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The story behind the song – 40 Emails and 4 Skype Sessions

December 18, 2014
Rosanne & Scott

Every song’s creation is a story, particularly when there is collaboration involved.  Here is another “story behind” blog by Rosanne Baker Thornley whose participation in last year’s S.A.C. Songwriting & Blogging challenge resulted in the song “A Little Too Late to Pray” written with Scott MacKay.

by Rosanne Baker Thornley

During the 2014 Songwriting Challenge I discovered Scott MacKay, originally from PEI, and currently residing in Calgary. An emerging singer / songwriter, I was extremely impressed with his tender, stirring and dark songs. And his voice – undeniably Scott, buttery, gravelly, smoky – I was quick to dub him “Bublé of the Bayou”. And like North Easton, Scott’s was a voice I was inspired to write for.

We had messaged each other during the Challenge expressing an interest in each others work, discussing a plan to collaborate on a song after the challenge. And so, a few months after the challenge ended, a message appeared on my phone “interested in writing a song?”.

Scott sent me a list of possible song ideas and a note that he liked songs that are clear / clever – that his goal was to write songs that are real speak so listeners are quick to understand – but at the same time songs that carried a highly original concept. Hank Williams, Loudan Wainwright the third, and Johnny Cash were examples he sited.

After perusing Scott’s titles and one-line descriptors – I emailed back that I had quickly gravitated to a few ideas, but in particular, his concept “Hearse. A humorous account of a hearse bringing someone to the grave. Tire goes flat, they run out of gas, etc.”. And as with anyone I’m writing with / for, I immersed myself in whatever music of his I could to get a better feel for his delivery and a deeper insight into his songwriting.

With Scott in Calgary and me in Toronto, distance meant that email and Skype would enable our collaboration. I do find this a bit of a cold aspect to long distance co-writing as I much prefer that once into the nose-to-nose work that my co-writers, their heartbeat and their energy, are right in the room with me. But given some my previous experience with North, I was better acclimatized to working via Skype.

I can’t emphasize how important it is to just take time to talk to each other. Not about the song or the work – just things – life. Learning about each other is so crucial to working together. This is especially important when you’re on the other side of a monitor and a mouse.

Scott sent me some rough lyric thoughts to get the process moving along. Entitled “Long Road to My Grave / Scenic Route to the Grave” – Scott’s lyric rough was written from the deceased’s perspective and the trials and tribulations of getting to the graveyard. My question to Scott after receiving his lyric was – “Yes, but WHO is in the coffin?” Percolating on the idea, I rolled it over and over in my head – until the idea of a less than perfect preacher came to me. Yes! I responded to Scott with – Possible Title : “A little late to Pray”, with a first round of lyric and a note setting the scene – “A good looking, über friendly preacher, clearly popular (particularly with the women, but not overtly so in public), has died. There seems to be a challenge in getting him to his grave. Gee that’s odd. He’s a preacher. He was so young and healthy. How did he die? Ah yes, that is the question.”

Sometimes lyrics are a line-by-line soul wrenching process – and then other times they land easy. Once I had the image of where I wanted to go and a chorus I felt was at the heart of the song, I just flew. So quickly in fact that Scott was quite taken back by how fast and how finessed my first version was. Scott was extremely enthused and inspired with the storyline and the lyric. Excited I searched online for backwoods banjo music and played it over and over in the background as I transported myself into the scene – onto the road with the hearse, the driver and the preacher. Hand off to Scott to start the music. When I’m writing lyrics I almost always have an idea of how the music will sit, which is how I build the lyric and structure of the song. However, I didn’t share the music I had with Scott, as we had determined that Scott would drive the music with the intention of him singing. So I wanted him to reach in and find what worked for him. Ironically, when Scott played me the song for the first time – it was pretty much the same melody I had been working with – which we were both a bit dumbfounded by.

