Jadyn Gaertner writes music in her room at DeBell Hall. Photos by Lucian Himes
When people hear the lyrics to their first nursery rhyme, “Happy Birthday,” the first band anthem they learned the words to or the song they automatically put on in the car, the lyrics and messages might stay with them for the rest of their lives.
Musicians weave together words and chord progressions to tell stories and provoke emotion in those who listen. Writing and composing have stayed true to its ultimate goal of bringing joy and entertainment to their audiences. However, the intricate process has changed from generation to generation, according to SongTrust blog.
Collaboration Creates Perspective
Sophomore musician Evan Herrera writes and produces his own music and said the process of songwriting still has the same intentions of conveying messages as it always has, but writing independently, has taken a backseat.
“I know songwriting is a lot more collaborative these days; there’s a lot more songwriters for one song, and producers get songwriting credit now,” Herrera said. “We definitely see more of a person who is gonna leave it up to other people and just be a singer. The people that write the songs are more behind the scenes.”
Songwriting and composing allow listeners to be able to hear about the world and feel emotions from different perspectives, California recording artist Amy Held said.
Held said what makes songwriting so fascinating is the perspectives of others — if people opened their hearts to different points of view in music, it might make the world a better place.
“There’s so much power in everybody’s perspective,” Held said. “Perspective is so important. The world as it is would be such a more loving environment if we just accepted perspective.”
Storytelling Through Song
Held said her personal songwriting is more story-driven in nature. Her song “Still-Falling” conveys this with lyrics like, “I’m crystallized by you/With one arm outstretched towards the sun/I’m frozen in metaphors/Still-falling.” She said she tries to invite people into her story.
Numerous artists such as The Beatles, P.J. Morton, Billy Joel and Harry Styles all have different perspectives that are evident when listening to their songs. Despite their generational gap, all of these artists have something in common. Through their music, they tell stories and project audial images of feelings listeners often find hard to express themselves.
Beyond the Story
- What did the reporting and research process look like for this story?
It was different for Gibbs, Han, Held, Herrera and Planert depending on availability, work schedules, recording schedules, etc. It was definitely a lengthy and thorough process because these sources are knowledgeable in their professions and have unique experiences. I wanted to make sure to ask questions that would provoke conversation and help me dive deeper into understanding their love for songwriting.
- Can you speak a little bit about your sources and your process searching for them?
My sources are a mix of student musicians, Los Angeles recording artists and professionals in the film and music industry. My sources are all in different stages of their career and they’re all super diverse in what they do — whether that’s writing, producing, film scoring or composing. Additionally, they are all a variety of ages and grew up in different generations of music, so it was really important for me to highlight them. They are bound in their love of songwriting and explained to me how it’s changed and why it’s special.
You mentioned you write music, what about this story inspired you to keep writing? After we came back to in-person classes after the pandemic, I fell away from writing because I thought there was no point in writing my own songs if I wasn’t spending all of my time on it. In the past few months, and after this story especially, I realized how ridiculous that was. All of these sources and artists write music because they love it, as do I, so why don’t I do it? I can write, so I will.
L.A. musician and LMU student Nicole Han said some of her own musical influences allow her to feel comfortable sharing raw emotions in her songs. Her most recent single “WANNABE” says, “I know you’re happy/You don’t think about me/And that’s the way it should be/I wish I didn’t care so much/Wish I didn’t lie between my teeth.”
“I exposed myself to more old ’80s rock as I got older, but when I was younger I was exposed to a lot of Elton John and Billy Joel — those types of songwriters,” Han said. “There is an unlimited amount of stories to tell, and there are billions of people, and everyone has their own personal situation going on, and I think that translates. I often write when I’m going through something I want to talk about.”
Scoring Amplifies Technological Changes
Songwriting isn’t limited to purely pop artists and rock hits, but films also utilize scoring to help encapsulate audiences into the story by providing music to amplify the emotions within a scene.
“Jaws,” “Star Wars,” “Harry Potter” and “Pirates of the Caribbean,” — what bonds these movies is the musical scores that accompany them and have stuck with audiences everywhere, according to ClassicFM. The music in films elevates the visual experience and brings to life the magic on the screen.
Today, more technology is present in studios and writing sessions — the days of entangled tapes and scratched records might be thought of as a thing of the past.
Although, more has changed beyond the inventions of LogicPro — an online professional recording software — and Loop Stations, which lets the user quickly record lyrics and music with playback.
German film composer, Kim Planert is best known for his compositions on the television series “Castle” and British television show “Missing,” among others. Planert said when he started, he only used manual modes of recording and composing. Now, he has a different experience creating in studios.
“Tech was an obstacle because the whole engineering side was going down, so only the biggest studios were surviving,” Planert said. “When it comes to writing for a picture, if I can get the script, I’ll start there, leaving all the technology aside to catch the heart of it. Then I start on piano and transfer to the computer and that’s really been the last 25 years.”
True To Tradition
Planert said composing has become more technologically based over the last 25 years. However, other composers also stick to traditional instruments.
Richard Gibbs, film composer and music producer, best known for his work on “Dr. Dolittle” and “10 Things I Hate About You,” said he created a music studio to be able to immerse himself with the instruments he’s collected over the years.
Gibbs created Woodshed Recording in Malibu to be “first and foremost a creative environment,” according to the studio’s website. The space can accommodate anywhere from a single solo artist to a 30-piece orchestra trying to record a composition. It’s hosted a scope of artists from Coldplay to Sting to Barbara Streisand. In the studio, one will find a grand piano, a full sound engineering workspace, a multitude of guitars and exotic instruments.
Why Write Music?
Since his beginnings in the industry, Gibbs said he always believed the true meaning of music is to create something that summons the emotions of its listeners.
“How do I manipulate emotions with music?” Gibbs said. “All I’ve wanted to do is inspire others and give happiness to other people.”
Artists said they all write for different reasons and write about something that calls to them or, for film, what makes sense for the production. Held said a huge inspiration for her is God and the idea of getting inspiration from anywhere out of nowhere.
“God is my biggest inspiration,” Held said. “There’s this phenomena of songwriters having random strokes of genius and I accredit that to God and just thank him for a moment when it happens.”
Planert said between his work periods, he enjoys writing music for himself under his own name. When his work is in full swing, Planert said the profession provides “the bravery for space to create.”
Songwriting isn’t just lyrics and melody anymore — when artists embark on a creative journey to write a song, Herrera said it’s more flexible and interchangeable now than ever.
From the days of makeshift sound booths to the technological recording ease of today, songwriting has never failed to stand the test of time and journey with people all over the world — bringing communities together.
Gibbs, Han, Held, Herrera and Planert — while different ages, genres and backgrounds — said they remain connected in their love for music. All of these musicians said songwriting still remains evergreen in the effect it has on those who listen and the passion of those who create.
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About the Author
Emily Chase is a junior Journalism major and Film minor. She is the Perspectives editor and special edition assistant; she has written over two dozen stories for the Graphic. She is from Santa Monica, Calif., and loves music. She has been singing, playing piano and songwriting since the age of 6. Chase is very excited to bring this story to life and hopes readers will take away a greater appreciation for songwriting.