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Meet Debra Gussin, Songwriter/Lyricist

Today we’d like to introduce you to Debra Gussin.

Debra, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
At 12, I discovered a passion for music. When my mom took me to my first Broadway musical, and my sister took me to my first concert, the music took me to another universe altogether.

Although my career would lead me on a journey through television production and the entertainment industry, music was always along for the ride.

Born and raised in New York, I earned a dual-degree in Television Production and Marketing Management from Syracuse University. Upon graduating, my first job was working as a Production Assistant on the Mickey Rourke film, “Year of the Dragon.”

Next, I landed at “ABC’s Wide World of Sports,” where I was enveloped in the ‘thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat.’ Being in that environment evoked a sense of storytelling in me that, years later, would be infused into the vibrant scenarios of my songs.

I continued my television career in Los Angeles, working on numerous programs including the “Daytime Emmy Awards,” “Fox Sports News,” “Wolfgang Puck,” and “Dr. Phil.”

While working on the launch of the National Geographic Channel, one of my colleagues introduced me to multi-platinum lyricist, Marty Panzer (Barry Manilow, Kenny Rogers, and Disney).

That life-changing moment unexpectedly launched me into the wide world of songwriting. I enrolled in Panzer’s Master Class at UCLA Extension, and from that moment on I was hooked.

I should mention here that that first concert I experienced was Barry Manilow. At this point, I was really more interested in hearing Marty’s stories about the songs I grew up with than actually writing them. Little did I know how he would end up changing my life, and career. Panzer was the one who recognized my lyric-writing ability and encouraged me to continue writing while I was working as a TV Producer.

After winning the Concord Records & Barry Manilow Songwriting Scholarship – four times, I took a sabbatical from my television career, and left the “Dr. Phil” show to focus on songwriting full time. I proceeded to win more than 35 international songwriting competitions, including the Grand Prize and Lennon Award in the prestigious John Lennon Song Contest, and was commissioned by the Federal Trade Commission to co-write catchy commercial jingles for AnnualCreditReport.com, which won the CINE Golden Eagle Award for Best Public Service Announcement. These songs have been heard on NPR Radio, and quoted in numerous publications nationwide, including the LA Times and the NY Times.

From there, UCLA Extension commissioned my inspiring anthem, “This Is Our Time,” as its Official Graduation Song. The song received its World Premiere at Royce Hall in Los Angeles, where Erich Bergen (Madam Secretary, Jersey Boys) performed it for a sold-out crowd. Bernice Reyes, winner of Ottawa Idol, released the song as her debut single. And this year, the song will appear in “A Sunday Horse,” a feature film starring Nikki Reed, Linda Hamilton and William Shatner.

My songs have enjoyed a number of TV placements as well, featured in the CW Network’s 90210, NBC’s primetime drama THE EVENT, E! Entertainment’s KOURTNEY & KIM TAKE NEW YORK, SPEED Network’s NASCAR RACE HUB, and the UK’s IT’S ONLY THE BEGINNING.

In addition to co-writing songs with actor/composer Don Grady (My Three Sons, Disney, Original Mousketeer) for his “BOOMER: JazRokPop” EP, and international singer/songwriter Kyle Vincent for his album DETOUR, my lyrics have illuminated the lights of Off-Broadway in the short musical, THE DEPENDENTS. I’m hopeful that a lifetime of attending Broadway musicals will come in handy as I embark on writing lyrics for TURMOIL! A New Musical.

I recently had the pleasure of collaborating with Weezer’s Brian Bell, co-writing rock songs for his band The Relationship. Our song “Break Me Open” was the first single released off the band’s new record, CLARA OBSCURA.

My songs have also been recorded by Warner Music Spain artist Innocence, and two Ottawa Idol winners.

I’m so honored to have been named Best Lyricist at the 2016 and 2017 HOLLYWOOD MUSIC IN MEDIA AWARDS, as well as having won Best Adult Contemporary/AAA Song in 2013.