There were about 40 emails back and forth and about 4 Skype sessions to finesse and complete the song. The chorus stayed much the same from the first version throughout our finessing the lyric together. We decided to eliminate portions of the song that delved too much into the preacher’s story and decidedly simplified and focused on the ride to the gravesite. In the end this served the song better. We spent time discussing the music structure as in “did we really need a bridge or would an instrumental and two lyric lines out to the final chorus do the trick”? I have a producer / engineer that I work with in Toronto (Ted Onyszczak), so it made sense to have Ted produce / engineer the song. With the beauty and convenience of technology, Scott laid down vocal and banjo tracks in Calgary and emailed them to Ted. Ted provided a rough concept, which included proposed instrumentation based on music / mood/ style examples Scott and I had provided him with. With the three of us in agreement on the direction, final tracks were coordinated and recorded. Mark Kelso (drums) having his own studio, provided and emailed tracks and Pat Rush (slide dobro, bass) came into the studio. Mixed and mastered, 3:52 minutes grown out of an inspired collaboration.

Rather an odd irony is the Preacher image I sourced to support the song on my website. Coincidently entitled “Preacher”, the existing image was shot by photographer Steven Ferguson, from Ireland. I was initially informed that there could be a 6-week delay in obtaining the rights to the image due to a requirement to have a signed model release before the agency could release the image. However, only days later I was informed that the shot was available to use, and that a release was not necessary. This, due to the fact that the subject in the image was, recently deceased.

It was a great experience working with Scott and we’re both truly happy with the outcome of this collaboration. Scott’s open demeanor and enthusiasm were key to the success of this song. And so we’re now moving onto our next song collaboration. The song at the middle, we will continue to learn more about each other and perfect our songwriting process. All good.

Click Here to visit Rosanne Baker Thornley‘s Songwriters Profile.
Click Here to visit Scott MacKay‘s Songwriters Profile.

Tips on DIY Music Videos

December 4, 2014

Angela Saini

by Angela Saini

Making music videos has become a necessity for the indie musician. Music is consumed much differently in the online age, and most often people will come across your music first on a platform such as YouTube. Increasingly people are “hearing with their eyes” so you want to make sure there is a visual medium to enjoy your music readily available. That being said, you don’t need to have label-backing or be a big artist with a huge budget in order to make a music video.

I’ve done several music videos, all DIY (do-it-yourself, ie. Without a grant or third party funding) and there are many ways to go about it. As with every aspect of an indie artist’s career, you can start with people that you know who already support you in your craft. Maybe you have a friend who has a camera and/or knows how to use editing software. . I know an artist that shot an entire video by herself on an iPhone: for no cost. If you have the skills or know someone who does, you can do a lot yourself.

Another option is to find people in film school who need to create a film reel or final project. My video for “Stay Here with Me” was done entirely by a small group of people who were doing a final project for a film program. You might find a young director who is hungry for experience, and is willing to do a video for free or a reduced rate. It doesn’t have to be crazy expensive to make a video if you know how to plan and utilize your resources. Regardless of budget, the planning and production of a video is the same general process.

The first major consideration for a video is the director. Who is going to create and execute the “concept” of the video? A director should be the one who presents a “treatment,” which is a general outline of how the video will flow, from start to end. It doesn’t have to be an exact shot list, but should entail how the video is going to start and generally progress, within a concept. A lot to consider in terms of style: Is the singer going to sing to the camera for some shots? Are there actors? What about location? What kind of wardrobe? Is there a live performance scene? Will there be an audience? How many days do you need to shoot? Your costs are going to reflect the duration of filming. The director may charge a per day fee and you might need a crew for lights, additional cameras etc. and you need to feed them. Renting gear might be a reality for your shoot, and that can add up fast; all the more reason to try to utilize your resources and do as much as you can with little or no cost. I have been able to pull strings and get locations to film in for free for all my videos. Start with who you know, and don’t be afraid to go “guerilla-style” in shooting scenes in public spaces. A side note on this: technically you need a permit to film on streets in Toronto, and probably most cities. The moment a tripod hits the pavement you can be asked for one (apparently handheld cameras don’t break the rules.) I am not advocating doing anything illegal, but permits and fines can get expensive so you might want to get creative.

