I first interviewed Mike Greenly last fall. Mike is widely credited for making history as an early pioneer in online journalism. His work was covered in TIME Magazine and other publications.
As I’ve also come to know, he’s perhaps the only former Fortune 500 VP who’s now a freelance speechwriter, script writer and executive speech coach for product launches, meetings & events. He’s received glowing tributes from such clients as Johnson & Johnson, ExxonMobil, Patrón Spirits and many more.
Mike is also a highly regarded songwriter/lyricist. He writes in many genres – pop, choral, country, dance club and more. Eight of his dance songs have been charted onBillboardand three, already, have made it to #1. Example: “My Fire” with artists Nile Rodgers and Tony Moran, featuring Kimberly Davis. Mike’s also one of the few people alive to have written a state anthem. His song, “Our Great Virginia”, was signed into law in 2015 as the Official Traditional State Song of Virginia.
I caught up with Mike again to talk about his newest song, “Common Ground” – a labor of caring for humanity, written from the heart and intended to charge other hearts and minds around the world with its message. This anthemic masterpiece was co-written by Gil Polk and UK artist Sam Stevens — who actually sings the track and does the instrumentals.
I was struck by the beauty and power of the song, so I wanted to hear more about it. Mike’s spirit shines through in his answers to my questions ….
So, Mike. With your new single “Common Ground”, what was the inspiration for the lyrics and their message?
I’ve been around for quite a while. But I don’t think I’ve ever lived through a time when our country as polarized as it now is. Not even back in the anti-Vietnam War days.
I’m grateful to have been born an American, but I strive to be a citizen of the world. I speak four foreign languages to varying degrees of fluency, but I can be polite in at least a half-dozen more. When I see tourists on the sidewalks of Manhattan looking puzzled, I’ll always stop and ask if I can help. That’s the kind of world I’d like to live in: people helping and respecting each other.
Originally I wrote the words to “Common Ground” with a composer I’d met at an Indie Collaborative meeting in NYC. (That’s a songwriters’ networking group that meets around the country.) I was writing lyrics to the melody a composer in the group had sent to me as a starting point But the words his music inspired were not the love song I later learned he’d been hoping for.
Well I’ve written a bunch of love songs already, and I hope to write many more. But romance was not the spirit I heard in the music that I began with. What the composition evoked from me, instead, was a need to express the way I wish we all could live and interact together on the planet we all inhabit.
So I shared my lyrics with Gil Polk, who related to them immediately. Gil created the music for “Common Ground” and now, Sam Stevens, does an amazing job of making it his own for the entire world.
What message are you hoping to get out there?
We have but one planet. We should be united around exciting goals like, for me, further progress and discoveries from outer space. More than fifty years of human activity in space have produced medicinal and societal benefits that improve the quality of life for us on earth.
But how much more might we achieve to benefit us all, if only we could all – nations and people – learn to respect and support each other, differences notwithstanding. That’s my message: we need to find and build on “common ground.”
Why do you feel the song is so relevant right now?
Don’t get me started! How about let my chorus speak for me?
“Everyone is different … All of us are equal … Can’t we find a common ground?
“Think about our future … Everything affects us … It’s time we found our common ground”
That says it for me. Just as the women’s movement puts it, “It’s time!”
Aside from “Common Ground” you currently have a Billboard top 10 dance track, tell us about that.
The song is “I’m In Love With You” – pretty basic idea, right? I wrote it with the famous DJ & music producer, Tony Moran, and Ryan Shaw, soul musician from Decatur, Georgia … not far from where I grew up in Beaufort, SC. Like me, Ryan moved up to NYC.
Our song is performed by Jason Walker, an astonishing vocal talent. It was with Jason (and Tony) that I achieved my first #1 Billboard Dance Club hit, “Say Yes”. I’ve enjoyed having several other #1s since, thanks to Kimberly Davis, the powerhouse lead singer for Nile Rodgers’ CHIC. And I’ve just been told that “I’m In Love With You” may be heading even higher up the chart.
Songwriting gives me deep pleasure, in itself. But then seeing the world embrace something I’m part of means more than I can describe.
When you’re not writing songs, what else do you offer the public?
Well, I have zero mechanical skills. I can barely change a light bulb. It would be un-safe to have me change a flat tire. And I can injure myself just hanging a picture on the wall.
But words are my friends. I was an English Lit Major at Duke, and got my MBA in Marketing and International Marketing from NYU. After working in educational publishing and then in consumer packaged goods, I ultimately became Marketing & Communications VP for Avon Products.
Today I use my corporate background and my affinity for words to be what clients claim is the best exec speechwriter, script writer, “ghost” writer and speech coach they’ve worked with. I love it when a product launch or big corporate sales meeting hires me for the whole team.
Writing is what I’m meant to do. I’ve become a writing “machine” that can handle tonnage. When I create or improve presentations for an entire group, each sounds distinctly like the individual delivering it … but the separate presentations all fit together like a solved jigsaw puzzle. The intended overall takeaway message gets reinforced in multiple cohesive ways.
Are there any new projects on the rise for you?
I’ve got some new songs in the hopper, including one I wish I could get Adele to perform!
Meanwhile, because I’ve contributed chapters to three volumes of the CHANGE self-empowerment book series, I met Deb Crowe in Canada and Susan Sharpe in Illinois. They’re “co-authors” of the series, too, and asked me to write the Foreword to their new book, “Mid-Life Wisdom – A Journal to Heal Your Inner Child & Celebrate Your Inner Wisdom.” I’ve already written it and I’m excited about the book.
I love using the power of words to make a difference in the world. For example, one of the choral songs I’ve written with composer Jim Papoulis – “We Can Plant a Forest” – has caused over 50,000 trees to be planted in under-developed countries. That was with the help of Trees for the Future, an award-winning non-profit group.
Other songs of mine have benefitted the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, the American Humane Association, the Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease Foundation, The Young People’s Chorus of New York City and the Foundation for Small Voices.
But I also love using words to help todays’ executives be successful. Whether I write and create presentations or just coach their delivery, I’m proud that I’ve developed the skill to help today’s executives be more comfortable and effective on-stage. That’s what I learned to do as a corporate VP, myself.
I’m so lucky to have found my purpose in life and I hope to have the chance to help many more executive clients before I put away my keyboard for good. Meanwhile, of course, I also hope to craft many, many more songs!
Mike Greenly’s website: http://www.mikegreenly.com
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