We’re, Campbell + Green, a husband and wife duo who got serious about writing our own songs just a few years ago. Since then we have been actively educating ourselves on the craft of writing using whatever tools we can find. We’ve recorded a few CDs and are working on another. We are excited to say we just received word of our first FACTOR demo grant to assist in our work!
We became SAC members (Click Here to view our Songwriters Profile.) in 2010 when we were living in BC. We started out visiting SAC events, SAC Songstage nights and ‘self-medicating’ by learning online, hosting songwriter workshops in our home (Shari Ulrich, Bruce Coughlan, Gregory Hoskins) and from books.
A life changing move occurred in May 2010 when, enticed by wanderlust and music and house prices, we pulled up roots and moved to Nova Scotia. It was a real learning situation getting in to the local community and fixing up our house as a small concert venue and, writing songs! Our writing culminated in our most recent CD ‘East’ which was completed June 2013 featuring 9 original tunes and has some great local players – Jamie Robinson – producer/guitar, Adam Dowling – Drums and Jamie Gatti – bass.
We have, very gratefully, made good use of other SAC resources by attending online seminars, one-on-one mentoring sessions and participating in the “6 songs in 6 weeks” 2014 blogging challenge with Christopher Ward. Part of this challenge included co-writing. We are both novices at co-writing and I, Robert, decided, ‘Why not connect with a proven winner’ and contacted North Easton, (the 2013 blogging champ who was back at it in 2014!). Using Skype and email we wrote an up tempo pop song, “A Simple Life”. North is a real gem and he quickly and skillfully crafted a scratch demo. We really like the tune and I sing it live now at gigs, albeit a tone lower and with a few small changes. We used that initial scratch track as part of a FACTOR application for our ‘demo’ grant and we were successful in the process and are now eager to get in to the studio to record!
We can honestly say the cost of our SAC membership has been paid back many times over by the ideas, mentoring and education received.
Applying for grants and filling out forms and doing the business side of songwriting can be a real pain and can consume a lot of time however it is actually quite useful in a few ways. It has helped us:
- take stock of what we do, who we are and where we are going and why. – It is easy to lose sight of this when dealing with day to day minutiae in our lives.
- build a portfolio of documents, links and promo. – We now repurpose these for festival, grant and gig submissions. It pays to have at least some level of professionalism in our presentations and even if you don’t have a million dollar video there are lots of low / no cost ways to make things look good.
- develop patience. – You don’t ‘win’ at the ‘submission game’ on the first or even 4th round. Keep trying.
- gain more self confidence. – Are we on the right track? As new writers one never really knows and has doubts that what you are doing is good, bad or indifferent. We have to find honest and useful critique (not criticism!) and a positive response on a grant or a good SAC songwriting seminar can not only be educational but also be really uplifting.
You just have to keep plugging away….
Cailin and I are now writing, and rewriting and rewriting and rewriting, our songs and will be in the studio soon. Well, that plus hosting the likes of Valdy & Gary Fjellgaard, “Tillers Folly” and Charlie A’Court In our 70 seat house venue in Dartmouth www.rocamusic.ca
Oh, ya, we are also touring some venues and festivals in New Brunswick, PEI and Nova Scotia this summer www.CampbellAndGreen.ca, We love meeting other songwriters and invite you to come say hello, connect up and share stories about songwriting and maybe even do some co-writing.
This songwriting thing is a muscle that needs exercise. And co-writing is like having an ‘exercise buddy’. It may even grant you some other rewards… like a FACTOR grant!
Music styles come and go through the years but songwriting will never die. The urge to sing is deeper and more lasting than any style. So if you’re a songwriter, don’t worry, as long as you write songs that people like to sing, you’ll never be laid off. Of course people prefer great songs over good ones so that’s what writers try to create. It takes lots of craft and a little bit of magic.
The craft can be learned. In fact, excellent songwriters have learned it so well that it can seem almost forgotten. They don’t have to think about it.
But also, for most hit song writers, the songs of theirs that really connect with a massive audience come from somewhere beyond craft. Call it the muse, call it inspiration, or maybe just call it magic. This magic is the difference between a good song and a great one. And believe it or not, it is something that can be nurtured.
Both aspects of writing are essential and in the most intuitive writing sessions they work together like one thing. And even though both aspects are present, the writer isn’t thinking about either of them, they’re just writing.
Here are some ways the aspiring songwriter can develop their craft and nurture magic:
1) Get up – Get out of bed and write down that great idea you’re having or sing it into your iPhone RIGHT NOW, while it’s happening – that just may be where the magic is.
2) Get going – Set some time aside everyday for new ideas and to finish old ones. They say it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill. That work is the real teacher, so just get going!
3) Get informed - Explore the fundamentals – harmony, song structure, Lyric writing, melody, groove, arranging etc.. Then, when you listen to songs, you will be more aware of how they function and integrating what you learn into your own writing will be perfectly natural.
4) Get connected – Find opportunities to collaborate and network with songwriters, musicians, publishers, and managers. Immerse yourself in the music industry by going to seminars and workshops and joining various associations. Some of the connections you make will become very valuable to you in your career.
5) Get gear – Learn an instrument. You don’t need to be a hot-shot. Just develop a good working relationship with it. Musicians and songwriters are two different things. Get a computer music program and learn to make demos with your computer, but keep ‘em simple and effective, learn to do decent mixes.
6) Get groovin’ - Play and sing your songs. Take every opportunity – in front of an audience, for your friends, or for your co-writers; and make it fun. Even when the song is serious, groove with it. Remember, you sing the blues to lose the blues. If the audience is paying no attention, and they miss your songs, it’s their loss. Don’t let it bother you. Stick with your muse, look for fun opportunities to play, and keep groovin’.
Finding a forum to learn, connect, and perform can be challenging so to guide singer- songwriters through fundamentals of the craft and help channel artistic development the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra School of Music (VSOSoM) has recently launched a Singer-Songwriter’s Workshop that will kick-off for the first time this August. The first of it’s kind in Canada, the workshop combines individual coaching, song circles, and instruction in all aspects of lyrics, song structure, melody and harmony, arrangement, performance and the business of music, providing students the formal and informal training necessary to find success.
For more information about the VSOSoM’s Singer-Songwriter’s Workshop, visit:
Bill Henderson is best known for his work with ‘Chilliwack’ one of Canada’s top recording acts in the 1970’s and 80’s and has been honored with a Juno award. Joined by fellow Juno award-winning songwriter, Shari Ulrich, Bill will lead this summer’s VSOSoM Singer-Songwriter workshop.
For many years Jim Dorie was busy raising three children working a full time job in the oil and gas industry in Alberta. Life was busy. Although he grew up in Nova Scotia surrounded by music as many do on the East Coast, he barely touched his guitar outside of the occasional kitchen party or jamming with a friend. With three kids to raise, time was mostly spent between work and chauffeuring his kids to extra curricular activities. As he approached the opportunity to retire, Jim was advised by a friend to find something to do with the extra 40 to 60 hours he would have every week. He looked to music as a retirement hobby, a way that he could reconnect with his East Coast roots.
Four years after releasing his first CD, Jim is in the midst of releasing his third album, Drop Forge. He received an ECMA nomination on his second album, and has a busy touring schedule. His hobby has turned into a career.
At 64 years old Jim admits he is still learning about the business aspect of the music industry. Social media doesn’t come naturally to him. He has also witnessed the rapid evolution of the business. Four years ago he was able to place his album in local records stores that have now vanished. Jim recognizes that live performance is now the bread and butter for performing songwriters who want to make a living.
There’s a lot of freedom in his new career. He is financially secure and could quit at any given moment. As a result, the only person he is trying to satisfy is himself. He also has realistic expectations for his career. He doesn’t expect big time fame or accolades. Instead, he chooses to focus on what he’s good at – writing songs filled with stories that resonate with his audience. Songs like “Living in Alberta” about the cost of moving away from home to make a living.
Jim credits Dave Gunning as begin a pivotal figure in the development of his career. He previously attended Dave’s performances during visits back to Nova Scotia and purchased his CDs. After retiring, Jim approached Dave for some pointers and thus began an important relationship. Dave produced Jim’s first and most recent album. Although Jim writes primarily by himself, Jim has also found a writing partner in producer/songwriter Dave Gunning. He has two tracks, including “Living in Alberta,” on Dave’s 2014 ECMA Record of the Year – No More Pennies.
Jim may not have a large corporation or millions of dollars behind him, but he has stricken a wonderful partnership with his wife, Jeanne Dorie, who has come onboard as a graphics designer and website manager. He has received great feedback on all the tour posters, CD graphics and shirts that she makes for Jim’s stage wear. More recently, Jim has started working with booking agent/publicist Jenny MacDonald – a talented artist in her own right. This helps him get more time to do what he loves doing – which is songwriting and performing. In fact, he already has enough material for his next three albums.