Here is where planning is the most important factor in shooting your video. I have had whole projects fail because of a lack of planning. “Doing it as you go” is going to cost everyone time, money, mental sanity and will probably add days to your shoot. Have a shot list and make sure your director/director of photography knows what is being shot, where, and how long it should take, BEFORE you start. They might make a “Story Board” which will visually show each scene in order, although you might not shoot it in chronological order. Include set up time and meals in your planning, and remember things always take longer than you think! Having extras is always more difficult than you think it will be, at least in numbers. You might love to have a crowd of screaming fans in front, but the day of only 3 people show up. Have a back-up plan for shooting and be flexible when depending on other people, especially if you aren’t hiring professional actors.

My most successful shoots considering time and money have been small scale; maybe a handful of “actors,” and a small film crew, or just me and the Director and that’s it. Making a video doesn’t have to be a huge daunting project that costs you a small fortune. If you have a clear vision and plan everything ahead of time, you will save time and money. Factor in the time it will take to edit the video, and don’t be afraid to ask for a rough cut to make sure you and the editor/director are on the same page. Editing is just as important as shooting, so don’t rush the process just to get it done. I always make sure before I commit to a project that it’s clear that I will be part of the process. Make sure you are proud of your product because you want to share it with the world for years to come. Right?

The sky is the limit. We are creative people and it is exciting that a visual representation of our music is attainable as indie artists. Happy Shooting!

Angela Saini
Singer-Songwriter/Guitarist
angelasaini.com

Click Here Angela’s Songwriters’ Profile.

Here is Angela’s video for her song “U-Turn,” recently featured on the S.A.C. website:

Cultivating a Local Songwriters’ Stage

November 20, 2014
Crowded Coffee Shop

Full house at Trees captured by Marq DeSouza

Cultivating a local stage for songwriters is a great way to build an audience, not just for your own music, but fellow artists in your neighbourhood.  It can make live music accessible to people who might not otherwise seek it out, create networking and collaboration opportunities for local songwriters and boost the business of a local coffee shop or bar.  We interviewed longstanding S.A.C. Member and talented acoustic soul-folk artist John Pippus about building a thriving community and audience in Vancouver at Trees Organic Coffee & Roasting House.  May his answers inspire you to consider building your own stage for local artists to shine.

1. How long have you been hosting Friday nights at Trees (Organic Coffee House) in Vancouver?
I took over managing the music nights from – are you ready – Carly Rae Jepsen back in the spring of 2006. Her other job was working the esspresso machine! Eight and a half years later I’m still there pretty much every Friday night. I book and host the evenings and sometimes I play too. I was booking Dan Mangan, Hannah Georgas, and Wanting Q long before they were on anyone’s radar.

2. What do you look for when booking talent on these evenings? What kind of show do you hope to bring to people?
I look for people I want to listen to, it’s that simple. Usually it’s solo singer/songwriters, but sometimes I have duos, trios and various genres from folk to jazz and beyond. The largest act I’ve booked was a six-piece band with a horn section. That was a little loud, you can’t blow a trumpet softly I’ve learned. Keep in mind, the “stage” is a few square feet in front of the coffee roaster and next to the cheesecake display fridge.

I look for acts that take their talent seriously. That means, at a minimum, they have a web presence. Even if they’ve never performed before or don’t have an album under their belt, they’ve got something recorded and online. Preferably they also have at least one or two live performances posted on Youtube. I can tell within thirty seconds of listening to what they send me if I want to book them.

3. How is performing in a coffee house different from regular bars or larger venues?
Bars, as we all know, tend to be noisy, alcohol-fueled joints where most of the clientele is not there to appreciate the subtleties of the songwriter’s art. Which is fine if you’ve got a foot stomping reel you’re pounding out in the corner and the crowd is singing along. It’s rare to get a hushed room in the larger venues, unless you’re well up the pecking order.

Trees is a listening room, I remind the audience of that at the start of every show. And you can see the whites of their eyes when you’re performing and vice versa. So it’s intimate and on a good night it can be very magical.

