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Latin Music Legend Talks Songcraft in a New Berklee Course


Latin Music Legend Talks Songcraft in a New Berklee Course In Latin Songwriting, visiting artist Claudia Brant will focus on the value of collaboration, working across genres, and how to approach lyric translations.


Bryan Parys

January 30, 2023

Image courtesy of the artist

When songwriting legend Claudia Brant says that she wants to help students become pro songwriters, you can be sure she knows what shes talking about. The Argentina native, who now resides in L.A., is a multiple Grammy and Latin Grammy winner and has earned top accolades such as Latina Songwriter of the Year from both SESAC and ASCAP, and her song No Me Doy por Vencido, cowritten with Luis Fonsi, is the longest-leading No. 1 song ever on Billboard's Latin Pop Airplay chart, with 30 weeks in the top spot.

Brant was named the 2023 Herb Alpert Visiting Artist for Berklees Songwriting Department, and in the spring semester she will teach the course Latin Songwriting, which will cover song form and structure, lyrical concepts, melodic structure and development, effective lyric translations from English to Spanish, and more. While Brant is one of the most lauded songwriters in the Latin music world, her expertise stretches across many genres, languages, and collaborators. Her songs have been recorded by artists such as Camila Cabello, John Legend, Carlos Santana, Barbra Streisand, and Demi Lovato, to name a few, and she's worked with an equally long list of other writers and producers, from Bruno Mars and Dianne Warren to Armando vila and Danny Elfman.

In the following interview, edited for length and clarity, Brant gives an overview of the kinds of topics and skills she'll cover this semester, including the value of collaboration and humility, what it takes to stay musically versatile, and the joys and challenges of lyric translation.

Congratulations on being named the Herb Alpert Visiting Scholar. Could you talk a little about the course you'll be teaching? Basically Im going to go over all the details of writing a song-you know, the rules, the rhymes, the topliners, the tracks, the splits, the construction of a song, chorus, verse, bridge, all the basics that probably most of the people that are going to be with me already know, but its good to confirm those ideas and have them ask me any questions.

And for me, one of the most important things in writing a song is collaboration. I think that collaboration is the key. So, collaboration, meaning from writing a song and sharing it with your peers to see what their reaction is and what they think should be changed or should stay [to] getting together a group of three people who write a song from scratch. Put them together in different groups, give them different genres, give them different titles, give them different concepts, or even have them pick them and then have all of us criticize and give an opinion on what we are were hearing.

What's the key to being a good collaborator, particularly in terms of receiving feedback on a new song? I think that the word is humbleness. And I learned humbleness when I was a starting songwriter, and I was put in sessions with people that had been doing it forever to listen to them, and [Id] hear them say, Thats not right. That title doesnt work. The concept is not clear. The rhyming is not perfect. A lot of things that I would hear, and I would have to say, wait a minute, hes right. He has it together.

I write all kind of genres-I write from pop to salsa to bolero to rock to alternative-and I try this humbleness. Whenever I sit down with a guy that writes mostly regional Mexican [music], for example I can grasp from them that they have a certain way of using certain subjects certain words that me, coming from Argentina, I have to learn.

We are learning all the time. Learn from a regional Mexican guy and learn from a salsa guy. And I let them take the lead. So when they say, This word; we would never use this word, I have to shut up and listen, and use the word that they suggest they would say. So, I think that collaboration and humbleness go together.

What do you think students will get from this course that they can't get anywhere else? I think there are a zillion tricks that I can teach to them, and I think that the ultimate goal is to get them to be pros. And to get them to be pros, they need the collaboration, they need the tools, they need to be able to hear the feedback of their companions and all of that.

I cannot tell you youre going to become a pro after writing 20 songs . But Im willing to stimulate these kids so that they write every day, because writing every day is what gets you where I am.

Could you talk about your experience working across so many genres and languages? I think theres been more of that on the production side, like songs that Ive written that were originally ballads, and then were they turned into salsa, or they were turned into urban.

So, its more of that, more than me changing the genre in the middle. I remember I had two experiences, two trips where I, learned a lot from scratch with two teams, two different trips in Medell n, Colombia, where I ended up doing a lot of reggaeton. And then another trip I did to Rio de Janeiro where I ended up collaborating with a bunch of Brazilian artists, Brazilian writers, and that opened my mind. I think I learned a lot from that. Thats why I keep saying that the collaboration is key.

[Regarding translation] I think that when I do Spanish versions-I do a lot of them-its a very complicated job. Its not something easy to do. Im probably going to give the [students] a couple of samples, and Im going to ask them to deliver [translations] for next class. Its a matter of being strict to the rhythm and being loyal to the meaning, and being very strict with the vowels. The vowels should fall in the same spot as they do in English
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