Madison Love remembers the first time she heard the 2016 Machine Gun Kelly and Camila Cabello collaboration “Bad Things” on the radio. The Los Angeles-born songwriter — who co-wrote the award-nominated top 10 hit — had spent a solid week at her parents’ house tuned into local stations, hoping the tune would pop up in rotation.
“[When] I heard the song I was screaming, and the whole family ran in the house,” Love recalls now. “The dog was jumping. We were like, ‘Oh my God!’ Every time I have a song that’s on the radio, I get really excited, but that first time, if I was in the car, I probably would’ve crashed. I was so excited.”
In the half-decade since the success of “Bad Things,” Love’s enjoyed plenty of other victories. She co-wrote G-Eazy and Halsey’s “Him and I” — which reached No. 1 on Billboard’s U.S. Mainstream Top 40 chart — and has also co-written songs for established artists (Demi Lovato, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga) as well as up-and-comers Ava Max (“Not Your Barbie Girl”), Hayley Kiyoko (“Wanna Be Missed”) and Madison Beer (“Heartless”).
Growing up, Love cut her teeth on the greats. She listened to Carole King (“I started out playing just acoustic guitar and I just really fell in love with her storytelling”), as well as Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, and Christina Aguilera. “I love all types of music, but I think the female empowerment artists were always the ones that got me the most,” she says.
Love is currently writing more songs for Ava Max, as well as working on other projects that are still under wraps. She’s also set up the Madison Love Future Fund at her alma mater, the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, to provide financial aid to students so they can attend the Summer High School Program.
“As soon as I was able to afford to, I was like, ‘I need to set up a scholarship. I need to give back,'” she says. “I really wouldn’t be anywhere in my career without that program, and I can’t wait to see what other students come out of there. I’m really invested in the future of music and I’m grateful that I’m able to help in any way I could.”
Calling from Los Angeles, Love discussed how she got into songwriting, writing for Lady Gaga, and what sets her apart.
What gave you the songwriting bug? What was the tipping point where you were like, “This is what I want to do?”
I’ve always been writing in a diary, a journal, ever since I was in high school. Every time I would come home from just a bad day, or breakup, or friend issue, I would go and write a song about it. It was a cathartic thing for me, because I was so upset. I would go in my room, lock the door and I would write a song, and then I’d come out and would be okay. I wouldn’t be upset anymore. My mom was like, “Wow, look, see you just channeled all your emotions into that one moment, and now you’re good. You can move on from it.”
That started at a really young age for me, but I didn’t really think I could do it as a profession until I went to the Clive Davis school. I went there as an artist and I came out as a songwriter, which I wasn’t expecting, but they had so many incredible classes and other songwriters that were teachers at the time and they really inspired me. They’re like, “This is so easy for you to write all these concepts. You can write this for this artist one day, and you can do a Spanish song tomorrow, and you can do this. It comes so naturally for you—you should try it out, and be open to letting other artists cut your song.”
I was like, “What? Artists don’t write their own songs?” I had no idea. I was very new to the industry myself. When I started out, I didn’t even think that was a profession that I could be.
Sometimes it takes another person from the outside to look at your talent and be like, “No, you really do have something here.”
I had a very good work ethic as well. I would go and try and hustle and meet A&Rs when I was living in New York. They would give me one DJ track, and I would go home and write seven different songs with different concepts and different melodies on the same track. I would send that back to them and I’d say, “Okay, ask the artist which idea he likes.”
Then they were like, “Wow, this girl really wants to win. She’ll literally do whatever it takes. We’ve got to give her more projects to work on.” That’s how it began, all these relationships that I started to make in New York. I was demo singing at the time too, to try and meet producers, because I didn’t know how to get my foot in the door and meet bigger producers.
It makes sense to try as many things as possible. That’s a good strategy, especially if you’re just starting out and there’s so much competition.
Yeah, and there were a lot of students in the program, but they didn’t take it as seriously as I did. All the teachers were Grammy Award-winning producers, Grammy Award-winning songwriters in the industry, working at publishing companies. I stood out from the rest of the class, because I was taking my homework seriously. I was treating it like I was trying to get a job every time.
In my second year, I ended up signing to a publishing deal and the head of the company was like, “Great, this is what we do. We got you to this point, you can leave now. You’re working, you have songs on the radio,” and I said, “No, I told myself I was going to start this program, and I was going to finish it. I want to stay. I can do both.” I was a new signee to a publishing deal, and I was FaceTime writing, before Zoom was a thing. We were just FaceTiming every day and I would go back [to L.A. and work] for winter vacations and all the breaks.
To what do you attribute that inner ambition? Did it come from your parents? Was it just something built into you?
