Get to know the SAYS21 finalists in the 13-18 year olds category, UK & Ireland

This year’s Song Academy Young Songwriter competition attracted over 1,000 entries from aspiring young songwriters aged 8-18 across the world, both experienced young songwriters and those who’ve written their first song. The judges were extremely impressed with the originality, creativity & musical bravery of the songs.  We interviewed each of the finalists to get to know them and learn more about how they write songs.

Aleks Kostov & Aryan Pal– Two Two Seven 

What inspired you to write your finalist song?  I was reading about the competition on the website as I got informed about it… and as I was scrolling I saw that you guys were looking for kind of a “deep” song, so I was like right… let me talk about my life

What got you into writing songs?  I listened to music and I was never satisfied by the lyrics. I’d always change the lyrics up in a song and be like “that sounds better”.  So I just decided to write my own music that satisfies me. That’s also the reason I do several genres.

How do you usually start a song? How do you find that spark?  My spark comes from my mood… I’ll start writing whatever is on my mind depending on my mood.

Who would be your dream artist/writer/band to collaborate with?  SANTAN DAVE… I cannot get enough of this guys music…

What would you say to someone aged 8-18 who is thinking about entering the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition next year? Do you have any tips for them? Don’t be scared to try something… you can lose from not trying but you don’t lose nothing from trying… take every opportunity.

What do you like about the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition?  I like that it makes you feel involved and it gives people an opportunity to evolve.

Benjamin Frere – Laying On Mars 

What inspired you to write your finalist song?  I was in an online science lesson for school and I began to wonder what a tree would look like if it could grow on Mars. Very quickly, this turned into a fully fledged daydream about ‘laying on mars’. I kept my guitar next to my working space for when I had finished my work and so I picked it up and began to write the chorus.

What got you into writing songs?  My Brother and I have always had a shared love for music, especially on long car journeys. He used to be the musical one, but he had to stop doing music for personal reasons and so I thought I’d try and live up to his passion. After a few years of learning guitar, piano and singing, I tried writing a song. But it wasn’t until lockdown started that I had enough time to actually finish one. It was called Pink Clouds.

What is your favourite part of the song writing process?  Definitely after having trusted the process for ages on the production of one part of a song and then finally it comes together and sounds just how I imagined.

Describe your setup that you used to write your #SAYS21 entry, was it just a pen and paper or a fully kitted out studio?  Technically I wrote most of the song in my garden, but I am very lucky to have a small room with just enough recording equipment to more or less make the sounds I need. A keyboard and a MIDI, and a laptop with Logic Pro X and a Focusrite interface with a mic etc.

How do you usually start a song? How do you find that spark?  It starts one of two ways. Either I’ll sit at a piano or with a guitar and develop a melody or progression – then I’ll do my best to write whatever I’m thinking, but also making sure to make weird and wonderful lyrics – rather than ones I’ve heard before.

Who would be your dream artist/writer/band to collab with?  My dream would be to work with FINNEAS, he is a huge inspiration when it comes to production. Also Lawrence the band and Jacob Collier are heroes of mine – and Yungblud, I could go on. Also Jimi Hendrix, Dire straits and Talking Heads are amazing but you can’t collab with the past.

What would you say to someone aged 8-18 who is thinking about entering the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition next year? Do you have any tips for them?   I would first ask them why they’re thinking about it and haven’t already done it. But then I’d tell them that it’s 100% worth a shot if they have a genuine, undeniable passion for music and sound. Music is something none of us can live without, so there’s no reason not to live even more and have a great excuse to write.

What do you like about the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition?   I thought this from the start, and it is that it doesn’t matter how wealthy you are or how much equipment you have. Someone who just has a guitar and a voice has just as much opportunity and chance as someone with a full size music studio.

Charlie Hewlett – Dust In My Hair  

What inspired you to write your finalist song?  During the height of the first lockdown, I remember feeling really trapped just like many other people around the world. I’d been apart from my closest friends for so long and without them to cheer me up, or just simply give me a hug, I felt very alone. I wanted to write a song based around those two ideas, being trapped and being alone. I started off with the lyrics of the first verse: “I’m stood watching the sun rise over the hill, throwing pennies in a golden fountain watching the water spill”. For me this was about how I felt like every morning, I was waking up to another day of being alone and apart from people and I felt like I was hopelessly throwing another coin into a fountain wishing that tomorrow would be different.

What got you into writing songs?  I started writing songs when I was about 13. Nothing that I came up with at that point was any good, but I’d always loved the idea of telling stories and sharing emotion through music. I think being able to use music and lyrics to communicate things that I would never speak about really drew me into it. After a couple of years, and with a lot of practice, it has become my main outlet when I want to talk about things I’m going through or things I’m seeing around me that I don’t quite understand, and it’s been amazing to see people relating to it and finding it comforting too!

What is your favourite part of the songwriting process?  For me it is always near the very start when you get those first few lines or melodies, and you just know that this one is going to be a good one! You’re never quite sure where it’s going to go and at that point you are free to take it wherever you want to. Nothing is set in stone; you can forget about everything else and just create without any boundaries or pressure.

Describe your setup that you used to write your #SAYS21 entry, was it just a pen and paper or a fully kitted out studio?  I’ve written almost all my songs sat on my bed in my room with a voice note app open, my guitar on my lap and a pen and paper next to me. There’s no expectation or rush to do anything. I always find if you push anything then it doesn’t work out as well. I’ll sit there playing around for a couple of minutes until I get an idea and then I carry on from there. 

How do you usually start a song? How do you find that spark?  Personally, it is all about telling the truth. Music is the one place where I can really open up and talk about how I’m feeling so, whatever I’m feeling in that moment, I say it and I let it all out and it just seems to flow naturally. At the end of the day, for me, honesty holds the key to finding that spark.

Who would be your dream artist/writer/band to collaborate with?  My dream artist to collaborate with would be Ben Howard. He is my favourite artist of all time and also one of my biggest inspirations when it comes to creating and performing music. He’s an extremely talented musician and singer and his songwriting skills are incredible. I haven’t heard another artist who can lyrically and vocally transmit emotion as well as him. It would be a dream come true to collaborate with him and work on a project.

 What would you say to someone aged 8-18 who is thinking about entering the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition next year? Do you have any tips for them?  If you’re even remotely interested in taking part in the competition next year I would say, just go for it! There’s nothing to lose, you get to be a part of something incredible and share your music with other people. It can also lead you to lots of other opportunities whether that be meeting new people to collaborate with or getting to perform at the Young Songwriter Showcase!

What do you like about the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition?  There aren’t many other competitions like this that allow people from all areas and walks of life to share their music with people and spread messages and emotion through music. There is also such an incredible judging panel and team behind the competition and it’s great to see that they are all just as excited as the entrants. I feel extremely privileged to have been a part of this competition and I’m amazed I’ve made it into the top 30!

Conor Marcus – No More Broken Hearts 

What inspired you to write your finalist song?  I wrote the song about by mum, who’s mum passed away when she was my age. I was just imagining what it would be like to go through a loss like that, so I wrote the song from her perspective of the experience.

What got you into writing songs?  I come from a fairly musical background on my dad’s side. He was in a band when he was young and he and his band won a competition a bit like Song Academy in the south of Ireland. When I was nine, I started learning the guitar, and me and him would jam in the music room with him on bass and me on guitar. The singing and song writing I guess kind of followed suit.

What is your favourite part of the song writing process?  My lyrics tend to come from the heart so that makes it my favourite part of song writing. Lyrics make or break a song and that’s what I love about them. They allow you to be creative with your music.

Describe your setup that you used to write your #SAYS21 entry, was it just a pen and paper or a fully kitted out studio?  I picked up my guitar and came up with the chords, and on my way home from a gig, I finished it using the Notes app on my phone.

How do you usually start a song? How do you find that spark?  Sometimes I apply myself for a certain amount of time, and just try to write something, but most of my good songs come from those ideas that just come at random points in the day. I always have my phone to write or record ideas when I get them so I can work on them when I get the chance to.

Who would be your dream artist/writer/band to collaborate with?  A dream collab would have to be with Dean Lewis, his songs are really inspiring, and his lyrics are insane!

