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Published March 1, 2022, 2:54 PM
by John Legaspi
Before the pandemic hit the country, Filipinos everywhere were dancing to the tunes of “Tala” by Sarah Geronimo. It was present everywhere from Christmas parties and reunions to TikTok and other social media platforms. Fast forward to 2022, “Chinito” by Yeng Constantino hit our music streaming again with Twitterverse speculation about the song’s real meaning.
What do these two tracks have in common? Apart from their resurgence years after their release is their power to induce LSS or last song syndrome. While part of their fame is due to the star power that comes from the singers that recorded them, their creative lyrics and tunes are all thanks to the songwriters and composers who worked behind the scenes.
With National Arts Month just ending just a day ago, we put the spotlight on Nica del Rosario and Jed Dumawal, the songwriters behind “Tala” and “Chinito,” respectively, as they share how they started in the music industry, the inspiration behind their hits, and if there is a formula in making a popular song.
NICA: Back in college, I was trying to figure out how to combine my two greatest passions and somehow turn them into a career: music and writing. I used to write in our high school newspaper and learned to play [the] guitar around the same time. When I took up AB Communication, I wasn’t exactly sure what I was doing, but I knew that doing those two things made me the happiest, and specializing in image and sound production got me a tiny bit closer to doing something related to music. After securing an internship during my junior year at a small music label, it hit me; songwriting is a viable, almost direct option on what I wanted to do, so I figured it was worth a shot.
JED: I’m actually a graphic designer/illustrator by profession. But writing songs and playing music has always been one of my passions and means of expression since high school.
NICA: When I write for myself, I usually have my emotions spill over into my music. I’m a pretty sentimental person, so if I don’t have any set limits, I write whatever I’m feeling at the moment. When I write for other people, I try to imagine their points of view and perspectives in life. I create stories in my head and make-up situations that they could possibly get into. It’s a lot easier if I get to talk to the artist first and pick their brain on what they want to say in their song.
JED: I take inspiration from my experiences, from the things happening around me, and even from other people’s stories. Sometimes, I draw inspiration from the things that I watch and read. The artists that I look up to also influence and inspire me. I believe that every song has a unique story to tell. That’s the beauty of songwriting—each person has a unique background, thought process, and way of saying things.
NICA: “Tala,” when it comes down to it, is a series of fortunate events. We submitted it when Sarah was practically done with her album and was just missing one more song. It originally had an indie/mid-tempo vibe that was produced by Alisson Shore, and when Sarah wanted it to be a dance track instead, was transformed by Bojam at the last minute. It ended up being the carrier single of the album, got some traction mostly from Sarah’s fans, and we thought that was that. Four years later, the LGBT+’s appreciation for it spread like wildfire, and before we knew it, everyone knew how to dance the choreography. We don’t really know how to explain it, but we’re extremely grateful for everyone who made it what it is today, from those who were blasting it at Nectar during the early days and the street volleyball team who used it as a battle cry when they were being kicked off their court to every single person who decided it was worth listening and dancing to.
JED: The song is actually “Chinita” [and is told] from a guy’s perspective. It was around 2010 (K-dramas and other Asianovelas were trending in local TV) when the general idea came to me. I remember the time when I was singing it in my head as I walk along Ayala Avenue after overtime at work. It became easier for me to finish the song since there’s already a solid idea of what the song is about. It is a song where I could say I had put more “wits” than “hugot” in the process just because the idea allowed me to just have fun with it.
NICA: I don’t really have much of a formulaic process. Sometimes, I just play around with my guitar and hum some melodies and see what sticks. Then I build lyrics around that and record it so I don’t forget. When our FlipMusic producers send over a beat to write over, I play it on loop and make melodies around that. Other times, I think of a concept for lyrics in the middle of a bike ride or while I’m watching TV, then stop what I’m doing and try to build on it. There’s a certain tugging at my heart that I look for whenever I finish a song. If I feel it when I playback the recording, I know I’ve given a part of me in that song, and I know that I’m done.
