The New Citizens Press Q & A: A back-to-school interview with Ne-Yo

By Joe Walker
The New Citizens Press

Ne-Yo is one of the most requested writers in the music business today. He has penned hit songs for Beyonce, Mary J. Blige, Mario, Rihanna, and himself. Both of his platinum-selling albums – “In My Own Words” and “Because Of You” – reached the top of the sales charts off the strength of Ne-Yo’s writing ability; ability he began to fine-tune by going to school. He pushed his pen and paper aside to speak with us about his education and songwriting skill.

TNCP – You write very articulate and creative songs. How did your education play a part in that?

Ne-Yo – I went to a performing arts high school my first three years of high school. I went to Las Vegas Academy for Theater and Performing and Visual Arts. After that I went to a regular high school, which was Rancho High School in Las Vegas. Other than that there was no real training. It was just something that came natural. I used to read a lot as well as write. I would read books, and structure my story around the structure of the book I just read.

TNCP – So is that where your writing career officially began?

Ne-Yo – You know what? I honestly don’t know. I think it started out with journal entries. I used to be that little boy who walked around with a journal, writing down everything that happened to me throughout the day. I just loved the feeling of writing down anything. I used to make up a lot of short stories. I have a very vivid imagination. I used to make up stories and include all my friend’s names in them. I wasn’t the real cool kid in school. Writing was my way of getting in with the in-crowd. I would write a story and put the cool kids names in it. Then I’d sit down and read the story to them.

TNCP – Dealing with your peers is challenging at that age. What, as a songwriter, has been your biggest creative challenge?

Ne-Yo -I honestly feel I could write a song about a ham sandwich and make you feel it. But there are songs for the masses and then there are songs for your self. I can’t just write songs for myself because not everybody’s mind works like mine. I’ll write a song that is very artistic and creative, or left of center. That’ll be a song that I’ll absolutely love, but the average listener is like what are you talking about? So I’m trying to find the line between writing songs using lyrics and topics that I really like, and at the same time having them relatable.

TNCP – When you’ve written a song and begin to practice the song, do you pay attention to how you sound singing the song, or are you listening to hear if what you are singing makes sense?

Ne-Yo – Both. I try to do both at the same time. A lot of times in song writing, a problem that a lot of writers run into is that they get so caught up in the melody, the backgrounds and harmonies that the story that they’re trying to write suffers. The melodies are dope but the song is all over the place because the focus of the story was lost. What I do is I stop singing it and just read it back like a regular story or poem. You can get away with a lot of filler when you’re singing a song. A lot of times people aren’t listening to what you’re saying as much as how your voice sounds when you say it. I make sure everything is dope. I make sure everything makes sense.

TNCP – If you start writing something that is not going the way you want, do you come back to it later or do you scrap it and start from scratch?

Ne-Yo – I don’t like to quit. If it’s not hot right off the top, I just look at it as this is one I’m going to have to think about a little harder. Some songs write themselves in ten or fifteen minutes. Others take a little longer. I look at every track like a safe. The song is the code to crack the safe. You just have to figure out the combination to get to the hit that’s inside.