Tileyard Education - Christina John Interview

Christina John, the winner of our 2018/19 Tileyard Education bursary, is currently studying an MA in songwriting. Having nearly finished her year of studying here, we caught up with her to find out a little more about her route to studying, challenges she’s faced on her journey to becoming a songwriter and how she goes through her creative process.

Can you tell us a little about yourself and your background into becoming a songwriter?
I have had a love for writing and music since I was very young. I grew up in London where I’m currently based. Throughout my former career as a hairstylist, I continued to write and create demos to send off to music publishers. In 2015, I decided to give up hairdressing and commit my time to music. Financially, this was very challenging, but I realised it was now or never. I began collaborating on song writing briefs with a writer from 23rdPrecinct publishers which paved the way for me to gain experience toplining to EDM instrumentals. In 2018 I decided to take my knowledge to the next level and applied for the MA course at Tileyard Education, in partnership with Nottingham Trent University. During my time there I’ve learned a lot creatively and also a vast amount about the music industry, which I am very interested in. I am planning to release an EP of unsigned artists I’ve been writing for in September 2019, in conjunction with my end of term project management plan before graduation.

How long have you been writing songs?
I’ve been drawn towards creative writing and poetry since I was at junior school. This developed into song writing when I was around 21 when I bought my first keyboard. Incorporating my storytelling and rhyming skills into a song wasn’t an easy transition, but after years of writing I’ve managed to almost nail it. Professionally, I’d say I have been writing for around 5 years.

Can you remember what it was that first made you want to become a songwriter?
I can’t recall the exact point I made that decision but all I knew was I have always loved creative writing and have done since the age of 7. I still have my first poem that I wrote at school when I was just 9. I think my love for music just felt like the perfect match to bring the two together.

Who are your greatest inspirations?
My greatest inspirations growing up in the late 80’s were Cathy Dennis and Madonna. I loved the way the songs were so catchy, yet simplistic and had the power to get you hooked. Years later some of the songs are still timelessly classic. I am also very inspired by Diane Warren for writing great songs and just her endless list of hits.

What challenges do you face and how do you try to overcome them?
There are several. One is the barrier to entry as a songwriter and the challenges still faced from publishers, as far back as I can recall they just won’t accept material that isn’t solicited. You could be sending them the next biggest hit but yet the wall still remains. However, the upside of the internet is that you can be your own publisher, write for an emerging artist and just release the track. I think there should be a different system in place as it feels very outdated with publishers, give songwriters a chance to have their music heard and pitched!

On a creative level my challenge is not having the best vocal range, so I rely on professional singers for a vocal guide. On the up side I get the best from my ideas and melodies when collaborating and I enjoy hearing my songs really come to life.

Can you please talk us through your creative process? - How does a song usually develop? How long does it take? What gear is essential?
The process varies so much dependent on if it’s a solo project or collaboration. I can often hear a melody and lyrics in my head out of the blue, especially late at night when going to bed, which isn’t ideal! I’ve dreamt of songs with melodies and lyrics too which is pretty cool as it saves me the hard work of coming up with a good concept. I’ve actually made two songs from previous dreams which I am yet to pitch.

If I am in a session with a singer-songwriter who plays an instrument, then it would usually be built around that. If I am writing a topline to an already produced music brief then the process is a little more restrictive as you are trying to work around the vibe of the music, tempo and style, as opposed to building music around a song written from acoustic piano or guitar.

How would you describe your current sound?
It’s very stripped back. I am currently writing an EP for my end of year university project, which I will be releasing, and I’ve decided to put together a compilation of songs with emerging and unsigned artists. It is a work in progress but, so far, the songs are simplistic with piano, electric guitar and live violin/strings with strong vocals and strong lyrical concepts. The EP will also feature remixes of the acoustic tracks that I’ve co-produced. Look out for information about my launch event for this EP in September!

What are you currently listening to?
I listen to a variety of genres and styles depending on my mood; however, I’ve been listening a lot to Lewis Capaldi, Sam Smith, Freya Ridings, Shawn Mendes, Tom Walker and George Ezra. I’m drawn to music that has good lyrics with some depth and of course catchy. All of these artist’s music represent that to me and inspire me as a songwriter.

Tileyard Education is a London-based post-graduate and professional training facility that houses a world-class recording studio, tech lab, production and songwriting rooms and a lecture space, based out of Tileyard London. Tileyard London itself is a creative hub in the heart of the city; a diverse community of independent creatives and businesses, home to over 250 music businesses and a host of artists, where artists and entrepreneurs come together across studios and offices.

Tileyard Education offer a huge range of post-graduate, online and short courses, from design to publishing, songwriting and recording techniques.

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