Our summer camps provide writers with a creative, enriching experience that allows them to explore their imaginations while also building confidence and developing literacy skills.
We spoke with Mimi Cross, who is teaching Songwriting Intensive for students ages 10-15 (Monday through Thursday: July 18 – 21, 1 to 4 p.m. ET) to find out more about her and what to expect in this camp.
(Note: Mimi is also teaching an adult Songwriting class too! Read more here.)
PWN: When did you write your first song and what was it about?
MIMI: The first song I ever wrote was called “Me, Myself, and I,” and I wrote it with my best friend, Sarah, when we were in Kindergarten. (Fun fact: In 1980, British singer-songwriter guitarist and three-time Grammy Award nominee Joan Armatrading released an album called “Me Myself I.” The title track became one of her most successful singles!) P.S. Sarah and I are still very good friends.
PWN: What current song moves you, whether bopping in your seat or stirring up another emotion? How do you think the song achieves that effect?
MIMI: Wow, that’s a hard one! There are so many great songs out there. One of my current favorites is “All of the Lights,” by Kanye West. There are several reasons why the song moves me, starting with the gang vocals at the top. The opening lyrics are the title, and the singers deliver them like a pronouncement, as horns come in with a repetitive rhythmic motif to great dramatic effect. There’s something uplifting and positive about the sound. Rousing and almost spiritual, like a call. The horns combined with the choir-like group vocals create that lift, that depth of texture. And I mean, all of the lights … The lyrics are like a promise. There’s another version of the song that starts with strings, and it gives me a completely different feeling. It’s beautiful, and evocative, and instantly haunting … The strings are featuring a different bit of melodic material, and it’s a gentle invitation that turns your head; it’s not an announcement of any kind.
I had a meeting with a songwriting client the other day, and I felt like the song he’s writing has a complexity similar to “All of the Lights.” Up to that point, I had only listened to West’s song, letting it wash over me. (I strongly encourage you to do the same!) I hadn’t analyzed it. So before our meeting, I dove into the song, typing up the lyrics, getting to know them, getting to know the story. I pulled them apart and put them back together again. And I was so surprised by the form that had appeared on the paper. The structure was complicated and fascinating, and nearly undetectable to the ear on the first handful of listens. I shared what I’d found with my client, and related how his song had similar musical elements. Even after analyzing “All of the Lights,” it’s still magical for me, and so I’ll probably use it in my upcoming adult songwriting class at PWN. It still gives me goosebumps.
PWN: What happens in a songwriting class?
MIMI: The first thing I do is show participants a quick and easy way to connect with topics that matter deeply to them. Once we begin to explore these ideas, what I call “song starts” will quickly follow. Those “starts” turn into lines of lyrics, and we go on from there, studying structure and “building” a song. I’ve designed specific writing exercises to facilitate the songwriting process, but they work for any type of writing, which is a plus.
PWN: What moment gets you excited as an instructor?
MIMI: There are a lot of exciting moments in a songwriting class, but at some point, the ideas usually start flowing so quickly I can’t keep up! So maybe the most exciting moment is when I pull out my phone to make a quick recording. It might be a chorus, or maybe a couple of verses—sometimes ideas move so fast, I need to get them down before they disappear. Just get it down. That’s probably the best advice I have for any kind of writer. Write your words and ideas down in a notebook, on a napkin—wherever! Record those phrases. Lyrics. Thoughts. Edit later. Revise later. Just get it down!
PWN: Why do you write?
MIMI: I write because I’d be unhappy if I didn’t. I write to escape. I write because it makes me feel alive. I write because I hope my characters will show people, especially young people, an inroad to themselves that they may or may not have found already. I want to give them affirmation: yes, this is a road you have found. A way. A path. An opening. And you are not alone there.