With a Little Help From Her Friends, Finn O’Sullivan Wins Coveted John Lennon “Song of the Year” AwardMegan Briggs | College of Arts & Media Aug 3, 2021
If there is anything the year 2020 taught us, it is that, perhaps even more than Clorox wipes, what the world really needs more of is friendship. This is something Finn O’Sullivan, a second-year student at University of Colorado Denver’s (CU Denver) College of Arts & Media (CAM), thankfully realized before the pandemic hit and before she submitted an original song to the 2020 John Lennon Songwriting Contest. Then on July 22, 2021, O’Sullivan learned that her song was chosen as the winner of 2020’s “Song of the Year” award, an accomplishment made possible in large part by the friends she had made during her first year in CAM.
In September 2020, O’Sullivan received word she was among 24 Grand Prize winners. Her song “When the Power Comes Back On” had won the folk category. But it wasn’t until July of this year that she found out she had won the whole kit and kaboodle (literally—part of the prize pack, in addition to $20,000, is a gaggle of recording equipment any aspiring musician would likely trade their eye teeth for).
O’Sullivan says her favorite part of the prize pack is the guitar—an Epiphone Zenith Masterbilt Acoustic Round Hole—which she has been playing on every day since she received it. And as for the money? She’s decided it will go toward paying for college.
But if O’Sullivan had heeded the advice one seasoned music-industry producer gave her years earlier, she would have steered clear of arts school and gone straight for the “big leagues” as a recording artist. However, that advice, even when coupled with a global pandemic, didn’t deter O’Sullivan from enrolling in and attending classes in CAM last year. For O’Sullivan, the opportunity to collaborate with other musicians and to learn things she didn’t yet know about music and the music industry from experienced faculty attracted her to CAM.
Finn O’Sullivan Discovered CAM’s Collaborative Nature Through LYNX Camp
Even though she has yet to attend a class in person (something she’s very much looking forward to doing this fall), O’Sullivan felt an affinity for the school and its Music & Entertainment Industry Studies Department and singer/songwriter program right away. While still in high school, O’Sullivan got to experience the synergistic energy of the CU Denver campus when she attended CAM’s LYNX National Arts and Media Camp a couple years ago. The week-long music industry program she attended convinced O’Sullivan that CAM was a place where she could learn and thrive as an artist.
“When you go into music, you’re going to have competition, wherever you end up. But at CU Denver it’s really supportive rather than really competitive,” she explains. O’Sullivan, who says she prefers building connections and friendships with fellow musicians instead of competing with them, says she welcomed the opportunity to meet people who are “really passionate about the same thing.”
Those friendships with fellow students certainly helped her out during the final leg of the John Lennon songwriting contest, when the judging becomes crowdsourced and the public is invited to vote for their favorite submissions. O’Sullivan felt a thrill whenever she saw fellow students and her professors sharing her song on social media. She modestly attributes her win to their support and the exposure they provided. However, a listen to the song will convince any critic that it wasn’t just help from her friends that pushed O’Sullivan’s submission over the top. Owen Kortz, MA, who is a senior singer/songwriter instructor in Music & Entertainment Industry Studies (MEIS) and who taught O’Sullivan last year, says the song is a “truly fantastic composition.” Kortz goes on to explain why:
Everything from the types of rhymes she uses to the consistency of her melodic structures adds to that meaning and brings the listener into the experience. And then her vocal tone gives a vulnerable over-the-phone, conversational vibe. Top that off with the title and emotion of the song reflecting the events of this last year and some Beatles-y "Love Me Do"-type harmonica thrown in, and we're firing on all cylinders.
“When the Power Comes Back On” is O’Sullivan’s melodic coming to terms with finding yourself in an unexpected and unwelcome place. The song describes a feeling many of us became uncomfortably familiar with last year: That of being in a holding pattern as life as we knew it ground down to a reluctant halt and we waited to see how the virus would play out. “I wrote the song before everything that happened in 2020 happened, but then last year my friends and family said that song was representative of how 2020 felt,” O’Sullivan explains. The song felt like a good candidate for the 2020 competition.
CU Denver Professors Made Music Classes on Zoom Work, O’Sullivan Says
And while O’Sullivan says the experience of attending classes such as piano, ear training, music theory, and singer-songwriting ensemble over Zoom was “weird,” she was grateful for the opportunity the classes provided to check in with and see other people and fellow singer/songwriter students face to face last year. “My professors definitely made it work,” O’Sullivan says.
Kortz says he is proud of everyone in his singer-songwriter ensemble and how they stayed engaged through a very difficult year. O’Sullivan’s award, though, presents “a wonderful opportunity to celebrate her achievement and hoist her on our shoulders as a representative of the amazing writers we have at CU Denver.”
The John Lennon Songwriting Contest started in 1997 and has been crowning one original song as the “Song of the Year” each year since. The competition is the brainchild of John Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono Lennon, and incentivizes songwriters to share their original music with others by offering prizes and exposure for their music. Judges for the contest include a host of notable musicians such as Bootsy Collins, Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, and Sheila E.