GRAMMY U San Francisco - Recap: Songwriter Master Class with Melissa Etheridge

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  • The Recording Academy®/©2017JulieSchuchard
  • The Recording Academy®/©2017JulieSchuchard
  • The Recording Academy®/©2017JulieSchuchard
  • The Recording Academy®/©2017JulieSchuchard
  • The Recording Academy®/©2017JulieSchuchard

On August 1, 2017, nine GRAMMY U San Francisco Chapter student songwriters participated in a Songwriting Master Class with GRAMMY Award® - winning artist Melissa Etheridge at San Francisco’s iconic rock venue, The Fillmore.

SF Chapter Board member Cliff Goldmacher, a songwriter/producer who works in Sonoma and Nashville, hosted the group and Ms. Etheridge and gave a brief introduction to her career before Melissa took over with some excellent guiding advice. She spoke of the difference of writing songs for commerce vs. writing songs for yourself: you can write using a formula or pattern, you can write what you think people want to hear (which can work when writing for someone else), or youc an write what you, the songwriter, want to hear, which is an important expression of yourself. Writing what you know, of your own experiences or feelings, “that’s your jet fuel!”  Melissa shared that staring out as a songwriter in your 20’s is when your life starts happening is what gives you some experience to work with in your writing; then as your career and life progress you will be more experienced and comfortable in writing what you want to hear and what you are feeling based on what is happening now.

Ms. Etheridge stressed the importance of bringing your own feel to a song, even when writing for someone else. Look at songwriting skills as a gift, not a job. Find what you like to listen to and see how you can improve upon it with your own perspective and feel. She mentioned so many inspirational songwriters and artists like Bob Dylan who got her into songwriting and music, and encouraged everyone to go listen to Joan Armatrading songs to really experience great songwriting! She also spoke of the use of metaphor as a great writing tool which allows you to get personal in your writing without completely exposing what’s behind those lyrics; and that the more personal the music the more people will respond to it. The group also discussed writing about politics – this is a great opportunity to use metaphor, or to find a distinct example of an issue you want to write about, such as Melissa’s song “Scarecrow” for Matthew Shepard as a way to criticize hypocritical attitudes towards gay people in media and society.

Each student had the opportunity to demo/perform a song for Ms. Etheridge, and she gave some feedback to each one about how to refine the song flow, how to "give your chorus a bigger BAM!" and encouraged building up the songs to really feel the impact of those choruses, among other advice. “Get dangerous!” she encouraged, and in closing, shared her feeling that “I’m here, where I’m supposed to be. Be that person who inspires with your songs, they’ll follow. Play and sing for whoever you can. Your work is to share your art!”

The GRAMMY U SF Chapter team extends special thanks to Ms. Etheridge and her team, The FIllmore production staff, and our Board members Cliff Goldmacher and Julie Schuchard (photographer) for their support of this program. 

Here is some feedback from  some of the students who participated:

The opportunity to have a true songwriting legend like Melissa Etheridge critique our songs was such an honor. Her feedback was very direct and helpful and I also loved hearing the music of my peers in GRAMMY U! I left very inspired and met some great future co-writers and could not be more thankful to GRAMMY U for making this a reality. Thank you!  – ​ Matthew Wang

Participating in the Songwriting Master Class with Melissa Etheridge was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience I will never forget! I felt so privileged to get to hear her speak directly to us about the lessons she's learned as a songwriter and gained valuable insights about her process that I am eager to apply to my own writing. Additionally, her feedback on our own songs was thoughtful, detailed, and incisive. Thank you GRAMMY U for the chance to interact with a true legend on a songwriter-to-songwriter level! It was incredible! – Teresa Tuan

The Songwriting Master Class with Melissa Etheridge was a phenomenal experience. When one meets her, one has an immediate sense that she is an extraordinarily talented human being. She is so connected with those she interacts with and genuinely stresses that songwriting is an art. She mentioned that when art and commerce meet together, something unusual can happen. As the students played parts of their songs for her, she immediately picked up on what was "great" about each song and what could be "tightened up." The talent brought forth to this gathering was breath-taking. The students really all had impressive musical pieces to show. Melissa Etheridge genuinely focused on explaining to the students that the most important changes to a song are the ones the songwriter herself or himself believes to be most important to conveying the style and emotion he or she wants to convey. She believes songwriting is a delicate art that one must search deep in one's soul to convey the emotions of one's song. It is an art of melodies and lyrics that come together to convey the message the songwriter desires to express to his or her audience. She encouraged some students to test their boundaries and to not be afraid to really "bam" with the chorus. As we all know, Melissa Etheridge's choruses are very catchy and always "wow" the audience. She also noted that it is sometimes a good thing to use some crazy/unusual lyrics to really catch attention, even if the song is to be subdued in tone. The Master Class wrapped by watching her perform a few of her incredible songs before her show at The Fillmore that evening. This was a once in a lifetime experience I will cherish forever. Thank You!  – Gina (GiGi La Mare)



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