Singer-songwriter sets sights on Nashville
By Bernie Schmitt
Hannah Swan has faith that a career as a singer-songwriter can be a reality.
The aspiring artist has been playing guitar since she was a child, yet she has only been writing songs for the last couple of years. Though she has a background in music, the former Miss Vincennes University.
She participated in the band program at Lincoln High School, but had never sang in front of an audience until she competed in the Miss VU Scholarship Pageant. This fall, after winning a songwriting contest, she sang her own songs for audiences in Florida.
“I’ve been playing the guitar since age 5,” she said. “I was in marching band, jazz band, and winter drum line in high school, and it was a good experience. But I’d never sang in front of anyone before Miss VU.”
She was second runner up in her first Miss VU Pageant, singing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” The next year she sang a Norah Jones song, “Don’t Know Why,” and played guitar.
“The guitar is so ingrained in who I am,” she said. “I am completely different with my guitar.”
Swan recently graduated summa cum laude from the University of Southern Indiana with a bachelor’s degree in health services. It’s something she can do until she can make a living as an artist. She never focused on graduating with honors.
“That was never a goal,” she said. “I just worked hard and that’s the reward. My mom is proud.”
She never considered studying music, either, as it was more of a love and extracurricular activity rather than a serious career choice. At first her major was pre-optometry, but then she switched to audio recording. But she didn’t want to be only on the recording side of music. She studied public relations, too.
In Prof. Matt Groneman’s creative writing class at VU, she learned about songwriting, and liked it.
“I was kind of interested in it,” Swan said. “But I couldn’t do it.”
Several months later, while studying at USI, she wrote her first song.
“I was on the floor of my apartment in Evansville and I wrote a song,” she said. “I don’t know how I did it.”
Since that time she’s written about 25 songs, and ideas for more are adding up. While she studies structure, rhyming schemes, rhythms, and other aspects of song creation, she cannot say how her creative process works.
“It happens naturally,” she said. “I can’t explain it. It happens differently every time. I might have a title in mind, a hook or an idea. It just depends. They are stories to me, almost like a mathematical equation. I’m very picky about it.”
Right now she’s hoping to find a job and work to save up a considerable nest egg with which she can one day use to move to Nashville, Tennessee, and integrate herself into the songwriting community there. She knows that it will not be easy.
“They say it’s a 10-year town,” Swan said. “It can give you everything you want or it can take it away. I have some friends in the industry now, and hopefully I’ll make some good connections.”
She was able to meet other songwriters and people in the industry upon winning a contest where she performed at the Island Hopper Songwriting Festival in Fort Myers, Florida, this fall. The contest was sponsored by the Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel.
“I found out about it on Instragram,” she said. “Then I posted a video of my song on YouTube, Facebook, and Instragram.”
Social media users were to vote for the various singer-songwriters in the contest to determine winners. Swan received nearly 13,000 votes — and won a spot in the Festival. Over three different weekends
, various singers and songwriters performed at various venues. Swan performed one weekend at a restaurant on Fort Myers Beach.
“It was an experience of a lifetime,” she said. “It was so cool to sit and play to an audience. I was singing my stories to people who knew nothing about me. To see them enjoying my music was a cool experience.”
She participated in a “big jam session” with other artists at the Festival, including up and coming artist Lance Carpenter, Paul McDonald (who finished eighth in an American Idol competition), Presley Tucker (Tanya Tucker’s daughter), and several others.
“This is not just a hobby anymore,” Swan says. “And it’s not just about getting famous. It’s much more than that. “
She knows now that she loves music. She has thousands of songs on her smartphone’s playlist, and she tried to learn all she can about the music business. She listens to podcasts such as “And the Writer Is …“ and watches videos about songwriting. She is a member of the Nashville Songwriters Association International and Global Songwriters Connection, organizations that provide valuable information, songwriting workshops, and networking opportunities.
Her music is influenced by many things, including contemporary Christian music, but she listens “to everything.” She’s a fan of Kelsea Ballerini, Tori Kelly, Ed Sheeran and the band Paramore.
“I have an appreciation for all different genres of music,” Swan said. “I especially like real artists — I can feel their artistry. You can tell if they are true artists, people who write their own songs.”
She hasn’t set any lofty expectations for success as a singer-songwriter, but the pragmatic Swan also believes that by learning about the industry and being realistic, she will be able to do what she wants. She’s doing lots of planning.
“I don’t know what ‘not working out’ is,” she said. “I don’t know what would ruin it.
“I just love music,” she said.