What made you enter #SAYS21? How did you hear about it?  I was part of a project in Belfast called Scratch My Progress, a nine-month mentoring program for northern Irish artists. A few people I met through that suggested the competition to me, so I thought it was worth a shot. I really didn’t expect to get into the top 30, but I’m over the moon that I have.

What would you say to someone aged 8-18 who is thinking about entering the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition next year? Do you have any tips for them?  I think everything’s worth a shot! It’s all about going into these things with the right attitude, and with the intention of growth and development as a musician, so what’s the harm really?

What do you like about the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition?  It’s really open minded with the music it takes into the competition. There is a list of genres, from rock to rap! It’s really incredible, and a great experience!

Emily Semple – How To Be Vulnerable 

What inspired you to write your finalist song? The lyrics came from an idea that had been going round in my head for a while. I was thinking a lot about the sense that vulnerability can be a strength, and this led me to think about what this meant in reality and to wonder if it can even be taken too far sometimes. I think this idea felt particularly relevant for young people this year.

What got you into writing songs?  I can’t remember! I was lucky to grow up in a house where there was always music around. I don’t even remember having to learn to read music, and as soon as I started playing the piano at an early age I began playing around with harmony and singing along. It just grew from there, and it’s been a really good outlet for self expression.

What is your favourite part of the song writing process? I don’t think I have a favourite part. Every song is different. For some songs, the lyric-writing part is very cathartic, for others it’s exploring the different ways of using harmony that I love.

Describe your setup that you used to write your #SAYS21 entry, was it just a pen and paper or a fully kitted out studio? All my lyrics are on my Notes app, and to record I used garage band and a mic for the piano and vocals in our study at home.

How do you usually start a song? How do you find that spark? I always start with the lyrics. I never have a ‘light-bulb’ moment as such, an idea just comes together when I have some headspace and time to explore my thoughts and feelings. Interestingly, this often comes when I take a break from social media!

Who would be your dream artist/writer/band to collaborate with?  London Grammar would be amazing to collab with.

What would you say to someone aged 8-18 who is thinking about entering the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition next year? Do you have any tips for them? Don’t think about what the competition might want. Just make what you write as true to what you want to create as possible, and that will allow your passion and your authenticity to come through your writing, which is far more important than fitting into a box or a genre.

What do you like about the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition? I love how the judges have looked for individuality and chosen such a wide range of styles. It’s also just a really good opportunity for young people to share their creativity and have a friendly and open platform for doing this, particularly for those who don’t have a lot of self-confidence or don’t already have links with the music industry.

Evernow Beats (EB) & Sarah Baaziz (SB) – Sahara 

What inspired you to write your finalist song?  EB In terms of the production and instrumental side of the song, I was inspired by a general feeling of wanting to write something upbeat and catchy. I wrote the foundations of the song in the heat of early lockdown; I feel like music has been a really important form of escapism for me in the past year, both listening and writing. SB It was mid-lockdown and Alex approached me with this blazing, energetic instrumental and I just thought, something fun and fresh could really uplift us. I tried to imagine extremes – extreme heat, extreme energy, extreme excitement. I wanted to paint a picture of an upbeat adventure, and I thought the desert would be the perfect setting.

What got you into writing songs?  EB I started learning the piano when I was around 4, and since then I’ve always had an interest in writing music. Still, I never really wrote anything more developed until I was around 11, when I was inspired by producers on YouTube and started learning music software – and from there I’ve just been trying to improve wherever I can. Having listened recently to some of my songs at age 11, I’d like to think I have!  SB I have always been a curious person. Once I become interested in something, I cannot remain a viewer – I feel this urge to look into how things are done. And that is exactly what happened with music! I have always adored singing, but I realised that I could only convey so much raw emotion whilst singing other people’s songs. Music already made me feel so alive, but I wanted to take it to the next level. Singing my own melodies and my own words only amplified the musical experience, and that is what has kept me hooked.

What is your favourite part of the songwriting process?  EB I’d say my favourite part of the songwriting process is the initial rush of getting the first idea for a track and being able to build upon it and really experiment with where I want the song to go; it’s the stage where I can really be most creative. SB I love writing chord progressions. There is simply endless possibility, which makes finding one you love so special.

Describe your setup that you used to write your #SAYS21 entry.  EB I work at a PC with Ableton Live 10 Suite installed, along with additional plugins that let me diversify the soundscape of a track (reFX Nexus 2, Serum, Spectrasonics Omnisphere 2) – by my desk is a Q49 MIDI keyboard that lets me input my ideas straight into the project. SB On my side, a pen and paper to begin with! Then the classic bedroom studio to record the vocals – a microphone, stand, headphones, and a laptop.

How do you usually start a song? How do you find that spark?  EB Sometimes ideas just come to me, other times I find that I’m inspired by music that I listen to – oftentimes I start a project with a certain style or artist in mind from where I can develop it in a new direction and put my own spin on it. SB If an instrumental excites me, and triggers almost and uncontrollable vision for the song in my head, the song-writing process is so natural. The words and feelings flow onto the page.

Who would be your dream artist/writer/band to collaborate with?  EB Firstly, it’s been incredible with a friend of mine, Sarah – she’s a fantastic singer; it’s always great bouncing ideas off each other and she always brings so much to the songs she performs.  This past year I’ve been listening to a lot of Frank Ocean and SZA especially. Given that “Sahara” is just over a year old, it might not exactly reflect these influences, but I would love to collaborate with them as well as some of the YouTube producers that got me interested in production – Aries is a big one. SB I would love to collaborate with Anastacia. I cannot get enough of her funk records.

What would you say to someone aged 8-18 thinking of entering next year? Any tips?  EB Do it! Getting your music out there is so, so important. In the way of tips, never get discouraged along the songwriting process – it’s an art like any other and it’s completely natural to get frustrated or hit blocks. Sarah and I wrote “Sahara” over a long span of time in which there were times in which we struggled to finish the song, but given enough time it came together really well. Never force yourself to write when you’re not inspired, but persevering with the craft will always be worth it in the end. SB I think the best way to go about it is to be true to yourself. To not change the way you write to fit someone else’s taste! If you are happy with your song, go ahead and submit it. Art is a ground-breaking medium for this very reason – diversity of perspective.

What do you like about the Song Academy Young Songwriter Competition?  EB What I love about the competition is the opportunity it gives us. There’s the prizes but just being involved is a great experience. The prospect of having your song listened to by such a talented judging panel this year is worth it alone.  SB I love the opportunity it grants. There is so much hidden talent that deserves a platform that, in hosting this competition, Song Academy provides!

Gabby Horne – Bring Back The Noise 

What inspired you to write your finalist song?  During lockdown, the thing I missed most was entertainment, especially music. I loved going to see musicians live and listening to new tracks by upcoming artists, but when lockdown happened, it all came to a screeching halt. Writing “Bring Back The Noise” came surprisingly easily because it was something I had given a lot of thought to over the months stuck inside.

What got you into writing songs?  Over lockdown I decided to teach myself guitar. I had always loved to sing, so I ended up putting two and two together. My Dad used to write songs in a band as well and he’s always been my biggest inspiration, so I wanted to follow in his footsteps. I love the freedom of being able to create a narrative and put it to music.

How do you usually start a song? How do you find that spark?  I find that inspiration can strike at any time and I always have my phone on me so I can write notes or record audio clips. I usually find a chord pattern or get an idea for a melody. Then I put in temporary lyrics just to see how the song takes shape and that’s usually when it starts to come together. I take my inspiration from what is going on in the world at the time and also personal experiences. I find that it makes me feel better putting my thoughts into song form.

Who would be your dream artist/writer/band to collaborate with?  I love artists like Olivia Rodrigo and the creator of Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda, but I’d say my biggest inspiration is Taylor Swift. I love her creativity when it comes to creating a story that she puts to music, like “Betty”. I also love the way her lyrics make me feel while listening.

What would you say to someone aged 8-18 who is thinking about entering the Song Academy Young Songwriter Competition next year? Do you have any tips for them?  I would say go for it! It’s a really good opportunity to show experienced songwriters what you’ve got and get some professional feedback. I’d tell them to be confident in their own ability and not to worry about being judged – the competition is really positive and everybody is supportive.

