AMIR BRANDON was the first-prize winner in last year’s Singer-Songwriter Mentor Experience. He has now completed his mentoring with multiple Juno Award−winning, Canadian singer-songwriter Luba and industry mentoring from contest judges Luther Mallory and Theo Tams. I interviewed him about his creative process, career aspirations, and advice for other aspiring songwriters.
Up-and-coming singer-songwriter Amir Brandon is making a statement. Born and raised in Ottawa, Ontario, the first glimpse of his potential was seen at the age of two when singing along with recordings of greats like Michael Jackson. Amir began songwriting and performing at community events at a young age, eventually moving to Toronto, Ontario, to expand his musical network and artistry. His music has been positively received by blogs, magazines, and fans, and is promoted through live performances and social media. Most recently, his song “Millions” won the prize for best original song in a national songwriting competition hosted by the Songwriters Association of Canada. Amir is known for his soulful, melismatic vocals through both originals and cover videos posted on YouTube. He is grabbing the attention of the public for his true-to-self songwriting as he steadily builds his repertoire of original music. Currently, he is working on his second studio EP, set to be released later this year. Visit Amir’s website: www.amirbrandon.com
“I know that if I write something from my heart, no matter how personal it is, there are people out there who will connect with it; there are people out there who need to hear it.” — Amir Brandon
Q: Why did you decide to enter this particular song, “Millions,” in the 2014 Singer-Songwriter Mentor Experience contest?
“Millions” just puts you in a happy place. It’s a fun song, and I’ve gotten a lot of positive response to it from fans. It’s honest, it’s catchy, and it’s something that everyone can relate to. It sounds like something a bunch of friends would sing along with on a road trip, don’t ya think?
Q: What’s the backstory to this song?
I bought a ukulele a couple years ago, learned a few chords, and started improvising until I came up with a chord progression. I’m able to gather certain feelings from chord progressions alone, and the one I came up with inspired me to write about celebrating life and living in the moment. It’s a happy-go-lucky kind of song. We tend to focus so much on the future and accomplishing our goals that we forget about what we already have. Writing “Millions” inspired me to spend more time with family and appreciate the little things.
Q: When did you start writing songs?
From a young age, I was really interested in pop music and what made hit songs so good. I listened to (and critiqued) the songs on my mom’s favourite radio station in the car. I learned a lot about songwriting just by listening all these years. I’ve always loved the idea of writing music and being a performer, and I’ve been doing it since grade school.
Q: Was songwriting your first creative outlet or did you experiment with other types of writing or art forms?
I started writing short stories in grade two. Just kiddie stuff. Then I was introduced to poetry and began creating my own poems. I was in love with creative writing since I could remember, and it eventually morphed into a love for songwriting. The lyrics of my music are usually conceived last, though; the melody, the vocals, and the arrangement of a song play a huge role in my creative process.
Q: How much of your songwriting is based on your own memories and experiences?
All of it! It’s funny because I usually don’t have a specific theme or life experience in mind when I’m writing a song. My songwriting process usually starts with a melody. A melody alone can make me feel a certain way, and with that I create the lyrics and chords. So really, the song speaks for itself and decides what I’m writing about, and from there I smear my personality all over it!
Q: Do other forms of artistic expression and/or life experience influence your songwriting?
Visuals are a huge deal for me. I’m inspired by film, dance, and photography. Music videos in particular can make such an impact on your perspective of a song. Some music videos surprise you when they define the song in a way you would’ve never thought of yourself. Some of my favourite music videos are “Remember the Time” by Michael Jackson and “Paparazzi” by Lady Gaga. Both tell an unpredictable story and create a setting that complements the music. It’s something I’m keeping in mind as I work on my new EP, since I’m so eager to create more music videos of my own.
Q: Have you written songs just for yourself, knowing you won’t ever perform them?
I always write music with the intent of releasing or performing it. I might keep the song private if I feel like it’s not ready for people to hear yet. I know that if I write something from my heart, no matter how personal it is, there are people out there who will connect with it; there are people out there who need to hear it.
Q: Who has influenced or encouraged your writing — which songwriters, other artists, teachers or mentors, loved ones?
Some of my favourite songwriters are:
- Sade for her simplicity
- Michael Jackson for his versatility
- Mariah Carey for her vocal artistry
- Lady Gaga for her unapologetic confidence
Outside of music, my mom is my greatest inspiration. She’s the bravest, most outgoing, and most loving person I know. She motivates me to step out of my comfort zone. As I work towards my dream, I always remember how much I want to make her proud; it keeps me going through thick and thin.
Q: If you could meet a famous musician or songwriter, spend an evening jamming — or even just talking — with him or her, who would it be?
I wish I had the chance to meet Michael Jackson. I love how sincere and real he was. He spoke his mind, he said what he meant, and he meant what he said. He really seemed like a wonderful person. I would’ve loved to get to know him better.
Q: What do you do on an ongoing basis to develop your craft?
I work on my original material every day. Writing, rehearsing, recording, all that. Even when I’m out in public, I catch myself humming new melodies. I live and breathe my art. I challenge myself when I’m writing; I’m never satisfied. I tend to rewrite the same song a few times before I’m really happy with it. I want to make sure I’m 100 percent proud of what I plan on releasing.
Q: As part of the contest prize, you received songwriting mentoring sessions with Luba as well as industry mentoring from contest judges, Luther Mallory and Theo Tams. What advice did you receive?
Some of the best advice that I received, as simple and obvious as it is, was from my mentoring session with Theo Tams. That is, “Be yourself, and don’t be sorry about it.” We all need to be reminded sometimes. As artists, we’re somewhat obligated to be public people. We have to be genuine not only through our music, but through our personalities, the way we speak and present ourselves. I know firsthand that it’s easy to feel self-conscious when we have interviews (ha!) or need to speak our minds. We need to stop caring about what people think, and honestly just be ourselves. Nobody else is like me, nobody else is like you.
Q: What advice do you have for new songwriters?
Step out of your comfort zone. Make mistakes. Never stop writing. Listen to a lot of music. Did I mention to step out of your comfort zone?
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Aspiring Canadian Writers Contests Inc.
More About the 2014 SINGER-SONGWRITER MENTOR EXPERIENCE
Based on the model of the Aspiring Canadian Poets Contest (now in its fourth year), this twin project was a mentoring opportunity for unsigned Canadian singer-songwriters.
The Contest’s Mentor was multiple Juno Award−winning, Canadian singer-songwriter Luba. Entries were judged by a panel of singer-songwriters:
- Lesley Pike, Gibson’s featured artist, 2013 and 2014 Sundance London film and music festival
- Luther Mallory, former frontman of Crush Luther, pop-rock band with two #1 hits on MuchMoreMusic
- Katie Rox, former lead singer of Jakalope, industrial-rock band with multiple MMVA nominations
- Melanie Durrant, three-time Juno Award−nominated artist
- Theo Tams, Gemini Award−nominated artist and 2008 Canadian Idol champion
As with the poetry contest, the top three winners of the songwriting contest received online mentoring sessions and their names on our website along with those of the top 25 finalists. All 25 finalists received an annual membership in the Songwriters Association of Canada, the contest’s Industry Partner.
2015 ASPIRING CANADIAN POETS CONTEST
The Aspiring Canadian Poets Contest will accept entries from April 1, 2015 to June 1, 2015, with winners announced in October 2015. This year’s judge and mentor is poet Stuart Ross. For details, visit Aspiring Canadian Poets Contest.
New Contest: 2015 SCREENWRITER MENTOR EXPERIENCE
New this year, the 2015 Screenwriter Mentor Experience will accept entries of short film screenplays up to 10 pages in length from the first 100 aspiring Canadian writers to enter the contest beginning April 23, 2015. The contest will close on June 30, 2015, or when 100 entries are received (one entry per person), whichever comes first. For details, visit www.screenwritermentorexperience.org.
Allyson Latta is editor and media adviser for Aspiring Canadian Writers Contests Inc.