Jon Udell: “Learn the structure of a pop song”

Learn the structure of a pop song. It isn’t just writing melody. If your song doesn’t have an acceptable pop song structure, anyone familiar with the music business will know it. As a part of our series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Jon Udell. Jon Udell is a songwriter. […]

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Learn the structure of a pop song. It isn’t just writing melody. If your song doesn’t have an acceptable pop song structure, anyone familiar with the music business will know it.


As a part of our series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Jon Udell.

Jon Udell is a songwriter. Growing up surrounded by music, Jon’s older sister sang soprano opera and gave singing lessons, while his cousin, Peter Udell, won a Tony as a lyricist for Purlie and wrote lyrics for The Carpenters, Brian Hyland, and others.

Some of Udell’s biggest musical influences have been the Beatles, Kris Kristofferson, Joan Baez, and Burt Bacharach. A combination of balladry and up-tempo contemporary, Udell’s music is a blend of clever lyrics, singular melody and catchy rhythm.

Udell has worked with music producers such as renowned American multi-platinum producer Dito Godwin; John Keller, who produced Udell’s “A Place to Find You”; David Majzlin, the late Brian Taylor, and vocalist Billy Valentine. In 2019, his doo wop tune “The Night I Fell For You ” was a finalist for “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Dito Godwin describes Jon Udell,” as a true songwriter and champion of lyrics.”

Currently, Jon is back in California and working on new music. Jon Udell’s newest single “Moorea” was just released on The Orchard music distribution under Johnny and The Udells.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in a conventional middle-class household. My sister sang in the shower, and I watched baseball. I became studious, and my sister was interested in music.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

In 2006, while a California attorney with no thought of songwriting as a calling, I had a dream containing the strand of a melody. The next morning, I recorded it onto a tape recorder.

In 2007, I completed “California Girl”, the product of my 2006 dream. By 2008, I had 25 new songs. I was in a new environment with new visual cues, including a picture window from which I could see as far as New Jersey.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I was at the doctor’s office, and they heard one of my songs come on my phone, and they blurted out how much they liked the song; they had no idea I was the songwriter. They just liked the song.

Another interesting thing is that after I started writing music, I was acquainted with my realization that my cousin once removed, Peter, who was a generation older was a successful person in the music business. He won a Tony for a Broadway play, was nominated for another Tony, and wrote lyrics for the carpenters and other groups.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made, and what you learned from that?

I’m not sure if any of my mistakes would be considered funny, but the biggest mistake was when I was starting out and trying to get my music heard. I wound up obtaining a music attorney who charged by the hour, and his advice was, don’t pay a song plugger to plug your songs. I think I probably paid the music attorney 500 dollars for that gem. I think that would be funny in the way of watching someone else slip on a banana peel. I learned: don’t pay a music attorney or a song plugger.

What are some of the most interesting projects you are working on now?

I am writing a song for an actress who is pitching a reality show to various outlets including cable television and streaming. I can’t be more specific because the nature of the project is currently confidential.

You have been blessed with success and a career path that can be challenging — do you have any words for people who want to embark on the same career path but are daunted by failure?

Listen to current popular music in the genre or genres you write in order to get an idea of what is considered pop or commercially successful. On the other hand, don’t follow the conventional advice of limiting yourself to only one genre. Many highly successful songwriters can write in a variety of genres including such legends as Neil Young and The Beatles.

We are interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons you are interested in seeing diversity in film and television, and how that affects the culture?

Talent should be the only criterion for a songwriter. To the extent individuals of only a certain race, gender, or ethnic group are in film or television, reduction in quality is inevitable. I recently saw a television adaptation of a play entitled A Raisin in the Sun that was written by Lorraine Hansberry. It was engrossing and, if I may say so, brilliant. The TV adaptation starred Sidney Poitier.

What are your five things you wish someone told you when you first started, and why? Please share a story and example for each.

  1. Don’t pay a song plugger. I did, and he never attained any results for me and considered his value based on his efforts and not results. I was with him on and off for a few years. He supposedly did rep songs to really reputable singers, and all they did was keep me on hold, and meanwhile, I had to keep paying the song plugger.
  2. Don’t pay a music attorney unless you already are successful. It’s my experience that a music attorney is only going to help you out when they need you more than you need them when you are already successful and don’t need a music attorney.
  3. Don’t join any outfit where you pay for membership and must enter a competitive contest just to be ultimately placed in a music library. It makes you think that just being considered by a music library is the ultimate goal, whereas the ultimate goal is to have a placement in a film or TV show through a music library. If you don’t know what a music library is, it’s a storehouse for songs that are kept by organizations that need songs, such as television production companies.
  4. I wish someone had told me that you can’t overstate the importance of networking. Unfortunately, it has been my experience that success in the music business has often been determined by who you know and not, as they say, what you know.
  5. Learn the structure of a pop song. It isn’t just writing melody. If your song doesn’t have an acceptable pop song structure, anyone familiar with the music business will know it.

Which tips would you recommend to colleagues in your industry to help them thrive and not burn out?

Write for yourself and not commodification. Find inspiration. If you don’t find inspiration, you can use up your creative reserves. Inspiration consists first and foremost from events and or places and people outside yourself.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could insure a movement that would bring the most good to the most people, what would that be?

I agree with Carole King, who says in her song “Beautiful” that attitude in life and in the music business counts for a lot.

None of us were able to be successful without help along the way. Can you share a story about that?

I’m grateful to all the people I’ve worked with, consisting of vocalists, producers, and musicians. The person who has helped me the most to achieve my goals is my current producer, Dito Godwin, who knows my goals and has taken steps to help me achieve them.

Can you give us your favorite “life lesson”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

If you’re talking about a quote from a famous person, I recommend Saul Bellow, who says, “When we ask for advice, we are usually looking for an accomplice.” Another Bellow saying is, “There is no limit to the amount of intelligence invested in ignorance when the need for illusion runs deep.”

My own personal advice is: “Own and take responsibility for your decisions. They will be how you judge yourself at the end of your life.”

Is there a person in the world or in the U.S. whom you’d like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

My answer is Ringo Starr — I’d like to find out how he achieved happiness and the high degree of cool he projects in interviews.

How can they follow you online?

Go to Jonathan Udell Music on Facebook.

@jonathanudellmusic

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

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