Artist: Linna Zheng
I am a composer/singer-songwriter studying a non-music major at university.
This summer, I picked up songwriting and loved every moment of it. I wanted to write lyrics and music that could reach people, but was afraid of having to make a song perfect on the first try. Out of curiosity, I picked up Songwriting Without Boundaries, a book from the library, by Pat Pattison. From that book, I learned of the wonderful ways you can see the world – see any idea – from multiple perspectives. I learned that language has natural stresses and tones that are already very musical, and can be used to deliver an important message. I learned how to appreciate and imagine beauty in my life – the blandest, everyday things can be given colour through song.
I now have a dream – to help people celebrate the beauty of their lives through music and gain fulfillment. An open stage, where performers inspire the audience to perform together with them – to resonate together freely, expressing the rhythms that resonate deep within their hearts – and to feel like they are one community. Wildfire is the name of this project. If this is a project you’re interested in, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m open to anyone who’d like to collaborate!
Being a hobbyist, I don’t seek technical excellence in my performances. I want to explore new ways of making music, new things I can write about, and new people I can connect with to do so. I seek to write songs with meaning, even if they are not 100% pristine. In fact, being carefree is a trait I think connects me to my audiences better: one wise person told me that music is just organized sound, and that mistakes are part of the song.
At first, I thought I wanted to be the center of attention: the one idol on the stage that expresses herself to the highest level. But, after participating in a vocal contest, I realized that the competitive stage is a lonely place, and is won at the cost of other artists’ dreams. That is not the place for me. I seek a place where I can bring people together, and bring smiles to their faces. That is what music is to me.
Anyone can make music, and certainly anyone can write lyrics. Music is a tune or rhythm: an expression of energy. Lyrics are words put to a tune. They can be a mosaic of ideas. They can also be singular words sung over and over again, fragments of words, or a fabricated language. They don’t need notes: to beatbox, chant words percussively and pull the vowels out. There are techniques to making good music, but you don’t have to follow any. Rhyme is a powerful tool to making songs memorable, and it’s scary. It’s not required. The one thing I got from doing the exercises in a songwriting book was courage to be creative and to believe I can create.
What Music activities are you involved in? Recording artist, songwriter, composer, producer, engineer?
I songwrite and perform locally in the Toronto area. I also take song requests – from anyone, really! I wrote my first song for a lady called Celine, whom I met at my summer job. When I told her that songwriting is my passion, she believed in me and asked me to write her a song. I did – I created the song lyrics first, then practiced it for 9 hours straight – it was so fun!
What aspect of what you do musically, do you find challenging?
The lyrics: how can I make them flow logically and fit the music at the same time? How can I make them entertaining? I have trouble with expressing myself in words, yet it is the thing I desire to do the most. When I feel stuck, I try to improvise on the spot, which forces my surface thoughts to come out and often creates my most random and musically rich ideas. I sing about imaginary things, and I compare what I want to sing about to as many things as I can. I am my best audience and critic; often, thinking about what I want to hear brings out the best in me.
Similarly difficult is creating an atmosphere without using instruments. I’m exploring ways of creating sounds that I can share with ordinary people that have little musical training. My friend, Kin, (https://www.facebook.com/OfficialKinPage) is very good at establishing a base beat and rhythm on piano. It’s very exciting to harmonize with him vocally! One way I try to create the atmosphere is record overlapping copies of my voice, and it’s very easy to do this using Audacity.
How would you describe your music?
I describe my music as purposeful – always having the intent to reach someone with a positive message or create an atmosphere. My style so far is peaceful and somewhat spiritual, with the amount of harmony I put into my songs.
Who is your favourite artist?
Being an avid anime watcher, I listen to a lot of soundtracks. My favourite artists are Joe Hisaishi and Akiko Shikata: both of them create focused music that touches the heart in a peaceful way. Joe, who composes for Studio Ghibli films, creates a feeling of destiny (Spirited Away) and wonder (Merry-Go-Round of Life). Akiko is free-spirited, daring to recreate tribal, ancient vocal masterpieces that give off a celtic, worldwide feel. I love her Ricordando no passato and Sorriso: there is so much beauty and love in both pieces.
Who was your musical inspiration?
Joni Mitchell: her music is incredibly free and special. After listening to her, I realized that I don’t have to make lines the same length or necessarily rhyme: in fact, that gives music freshness in its variety. That gave me enough courage to write my first song, Celine.
What artists do you sound closest too?
