Composer and ASCAP President
For Paul Williams, composing isn’t a job. “I don’t work at songwriting,” says the accomplished songsmith. “I play at it.”
It’s this playfulness and creative zeal that has fed a successful decades-long career in the arts. Perhaps best known for his pop hits of the 70s and 80s—including The Carpenters’ wedding night anthem “We’ve Only Just Begun” as well as songs made famous by Three Dog Night and Helen Reddy—Williams has written countless tunes, scores, and ditties for TV and film.
A true multi-talent, the creator without limits has also acted and done voiceover work in a bevy of productions—from The Muppet Movie to Batman: The Animated Series, among others.
Now, the wildly successful creator can add artists’ rights advocate to his list of professions. Last year, he was elected president of ASCAP, the global advocacy group for songwriters, composers, and music publishers, where he has taken it upon himself to fight for creators’ rights in an increasingly artist-hostile Digital Age. Right now, his number-one challenge involves the “ongoing threats to copyright, and, frankly, the unwillingness of many businesses who use our members’ music to compensate them for it,” he says.
Yet, despite his new role as music biz exec, Williams’ perception of his own identity hasn’t changed. “First and foremost, I am and will always be a songwriter,” he reveals. “We are, in fact, the smallest of businessmen and women. I think there’s too often the impression given that we’re part of a giant, voracious machine that’s looking to gobble up our piece of this massive, economic pie. I hope to remind people that there’s a dreamer at the end of that unwritten song you’re planning to dance to at your daughter’s wedding. He can’t live on dreams. He needs to be recognized as a hard working individual who’s creating something of ‘value’—who deserves to be compensated fairly and quickly.”
Through all the success, the creator remains committed to the simple art of songwriting, which, he explains, is primarily an exercise in staying honest. “I do believe that, for any writer, authenticity is key,” he divulges. “I couldn’t be David Bowie. I tried. Didn’t work. I’d say trust that the stories we have to tell must be our own. I discovered that when I write honestly about what’s going on in the center of my chest…other people seem to respond with a very sweet, ‘Me too! I’ve felt that, too!’ I think it’s what we have in common that makes a song work.”
Could this be the key to writing the next great song? “Looking for the answer has been my life’s work,” the artistic dynamo reveals. “Could be the beauty’s in the mystery. I’ll keep looking.”
(Pictured): Williams presents the ASCAP Founders Award to Nancy and Ann Wilson from the legendary rock band Heart at the 2009 ASCAP Pop Music Awards. Courtesy of Paul Williams/ASCAP.