We sent our mole—recent grad/employee Jacqueline Smith, that is—to take a look at the four-day summer Songwriting Workshop.
Hello, my name is Jacqueline Smith. I’m a songwriter who graduated from Berklee recently. I’ve worked in the Summer Programs Office for four years, and attended the Five-Week Performance Program before I came to Berklee. Last August, Shelly asked me to cover the Songwriting Workshop for our new blog. In this post, I share my experience with you!
The way the schedule was set up was like a buffet, if you will. There were something like seven classes at once during each two-hour session, each taught by a different faculty member. It was almost overwhelming! There were classes in everything from business and publishing, to finding the right chords for your melody, to dissecting the poetry of lyric writing. All of the classes repeated at least once so that you could try to get a taste of anything.
Can you teach songwriting?
The concept of “teaching” someone how to write a song is sometimes frowned upon. Shouldn’t it happen naturally? Won’t it take away from the creativity of the process and turn you into some sort of Hostess Cake, a packaged writer, instead of the crème brulée we all strive to be as artists? My theory is: What if someone has the next “Come Together” or “Billie Jean” in their head and just doesn’t know how to get it out? That’s not lack of ability; it’s just a lack of know-how. All any school can give you is tools, not talent. And hey, I don’t know about anybody else, but I am more than willing to up my know-how.
The first class I chose was Choosing the Correct Chords for Your Song with John Stevens, ‘cause harmony is hardest for me. It was a crash course in theory. At one point Stevens said to the class, “that’s nine months worth of theory classes in an hour.” The most helpful part perhaps was the examples Stevens played for the class. The power of having three of the right chords, in the right place… it’s all you need. We listened to examples from the Beatles, Carrie Underwood, Pearl Jam, and others. It was really quite the spectrum, and those artists were all using the same tools that we had just talked about in the first hour. It was a reoccurring theme throughout the weekend: If you know the patterns and tools that artists use, it gives you the power to break those patterns and create your own style.
The next class that I really enjoyed was a singer/songwriter workshop with Jon Aldrich. I adore Jon. He’s such an insightful and inspiring teacher. This was also the first class during the weekend where I started to envy the talent around me (poor sportsmanship, yeah, I’m also a sore loser). The songs that people were playing were high-quality, and the feedback was so respectful and encouraging—everyone was an equal despite age, background, or style. Classes like this are the icing on the cake ‘cause you’re not only learning, you’re thoroughly enjoying what you’re hearing.
The last class I took I found one of the most valuable for me personally. It was titled How to Get a Publishing Deal, but ended up being more of a reality check as to where the music business is at right now. Andrea Stolpe and her husband were so knowledgeable, and as Berklee alumni, they were more than willing to share. I walked away with four pages of notes, and I’m not even much of a note-taker. One of their best pieces of advice was “Start today. We as songwriters get caught up in what we’ll do AFTER the album’s done, or AFTER the website gets updated. . . they’re just excuses. You need to start today, now.”
So that was the gist of my experience at the Songwriting Workshop. I learned new things, met great aspiring talent, and had my passion reignited a bit. It was a very busy weekend, but the experience was sweet.