All throughout elementary school, I was writing songs in my head on and off. If I liked where a song was going, I’d memorize it as I went but never ever write it down. I think I was embarrassed and didn’t realize that songwriting was something a normal person could do. The summer before eighth grade, when I was thirteen, I finally decided to swallow my pride and be open about writing songs. The first song I wrote was about the lessons we can learn from cats (typical of me, I know). It was called “Feline Lessons.”
Can you tell me a bit about your process for writing a song?
I never really leave the process. I have a notes document and hours worth of voice memos on my phone where I record ideas as they come to me through- out the day. Then, when I sit down to write a song, I often start with a small idea––a lyric, a situation, or sometimes just a vibe. Then I’ll grab an instrument––usually guitar, piano, or ukulele––and start improvising some chords, lyrics, and melodies. When I find something that I like, I write it down or record it in a voice memo on my phone. Sometimes, months or even years after I write a song, I go back and edit it. There’s a song that I wrote in August of sophomore year that I am now editing. I’ve been playing this song out and treating it like a finished product, but a couple of months ago I tried playing it on piano (instead of guitar) and soon after had an idea of a whole section I could add that completely changes the course of the song.
What is one of the most important lessons you have learned so far?
In the first few months that I was songwriting, I kept looking for the magic set of steps for “how to write a song.” Of course, there are a lot of techniques that you can use, and there certainly are ways to judge the quality of songs, but I’ve realized that songwriting is not as straightforward as I wanted it to be. You can learn a lot about songwriting from other people, but no one can teach you how to write a song. I’ve learned that the best way to learn is by paying attention to what you like about your favorite songs by other people and, above all, practice.
What is one of the biggest challenges you have faced so far?
I have an EP (short album) coming out in a few months that I recorded, produced, and mixed almost entirely alone. I wanted to do as many of those technical things as possible because 1. I don’t have enough money to pay a producer and 2. I’ve heard so many stories of (usually male) producers disregarding female singer/songwriters’ opinions on their own music. I wanted to make sure I learned enough about recording, producing, and mixing, that it would be hard for someone to mansplain or intimidate me while making future albums. That being said, I knew nothing about recording, producing, or mixing until I started this EP, so I’ve been on a huge learning curve for the last year or so. It can get pretty frustrating when I realize I could have been doing something more efficiently the whole time, but I’m glad that I’m learning it now, rather than later.
Does it feel different performing your own song vs a song by someone else?
Absolutely! I post a lot of covers on my Instagram (@meggiemusic131), and with those I always try to do something different than the artist. Often, I end up simplifying a song down to just my voice and one instrument. I love when other people do that because you get to hear the voice and the lyrics so much better. On the flip side, there’s something very vulnerable about performing my own songs. In fact, that vulnerability is one of the big reasons I write songs.
Can you talk a bit about your experiences performing?
At this point, I’ve played over 50 gigs and open mics. I love the fact that performing originals opens space to create connections with strangers, whether that’s someone telling me after a show that they enjoyed it or just someone dancing along in their seat.
Have your arts courses at Hopkins influenced any of your work songwriting and performing?
So much, yes! I’ve been in Concert Choir all four years of high school, and it has changed me immensely as a singer and musician! I used to think that classical and pop vocal techniques were fairly separate, but I quickly learned that there are actually very few significant differences. Last year, I also took “Hu man Rights and the Politics of Music” and “Roots of American Popular Music,” which was basically a pop music history course. This year, I am taking AP Music Theory. These classes have been some of my favorite in my whole Hopkins experience. Choral Director and Music Teacher Schroth has actually taught me in four different classes now (plus Treble Choir), so she’s had a huge impact on me as a musician.
Do you have any advice for people who are interested in trying out songwriting or performing music?
There will never be a magical moment where you realize you finally know everything you need to write your first song. You will not like your first song a year after you write it, and that’s okay! The important thing is that you finish and learn from it. Song-writing is just a matter of practice. That being said,
you probably already know intuitively how to write songs. Trust your instincts. There are no negative consequences for writing a “bad” song, so just do it and let it be. In terms of performing, I have a master list of many many open mics in CT, so if anyone wants to see that or get advice on where to go first, feel free to email me and ask.