On his birthday, Eric Bellinger might be excused for wanting time off. Instead, he’s discussing his craft in a Sunset Boulevard coffee emporium before heading to the studio for a session with the hit writing and production team, the Underdogs (Mario, Mary J. Blige, Tyrese), after which he will confer with a director to review a preliminary edit of his new video. With “Let Me See” by Usher, “The Woman You Love,” the title song to the film Think Like a Man by Jennifer Hudson and Ne-Yo, plus two songs, “Right Here” featuring Drake and “Thought of You,” on Justin Bieber’s multiplatinum Believe, Bellinger is on a roll.
Immediately forthcoming are a pair of cuts for the new Chris Brown release, X, including the lead single, “Fine China.” For the project, Brown set a virtual songwriting factory at Glenwood Place Recording Studios, “with writers and producers in every room pumping out songs like Motown,” he says.
Bellinger is a young man with old-school bloodlines. His grandfather, Bobby Day, wrote and recorded the ‘50s hit “Rockin’ Robin,” penned “Little Bitty Pretty One” for Thurston Moore and Dave Clark Five’s “Over and Over.” Bellinger recalls going to his grandpa’s house and seeing his studio, but it was football, not music, that held his interest.
But this changed. As a teenager, Bellinger met Erika Nuri of the hit songwriting and production team The Writing Camp. But his mother—remembering the turbulent career of her father, Bobby Day—was skeptical of moving too fast. “My mom told me, ‘Wait until you finish school.’ So I did, and then I called Erika. I didn’t even have any songs, but she took a shot.” Bellinger was subsequently to The Writing Camp and Sony Music.
As an artist, Bellinger crosscuts deep soul with glossy modern textures. His newest project, released this month, is described as a “mixtape” and titled Born II Sing, Vol. III. “There are ways to say it. But this project will be treated not like a mixtape because it is all original songs, all original beats and we’re putting it on iTunes,” he clarifies. The artist also created a video of a song titled “Never Be Lonely,” a reinterpretation of Janet Jackson’s “I Get So Lonely.” Featured with himself on the track and video is Amber Riley, known to television audiences from the hit show Glee.
With all of these projects, staying in the moment is a challenge, Bellinger says. “I ask management not to tell me my schedule until two weeks out because my mind will get cluttered. I’ll think, ‘I have a writing session with Jennifer Lopez in three months,’ and I’ll start thinking of concepts for that. But I’m still here writing concepts for Chris Brown. It’s hard to keep everything focused. We were scheduling so far in advance, but it was Usher, Justin Bieber and Drake. You don’t want to say no to those guys. Now we try to minimize and do the right sessions that make the most sense as well.”
Writing with artists, Bellinger says, is key. “I used to write a song and maybe they’d like or maybe not. As I started working with bigger artists, they wanted songs about their lives. They let me in. It’s a vulnerable time; and it’s about trust.”
“Work hard,” is his terse advice. Yes, it might sound like a cliché, but it is what he did and how he continues to excel. “Do things like you’re already in the position. All it took was one shot for someone to take me into a studio session because I was ready. And they looked at me like I was shiny and polished.” Writing multiple songs increases the odds exponentially. “We write all these songs and then we play a waiting game. If you keep shooting at the basket, one will go in sooner or later. I take so many shots I have a high ratio. If I take 10 shots I expect three to go in; 30 shots, I expect 10.” Meanwhile, Bellinger is grateful for these moments. “I’m asking myself, ‘Is this what I get paid to do everyday? It’s a great business to be in.”
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By Dan Kimpel