My dad is in the music industry as well. He’s a renowned vocal coach, but my mother is Asian and she is always pushing me to be the best, and to never give up, and start things and finish them. She really gave me that work ethic. If I’m just sitting around, she’s like, “What are you doing? You should be practicing piano. You should practicing guitar. You should be doing all this.”
I’ve always had that drive, but I knew that once I got the opportunity to go to a program, like the one I went to, I wanted to make the most of it and really take it seriously. I felt lucky that I got chosen, because it’s such a small group of people. I was like, “I’m going to get the most out of this whole program, because I really want to win.”
And I feel like so many kids, when they go off to college, they don’t necessarily see that. It’s cool that you recognized that straight away. You’re better for it.
I definitely missed a lot of really fun parties, sitting home and writing on random tracks. I regret that a little bit.
But it’s all good. You have things to show for it now.
Now I can party.
Looking over your career, you have this pattern of writing songs for artists who are just breaking out — Madison Beer, Ava Max, and Hayley Kiyoko. That must be such a great position to be in. They’re really finding their voice, and as a songwriter, you’re really helping boost that. Talk a little bit about that.
Yeah. After I did “Bad Things,” G-Eazy reached out to me to come write one for him. He was like, “I want a ‘Bad Things.'” I went over there with the same crew and we ended up writing “Him And I” that night at his studio, because he’s like, “I really want a radio song the way you did it.” I was like, “Okay, let’s do it.”
He ended up getting Halsey on the song too, which was an incredible thing, and I remember running into them in New York, when the song was number one and they were like, “Oh my God, this is so exciting. Our song is number one,” and I met them right when the song hit number one for two weeks, or something.
It was such a cool experience, to give these artists that. Halsey already had a few songs on the radio, but it was still pretty new for them to be having a really big pop single, at the time, and for G-Eazy, that was exciting for him as well. I don’t think he had a song that went number one on pop radio.
It definitely felt really cool to be a part of that with artists that I’m obsessed with, and I’ve always been a huge fan of Halsey. To have that moment together, they were grateful for me and I was like, “I’m so grateful for you, and this is so cool. I can’t believe this my life. This is my job.”
As a songwriter if you are working with artists that you’re fans of, is there more pressure involved?
When I worked with Lady Gaga, I definitely was super nervous, because she’s probably my favorite artist ever. I got to work with her through BloodPop, which was such an incredible experience, and we ended up writing a song for her last album Chromatica [“Sour Candy”]. She’s just a legend.
I was mostly quiet in the room, because she worked on the song when I wasn’t around, because she likes to do a lot of the work on her own. She’s so prolific. She took an idea that I started with them and then she finished it on her own. Then she invited me to the studio to hear it, and she was just so cool. I was speechless the whole time I was sitting there.
I just didn’t know what to say. I was so nervous, but she was dancing around the room and we were listening to the song together and she was like, “I love this. I never take outside ideas. This is really exciting,” and it was just so cool to be able to just see her in real life, and hear her singing lyrics that I helped work on. That was probably the most nervous I’ve ever been.
But with most other artists, I’m pretty cool, because everyone is so nice and they all want to work. They reach out to work with me specifically, because they want what I’ve got going on. I don’t have to be too intimidated because they really are trying to work with me. I’m excited to work with them, but they come to me for a specific thing.
What a great position to be in and to have that balance. It helps you work better as an artist, if you know that you’re wanted, they want you in the room.
The male artists love to have me in the room, because they’re like, “Can I say this? Is this okay to say? What would a girl think?” and they want that female perspective as well, because they’re like, “All my fans are girls like you, and I want them to love the song.” That’s what a lot of male artists say to me. I’m like, “Sure, I got you. This is great. I think they’re going to love this.”
What have you learned the most as a songwriter from working with either other songwriters or some of these artists that you’ve worked with? Are there any lessons or things in particular you can pinpoint?
I’m very prepared when I go into a room. I’m not the kind of girl that shows up and has no ideas prepared. I very much come with my journal with 20 ideas. When I work with artists that are just like, “Let’s just do whatever,” I’m always [like], “I got this, you can count on me to make sure that we don’t just waste the day.” I’ve learned that that’s the most productive thing, because most artists don’t come in with ideas that they want to do. Camila [Cabello] will come in and she was like, “I have this idea for a song,” and then we’ll work on it. But most artists come in the room [with] nothing, and I have to always be prepared and try and not waste the moment.
I think that’s what helped my career, too, because people know that I was reliable. They were like, “Madison’s going to show up. She’s always early. She’ll stay there until it’s right. She’ll do edits. The label’s really happy, because if we don’t like this, she’ll go back and change it a million times. She just wants to get the song.” There’s nothing precious about anything and I’m willing to make the artist happy. They’re the ones that have to sing it and perform it every night. If I have to change a little bit of the concept to help them want to put it out, then that’s what you’ve got to do.