Pop songwriter and producer Glen Ballard was born in Natchez, Mississippi, on May 1, 1953. Throughout his decades-long career, Ballard has won six Grammy awards and has helped create of some of the most popular and influential pop music made in the 1980s and ’90s. Ballard is best known for co-writing and producing Alanis Morissette’s 1995 debut album Jagged Little Pill. The album included the hits “You Oughta Know,” “Ironic,” and “Hand in My Pocket,” won several Grammys, and was declared one of the best rock albums of all time by Rolling Stone. Ballard also worked with Michael Jackson, co-writing Jackson’s classic hit song “Man in the Mirror.” The songs and albums Ballard has worked on have sold 150 million copies.
Ballard spent his early years in Natchez and attended the University of Mississippi, where he studied English, journalism, and political science. His grandfather was a businessman and a speaker in the Mississippi House of Representatives, but Ballard turned down a scholarship to law school at the University of Mississippi and headed to Los Angeles when he was twenty-two years old to pursue a career in music, though he felt he could not sing well enough to be a performer. His first big opportunity was co-writing songs for the group Wilson Phillips, including the hits “Hold On” and “You’re in Love.” That early success led to a position working for Quincy Jones Productions, where he co-wrote “Man in the Mirror” with Siedah Garrett for Michael Jackson’s Bad, the follow-up to Thriller.
The list of pop artists Ballard has worked with is extensive and reflects the longevity of his career as a songwriter. He has produced or written for Paula Abdul, Van Halen, Aerosmith, No Doubt, Shakira, Dave Matthews Band, Lisa Marie Presley, Katie Perry, Barbara Streisand, and Ringo Starr. He has also written music for film, television, and the stage. Ballard won a Grammy and received an Oscar nomination for the song “Believe” from the film The Polar Express in 2006, and his theater work includes the Broadway hit Ghost the Musical, a stage adaptation of the film starring Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze. He now owns his own label, Java Records, and a production company called Augury.
Ballard credits his success to putting the needs of artists first and always keeping a positive environment in the studio, things he learned from working with Quincy Jones at the beginning of his career. “Quincy has a great musicality, but he also creates a comfortable atmosphere in the studio where people not only feel they can do their best, but want to do their best because he inspires them,” Ballard said.
Ballard built his career by helping artists achieve their vision. Rather than writing songs for artists, he prefers to co-write, focusing on the music so that artists can express themselves through the song’s lyrics. Ballard’s kindness, his Zen-like calm demeanor, and his instinct for successful songwriting partnerships has helped him become known as the person to work with for artists who value creative control—and who wouldn’t mind getting some help writing a hit at the same time.
- Nigel Harrison, Songwriters: A Biographical Dictionary with Discographies (1998)
- Barry Grills, Ironic: The Alanis Morissette Story (1997)
- Robert Hilburn, “A Calm Hand at the Controls,” Los Angeles Times (August 5, 2001)