The Writer’s Block: Sought After Composer Andrew Joslyn Talks Hard Work, String Writing, and Hustling

Composer, songwriter, and performer Andrew Joslyn has worked with some of the biggest names in music—as you will see below—from Macklemore & Ryan Lewis to Mark Lanegan, Heart’s Nancy Wilson, Leslie Odom Jr., and The Head and the Heart. He also penned string arrangements for the new Fresh Prince of Bel-Air reboot.

In fact, Joslyn is one of the most sought-after string composers in popular music, offering his compositions on many of the aforementioned artists’ songs. Here, we caught up with the musician to ask him about his writing process, how he’s linked up with these award-winning musicians, how much it takes to hustle to make a career, and much more.

American Songwriter: How did you get started in songwriting?

Andrew Joslyn: I wrote my own debut record at the start of 2015, and did the entirety of the topline [melody composition], production, orchestral arrangements, and lyrics all on my own. I had years of being a gun for hire with pop arranging and as a session strings player and contractor prior to that, so I had a lot of experience being in the studio, and working on chart-topping songs and pieces. It wasn’t until I went through the entire process on my own (start to finish), that I really got a first taste of how to go down the rabbit hole of crafting a great song. I got signed with BMG a couple of years later and got partnered up with a lot of writers in songwriting camps, and that is where I really had to hone the craft and expand my toolkit beyond traditional arranging and composition.

AS: What do you believe goes into writing a hit song?

AJ: I believe in the power of the topline, and that once you strip away all of the production, bells, and whistles, if the vocal line can stand on its own as a powerful, captivating song by itself, then you know you have something special . Hit songs are such a bizarre concept since you don’t really know what will capture the imagination of the public and become viral, or what won’t. So, the best you can do is focus on the pursuit of the craftsmanship of it all.

AS: Have you ever experienced writer’s block and how did you get past it?

AJ: For the last couple of years, I’ve always been in situations where I’m writing songs for a specific project, and time is of the essence, so in those moments, there really isn’t time to have writer’s block. I try and focus on the craft and process of building the tune within the time given, and usually, those constraints lead to beautiful results. I just try and trust the process when collaborating with other writers.

When I try and write songs for myself, or for my own projects, I hit writer’s blocks snags a lot. When the timeline is open-ended, I always find myself struggling to finish a tune. In that way, I have found that setting deadlines for stuff is the way to move the needle in the right direction and actually finish songs.

AS: When working with other artists, what is that spark, or the moment when you know it’s going to be a good session or a great song?

AJ: If it is a good hang from the start—also if you and the other songwriters in the session all agree on the “concept” of the song, and also agree on focusing on the sanctity of the song itself. It gets really hard to collaborate with other writers if they are just focused on injecting themselves into a song, just for the sake of it, and having their egos held in higher regard than the song itself. I think once you know you’re in a room of professionals, they have checked their egos at the door, and the vibe is good, it is only a matter of time for that ‘spark’ to just take hold and help the session take off.

AS: Is it hard to let a song go?

AJ: I try and not get too precious with stuff I work on. There is always a next time. There is a fine balance of getting a song to a level of perfection, but you can kill something beautiful by overthinking it.

AS: What was the biggest turning point in taking your songwriting to the next level?

AJ: I used to want to overdo the production theatrics side of making the songs big and epic, and overwhelming the song itself, but have learned over and over, that the words and vocal melody need to always come first no matter what. When I write orchestral arrangements, I always try and make sure that I carve the whole orchestra around the vocals, in a really beautiful symbiotic relationship.

I think one of the biggest turning points though is when I was brought in to co-write Leslie Odom Jr.’s first album Mr. down at Skywalker Ranch in California back in 2019. I met some of the top writers in the industry right now and being in the room with them, and collaboratively working together on Leslie’s record was so life-changing. There was no ego and everyone was so giving of their talents, and we all found the best spaces where our talents helped the best with the overall project. There was a singular focus, everyone falling in line, and an overabundance of love and enthusiasm to make the best art possible. I feel like that experience has set the bar with every other thing I’ve worked on since.

AS: Tell me about the songwriting process for your recent collaboration on the new theme song for the remake of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air?

AJ: The producer Ben Allen and rapper Easy McCoy came up to my home recording studio for that song, and I tracked and arranged a ton of strings on the song right there with them in the room. At the time I had no idea that it could potentially have the life it has now as the theme for The Fresh Prince of Bel-Airand I was just happy to be involved in its creation with a great team of writers.

AS: What are your most noteworthy achievements today, in your own mind?

AJ: My primary career in the industry is still as an orchestral producer, pop arranger, so my most recent achievements have been in that world. I had a major show with Nancy Wilson (from Heart) with the Seattle Symphony, and am about to perform with The Head and the Heart on Jimmy Fallon

A couple of months ago I jumped into a new impressed writing camp for a new album for Leslie Odom Jr., and I’m really and excited by the songs that the writing team came up with for that project—there is a tune or two in that batch which I feel are some of the best I’ve done to date. Only time will tell though if they will ultimately make it onto the album or not. Regardless, it is going to be a veritable gem of a record, and I’m just proud to have been involved in its development.

Photo courtesy Andrew Joslyn

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