Berklee Online course authors Brad Hatfield and Gaye Tolan Hatfield have earned a 2022 Daytime Emmy Award, along with Lydia Harrell, Jeff Meegan, and RC Cates, for “Outstanding Original Song.” The winning track is titled “Grateful For It All” and appeared on the soap opera The Young and the Restless.
RC Cates has been the music supervisor for the show since 2013, and is now an 11-time Emmy award winner. He first connected with the Hatfields when he was a student in Brad’s online Music Supervision course in 2012. Lydia Harrell is a jazz/soul vocalist and voice instructor at Berklee College of Music, and a recent graduate of Berklee Online’s Electronic Music Production and Sound Design bachelor’s degree program. Co-writer Jeff Meegan has been collaborating with Brad and Gaye for nearly two decades. He is a vocalist, drummer, and producer based in Chicago and represented the group by accepting the Emmy at the ceremony in LA.
“Grateful For It All” appeared on a 2021 episode of The Young and the Restless that paid tribute to a character on the show, Neil Winters, and the actor who played him, Kristoff St. John. St. John appeared on the show from 1991 up until his untimely death in 2019 at age 52. His character notoriously loved jazz music, and the team were tasked with creating songs that sounded like they were written by jazz legends (because they didn’t have the budget to license the actual tunes). The episode culminated with “Grateful For It All,” with Harrell’s vocal performance interpreting Billie Holiday.
The five Emmy-winners reunited on a Zoom call extending three time zones to talk about how the song came together as well as the importance of collaboration and networking.
Let’s talk about the award-winning song. I watched the scene that “Grateful For It All” was in and it looked like the cast members were at a memorial, placing flowers down. And then I learned that it was not only a tribute to a character, but the actor who played that character as well. RC, since you’re the music supervisor, could you tell me a bit about that scene and the cast member and why the song works so well here?
RC Cates: On a personal level, it had extra poignancy for us because the actor who played the character that we were memorializing actually passed away. He was a really great guy and we all really loved him. What was unique about this particular thing was that his character on the show was historically a jazz fan. It lent us an opportunity because the song that this group, minus me, did was not the only contribution. That entire show was almost exclusively original jazz that Brad had written based on references that had been in the show over the decades of the artists he liked.
But there’s no budget on the show. So we couldn’t actually use any of those authentic artists. So it became my task, and this is the greatest group of people I could possibly pick to say, “Alright, how do we say Miles without using Miles?” And it was a really fun back and forth.
When I was watching the clip, I noticed that there was a lot of space for the audience to take in the lyrics and the vocal performance. Lydia, what was it like to put yourself in that head space to sing the music and lyrics, especially when it’s sort of breaking the fourth wall with a real person who passed away?
Lydia Harrell: Well sometimes I like knowing information like that, because it helps me to know how much I need to connect. But for that one, it was a little harder, just because it’s like, oh my goodness, this is a real person that we lost. Wow, it’s not just a character. But I was cast as Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill. I did not get to do it because of the pandemic. We were three rehearsals in and then they canceled it.
But I had been practicing my Billie Holiday for a while. Brad already knew that I could sing jazz, so I’m glad that he asked me to just do it at all. So we tried different takes and then, wasn’t it like the last one, Brad? I was like, “okay, let me just try this one last thing.” And it was the Billie Holiday kind of feel, and it just worked. I’m really glad that there was space left to, like you said, to really just take in the lyrics and the emotion behind what was happening. And also when my friends saw it, they were like, “You got the whole scene!” I’m like, “I know, right?” That was kind of cool.
Brad Hatfield: I think it’s important for students to realize how much folks are moving tracks around, approving things, moving forward, and making changes. So this is key, folks: learn how to engineer yourself at a really high-quality level, which Lydia did. She sent us a version that was definitely leaning heavier towards Billie . . . she also did sort of her own thing and we came up with a bit of a mish-mash of the two things, but I think the producers leaned more towards the Billie Holiday one. So that’s the majority of that vocal cell. When we had a problem with the edit at the end, I got back to Lydia and she turned it right around. I said, “Here’s what you need to make this ending work.” And she very quickly got the files back to me and I was able to drop them back in with the tweaks.
