While he’ll quickly admit to being an artist first, before becoming a songwriter, Brooklyn (Flatbush), New York bred Terrell Howard has spent much of his music career penning music — not a far cry from Berklee College of Music, where he was to attend college but decided instead to sign a deal with Arista Records. Meeting then A&R rep Shakir Stewart, Howard began a journey that reads like a storybook packed with a who’s who list of urban music veterans helping him to hone his craft from the studio to the stage. While there have been low points along the way, including being released from Arista just one year after being signed, Howard believes the experience has led him to where he is today — ready to show the world the artist he intended to be years ago, this time however, with experience and a pen that has been tried and tested over time. Enjoy part two of Terrell Howard’s feature interview (see part 1 here…) as he recalls working with Missy Elliott, Usher, Sean Garrett, and Troy Taylor, and the advice late industry veteran Shakir Stewart gave him. Lastly, find out what he’s doing next and where you can listen to his music….
U.P. NEXT: Songwriting is not as easy as it may seem. What has been the most challenging part of the writing process ?
Terrell Howard: When I first started songwriting, over 4 years ago, I wrote a song with incredible verses. I had no hook though — couldn’t come up with one. It was bothering me that I couldn’t come up with a hook. It seems like back then it was a pattern. I don’t know if inside of me there was a fear of touching the hook, but I had great storylines. For some reason I thought the hook was just so important that it had to be on point — like go hard or go home. I had to get over that. Now I write my hooks first.
U.P. NEXT: You have worked with some big names. How did you end up working with Missy Elliott ?
Terrell Howard: I’m good friends with Shane Ellis (songwriter/producer). He asked me to do a showcase with him for Atlantic (Records). So we began rehearsals, which started at a house… I packed my bags moved to the house and then the rehearsal studio (Miami for a while etc). During the process I ended up doing background singing and dance at the same time. During a break we were just hanging out, chilling and a band began playing. I got on the mic and Missy just loved everything she heard. She granted me a solo because like I said was I was just there to perform in the background. I was appreciative of it. You know she just loved my vocals. To this day I’m like where’s my record Missy. She always tells me “I got your record, I got it”.
U.P. NEXT: What have you taken away from experiences like working with Missy Elliott ?
Terrell Howard: I learned a lot about the game, just working in the industry — just how it works and if it doesn’t, how you make it work. I was signed straight out of high school on Arista. At that point I was new to scene but I knew how to sing and knew how to do live performances because of Julliard and school of performing arts — It was all about live performance. We were never doing the studio thing. But technique still worked in the booth, just a little different. Meeting with Sean Garrett (and other producers), there were a lot of things I didn’t know that they would teach me. To be honest with you I learned a lot about studio techniques that I use today. Like every time I see Troy Taylor, I shake his hand. I dramatically shake his hand because I’m using the techniques that he showed me that I hated. I’m using them now and I thank him. Like for anyone that’s working with him now and hating him at the same time, I’m like “you’re going to love him later so just do it, trust me I was in your shoes.”
Working with different people, man, I learned a lot. I learned from Missy, just the whole thing of putting together a show. Like, when I was in high school they used to call me Diddy (Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs’) because I used to run talent shows and coordinated things. They were like “you’re doing a lot man, you’re in this production, you’re over here running the talent show.” I just felt like this is what I want to do, like this is me. Part of that was me just trying to get through high school, the other was just the gift God gave me. Just relating that to now, it feels better to bring it to life now instead of it being in my own closet. It’s not just me trying to put a show together around the way or a block party, it’s actually a career. You know, something that you acknowledge as your way in or your life. I think all of those things have made my career a success.
I learned a lot from a lot of different people. From high school to even working with Shakir (Stewart). He was actually my A&R and got me my first deal with Arista. When I was recording my album I was at a point where artists and producers bring records to the table. I liked everything that I heard and he was trying to get me to decipher what’s a hit and what was not a hit. He asked me why do you like this ? You know I’m straight out of high school, I’m listening to 112 and a bunch of different artists and I’m thinking it sounds good. What he said to me was, and I’ll never forget, he said “you have to get your hair together. We’ve got to get your hair together, you’re hair is not right’. (laughs). I didn’t know then, because I was new to this, but now that I’m older I see. It’s like, I like everything but I can’t even tell you why. I just knew that it was a good song. Now, I feel like I can go in depth. Certain songs come off different to me. Now I can say this song is not well written, when they got to the second verse they forget what they was talking about. I can look at the melodic flow of the record, arrangements, movements, singing melody — the melody is key (I learned that from Sean).
If you listen to a song, you got a lot of people that’s out here that know a song but never know the words. They’ll be in the club singing all the wrong words but have the melody down pat. That’s because the melody is very important. It’s contagious. If you have a contagious melody, everything else will fall in place. If the melody is not contagious, then it’s not going to move too far. Somebody has to be able to sing that. I can walk away from hearing your song and be in a store shopping for sneakers, finish hearing some other song, walk out of the store and sing your song that I heard back at home or in the car on the way to the mall. That’s what’s important. I got that from Sean (Garrett).
U.P. NEXT: What has been your greatest experience or accomplishment thus far ?
Terrell Howard: Usher. Why I say Usher, is I grew up following Usher. When I was in the living room with my hairbrush, I was Usher. That was just me (as a child). Just to go in the studio and meet him, there’s a certain level of respect. Like he’s respecting me and what I do. It’s like I watched you on TV and there’s that level of respect that I gotta rewind and work. To have him say “Terrell what you think about that ?” I just think that was a big accomplishment. Just to see him excited about a record that I penned and that I arranged and got him to perform and deliver was a successful accomplishment. Now I know there’s more to come, but as of now, working with Usher.
U.P. NEXT: Just like you were inspired by Usher, what words would you give to someone coming up and looking at the music industry ?
Terrell Howard: I would say just stay consistent. You are going to run into a lot of haters — a lot of “no that’s not you”. Just stay focused and stay humbled. It has been a very long journey for me. I was telling my little cousin, he’s 16, you have to stick to it. You have to be versatile. By me being versatile I knew I was going to be successful. So, you gotta stick to what you want to do.
Listen to Terrell Howard’s music now at terrellhoward.com. You can also catch him on Myspace at myspace.com/TerrellHoward and follow him on Twitter @DaArtistTerrell (twitter.com/DaArtistTerrell).