Leslie Alexander births “Nobody’s Baby”

"Nobody's Baby" to be released April 14th, 2011.

“Even Dylan would love this,” said View Magazine about music from Leslie Alexander. Her songs weave engaging stories with catchy melodies.  Since leaving a sheep farm in Edmonton to busk on a street corner, Leslie hasn’t stopped the pursuit of her passion which has brought her to festivals and concerts across North America, even opening for Jane Siberry.   Along the way, she has released 3 independent CDs and is getting ready to follow-up with her fourth, “Nobody’s Baby.”  In addition, she has garnered international airplay, honourable mentions from ISC and Billboard Song Competitions, as well as cuts with other aritsts and licenses for film and television.

Leslie Alexander is our newest featured member and she graciously took time to talk about her muse and her upcoming album.

1. What has been the most significant source of inspiration for your songwriting over the years? Whatever helps me to grow as a human being helps me to develop as a songwriter. As they say, it’s all grist for the mill.

2.  What has been the most difficult song to write? The most difficult song to write is always the next one. It’s difficult because I want it to be better than the last one. I persevere because sometimes it is.

3.  Please tell us about your upcoming album…how is it different from your past CDs both in terms of songwriting and production?
My other records were all finished within three months, and a lot of forethought and planning went into them. Each one was written around a theme, and the songs chosen to reflect that theme. “Nobody’s Baby” took a couple of years.  The songs were put down pretty much as they were written, and left to percolate until another session transpired. The subject matter of the record as a whole emerged as the songs revealed themselves. The title track was the last song of the record, and it was written and recorded in the same day.

In the past, my records were mostly comments on life in general. I don’t record a lot of songs about my personal life or feelings. “Nobody’s Baby” is probably my most autobiographical record yet.

4.  What songwriter influenced you the most in your growth as an artist, and which song speaks to this influence the most? Producer John Ellis has influenced me the most by challenging me consistently. I remember when I used to think everything that flowed from my pen was golden. What a shock to discover I had room for improvement! He has gently but firmly insisted that I bring forth my best every time we go to the table with a new song. Even when I think a song is finished, he often finds one small detail that needs work, often making the difference between a good song and a much better one. Like all my recordings, the song “Nobody’s Baby” has John’s influence all over it. He was kind enough to warn me against sounding like a victim in the lyrics. I hope I succeeded!

5.  What tools do you use when you write songs? Whatever’s handy – the piano, banjo, or kazoo. The newspaper, my Zoom recorder, an eyebrow pencil. A really great drama is always helpful, perhaps a disaster of some sort, but hopefully with some redeeming chorus in there for AM radio. When something major happens in my life, I somehow work through it by writing songs about it. The songs help me understand what I feel.

6.  If you had the chance to talk to a young girl growing up on a sheep farm about pursuing her dreams of music, as you have done, what would you say? I’d tell her to “Climb every mountain and ford every sea. Follow every rainbow, until you find your dream.” That’s what I was told. Honestly, I can’t imagine a more challenging and fulfilling path to follow than music.

7.  Was there a point in your career when you realized, “Wow, I’m really doing this!”? I feel like that every time I get the sense that I’m connecting with someone musically, whether it’s another musician or a listener. There’s nothing like the sense of connection music can provide, and along with that feeling you describe is also a sense of humble gratitude that I’m allowed to participate.

8.  What was it like working with Jane Siberry?  How did this partnership happen? Working with Jane Siberry was like a pajama party on a magic carpet ride. I was extremely lucky to have the opportunity. I was an avid fan long before I met her. She came to record at my home studio Nashcroft Manor for three months and in that time we became good friends. Once I had the chance to watch her operate at close range, I learned a lot about integrity, professionalism, and commitment. Her dedication to her art is an awesome thing to behold. When she invited me to tour across North America with her last year, I knew it was the opportunity of a lifetime. I’ll be publishing “On Tour With the Queen” on my site soon, which recently appeared in BC Musician Magazine. The title pretty much sums up the way I feel about Jane. Long live the Queen!

9.  Where would you like to be 1 year from now? These days I’ve been touring with Jenny Allen as one half of “Allen & Alexander.” By this time next year, we want to be down at SXSW and the Folk Alliance making things happen, touring the States and the UK, and possibly recording together. The bigger picture? Continuing to make my living from music and art, living healthily and happily.

Click here to hear tunes and read her bio.
Click here to find out about her upcoming tour.


