Songwriting at Berkeley is a performing arts club that has led students to a music career or simply a passion for writing songs. The perspectives that student musicians gain in this club have influenced their plans in the industry after college.
Jack Kwon, a member of Songwriting at Berkeley, or SWAB’s, leadership board, has released music throughout his time at Berkeley, and has recently hit a big milestone.
“One of my songs that I released last semester hit a million streams today, so that was a cool benchmark for me to hit,” Kwon said. “Without this club, I definitely would not have gotten where I am today.”
At weekly meetings, members are given writing prompts to inspire their songwriting process and perform the songs for one another. Kwon said meetings allow members to “spark some creativity” while also allowing collaboration with other songwriters and musicians.
Another SWAB leadership board member, Tyler Liu, said the club consists of a variety of students, from those who want to pursue music as a career to people who enjoy songwriting as a hobby.
Kwon started songwriting on his guitar and piano as a pastime during quarantine. During his first semester of freshman year, he joined SWAB and decided he wanted to take songwriting more seriously. Shortly after, he began professionally recording his music in studios and posting on social media to gain more traction.
“This club is what actually drove me to write consistently. I remember in that first semester at Berkeley, I had written so many songs, I actually compiled them all into an album,” Kwon said. “ I called it Berkeleytime just because I thought it was a fun use.”
SWAB also hosts open mics at the Graduate Hotel, local boba shops and small restaurants, giving opportunities for members to gain experience performing, Kwon noted. In addition to open mics, SWAB leads workshops to dive deeper into specific songwriting topics, including chord progressions.
Kwon and Liu, among other members of the leadership board, started a DeCal during spring 2023 in order to teach a more structured format of songwriting. Liu noted the class targets people who can play an instrument and want to start or continue songwriting.
Kwon has used TikTok to reach new listeners, allowing him to gain a larger audience. He believes the music industry is accessible due to social media but also “diluted” which can make it difficult for musicians to break into the music industry. He sees that competition is more extreme in the music scene, decreasing the chances of people being noticed or gaining popularity.
“You win some, you lose some. But I would say if anything, now is the time for anyone to make it in music,” Kwon said. “There’s so many people trying to break in now, but you also don’t have to be the best of the best.”
Kwon initially wanted to attend college in Los Angeles or New York, where the music industry is more prominent. However, he said Berkeley has allowed him to be more expressive and creative as an artist, taking away the pressure to make music that he might’ve faced in another city.
Ideally, Kwon would like to work in the music industry in the future, whether it be on the creative or business end, but is also considering using his data science degree for a few years.
Similarly, Liu wants to be “realistic” about his career path and find a job involving chemistry with the intention of keeping his passion for music fun and lighthearted.
“I know for me that the second that I kind of have to work my life away for music or juggle a bunch of stuff related to that, then it won’t be as fun,” Liu said. “It’ll take that kind of enjoyment and freedom that I have currently with it away.”
When considering a career in music, Liu said a specific mindset surrounds students when shaping their undergraduate experience.
He noticed most people majoring in music also pursue a double major or have a minor in music, which he believes is unique to Berkeley. The variety of interests is something he called “a Berkeley perspective,” as students pursue both creative and pragmatic interests.
“Music may not be as important but everyone has a passion for music,” Kwon said. “There’s so many kids in the club that are CS majors, data science majors, engineers, poli sci, a bunch of random majors, but everyone has this one common passion of music and it’s kind of beautiful.”