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.
Award-winning songwriting and Canadian legend Ian Thomas whose songs have found international success with many artists such as Santana, America, Manfred Man, Chicago, Bette Midler and Ann Murray, played an integral part of the evolution of the Songwriters Association of Canada. We invited him to share his memories of the journey. We also hope you will hear his appeal and join us.
In the words of Ian Thomas
In the mid-eighties I went to Ottawa with a group of songwriters to bend the ear of then Minister of Communications, Flora MacDonald. The issue of the day was that the mechanical rate for song usage in recordings had been fixed at 2 cents in 1924 and over 60 years later the rate was still sitting at … 2 cents. It was a wake up call for many songwriters who, like myself, had been living in a bit of a bubble. Many of us just couldn’t believe why no one had done anything about this? More importantly though was the realization of why we expected someone else to look out for our interests in the first place. We needed to grow up.
That Ottawa trip and the attendant publicity succeeded – the mechanical rate increased. The publicity alone probably outed and shamed the industry into action. An awakening creative community of songwriters shortly thereafter founded the SAC. It was a group of talented writers and kindred spirits who knew that songwriters needed dome serious advocacy and education in the business of music.
From 1998 to 2000, I took a turn as president of the SAC in a rather transitional time. The board and I worked hard and we accomplished a lot. We acquired a greater national profile, our own office, our first full time Executive Director, our first full time secretary and a new quarterly magazine.
Songwriters Magazine stirred up criticism from a few industry moguls. One article brought on considerable harrumphing from a few publishers. The article, “Looney Tunes” used some actual contracts to show how little money could trickle down to songwriters on every dollar earned. It was an educational, not a sensationalist, article and so no names were mentioned. We offered to print any rebuttals but none were offered. It’s hard to argue facts. The real problem was that advocacy for the creative community was offensive to some who posed as champions of writers while making a living at acquiring their rights. There were many in the music business establishment who simply didn’t like the notion of writers becoming better businessmen.
We visited the Heritage Ministry in Ottawa often in my years as SAC president. I must admit then Heritage Minister, Sheila Copps was a friend to the creative community. I think she sensed that authors’ rights were something of a canary in the coalmine in the fallout from international trade agreements and multinational corporations. Despite a sympathetic minister, I soon understood the sad reality that our Canadian government was merely a government by the best-funded lobby. Then, as now, we were up against an ever-increasing full court press from corporate lawyers working 24/7 to whittle away creator’s rights. My two years as president were an age of reason compared to current realities where unbridled capitalism is so mistakenly being considered the same thing as democracy. Where the common good is evaporating into the garish wealth acquisition by the few.
We have seen “work for hire” language erode creative rights. Language in some film contracts currently demands that, “producer shall be known as author of all work created by composer”. The latter is like Morris Levy of Roulette Records who, in the formative days of rock n’roll, insisted on co -author status of anything released on his label. I never imagined this would become a corporate template with full authorship, no less. Such corporate evolution requires a permissive societal moral regression.
Some commercial music users state that SOCAN and songwriters do not “fit into our business model”. That model seeks profit from music streaming without paying a penny for the music. This is akin to wanting to open a chain of hamburger outlets around the world … if they can get the hamburger for free. Outrageous? Not in the corporate boardrooms of the new millennium.
A few songwriters have a lofty notion that music should be free. In 2014, corporations hold an unbridled sense of entitlement to songwriters income as they seek to drift-net the industry. “Free music” means somebody else will gladly take the income your music might generate if you find it so distasteful. You won’t be writing for a living … well not your own.
The future has never looked so bleak for music creators. This has become a struggle for our very economic existence. As writers we have never needed the SAC more than we do now. As Canadians, there has never been a time when we needed to seriously dig down deep and “stand on guard for thee.” Take your pick. As a Canadian … or as a songwriter, it is our watch.
Disclaimer: This blog is part of an occasional series whereby those involved in the founding of the Songwriters Association of Canada have been invited to share their memories with us. These articles represent the recollections, perspective and opinions of their author only, and not the organization.
Are you ready for Week 5? Only 2 more challenges to go. This week we will explore trusting the subconscious.
Every writer has had the experience of coming up with a good idea and having no idea where it came from. We might try to recapture the magic by wearing the lucky t-shirt or using the magic pen, but is there a way to tap into that vast reservoir of ideas that live below the surface of the conscious? You can try stream-of-consciousness writing where you write, without stopping, judging or editing until you run out of ideas or your hand gets tired.
This week’s challenge:
Watch the video below. Then, for the next five days, spend at least 10 minutes (or until your hands get tired) writing from your stream of consciousness. At the end of the week, review what you have written and look for at least 5 ideas that could become songs. Choose one to bring to fruition.