Get Out of Your Bubble to Co-Write!

by  Scott Honsberger

Most songwriters that you meet are extremely passionate about their craft.  So passionate, in fact, that it can sometimes lead to working entirely in a bubble, so as to ensure that nothing “gets in the way” of their art. The irony, of course, is that sometimes that bubble is the exact thing that DOES get in the way of their creative development.

Musicians frequently ask me about how to get better as a songwriter, and one of the first things I suggest is co-writing.  This can be a scary thing to some, primarily because it’s not always clear what co-writing entails.

Essentially, co-writing is getting together with another songwriter to write songs.  Sometimes, these sessions have a specific purpose, like writing a song for an album, contest, or TV placement.  There are professional songwriters (a plethora of them living in LA & Nashville) whose job it is to simply crank out music for a wide array of reasons like those just mentioned. 

However, co-writing for a specific purpose is just one part of the equation.  Sure, if you need help fine-tuning that last track of your record, bringing in a co-writer makes sense. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t set up regular co-writing sessions ‘just because.’ It’s often these sessions that lead to the most creative development, and sometimes, a great song just happens (who hasn’t heard THAT story told from a stage?).

So what do these sessions look like? Well, it can be anything you want them to be, but my biggest bit of advice would be to keep it casual. Make your sessions more about spending time with others doing what you love to do, rather than about cranking out hits or whatnot, and good things will happen.

Of course, one of the not so fun, but essential, conversations that has to take place before you co-write is discussing song-splits.  If, by chance, you do write a song that sees commercial success, how will you split up the credit/royalties? 50/50? 75/25, depending on who played the first riff? Another way? Clear this up on paper before you start, so you’ll be able to relax and let the creative juices flow.

Lastly, don’t forget about the promotional benefits of co-writing.  If you do write a song that you deem to be performance or recording worthy, you’ll be able to cross-promote with your partner at shows, on your CD, via social networking sites, etc.

Co-writing is an essential part of creative growth.  Get out there, meet other songwriters, and write! You’ll be contributing to the community, growing as an artist, and who knows? Maybe you’ll even meet your Garfunkel, Oates, or McCartney.


Scott Honsberger is the founder of Your Band’s Best Friend, which offers education, information, and insight on the music industry in a one-on-one consultation setting.

Has Digital Killed the CD Star?

One of many piles of CDs by my desk. Will these become archaeological relics?

Two weeks ago Toronto was THE HUB for musical activity. Every year, Canadian Music Week brings together industry people from across Canada and around the world to talk business and make music.  I had the privilege of attending both as a singer/songwriter and as the Songwriters Association of Canada resident blogger.  Much of the discussion centred around the changing habits of music consumers and the tools and strategies necessary for artists to evolve and survive.  I will spend the next few weeks sharing bits and pieces of what I learned.  Feel free to add to what is shared below.

I don’t think there were any conversations that did not include the word “digital.”  For the past few years, many have lauded the digital age first brought to the forefront by Napster, as the cause of the demise of the industry.  The statistics presented by Mark Mulligan of Forrester Research support the fact that CDs are no longer part of the experience of up and coming generations.  While those who are 25+ continue to buy CDs and listen to radio, 16-24 years (described as the Transitional Generation) have grown up on iTunes and BitTorrent.  Meanwhile, the youngest consumers have never had an analogue or CD experience.  Described as “Digital Natives,” this generation has grown up on mobile and YouTube consumption.

Mulligan pointed out that too much marketing has been aimed at the transitional generation, while consumer demand is rapidly moving on.  Rather than buying music and listening to it, the experience of music is now more important than the physical product.  People want to watch, share, connect and experience.  The implications of these changing habits is huge, and the challenge for artists (including songwriters like myself) is to re-strategize how we approach sharing and building a viable business plan based on new trends.

Mulligan wrapped things up with the following acronym, which will hopefully SPARK your creativity as you plan the next steps of your creative career.

S = Social
P=  Participative
A= Accesible
R= Relevant
C = Connective

Stay tuned for further highlights.

