Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Thanks, Everyone!

Thanks to everyone who sent in questions for Nat & Alex! I collected more than 160 questions!!

Now I'm sorting through them, and I'll post the interview as soon as it's ready.

In the meanwhile, enjoy their new CD, Black Sheep - it really is awesome!


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Ask Nat & Alex (Formerly of the Naked Brothers Band)!

Dear Readers,

I've been given an incredible opportunity to interview Nat & Alex Wolff about their songwriting, and I'm going to let you in on it!!

Nat & Alex Wolff
If you aren't sure who I'm talking about, think "The Naked Brothers Band" from Nickelodeon. Their first two CDs were with the band, but now they've gone solo (or should I say duo?), and they have a new CD out called Black Sheep.

Many of you have asked for advice on becoming famous with your music. Well, here is your chance to ask two talented young songwriters who have actually been there, done that! Nat is about to turn 17 and Alex recently turned 14. They made their first hit record around the ages of 13 and 10!

Do you have a question for Nat & Alex? Send it in and I might include it in the interview!

I'm looking for questions that are pretty specific, and I'm most interested in questions about writing songs, of course! I'll include your best questions in the interview!

Send questions to monty@montyharper.com with "Nat & Alex" in the subject. Or post them here in the comments. Ask as many as you want.

You have just a few days to respond. I'll be sending my questions to Nat & Alex on December 20, and I'll post their answers here as soon as I get them!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Getting Meaningful

Hi there, Monty! My name's Maggie, and I'm 14. Being so young, I have no idea where my head will be by the time that I graduate high school, but at the moment, the only thing that I can really see myself doing in the long term is writing music and playing in a band, whether we become wildly famous or I'm stuck living on bread, cheese, and water for the span of my adult life. I... I really love music. I live for it.
However, I don't have a lot of life experiences in my inventory on which to base meaningful and well-written songs. There are certain issues that I feel quite strongly about, but I feel they're inappropriate for songwriting, that I may come across as trying to (immaturely) be 'the next big controversy'.
I want to write songs with lyrics that help people, that inspire people. If I help even one person with my lyrics, it will have been worth it; I just don't know how to do it yet. If you can think of any tips at all for me, could I ask you to post them on your blog?
Thanks, and I really appreciate you even taking the time to read this comment. :) 

Hi Maggie,

Thanks for writing. I shortened your question a bit for my readers; I hope you don't mind.

In a moment I will refer you to an older post called "What to Write About." I give some excellent suggestions there (if I do say so myself) about how to generate ideas. These will work for anyone, old or young, and I won't repeat them here, so please do go read them, but first...

There is an extra dimension to your question beyond just what to write about. You really want your songs to help and inspire people. It's fantastic that you want to use your music to make the world a better place! And it sounds like you have the passion to make it happen. Also I must say, Maggie, that you show unusual maturity to recognize that due to your age, tackling controversial subjects might come across the wrong way, and that you still have a lot of life to live before you may feel you have any deep insights to share. I agree. Just keep writing. As you gain skill and confidence, you'll know when it's the right time to tackle some of those issues you feel strongly about.

In the meantime, don't sell yourself short! Like any dedicated young person, you have a lot to offer. (For some really cool inspiration, check out the book It's Our World, Too!: Stories of Young People Who Are Making a Difference by Phillip Hoose.) Your youth may mean that you are inexperienced, even naive, but it probably also means you are creative and have a fresh way of looking at things. You certainly have the potential to reach your peers with inspirational and meaningful lyrics.

OK, enough pep talk. Here are two specific ways to write a meaningful song:

1. Write a great feel-good song. Think about how energized you feel when you play your favorite happy song! ("Good Day Sunshine" may be a good example, or "Good Vibrations," or "Walking on Sunshine.") Next time you feel great, try to write a song that will help someone else capture that same great feeling. Start with some brainstorming. Why do you feel so good? How does your body feel? What thoughts are going through your head? Try to come up with a unique playful phrase to capture how you feel in that moment. 

Writing "in the moment" does not require life experience; you just need to be observant and aware and expressive about how you feel right now, and why you feel that way. And a great feel-good song really can touch people, lift their moods, and help them get through troubled times.

2. Write about your problems, but don't try to provide answers. What's your biggest trouble in life right now? Is it something you could write about? Of course it is! Just like with the feel-good song, write your trouble song "in the moment." What's the predicament, how does it make you feel, and why? If you aren't comfortable putting your problems out there for the world to hear, write in third person, as if the song is about somebody else. Or disguise the situation by changing the details, while staying true to its emotional core.

And don't worry if you have no solution to offer. That's OK. In fact your song may resonate better with your audience if it doesn't try to provide a solution. Listeners like the freedom to come to their own conclusions. 

Can a song about your troubles help other people? Absolutely! Think how you feel when you recognize the sad situation in a song. ("It's like she's inside my head!") It's very comforting to know that whatever your troubles are, you aren't the only one feeling that way. If you write a great trouble song, your audience will recognize themselves in it and not feel so all alone. (Check out the Beach Boys Pet Sounds CD for some awesome examples.)

Finally, two bits of advice for living your life in a way that will keep you on track for deep meaningful songwriting as you mature:

1. Get the very best education you can. It doesn't matter what you study; a good education will expose you to new ideas, aide you in your search for meaning and wisdom to put into your lyrics, and help you become a clear communicator and a deep thinker. Not to mention giving you something to "fall back on" if you ever get tired of subsisting on bread, cheese, and water. :)

2. Don't ever go suffering for your art. There are a lot of people who will tell you that you have to suffer before you can create great art. There's a certain logic to this idea: "misery gives you new experiences that are the raw material you need to write meaningful lyrics." Sometimes great art can come from great suffering. But the key here is: it doesn't have to! Great art can also come from perfectly well-adjusted happy people. We all suffer quite enough in life as it is. That's just part of the human condition. Extra needless suffering won't improve your songwriting. In particular, as a musician you'll likely run into people who abuse drugs and alcohol. Yes these can be great tools for increasing suffering, but they will not make anyone a better songwriter. Nuff said.

Oh, and don't forget to check out: "What to Write About" for more ideas. 

And just write. The bottom line is: any song worth recording will help someone get through their day!

I hope this helps!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Has It Really Been So Long?

Wow, it's been a long time since I posted to this blog! Some folks have asked me if I'm still here. I am. I have been answering people's questions directly, when I can, so I do have a few good "articles in the rough" waiting to be posted.

I've also been doing a lot more songwriting with kids in schools lately, so I'm planning to revive this blog as a tool for teachers and students interested in learning more. I just wanted to let you know that I haven't abandoned the site, and there is more to come soon.

In the meantime, you can check out the songs my students wrote last year at Skyline Elementary and at Richmond Elementary here in Stillwater: