Two Young Songwriters On Learning, Growing, And Finding Their Voices

Julia Singer

It's a common misconception that young songwriters haven’t lived through enough experiences to write passionate, authentic songs that resonate. Having to constantly be dispel that idea—whether that pressure comes from other songwriters, older professionals, or themselves—can be a challenge to a young songwriter, but one that only makes them stronger in the end. Right now, young people are at the forefront of music. With young artists like Khalid, Lorde, Shawn Mendes, and even 13-year-old Grace VanderWaal killing it on the charts, today's young songwriters are gaining much more respect in the industry. Two GRAMMY Camp students in the songwriting track—17-year-old Lizzy Cameron from San Diego, CA and 16-year-old Elli Rowe from Nashville, TN—share their perspective.

How did you start off writing songs?

Lizzy Cameron: I started writing songs kind of late in the game, I would say, when I was 12 or 13. I had just moved to a new state, and I hadn’t made friends yet so I started messing around on the piano and started writing and started to go to Nashville where I would write, record and co-write a lot.

Elli Rowe: Both of my parents are musicians, so I just grew up around a lot of music, so it just seemed natural to create my own sound. I think I started out around 11 or 12 and really picked it up when I was 14.

What were some of your first songs like in the beginning of your career?

LC: In the beginning, my songs were so sad, I swear. I wrote about moving, family experiences, travelling—a lot of personal stuff.

ER: I just wrote about the world around me.

Being so young, do you write about a lot of personal experiences or do you find a lot of inspiration from other songs you listen to? Or even a mix of both?

LC: I definitely think a mix of both. I think something that is misunderstood about young writers is that we haven’t seen enough of the world, enough of life—but I think that’s an invalid argument. Everyone is so different, I have moved ten or eleven times in life, and that’s given me a lot to work with experience-wise. It’s also cool to get inspired by our favorite artists and the greats before us.

ER: Well, I think songwriting is just storytelling. I don’t really think there’s an age limit on how old you have to be to tell a story.

Going along with that, how personal or vulnerable do you get in your songwriting? Do you really let yourself go or do you kind of hold back because of your age?

ER: I think co-writing is huge in that. When you write with another person, I think it’s super important to get vulnerable. When you write by yourself, you’re kind of just left alone to focus on yourself. You let a lot of your walls down when you co-write.

LC: I think in the beginning, I would write with the intention of an audience hearing me, so I became super reserved. As my writing has matured, I’ve realized that other people feel the same way I do, and all they want to hear is that their opinions are valid.

So, it sounds like you do a lot of co-writes, do you ever feel pressured if you’re working with an older or more experienced songwriter? Do you get nervous that you may not live up to their expectations?

ER: Yeah, there’s definitely a little of that when writing with a writer more experienced than you. It’s a little scary releasing your ideas when they’re so precious to you, but that just goes back to the vulnerability idea. You have to be confident enough in yourself to share your ideas.

At GRAMMY Camp, you write a lot of songs and eventually your songs will get given out to the vocal performance students. How do you feel about other people singing your experiences?

LC: For me, it’s definitely an adjustment. Just because you can get so married to the songs and ideas you have because they are so personal. But also, I think it’s so cool to see someone else have their own take on your words because everyone interprets them differently, and that’s really beautiful to me.

Being here at GRAMMY Camp, how do you think your songwriting has changed or improved? Have you learned anything new?

ER: I think it’s always just helpful to get in a room with other people. You can do it a bunch of times, but every single time it’s going to be different. Working with all different people has really helped me.

LC: I totally agree. My group was even talking about yesterday how we wrote a song that none of us would have ever written if we had never been placed in a group together. It has opened me up to all new genres and ideas and creativity. It’s really awesome.

Finally, if you can give advice to a young and aspiring songwriter, what would it be?

LC: I would say to keep a journal. Just write everything down, because even if it doesn’t seem pivotal at the time, later in life, you’ll want that teenage drama that you thought didn’t matter. It’s also cool and important to look back on past thoughts and see what you can make of them.

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