Magician’s Rule #2 for Songwriters

Rabbit in hatby Douglas Romanow, Producer/Engineer

Most people know that a magician’s Rule Number One is, “Never tell the secret,” but did you know what Rule Number Two is?  Never perform the same trick twice for the same audience. This rule exists because, the second time around, the audience will no longer be  engaged by the magician’s patter and will be watching for the secret.  If the magician loses the element of surprise, he/she is unable to produce the “magic.”   Think about it.  If you’ve seen the magician pull a rabbit from her hat, the next time she presents her top hat, will you be looking in the hat?  No, you’ll be looking everywhere BUT her hat to figure out how she gets the rabbit in there.In my role as a producer, I look for a number of ways for songs to deliver  satisfaction and surprise.  The groove needs to FEEL good.  The music needs to SOUND good.  The instrumental elements should BALANCE themselves in their interchanges throughout a song’s trajectory.  But melodically, structurally, and thematically, I increasingly look to be SURPRISED.  We know that audiences are interested in being moved, but we must recognize that they have been over-saturated with songs.  To move listeners, you need to satisfy their desire for feel/sound/balance/comfort, but also provide enough unexpected content to keep them engaged.Thematically, songs that surprise us are not easy to find.  Here are a few songs I feel have surprising plot lines and developments:

  • Viva La Vida:  Coldplay (for it’s non-traditional theme)
  • The Walrus:  The Beatles (for its sheer innovation)
  • Umbrella: Rihanna (for its playful wording)

Each of these songs is successful partially because it delights and entertains [satisfies] and stands out as a unique and memorable work.   Each contains the element of surprise. As a writer, how do you arrive at surprise? What are your processes for interrupting your patterns in your writing? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Read lyrics and poetry.
  • Read widely, not only in your own song-writing genre.
  • Co-write with new writers
  • Write with a specific artist in mind
  • Play games:  Decide on a specific and complex rhyme scheme before you start writing,  decide to use alliteration instead of a rhyme scheme, decide to use metaphors or hyperbole or any poetic device that you don’t ordinarily use.
  • Write in a different setting or with a different instrument—this might be gimmicky but it could shake you out of your patterns.
  • Take a meaningful family story and turn it into a narrative song.
  • Take your drafts of two songs that are not working well and combine them into one song.  See what happens.

Let’s “Make the Box Bigger” with File Sharing

Millions of music lovers have been “coloring outside the box” for years now in the form of music file-sharing using P2P and other similar methods. The SAC’s solution? Make the box bigger!

By licensing people who want to access music using P2P and other sharing technologies, we bring this massive new use of music into the fold. The revenues would be pooled and performers, songwriters and rights-holders would be paid for their work.

Folks who don’t want to music file-share would pay nothing. That’s one of the key differences between a license fee which the SAC supports, and a tax or levy, which the SAC does not.

Making the box bigger means expanding our idea of what are legitimate ways to acquire music. After all, people are going to use new technologies to access music. Trying to stop them, as some have done for the last 10 years and some continue to try, doesn’t make much sense.

So let’s embrace change. After all, it’s here, and more is on the way.

Eddie Schwartz

The Big C and the Muse

Larry Wayne Clark was recently featured in one of our Songwriters Magazine (Fall 2009) as a Canadian songwriter who has thrived in Nashville, garnering many cuts and building a rich community there.   Early last year, his life changed with a diagnosis that is best described in his words.  Read further to find out how Larry’s muse has prevailed.

by Larry Wayne Clark

In February, 2010, a couple of weeks after my 60th birthday, I went for my first-ever colonoscopy and learned that I had colon cancer. I clearly remember hearing those words—the kind of words that ring ominously in our darkest imaginings—and wondering why I wasn’t more shocked. Probably because the Nashville doctor made the announcement in such a casual, almost chummy manner that it somehow did not press the panic button. Probably, too, because I had a strong suspicion something was very wrong. I had lost a lot of weight and my digestive system was behaving in unfamiliar ways.

Anyway, there it was. Cancer. Quite operable from the look of it, I was assured, but cancer nonetheless. Clearly my life, and that of my wife Maggie, would be forever changed. We had lived in Music City, with quite frequent jaunts back to Canada, for 15 years. We own a house there. My life was a constant shuffle of co-writing appointments and producing demos. Maggie worked at pitching and administering our catalogue. Songs had ruled our lives, but no more. The first order of business was to get out of the States, fast. We had no American health insurance and that was terrifying.

First we drove to Barrie, Ontario where I have relatives. My cousin got me in to see her family doctor who referred me for a CT scan. Now the news worsened: there was cancer in my lungs and liver. Surgery was no longer an option. Chemotherapy was recommended to “buy me some more time.” I was told that my life expectancy might be anything from six months to two years. This time the words I was hearing engulfed me in a chilling wave.