All of this is a great reprieve as Jim faced a cancer scare and surgery last year that could have meant a long hiatus from his burgeoning career. Prior to his surgery, he rushed to finish this latest album for fear it might never get recorded. He wanted to make sure these songs could be passed on to his kids. Luckily his oncologist gave him the “all-clear” and he went back to finish the album.
Jim’s success story is sure to be an inspiration to any songwriter stuck behind a cubicle wondering if they will ever find time to pursue their dreams. Jim’s only advice is to do it for yourself and not for fame or fortune. As for his own aspirations? He looks to Willie Nelson and Gordon Lightfoot who are still touring in their 80s. Jim figures he still has at least 20 years in his new career.
Click Here to visit Jim Dorie’s Songwriter Profile and hear some of his tunes.
No wonder it’s called Music City! Nashville is bursting at the seams with songwriters. Perhaps as many as 40,000. 40,020 if you did the tally at the end of April, and one of them was me! I finally made it there, having wanted to go for so long. I heard about a songwriting workshop organized by the brilliant Lydia Hutchinson of Performing Songwriter Enterprises and led by one of my favourite troubadours, Mary Gauthier. I jumped at the opportunity to immerse myself in songs and be in the company of songwriters for three whole days! That same desire took me to The Road to Stanfest in Sherbrooke Village and to SongStudio in Toronto.
The night we arrived, Mary cooked supper for all of us – jambalaya and cornbread. The next day, the hard work began, and for three days we worked on songs alone, or with a teacher, or most often in a small group. We listened intently to Mary Gauthier, along with guests Don Henry and Gretchen Peters, as they generously described their songwriting process and deconstructed some of their songs for us: ‘The Last of the Hobo Kings,’ ‘Beautiful Fool,’ ‘The Matador.’
Mary Gauthier is clearly an avid reader, referencing an eclectic range of songwriters, poets, novelists and philosophers. She is also an incredible teacher. We witnessed transformations not only of songs, but of souls. As Mary was working with an anxious student on a song, getting him or her to try changing the tempo or the pronouns or the feel of the song, the air in the room would suddenly change. It was tangible. A glance around the room showed tears, not just of emotion, but of connection. We had goosebumps or ‘chicken skin,’ as Mary put it. (As a vegetarian, I prefer to call it ‘tofu skin,’ but I digress). Mary brings out the lesson and makes what she’s doing with one song and one writer a teachable moment. She treated our songs like babies being born. She told one writer, “I think you’re having twins!” She masterfully helped shape each song, nurture it and the writer, and, by extension, all of us. Before long, some were calling Mary ‘the song whisperer. ’
On Thursday evening we headed to The Station Inn to catch a show by Jim Rooney’s Irregulars. The colourful cast of characters on stage included mandolin player, Jumbo Shrimp, and Jelly Roll Johnson on harmonica, with special guests George Hamilton IV and V. Still tanned, still awesome! Friday evening was spent at the famous Bluebird Cafe, a special thrill for me as the host of Bluebird North in Halifax. Don Schlitz, who wrote ‘The Gambler,’ put on a superlative evening of songs. I spent the evening saying ‘He wrote THAT?’ I said this silently, to myself, because the venue’s policy, as we were told before entering, is ‘shhhhhhhhhh!’
We wrapped up our time in Nashville with a supper at Monell’s soul food restaurant, where we (some of us) feasted on – you guessed it – fried chicken and marvelled at what had truly been an inspiring and transformative retreat. We learned how to write with emotional honesty and clarity. We learned that to connect with listeners you must allow yourself to be vulnerable in order to bring your deepest feelings into the light through song.
As a person who tends to crave solitude, which is necessary for songwriting, I came away feeling more connected, and better for it. We may have individual journeys, but we also have fellow travellers. CD Baby asked Mary to write a ‘Letter to a Young Songwriter’ for their series based on Rilke’s ‘Letters To A Young Poet.’ Let’s conclude with this excerpt, which captures one of the key lessons from the workshop:
“The chief danger in songwriting (and life) is taking too many precautions. There is a very real relationship between what you contribute and what you get out of this life, but satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment. The point of the work is the work. Being vulnerable in your work will bring you strength.”
For more information on the Performing Songwriter Creative Workshops, see http://www.performingsongwriter.com.
Grammy and Juno Nominee Deric Ruttan has accumulated quite a list of achievements both as a performing artist and as a songwriter. He’s one of a stellar roster of performers set to take over Markham Theatre for the Performing Arts on Monday, May 26, 2014 for the Second Annual CMAO Awards Show. The star studded event will celebrate the ever growing country music scene in Ontario. Ruttan is nominated for several awards including Single of the Year, Album of the Year, Songwriter of the Year, Male Artist of the Year, and record producer of the year. He opened up to us about the path to his success and how he maintains his creativity.