What do you like about the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition?  I like the fact that it gives you a chance to get your music heard by people in the industry who really know what they’re talking about and can help you improve.

Gabriella Bongo – Don’t Call 

What inspired you to write your finalist song?  There is no ‘big story’ behind this track. It was very late at night and I was bored so I just started a session and went with it. The song is not personal to me – it’s just about a random story I made up. I’m a very empathetic and sensitive person so I can often feel what others feel – even if i’ve never been through their situation.  So when it comes to songwriting, those traits can definitely work in my favour I guess.

What got you into writing songs?  I’ve been musical all my life – singing, piano or just sitting in front of the TV for hours watching music channels like Channel AKA and Kiss. I started composing and writing songs seriously at age 9. Ever since then I’ve just been getting better and better and my love for the art has grown stronger and stronger.

What is your favourite part of the song writing process? When I hit save on the project for the final time. The feeling of creating something from nothing but a vision. Bringing that vision to life through lyrics, instruments, vocalists, artwork – all of it. I feel proud and happy every time.

Describe your setup that you used to write your #SAYS21 entry, was it just a pen and paper or a fully kitted out studio?  It was in my bedroom studio. I saved up for it and bought everything at around Christmas 2020. My sessions are always late at night most of the time so I have my headphones on, keyboard, and my phone to record rough vocal melody lines and get down any lyrics. Then over the next few days (during the daytime) I recorded the vocals for the demo.

How do you usually start a song? How do you find that spark?  I encourage myself to have regular sessions. I always start with chords – I’m a pianist so it’s just natural for me to do that. Then I have a rough arrangement of the instrumental. After that I start on the vocal melody and lyrics. As for the ‘spark’, it’s rarely ever initial – I usually feel it along the way once I establish where the track could go.

Who would be your dream artist/writer/band to collaborate with?  Very hard question. I am going to have to say John Newman. His voice is absolutely incredible and it’s so unique and powerful. I listened to him a lot growing up and I still do. Collaborations are such a special thing to me – I’m a huge fan of all my collaborators and can’t thank them enough for believing in me.

What would you say to someone aged 8-18 who is thinking about entering the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition next year? Do you have any tips for them?  What is there to think about? You have nothing to lose. Even if you don’t get through, someone will have listened to your music. A complete stranger. That’s always a win. Their judgement doesn’t entirely matter because art is subjective so don’t take it personally. One tip I would give is fully finish your projects. If you are serious about music then have a studio-quality track.

What do you like about the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition?  I like how it’s looking out for the next generation of talent. It’s giving young songwriters a chance to be taken seriously.

Hatty Yap – I Can’t Breathe 

What inspired you to write your finalist song? Current events:  the pandemic brought about many changes good & bad, I saw the news of a grave injustice, I sat at the piano, my emotions did the rest.

What got you into writing songs? I’ve been around music my whole life.  It’s my comfort zone, my friend, my expression.

What is your favourite part of the song writing process?  Depending on the song subject but for me it’s melody.  I always start on the piano exploring new chord progressions and sampling rhythms, then bring in the lyrics.  The more powerful the subject the easier the song is.

Describe your setup that you used to write your #SAYS21 entry, was it just a pen and paper or a fully kitted out studio?  I started on the piano, then transferred the accompaniment onto my electric guitar and recorded that into garageband.

How do you usually start a song? How do you find that spark? Emotion is my trigger.  Melody often pops into my head and I play and record the idea.  Sometimes if I’m out away from my piano I will “la la’ the melody into my phone and work on it at home later.

Who would be your dream artist/writer/band to collaborate with?  It would be a deream to collab with Queen, sadly Freddie Mercury is no longer here, therefore I would have to pick Ed Sheeran

What would you say to someone aged 8-18 who is thinking about entering the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition next year? Do you have any tips for them?  Write and enter your song, music is so subjective, it can never please all the people, all the time but it will reach the hearts of many and that’s a great achievement.

What do you like about the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition?  This is a fantastic platform for songwriters to be heard and to learn from.

Herodot Maric – Sky and Stars

What inspired you to write your finalist song?  Th Sky. I’ve had many experiences where I stop and stare at the sky for up to an hour straight. The colours, the gradients, the textures of the clouds are all so fascinating to me and I really wanted to express the way that I felt when looking at it. Especially during the summer.

What got you into writing songs?  I’ve never been very good at structuring my sentences and phrasing things that I wanted to say. I found out that I could express my feeling through writing songs and making music in a way that I could never do otherwise.

What is your favourite part of the song writing process?  That’s a difficult question, but I would definitely say that it is the vocals. It just feels like the track comes together, and I believe that the voice is one of the best and most powerful instruments to exist in our world. Vocals are so malleable and you can use them to create different emotions in your song if used correctly, and I find the whole process behind both recording and editing vocals so fun.

Describe your setup that you used to write your #SAYS21 entry, was it just a pen and paper or a fully kitted out studio?  It was only really my laptop and my mic. I have Ableton Live, so that’s what I used to produce the beat. I used a homemade pop filter made of plastic pipes and a sock to filter out the popping sound. I also placed the mic in my cupboard for sound isolation while recording vocals.

How do you usually start a song? How do you find that spark?  The very first step in my song writing process is the way that I’m feeling. For example; if I’m tired I’ll use sounds and chords to emphasise tiredness, like a soft warm synth with a slow attack. Written in a minor chord. Usually, if the melody does not sound interesting within the first 10-15 minutes of making a song, then I will discard the beat and start another one.

Who would be your dream artist/writer/band to collaborate with?  I would absolutely love to work with Travis Scott one day. The energy behind his songs are unmatched and his vocal intonations are extremely catchy. He expresses his emotions and feelings brilliantly through both his lyrics and his instrumentals, he does not solely rely on the lyrics of his song to express the way he feels about something. Instead he will literally make you feel like you’re on a rollercoaster with all elements in some of his songs, like he does in his ASTROWORLD album. Despite the fact that people think he is very surface level, he takes you on a journey  through HIS party and HIS life. And you feel the way that HE feels which I find so powerful.

What would you say to someone aged 8-18 who is thinking about entering the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition next year? Do you have any tips for them?  Enter! You can only gain from this competition! My tips for future contestants are to really try and experiment with different sounds and techniques. Taking risks in music is the reason that a lot of musicians have become popular!

What do you like about the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition?  I like that there is nobody holding you back from expressing yourself the way that you want to. I also like hearing all the other contestants entries because I love looking out for really good music!

Hetta Falzon – All It Takes 

What inspired you to write your finalist song? ‘All it Takes’ was inspired by something I think a lot of people can relate to. It’s about the one person who you will always feel something for. It’s really about this cycle of being loved and let down but never letting go, by choice, because you’d rather be loved by this person now and then, than not at all.

What got you into writing songs?  I started writing proper songs when I was 12, I’d been making up bits of songs forever really but that was the first time I wrote a real song. Songwriting was and is a way for me to clear my head and figure things out.

What is your favourite part of the song writing process?  My favourite part is when it all comes just together, when you find one line or chord and everything sort of falls into place.

Describe your setup that you used to write your #SAYS21 entry, was it just a pen and paper or a fully kitted out studio?  I wrote ‘All it Takes’ at my piano at home, however I think I wrote most of it by recording voice notes if I had an idea at any point so really I wrote it all over the place.

How do you usually start a song? How do you find that spark?  I write songs about my experiences or something that’s been on my mind. Usually a couple of days after something happens, a lyric will come to me. Then I put it to a melody and chord and then write the rest of the song all together.

Who would be your dream artist/writer/band to collaborate with?  Lizzy Mcalpine, Dermot Kennedy, Bruno Major and definitely Tom Misch.

What would you say to someone aged 8-18 who is thinking about entering the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition next year? Do you have any tips for them?  I would say enter the songs that mean the most to you and that YOU want to enter because at the end of the day your song is also representing you as a writer.

What do you like about the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition?  It’s a really cool way to listen to what other people your age are writing and I’ve discovered so many songs that I love just from the Song Academy playlist. I also like how it is judged purely on the song and not the quality of recording or production which means anyone can enter.

