Scene at Berklee: Michael Franti

By 
Bryan Parys
November 16, 2020

Singer, songwriter, and humanitarian Michael Franti (Spearhead) spoke with students about his empathy-centered approach to songwriting.

Michael Franti

Scene at Berklee presents snapshots and stories from the hundreds of clinics, workshops, performances, and other events that take place in our community year-round.

At a recent Berklee Visiting Artist Series event, the musician, humanitarian, and entrepreneur Michael Franti (Spearhead, Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy) stayed up past 2:00 a.m. talking with Berklee students. Technically, the event took place at 1:00 p.m., Boston time, but Franti streamed in from his home in Bali, Indonesia, and despite the late hour, the musician volunteered to stay logged on after the event ended, just to answer more questions.

The discussion was moderated by Prince Charles Alexander, professor in the Music Production and Engineering Department. The two share a special connection in that Alexander engineered Spearhead's 1997 album, Chocolate Supa Highway, giving the conversation the intimate feeling of a reunion at times.

Find your story, tell your truth, scream it into your mic, play it on a piano, make a film about it, speak it as a poem, whisper it to a friend...just find ways to speak your truth.

—Michael Franti

Alexander noted that he was struck by Franti’s lyrical approach, which is praised for its empathy and humanity, and asked the artist what informed that direction. He said that his songs are informed by wanting to speak to the full range of human emotion. “If I speak what is breaking my heart, other people will connect with it,” he said.

Later, he returned to that theme of empathy by way of advice to student songwriters, saying, “There’s no one you wouldn’t love if you knew their story…. But we also have an obligation to find ways to share our own story…. Find your story, tell your truth, scream it into your mic, play it on a piano, make a film about it, speak it as a poem, whisper it to a friend...just find ways to speak your truth.”

Regarding how Franti uses songwriting craft to tell his story, he talked about how he draws lyric ideas from his own life, and then tries to turn what he finds into a hook. “I always write songs from the hook first. The hook is like a thesis statement when you write an essay,” he said, going on to say that he then writes verses to support that thesis. He closed out the session by walking the students through the writing process of a new, unreleased song, giving the event the feeling of both a master class and an intimate concert.


Berklee’s Visiting Artist Series connects students with some of the most influential artists and creators in the industry today. Upcoming events will feature T-Pain, Adrianne Lenker (Big Thief), Julia Michaels, and Daniel Platzman (Imagine Dragons), and others.

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