Less than a year ago, singer-songwriter Tebby Burrows, known simply as Tebby, had just released her debut single, “Feel Alright.” Born in Miami and raised in the Bahamas, she had recently been introduced by a friend to Grammy-winning producers Cool & Dre (who wound up producing her first single) and moved back to Miami.
Now Tebby has another accomplishment to add to a growing list: She’s the first winner on NBC’s Songland, a new competition TV show that premiered May 28.
Songland is a reality series that shows the process of crafting a great tune. Contestants are selected after submitting a song they’ve written, and in each episode, a few compete for the chance to have their song recorded by an established artist. They're also assigned to a seasoned producer to help them improve and rework their song before presenting it for the final decision.
On Tebby’s episode, the show’s premiere, the celebrity artist was John Legend. One of four competitors, Tebby worked on her song “We Need Love” with Grammy-winning country music artist Shane McAnally, making changes with Legend and his voice in mind. “We Need Love” was one of the first songs Tebby had written after beginning to work with Cool & Dre about a year and a half ago. When they sent her the track, she says, there was just something about it that made her play it in her apartment and start singing, and the lyrics flowed from there. She later submitted it to Songland.
Although Tebby’s work typically draws from many influences — reggae, pop, electronic, R&B — she had never worked with a country artist before, but she relished the opportunity to collaborate with McAnally. “The thing that I love about country music is its storytelling,” she says. That’s important to her as a songwriter. As a ‘90s baby, Tebby grew up idolizing artists such as Tracy Chapman, Maroon 5, and Taylor Swift — a wide variety, but what drew them together in her mind was their penchant for lyrics that told stories.
In addition to finding common ground with McAnally, working with him also gave Tebby new insight into her process and lessons she plans to take away from the experience. “I grew up writing poetry before I was writing songs, and so I love words,” she says. “What he brought to my attention was, on paper it’s beautiful, but it’s really important for songwriting to figure out a way to simplify it. For my verses, I tend to tell a whole story, and he was like, ‘Alright, how can we condense that into something that someone can easily sing along with?’”
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McAnally also suggested Tebby make the song acoustic. “It was really nice to strip the song down and get back to guitar, which is how I grew up writing songs,” she says.
At the end of the Songland episode, Legend chose Tebby as the winner. He decided her song had “made the biggest journey from where it was to where it is now.” “We Need Love” had gone from a faster-paced tune with a poppy, Caribbean-inflected beat to a more soulful, pared-down acoustic track that gets right to the heart of the lyrics’ message. Legend recorded the song, and Tebby waited until the episode aired to hear his version, at a watch party with friends and fellow cast members from Songland. “It was supercool because it was in the moment — my reaction was real,” she says.
These days, she’s continuing to build momentum — doing lots of writing, putting together her first EP, and continuing to collaborate with artists she met on the show. She also relocated to Los Angeles about a month ago to be closer to some of the people with whom she plans to work. She’s expanding her repertoire as a singer as well as a writer and released another single, “Love,” this past February. “I’m excited for everyone to get to know Tebby as a songwriter but also Tebby as an artist,” she says.