Wayne Hector wrote his first number one single in 1996 – when he was just 17. His list of writing credits is now so accomplished that you’d expect it to belong to a man twice his age.
If you’ve listened to mainstream radio in the past 20 years, then you’re sure to have heard his handiwork. Hector’s songs have notched up 380 million record sales so far – including 30 No 1 singles across the world.
His chart-topping hits started with Flava by Peter Andre, then Flying Without Wings for Westlife and Beat Again by JLS, with many more in between. In recent years, Hector’s work includes I Hate This Part by The Pussycat Dolls, The Wanted’s Glad You Came, Starships by Nicki Minaj, Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself by Jess Glynne, and countless hits for One Direction.
He has collaborated with an impressive variety of A-list artists including Donna Summer, Olly Murs, Emeli Sandé, James Blunt, Blue and Jason Derulo.
With such a distinguished career it comes as no surprise that he was honoured with an Ivor Novello Award for International Achievement in May this year.
So where did it all begin?
Big when I was little
As a youngster Hector had an eclectic music taste that was influenced in part by his Dad’s passion for reggae and his mum’s love of country. His favourite acts were Bread, John Denver and British New Romantics Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran and Adam and the Ants. His favourite song was Dolly Parton’s Jolene.
“There wasn’t any particular direction in what I liked, I was all over the place and still am,” he says.
“What I noticed about Jolene was that it celebrated vulnerability. I think there’s always space to say, ‘I’m vulnerable,’ and that your happiness is sometimes dependent on somebody else leaving you the hell alone. I still think that’s the most amazing song for that reason.”
Hector’s first attempt at songwriting was at the age of nine when, alongside his sister, he put together a “silly kind of song” for Prince Charles and Lady Diana’s wedding day.
Despite its amateur nature, his friends were impressed and it sparked a passion for writing. He says, “In English class at school I was always interested in turn of phrase; how people describe things that should be mundane but come to life when well-written.”
When he was 16, Hector started writing a song called Forever. It went on to become his first Top 10 hit in 1996 with the band Damage. The success led to him writing Flava for Peter Andre – which made Hector the man to call if you wanted a hit. One of the acts that came calling was Irish boy band Westlife.
Alongside long-time collaborator Steve Mac, Hector is described as the “creative force” behind Westlife, a band who went on to sell 50m records worldwide.
Flying without wings
For Hector, inspiration can come from anywhere: having a great artist in the room, a unique tone of voice, a set of chords or a sentence. “I’m inspired by hearing the way people say something,” Hector explains.
“There’s only a certain amount of things you can say about life but there’s an infinite variety of ways you can phrase it. I love the first few lines of Ed Sheeran’s Lego House: ‘Pick up the pieces and build a Lego house, if things go wrong we can knock it down’. It’s such a brilliant visual. When I hear something like that I challenge myself to find a visual that’s just as good.”
As well as trying to find an interesting turn of phrase, Hector’s songwriting tips include working back from the chorus. “If you start at the chorus, you know what you’re talking about and can write out from there,” he says.
He also stresses the importance of hard work. “I work harder now than I did when I started. The more work you put in, the more chance you’ve got of getting something out of it and the more you learn during that process.”
For Hector, that means four- to six-hour writing sessions twice a day, five days a week. He writes around 400 songs a year, 30-40 of which get released.
Does he ever get writer’s block? “Yeah, of course,” he answers. “I just stop for a few weeks, call my manager and cancel everything. Whatever it takes until the ideas start coming on their own again.”
Keeping your head up
When he isn’t songwriting Hector is also patron of Urban Development – a music education organization where he helps teach young creatives. His advice for writers looking to break into the industry is to attach themselves to up-and-coming artists.
“Finding new artists is a much easier process than sending tapes to A&R execs who are already listening to all the people they’ve got,” he explains.
“Listening to a bunch of people that aren’t signed to them yet can be quite difficult. Find an artist you believe in that you can tie yourself to, let them sing your songs and put them up on YouTube.”
Money management is also a big part of what he teaches. “The most common mistake is the belief that if you start having a couple of hits, that’s going to continue,” he says.
“Most people have one or two hits in their entire career. So money that you make from those first few songs should be invested into a home. If you are lucky and the success continues and you can pay off your home, that gets rid of the biggest problem you’re ever going to have.”
Many of Hector’s biggest hits were surprisingly quick to write. Sessions for I Hate This Part and Flying Without Wings are among his favourite.
He remembers: “With I Hate This Part, it was 1:00am and we’d gotten to the end of the session. I was playing a melody and we programmed in a beat. We got up to leave and [fellow writer] Lucas [Secon] said, ‘I hate this part when we we’re walking out the door but have a great idea that’s unfinished.’”
Struck by Lucas’s words, Hector decided it was destined to be a song title and started to put it into the context of a relationship.
“About half an hour in we’d written the song, and then in another half an hour we’d laid it down. Then we spent about three hours head-banging in the studio because we were all so excited about the song.”
He adds, “When the song writes itself it’s because it makes complete sense and you don’t even have to think about it.”
He recalls the creation of mega-hit Flying Without Wings. He first sang the line ‘I’m flying without wings’ while stepping out for a breather from a hip hop session in LA.
“I didn’t know what it meant but I liked it,” he says. “I left the few bits of idea that I had on my answer machine. Then went home to England, and played it to Steve [Mac] who absolutely loved it”.
Back in the studio, Hector and Mac got working on the detail. They asked themselves, “What could make someone feel such elation that they’re ‘flying without wings’?”
“So we wrote it about our wives and our friends and all the things in life that make us happy.”
These days, the answer machine has been upgraded to an app called Recorder Plus that enables users to record a session but also tap in a time-marker on the bits they really like. It’s an invention that Hector sees as a godsend.
“It may not sound like a big deal, but when you’ve got 25 one-hour recordings of vocal ideas it’s really horrible to have to listen through the whole thing to find the part you like.”
I Don’t Wanna Fight
While Mac is certainly his longest running writing partner, Hector also frequently collaborates with Steve Robson and production trio TMS. His approach to working with others hasn’t changed much, and leaving his ego at the door is the one rule he’s always stuck by.
The key to Hector’s success in the US has been his ability to build long-term relationships. These connections are thanks in part to him keeping his feet firmly on the ground (and his ego out of the room). He stresses the importance of “mutual respect with everyone you come into contact with”.
“Most people I know in the US I’ve known since they were A&Rs,” he adds. “Now they are the Managing Directors of the company. Today’s tea boy is tomorrow’s director.”
Hector’s upcoming projects include exciting new Columbia signing Samm Henshaw – who he co-publishes with BMG. He’s also working on albums from Kodaline, Olly Murs, James Blunt, and a “really well known band” that he’s keeping under wraps.
Out of the studio, Hector is also heavily involved in industry campaigns for the better treatment of songwriters. He tells us he is frustrated with the number of performing artists who take publishing income but haven’t actually contributed to the writing process.
“My one big issue is when management push their artists to take publishing on songs they haven’t written,” he says. “Artists make a lot of money on their merchandise, touring, all the rest of it. And songwriters don’t have any of that.”
While Hector admits that “not everybody does it” he feels there are enough people ‘cutting in’ for it to be a problem.
“Especially for young writers who are desperate to get their songs out there,” he explains. “There has to be an understanding from management that it’s a moral wrong.”
Written by Rhian Jones
Article first featured in The Works