The Fourth Semester of My Masters

And that’s another semester, another module done. The time is positively flying by and now there’s only one module left. But, before I move into that one, I wanted to reflect on this last module. The Writer’s Voice has been my favourite module so far (as I thought it would be) and I wrote more songs than I did in any of the others so far. I also think I wrote my best – and favourite – songs.

We were in lockdown when the module started so all classes were online. When lockdown started to lift, universities being one of the first things to open up, some of my uni’s courses started having in person classes but my course didn’t as we could continue to function online while other courses, like the performance or production courses, couldn’t. I have to admit I was relieved: I didn’t feel up to handling a big change, especially after having worked so hard to build a good rhythm with the online classes and writing sessions, and I really didn’t feel confident about commuting to London, meaning I probably would’ve stayed in online classes while many of my friends would’ve been onsite. I would’ve barely seen them. I really felt for everyone struggling with online learning (and that’s not to say I love it) but I was really grateful not to have to make a big adjustment in the middle of the semester. So we stayed online.

It was a really great semester and I’m really sad that it’s over – I’m not sure I can do it justice in a simple blog post – even if I’m really excited for what’s next.


We spent the twelve-week module looking at various different techniques related to lyric writing, from song maps and types of rhyme to sensory imagery and ekphrasis. Some of it was difficult, some of it was easy; all of it was an exciting challenge.  The first half of the semester was focussed on the more technical, structural side of things, what my tutor (who is just awesome) called ‘thought architecture.’ And then the second half of the semester was focussed on the content of the lyrics and how that content is expressed. We had lectures on the techniques and then we’d get a week to write a song using that technique. I loved it: lyrics have always been my favourite part of songwriting and I’d been looking forward to it since I began the Master’s.

While the lecture group was big, my workshop group was small, made up of just the Part Time Second Years; there were about ten of us and they are all really, really lovely, thoughtful, creative people. I’ve had some great groups throughout this course but this one has felt extra special (although my first group was super special too). I feel like we were a really close-knit group: we shared a lot of stuff, both through our discussions and our songs, and we all cowrote extensively together in various combinations. I actually wrote with everyone in the group, an unintentional achievement that I’m quite proud of.

I think my favourite thing about this module was that the whole point of it was ‘learn things and then write as many songs as possible, learn more things and then write as many songs as possible, and so on, and so on.’ To a degree that’s what most of the other modules wanted you to do too but something felt different about this module; maybe it was because we were focussed on lyrics and that’s my favourite part, maybe it’s because of how much we’ve learned since starting the course and getting to this module, maybe it was because I was in a much better place mentally than I had been in a long time, despite everything going on outside of uni stuff… I don’t know. But something felt different. I was invigorated by the challenge of writing, of just writing all the time. It was awesome. It was so much fun. And I wrote so many songs that I’m so, so proud of:

  • I wrote a song called ‘A Thousand Cuts,’ about the slow death of a friendship.
  • I wrote a song that I actually really needed to hear myself called ‘One More Time’ as a reminder to always keep going.
  • I wrote a song called ‘Astronaut,’ which is something I’ve wanted to do for ages.
  • I wrote multiple songs from various fictional characters’ points of view, which I’ve completely fallen in love (I used to really hate it).
  • I wrote a song about grief called ‘Incomplete.’
  • And so many more…

And that doesn’t include the songs I wrote with others for their projects (I wouldn’t want to give anything away if they decide to release those songs). I love cowriting and I did so much of it this semester, sometimes four in a week, although I admit that that was stupid and completely draining. But it was just so fun and I loved every second of it, even when my brain was exhausted and moving slower than a snail. I loved learning their songwriting languages – each one different, of course – and I loved the challenge trying create the perfect song for them (and I still love both of these things, obviously). I made some really great creative relationships and some really great friends (or strengthened existing friendships) and that’s been the other wonderful thing about this module. These people are just so wonderful and I love writing with them and I sincerely hope that that continues for a long time.

