LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - Diane Warren's office is located near Amoeba Records, the be-all and end-all record store in Hollywood. If one were to go through the stacks with an eye toward creating a Warren compilation, you'd have to visit most of the store: She's written for pop stars, Broadway belters, country crooners, R&B divas and rock legends.
And, notably, you'd have to spend lots of time in the soundtracks section. Since 1984, when Laura Branigan's "Hot Night" was featured in "Ghostbusters," Warren has written almost 100 songs that have appeared in films or TV productions. She's been nominated six times for an Oscar, and she won a Grammy in 1997 for the Celine Dion-sung "Because You Loved Me" from the film "Up Close & Personal."
Warren has had 31 songs peak in the top 10 of the Billboard 100, and she remains the industry's go-to songwriter for ballads and love songs across all genres.
"She's the fastest writer," says producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who has used Warren's songs routinely in his movies, perhaps most notably Aerosmith's version of "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" for "Armageddon." "I'll give her an idea or a concept and 24 hours later she'll come back with a song and a demo that she's done."
Her office houses not only Warren's songwriting "cave," but also a dozen employees and her Realsongs publishing company. Every day for 23 years, she's been coming to this building, where she begins writing at 8:30 a.m. -- she feels she's most creative in the morning -- and then spends the afternoon taking meetings with artists and executives.
Veteran label boss Clive Davis, who has used Warren's compositions for Toni Braxton, Whitney Houston and Kelly Clarkson, says he frequently works one-on-one with Warren.
"I see her sing her own songs at the Beverly Hills Hotel in my bungalow," he says. "She sits down at the piano and she emotes it. She feels it -- you see the veins in her neck really expressing all the depth of emotions."
For Warren, it was apparent from childhood what her career choice would be. Raised in the San Fernando Valley ("I'm from Van Nuys, which is so close to Hollywood -- but it's a million miles away," she jokes), she found that she was more fascinated by the songwriter credits on the albums her siblings brought home than the recordings themselves.
She studied at California State University at Northridge, but admits: "I was a total dropout! .. I used to break into the practice rooms to write songs."
Warren recently discussed her projects and creative process.
Oh, God, I'm working on so many things. I just did a song for Jennifer Hudson and for the Pussycat Dolls. I have a great song Whitney Houston's doing that I think she's going to sing as her comeback song. It's called "I Didn't Know My Own Strength" and I really wrote it for her -- and I don't really write songs for people a lot of times, but I wrote that for her. She sounds great from what I heard.
I'm also working with (German rock band) Tokio Hotel. I just did a song that Akon did, I did something that Sean Kingston's doing, and I'll be working with Leona (Lewis) and Chris Brown on their upcoming albums.
I just did something real big for Jerry Bruckheimer's new movie "Confessions of a Shopaholic." It's a really cute movie.
HOW DOES THAT WORK -- DO YOU READ THE SCRIPT AND WRITE THE SONG?
This time I saw the movie. I'd always rather see the movie because I have ADD and reading a script is hard. (With a script) it's like, "And then we cut to . . . and then we . . . da, da, da . . .," and it's like, "Oh, God, just get to the end, let's write the song already." I saw the movie a few weeks ago and went back to my office and wrote a really cool song. I'm excited and he loves it -- Jerry Bruckheimer is kind of hard to please. He knows what he wants and he's really smart. I'd rather have that -- at least there's a point of view and a vision.
YOU HAVE SONGS FROM MOVIES THAT HAVE HIT AND THEN REBOUNDED IN TV TO HIT AGAIN. HOW HAS THAT WORKED?
"There You'll Be" is a hit again in England. Here's a song I wrote for "Pearl Harbor" that was a massive worldwide hit for Faith Hill seven years ago. I was talking to somebody about it and they said, "Did you write 'There You'll Be'?" and I go, "Yeah," and he told me where to look on (U.K. talent competition show) "X Factor" and he says, "Your song's in the top five." I go, 'What? Seven years later?"
Well, what it was, was that this young girl who auditioned with "There You'll Be" and her mother had passed away and she was talking about it and it was really emotional. One of the judges -- not Simon (Cowell) of course -- this woman judge cried and then they played a tiny bit of the Faith Hill version. It was really touching, and now it's on the top five. That's the power of a great song and a touching performance. It's never going to stop. What's never going to stop is people touched by a great song, however they do it or see it. When something is undeniable it's going to resonate.
WHAT'S YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS LIKE? HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN A SONG IS DONE?
I'm writing some of my best songs right now. I know when I'm done because it tells me that it's done. It's weird; they have their own mind. I'm not one of those people that rewrite constantly, I just know when the song is done -- but I'm going to get it as perfect as it can be till then . . . But then of course it can get f---ed up by the producers at the top of the company. When I'm done with it, it's perfect in my eyes, and then it's not up to me anymore. Sadly.