Goodbye Comfort Zone, Hello Songwriting!

Madelyn Douglas Free Time, Madelyn, Music, Professional & Academic, Viterbi Life, Why USC Leave a Comment

As someone who has spent over 85,000 minutes listening to music last year (thanks, Spotify wrapped), I’ve been hoping to at least attempt making music at some point in my life. Knowing myself realistically, I have a hard time making time for projects like creating a song outside of classes. The solution? Force yourself to enroll in songwriting at USC’s wonderful Thornton School of Music! This semester, I decided to get myself out of my comfort zone and leave the safety of shower singing behind by taking MUSC 255, Songwriting I. I’ve been simultaneously teaching myself guitar the past few months (I usually play piano) so I can channel Mac Demarco’s twangy chill sadness in my music (songs that make you want to cry are the most beautiful—prove me wrong).

Hahahaha can you tell I like sad music? I take pride in this accomplishment.

Songwriting I is a class open to students of any major; my class has a mix of Thornton or music industry majors, cinematic arts students, part-time DJs, and—shockingly—two engineers I already knew! I have professor Andrea Stolpe, an experienced songwriter in industry and one of the most supportive professors I have ever met. Everyone is at different levels in terms of creative writing, vocals, instruments, and production, and no one can do it all (and you don’t have to). The class revolves around creating 4 finished songs—a fact that absolutely freaked me out at first, but became easy after the preparation we do in class—and we approach each one from a different perspective.

Song 1: Lyrics

AHHHHHHHHH PLEASE GOD NO NOT CREATIVE WRITING AND VULNERABILITY COMBINED!! CAN ANYTHING BE WORSE??! Song 1 starts from lyrics—for me, the most dreaded aspect of songwriting. I have messed around making chord progressions and melodies on the piano before, but usually hit writer’s block when it comes to anything lyrics-related. We learned about object/sensory writing techniques and typical song structures such as verse-refrain or verse-chorus to prepare for our first song. With the biggest challenge behind me, I ended up happy that we started with lyrics.

Song 2: Groove

~ Groovy, baby! ~ Song 2 started with “groove”—the feeling of the chords in a song that makes you want to dance. I am completing Song 2 this weekend and have enjoyed practicing guitar strumming patterns and building a song from its musical ideas first.

Guitars are especially good instruments to create a ~groove~

Song 3: Collaboration

Our third song will be a collaboration among students in our songwriting class. Everyone has different strengths, with some students from vocal or musical backgrounds, some from storytelling backgrounds, and some from production backgrounds. One of my favorite parts of the class is listening to everyone else’s songs, and I can’t wait to see what happens when our class collaborates!

Song 4: ???

I have no idea what’s in store for our last song… hopefully I’ll save the best for last!

I got to check out MoPop (Museum of Pop Culture) in Seattle over winter break–most of the museum is music-related and they had a whole exhibit on Prince who’s in the Songwriter Hall of Fame!

So far, I have gotten more and more out of my comfort zone with each song that passes and have experimented to find my style along the way. Hopefully, by Song 4, I’ll build up the courage to post something on Spotify and/or keep songwriting as a hobby in the future—maybe I could put some of those 85,000 minutes towards creating as well as consuming music.

About the Author

Maddie is a senior studying Electrical (Computer) Engineering. Click above to find out more!


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