Honor Carr – A Sunken Future 

What inspired you to write your finalist song? This song was inspired by the current pandemic and is written in the perspective of a woman to her son. It’s about what life could be like if the pandemic hadn’t been controlled and had gone apocalyptic.

What got you into writing songs? I first started writing songs just for fun and then realised how much I enjoyed creating melodies and chord progressions and so began to start writing seriously.

What is your favourite part of the song writing process?  My favourite part of the process of songwriting is coming up with harmonies or different arrangements. So I’ll come up with a chord progression or some melodies but putting them together and playing around with it is what I enjoy the most.

Describe your setup that you used to write your #SAYS21 entry, was it just a pen and paper or a fully kitted out studio?  My set up for this song entry was very basic, as I have very limited equipment, and it was just recorded on my phone using the garageband app.

How do you usually start a song? How do you find that spark?  When writing songs I usually start with chords or just the basic structure to build upon, very rarely do I start with a melody or lyrics. However, sometimes I’ll think of some interesting lyrics and then write the melodic aspects around it.

Who would be your dream artist/writer/band to collaborate with?  My dream artist to work with would be either Lana del Rey, or Radiohead as I love both artists’ music so much and believe my style of writing is complimentary to theirs.

What would you say to someone aged 8-18 who is thinking about entering the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition next year? Do you have any tips for them?  I would say try and discover who you are as an artist and don’t be afraid to be original in your ideas and have a strong idea of where you’d want to take your music in the future.

What do you like about the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition?  I like the fact that you don’t need to have a lot of experience with recording or production to have a chance of getting through each round, as it is very much judged on the song and not on the production which I think is really important, and is a better way of finding raw talent.

Jacob York – Sweet Thing 

What inspired you to write your finalist song?  The song flowed naturally from the start. With most of my songs I’ll get an idea that just comes randomly that I will write down in my phone. This time, I had an idea repeating in my head over and over, it was the ‘just a sweet thing’ line. Where these ideas come from I’ll never know but they do come and go at any moment, that’s part of the reason I love the feeling and process of writing. As soon as I had the chords for the track, I knew which way I wanted to go.

We all have a sweet thing, well most of us, and that sweet thing is something we do, have or want that we know is bad for us, but we just give in. If you were to just listen to the start of the track, you’d probably have a clear idea of where it’s going to go, it’s not until you realise the song is about heroin that you really feel it. My inspiration for this song is the inability to separate ourselves from our addictions and vices and the pedestal we put them on mentally to what they are physically.

What got you into writing songs?  I started off musically as a guitarist who could sing the odd note, I loved playing covers and listening to music. I never thought of writing my own song when I first started. That all changed when I first heard Jake Bugg, I had his debut album on repeat and just sat there every time I listened with amazement. I can just remember feeling great and really enjoying music before I knew it, I knew covers for the songs of the album. There then was a turning point where I had my lightbulb moment, if he can write songs about his life and get somewhere why can’t I. I had dreams of others listening to my songs and learning how to play them feeling the way I did. This took my writing so far, I was having fun with it.

Then I hit a wall in my life, I hit a low. For a young kid it’s a difficult time not knowing what is wrong or how to speak up about how you are feeling. Through writing I had an escape, I could get all my feelings out on to paper and make something of it, or I could be someone else for an hour. And I think this was the real seller for me, writing made me feel good.

What is your favourite part of the song writing process?  My favourite part of the song writing process is that first initial idea, where there is just an overwhelming feeling of creativity. I think being able to get that first bit down is the most difficult but rewarding part of writing a song. It gives me a real thrill, and before I’ve even finished, I’m thinking of what’s next and where can I take this.

Describe your set up that you used to write your #SAYS21 entry. When writing my songs, I try to keep things simple. I’m sat with my guitar and phone playing and singing ideas and just going with what flows naturally. Then I’m just writing everything down in my notes and recording voice notes. For this song in particular I just played through the chords I had and then sang whatever came out.  It was one of those incredible moments where everything just comes together.

How do you usually start a song?  A lot of the time I just have a burst of an idea sometimes it’s a lyric, other times it’s just a song title and I write to the title. I try and stay aware of everything going on around me and I think a lot of my ideas come from what I have heard or seen either in that moment or in the past. They really do just come and go. Recently I’ve found myself being inspired by other people and putting myself in their world for an hour or to. I think by just looking for another angle or view to be able to find that first idea for a song has been really crucial for me as a song writer.

Who would be your dream artist/writer/band to collaborate with?  From a list a mile long of the people I would love to collaborate with, I would probably have to go where it all started for me. That would be Jake Bugg. Other than the fact he is an incredible writer in general, he is one of those song writers that writes stories and that’s how I see my songs.

What would you say to someone thinking of entering?  Go for it! I honestly can’t say anymore other then go for it. My top tip is to be proud of what you have created, that song is a piece of you so have the confidence in yourself.

What do you like about the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition?  I think providing young songwriters a chance to have their music heard is my favourite thing about the competition. Not only having your songs heard by industry pros, but you also get to share your music with other young writers. So yeah, what I like most about the young songwriter competition is the community it creates between songwriters.

James Bakian – Divided 

What inspired you to write your finalist song?  Even though I haven’t gone through an actual break-up, I wanted to write a song about how I might feel if I really did find myself in a toxic relationship. I also wanted to write a stripped-down, ballad-like, emotional song after listening to “All of Me” by John Legend over and over, and “Divided” is what came out of it.

What got you into writing songs?  I got into writing songs after discovering Maroon 5, particularly Adam Levine. After becoming fascinated by his talent back in 2015, I wanted to challenge myself to write a song, and after that, I never stopped.

What is your favourite part of the song writing process?  My favourite part is creating the melody because that’s where I feel like the song takes itself exactly where it needs to go, even if it takes time to get there.

Describe your setup that you used to write your #SAYS21 entry, was it just a pen and paper or a fully kitted out studio?  I wrote “Divided” in my home-studio which is in my bedroom. I’ve got a keyboard, guitar, bass guitar, mixer, mic and Logic Pro X on my laptop, where all the magic happens, but my songs always start in the form of literal gibberish of vague vocal ideas on voice memos on my phone. From there they progress to the final productions.

How do you usually start a song? How do you find that spark?  Usually, I’m feeling some emotions that I feel like I need to let out, which always seems to result in me writing a song, because it’s the best way for me to express myself, even if the song might not necessarily be exactly what I’m feeling (sometimes it is), so I tend to sit at the piano when I’m alone, start playing some chords until it feels right, and the rest just starts to flow.

Who would be your dream artist/writer/band to collaborate with?  I really admire Charlie Puth. Music just flows out of him and he’s exactly the kind of musician I aspire to be. I love how the music he writes, sings and produces is all already pre-crafted in his head, and his job is to organise it, which he does amazingly well. That’s what I’ve found in myself as a writer, singer and producer. Making a song with Charlie would be a dream come true for me, especially because I still have so much to learn from him.

What would you say to someone aged 8-18 who is thinking about entering the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition next year? Do you have any tips for them?  If I could give a young songwriter some advice, it would be to write and write, because if it comes from the heart, eventually you’ll create something incredible.

What do you like about the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition?  I like how the competition pushes young people and encourages creativity, allowing songs that might not otherwise be out there, a chance to shine.

Joe Lever – Clapham Junction 

What inspired you to write your finalist song?  I started out creating and then shaping the chords, and from there with the lyrics, I painted a picture of escape to a more vibrant world, away from our lockdown and the other pressures of life. Whilst they don’t describe the song, these pressures are very much an inspiration for writing it.

What got you into writing songs?  I’ve been doing it for a pretty long time – it stems from listening to great music, great artists (old and new), and then from a young age just wanting to be like those artists.

What is your favourite part of the song writing process?  Definitely the musical side of things- sat at the piano, finding some great jazzy chords, and working from there is really what comes most naturally to me.

Describe your setup that you used to write your #SAYS21 entry, was it just a pen and paper or a fully kitted out studio?  For my entry, I just recorded the song with my setup at home- I basically did a live version of me playing (piano) and singing with my mic and midi.

