“To me, every song is a hero’s journey,” says songwriter/producer Barrett Yeretsian. “The singer is the hero. In the verses you describe where you are. In the chorus you reveal where you want to be and the song takes you there.”
The journeys undertaken by the highly sought-after tunesmith and producer have sold over 8 million copies worldwide, demonstrating that his intuitive, story-driven approach and radar for authenticity are a perfect fit for the Pop marketplace.
Yeretsian’s knack for helping his co-writers locate the emotional truth at the heart of a song has led to an array of resonant hits. His breakout came with “Jar of Hearts,” the career-making single he co-penned and produced for Christina Perri. The ballad flew to #1 at iTunes after airing on So You Think You Can Dance and landed Perri a major-label deal. It has since sold some 6 million copies worldwide, and has been heard on Glee, among other top-rated TV series.
His subsequent successes include the #1 U.K. hit “Jealous of the Angels,” which earned five Independent Country Music Association Awards and turned Jenn Bostic into a sensation throughout the British Isles; “Not Yet,” also with Bostic, a U.K. #5; and compositions for Andy Grammer, Daniel Powter, Pentatonix, Chris Wallace, Juliette Simms and Diane Birch, among other artists.
A multi-instrumentalist with ample piano, guitar and bass chops, Yeretsian first developed his musical abilities on the drums, and that early training still informs his writing sessions. “When I’m working on a song with someone, even if they’re just singing me a basic melody, I immediately start drumming on my knees, trying to find that pulse,” he says. “The groove is key to mapping out the dramatic tension in the song.”
He notes that extensive conversations prior to the writing process are vital to understanding the artists he works with—and coaxing out the raw material that he’ll help them develop. “It’s about listening,” he says. “It’s a very organic process. We do a lot of talking before we even start writing. I try to really understand what they’re going through at that moment. It’s tapping into a real vein inside of them.”
The collaborative writing process itself, he adds, varies widely depending on the artist. “Sometimes I’ll bring in some existing musical pieces, melodies, and lyrical ideas that I present to them, and then we start writing. Sometimes they’ll have the germ of something, and we start working with that. Other times we just sit in a room; I get behind a piano, they get behind a guitar and someone says, ‘Hey, what do you think of this?’ and we just start spontaneously.”
Regardless of the means, the goal, Yeretsian points out, is “getting at something real. I take the time to really understand what they’re about. I’m genuinely interested in what they have to say, what their story is, where they’re coming from, and I like to do so in a ‘no limits’ sort of way, without boundaries.”
Yeretsian spent his formative years in the Los Angeles area. Though home piano lessons didn’t take (he’d hide in the bathroom until his frumpy teacher gave up and left), he felt instantly comfortable behind a drum kit. A love for Metallica, Pantera and other heavy sounds strongly influenced his musical sensibility, and within a few years he became an in-demand drummer on the L.A. music scene. Self-taught on both drums and keyboards by his mid-teens, he played in a series of bands, one of which opened multiple times for System of a Down on the Sunset Strip.
He still jams to hard rock with his muso pals when schedules permit, and notes that the same principles that make metal so compelling to him also apply to writing songs. “It’s all about tension and release,” he observes. “Both melodically and rhythmically, you build up the tension as much as possible and let it go—that’s something I understood intuitively from a young age, and I appreciate it more every day.”
He graduated with honors, earning a degree in philosophy at UCLA—with a focus on Aristotelian ethics, if you must know—and scored in the 99th percentile on his LSATs. His family naturally urged him to pursue law school when he was offered scholarships to top-tier schools, but music was a more alluring path. When “Goodbye Beautiful Day,” a song he co-wrote and produced for his band Beat & Path, hit the Top 10 at Yahoo! Music (which had never been achieved by an indie act), the decision to pursue a career in music was settled.
As a performer, Yeretsian has appeared in venues all across the world, including a sold-out 2009 show in Armenia with his own prog-instrumental band Armenian Space Station, and an appearance at the historic Hollywood Bowl in July 2007 in front of 16,000, performing his original symphonic composition “Anahit.”
But most of his energy these days is directed toward writing and producing Pop songs—which is where his musical and philosophical backgrounds meet. “No matter what a song is about, there has to be some kind of depth to it,” he says, noting the underpinnings of that hero’s journey that frames his approach. “I’m always looking for the little sparks of inspiration that get that journey started and to see each journey through to the end. By the end of the song, you’re there, transformed.”