Marty Panzer: An Interview with a Master Lyricist
By Virginia Emrick
Those who can, do...and if we're very lucky, they also teach.
In a throw-away world, finding something that's built to
last takes effort. Learning to build such a thing takes skill, perseverance,
and a bit of guidance.
Since 1994, master lyricist Marty Panzer has provided
songwriting guidance to all levels of writers, encouraging them to write lyrics
that succeed and endure. Something Marty knows a lot about.
In his 30-plus years in the music industry, Marty has
garnered 35 gold and platinum albums, four BMI million-play awards, a 3-million play
award, and record sales in excess of 70 million units. Pretty impressive.
But, he didn’t start out as a lyricist, or even to BE a
After high school, Marty began working in the mailroom at
CBS, where he met Barry Manilow, another mailroom employee. Though they grew up
in the same neighborhood and went to the same schools, they were unknown to
each other, until they stood face-to-face at CBS.
At that moment, Marty’s life took an unexpected, and magical,
Fueled by their passion for music, and Barry’s desire to
break into the music business, the two started writing commercial jingles and
songs. Frequent visitors to the CBS rehearsal rooms, they developed a collaboration, and friendship, that continues
to this day.
Eventually, Barry Manilow left CBS to pursue a music career
full time – becoming an arranger and accompanist for up-and-coming singers, a
music director for Bette Midler, and a performer in his own right.
Though Marty remained at CBS, moving from the mailroom to
become Manager of CBS Air Control, he and Barry continued to write together.
They turned out hit after hit – standards such as “Even Now,” “This One’s for You,” “It’s a Miracle,” and “All the
They were in sync,
and it showed in their successes.
“Barry and I both hear, and love, the same things. Because of that…we always know how to please
each other…and we always complement each other, perfectly. We both have the
same vision. That’s not easy to find, in a collaboration,” Marty states.
Sixteen years after
entering the mailroom at CBS, Marty left CBS, and a job he loved, to focus
fully on his lyrics. He began writing with other composers, but discovered it
wasn’t always easy finding that perfect blend of work ethic and collaborative
chemistry, that right mix of heart and focus, that “unimaginable bond” he had
found with Barry Manilow.
“For some people…writing is a ‘job.’ It’s producing a ‘product,’
not a creation. Those people are more impressed, by volume, than quality. More focused on dance beats, than
“In a bizarre, but very profound way…for me…collaborating on
a song is like co-parenting. It takes an enormous amount of commitment, and comes
with an enormous amount of responsibility. I want my lyrics to succeed, and endure… and that takes a greater commitment than many collaborators
are able to give.”
right people existed in the world, and Marty found them. They go by the names
Steve Dorff and Don Grady.
With Steve Dorff,
Marty wrote “Through the Years,” a Kenny Rogers’ classic; “I Want a Son,” also
sung by Kenny Rogers; “Something Bigger than Me,” recorded by Dolly Parton for
the animated film “Annabelle’s Wish;” and “I’ll Love You Back to Life,”
recorded by Davis Gaines.
Of all the lyrics
he’s ever written, “I’ll Love You Back to Life” remains Marty’s all-time
favorite. “If you put me in a Cuisinart…that’s what would come out.”
successful collaboration with Steve Dorff, Marty began writing with Don Grady,
of “My Three Sons” fame.
It all started in
1995 when Don needed a collaborator for the MGM Grand Hotel’s production “EFX.”
Don was introduced to Marty, by Doreen Ringer Ross at BMI, and a lasting relationship
Marty wrote dialogue for the “Houdini” segment of the show, and also the
lyric to “Tonight,” which was set to music by Don. A year later, Marty wrote an
additional eight songs for the revamped show, which ran for more than seven
years, in Las Vegas.
Together, they’ve written over one
hundred songs for Disney, including a new theme for “Winnie the Pooh,” the
first eight volumes of the DVD series “Magic English,” and songs for the
first-ever live-action interactive featurette for the DVD Masterpiece Edition
of “Alice in Wonderland.”
They’ve also written and produced three CDs of new songs for the legendary Disney Princesses, a complete
song-score for “The Chronicles of Narnia,” and two episodes of the
direct-to-DVD series “History’s Heroes,” for American Animation Studios.