How do you usually start a song? How do you find that spark?  It’s pretty spontaneous to be honest- sometimes you can sit for hours and get no where, and sometimes, the right vibe brings about that spark pretty quickly! I start writing a song almost always sat at the piano, and the first thing I do is figure out chords- their voicing, rhythm, and also experiment with melodies which work with them. I often find that writing late at night when the world is asleep is when I’m most creative.

Who would be your dream artist/writer/band to collaborate with?  Jacob Collier – he is such a musical genius in every sense: multi-instrumentalist, producer, harmoniser etc. He does it all, and so he would definitely be my dream artist to collaborate with.

What would you say to someone aged 8-18 who is thinking about entering the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition next year? Do you have any tips for them?  Never feel disheartened if you don’t have a professional production to send in. I and many others have made it to the finals with home recordings, so really if you write songs, just get them finished and go for it!

What do you like about the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition?  I think what’s great about the competition is how it allows songwriters to enter without having to worry about their recording and production capabilities- the competition doesn’t require a complete studio production, and so this really does makes it accessible to all songwriters.

Leona Mae – Talks Too Much

What inspired you to write your finalist song?  This song started when I was jamming around with some chords, integrating minor and 7th chords to give it more of an edge. I wanted it to be fast so I decided to start writing an upbeat song but not the typical ‘feel good’ sweet sounding one I usually lean to. I started with the line ‘talks too much’ and built the song from there, wanting to use a more ‘racy’ interpretation of the line. I was writing from the perspective of a character, which I always find fun, and made her convey female empowerment; here is a girl/women who is saying exactly what she wants and with complete confidence.

What got you into writing songs?  I’ve always enjoyed English at school, especially ‘creative’ writing ; it gives you freedom to be as creative as possible. But when you have to work and think really hard at how best to marry melody and rhythm to the words, it’s an even more satisfying task. I wrote my first song when I was 7 and was pleased with the result, so I thought I would carry on! As I went on, concerts always inspired me the most, like my first Concert ‘Red – Taylor Swift’, who I think is one of the best song writers out there. Seeing the crowd respond and fall in love with music was 100% what I wanted to achieve some day. I love how songs can make you feel different ways and you can intensify emotions when it all comes together in the right way.

What is your favourite part of the song writing process?  I would definitely say writing lyrics as there are so many different words to choose from, but when you stumble across a really clever line or word play (something you’re proud of), it’s a great feeling. Lyrics only have to be spoken (like a poem) and they can have an impact. I also like how they can create really cool rhythms as there’s so many ways to compose them ; you could do internal rhymes, or 3 lots of 2 syllable words in a row for example and it rolls off your tongue in different ways

Describe your setup that you used to write your #SAYS21 entry, was it just a pen and paper or a fully kitted out studio?  To write my entry ‘Talks too much’ it was how I usually write ; sat cross legged on my bed with a guitar and the notes page open on my phone. For this one, I wrote it all in one sitting which is usually the way my favourite songs get written as the have more of a ‘flow’ to them. I use the voice memo app on my phone to record my ideas as I go along and then by the end, I had the whole song down.

How do you usually start a song? How do you find that spark?  I don’t usually wait until I find inspiration, I just sit down and decide I’m going to try. I find it’s better to write more often than to wait until inspiration strikes, especially as I like writing songs about characters/movies/situations I’ve observed rather than my own life. I plan what I want to say in each section and then jam around on guitar/piano until I’ve got a sound I like. I always start with the verse as well, because I find it easier to then know where to build up into for my chorus.

Who would be your dream artist/writer/band to collaborate with?  This is an easy question for me, it’s always been Taylor Swift. I think she’s one of the greatest writers; She can write absolute killer commercial hits and then subtle lyrical geniuses like her latest era ‘folklore’. The range of genres she’s done is so impressive and if I got to write a song with her, I’d want it to be from her ‘fearless’ era. These were the ‘feel good’ country hits she did that were single-handedly responsible for every kid over romanticising their teen life!

What made you enter #SAYS21? How did you hear about it?  I entered last year so I knew about the annual competition and wanted to enter this year of course, I think it’s a great competition as the standard is so high. I’m a fan of so many people who’ve entered songs ; It’s tough, which is good.

What would you say to someone aged 8-18 who is thinking about entering the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition next year? Do you have any tips for them?  I’d say to definitely do it, there’s nothing to lose and you can check out other people entering and collaborate even if nothing happens. In terms of your song, a tip I always use is to look through your song and think ‘if this song was turned down, what would be the reason’ and it forces you to identify the weakest points. Also, send multiple songs to a bunch of people and get them to vote their favourite, it’s hard to judge your own songs.

What do you like about the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition?  I like how it’s a tough competition, the standard of applicants is really high – I know anyone who wants to be a song writer enters.  It’s a great collection point for me personally to check out everyone else and think about writing with people. Leading on from that, It’s great a playlist is put together so you can actually hear all the songs especially the ones that beat you so can try to think why and appreciate them. I also like that you have to put a description together and answer questions as when I did that, it was the first time I had thought about some of those things.

Lexie Carroll – We’re Not Lonely Anymore  

What inspired you to write your song?  I don’t really know where it came from as I’ve never had this experience but I had this image in my head of a very movie-like scene of meeting someone at a party you don’t want to be at with people you can’t understand and then heading outside to chat under the night sky. Quiet but with the distant sounds of the party in the background as you get to know each other.

What got you into writing songs?  I think I’ve always done it as I’m always singing so I’d just make up bits of songs. The earliest actual song I remember and wrote down was when I was 9 and I wrote about the summer holidays haha.  But as I’ve gotten older and written more and more it’s become a really helpful thing for me to get out my feelings.

What is your favourite part of the songwriting process?  I love a second verse, I find them really fun to write as by that point I know what I’m writing about and I like adding details. There’s so much less pressure on a second verse than choruses or verse ones!! It’s very freeing.

Describe your setup that you used to write your #SAYS21 entry, was it just a pen and paper or a fully kitted out studio?  I wrote it in my bedroom with my guitar

How do you usually start a song? How do you find that spark?  It’s sort of a subconscious thing I guess- I’ll often come up with a lyric not really knowing what it means or anything, I just think it sounds nice, and then as the song goes on I’ll realise what I’m writing about.

Who would be your dream artist/writer/band to collaborate with?  My favourite singer right now is Aurora, so that would be the dream at the moment. She’s like a fairy!! But also I’ve always wanted to collaborate with Cavetown, his lyrics are so so good and I think it would work really well.

What made you enter #SAYS21? How did you hear about it?  I’ve been entering ever since I started at song academy 3 years ago :)

What would you say to someone aged 8-18 who is thinking about entering the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition next year? Do you have any tips for them?  Even if you don’t think your song is any good, you never know what might happen so you may as well give it a shot!

What do you like about the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition?  I like that it’s focused on songwriting and you celebrate writers whereas usually people focus on singing. It provides such a great platform for anyone who wants to share stuff they’ve written.

Luca Howsam – Sunburn 

What inspired you to write your finalist song?  I wrote this song during the first lockdown last year, I was feeling very isolated and made music as a way to reflect on how I felt. This song was one of the few I wrote in that time. I developed it further later in the year for my GCSE music composition.

What got you into writing songs?   I’ve always loved music and have been playing piano since I was young. I began learning how to produce a few years ago, I started writing so I could improve my production and express myself.

What is your favourite part of the song writing process?  I like adding layers and detail into my instrumentation, it helps to bring my songs to life I think.

Describe your setup that you used to write your #SAYS21 entry, was it just a pen and paper or a fully kitted out studio?  I made my song with a laptop on Ableton. I also a used keyboard and a Focusrite Scarlett i2i audio interface and microphone.

How do you usually start a song? How do you find that spark?  I usually start with chords and then record different ideas onto my laptop. A lot of the time I have a full instrumental before I start writing the melody and lyrics.

Who would be your dream artist/writer/band to collaborate with?  I would love to collaborate with Frank Ocean or FKA twigs. I also love Jack Antonoff’s production and would love to work with him.

What would you say to someone aged 8-18 who is thinking about entering the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition next year? Do you have any tips for them?  If you want to, just go for it!! There’s no pressure to win, but you never know what you can achieve.

