PWN: Hi Mimi! First off, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background as a singer/songwriter?
MIMI: How long do you have? 😉 I started singing before I could talk—it’s my favorite thing to do—and I started writing songs and stories in kindergarten and second grade, respectively. Around the same time, I began playing piano, but I didn’t stick with it. Instead, I picked up the guitar, starting lessons at age 13. There was an instant chemistry there, between the guitar and my voice. I was also lucky: my mother sang to me, and we had a piano. Sometimes she would play, and I would sing. Sometimes we sang together, and my older sister sang with us, although my sister was more important to my musical development a little later on, when she turned me on to a lot of great bands. I also sang in the local church choir, even though my family wasn’t the churchgoing sort. And I sang in school.
PWN: What draws you to teach songwriting?
MIMI: Supporting others in their efforts to write music and/or lyrics is fulfilling for me on both a personal and professional level. I’ve written songs for most of my life, and I’ve studied songwriting deeply. But I didn’t have a songwriting mentor or attend any songwriting workshops until after I’d gotten my graduate degree in Music Education. At that point, I began understanding songs in a different way, and my songwriting process took off. This accelerated creative pace and the writing techniques that help generate numerous ideas (or what I call song starts) as well as entire songs is something I love sharing with others—almost as much as I love the songwriting process itself. In addition, I try to show people how to find the songs that are already within them, waiting to be written, as well as various ways to get those songs down on the page.
PWN: Can you explain a little bit about how you structure the class and what students can expect?
MIMI: We usually begin by generating lists based on personal thoughts. I call them Big Thoughts, but they’re really more like looping thoughts. Ideas that the mind returns to again and again throughout the day. Sometimes I encourage participants to breathe deeply, and become aware of their bodies, so that their writing isn’t just coming from the head, but the heart, as well. The gut, the skin.
Next, I often introduce a song form. I’ll sing a really simple song, where the form is obvious, and then hand out a map showing basic song structure. Then we listen to a great song. I try to choose a song with a clear structure and compelling, well-written lyrics. Lyrics that show how much weight words can carry. It’s usually a song that conveys a story and evokes emotion.
At this point, I ask people to go back to their notebooks and take a look at what they wrote at the start of class, while I create a new blank document. Then I ask them to share. What they’ve written, and I literally jot down what they say. Then, together, we all take note of the words or phrases or sentences that catch our attention. Snag our imaginations. It could be the sound of a particular word that grabs us, or the image it conveys, or the rhythm of a phrase. From there, we create an opening statement; the first line of the first verse. The process is completely unpredictable, and incredibly fun, and sometimes funny, or scary, and super exciting. A song begins to take shape on the page. It’s magic.
PWN: Would you encourage writers who don’t consider themselves to be musical to take songwriting?
MIMI: Absolutely! You don’t need to be a musician to write lyrics and participate in the songwriting process.
Well, thank you, Mimi, for taking the time to talk to us. Songwriting certainly sounds like an incredible creative experience!