4. How has this show become a part of the Vancouver music community?
By being consistently ‘there’ every Friday night. Pay is by donation, split by three acts and the venue holds only 45 or so, so it’s not a large payout. But performers get a listening audience and I don’t make a big deal about getting the acts to bring out their own crowd. I know how hard that can be, especially when you’re performing in your home town ‘yet again’. We treat the performers with respect, we book new acts along with the touring acts, and since Trees is unlicensed, younger performers can come and bring their friends.

5. Are there sound limitations or challenges for a coffee house?
You’ll hear the blast of steam from the espresso machine or the beans being ground from time to time. But I’ve gotten used to it, and I think the audience has too. The smoothie orders can be a bit loud though. The occasional noisy table is told nicely to keep it down, and if that doesn’t work, I’ve been known to get a little testy.

trees6. How have the owners at Trees played a role in building this community?
Doron Levy is the owner and he was very patient, at the outset, in letting the scene build slowly. They also maintain the calendar listings on their website (treescoffee.com) and this past year they’ve started doing a monthly blog feature on one of our performers. The whole staff is supportive; working the Friday night shift is always in demand with the employees.

7. Why are these Friday evenings and events like this important in supporting the songwriting community?
Listening venues are rare. And at Trees we maintain that vibe We’re also small and casual enough that performers just getting launched as performers are made to feel welcome. The sets are only about 35 minutes in length so it’s not like you’ve got to carry an entire evening. Oh, and one more thing, we expect the performers to play original material, with only one or two covers, so that’s the opposite of what some of the bars want. We also have an Open Mic Night on Thursdays that have become very popular. Local singer/songwriter Marq DeSouza hosts those evenings.

8. What suggestions do you have for any singer/songwriters looking to cultivate a similar on-going show in their community?
If you have the right personality for hosting a regular music night then it’s a fantastic way to establish yourself on your local scene. I’ve made many contacts by doing this job. The right personality, I would suggest, includes being reliable, having a sense of humour, and being more or less organized. It really helps that I can play, so when there are last minute cancellations I can fill in. Buy a small P.A. and go talk to a coffee house owner about hosting a weekly music night. I told the owner that I would take on managing the music nights as long as it was fun, and all these years later I can still say that’s what it is.

Click Here to visit John Pippus’ Songwriter Profile.

Your life could be a write-off – Expert advice from a rock’n’roll accountant

November 12, 2014
Creative Commons licensed image by 401(K) 2012.

Creative Commons licensed image by 401(K) 2012.

By Jae Gold

In the songwriting business, “reasonable expectation of profit” can be significantly different from other businesses. The Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA) admits that there’s often a longer ramp-up period before a songwriter starts making a profit. That’s why it’s important for artists to work with an accountant who knows the business.

An experienced entertainment accountant knows how to ensure that your losses are allowed by the CRA year after year until you make a profit, or until you stop trying. But let’s hope you keep trying! Jae Gold (rocknrollaccountant.com) has worked with many of the songwriters you hear on radio, and graciously offers his expertise by answering questions posed by S.A.C. members.

What are the most common mistakes made by artists when filing taxes? Missing filing deadlines; under-reporting income; not claiming allowable expenses; claiming expenses that are too personal in nature to qualify as business deductions; not keeping receipts; and not hiring a professional accountant.

Where do you claim grant revenue when filing taxes? Generally, grant revenue is claimed as income in the year it’s received. However, it does not make sense to claim the grant in the year you receive it if you don’t actually spend the grant money until the following year.

If you receive a forgivable loan from FACTOR, when do you declare it as income? How do you deal with repayments? If a loan is forgiven, the loan becomes income. If you make repayments before taking the loan into income, they’re considered a reduction of the original loan. If you make repayments after the loan has been taken into income, they’re treated as an expense.

Do I pay tax on foreign sales of CDs or downloads? All worldwide sales must be reported on your tax return.

What rate of HST do I charge a Canadian purchaser versus a purchaser outside Canada? The rate for Canadian purchases is the rate deter- mined by the purchaser’s mailing-address province. (Consult the CRA website for rates.) No HST is charged for out-of-country purchases.