What do you like about the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition?  I like that it gives young people the opportunity for their art and voices to be heard and appreciated.

Meg Curl – Fabric Flowers 

What inspired you to write your finalist song?  Fabric Flowers is inspired on the idea of writing letters to someone in a long-distance relationship. I was inspired by the longing for closeness and how hard the distance can be for couples across countries, time differences make a big change too. I think a lot of people know how difficult it is to be far away from loved ones after the virus so I wanted to write a song that can mean something to people.

What got you into writing songs?  I started piano when I was about 11, I started writing a couple of songs along to keyboard. But I really started writing songs when I taught myself guitar, I started making videos on YouTube and began uploading my own songs which increased my confidence, it was a really good way for me to express my emotions in a way I’ve never been able to before.

What is your favourite part of the song writing process?  I really enjoy trying to find lyrics that the listener wouldn’t expect and writing lyrics I haven’t heard in other songs before. I also love coming back to a song after a few days to edit and change lyrics for the better, making songs more complete feels very comforting.

Describe your setup that you used to write your #SAYS21 entry, was it just a pen and paper or a fully kitted out studio?  My guitar, lyrics notebook and a pencil!

How do you usually start a song? How do you find that spark?  It is different for each song, but I start by trying to find poetic metaphors that fit how I’m feeling, that can then turn into lyrics. Once I have a few lines it gives me motivation to find more.

Who would be your dream artist/writer/band to collaborate with?  Dodie, Bruno Major, The Paper Kites or Jacob Collier.

What would you say to someone aged 8-18 who is thinking about entering the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition next year? Do you have any tips for them?  It’s a really great opportunity to put out your songs! And you get to hear all the other entries from other young artists which is inspiring. A tip would be to remember that any song can be improved so making multiple drafts of a song and then editing and getting second opinions from other people is helpful.

What do you like about the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition?  It’s really great to hear other artists work in my age group. I like that it gives less heard about musicians the chance to be seen.

Millie Rhye – Sometimes 

What inspired you to write your finalist song?  I was just listening to the dramas my friends were having with boyfriends at school and thought it related well to teenage relationships.

What got you into writing songs? I don’t know really, I really love singing and it’s a way of expressing myself, and relaxing.  I just stared jotting down words then put them together and it sounded good.

What’s your favourite part of the song writing process?  Playing with words in sentences. Being able to express myself and song interpretation.

Describe your setup that you used to write your  #says21 entry, was it just pen and paper or a fully kitted out studio?  I wrote the song lyrics down then took them to my producer, then together we created the music. Then we recorded it in his studio and he mixed and released it for me.

How do you usually start a song?  How do you find a spark?  I’d say radio really . I love listening to songs and picking out cool sounding effects or instruments I think I could incorporate in a song and make it my own .

Who would be your dream artist/writer/ band to collaborate with?  Some of my biggest inspirations are Harry Styles , Tom Grennan and Billie Eilish . It would be a dream to just meet them let alone Collab with them!!!!!

What would you say to someone aged 8-18 who is thinking about entering the Song Academy young songwriter compertition next year?  Do you have any tips for them?  Yes, just go for it. Continue to enjoy what you’re doing and let other people have the privilege of your individuality.

What are your favourite other entries from this years competition? Who out if the other entrants would you like to collaborate with?  I love the sound of Lizzie Holliday . Her voice and song writing techniques are so different and I love the piano chords in her entered song “Alone Again”.  I also love her runs and inflictions are great.

What do you like about the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition.  It gives me the ability to express myself through song writing and help get my music noticed.

Nettle – Honey

What inspired you to write your finalist song?  I was thinking about the everyday interactions people have with strangers, and what they can lead to.

What got you into writing songs?  I first started writing when I was about twelve and my dad bought me a ukulele – It was a really good outlet for me to express myself as I was always really shy. Since then I’ve started writing on the cello, guitar and piano.

What is your favourite part of the song writing process?  I really like writing the lyrics and finding ways to fit them with the melody, It’s very satisfying !

Describe your setup that you used to write your #SAYS21 entry, was it just a pen and paper or a fully kitted out studio?  I was lucky enough to record this at a friend’s studio, but usually I just work on a pen and paper level.

How do you usually start a song? How do you find that spark?  I think its usually just playing around with chords and humming along until you find something worth working on.

Who would be your dream artist/writer/band to collaborate with?  Probably Bjork because of her weirdness

What would you say to someone aged 8-18 who is thinking about entering the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition next year? Do you have any tips for them?  I’d probably just say go for it and don’t be nervous, you never know!

What do you like about the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition?  It’s such an accessible platform for young people writing music, amazing to have  your songs listened to and judged by such inspiring people!

Ollie Moore – Sign 

What inspired to write your finalist song?  I was inspired to write my finalist song as I had lost touch with a girl because of lockdown and it got to the point where I didn’t know what she was doing or where she was.   The situation inspired me to write my feelings down and this is what the song is about.

What got you into writing songs?  I got into writing songs because I found it an effective way to get my emotions out and written down to get them out of my system.

What is your favourite part of the song writing process?  My favourite part of the song is when you finish that first chorus and you realise you have the main structure of a song.

Describe your setup that you used to write your #SAYS21 entry, was it just a pen and paper or a fully kitted out studio?  I wrote this song on the beach with pen and paper.  I was looking out over the ocean at the time.

How do you usually start a song?  I usually start a song with just a melody or a phrase comes to mind.  I expand upon it with chord progression and more lyrics.

How do you find that spark?  Finding that spark is just a feeling I get.   When this happens, I drop everything and focus on my song writing.

Who would be your dream artist/writer/band to collaborate with?  I would love to collaborate with James Bay or the Artic Monkeys.

What would you say to someone who is thinking about entering the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition next year?  Do you have any tips for them?  I would say to any youngster, ‘If you don’t try, you’ll never know!’  ‘Believe in yourself’.  ‘Don’t have any self-doubts because there is always someone willing to listen.’

What do you like about the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition?  I like that the SAYS competition is a great platform for young songwriters to get their music heard by professional ears and I am so glad I entered.

Rachel Burnett – Like A Shadow Steals the Sun

What inspired me to write this song?  I wrote this song at a time when I was especially feeling lost. I struggled to find any motivation to carry on with the things I loved, as I felt so isolated. So I personified the loneliness and addressed it in the song. This is representative in the lyrics, ‘The light is melting, am I one with you?’ in the second verse and as I talk about letting go and giving in to the isolation, elsewhere in the song, with ‘take my heart, take it all, like a shadow steals the sun’.

What got you into writing songs?  I got into songwriting after growing up training as a classical singer and pianist, whilst listening to a range of genres of music, influenced by my parents. I became interested in harmonies and chord progressions. Learning to play by ear unlocked the ability to express myself and create my own music that reflects my message.

Describe your setup that you used to write your #SAYS21 entry, was it just a pen and paper or a fully kitted out studio?  I compose all of my songs at the piano, writing down my chord progressions and lyrics. After I have finished writing my music, I record it at home with my microphone and mix it on Logic Pro X.

How do you usually start a song? How do you find that spark? I always start my songs with a chord progression. I don’t always know what my song will be about when I first sit down to write it; however, as soon as I get a movement I like on the piano, it opens up many opportunities for direction. It’s one of the many things I love about songwriting; the meaning of any song can change by altering only one chord. It’s incredible.

Who would be your dream artist/writer/band to collaborate with?  My dream artist to collaborate with would have to be Elton John. He is so inspiring to me, mainly how he uses the piano to illustrate and match his lyrics. In his song, ‘goodbye yellow brick road’, the key changes and chord cycles are so addictive to listen to. They first encouraged me to write outside of my comfort zone and expand past a cycle of just four chords.

What would you say to someone aged 8-18 who is thinking about entering the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition next year? Do you have any tips for them?  Just to make sure they enter the song they feel is the best representative of them, not what they think judges will like. Music is subjective, so as long as you always reflect your ideas in your music, enter it!

