Amy Powers is writing the soundtrack to many people’s lives — and her own as well. The once-upon-a-time lawyer discovered that she preferred penning song lyrics than legal briefs, and a beautiful career as a songwriter emerged.
I think it’s very interesting that you’re a Harvard-trained lawyer, and now you’re in a totally different career.
Isn’t this the common path career path for people who have a JD, MBA, blah, blah, blah?
Not really, no.
What’s important, I think, is that as soon as I wrote my first song, (which was after I’d been to law school, after I’d been to Columbia Business School, and when I was already working full time at a major law firm in New York), as soon as I wrote my first song, I knew that there was something qualitatively different about this, than anything I’ve ever done before. That was literally like the light bulb went on. I can tell you exactly where I was and I can tell you that I went into a trance for three hours. And when I came out, there was a song on the page.
And I knew that my life was going to change. Luckily, it was a time in my life where I didn’t have family yet. I didn’t have other obligations, and I was able to follow that.
Which song was it?
[laughs] Do you know how they say, “Write what you know?” It was a song about being a paralegal! I was working at White & Case, which is a real, really large law firm in New York, and I was a real estate finance attorney. I would see these people all the time — there was a whole contingent of them, and that’s what I wrote. The song was a musical theater kind of song, too.
Then, happily, things happened, career wise. Sort of in a fairytale way for a while because I took that one song, and a couple of parodies that I had written. I would write parodies of popular songs when I was in business and law school. I used to do that for fun while sitting in class, making up rhymes, but I never put it together with being a songwriter.
It was always there, then.
I should have known when I wrote my college applications in limerick, that I might be a lyricist. But I only ever ended up in law school because my mother told me that I argued so much, and so well, that I should be a lawyer. I wrote my first song while I was recovering from chronic fatigue syndrome which I got within a month of starting at a law firm. And I knew it was a sign that I wasn’t really doing the right thing.
I absolutely love your work, especially the Barbie songs.
All the stuff that I’ve been doing with Barbie and Mattel and now with The Little Engine That Could coming out — before I was a parent, I would never have been writing for the children’s market. And then I had my kids and suddenly a whole other world opened up. I had my test audience at home, my personal focus group,
I knew what the kids’ language was like and what they were interested in. Even though I had boys, we were at school with lots of girls. I became instantly a student of Girl Talk and girl actions. And now that the kids are older, I’m still doing work in that genre, but I also add stuff to the tween world. The kids’ music is such a treat.
I think one of my favorite songs of all time is, “If You Love Me For Me” from Barbie as the Princess and the Pauper. It’s the best love song.
Oh my goodness, that’s terrific to hear. I have heard similar things from many people. I had a letter last year from a woman who wrote to us to say that she was recovering from cancer. She had chosen to just let her daughters only watch movies that were positive, and a number of our songs were in her queue. One of the wonderful things about this career is that you don’t know the effect that you’re having on people; you write these things and you put them out into the world. You find out later that they really have meaning in ways that you could never have imagined.
As much as you love writing for the children’s market, you still work in other areas, too.
I do work in several different genres and that is, in itself delightful for me. It keeps me fresh in everything. And I tend to find collaborators who are supremely talented in each of these areas. So, it just ignites different parts of my brain and my heart in each one. So for instance, this year my family and I are traveling to Sydney, Australia. Dr. Zhivago the Musical is opening, and I co-wrote the lyrics to that. My collaborators are fantastic, and the music is truly gorgeous to this.
I also have a bunch of kids stuff coming out. There’s a new Barbie movie that just was released called Barbie In A Fashion Fairy Tale. And I have a couple of songs in there. One is called “Life Is A Fairy Tale” and the other is called “Get Your Sparkle On.” We get to help message positive things to girls and it’s very deliberate. We want to inspire and empower girls. It’s really about how creativity is yours for the taking, and how it can impact your life. We’re teaching tolerance, self-respect, inner beauty, all these things. And it’s a job that we take seriously.
And then I have a whole other side of things that where I’m getting new songs, TV shows, and movies. I have a couple of songs that big Korean pop groups are covering. I’m actually working directly with the head of A&R for SM Entertainment, which is one of the largest Korean companies and expanding into other countries in Asia as well. And that’s a really fun, new source of placements. Besides Korea, I have two songs that were done by an artist in Dubai, a Muslim artist who has a really huge following. He found us through Barbie! [laughs] One of his daughters liked the Barbie movies and he liked our sensibility with melody and the things we were saying. And he found that our stuff was very spiritual. And that’s how he reached out to us.
Another of my favorites is “With One Look” from Sunset Boulevard. It’s just sheer poetry.
Thanks. I co-wrote that lyric with Don Black. But that was my first job — ever. It’s like saying to somebody, “We like how you look on the bunny slope. So guess what, the Olympics are next week!”
How is it balancing family life with your work?
I have a fantastic husband, who has as fluid a life as I do. He’s an independent film producer and he will jump in at any moment. But I will say that I don’t have any help. It’s just me, which is a conscious choice. I am comfortable working at home, and I’m really comfortable involving my kids. In my music, for instance, if I have a screening to go to, they’ll come with me. If I have a session, sometimes it’s here in the house. And sometimes, the boundaries aren’t very rigid, right? It’s a lot of give and take on everybody’s part, right. But then again, it can be really exciting. I mean, I’m taking them to Australia. You know, I wouldn’t dream of not doing so. I won’t do work that doesn’t allow me to be a mom first.