This year, I became a Grammy-voting member of The Recording Academy, and look forward to continuing to make my mark writing songs with command and vision for the pop, rock, dance, country, and Hot AC markets.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
My journey may look seamless…having gone from TV production to songwriting. But I look at my website sometimes, and think ‘how did she accomplish that – producing all those TV projects, writing songs placed in films and TV shows, and recorded by artists, winning awards?!’

The reality is that no one’s road is smooth in the entertainment industry. Everyone has highs and lows among the fun, creative stops.

Both my television and music careers have been freelance, going from project to project. Some of those jobs last weeks, months or years, but eventually they’re completed and it’s back to square one looking for the next gig. Though the downtime is hardly downtime. If I’m not searching for the next project, I’m creating something new.

I never look at the struggles as ‘struggles.’ If I did, I probably wouldn’t have had two long-lasting careers in entertainment. Every time I start to think about the challenges of songwriting, something good happens to encourage me to continue.

In my TV career, I worked on the launches of the National Geographic Channel, Fox Sports News, and the Dr. Phil show – those projects have lasted long after my departure, and continue to provide entertainment for millions of people around the world. So, I have to believe I’m on the right path with my songwriting, and that the songs I create will make a difference to someone who hears them, even if it’s years after I’ve created them. That’s a struggle I can live with.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Debra M. Gussin story. Tell us more about the business.
On the music front, I specialize in writing song lyrics. When I’m co-writing, I contribute to the melody as I sing something I have in mind, but often I’m either writing lyrics from scratch that will have a melody put to it by another songwriter/composer, or I’m writing lyrics to an existing melody that a musician or artist has already written and needs words put to their music.

I write from both a sense of storytelling, and a sense of emotion. My TV career likely contributed to my storytelling sensibilities, having produced people’s real-life stories from sports to talk shows to documentaries, reality, and news.

My sense of emotion likely comes from having grown up with, and been moved by, the songs that came out of the singer/songwriter heyday of the ‘70’s, and from my mentor Marty Panzer, who wrote many of those songs, and continues to write from a deep emotional place in his heart. He inspires me to tap into that place, and calls me on it if something doesn’t ring true.

I love writing songs for film and television because those kinds of songs focus on the emotion of the scene, not painting a story that’s already on the screen.

And I really enjoy writing for artists, getting inside their heads and hearts so the words feel real coming out of their mouths. The biggest compliment I can receive is watching that come to life in their recordings and live performances, and how listeners and audiences react to them.

I’m so proud of the recent album I worked on with Weezer’s Brian Bell for his band The Relationship. Co-writing rock songs with an artist I didn’t know before, infusing lyrical storytelling and emotion into his moving melodies, watching him perform those songs so passionately, and seeing his fans absorb and appreciate the songs – that’s why I do what I do, and work so hard to make every syllable of every word come from an authentic place.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I don’t really believe in bad luck. When I want something to happen and it doesn’t, I try to look at it as being pointed in a different direction. I do my best to remain positive and open to what the universe brings my way.

Looking back, if I didn’t get a job I was going for in my TV career, it was because I was supposed to be working on a different project, or meeting someone who would take me on a new journey that I hadn’t anticipated.

After finishing the first season of the National Geographic Channel, I was assigned to produce another program. While watching some episodes of the prior season of that show to get familiar with it, I spotted lyricist Marty Panzer in the studio audience.

That ultimately led to being introduced to him, taking his Master Class at UCLA the following year, becoming a lyricist – which is not something I ever imagined – and leaving my television producing career to become a full-time professional songwriter. I ended up leaving that show after only a few weeks, but not before the universe made sure I met Marty. I’d call that an example of good luck!

As I’ve moved through both my television and songwriting careers, it’s been easier to connect the dots in hindsight. Of course if I didn’t get a gig, I might be disappointed in the moment, but I’ve learned to move forward, not worry about what didn’t happen, and keep focused on what can happen. I’m more concerned about the yes’s than the no’s. The no’s don’t matter, they just nudge me to try something else.

In addition to meeting Panzer, who’s been a generous mentor and champion of my writing, I’ve been blessed with my share of good luck in the form of many wonderful teachers and gifted collaborators.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Stephen J. Abramson
Jonathan Bluth
Gregg Rader

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