Producer Eliot Kennedy behind some of pop music's biggest songs reveals secret to a hit

Eliot Kennedy has worked with everyone from Aretha Franklin to the Spice Girls.
Eliot Kennedy has worked with everyone from Aretha Franklin to the Spice Girls. Photo credit: Supplied & Getty Images.

From Aretha Franklin to Five, record producer Eliot Kennedy has worked with some of the music industry's most popular artists. 

The English songwriter reckons it's about eight or nine of his hits that have made it to number one which includes Bring It All Back by S Club 7, Billie Piper's Day and Night and Say You'll Be There - the Spice Girls' second chart-topper. 

Kennedy grew up in Sydney, his parents then immigrating when he was just three years old before moving back to the UK when he was 12. His father was a musician and picked up the keyboard after one was brought home. 

"I was just able to play it, I don't really know why, I was able to play the melodies that Dad used to sing," he says. 

Kennedy, who touts Gary Barlow as his best friend, learned the structure of classic songs and the relationship of melody, chords and bass just by playing along and learning as he went. 

"I'd chosen that I was going to be a songwriter, and make music for my life, and I just had to make that work," he says. 

"Anyone from school who remembers me, remembers me as the guy sitting at the piano in the main hall of the school every lunchtime and break-time. I just couldn't get enough of it." 

The hitmaker touts Gary Barlow as his best mate and says the pair bonded over an ability to learn music directly through playing it.
The hitmaker touts Gary Barlow as his best mate and says the pair bonded over an ability to learn music directly through playing it. Photo credit: Getty Images.

A turning point for Kennedy was being told by his school headmaster to ditch studies to pursue his intuitive creative skill. 

The educator asked him what he was doing next year and when Kennedy told him he would be returning to school, the headmaster said: "Why? You're lucky, you know what you want to do. What are you waiting for?" 

It was the best single piece of advice he ever received, promptly inspired to go out and get a job as a tea boy in a recording studio.

"That was the beginning of all of it all," he says. 

He says recently he went back to the old school after organising to do some gigs, raising funds for schools. 

"I found that old headmaster and I gave him a multi-platinum Spice Girls album plaque and got him up on stage and said 'if you had not given me that one piece of advice to get out and get on with it, this wouldn't have happened, I wouldn't have written all those songs' so it was a really special moment." 

Those songs include one which scored the lyricist a nomination alongside Byran Adams for the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song for Never Gonna Break My Faith from the 2006 film Bobby  

The work was used for the motion picture, about the day Bobby Kennedy was killed, and was sung by Aretha Franklin and Mary J Blige. 

"It was the most difficult song I've ever written because it needed to be the best song I've ever written."

So, from a man who has written for the best in the business, what does it take to create a song that truly resonates with others in such a powerful way it can garner the attention of the world over? 

"The songs that connect with people, the ones that actually become part of the soundtrack of people's lives, are written through absolute honesty and sometimes a little bit of pain.

"Let's be honest, as human beings we tend to only learn anything through pain and that's what unites us most of the time - the one Universal leveller that we've all experienced."

He says if you're really able to be honest while creating a piece of music, there's a likelihood there's someone out there who listened to it and felt that once too. 

"If you can connect that to a voice that can convey that emotion, that real artists do, which is transfer emotion, then you have the magic ingredients." 

Kennedy admits it was an incredible thing to learn and a difficult formula to put into action but he learned through writing songs for the most talented artists that nothing but honesty works. 

With a reputation now preceding him, Kennedy is no stranger to lending his expertise gained from a successful career spanning more than 25 years on talent shows, he recently featured on XVenture Family Challenge, airing on Three, after his dear friend - the show's the creator Mike Conway - asked for him to get involved.  

The Grammy Award-nominated songwriter worked with XVenture to create a music challenge where families have to create their own song using a piece of music composed by him.  

Kennedy talked to Conway about setting a musical challenge so that even if people aren't particularly musical the whole family can get involved. 

As part of the show, a special opportunity was put forward to schools and viewers at home to be able to win a masterclass delivered by Eliot at a school among other prizes. 

"It's about recognising the individual strengths and putting that together as a team and as a family." 

He says focusing on projects that help aspiring musicians is important to him these days to help others tap into their creativity while at the same time bringing loved ones together. 

"I just think it's a fantastic way of promoting family values." 

Head to here for competition details. Closes Sunday 19th May.  If you missed XVenture Family Challenge, you can watch it on ThreeNow.