The assessment for this module was a portfolio of four songs and an analysis of some of the techniques used. The song choice was pretty straightforward (at least it felt straightforward – I guess we’ll find out when the grades come out) but the analysis was harder. With the Masters in general, it’s felt harder to understand what they want from us, especially in the written work. I don’t know if that’s just part of Master’s level work or whether the difficulty is something to do with me and my Autism or ADHD. Either way, the constant uncertainty is exhausting. And even explained to me, I’ve still rarely felt confident about what I need to do to get a good grade. So assessment time is always a stressful time. But I worked hard and got through it with the support of my tutor and my friends and my Mum and now all that’s left is waiting for the results.

I also had some really exciting and fun opportunities come up during this module. They’re not over just because the module is but it would be remiss not to at least mention them when talking about the module. First of all I was chosen to be part of the judging panel for a songwriting competition, which has definitely been an experience and a half so far. I’ve learned a lot and, for the most part, it’s been really interesting and really fun.

The other exciting opportunity is a more academic one. There’s going to be a musicology conference in July focussed on starting to build a body of research on Taylor Swift as she’s such a phenomenon (in music, in pop culture, in business, etc) and there is very little research so far. We were invited to attend this (online) conference but also invited to submit research proposals, which, if accepted, meant speaking at the conference. As a major Taylor Swift fan, this seemed like a dream. So I got to work, wrote a proposal, and submitted it. And a few weeks later, I found out it was accepted so I will be speaking about Taylor Swift at an academic conference! I’m so excited, even if the idea of presenting alongside established and accomplished academics is more than a bit nerve-wracking.


Despite all of the changes going on in my life over the last three-ish months (managing my mental health, managing my chronic fatigue and pain, getting the ADHD and hEDS diagnoses, and just coping with all the stress of the pandemic), this is the most I’ve felt like myself in months – in over a year, I think. All the writing has been really good for my mental health and I feel like that and the classes were a very stable thing in my life, like a rock to cling onto in a really wild ocean. Somehow, everything about this module was exactly what I needed exactly when I needed it (apart from a few mishaps here and there). I learned so much and had so much fun; it was really good for my soul after a really hard year so I’m really grateful for these last three months.

IMG_0551

The Second Semester of My Masters

So, that’s it. I’ve finished the second semester of my Masters Degree. That’s a very weird thought. I kind of can’t believe I made it. But I did. And I wanted to write about it, like I wrote about the first semester because all of this is weird and wonderful and difficult and part of the journey.

This semester, the module I studied was called Musicology (“the scholarly analysis and research-based study of music”) and my classes were split into two different blocks. The first was a series of lectures, each based around a different artist/songwriter and a specific element of their career, like David Bowie and identity, Prince and authenticity, and Max Martin and his use of melodic math (not all of them were men – these are just the ones that are coming to mind as I write this). I’d expected it to be based more around elements affecting music and it’s creation and consumption, like the history of certain genres, feminism, the constant evolution of technology and social media, rather than specific artists but maybe that was a misinterpretation on my part or simply a different approach that could’ve been taken. I don’t know. It was interesting and I learned a lot but a lot of the reading was very academic which I struggled with, given that I’m having  some trouble with what you’d probably call my cognitive processing. Having said that, we had a great tutor who is really passionate about the module, which made it so much more enjoyable and engaging than a lecture heavy module could’ve been.

The group was larger than I was used to but there were a lot of familiar faces, including my two closest friends on the course. That was definitely a positive, both because I love them and because it helped me to adjust to all the changes. But it was also nice to meet some new people and get to know better the ones that I sort of knew and wanted to know better. So that was really nice, even if it took me a while to adjust to the new group dynamic. I’ve made some good friends from that class, even though it was cut short by the lockdown (I’ll get onto that in a bit).

The second block of classes were practical classes where we discussed in further depth the techniques we’d covered in the lecture class (the technical skills and application) and then we’d go away and write a song based on those techniques. Some of the briefs were really inspiring but on the whole, I found the whole exercise frustrating and a bit of a waste of time. We’d just spent a whole semester working on our creative process and tackling our blocks and weak areas and suddenly we had no time to work on them any further because we were focussing on and trying out other people’s techniques. I just feel like I was finally making progress, particularly in my musical ability (I’ve always struggled when it comes to experimenting with different chords and chord progressions), and suddenly that progress was being curbed dramatically, making it really hard to invest myself in the songs I was writing for this class.