JED: My creative process varies from time to time. Most of the time, sabay kong naiisip ‘yung lyrics and melody. Minsan melody lang muna. As soon as may naisip ako, I record it on voice memo in my phone for me to remember it. Technology allows me to bank random ideas that pop in random situations. When I get the chance, I would play it with my acoustic guitar (put chords and patterns), and continue writing. When I have more time, I become more intentional by determining the title first (or what the song is about), writing the words that are closely related to it (word map/list), and then trying to weave everything together. Some songs took me much time to finish—weeks, months, even years. While some were finished in one seating. Minsan miski buo na ‘yung parts pero kung may line na hindi pa ako sold, nire-revise ko pa rin until okay na for me. I can say that the song is done kapag nasabi ko na lahat ng gusto kong sabihin sa kanta. Kapag hindi pa buo at walang mapiga, I just record my latest progress (bank it), then work on it again in another time.
NICA: I feel like it’s natural for people to recognize the artist behind the song before they think about the composers. The artists are the ones who face the audience after all. I do feel like this is starting to change over time. We’ve been noticing that this generation has been recognizing writers and producers more and are keen to “peek behind the curtain” and look for the people who are responsible for creating the song. Maybe it’s because they have more access to instruments and software that produce music, so they can appreciate it more? I’m not entirely sure, but it’s nice to see that these days. I’ve had good experiences working with artists most of the time. They are usually very passionate about their work, so they’re eager to help, but are always willing to listen, learn, and collaborate.
JED: I think it’s fair to appreciate songwriters, too. Though some can’t really perform like pop stars and singers, it will always be interesting to know their thought process and inspiration behind the song. I’m blessed to have a community of songwriters (Thank you Filscap!) and friends who pursue the same passion. They inspire me. I’m always in awe kapag may nalalaman ako like “What, si ganito pala yung nagsulat ng ganito?! Galing!”
NICA: I never got any formal training for writing. I think they just need to look at songwriting the way they look at any creative field. Apart from passion and inspiration, it takes a lot of hard work and self-discipline, and you have to prepare for a lot of heartbreak and disappointment. A friend that I look up to says that writing, any form of writing, is a muscle. You have to get it in shape and put in the work so you can do it better and more efficiently. Working with a team has also taught me that you can never stop learning. There are so many ways to write a song and feed off the energy of your collaborators in a different level of inspiration altogether.
JED: I honestly can’t guarantee expert or industry advice since I’m not a professional songwriter. But if there’s anything I can share about pursuing this passion, it is to encourage them to keep learning and to keep going. Listen to different kinds of music to widen your palette. Listen actively to each element, not just the melody and lyrics, but to pay attention as well to the arrangement, chord progression, etc. It is important to build relationships, too. Attend songwriting camps and join competitions. Be authentic. Music is what feelings sound like. It’s good to be prepared as well. In this day and age, through the internet, I believe there are more ways to seek opportunities and create a wider reach.
NICA: I don’t think there’s a specific formula, but there are definitely tips that can get you closer. Stuff like making sure that the chorus sounds different from the verses, chorus melodies having an “LSS factor,” just pointers that were either taught to me by my mentors or I learned along the way.
JED: I think yung pagiging hit ng isang song, hindi siya makakahon sa isang formula lang. Timing can be a huge factor, too. ‘Yung trend din. Depende rin sa artist na mag-iinterpret ng song or kung saan associated yung song. Pero sa structure mismo ng song, for me it has to sustain interest, it has to be relatable, it has to have a strong recall—either a strong “signature” line from the song or an unforgettable melody. Personally, it’s interesting to make something new that would create a trend, or something na luma or hindi na uso pero sobrang dikit sa puso. A song can be both specific (may time, name, or place sa lyrics) or generic while still being relatable.
NICA: All my songs are up on Spotify. I also co-own FlipMusic Productions, Inc., and all our stuff are compiled in this playlist. I co-wrote the songs for “Still,” an original musical series last year, and the songs can be heard here. The eight-episode series is now streaming on Viu.
JED: Some released songs that I wrote/collaborated with are “Ferris Wheel” by Yeng Constantino, “Postcard” by Vivoree, “Chinito Problems” by Enchong Dee, “You Last Forever (with Chino Celeste and Elle Cabiling Tumaliuan)” by Victory Worship, “Fun In Every Bite (with Mikkie Regalado)” by Iced Gem Biscuits Jingle, “Ayokong Masanay (with Riva Valencia and Ker Floria)” by Sarah Caballero.
To see more of Jed’s music and artworks, visit @jedski and @jedski.art on Instragram or JedDumawal on Youtube and Soundcloud.
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