Robert Graham’s “Storm in a Teacup” is an eclectic album that not only reflects his vast musical tastes and experiences, but also the cries of his heart. He has some great insight on the mindset needed to enter contests, as he has entered his fair share and recently garnered an honourable mention in the 2010 Billboard World Song Contest, and was a semi finalist in the Dallas Songwriters Association Songwriting Contest. Based in Brockville, Robert has made great strides in getting his music “out there.”
We can hear in this interview that Robert makes an effort to strike the difficult balance between life, music and survival. Amidst it all, he reminds fellow songwriters that, “releasing your music is supposed to make you feel happy!”
1. Congratulations on receiving an honourable mention in the 2010 Billboard World Song Contest for your song, “Living in a Coma.”. What is the story and inspiration behind this song? Lyrically the song was inspired by listening to the song “High” by The Blue Nile which contains the lines” “Look at the morning people – going to work and fading away…” It got me thinking about all the people out there (myself included to some extent) who have all this amazing potential in them which is being squashed by having to front up to work everyday and work for the man. It’s a bleak topic I know but it is kind of a like the big elephant in the room in todays society in my opinion.
Why are people unhappy and unfulfilled? What could we achieve as individuals if we had the time and financial freedom to follow our own creative path? I wrote the lyrics on the Wolfe Island ferry coming home across Lake Ontario on a dark night!
Musically it is a cross between Gary Numan, Coldpplay, the Cars and the Cure???!!!!I don’t know – people hear a lot of different influences in there. The bridge is probably my favourite part of the entire record.
2. You were also a semi finalist in the Dallas Songwriters Association Songwriting Competition with the track, “Don’t Go.” This song is very different from “Living in a Coma.” How did you come to create music that spans such a wide range in terms of genre. Not sure how to answer that. I listen to lots of different types of music and also play lots of different types of music. I support myself and my family by playing the piano, and singing. So I do that in a lot of different contexts – as an accompanist, music director, vocal coach, and performer. I perform in bars and churches and nursing homes and everything in between.
No two songs on “Storm in a Teacup” sound the same. I don’t know if that is good or bad but that is how the songs come out of me. I listened to the radio constantly from the late 70s until about the mid to late 80’s. And semi-constantly after that. And I tried to play all those songs on the piano and sing them. There was a lot of musical variety in those two decades. When people here my music they all say different things: “Oh, that reminded me of Wings, or maybe ELO, or David Bowie or Joe Jackson” To me that is a compliment. I don’t mind being compared to great artists and bands like that. And the fact that everyone hears different influences in there is something I am happy about because I love those bands.
3. How do you decide which contests to submit for? What is the process for submitting (i.e. do you use an EPK, Sonicbids, or do you mail in your material) Usually I submit through Sonicbids – it is very easy once you sign up for account. I don’t enter all of them – it depends on my finances. I see it is another way to have my music heard. I would love to enter them all but I would be in the poor house!
4. Any tips for fellow songwriters on contests in general? Get ready for lots of “thanks but no thanks” letters. Or silence. But it’s kind of like the lottery – you don’t win if you don’t enter. Only the odds are a lot better than the lottery. If you have faith in your songs than go for it! Of course if you can find contests that are suited to your style of music than that is even better. Maybe peruse the list of judges first if you can. You don’t want to submit your punk song if Kenny G is the main judge for example!
Having said that I have never won a songwriting contest. But the success I HAVE gotten is extremely rewarding to me and makes me think my songs are worth all this effort. If you feel the same way about YOUR songs than I would enter for sure.
5. How did you land your song, “In Love with a Girl” in the play “The Dating Scheme” at the Kings Playhouse in Georgetown PEI this past summer? My good friend Jonah Anderson wrote that play and also acted in it. He is a playwright and actor from PEI who I used to vocal coach. Very talented writer and a funny guy – lots of good ideas. And very supportive of my music – which I am grateful for.
6. After visiting your website, www.robertgraham.org, it is apparent that you are multitalented and very busy. You have also landed a wide variety of media coverage for yourself. How much time a week do you devote to marketing and promotion? Not a lot. I would love to do more and I would love to have other people to help me. I am sure this is a dilemma a lot of performers/songwriters face. I have a part-time job as a vocal coach/accompanist during the fall and winter and I work as a music director in the summer. I also have a young family.
Having said that I do what I can. What is encouraging to me is that I usually get a good response to my music when people actually take the time to listen to it. I dind’t find it too hard to get the album reviewed or to get some radio airplay. Of course Rolling Stone hasn’t reviewed it yet but I didn’t start there – I started locally. I get lots of rejections (or even worse – total silence) like everyone else but every so often something nice happens – a review, or a contest placement, or a radio interview, and it makes me think “keep going this is worth it!”
7. Any tips on media relations and promotions for those who are about to release a CD? It feels weird offering advice because I am in need of advice myself! This is my first album and it has only been out for a relatively short time. It is one of the reasons I joined SAC! But here is my advice off the top of my head:
Start local. Get the local rag to review it. But also – be brave and freaky! Send it to Rolling Stone! You never know. Having people to help you promote your music is a big help if you can swing it. Find out which magazines/radio stations/blogs etc like your style of music and make sure they get it.
I think a lot of musicians feel frustrated when the world doesn’t pound a path to their door once they release their music. It is still very hard to have your music heard and appreciated by lots of people despite the so called “open-playing field” created by the internet etc. I struggle with this myself. I try to remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Celebrate every little positive thing that happens. It is easy to bemoan the negative things but you have already achieved something by just releasing the record right? Remember that releasing your music is supposed to make you feel happy!
8. What would you like to see happen with “Storm in a Teacup”? I would like it to become the number one selling album of all time! Or even the 3476th best selling album of all time!
Seriously I just want people to hear it and give it a chance. I think they will like it if they do. I don’t care if they play it on their iPod and really dig or spin it on their radio station or use it in their film, or give it to their famous client to sing one of the songs instead! Just listen to it and I will be happy.
Releasing “Storm in a Teacup” is a life-long dream. How many people achieve their life long dreams? I have confidence in my songs and I am hopeful I can expand on the little successes I have had already. But regardless of what happens I achieved something of which I am very proud. That sustains me.