Danielle Bongiovanni wrote her song “Bees” a year after dreaming someone put a swarm of the buzzing insects in her chest.
“Bees” is also the first song Bongiovanni shared on SoundCloud, which now hosts seven of the second-year theater student’s original songs. She said she combines her love for poetry and life experiences to create music that documents her personal and mental growth.
“I’m not pretending to be anybody and there’s no need to filter through anybody to produce a work,” she said. “My music is very me.”
The last song Bongiovanni shared online was “So I can feel how I used to,” a slow, swinging song about how she tends to value others over herself. She is currently working on three new songs she hopes to share within the next two weeks.
Bongiovanni takes around two hours to complete writing a song, but typically begins the songwriting process with some sort of inspiration from her personal life. Whether it is a heartbreak or a nightmare, Bongiovanni converts her stories into lyrical phrases, which she then sings into the Voice Memos application on her iPhone.
After writing lyrics, Bongiovanni said she backs her melodies with basic chord progressions and a few riffs, which she strums on a light acoustic Fender guitar she received on her 15th birthday – a step up from the acoustic guitar with plastic and nylon strings she bought on a trip to Mexico.
However, the chord progressions occasionally pose a challenge for Bongiovanni and make her question her musical originality, she said.
“l could have a chorus in my head and I’ll freak out that it sounds like another song – that constant weird fear of ripping something off is difficult in the process,” she said. “To shake it off, I just remember that most of our music derives itself from the classical artists like Bach.”
Bongiovanni said she didn’t put together the chords for her faster-paced song, “911,” a track based on a dream in which someone she knew was a serial killer, until after she had finished the lyrics. She wrote the lines, “You say you’re not a killer but there’s bodies under the floor / I ask you what’s for dinner and we’re back to normal,” while driving back to San Diego from Los Angeles and the rest of the song followed.
Bongiovanni said she takes pride in her unfiltered lyrics like the ones in “911″ because they help keep the songs personal even if they aren’t relatable to most listeners.
“My lyrics, ‘You’re the last person I’d want to grow old with,’ are harsh but it’s something not too many people put in their music, even if it is what they may be feeling,” she said. “If the subject matter affects me enough to write a song, the lyrics should be just as personal.”
After compiling the lyrics and chord progressions in GarageBand, Bongiovanni uploads the new song onto SoundCloud. She keeps her songs stripped down and doesn’t edit any outside noises, like birds’ chirping or her computer’s volume clicks because she said she only posts them for herself. However, before posting her original songs, the songwriter shares them with close friends and family.
Anna Bongiovanni, Danielle Bongiovanni’s older sister, said her sister often plays original songs to her over the phone. The first song Danielle Bongiovanni shared with her sister was “Boy from Point Loma who I Totally Used but was also a Dick,” a song about an ex-significant other of hers.
Anna Bongiovanni said the song allowed her to empathize with what her younger sister was feeling at the time and helped her understand her sister’s relationship with the boy in the song.
“Her writing process can be introspective, but when she calls to run her songs by me it’s a bonding experience, and I get to really see that deep and honest side of Danielle,” Bongiovanni said. “After hearing that first song, I just looked at my sister and asked her why she hadn’t tried writing her own music before that.”
Maddie Pitts, Danielle Bongiovanni’s friend, said Bongiovanni’s music reflects how she has matured and grown following breakups or challenges with mental health – some of which they have gone through together.
“When I hear her songs, I’m brought back to that specific point in her life,” Pitts said. “I know the people she talks about in her songs, like family and people who hurt her, and it’s great to see her put her emotions into a medium that matures with her.”
Some of the challenging events in her life have even become some of her favorite songs, Bongiovanni said. Tracks like “Bees” act as a reminder of how much she has grown since she experienced harmful or challenging experiences, she said.
“I’ve was going through something difficult and documented that time of my life with that song,” she said. “Being able to hear something beautiful that I’ve created makes me proud and makes it seem almost like the struggle was worth it.”