RC Cates: You know, Brad you’ve gotten really good at that particular conundrum that you talked about. Because it’s maybe a little bit unique to us because we do a show a day and we don’t always have the benefit of a locked picture and enough time to create something like this beautiful song. The only way we were able to provide all the music the show needed for this episode is we started working on it almost two months in advance, and that was all just based on looking at scripts—we had no idea how the scenes would actually play out and there were some moments where we had to dance at the last second.
It was, “Okay, here’s the picture. You have maximum 48 hours to fix this, and oops, the edit is bad in the song, so let’s fix it.” That’s a real skill set and I don’t even know how you prepare students for that, but it’s a very unique challenge.
Gaye Tolan Hatfield: Lydia, did you learn to record yourself from taking all the online courses?
Lydia Harrell: It’s not where I learned to record myself, but my degree that I literally just got is in Electronic Music Production and Sound Design, and that was at Berklee Online. I learned a lot more and I feel like whatever high-quality I could do then I can do even better now. So yeah, it was a really great experience and learning how to mix and things like that.
Gaye Tolan Hatfield: I think it’s pretty rare to find a vocalist of your caliber to be able to record themselves as well as you do.
Brad Hatfield: And by the way, another person that we are sort of channeling in this tune is Shirley Horn. If you’re not familiar with Shirley Horn, you should check her out because talk about space is the place, baby. You wait for every note, you wait for every lyric, and every lyric in Jeff’s case was a killer. So when you waited, when you did get that lyric, when you did get that note, it was like, “okay, you know, give me a little bit more.” To your point about letting folks drink in the visuals, that’s a big lesson too, for all the students. That’s a lot of information coming at you and if you overcook the music and the lyrics, you’ve stolen the viewer from their story. So this is why this tune worked out so well.
Gaye Tolan Hatfield: That Shirley Horn tune is “Here’s To Life.” It’s got the yin and yang of “so many struggles, yet I’m thankful to be here, for having this life.” And I think harmonically, when I was doing the chords, what grabbed me about that song is, the minor and major interplay. The verse starts very much in a minor zone, and then there’s this sense of relief at the end of the phrase of a big major chord. So I love that. That was kind of fun. I was thinking the whole time of that cool harmony, you know, how it plays with that lyrically, with the message.
Jeff, you wrote the lyrics. Could you talk a little bit about what the songwriting process was like?
Jeff Meegan: Brad and Gaye sent me a melody in chords and they gave me the Shirley Horn tune as a reference. And yes, it was pretty bare in tune, but everything that’s talked about is really important. The importance of every word is heightened when there’s not a lot going on. So I sat down with the tune and I sort of had a general direction. I didn’t know how it was going to be used, to be honest with you, or where it was gonna be used in the show. But just like, “okay, here’s this tune and we’ve got to write something that’s kind of like this.” And the message was clear, and I just had to find a different way of saying it.
So, I played around with a couple different ideas, but “Grateful for It All” . . . I toyed with it because it was so simple, but that’s ultimately why I needed to use it because it was all you needed to say. It started at the top with the first line “I’ve seen the sun rise and watch it fall,” you know, just imagery of things we all go through in life.
Honestly, I didn’t think about the character at all. I don’t know too much about the character other than he must have been loved for them to do this tribute to him. So it was easy to come up with. And because of the soap opera, and just life in general . . . you know, light and shade, light and shade, right? Yin and yang. The good, the bad, just over and over again, because that’s all life is. I think I spent the morning with it and it came together relatively quickly.
