School of Rock

by Camille Jones

A Guide to Songwriting, as Told by Jenks Musicians

As many musicians know, songwriting can be a daunting task that seems almost impossible. You might get an idea, be totally ready to write it down, and then find yourself staring at a blank page for hours. I myself love writing music, and I know the blank page struggle all too well, so I talked to just a few of the various songwriters of different experience levels that go to Jenks high school to get some insight into their processes.

Brooks Martinez smiling after an energetic performance of Seyona’s first setlist

Walker Condrin (11), Abby Burgy (11), Jax Lilly (12), Brooks Martinez (12), and Jadon Song (12) are all musicians making art at a young age. Condrin was part of a 10 man vintage rock band, Burgy is a solo artist who’s just starting the exciting process of recording her music, Lilly and Martinez are in a surf punk band called Sayona that just goes with the flow, and Song is a composer inspired by classical music icons. Each of these student artists have a very unique style, and an even more unique insight into the process of music making.

What’s your process? How do you write a song?

Condrin: “For us, we would come up with the lyrics first and then usually somebody would say ‘I have an idea for this’ and they’d play something, and either we’d roll with it or we’d shoot it down and say ‘that’s not good.’ Longest song we wrote was like… maybe 12 minutes… but that’s because there was so much music in it, and not very many words.”

Burgy: “With my songs, it depends. A lot of my songs are only half done, with a verse and a chorus to get a baseline idea, and then I either get really [mad] about it or I’m like, ‘wow, inspiration’ and I’ll go in my notes and write a bunch of words down, and in about an hour I’ll have it figured out with lyrics put into it.”

Lilly: “We don’t put much thought in before our practice, I’d say the start of a song just starts with one of us starting with a simple rhythm and we all start adding stuff.”

Martinez: “We start out practicing our set, usually our guitarist’s brain goes somewhere else and starts playing something completely new.”

Lilly: “It’s a constant cycle of ‘ok, I think this song is better than this song, this songs weak.’ So we replace songs in our old set.”

Song: “Where I start is, I sort of brainstorm what the idea is I want to come up with. Once I have a central idea, I think how to convey it in tone, and from there I can analyze the technical aspects like, ‘what key am I gonna put this in?’ Oftentimes, I end up writing music based purely off improvisation, because once I have the idea in tone, I just kinda play with notes and see what works; and after I have it, I’ll use it, and keep tweaking it until it sounds right and fits the idea I had in my head… Music, if it has a central idea, can kind of write itself.”

How does it feel to perform for people?

Burgy: “I’ve only performed one of my originals once. It was a vocal trivia night thing. I used to be super scared to perform for people, I’d always get nervous and it’d definitely affect the way I sounded, but this year I’ve kind of been breaking out of my shell and it doesn’t bother me as much. The night I performed an original for a whole audience was super weird, but that definitely helped.”

Martinez: “It was the best day of my life.”

Jax Lily singing at his latest gig.

Lilly: “At first it was unbelievably nerve wracking, but once you have all the people jumping around, you’re like ‘oh, we’re having a good time!’”

Martinez: “Whenever we were done playing for the first time, and people were coming up to me like, ‘when are you gonna play again? You’re not done, are you?’ I was like, ‘holy smokes.’”

Do you have any advice for other students who want to start writing songs?

Condrin: “I was always terrified to scrap whatever I had, whether it be music or lyrics. Like, we had a song about a huge car crash on a highway, and I wanted it to be a really fast powerful song, and we played it really fast and hard and then we were like, that’s not the way to go; so we took it and made it just drums, bass, and piano and we turned it into this ballad, and it turned out to be one of our nicest songs. Don’t be scared to start over from square one, even when you feel like you’ve come so far. It might make it better.”

Burgy: “If you feel blocked, just think of a storyline, like if someone else has an issue, pretend it’s your issue, and write it from their perspective. Put together words that form a rhythm, and make a melody, and hum to yourself.”

Martinez: “Music is poetry. Whenever you write stuff, it has to be what you’re feeling.”

Lilly: “Don’t do it to impress people. Music is such a personal thing. Somebody on planet earth is gonna like something you create, so make it for yourself.”

Song: “If you need a place to start, just think about something. Anything. Just start from ‘what’s the tone? What’s the idea?’ and then go from there. If it’s a sad idea, how do you want to portray that sadness? Obviously, get some technical skill. If you want to do this, you have to practice it… Whether you’re composing or performing, it’s all around that emotion.”

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