An independent songwriter sells a CD for $15. What taxes should be paid? The $15 is reported on your tax return, along with all self-em- ployed income. For sales in Canada, you also collect GST/HST on behalf of the government.

When should an artist get an HST number? After your sales total more than $30,000, registration is mandatory. All songwriters should register for the GST/HST system right away because SOCAN collects the tax on their behalf on all royalties. All SOCAN royalties are GST/HST “taxes paid” by the time the songwriter gets the royalty cheque. Therefore every GST/HST return filed by a songwriter typically results in a refund of all the taxes paid on their business purchases.

Do artists need to pay tax on earnings from playing abroad? All Canadian residents must report income no matter where in the world it’s earned. International tax treaties help ensure that taxes you pay abroad are credited on your Canadian tax return. (Seek accounting advice before touring the US in order to obtain the correct tax ID numbers. Unless each individual Canadian in the tour files a Central Withholding Agreement with the IRS, the payer must withhold 30% tax.)

How does an artist prove CD sales from live shows? Keep accurate records. All income needs to be reported.

I had my deductions refused by the CRA. What should I do?  Hire an accountant to determine if the CRA made an error. If so, the accountant will set in motion a Notice of Objection. The case will be as- signed to an appeals officer.

When should I consider incorporating? By incorporating, you can benefit from a lower rate of tax (about 16% on the first $500,000 of profit). A general rule of thumb would be to incorporate when you’re making more money than you need to live on.

D. Jae Gold is a Chartered Accountant & Certified Fraud Examiner with principally entertainment/cultural industry clients. www.rocknrollaccountant.com

Reprinted from a previous edition of Songwriters Magazine.

In the spirit of collaboration – A story from the S.A.C. Songwriting/Blogging Challenge 2014

October 16, 2014

Rosanneby Rosanne Baker Thornley

Every song is a journey. At the middle of which is a compelling statement, an engaging story, an emotion. It’s your perception, your belief, what you struggle with, or towards, it’s your aspirations – set to a melody. And whether the song reveals your deepest corners or is a story captured and told through your eyes – whether it’s your song to sing or for someone else to sing – at the heart of the song, is you.

I began songwriting at the age of 8. Embedded in the folk scene at 14, I crossed the ocean at 16 to perform in Europe, spent many years as lead singer and songwriter / co-writer with various rock bands touring North America and then went on my own, focused on writing and releasing my album. I’ve written an extensive catalogue of songs over ‘a few’ decades – and through the years I have struggled with and established a personal relationship and process with my songwriting.

In February I received an SAC email about the 2014 Songwriting & Blogging Challenge hosted by Christopher Ward. Six songs in six weeks. A new song written each week based on Chris’s suggested approaches with decipherable versions to be uploaded by the end
of each week for critique and comment by the participating writers. More so than usual, I was a live wire – every image, thought or conversation guised as a song. The regimented writing with a deadline was intense, but once my brain shifted gears, I ramped up, held on, and wrote and wrote and wrote as songs came to me. And while many participants fell to the wayside exhausted, overwhelmed or, just simply short on time – those who hung in were the better for it.

I listened to what was almost a hundred writers at the beginning of the challenge and
was exposed to all levels and experience of songwriting. The final weeks’ challenge – to collaborate with another writer in the group. Although I’m no stranger to co-writing, I have become pretty entrenched in my solitary writing ‘space’. So collaborating with someone
I didn’t know and anticipating that it was likely going to take place over Skype, I thought was going to be completely out of my comfort zone. However, determined to successfully complete the challenge, I reached out to singer/songwriter North Easton from Ottawa.
I had been quite intrigued with North’s talent, his level of writing and the songs he had been posting throughout the challenge. I also very much admired the intensity, emotion and tone in his voice. Genuinely talented. Well, I thought, this ‘might’ work.