And, they’re not done yet.
“My collaboration with Don Grady works…because of Don Grady. He inspires me, with his enthusiasm. When I
think I’ve taken my last breath…I just have to hear his voice…and I’m renewed.
Writing with Don is exciting…and joyful. Because, he is.”
It’s this shared passion, for music and for excellence, that
feeds Marty’s mentoring of other songwriters.
After Glenn Frey (of the Eagles) left his teaching position
at UCLA, Marty began his own Master Class: Writing
Lyrics That Succeed and Endure. Each winter, Marty offers writers a glimpse
into the craft of writing successful lyrics. Lyrics that will last through
time. Songs where the most important element “…is that it touches you. That it
makes you smile…or laugh…or cry. ‘To change the complexion of the day…That is
the highest art.’”
The year 2011 finds Marty bringing his Master Class to his
hometown, New York City, for the first time. There he hopes to share not only
his passion, but also the experiences he’s had, as a master lyricist.
When asked which one songwriting experience he wishes he
could share with every beginning writer, Marty replied:
“The moment I realized the importance of developing your own
voice. When I began to hear words and phrases that sounded uniquely like me. When I heard the real Marty Panzer, in my lyrics…I happily realized that that was my greatest strength.
Sounding…in a song…as I do in real life. It’s something every songwriter should
aspire to. It’s a quality that no one else has. You eliminate all competition.
No one else is you. Just find your
What other suggestions, or imperatives, does Marty have for
“To realize your maximum creative potential…you must LIVE
the fullest life you can. READ…I read voraciously. Be AWARE. Listen to the
world around you. What people are thinking…what people are feeling. And… always write something that is unique. Do your homework…check your idea against the universe of
music that’s available to everyone today. When you think everything’s been said
already…Remember…the Eagles thought of ‘Desperado.’
Bruce Johnston thought of ‘I Write
the Songs.’ Michael Jackson thought of ‘Billy
Jean.’ And…oh…yes…Yip Harburg
thought of ‘Over the Rainbow.’”
“And, also remember…quality still matters.
“No matter what anyone tells you… and no matter what you may
hear on the radio, online, or anywhere live…quality still matters. It matters to everyone who will ever listen to your
songs. They might not even know it…but if you give them something important, something beautiful…something profound…something that touches
them…they will respond to it. You will have changed the complexion of the day.
“It’s like falling in love. No matter how cynical, or
oblivious we are…it’s an irresistible force.”
As far as rules go, “there’s only one rule in
songwriting….The same rule that’s in glassblowing…Make it the very best it can
be. If I’ve heard it before…or heard it done better…you’ve lost me. It must be rich…it must be real…it must be heartfelt. Use
the language, and all its rhymes and rhythms… Don’t disparage the great
templates of songwriting… Honor them. Use them, as all great writers have…to
tell your own story. In your own voice.”
“Rules are not impediments. Rules are support.”
When analyzing a song, “I look for the heart of the writer. I look for an eternal truth, told in an
“Is it clear?…Is it
unique?…Does it move me?…Does it surprise me?…Can I hear the writer’s voice, in the lyric?
“When you hear a second
verse, repeating the same idea you just heard in the first verse…it’s over. The writer had one idea, and after the
first verse…had said all they had to say.”
“Be sure, when choosing a subject, that it has enough depth,
to explore and develop, so that you can create an interesting, and evolving
lyric. An idea that can’t all be said in the first verse.”
Truth, heart, and depth. In your own voice. That’s how you
write lyrics that succeed and endure. That’s how you become…the next Marty
To learn more about Marty, his master classes in Los Angeles
or New York, and all his projects, visit www.martypanzer.com.
is an award-winning writer whose work crosses multiple genres. Industry honors
include the 2011 NJ Communications, Advertising & Marketing Association (NJ
CAMA) award for website redesign; Song of the Year’s 2011 Collective Works
award; Honorable Mention in the Billboard World Song Competition; selection
into the 2009 Lawrence Playfest (Lawrence, NJ); and winner of Marty Panzer’s
“Barry Manilow Scholarship for Writing Lyrics that Succeed and Endure.”
She can be contacted through her website at www.virginiaemrick.com.