What do you like about the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition?  I think one of the main attractions is the calibre of the judges. There are not many competitions that have such a wide variety of incredible judges; deep experience in the music industry alongside current recording artists. This competition is an excellent opportunity to write something you are thrilled with and reflect on why this song is so important to you. It also allows you to form connections with musicians all over the world!

Rosie Trentham – I’ll Change For The Better

What inspired you to write your finalist song?  I wrote this song in December 2020, on the eve of the third national lockdown. There was a very dark feeling at the time, with all our daylight hours taken with online commitments and the cold weather keeping us inside and isolated. I wanted to write a song of hope for the future, and one that I could play with my dad (a classical cellist, as heard on the track) at home, in our family bubble.

What got you into writing songs?  I started writing songs about four years ago when I competed in Open Mic UK and reached the final. I realised that I was much more likely to progress in the competition if I performed original material, so I started to write my own songs. There was about a month between each round which gave me the perfect amount of time to fully compose a song, and then after that, I just didn’t stop!

What is your favourite part of the song writing process?  I most enjoy the first part of writing, when you come up with the original concept. It’s genuinely exciting to have a new musical idea which makes you think of stories and lyrics.

Describe your setup that you used to write your #SAYS21 entry, was it just a pen and paper or a fully kitted out studio?  When I started writing “It’ll Change For The Better”, I began with a keyboard and the voice memos app on my phone. I find it really useful to be able to record musical ideas, so that you can remember them and come back to them, rather than slip into something more generic.

How do you usually start a song? How do you find that spark?  Usually, the music comes first and inspires a lyrical concept. I really enjoy improvising on the piano, and when I find a new progression or idea that I really like, I build on it with lyrics and a melody.

Who would be your dream artist/writer/band to collaborate with?  Stevie Wonder. He has such an interesting sense of harmony and his vocals are always amazing. I would love to unpick his brain and co-write with him.

What made you enter #SAYS21? How did you hear about it?  I’ve entered Song Academy for the past two years and have really enjoyed having my songs featured.

What would you say to someone aged 8-18 who is thinking about entering the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition next year? Do you have any tips for them?  I would recommend making the effort to record your song properly. I’ve found that having a microphone and Logic is essential for the writing process and can transform your song.

What do you like about the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition?  I really enjoy listening to other up and coming artists and it goes to show how much talent is out there. The top 30 song this year have been astonishing show such a variety of voices from all round the country.

Scarlett Grig – Boundaries 

What inspired you to write your finalist song?  I’d been composing a piece on the piano that was more like a classical piece of music than anything else I’d ever written which took me down an alternative path to how I usually start. I realised that it could work with lyrics with the intricacies, the changes between major and minor really correlated with things I’d been wanting to write about recently about mental health and shutting people out.

What got you into writing songs?  For as long as I can remember I’ve sat down at the piano and tried to sing along to the melodies I’d made. As I had proper piano lessons I began to experiment more, my ideas grew and my piano and notepad was where I began to spend all my time.

What is your favourite part of the song writing process?  I really like creating lyrics because I consider myself a wordsmith above everything else. One part of the songs I especially love creating are bridges, because they can be an unrepeated moment of escape and are unique compared to the rest of the song and add so much more.

Describe your setup that you used to write your #SAYS21 entry, was it just a pen and paper or a fully kitted out studio?  I sat at our piano and wrote it – just me, the piano and my notebook.

How do you usually start a song? How do you find that spark?  I’m constantly singing and having melodies in my head. Occasionally I’ll subconsciously sing or say something that wakes me up, I’ll take notice, and I’ll work on that lyric or melody or piano chord, until it becomes a song.

Who would be your dream artist / writer / band to collaborate with?  In an alternative universe I’d like to collaborate with composers like Chopin and Tchaikovsky because I have always admired how they craft a narrative and capture emotion. Culturally, the romantic period in music has always inspired me to be driven by emotions and to capture pain and progress in the music that I craft.

What would you say to someone aged 8-18 who is thinking about entering the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition next year? Do you have any tips for them?  It’s an amazing opportunity to have something on which you’ve spent so much time and energy, and which is so personal to you, judged by some of the most incredible songwriters in the business.  My tips would be to be brave and don’t worry about if you songs will progress or not – take the criticism and move forward with it.

What do you like about the Song Academy Young Songwriter Competition?    I like the way I’m able to interact with young songwriters from all over the world, to celebrate their amazing talent and to learn from them.

Scarlett May – Second Place 

What inspired you to write your finalist song? At the start of lockdown last year, my GCSEs had just been cancelled and I really felt that there was lots of unfinished business. It was hard because I felt selfish for feeling like I was missing out. When I started to write I realised that it was the what ifs and almosts that bothered me most and that’s why the song is called second place, because I felt like I just couldn’t quite come in first.

What got you into writing songs? I started writing songs when I was about 14. I’ve always loved music and been surrounded by it from a very young age. When I realised that I enjoyed playing guitar and singing, writing my own songs just felt like such a natural step to take and I’ve never looked back!

What is your favourite part of the song writing process?  My favourite part of the songwriting process is definitely when you have a verse you’re happy with and you move on to the chorus and it fits perfectly and naturally and you get a little buzz and it’s so exciting and you know you have to write it down and voice memo it straight away because it’s a keeper.

Describe your setup that you used to write your #SAYS21 entry, was it just a pen and paper or a fully kitted out studio? To start the entry it was just me and my guitar and my songwriting book. As we started to come out of lockdown in October time, I got the chance to record it and that was super exciting as you see and hear your ideas fall together.

How do you usually start a song? How do you find that spark? There’s always the hard part of sitting down with an empty page and thinking about what you want to say, but lots of the time, I think of the things that I want to do or say, or didn’t get to say and the minute the idea comes to my head I keep my fingers crossed that the rest will follow and I’ll feel the spark. And if not, sometimes it is harder and you have to finish it to complete the circle and start afresh if it doesn’t work.

Who would be your dream artist/writer/band to collaborate with? It’s hard to pick! My dream collaboration would be singing with Dolly Parton- but who wouldn’t want to do that? I’d also love to play with Brandi Carlile and her band, the energy they have on the stage is insane and her voice is just perfection.

What would you say to someone aged 8-18 who is thinking about entering the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition next year? Do you have any tips for them? Definitely apply. You have nothing to lose and putting your music out there is always scary but not everyone is going to like it and that never means it is a bad song. Other people don’t have to like your music to make you a ‘real’ songwriter.

What do you like about the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition? I think the fact that the judging panel is made up of such a diverse set of people in the industry is really special, some of them are listening for the lyrics, some the instrumentation and some for the whole package which means each song is really listened to in detail.

Sophie Grace – Like Us 

What inspired you to write your finalist song?  It was one of those sudden sparks of inspiration. I’d been struggling all day trying to put pen to paper and write a song specifically for the competition. At about 1am the idea came to me, built around the struggles that I’ve felt to fit in and the way I feel around the people I love compared to how I am with everybody else. It was almost like I’d got rid of some sort of creative block from my brain.

What got you into writing songs?   When I was 12, I picked up my Mum’s guitar and taught myself ‘ocean eyes’ by Billie Eilish. Finding out that Billie was only 13 when she posted it on Soundcloud made me think ‘what if I wrote a song?’.  So, using a few of the chords that I could play back then, I wrote ‘Quiet’, a song about my then undiagnosed Autism Spectrum Disorder. It felt so right to make music, like this way of processing complex emotions without them having to sit building up in my head

Describe your setup that you used to write your #SAYS21 entry, was it just a pen and paper or a fully kitted out studio? The first draft of the lyrics were written in my notes app, with the guitar part worked out the next day while sat on my bed. Even when recording it I used a simple interface, my normal gig microphone and synths controlled using my laptop keyboard to really build my vision for the song and what I wanted it to sound like. I would’ve loved to have had access to a studio but I feel like, for me, I was always going to get my most authentic performance of such a personal song in my room, recording during my breaks from online school.

How do you usually start a song? How do you find that spark?  There’s no one way. A lot of the songs I’ve written draw on personal experiences, and I just add to them when and where I feel the need. What I’ve found is that you can’t force a song.  I’ve had times when I’ve gone six months without writing anything I loved and times when I’ve written three or four songs in a week. Most of the time I won’t even know what sparked it until I think back and go ‘Oh, I guess that song was really about this’. It’s beautiful to me that there are moments in life, even the worst ones, which spark so much creativity weeks, months or years later. If you’re looking for inspiration, you will find it, maybe not right now and maybe not where you expect but it’s there.

