coming up with songs especially to the hum of the mower or vacuum cleaner! lol I would set in our music room for hours and play the piano and sing. But it wasn’t until I was about 24 when I wrote my first full song. I was going thru a break up and wrote my entire song in about 13 minutes. Seems like I just started writing more seriously after that.
You have a Degree in music. We would imagine that most songwriters do not have a formal education in music. Did that help you in your career? What advice would you give an aspiring songwriter as to education?
My education is in a completely different part of music but it definitely has helped me. My degree is a Bachelor of Vocal Music Education. The plan was to teach high school music but after completing my internships I knew I had too much creativity to be stuck under the thumb of a school district. After graduating I performed professionally for about 10 years until landed in LA to work on my solo career. Now I develop recording artists and definitely feel my education has helped me in working with artists. Since I know the voice, I am able to write songs for artists that really set in what I call their “sweet spots”. It has also given me an appreciation of so many types of music that I am able to incorporate into my writing.
I think that any kind of education in your field can help you. I probably wouldn’t suggest a normal university but I would definitely get training on how engineer and to run music software and to learn how to play instruments, etc. Business and marketing classes will definitely help you too….learning the trade as a business will help you get so much further! Of course, natural talent can go a very long way!!!
Many songwriters have certain rituals they perform before writing a song. I myself need to hold my tongue a certain way ; ) Do you have a particular way you approach songwriting?
haha….that is funny! For me, it really depends on the situation. There are songs that pour out of me and then there are others that are more like a “job”. If it is for a particular artist and I have to create on the spot, there are several things I do that help me. I just start casual conversations with the artist and get to know about things they are going through. I start typing as they talk. In just a few minutes I have entire page full of notes. I feel like a psychologist but it is amazing how easy it is to write a song around someone’s life experiences. Often times I will come up with random made up titles and then create songs around them. But one thing I must have is a Big Gulp from 7-11 mixed 3/4 Diet Coke and 1/4 Dr. Pepper…it helps my mind set be in a great place! haha
Do you write the lyric first or the music? What is more important – melody, lyric, or rhythm? Is learning Form, or how a song is constructed, important?
I generally write lyrics first but if I have a track to write to it will generally dictate the timing and rhythm of my words and the structure of my song. It also brings a certain energy to my lyrics. I personally feel that lyrics, melody and rhythm are all equally important. It is the combination of these things that makes a great song. I do feel that a song needs some kind of form…it is what makes us remember it and makes it catchy. The form can vary depending on the genre of music…one of Lady Gaga’s songs will have a different form than a country song. All that said, I am a firm believer in knowing the rules so that you can bend them! Music is art and we all see and hear it differently. Don’t be scared to take chances!!
Is it important for a songwriter to be a generalist, or is it better to stick with one genre?
I am sure we all have a specialty but I am a lover of all kinds of music. I feel I can write a classical song for Josh Groban as easily as I could write a country song for Shania Twain. I just have to get in the mind set of what I am doing and then I can create. I don’t like living in a box and putting constraints on myself and would never want to do that to someone else. I do have to say that if you are not good at a certain genre, get with someone who is and collaborate. Collaboration is amazing!
I am songwriter/performer and my partner is a songwriter, in what way, in your thinking, is the business/artistic approach different between the two?
hmmm….not really sure. I think it depends on the person. For myself, as a songwriter/performer I understand the need to be able to perform the song and for it to fit who you are as an artist. I feel like I get the entire package. But there are “just” songwriters out there that seem to get it incredibly well….they hear it and see it in their head and just need someone to interpret it for them. Some of the worst singers I know are the biggest music fans and seem to understand the entire process.
We are sure that many of our readers will remember that you were the Grand Champion on Ed McMahon’s ‘Next Big Star’ in 2001. You wrote and performed your own song, ‘Losing All My Pride’. It’s not often that we see a performer in competitive television shows presenting their own work. That was incredibly courageous. Tell us something of the decision-making processes that lead to your winning.