RC Cates: One takeaway for students moving forward is it starts with a seed of: I have a script and I know the whole story of the character and I know how all the other characters interacted with him and I know his life story. I know his light and his shade. And so my first interpretation is, “okay, in that world as a music supervisor, I have to be a Jack-of-all-trades, but whether I like jazz or not, I need to be able to find good jazz so that I can talk to people about creating something like it.” So my first step is I’m listening to all the tunes that I remember moved me the way I want the audience to be moved. When they hear a song for this then I get in touch with Brad, and Brad of course, has that vocabulary and starts to mention other artists.
We started throwing around songs and artists, and then you all have the expertise to harmonically create something that sounds authentic. And then Jeff, what you did brilliantly is the lyrics are sort of universal themes. Nothing is specific to that character yet. Every line really did fit that character in some way or another to the point that the audience thinks, “Oh my God, you must know everything about Kristoff.” Because you wrote his life story here. And then Lydia, the audience feels your emotions in your singing. It was a home run in all those ways, which honestly I think is why it won.
I want to come back to networking. Why is it so important to keep up with people and to keep your professional and personal relationships thriving and how has that benefited you all?
RC Cates: I’ve been doing this for a really long time. I live and die by my connections. I think it’s probably pretty obvious to say this, but I tend to go back to the people that deliver consistently most often. Then on top of that, for me, I need to work with authentic people, genuine human beings. Obviously you need to be talented, but this group I’m looking at here: genuine, authentic people that I can count on, on every level. Because sometimes it’s not just about the music—it’s about understanding other nuances. Sometimes I have to ask composers and songwriters to do things like last-minute, and completely change the song. And “Oh, can you jump through that hoop for me? And can you do it by tomorrow at 9?” And you know, it’ll work with people who are flexible that way and understand that we’re all working towards the same end goal anyway. So, you know, leave your egos at the door.
Jeff Meegan: To hop on what RC was just saying, that I think it’s very important to keep up with your network and keep in touch with people that do the same thing that you do or are in the same field as you . . . But on top of that, it’s very important to keep in touch with and make friends with good people because you only want to work with good, nice people. We spend a lot of time working together and as artists, sometimes personalities can be difficult. So when you find people who you mesh with and get along with and can work with, that’s really, really valuable. So, certainly keep up and nurture those relationships as much as you can.
Gaye Tolan Hatfield: I think you have to really recognize people’s strengths. I think when I was a younger person, I thought I had to do everything. And this idea of networking, it just didn’t occur to me. But everybody here has something special that everyone else can’t do. I will never sing like Lydia, and I can’t do what Brad does, and he can’t do what I do. I can’t do what Jeff does, you know? We’re pulling at everybody’s strengths to make this thing come together. And you have RC, who is always so gracious and always extending himself saying how much he appreciates us too. And you have to do that too. You have to nurture that way in voicing your appreciation for what people do.
Lydia Harrell: You really are building a foundation for later on. Sometimes it’s immediate, but sometimes it’s, I mean, Brad and I met in 2007, right? You just never know when it’s going to happen. And so it’s really important to stay on top of things. Even if you’re not always saying, “Hey, I’m still around,” or whatever, making sure you’re visible. So that’s why social media and things like that are so important. Make sure you’re always updating things. People always say, “Oh, I saw you singing on your Instagram” and things like that. But don’t make it just about you. Make sure you’re also going and interacting and looking at what they’re doing, and comment on that. And just share because you just don’t know. I just think that’s the beautiful thing about networking: you don’t know when, who, or how, but it’s helpful to have a big network.
Brad Hatfield: One of the things about Berklee Online and the students that I have come through is that those are folks that know somebody that knows somebody and folks that I had in classrooms at Northeastern and Berklee. I am working with my students. My assistant is one of my former students from Music Supervision and she’s crushing it. She was one of those people who delivered in the classroom. So please, students understand, this is not just about a grade and a grade point average and getting a certificate. You have the opportunity to impress not only your other classmates, which you should be trying to do, but you should be trying to impress those professors, especially ones that are dialed in and are working in the field.