It all starts with a song.
At least it does for Dr. Kim McLean and her students. McLean has been in the business of songwriting for 30 years, and she said when music has played such a big role in someone’s life, a lyric and a melody are unparalleled.
McLean is the director of the songwriting program at Trevecca, and throughout her time in the classroom, she said she’s always tried to teach songwriting in a way that will prepare students for the fiercely competitive music industry.
“I’ve been a professional songwriter for so long, so sometimes when I get an assignment, I’ll assign the same one for my students. That way they’re getting relevant, real-world assignments,” she said. “I want our students to leave this program with a catalog that has already got some professional songs in it. The assignments I make and the info I give them regarding the business and the crafting of the songs, I just want them to be ready, and they have an advantage being here. Things that took me 10 years to learn, they can learn in one class period and put to use immediately in their writing. I want them writing the whole time.”
And for two Trevecca alumni, all that writing seems to have paid off.
The International Songwriting Competition announced the 2019 winners earlier this year, and in the country category, Auburn McCormick, class of 2017, placed third with her song “Black and White Movie.”
McCormick said to be honored so early in her career is a big deal.
“It is such an honor to have been chosen out of 18,000 entries from all over the world,” she said. “I knew this song was special when we wrote it but I never thought it would make it this far. It’s also amazing to be among a group of such talented women writers. The country category winners were all women, and it’s cool to see women stand out in such a male-dominated genre.”
Nick Schwarz, who graduated in 2013, has worked for the last three years as a producer, songwriter and sound engineer. Schwarz joined McCormick as an International Songwriting Competition winner, garnering second place in the Christian category for his song “Crown.”
Schwarz said he has always been drawn to music. He said even when he was a kid, he dreamed of one day being able to support himself doing what he loved more than anything.
“The goal since I was a kid was to do music for a living. Music has always been a joy to me. It brings me peace. I’ve always wanted other people to feel that in my music, and being in Christian music, I want to share the word of God and for anyone who listens to feel closer to Jesus through my music,” he said. “Writing a song every day, inspiration sometimes is hard to find, but having Jesus at the forefront of my music is what inspires me.”
McLean said it’s no surprise to her that Schwarz and McCormick placed in the international competition. When McCormick was a student, she wrote songs that McLean said blew her away, and Schwarz was always one to go the extra mile in his work.
“Nick was very accomplished and already on his way when he came to Trevecca. He was such a treasure and … someone I could recognize right away as someone who would succeed. He was already a self-starter, and he had tons of innate talent as a writer, producer and musician,” she said. “He was very innovative and so eager to learn and grow. A lot of times if I get someone like him who has already got a bit of a head start, those kinds of students help bring the quality of class up.”
McLean said Schwarz’s enthusiasm didn’t stop once he graduated. Once he’d established himself and opened his own studio, he stayed connected with McLean and has since hosted Trevecca students for internships.
“We’re building something—it’s not just, ‘Thanks for coming to Trevecca! Good luck and see you never,’” she said. “To have a student like Nick who was a resource for others while he was on campus then continue to apply himself, seize every opportunity and still be willing to work with up-and-coming students, that builds longevity for our program and helps us create a lasting legacy.”
The ISC competition is “designed to nurture the musical talent of songwriters on all levels and promote excellence in the art of songwriting,” according to the official website, and McCormick said participating gave her an opportunity to put what she’d learned at Trevecca to work.
“Trevecca prepared me in so many ways. The music theory lessons and vocal lessons gave me a really good foundation to go out into the world with—but I think the most valuable thing Trevecca gave me was the relationships. I met so many amazing people who really helped shape me and my artistry,” she said.
McLean said the primary goal of Trevecca’s songwriting program is simple—to teach students how to write commercially viable songs. But beyond that, she and the other professors with the program want to fulfill their own callings to equip students to use their gifts for God.
“We want to teach our students how to write great songs that are smothered in God's light and gift, but that are still competitive in the business,” McLean said. “We are called to a high standard, and we’re given so much in Christ. Our goal is to help them find their voice, whatever their genre, to then use it to glorify God.”