Learning To Listen

  • Colbie Caillat speaks during the Artist Story panel at GRAMMY Camp
    Photo: Jesse Grant/WireImage.com

(The sixth annual GRAMMY Camp, produced by the GRAMMY Foundation from July 10–19, is a residential summer camp for high school students with a focus on providing hands-on instruction about careers in the music industry. GRAMMY.com will feature select blog entries from camp participants relating their first-hand experiences from this unique educational opportunity. To apply for GRAMMY Camp in 2011, click here.)

By Dertrick Winn Jr.

Perhaps one of the most exciting events at GRAMMY Camp is the Artist Story panel, which features recording artists sharing stories about their career and what inspires them to continue making music. I had the special privilege to sit in on the learning session for the Singer/Songwriter track on July 14 with GRAMMY-winning artist and self-made Internet sensation Colbie Caillat and GRAMMY-winning songwriter Lamont Dozier, described by many the No. 1 songwriter in the world. The discussion was moderated by the Singer/Songwriter track instructor Chris Sampson, and with 18 GRAMMY campers in attendance, it was the perfect setting for an intimate chat.

Each of the young singer/songwriters listened attentively as the two panelists shared their views and preferences on the creative process of songwriting and the significance of artist collaboration. "It is hard to work with someone you don't really know," said Caillat. "But it is important to learn how people think." Dozier, who has had more than a fair share of artist collaborations, nodded in agreement. He recalled working with Holland-Dozier-Holland, the team with whom he wrote No.1 hits for the likes of the Supremes, the Four Tops, and Marvin Gaye, among others. He explained to the campers that not only did they help each other write songs and toss around ideas for music, but they shared life views and exchanged philosophies in the process.

"Listening is an art form in itself," Dozier said. "When you analyze your songs and break them down, they should have a meaning."

So one might ask, how does a songwriter with 14 Billboard Hot 100 hits deal with what other songwriters call writers block? "There's no such thing as writer's block," said Dozier. "If I get writer's block it's because I just got lazy or didn't want to follow the process of writing a song…I just keep writing until something materializes."

After a brief question-and-answer session and listening to some of the budding singer/songwriters perform their original material, Dozier left them with a final message.

"Have a good work ethic. You have to work seven days a week," he advised. "If you're putting anything else before the music, if you're really serious about making it a profession, you have to put in seven days a week. And I'm always thinking music first of all. I have other extensions of my life, but music is always first because from that I've learned about writing, I've learned to watch and listen to what goes around the world. And I gather bits and pieces from the world to enhance or keep my knowledge about things current. To be a good writer, you have to know about what's going on in the world."

(16-year-old GRAMMY Camp alumnus Dertrick Winn Jr. is a multi-talented artist and cancer survivor from Austin, Texas. He has been recognized for his work in journalism, creative writing, technical writing, songwriting, singing, rapping, filmmaking, acting, public speaking, and graphic design.)

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