Deadline: Tuesday, March 25
Please post the following:
1. The theme you chose to write about.
2. Your blog link.
3. Your SoundCloud Link.
I’ve been asked several times about my experiences in Nashville. So, from the prospective of a fledgling songwriter, who lives 2500 miles from Nashville, and who tries to make the trek a couple of times a year, here’s what I discovered.
1. Organize, organize, organize. My last trip was three weeks long. I booked it in June for an October timeframe. I had been to Nashville before, but never for that length of time; however I had an over-riding feeling that I would fill all my days with co-writes, classes, pitch-to-publishers and maybe a demo session or two. I not only filled all my days, I could have stayed for longer. This is how I planned it, right after I booked my dates:
- As soon as my trip was booked in June, I contacted two publishers I had met previously to let them know I was coming to Nashville in the fall. I heard back from them both. It was too early for them to book a meeting with me; but to remind them closer to my arrival date. I sent them a friendly reminder in late August, then another one a week before I headed to Nashville. Only one responded. We met up for coffee late one afternoon at an outdoor restaurant patio, and talked for over an hour. I’m still building that relationship.
- I contacted potential co-writers in the same order, and started filling in some co-writing dates the closer it got to the trip.
- I called my PRO affiliate in the states (which is ASCAP) and inquired if they had any workshops happening while I was in town. Oh yes, they did. A country workshop that was headed up by a pro writer (Trent Willmon); one week long, every morning from Monday to Friday. I had to submit a short bio and a song, for them to assess if I could attend. It ran from 9am until 11am. It got my days that week off to a great start. http://www.ascap.com/nashville/ You can also book an appointment with an ASCAP rep. and have a chat about your songwriting career.
- I contacted Nashville Songwriters Association (of which I’m a member) and inquired if they had any workshops or pitch-to-publishers sessions happening while I was in town. They did. I went. I also booked a writer’s room there for my co-writes; and scheduled a couple of mentor meetings. http://nashvillesongwriters.com/
- I checked out Jason Blume’s workshop at BMI and attended the same. He runs one a month. Try to get into one of his workshops. They fill up fast. Info on BMI’s website. http://www.bmi.com/events/calendar/
- I attended Deanna Walker’s class (Hit Songwriter’s Seminar) at Blair School of Music, Vanderbilt University on Monday nights. I had been taking her class on-line, via Skype (the only student to do so), and now I got the chance to be there in person.
- The week before leaving, I cut CDs with my songs on them, made sure I had a large notebook, several pens, a small appointment book to tuck in my purse (too small it turned out), my rhyming dictionary, and a sturdy satchel to carry them in. Yes, I know I should book my appointments on-line, and use one of the on-line rhymers, but hey, what can I say. I do have an iPad, which I bring with me, along with my iPhone….and lots of business cards.
Chance meetings with other songwriters, became potential co-writers, and those were scheduled in on the fly. I met up with another publisher over lunch, and he invited me to speak to his songwriting class at a community college in Nashville. At night, and on the weekends, I would try to get out to various venues that had acoustic songwriter nights. I wanted and needed to hear Nashville singer/songwriters to absorb the whole scene. One Sunday, I attended a gospel church service, for some awesome inspiration.
Would I schedule my next trip differently? Yes. I would try to have the co-writes starting from day one if you can, instead of scheduling other events before the co-writes. I found that if we didn’t get the song written in one session, I needed to have time in my schedule to place a second co-write. I realized that with the Nashville writers (at least the ones I was writing with), that they want in-person co-writes. They’re not too fond of using Skype. I simply ran out of time, during my three weeks in Nashville. Now, when I head there again, I’ve got two co-writes scheduled to finish up a song we started back in October.
Also, I might space the co-writes a bit better. I had three scheduled one day, and it was a bit much. Oh, and give myself some time to grab breakfast and lunch. Writing on an empty stomach, or one fueled with potato chips and coffee, was not my idea of stimulating.
2. Accommodations: because I was going to be there for three weeks, I had to start looking for some reasonably priced accommodations. First I tried to book a room in the Nashville House (it’s free for SOCAN members, for a two week stay), but as you can imagine, they book up really far in advance. I was out of luck. So, this is what I came up with:
- Holiday Inn (by Vanderbilt)…..you can get a discounted rate, if you’re member of NSAI. (I’ve stayed here on a previous trip to Nashville).
Benefit: the Commodore is in their hotel. You can enjoy singers in the round every night, while you eat supper. They have a shuttle that can ferry you free to Music Row, and to downtown. Computers in the lobby you can use, and free wifi….in the lobby only. Also, a nice pool.