Who would be your dream artist/band/writer to collaborate with?  That’s a really difficult question because there are so many artists who I absolutely love and dream of collaborating with. I’d say Phoebe Bridgers would probably be my answer. She writes in such a beautiful way in that it’s so specific and yet it’s still relatable, she also has a stunning voice. Her music leaves you with this feeling that I can’t even describe, I’d give anything to listen to ‘Moon Song’ for the first time again. Collaborating with her is just too insane for me to even comprehend, like literally the stuff of dreams.’

What made you enter #SAYS21? How did you hear about it?  I hadn’t heard of any competitions for young songwriters until my music teacher emailed me a link telling me that she saw the competition and thought of me. At first I wasn’t sure if I was going to enter, I worried that I wouldn’t be good enough or that I wasn’t what they were looking for, but then I decided that I’d never know unless I tried and I’m so glad that I did. As a teenager, it’s so difficult to get your voice heard to the point where sometimes you forget that there are any opportunities out there, especially in lockdown. The idea of a competition just for young songwriters really appealed to me because I knew that I wasn’t going to be rejected or underestimated based on my age.

What would you say to someone aged 8-18 who is thinking about entering the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition next year? Do you have any tips for them?   Do it. Honestly, don’t overthink it or doubt yourself. Two years ago, I’d only just written my first song and now I’m a finalist. It’s so easy to underestimate yourself when you hear others put you down, write for you because that way no one else’s opinion will be of as much value as your own. And, just have fun with it! At the end of the day, the song you write will convey so much more of your personality if you have the best time you can writing it.’

What do you like about the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition?   There’s no limits. Whatever genre your song is, whoever you are, you have a chance. Teenagers are so overlooked, especially teenage girls and the Young Songwriter competition gave me the opportunity to say what I need to say in a community of people like me. It’s a way of helping to kickstart your future while you’re still in school and a platform to amplify your message.’

Taia Thompson – Drowns Me Out 

What inspired you to write your finalist song?  This song in particular, was a bit of an outburst of emotions. I was going through a tricky time, where I was lacking confidence and lots of self-doubt. So as a form of escapism, I wrote this song.

What got you into writing songs?  I’ve always loved music, however it was only after being set a composition assessment in my GCSE Music, where I wrote my first proper song. I’d been fascinated by songwriting beforehand, but when I was set to do it myself, I thoroughly enjoyed it. One of those things where something just clicked and it came naturally.

What is your favourite part of the song writing process?  My favourite part in the songwriting process is definitely writing the melodies. I love trying to find catchy melodies that get stuck in your head, and then being able to add harmonies- which are also one of my favourite things to do!

Describe your setup that you used to write your #SAYS21 entry, was it just a pen and paper or a fully kitted out studio?  The set up for this song was my bedroom (sadly I’m a student, so no studio for me yet!). This was the first full song that I had wrote on the guitar, so it was all a bit of an experiment for me. I put on a Capo, grabbed my handy lyric book to scribble down on and then played around with different guitar techniques and the song flowed.

How do you usually start a song? How do you find that spark?  The majority of the time it’s a burst of inspiration. Sometimes I’ll pick up an instrument and a melody will pop into my head, usually followed by some lyrics. Other times I’ve even been in the shower and something will come to me- that’s where voice memos are my saviour!

Who would be your dream artist/writer/band to collaborate with?  The list of my dream artists to collaborate with are infinite, but some of my most desired are: Freya Ridings, Will Joseph Cook, Tom Odell, XamVolo, Ruel and Lizzy McAlpine.

What would you say to someone aged 8-18 who is thinking about entering the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition next year? Do you have any tips for them?  My advice would be to go for it. Have fun with what you’re doing and if you are passionate about songwriting, this is a great way of getting yourself heard and out there!

What do you like about the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition?  I like that it’s an opportunity for singer/songwriters to have exposure and have fun entering a competition.

Urbanparcs – Show Me Love 

What inspired you to write your finalist song?  I was inspired to write ‘show me love’ after experiencing the feeling of showing someone how much they meant to me and getting nothing back. It’s a situation that I felt was relatable and so I harnessed in on that emotion which led to the creation of this song.

What got you into writing songs? I initially got into writing music after being in awe of The Beatles. Growing up on their music it was immensely hard to not be influenced by their wealth of songs, and it was what got me to put pen to paper in the first place.

What is your favourite part of the song writing process?  My favourite part of the song writing process was when I added the final synth pad. It lifted the song completely and was what brought the whole tune together. I was sitting on the song for quite a bit as I didn’t think it had much character but after I found the perfect synth patch it finally felt complete.

Describe your setup that you used to write your #SAYS21 entry, was it just a pen and paper or a fully kitted out studio? I recorded my song in my home bedroom studio which I built up over the past year. It consists of a MacBook, two speaker monitors and an interface. It’s far from a fully kitted studio but I fully believe with enough time dedicated and lots of trial and error you can create some awesome sounds from just your laptop.

How do you usually start a song? How do you find that spark?  I think I find that spark for a song differently each time however for ‘show me love’ it definitely came after I wrote the chorus. I never usually like my own music and sometimes find it hard to finish a song. For example I’ll start with an idea, then get bored and move on. However, with ‘show me love’ I had the chorus stuck in my head for the rest of the week I wrote it, which never usually happens, so I knew immediately that I had to get it finished.

Who would be your dream artist/writer/band to collaborate with? There are so many artists and bands I dream of collaborating with however for me it would have to be either The 1975 or Post Malone. These two artists never fail to make hits and it would be so cool writing with them.

What would you say to someone aged 8-18 who is thinking about entering the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition next year? Do you have any tips for them? If I had any tips for someone entering for next year, it would be just do it. It doesn’t matter what quality of recording you have, if you have a good song go for it. You have the chance to have your song heard by some of the best songwriters and have the potential to really project you as a songwriter.

What do you like about the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition?   The thing I love most about the song academy is discovering all the artists and their songs. I love finding new music and it was ace to hear all the entries with such a large range of styles and genres.

Wasia project – Why Don’t U Love Me 

What inspired you to write your finalist song?  I had a crush on someone, and they didn’t like me back at all. I was low key salty so I wrote a song about it.

What got you into writing songs?  Well, I remember from quite early on improvising around on the piano and making up little melodies for fun, so I guess it’s just come from that. I’d always hear these tunes in my head and get frustrated that they weren’t actual songs. So I made them actual songs. I also think that music, for me, has always articulated my emotions in a way that words cannot, and therefore it became an outlet for the rawest forms of my expression.

What is your favourite part of the song writing process?  I would say the excitement after a wave of initial ideas come through, especially with chord progressions. I also love playing around with harmony a lot, like there are so many directions an idea can go in.

Describe your setup that you used to write your #SAYS21 entry, was it just a pen and paper or a fully kitted out studio?  Our song was recorded in our living room over 24 hours. We had lots of coffee and lots of fun. Originally, I scribbled the song down in my notebook but I lost the lyrics so we ended up all working together to create an even better sound off the top of our heads.

How do you usually start a song? How do you find that spark? I start with an emotion I’m feeling or a situation I am in. Usually a tune will come to me, just produced by the intensity of those emotions. But otherwise I like to play around with chords, and the overall atmosphere of the song is just naturally captured by my feelings through the music.

Who would be your dream artist/writer/band to collaborate with?  Phoebe Bridgers, Rex Orange County, Daniel Caesar, Hozier. Don’t even ask me to choose one artist; the list goes on forever.

What would you say to someone aged 8-18 who is thinking about entering the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition next year? Do you have any tips for them?  We’d just say have the music at the heart of your intentions, opportunities will follow if you keep this in mind.

What do you like about the Song Academy Young Songwriter competition?  It’s such an opportunity for songwriters to get their stuff heard, because there’s all this amazing music out there that never gets the publicity it deserves, and this competition really provides a platform for artists to grow from.

 

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