And so, the challenge was on. One song in one week with very little time to spend –
North and I were literally thrown together with our individual styles, rhyming patterns
and thoughts on how to convey an idea into virtual space. Initially emailing North a list
of possible song concepts, we both agreed that a photography exhibit I had come across by Boston, Massachusetts photographer Trent Bell was of interest. Bell had created a series of powerful portrait images that showed what a group of prison inmates would tell their past selves if they could turn back the hands of time. Each inmate was asked to pen a letter to

their past selves. Bell then took their portraits and edited their letters into the background, serving as powerful testaments to their regrets, their mistakes and their new-found wisdom. I was truly inspired by this body of work, as was North.

Now … North works on an ongoing basis with writers of all levels who look to him for his songwriting experience, expertise and guidance. He too has amassed a considerable catalogue of songs over his career and of course established his own methodology for writing songs. After our initial conversation on Skype about our ideas and intention for the song, we both set off on our own to write. Feeling confident in North’s ability to drive the music, I focused my energy on building the story and lyric. Reading and rereading the prisoners letters, I felt their angst as I emotionally transported myself into the cold dark cell to sit on the cot and stare out the window. Meanwhile, North, excited with the potential in the song, quickly grabbed his guitar, climbed into his studio and sent me back an almost completed song – excited and confident that he had captured the ideas we had discussed. However, I had also written a lyric that I felt was strong and I was pretty sure that my lyric better captured what we needed to portray. Feeling rather awkward, but at the same time not willing to settle for less than what I thought the song could be, I hesitantly responded to North’s email with “Hey North … um … I like the first line in the pre-chorus”.

“This is not going to be easy” – a sentiment shared by us both. In fact, after our 2nd Skype session, with me standing my ground and North his – I was pretty sure I was going to end
up writing my collaborative song all by myself. Clearly he was inflexible and this wasn’t going to work. And North, well, he was thinking pretty much the same thing about me. However, with the song at the center, we started talking and, listening to each other. In opening up, we both agreed that my lyric served the song better. Time ticking, we battled back and forth while we worked nose-to-nose, each of us bringing the strength of our writing styles to the table. Our mantra “in the spirit of collaboration” was repeatedly mentioned (muttered) to underline changes we wanted, or would agree to. And finally, barriers down, we experienced the magic, the rush, the pure energy of the song unfolding and taking on its own life. Each line, each note, getting stronger as we analyzed it – together.

“Turn”, is a song with passion and purpose. A song we both agree is some of the best work either of us have ever written. In fact, I sent it to the photographer with a note about the songwriting challenge, letting him know how far his reach had been with his “Reflect” project. His reply to hearing the song “I have not words. I could only cry as I listened”. Trent has since informed us of his plan to create a documentary around the “Reflect” project and has asked to use “Turn” in his soundtrack.

If not for the SAC Challenge, and leveraging the technology of Skype, this collaboration would never have happened. It was truly an insightful and rewarding experience working with North. And as fate would have it – we continue to work together with focused intention and scheduled writing sessions. There’s an underlying magic in what North and I have working together – I’ve been writing long enough to recognize it when I see it. And although we continue to be two alphas in a virtual room – most importantly, we greatly value what each of us brings to a song. And because of that, we’re smiling more.

Have a listen to the song:

Protecting your Creative Voice: Tools to staying focused, motivated and optimistic while creating.

October 9, 2014
Image by John Liu courtesy of Creative Commons licence.

Image by John Liu courtesy of Creative Commons licence.

by Gail Packwood

One of the challenges of a career in the creative arts is that there’s no right or wrong. There’s no definitive road map or method of determining success. Keep this in mind on days when creating feels more difficult than others, when the inner critic is loud and persistently gnawing away at your self-esteem. The songwriter’s creative voice is just as important to nurture and support as is the physical voice. It takes the same focus, time and commitment.

Check your physicality

A singer would not consider performing without a vocal warm-up. The physical and mental demands of performing are similar to those
of a songwriter’s off-stage creative period. It’s therefore important to regularly ‘check in’ with yourself. How do you feel physically? If you don’t ask yourself this question, you may overlook something that’s inhibiting your work simply because you haven’t acknowledged it. Physical aches can affect concentration as much as loud noises can distract you. Take a moment to stop and just breathe before turning back to your work. Have you created a physical environment that enhances your creative process?

