Songwriter Goes Behind the Music — San Francisco Examiner

Bortolotti’s tunes win awards, air on teen TV dramas.
by Kate Williamson

San Mateo County teenagers catching their favorite drama on The WB may not know it, but some of the music aired on shows like “One Tree Hill” and “Smallville” were written in their own backyard.

San Mateo native Natalia Bortolotti was recently honored in the VH1 cable network Song of the Year contest, for a song she co-wrote with Cupertino resident Scott Smith called “Your Only Other.” It placed second in the pop category, according to VH1.

The honor will add to her already long list of awards, including John Lennon Song Contest, the Billboard Song Contest and the Lilith Fair Talent Search. Not surprisingly, her songs have been licensed for film and television.

The song, beautiful and catchy, is pure pop. But the idea behind the song is for mature audiences.

“‘Your Only Other’ is a song about being really happy with the relationship you’re in, but not losing yourself in the relationship,” Bortolotti said. “I really wanted to write a non co-dependent love song.”

Bortolotti’s own life has taken a turn for the grown-up lately. The Hillsdale High School graduate started out writing poetry and then listening to her favorite bands of the 1980s, such as Depeche Mode, REM, the Smiths and Siouxsie Sioux. For years, she was the songwriter and singer for Hopechild, an award-winning band.

But the group broke apart and Bortolotti has decided to pursue songwriting full-time. She now writes songs, and teaches voice and songwriting at Blue Bear School of Music, her alma mater. She just bought her first condo in Foster City, a home complete with its own spotlessly clean music studio with an extra bed for creative catnaps.

For inspiration, she looks to such successful songwriters as Diane Warren, who penned the LeAnn Rimes hit “How Do I Live.” Songwriting is a money-maker in the music world, with writers collecting half the royalties from hits.

“That would be the ultimate for me, to be the person to call when you need a hit song,” she said.

She’s working diligently toward that end, according to Smith, with whom she works in a songwriting company called Songfellowz.

“She’s scary bright. She really listens to what’s out in the marketplace. She really has her finger on the pulse of today’s pop song,” said Smith, adding that she’s a stickler for perfection. “She’ll get a hold of an idea and won’t let go of it. I call it reeling in the marlin, the big fish. Most songwriters will settle.”

Bortolotti approaches music looking for the quality that distinguishes her own favorite songs — “something that moves me.” Focusing on lyrics and melodies, she collaborates with other artists, such as Smith, to fill out the remaining parts. And when she dreams up a catchy tune, she’s quick to get it down.

“I’ll call my voicemail and leave the melody because I don’t want to forget it,” she said.

Along the way to her professional career, teachers have been tremendously helpful, she said. She cited Blue Bear voice professor Raz Kennedy and then-Hillsdale music teacher Dave Martin as mentors.

“He asked me to sing in the jazz band,” she said of Martin. “He taught me all these great jazz standards. He was really supportive, and I really needed that at that stage of my life.”