Though I don’t listen to much jazz, it’s my favourite tune to create. People have said that my music sounds like Ella Fitzgerald and Zwei! soundtrack. Yuki Kajiura’s deeply dark, expressive pieces have had a strong effect on my musical style as well.
How did you become interested in music?
I was trained vocally and on the piano, and gradually fell in love with the feeling of becoming one with a song. The upbeat tunes in anime and games (especially MapleStory) created a feeling of freshness and became the ‘spice’ to my life. After singing karaoke and in choir for a while, I was able to harmonize to tunes and improvise some of my own. I think what I love most about music is experiencing the happiness of knowing something well, but having the chance to explore it more through repetition.
If nobody listened to your music, would it still be part of your life?
Yes, it would. It is a part of who I am.
Do you get nervous when you perform?
Yes, I do. Then I remember that the audience is ready to be excited and are good friends I haven’t yet met. Speaking to them is a way of sharing my story. I now perform my own songs, and I am confident in delivering them because I know how I arrived at my own ideas.
Do your family and friends support you pursuing your passion for music?
My relatives are not necessarily supportive of me pursuing it as a career, especially since my grandmother was a university music teacher who experienced a lot of hardships in her field. That said, they and a few close friends are impressed by the songs I’ve written. Composing is a rather new thing in my family, so how far I go entirely depends on my actions: I am responsible for making my best music, the kind that can impact people the most.
Does music play an important role in society? If so why?
It definitely does. From the time we were born, we have been breathing and our heart has been beating. We have woken up at 7 AM in the morning for school and work, performing routines day to day. We understand music in this implicit way, so we resonate with rhythms when they are brought to life. We dance, and celebrate the gifts and stories that are passed down through music. It is energy, and this energy brings us comfort and freedom.
What organizations do you feel are important in supporting musicians?
Ones that fund musicians’ projects, build music communities, and provide mentorship to them. At university, an organization promoting social entrepreneurship & innovation has connected me with many ideas and programs to help my dream of audience engagement take flight. In addition, songwriters’ circles have been a source of much musical inspiration.
What would you tell young musicians that may help inspire them to develop their talent?
Play music you love. Play music to explore the things you can do. Play music that moves you. Play music that brings tears to the people around you. Your own tunes and rhythms are golden: discover them; get spoons and tap them on the table. Do songwriting exercises and watch them open your world.
How long does it take you to write a song from start to finish?
Improvising takes no time – highly recommended.
Meaningful prepared songs can range from 7 to 12 hours, and might take a week if you spend an hour or so each day to make it very good (lyrics with 2 choruses and 2 sets of verses).
Getting a buddy to help you with the instrumentals really, really helps. Otherwise, discover your own way of making percussive sounds (snapping, clapping, chanting, vocals, whistling can sound really cool).
Do you ever have trouble finding time to work on your music?
Yes. Surprisingly, if I’m commuting it’s much easier because I would be bored otherwise: I scribble on a notebook. I annotate my favourite tunes in solfege while everyone else on the train is texting or sleeping. At university, I improvise while walking to and from classes.
Do you feel the music you listen to affects who you are?
Listening to a variety brings out the best in me – my productivity, confidence and inspiration. When I don’t feel inspired is usually when I listen to the same songs over and over, often songs that are sad. When I first started improvising it was mostly in minor key, but gradually improved as I changed my tastes.
How do you deal with writers block when writing music?
I improvise: picking one thing I notice in my surroundings and singing about it. If the song is on a particular topic, I again think back to the feeling I want to create in the listener (my goal). I try timing myself – free writing about the subject, making bullet points – and empty all the impressions I have on that topic on paper. Sometimes, inviting another friend to make music with you can inspire you with his/her musical wavelength.
What sort of musical training do you have?
Piano and vocal lessons from my grandmother, 5 years
Royal Conservatory of Music: 5 years of examinations on piano and music theory. Learning scales and theory gave me excellent ideas on improvising and harmonizing musically.
Middle school band: percussion, 3 years
Choir: 8 years
Songwriting exercises: 2 months
My final thoughts to inspire young musicians:
You are beautiful, and no one else can make music the way you can. Go take a walk, dance in the snow, sing in the rain. Live life, and music will come to you when you call upon it. Perfection is not necessary: do what tickles you the most 🙂
Thank you on behalf of Listening Edge Records for taking time to share with us your thoughts on music, and helping inspire musicians of all ages.Trevor Baron President Listening Edge Records