TeenNick Top 10: Olivia Somerlyn on Songwriting
18-year-old singer/songwriter Olivia Somerlyn, the TeenNick Top 10 Fresh Artist of the Month, talks about her writing process in part two of our interview. (Read part one, in which she talks about opening up for Big Time Rush and Victoria Justice on tour this summer, here.)
What's your writing process like?
First of all, I could really write a song anywhere, because inspiration comes at the weirdest times. Somebody says a word, and I think "Oh, that'd be great in a song." I have to write it down. I have to always be ready for that. I've even written songs on a plane, with my headphones, my notebook, and the piano app on my phone, trying to play chords and not being able to do it. The flight attendants were cracking up at me -- that's not the ideal place to write a song.
Usually I get inspired right when I'm about to fall asleep, and I end up staying up way too late working on a song. Sometimes I think that's when the best inspiration comes, when you're winding down. You have time to think.
It's so funny. I'm in bed, the lights are off, and my eyes are closed. I think of either a concept or a melody, but I have to wake up really early the next day... so do I work on this, or do I fall asleep? Should I record it really quick? It's hard to decide sometimes.
Do you have a favorite place to write?
I used to live in the Bay Area, and I had a great view from my room. I had a little keyboard set up there, and I always used to love when it rained. I wrote one of my songs, "Only in the Movies," while looking at that view in the rain. I always go back to that place in my mind. I love writing songs in the rain, there's just something about it.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start writing their own songs?
I'd just say, get started as soon as you can. Just write, and don't worry about making it perfect right off the bat. I have notebooks full of songs that I wrote, I mean, complete songs -- they have lyrics, melody, everything -- that I never really recorded for real or released. But it was worth it, because I learned so much writing all those songs.
Also, one thing that really helps me as I write songs is to amplify the emotion that I'm feeling. I think in order for a song to really move people, for it to come across as poetry, as art, because that's really what songwriting is, there needs to be an amplification of reality, rather than just conversational words as lyrics.
What's the best advice anyone has ever given you about songwriting?
I love this question because it makes me think about all the amazing people that I've worked with, and all the writers that I've met. When I first started co-writing, I started typing my words on a laptop, rather than writing by hand in a notebook, like I used to, when I was writing by myself. Then I worked with this really great co-writer who told me that she always uses paper and a pen -- not even pencil -- so she wouldn't be able to delete or erase the lyrics that she didn't end up using. Then she could refer back and use those words to create other songs -- flip back and see if there are other lyrics that would work for it. That really changed the way I wrote, because I ended up looking back at my old notebooks and finding little pieces that I can use in other songs.
And this is less technical, but another piece of advice that somebody gave me that really stuck with me is "The more transparent you become, the more universal you become." It has really encouraged me to open up and be more vulnerable in my songwriting. I got that advice pretty recently, and I think it particularly shows in one of the songs on my new album.
Have you ever heard a song and thought "I wish I'd written that"? What song was it?
I think this all the time. My music taste is very eclectic. I listen to so many different artists. I'm always Shazamming songs on my iPhone when I go to stores and restaurants. I find a song and then I'm obsessed with it for a while. Right now it's "Just Give Me a Reason" by Pink and Nate Ruess. It reminds me of my music style -- it's piano based with a really cool beat behind it. I just wish I'd written it!
What else do you think you'll have on your summer 2013 playlist?
I've heard whispers that Katy Perry's new album is coming out this summer, and I don't know if that's true, but I really hope it is, because I'm really excited about it. Also, the new Big Time Rush album, which I'll get to hear all the time on tour this summer.
I've never been on a tour before, so in the days leading up to the tour, I can't sleep because I'm nervous, or I can't sleep because I'm excited. I really like getting lost in a book right before bed. I read as much as I possibly can right before I fall asleep, so the last thing in my mind is what's going on in the book, with the story and the characters. I think it's even better when it's something that's very different from my life, from a different time period especially, so I can just sort of be transported.
Since you love historical fiction, I have to ask: If you could go back in time and play a few songs for ANY historical figure, which one would you pick?
I love this question. I read a lot of historical novels, especially about European history. I took AP European History and I just loved it so much. I wrote a research paper about Marie Antoinette for that class, so I'd probably choose her. Everyone thinks she's so frivolous, but I think she's very misunderstood.
What's on your summer reading list?
I'm in the middle of reading The Great Gatsby, and I really like it so far. I don't know what I'm going to read next, so I'd love suggestions from people.
Thanks, Olivia. I hope you have a wonderful summer on tour!
Thank you so much!
If you see Olivia on the Summer Break Tour, say hi. She says, "It'll make my day." Catch her on TeenNick Top 10 all month long (Fridays at 10pm et, 7pm pt), and follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. See her live on the Summer Break Tour, beginning June 21 in Los Angeles.