Mike Greenly grew up in the island community of Beaufort, South Carolina, just off the Atlantic Ocean. After graduating from North Carolina’s Duke University as a Phi Beta Kappa English Lit. major, where he developed a strong interest in theater, he took the Greyhound bus to New York City as quickly as he could.
There he discovered – uh-oh! — they weren’t hiring playwrights. So he became a corporate executive; at least that way, he could afford to buy theater tickets. After decades as an exec in corporate life, and after having become the youngest VP in the history of Avon Products, Inc., Mike left to become a freelance speechwriter, video scripter, PowerPoint whisperer and speech coach.
Today he works for a variety of executives and organizations across many industries, helping his clients to be better and more persuasive communicators. He has also become a respected songwriter, creating lyrics for a wide range of choral songs, country songs, pop songs and dance club hits. He’s also the author of “Our Great Virginia”, signed into law in 2015 as the Official Traditional State Song of Virginia.
I caught up with Mike to discuss his latest #1 Dance Club song, “I’m In Love With You”, written with iconic DJ and producer, Tony Moran, and artist Ryan Shaw, both multi-time Grammy nominees. The song features Jason Walker – whose previous #1 Dance song (“Say Yes”) also involved Mike as one of its songwriters.
So, how does it feel to have your fourth #1 Dance Club hit on the billboard magazine chart?
Honestly, it’s thrilling. As I often admit to people, I’m a guy who can barely change a light bulb. I have no mechanical aptitude and I can injure myself just trying to hang a picture on the wall. I’m grateful to have realized long ago that Words, at least, are my friends, even if a hammer isn’t!
From what I can tell, I’m the only former Fortune 500 sales and marketing VP who then became a freelance speechwriter, speech coach and songwriter. Whether for a national sales meeting or a super-talented artist like Jason Walker, I do my utmost to live up to my tagline, “Sound Like Yourself … Only Better!” When I’m privileged to write songs for a voice like Jason’s, I’m tremendously grateful, end of story.
Let me ask you about another #1 Dance Club hit of yours – “You’re Good for Me” by Kimberly Davis. From what I hear, there’s Grammy buzz about that one.
I’ve been hearing that, too, and it’s thrilling to think about. Both Jason and Kimberly are exceptional singers. Kimberly is actually lead singer of the band, Nile Rodgers and Chic and she, too has a powerhouse voice. And yes, it’s true – “You’re Good for Me” is in contention for best Dance Recording, best non-classical Production and best short form music video.
After touring with Nile Rodgers for so many years, Kimberly has become quite well known and it’s exciting to hear people saying that our song might have Grammy potential. High up on my own personal “bucket list,” for example, is my own pet fantasy: to earn a Grammy nomination over time with each of them, one for Kimberly and another for Jason!
Now you’re also working with UK singer/songwriter Sam Stevens?
Yes! How lucky can a guy be?
British romantic pop singer, Sam Stevens (known as the “James Bond of the Music World” for his suave and silky presence) has just released three versions of another song of mine, “Common Ground”. I wrote it with Gil Polk and Sam, himself. Sam has performed quite a track record. He’s performed with artists as diverse as Prince and Boy George but when you hear him, you’ll realize he has his own distinctively smooth and romantic style.
Amazingly, Sam has just introduced three different takes of “Common Ground” … his “Come Together” version,“ Faith in the Future” version and “Creators of the Future” version. I’m proud of his work on all three.
So how do you write a song anyway? Or more specifically, since you’re not a musician, how do you write your lyrics?
First, I always collaborate. What else can I do? All I’ve got are My Friends, The Words. But there are multiple paths I take to write a song.
Sometimes, I’ll start with just an idea and the words that come to mind around it, and then a composer will add a melody. That’s happened for me with famous choral composer, Jim Papoulis, for example.
I was working with a genuine war hero – Dr. Richard Jadick. I was inspired by the true story in his book, On Call In Hell. As a direct result of his work as a wartime physician, 30 of our American military fighters came home alive from Iraq.
I was inspired by Dr. Jadick’s story. As a result, I wrote “To Those Who Came Before Us” … lyrics for which Jim Papoulis created a poignant melody. Our song is now available as sheet music for different kinds of choirs. It promotes the Independence Fund for America’s wounded warriors. If a Vet returns home disabled, this group of volunteers find ways to help – like buying wheel chairs for Vets who’ve lost their legs, and helping them re-adapt back into American society.
With other songs, someone might give me an idea to write about. Again, for example, a choral song with Jim called “Always My Angel”.
Jim was asked by the music department of Sandy Hook Elementary School to create a song that honored the lives of innocent children and faculty members, all lost to a deranged gunman who attacked the school back in 2012. Jim approached me and said he wanted something about the idea that even though those victims were no longer here on earth, they are still with us now … as angels. This song, too, will be coming out in sheet music for choirs.
And at other times, a composer might just send me a melody. In that case, my lyrics reflect whatever thoughts the music inspires in me.
Back when I was at Avon, a poster on the executive floor proclaimed that, “A good idea doesn’t care where it comes from.” I’ve always kept that in mind.
I don’t care how I get ideas for a song. I just love to write ‘em!
And so … what’s next for you?
Well, as always, I continue to be a “hired gun” for folks who are still in corporate life. Being an executive taught me many valuable lessons, including the fact that I’d live longer not being one! But having achieved the success I did in corporate life, I find it quite fulfilling now to pass on what I’ve learned and help today’s execs be more successful in their pursuits.
Meantime, I’ve got more songs in the hopper involving Jason Walker, Kimberly Davis, Sam Stevens and others. Writing is my passion – whether for corporate audiences or musical ones – and I hope to keep going as long as I can still think and type!