2023 Song Contest Winner Q&A with The Philharmonik

“What’s It All Mean?”
By The Philharmonik
Interview by American Songwriter

Christian Gates-Bahlhorn, aka The Philharmonik, is American Songwriter’s 2023 Song Contest Grand Prize Winner for his song “What’s It All Mean?.” We caught up with Christian to get the story behind his winning song.

What made you decide to enter American Songwriter’s Song Contest?

After releasing my most recent album Kironic I was having trouble getting it off the ground, so I was looking for outlets that could potentially spread the word, and saw American Songwriter coming across my Facebook timeline. I usually am reluctant entering into contests, but I felt like this was the only move I had in the chamber to get the ball rolling. So I took it and submitted three songs.

How did you feel when you learned you were the Grand-Prize Winner?

I was absolutely surprised. It was unexpected. I sat on “What’s it All Mean” for five years until it became the opening theme for my album. Five years ago, I didn’t release it in 2019 because I thought it was boring. Then as time went on, I grew older, and experienced life, I then saw this song reflected my headspace at the time of release. Oh, how time can change our perspective!

What was your inspiration for your song, “What’s It All Mean?” Why did you want to write it?

I was going through a phase in my life where nothing made sense: the life I was living, the things I was doing, reflecting on life in its entirety. I was in my first existential crisis. Granted, I was 26 and the pandemic didn’t even happen yet. Usually I feel compelled to write music when the emotions in the present moment are too much to deal with internally – this happened to be one of those times.

When writing a song, what comes first the music or lyrics?

Depends on the song and the concept. 9 times out of 10, I’m starting with the music. I will make a drum pattern and then keys, work on 8 bars, and start with the hook. But on some of my best ideas, there’s usually a melody accompanied by words before the music is even thought of. I’ve only had that happen a handful of times though.

What keeps you motivated as a songwriter?

Life always motivates me – I’m not on a specific writing schedule. I write when I’m moved to write. Though it’s good to be consistent, I also think it’s good to diversify your time and become equally good at many different things. When it’s time for me to put it down in a song, I feel it in my bones and start writing.

How long have you been writing songs, and what are your songwriting goals?

I’ve been writing for 14 years now, since I was 16 as a producer, multi-instrumentalist and artist. My songwriting goals have moved more into elaborate concepts and ideas. I want not only the songs to be good and relatable, but the environment and presentation of them to really give listeners a tangible perspective. I want them to feel as if people are watching their favorite film or reading their favorite book.

Are there any songwriters, artists, or events that have especially inspired you lately?

Kendrick Lamar, Childish Gambino, & Pink Floyd have been huge inspirations to my art and the direction I want to take it, especially when it comes to ideas and concepts.

What is your idea of the perfect song?

The perfect song is one where its mistakes can’t be fixed.

What’s the best piece of advice another songwriter has ever given you?

“You’ve gotta leave space for God to walk through the room.” – Quincy Jones

Who are your all-time favorite songwriters and why?

Stevie Wonder for his ability to combine words and music in the most beautiful way. Prince for his musicianship and showmanship. Pink Floyd for their album concepts. Kanye West for his ear for sonic innovation. Kendrick Lamar for his perspective on life. Quincy Jones for his unlimited capacity to make amazing music.

As you were also the Make It Count winner, tell us about the mentorship prizes you received from that promotion.

They were very helpful to help me get where I wanted to go. It’s not very easy to ask for help but it is effective in these conversations to know what you’re asking for.

What’s next for you?

Continue to do the work and write music, live life, and help others write music to assist in maximizing self-expression.

What would you tell other aspiring artists who are considering entering the Song Contest?

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

If you aren’t willing to take the risk, you aren’t willing to receive the reward. Take the risk. It worked for me.

Also, don’t put your eggs in one basket, submit more than one song. I submitted three and it led me here.

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