You know, Next Big Star was an amazing show because it encouraged artists to sing original material. It was set up like the old Star Search but a current version. I think 9-11 blind sided the show because it was one of the best shows…much better than the talent shows that are out today. Yes, it was risky to sing my original but I went on the show not expecting to win. I wanted to have great footage of me singing my song on national TV! ha I was just thankful that people appreciated my song the way they did. I went up against some great talent and it blew me away to win that title.
You own JG Entertainment, a songwriting and artist development company. Tell us about it?
For the past 7 years I have owned JJPZ Talent Development which I started with a partner who was a dancer. What once started out as a singing/dancing training company became a full fledged artist development company. I have been running the company solo for the past 5 years and I have had the opportunity to work with some amazing artists. I develop artist in every capacity: vocal training and styling, performance coaching, imaging, songwriting, production, complete packaging, etc. We do what the labels used to do for artists. After having so many artists in my reach, I started JG Entertainment so that I can take them to a much more professional level in their careers. JG Entertainment allows me to manage artists, songwriters, and producers as well as produce things such as concerts, tv shows and big events. It allows me to keep everything under one roof….we are a big happy family!
You still write songs and win awards. You spend a great deal of your time developing young talent. How do you balance the two?
Like I said before, my company allows me to keep everything under one roof. I write with the artists that I am developing, which are the songs that are winning awards. It goes hand in hand and the product comes out much more effective because we know the artist inside and out. We write the song, create the vocal styling and sound as well as create the videos and stage shows around it, and then launch it. It is an assembly line of sorts and it is something I now can do easily. The challenging but fun part is figuring out the right sound and style for the artist.
Looking back at your career as a songwriter/performer, what would you do differently?
Not sure that I would do anything differently because all of my experiences have led me to where I am. Often times I get frustrated that things aren’t moving fast enough but I often learn that I wasn’t ready for what was ahead. I have always lived my life with a goal in mind but am able to go with the flow. I don’t sweat the small stuff….and it is all small stuff!
Today’s music business is in turmoil. It’s perhaps more difficult for songwriters and songwriter/performers to make a buck. The Internet has changed everything. What‘s your take on the direction the Industry is going?
I think that the internet has given so many people a voice and a chance to make it. As a businessman, I see it as opportunity. I think the internet has given power to artists and writers that the labels once had. Not knocking the labels but I feel it has given people a real chance. With everything there is a good and a bad side to…it’s all in where and what you decide to focus your attention.
Education is important to you and you created a “Stay In School” Concert Tour Tell us about it.
More important than education, to me, is building self-esteem in youth. Staying in school is just part of what builds someone’s self-esteem. I take great artists out on the road with me and we teach kids to love themselves and that it is okay to be different…to celebrate differences. People generally drop out of school due to the effect of their own or other’s low self-esteem, which is a shame. Low self-esteem is something that we all have or still struggle with. It’s amazing to be able to take the artists that I have developed and teach them the importance of being a voice and light for others.
Thank you Jonathan for so generously sharing your thoughts and your knowledge. In closing, the obvious question that matters so very much –
What would be the best advice you could give an aspiring songwriter or a songwriter/performer?
Recently I read an artist’s Facebook page that read something like this…”I have come to a point in my life that I have to choose to be an artist or to live a normal life.” I asked him, “What is normal?” Never set limitations on yourself. Go for what you want….create a goal board for yourself and you will figure out how to get there. Stop thinking….just do it! Create friendships because this business is a business of relationships…there are so many talented people out there….but people choose who they know! Also, always carry a recorder of sorts or a pad and paper by your bed so that you can record your ideas….record them immediately because if you are like me the phone will ring and you will forget that you even had a thought in the first place! lol Also, I am always looking for great songs for artists…if you think you have a hit please send it my way!!! Thanks so much for the interview…I hope this is beneficial to someone out there!