Songwriter-Producer Willie Donut: Hitting Slam Dunks

donut2Who knew after listening to Brandon Bell a.k.a. “Willie Donut” speak on a recent BMI Producers Roundtable that it would turn into a full-fledged interview days later – starting at the lobby bar of the iconic Roosevelt Hotel followed by a literal chow-down session at the popular California Wings Café in Hollywood. Drinks and wings aside, Donut’s career has taken the literal turn from struggle to success story mainly due to his Top 5 R&B single, “Oui,” as performed by Jeremih, and co-produced by his production partner Khari Cain a.k.a. Needlz (the latter who co-produced “Just the Way You Are” by Bruno Mars).

“Oui” wasn’t necessarily Donut’s first taste of success. In 2013, he scored a Top 20 Pop single as co-producer of the song “Lolly,” performed by Maejor Ali, and featuring Juicy J & Justin Bieber. “‘Lolly’ definitely put me on the map,” says Donut, “but ‘Qui’ is really my first major radio hit. Because of ‘Oui,’ people are now receiving the Donut & Needlz sound with different ears.”

The creative partnership of Donut & Needlz started after a chance meeting in 2008 when Donut tried to purchase an MPC4000 sampling station from a Craigslist’s ad while living in Atlanta. “We’ve been rockin’ ever since,” Donut says. “Needlz is one of the good guys – a family man with a big heart. It’s a perfect partnership. We do our own thing during the creative process. He’s in the speakers, I’m in the headphones. If it’s something I press play on and he likes it, he’ll say, ‘Send that over to me.’ We have the perfect hand-off process. There’s no stepping on creativity.”

Refusing to be boxed in, Donut & Needlz see themselves mastering everything from Hip-Hop and R&B to Pop genres and formats. Their sound and production are featured on the song “Mona Lisa” from this summer’s Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping soundtrack. They also produced the single “Selfish” for Atlantic recording artist PnB Rock.

Donut signed a publishing deal with Warner Chappell just this past summer, and is working closely with company executives Jon Platt, Ryan Press and Katie Vinten. “They have been pushing me for the best songs and they have been putting me with some of the best writers out there,” he says. “For a long time, I was 100% resistant to a publishing deal. As my career progressed, my mind changed. I found that living here in a place like L.A., the grind is great and eventually, like many producers, I could use the money.”

Donut’s grind didn’t happen overnight. It took a great deal of patience, self-education and prayer. “I’m a very spiritual person. I pray on everything that I do,” he says. “I keep God first. That’s when things really start to line up.”

As for personal mentors, Donut says some of the best advice he’s received has come from Pharoah Williams (brother of super producer Pharrell) who always tells him, “Maintain good taste and keep it classy,” and from his production partner Needlz who constantly drives home, “The drum has to always HIT.” (D. Mitchell)