1. What country music influences did you have growing up in Ontario that inspired you to pursue music in the first place?
My parents record collection was really my first influence. Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Beatles, the Beach boys, the kinks, Johnny Cash, The Springfields. Growing up I got a hold of Gordon Lightfoot’s Sundown record, and knowing he grew up just down the road from me in Orillia was pretty cool. Also, in high school, a friend lent me Steve Earle’s Copperhead Road record, and that was it. That was the doorway through which I walked into country music.
2. What obstacles did you encounter that led you to choose to move to Nashville?
I didn’t really encounter any obstacles in Ontario. I just knew that the people who wrote most of the country songs I loved and was hearing on the radio were based in Nashville – and that almost all those songs were coming out of Nashville. It seemed to follow that I needed to be here. I wanted to learn from The people who were creating that music and knew that immersing myself in the culture was the way to do that.
3. Was there a Canadian contingency in Nashville that helped with your career development?
Not really…it seems to me there weren’t as many Canadians living here then as there are now. I did meet people after I moved here who happened to be Canadian, people like Tim Taylor and Duane Steele, who became my friends and co-writers.
4. You had persevered for several years before experiencing your first breakthrough. What allowed you to persist and what obstacles did you have to overcome?
It may sound trite, but I never really viewed failure as an option. I decided when I moved here that I would either make it, or years from now they would bury me here and I would’ve been another unsuccessful songwriter, but either way I wasn’t leaving. Plus, after a few years of being here I had a wife and family to support, and all joking aside, poverty is a wonderful motivator. All the obstacles I faced are obstacles all songwriters face in Nashville. The odds are so stacked against you, it’s staggering. I guess I did have the additional obstacle of not being an American citizen, so I couldn’t “legally” work anywhere to support myself while I was trying to make it. I had to be creative.
5. What are the challenges and benefits of juggling a career as an artist and as a songwriter who writes for others?
The only challenge really is time management. Learning to balance how much time to spend in each area. While there is overlap, they truly are two clear and separate careers as I view them. The benefits are that I get to do both things that I love for a living, and just the right amount of each. I also think being a performer makes me a better songwriter when I’m cowriting with another artist, because I understand what it’s like to stand on a stage and sing to a crowd — to have a specific message you want to relate to an audience in that live setting, that will also work at radio.
6. What advice would you give someone who has a Nashville dream of writing country hits? What first steps should they take?
Listen to commercial country radio. Study the hits. Try to emulate what you hear. Be honest about your work. With every song you write, try to get better. Make every line of lyric count. There’s no such thing as a throwaway line — they all serve a purpose. Also, If you want to write Nashville hits, you have to spend some time in Nashville. If you can’t or don’t want to move here, you need to spend a LOT of time here learning, crafting, and networking.
7. What do you usually bring with you in terms of equipment and ideas when you attend a co-writing session?
I always try to show up with at least two or three titles that I think are pretty good, or some melodic fragments that i like (I have a running list on my phone of probably over 50 titles at any one time). I like to have my laptop to write on, and an instrument – usually my acoustic guitar. In my office I have a guitar and mandolin and a banjo that I like to pick around on. I also would be a little out of sorts in a co-write if I didn’t have my iPhone with me, since that’s where I have melodic ideas and song titles stored.
8. As a professional songwriter, what disciplines or skills do you think are important to maintain your creativity? What works for me, and what I feel makes me more productive, is to have a regular place in which to be creative. For me, that’s my office – a dedicated space I have where I go to write songs. Also, having a regular time of day that you work is helpful. For me that’s about 10:30 or 11 in the morning. Also, to maintain creativity On a daily, monthly, and yearly basis, knowing when to stop is helpful. Taking a break after 4 or 5 or 6 hours of writing…getting away from it for a while, Then reconvening with yourself or with your cowriter and putting fresh eyes and ears on the song – that’s always a good idea, and helps you to not get burned out.
