Bobby Brackins wants his due credit. And why shouldn’t he? The songwriter behind hits for everyone from Ty Dolla $ign to DJ Khaled’s 2017 song of the summer, “I’m The One,” has been working hard to build his musical legacy. Starting off in the Bay Area as a member of Go Dav, Brackins went on to record solo material and stumbled into songwriting when he realized he just wasn’t a fan of what his features brought to the table.
“Whenever I wanted someone to feature on my own songs, I really didn’t like what they would write, so I would just be like ‘Use this idea,’” Brackins tells me over the phone. “Eventually, people would be like, ‘Could you help me write my own song?’ I'd be like, ‘Sure!’ That’s how I got into it. I never thought I would be writing songs for other people; people just started asking me because I was writing their parts on my songs.”
From there, Bobby evolved into one of the more sought-after songwriters in the industry. He prefers working in-studio but also has a demo folder of songs he’s ready to send out to artists. From that demo folder, he placed “I’m The One,” which was originally a song he made for himself. “The whole beat was in the demo folder and it ended up becoming something DJ Khaled wanted to use,” he says.
With plaques to his name, Brackins admits that the hardest part about being a songwriter is the lack of recognition and the poor splits. While there are services like Royalty Exchange, which help songwriters monetize their catalogs, most songwriters have to fight for their splits as a means to generate an income and remain cash flow positive—that is, unless they have a great team.
“I do suggest you get strong management and good team,” Bobby says. “People that will help protect you and help fight for you… There should be more rules and regulations to protect songwriters because a lot of songwriters are making the biggest songs out there, but some songwriters aren’t even able to properly cover their rent.”
While working on his own music, Bobby hopes that the climate for songwriters will change over time. He’s looking forward to more paid dues, and more fair pay. In the meantime, read our full conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, below.
DJBooth: How did you first get into songwriting?
Bobby Brackins: I never even knew I was gonna get into songwriting, because I was in a group at first, in the Bay. Then I started doing my own stuff as Young Bob, and then as Bobby Brackins. I would always write the hooks for people on my own songs, and then they would start asking me to write them songs. Whenever I wanted someone to feature on my own songs, I really didn’t like what they would write, so I would just be like “Use this idea.” Eventually, people would be like, “Could you help me write my own song?” I'd be like, “Sure!” That’s how I got into it. I never thought I would be writing songs for other people; people just started asking me because I was writing their parts on my songs.
Break down your preferred process working with artists.
I like to be in the studio with people, so I can kinda feel their energy. I like to try to put myself in their shoes so it’s easier to do it in person. Sometimes, I’ll write a song and I’ll be like “This song’s great,” but it might not be something I wanna use for my project. I just have a folder of demo songs. I’ll just put [songs] in the demo folder and see who it might make sense for.
What’s your best placement from that folder?
The demo folder one would be “I’m The One,” the DJ Khaled, Justin Bieber one. The whole beat was in the demo folder and it ended up becoming something DJ Khaled wanted to use.
Do you ever think about how big your songs could become?
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Really, [I'm] just trying to make as good a song as possible. Certain songs, I know, are really special. Sometimes [songs] don’t get picked up super fast. Sometimes it could take a month, or a couple of years, for them to all land in the right place. Sometimes I know songs could be huge, but I never get too excited because I know how long the process could be of finding the right home for a song.
What’s the hardest part of being a songwriter?
Honestly, it’s just you don’t really get that much credit. If a song gets really, really big… Nobody really gives you just dues. The money could be cool, but I don’t really do this for money. I do this for my legacy. I could write the whole song and it does amazing for someone, and people don’t even know I was a part of it. Which could be frustrating because this was my vision. It gets frustrating when people don’t know when you’re part of something so major.
Award shows… They give the award to the artist, but a lot of the music awards don’t give just dues to songwriters, which is [also] really frustrating. For movies, the director or the scriptwriter, they’re gonna get credit for their work or their vision. And the actors are gonna get credit for carrying out their vision. In the music world, the songwriter is the director or the scriptwriter, and then the artist is the actor, but the songwriter doesn’t get any credit.
How do you keep from getting discouraged?
Just keep making music, you know? Interviews like this get people aware, and hopefully, the GRAMMYs and all these other awards start giving more recognition to people behind the scenes. The music awards are really superficial and only wanna recognize the artist, but most artists don’t write their own music. It’s up to the songwriters. There’s very few artists who are writing 100 percent of their own songs. That’s super rare. It would be cool for songwriters to get their just due. Until then, interviews… And I’m back on working on my own music. It’s all about keeping busy and keeping motivated.
What is one thing you would change so that songwriters are more fairly compensated?
Songwriters just gotta put their foot down and be like, “No.” A lot of songwriters are happy to get their first placement. You work, you work, you work for years and a big artist finally wants to use a song… But there should be more rules and regulations to protect songwriters because a lot of songwriters are making the biggest songs out there, but some songwriters aren’t even able to properly cover their rent. Or live comfortably. But artists who got the songs are buying mansions and foreign vehicles.
At the end of the day, some people gotta put their foot down until they’re compensated fairly. It’s not gonna happen overnight. You gotta pay your dues to be able to make things happen, but most songwriters have overpaid their dues. Me, especially, I know I have. That’s why I’m back working on my own project because no other artist can take away [percentages]. You gotta find the happy medium of not feeling taken advantage of, but also feel comfortable with what you’re putting out there and being able to make some money.
What song should you have received more money for writing?
There’s a bunch of ‘em. Honestly, almost every song I’ve worked on… I feel like that’s a diplomatic way of putting it. Almost every song I worked on, I feel like I should’ve gotten a bigger percentage. You gotta swallow your pride, every now and then, to be able to keep the lights on. Most songwriters who feel the same way I do, the main thing I can do is suggest: put out your own project. Hopefully, it starts streaming or getting some recognition. Otherwise, dealing with everybody’s ego is just a give and take situation.
Ending on a high, what is your favorite thing about being a songwriter?
It’s just about having the freedom to do whatever I wanna do. Being able to do what you love, that’s one of the greatest gifts. It can be lucrative to be a songwriter and I do suggest you get strong management and good team. People who will help protect you and help fight for you. But the best thing about being a songwriter is I genuinely like to write.
Royalty Exchange is sponsoring this series of interviews with the people behind the music you love. They build tools, like the Know Your Worth tool, and offer services to help producers, songwriters, and artists build a bigger future.