Downside: hotels are the most expensive option…..unless you can get another songwriter to share the room and cost with you.There are plenty of nice hotels in Nashville to stay in. I’ve mentioned the Holiday Inn because I’ve stayed there, and I love that you can head downstairs and listen to singer/songwriters at night. They also have open mic at the Commodore at 10pm…so if you are a singer/songwriter that wants to play, make sure you show up at 8pm to sign up for the open mic. I’m not sure if that is every night though. http://www.holidayinn-nashville.com/commodore-grille.htm
- Scarrit Bennett Center….a former woman’s religious college that’s now used as a comforting hostel, set over 10 acres. This is the first time I’ve stayed in a hostel/ dorm environment. Stayed here during my first week on this trip.
Benefit….can walk to Music Row. Short couple of blocks to NSAI. Beautiful grounds; but I didn’t have time to explore them. Computers in the main building you can use. Free wifi in all the separate dorm buildings, but the signal can be very weak, and drop you off, if you’re in one of the further dorms. Best benefit….the cost. $50.00 a night. With tax, $62.00 a night. I think if you’re staying for a month, they can provide a monthly rate.
Downside: shared bathroom. One bathroom, in between two rooms….but you can lock it from both sides. Air conditioner didn’t really work that well. It’s been so hot during my first two weeks here. No free shuttle. No coffee in the room. Help! The main building does provide coffee in the morning, but cuts out mid-morning. No cafe or coffee shop on the grounds. They do have a snack machine. Yes! Potato chips are a staple for me, when I travel. http://www.scarrittbennett.org/
- Rent a room from a Nashville songwriter. For my third week here, that’s what I did.
Benefit: you’re staying with a songwriter. I felt plugged into all the music business out there. I met other Nashville songwriters coming over to her place. I got to write with her; learned about the events happening in town; and hung out with her at various singer rounds. You feel settled here, in a home environment. Acoustic song sing at night with other songwriters in her living room. Full access to the kitchen and living room. You’re actually sharing her home. Cost is very reasonable.
Downside: I had to share one bathroom (no big deal, as I’ve raised three boys with one bathroom between the five of us). I needed to rent a car to get around…however, by car, it was only 15 minutes to Music Row, and 10 minutes to the Commodore.
- Timeshare. I got lucky. For my second week here, I stayed with a friend (also a songwriter) who owns a timeshare; so I was able to crash on her pullout couch in the living room….and we shared the minimal cost. If you can arrange something like this, it’s a great deal!
Benefit: full suite…kitchen, living room, one or two bedrooms. Outside and indoor pool, and hot tubs. If you room with a songwriter like I did, you can have private acoustic concerts/singalongs in your room at night. The timeshare usually has a variety of events you can attend; that can be tempting; but try to stay focused on why you’re in Nashville….to co-write with Nashville writers, to pitch to publishers, attend songwriting workshops, and networking.
Downside: The timeshare I stayed at was near Opryland. A long ride every day to Music Row. Definitely need to rent a car.
So, during my three weeks in Nashville, I stayed in a different place every week. I’ve found, for me at least, that the best place to stay is at a songwriter’s house. You’re plugged into the Nashville scene right off the bat. However, because I love changing things up, never getting too comfortable in one place, on my next trip to Nashville I’ve going to stay in various places, like before.
Next time I’m going for five weeks.
How did it feel to leave your familiar structures and move your songwriting to uncharted territory? Hopefully last week’s challenge broadened your approach. This week we’re going to look inside the box by examining how to Rock The Cliché.
Pick one to expand into a song.
Deadline: March 17
Please post the following:
1. Which cliche you chose to use.
2. A link to your blog.
3. A link to your song.
By Christopher Ward
We’re almost halfway through the challenge! It’s been great to see all the songwriting and networking that has been happening on Facebook and on our blog. Hope you will enjoy this week’s assignment.
It’s easy to get caught up in using the age-old forms when writing a song – Verse/Chorus/Verse/Chorus/Bridge/Chorus. Yes, it works, but sometimes you can freshen up your writing and find yourself going down new pathways if you mix it up a bit. Something as simple as starting with the chorus like so many Beatle songs did (‘Cant Buy Me Love’, ‘Please Please Me’) and like Maroon 5 do in ‘Payphone’, can pull a listener in very quickly because they don’t have to wait for the big hook.
Using odd line lengths or unexpected rhyme schemes can get you out of a rut too. Remember – you can always get back in the box and colour inside the lines another time!
Deadline is March 10
Take a look at the video below and do the following assignment, posting in the comment section below:
1. Identify your common songwriting ruts. Why are these structures/forms comfortable for you?
2. Write a song that breaks 1 or more of these “rules.”
3. Have fun writing outside the box!