9. Congratulations on your recent Grammy nomination. How has the nomination changed or not changed your career?
Thank you! The daily goings on of my career remain the same. Artists who are looking to record songs don’t give a damn whether the writer has a Grammy nomination or not (It would be nice if they did!) In Nashville, at the end of the day, the best song wins, regardless of the songwriter’s various accolades. I think where the Grammy nomination is nice, is that it gives those who represent my catalog (my publisher), some ammo for building the “Deric Ruttan songwriter” brand. It’s a really nice feather in the cap.
by North Easton
Finding a clear spot on a desk filled with scraps of paper and coffee cups is no easy task. Like the mind, the desk is jumbled, messy, begging for simplicity but the rain of chaos keeps crashing down upon it. Anxious eyes scan words on a screen searching for the inspiration that will make a hand reach for that old guitar hanging on the wall and rise to the challenge set before him.
Six songs in six weeks.
When the email came in, I got excited. Hell, I felt like a kid standing in the cereal aisle with the green light to grab whatever I wanted. And each week, like many of my fellow songwriters, I pushed the clock, searched my mind and heart, and managed to come out the other side of the challenge…not only a better songwriter, but I made some friends, found some co-writers and added a few new songs to my existing catalogue.
The challenge within the challenge was finding the time each week to complete a full song to a level that would leave me smiling at the end of the day.
With Christopher Ward steering the ship, and a whole crew of Canadian songwriters aboard, I knew I was in for a pretty cool ride.
Week # 1 had us creating 5 opening lines, song titles and themes that truly inspired us. I draw your attention now to Mr. Matt Gerber. Title: “A perfect world.” An interesting melody gliding over unique chord changes reminiscent of great Beatles songs.
In week # 2, our challenge was to grow our antennae. Have a look at the outside world and pull a song from something we saw or witnessed.
The tragedy of loss is one of the hardest things we as human beings can ever go through. Knowing that we won’t see that familiar smile from someone we knew and loved is haunting, and it follows us for our entire lives. Sharing the pain of that experience is something that some people never have the ability to do. When I heard Lynn Mantles week #2 song, I stopped. My heart slowed down. I felt the pain in her voice and the memories in her lyrics. This is songwriting in its truest form…emotional and impossible to contain. Thank you for sharing Lynn.
Week #3 had us thinking outside of the box. Switching it all up for us. “Just Go With It” by Jesse Weeks…is a great example of a song not following all the rules of songwriting. Not only does it have some extremely unique instrument choices, the chord progression and lyrics leave me hanging on every corner of it waiting to see what comes by next.
In Week #4 we were challenged with spinning a cliche in a different direction. Taking the obvious and making it much less so. In all the blogs I read and songs I listened to that week, it was Allister Bradley who caught my attention. Not only for his song…or his brilliant voice…or the way he tickles the ivories, but his blog captured what the challenge was all about. A great job. I am providing a link here to his blog and you can play his song “It’s a Thin Line” from there.
Week # 5 and the world is spinning. Some of us were not only charged, excited and slightly overwhelmed by the challenge, but this was a week where we were able to let go of what was building up inside our heads. The subconscious.
From the first week when I heard Scott’s introduction song up on the SAC Facebook site, I knew this guy had something pretty cool. Great voice, some great guitar skills, good feel and some interesting perspective on songwriting.
We closed everything out in a collaborative effort in Week #6. In that experience, my limits were tested, I opened my mind to others ways of working and learned more than I thought I would in this challenge. Thanks to my co-writers, Robert Campbell, Kristine St. Pierre and most certainly Rosanne Baker Thornley. Rosanne truly pushed me the hardest to expand my horizons…and after our sessions over skype, we had a song that would carry itself further than this challenge and into the eyes and lives of many more people.
As a songwriter who thrives on the heart and the honesty of a great song, this experience has not only made me a better writer, but has given me a new outlook on the landscape of Canadian Songwriters. Thank you Songwriters Association of Canada, and Lily Cheng for doing what you do.
Till next time
Congratulations you’ve made it to the sixth challenge. Most of you know that no songwriter is an island. Collaboration is not just a buzzword. You would have a hard time finding any top 10 songs with only one songwriter. In fact, some songs have over 10 names attached to its creation. Furthermore, collaborating is also an important part of building your network. Please watch the video below to find out the collaboration story behind a song that was eventually recorded by the Backstreet Boys.
This week’s challenge:
By now you’ve gotten the opportunity to listen to songs from the other participants in the challenge. Connect with those whom you feel compliment your skills and style. In groups of 2 or more, collaborate on a song. You can decide if you will do it in real time via Skype or by sending tracks and lyrics to each other via email. Please blog about your experience, the highlights and the challenges.
Deadline: April 1st (it’s not a joke).
Please post the following:
1. The names of the people with whom you collaborated.
2. A link to a blog about your experience.
3. SoundCloud link to your song.