Visualize, declutter and breathe

Visualization is one way to help manage thoughts and emotions. It can help calm you, and declutter the to-do lists and the life pressures that interrupt the creative process. For the brain, imagining something and actually doing it have the same positive effect. By taking a moment to pause, breathe and mentally take yourself through your next creative steps, you can receive the same mental benefits as you do from actually completing the task. This should help you feel more focused and confi- dent. Taking a walk can have an equally positive effect by removing your- self from the work at hand but not spending that time ‘doing’ something else.

Be kind to yourself

We are all our own worst critic. Silencing negative inner-voices is a key step in maintaining healthy creativity. A slight change in how we ac- knowledge an event can make a huge difference. Recognize and replace self-defeating thoughts by analyzing how the event made you feel. What was your initial response? What would be the reasonable response (imagining that it involved someone else and not yourself )? Give your- self the same kindness that you’d give others. You’re worth it!

Gail Packwood was previously the Executive Director of the Artists’ Health Centre Foundation (ahcf.ca).

Originally published in the 2011/12 edition of Songwriters Magazine.

Need some funding? The lowdown on applying for a grant.

October 2, 2014
by

Based on interview with President of FACTOR, Duncan McKie.

FACTORYou’ve written a great song that you’re ready to share with the world. For many songwriters, the next step is to record a demo or album. This could mean getting a second job and/or applying for funding from FACTOR, the Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recordings. We chatted with FACTOR president Duncan McKie, who shared a few tips and in- sights. Good luck on your next application!

Pick up the phone
Many people are intimidated by FACTOR and reluctant to seek help. A team at FACTOR is specifically devoted to helping artists get their appli- cations ready. A quick phone call can get you an answer in minutes. You can contact FACTOR at 416-696-2215 or 1-877-696-2215.

Treat your craft as a business
FACTOR was originally created to help artists get their songs played on radio. Commercial viability is therefore a key factor. The foundation is mandated to support people who aspire to commercialize their work. FACTOR recognizes that you can still have a great career without neces- sarily scoring a big hit. Even regional success requires a solid strategy. Success with FACTOR is not based solely on good material. Organize yourself like a business. This will serve your application.

Keep trying
As you’ll see from the chart below (from the 2010-11 Annual Report), competition is high. These statistics may seem daunting, but feedback is always provided to help applicants make improvements for subsequent applications. Many who succeed have already been rejected several times in the past.

Program                                                                         Submissions              Approvals
Artist Demo Grant                                                                661                             177 (27%)
Juried Sound Recording: Independent Loan                 477                              39 (8%)
Juried Sound Recording: FACTOR Loan                       203                              37 (18%)

Get professional help
The application process might make you feel as if you need to go into therapy. Don’t despair. Engaging an application specialist can sometimes help if you encounter continual rejection. Outside input is an option worth exploring.

Form or join a team
Some artists work with a label management company or a manager to put their application together. Working with a team reflects a business approach to your career. It represents a level of validation and also in- creases the creativity and resources you can tap into.

Work with a FACTOR-approved label
There are many companies associated with FACTOR who have better ac- cess to FACTOR loans by virtue of their success in the industry. They can bypass the jury process because of their track record. These companies include labels and publishers.

Work with what you’ve got
Many artists ask “How good must my demo be?” There’s no black and white answer. The jury is comprised of professionals who are aware that artists have financial limitations and that the best talent is not always the best-equipped. Talent will shine through. The jury tries to evaluate fair- ly. On the other hand, as technology and production tools become more accessible, the quality of demos is also on the rise. Your submission will undoubtedly be played alongside some high quality demos, which you should bear in mind. Applying to FACTOR is a learning process unto it- self. Better to start wherever you are and keep improving it as you move forward, with or without funding approval. You can always try again!

Reprinted from Songwriters Magazine 2011

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