The assessment for this module was a single four thousand word essay on anything related to songwriting. Most people choose a songwriter and then focussed on some aspect of their songwriting or the impact of their songwriting in a certain area, like feminism or the genre they were part of, for example. I really didn’t want to go through the overwhelming stress I went through at the end of the last semester due to lack of clarity around the assignments so I spoke to my Module Leader (who was also my tutor and a tutor I’ve known since my BA) really early in the semester so that I could be as prepared as possible and when I presented the potential subjects I had in mind, he gave me some really good advice: choose the one you’ll learn most from. So I decided to investigate Taylor Swift’s use of imagery and how that links to the authenticity in her songwriting, specifically in her song, ‘All Too Well.’ I thought that would benefit my songwriting the most, since those are elements that are important in my writing and therefore knowing more about them could only strengthen my use of them. So, alongside my classes, I slowly started to gather research about those topics.

I was still researching (I readily admit with the help of my Mum because I found myself struggling so much with the academic language and with my cognitive functioning) when the Coronavirus reached the UK. Classes continued but as a course (there aren’t a huge number of us and we have a group chat on WhatsApp where we’re in constant contact with each other) we discussed the situation and came to the collective conclusion  that we didn’t feel safe travelling to and from uni, as well as being in the busy setting of a university. Our representatives contacted the senior staff and not long after, our classes were moved online. I think it was a week or so after that that the lockdown was announced.

Initially, not much changed for me, apart from the fact that I was no longer commuting to London for my classes. I attended the online classes, did my work, and researched for my essay. Determined not to go through a last week of panic writing, I got to writing as soon as I had enough material and added as I learned more. My tutor was fantastic in recommending sources when I got really stuck (there’s not as much research on imagery and authenticity in song lyrics as you’d think) and giving me some excellent feedback when I finished my first draft, still with plenty of time before the deadline. He’s been amazing throughout the whole module and I’m really grateful. I, again with my Mum’s help, went through the feedback and did the best we could to improve and strengthen the essay before submitting it just under a week before the deadline. So no last minute panicking. I think I did the best I could under the circumstances. But it wasn’t a solo effort. They’re my ideas and my words but I would NOT have been able to do it without my Mum’s support, and gentle pushing on the days where it just felt too hard. I couldn’t have gotten through the researching, the writing, or the editing without her. It is a better piece of work because of her help and I’m so incredibly grateful, both for her help on this assignment and throughout this module but also for her in general, for the ways she has supported me otherwise: helped me manage and protect my mental health, organised my life for me when it took all I had just to stumble through the days, for making sure I ate, even and probably especially on days when I didn’t want to. I’m so lucky to have her and I’m aware of that every minute of every day.

It’s been a weird semester. In a lot of ways it was smoother than the first, both because I was getting the hang of my routine as a Masters student but also because my mental health was more stable, if not necessarily better. I had some great, cherished times with my friends but then they were all suddenly ripped away without proper goodbyes by the lockdown (thank god for video calls). I got to do some really fun cowrites, which were then suddenly stalled for the same reason. They can be rearranged and done by FaceTime or Zoom but it’s not the same: I find it much harder to be creative WITH someone when we’re not actually in the same room (plus the lag time makes singing or playing together a real challenge). I’ll make it work because I love cowriting and I love the people I’m writing with but I do find it harder. I was also really enjoying the lectures and discussions we had in class and online classes just aren’t the same. So what was mostly a pretty positive semester was cut off in its prime and I do grieve the way things could’ve been.

I’m done now. The full-timers have another semester but I’m free until the end of September ish. I’ve completed the first year of my Masters Degree. That’s a very strange sentence to write out. There were many, many moments where I was sure I’d have to defer, despite the fact that the thought made me feel physically ill. But I made it. It was somewhat anti-climactic, given that we’re all in lockdown: I uploaded my assignment, clicked a button, and that was it. Year One done. I don’t think I could sum it – or the emotions I’ve experienced – up if I tried, not without writing a PhD length post. It’s been good and difficult and inspiring and more stressful than I could’ve possibly imagined. I’ve learned a lot and I’ve met some wonderful people. I guess I’ll leave it at that.

IMG_7912