The secret to writing and coming up with a good song may not be as tough as you think. “Try everything and do not be daunted. It’s your song, you can do what you want with it,” says Nathan Hartono. The singer and songwriter would know: He started performing at 14 and songwriting at 15. He’s also released two albums – "Let Me Sing! Love And All That Jazz" and "Feeling Good" With Nathan Hartono – as well as a DVD album of a sold-out concert in 2007.
“You don’t have to have to be overly ambitious,” adds the musician, now 20. “Don’t keep thinking that every single thing you produce has to be ground-breaking or mind-blowing, or life-changing or whatever! Thinking like that would just intimidate and stop you from even daring to try.
“Look at every thing you start work on as a sketch. It’s disposable; it’s not meant to be amazing, it’s meant to be shoddy. Once you find something you think can go further, work your ass off and polish it.”
This year, Nathan is an ambassador for the Eco Music Challenge 2012 – a songwriting competition that promotes environmental issues. He will be sharing his musical knowledge and interact with Challenge participants, engage in various social media and outreach activities. In an exclusive with Yahoo! Singapore, Nathan shares his hard-won advice to urge budding composers on to the process of songwriting – and create that possible hit tune with a positive, eco-friendly message.
Listen to your favourites for inspiration
"I listen to a whole bunch of genres, but I find myself favouring softer, more mellow tunes. Songs that are well written and heartfelt are the kinds I always find myself going back to. My current favourites are ‘Picture Window’ by Ben Folds, ‘It’s A Pose’ by Nellie McKay, ‘You Don’t Make It Easy Babe’ by Josh Ritter and ‘After All’ by Ben Rector.”
What does the song say?
“This artist, Nellie McKay, writes songs that are very sharp and witty and usually full of social commentary – from things like the presidential elections to feminism, animal rights to labour laws, etc. You won’t notice it at the first listen, but that’s what makes it amazing. The song reels you in first, then it sends you a message once you’re willing to listen.”
Good lyrics are key
“Melody plays a huge part; but after the melody wears itself out, what you have left is the soul of a song. Good writing lasts forever, or at least a very long time. Good hooks eventually lose their novelty.”
The best way to get creative is…
“…to keep repeating the process, be it recording, producing, writing etc. Make it second nature, and make it something that you can do at the drop of a hat. The easier it is to start working, the more likely it is you’ll get a good idea out of that brain of yours sooner or later.”
Focus and psych yourself up
“Usually I have to wake myself up and stop procrastinating. This is a long process of a lot of self bargaining and compromise. (Laughs) But once you properly get off your butt and start working, it’s hard to stop. For me at least, once I start on a song and record that first take, I’ll stay up all night to finish the song.”
Think of an issue that’s close to your heart – and will move others too
“I love how beautiful the world is. I’m a sucker for a view and some beautiful scenery, and I consider myself lucky to be in a ‘garden city’ like Singapore. Despite the concrete jungle that makes up a lot of Singapore’s landscape, there’s plenty of nature’s wonders around to take your breath away.
“On the flipside, I’ve been to cities where air pollution is so bad that there is a constant fog around, dying plants everywhere, almost no clouds in the sky. It’s very dreary and depressing. I’ve always seen keeping the environment clean as my way of letting future generations see the beauty that I see today. I’d hate to think my grandchildren could possibly grow up in an ugly (and deadly) Earth.”
To learn more about the Eco Music Challenge 2012 and how you can join, visit www.nea.ecomusic.sg.
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