I thought about how I wanted to spend what time I had left. Though it seemed odd in a way, New Brunswick beckoned loudest. Both my parents were born in Saint John, and I had lived there as a young child for a couple of years before we relocated to Montreal. Generations of my forebears rest in the city’s graveyards. Many of my youthful summers were spent in Saint John. I enjoyed the constant proximity of water, the greenness, the quaint Maritime buildings and, especially, the good humour and unbounded friendliness of the people. No matter where I lived through the years I was warmed by those memories, and now I wanted to experience the East Coast again. I knew little of the New Brunswick music scene but that was the least of my concerns.

I spoke to my cousin Nancy, a retired nurse with whom I’d stayed in touch over the years, and a person of vast generousity. In the past she’d extended several invitations to Maggie and me to come and stay at her Quispamsis home, only sporadically occupied because Nancy and her husband Jim winter in Florida and spend much of their summers at their camp. I explained my situation and my desire to be in New Brunswick. Nancy said she would have a bedroom ready whenever we arrived.

We put our Nashville home up for rent, packed what little we had in our ’98 Plymouth Breeze, along with our baffled 16-year-old cat Cleo, and made the trek from Barrie to Quispamis (just outside of Saint John), feeling like a couple of hard luck refugees.

And here we are today, almost a year later. But something strange has happened over the intervening months: I got better. I don’t mean I’m cured, far from it, but I’m better. I’m back at a sensible weight, my energy and attitude are good, and my CT scans are showing improvement. Best of all, I’m surrounded by family and new friends and, in contrast to the long weeks of musical indifference that followed my diagnosis, I’m feeling like a songwriter again. Little wonder. A benefit auction and concert—Nashville Sings For Larry Wayne Clark—was held last June in a Nashville bar. Maggie and I sat there in amazement as almost 20 singer-songwriters performed songs we’ve written together. An appreciable sum of money was raised but the greatest gift shared was an emotional one that will never be forgotten. Every songwriter should experience the dizzy joy of hearing a parade of talented singers (among them Canadians Lisa Brokop, Adam Gegory and Andrea Pearson) singing their songs and praises. If ever I’ve had doubts about the wisdom of my chosen profession, they ended that night.

Meanwhile I’ve met tremendously talented people here on the East Coast. I’m co-writing, doing some song coaching and production—even some Nashville-based co-production, thanks to Skype. We continue to pitch our songs in Canada and the U.S. MP3s, the Internet and Skype have created a brave new world where distance seems not to matter. We continue to get the odd cut, and our Jaydee Bixby single “Dream Bigger” is doing well at radio and download sites as I type this. Recently Maggie and I hosted a publishing seminar under the auspices of Music New Brunswick, which we joined last year. Our many years in the industry, heightened by the “romance” of 15 years spent in the trenches of Music City, make us somewhat exotic birds here and people seem eager to tap into our knowledge and experience. I even played a writers’ night not long ago, flanked by some of my new co-writers. Life—so grim-looking less than a year ago—is good.

I’ve been asked whether my diagnosis has altered my writing. I don’t think it has in any obvious way. I’ve never been a confessional-style writer with every lyric like a page torn from my personal diary. Being a non-performer with a penchant for production, I tend to write songs for other people to sing. Like many veteran songwriters, I spend a lot of time co-writing with young singer-songwriters, some of them in their teens. I’ve always found this to be an exhilarating process—during the session I feel as young and vital as the person sitting across from me, but my ability to delve deep into the architecture of a song could only be a product of long years. As far as subject matter goes, like most songwriters I’ve always been drawn to the Big Issues—life and death, love and loss, jubilation and despair. These are the things that a song can underscore brilliantly. I believe that everything we write, even if we wrap ourselves in the skin of another character, reveals our innermost selves. Sometimes we have to wait to “grow into” the fullness of themes we’ve long explored authorially.

I wake up every day with a great curiousity to see what lies ahead. As is my habit, I often have my acoustic guitar in hand before I’ve sipped my first coffee, anxious to read the musical barometer of the day. Lyrics lie about everywhere. Friends—in Nashville, B.C., Ontario, Alberta, and right here in New Brunswick—continue to astonish me with their outpourings of love and well wishes. Music has introduced me to a host of wonderful human beings who pray daily for my recovery. Maggie is, as always, my rock. I live with the daily hope of writing the perfect song.

Life, pardon my repeating myself, is good.

Getting Paid and Getting Protected as a Songwriter

I recently attended the Registering Your Music – Copyrights & Royalties Information Session” in Edmonton and Calgary and met up with Singer/ songwriter Erica Viegas, who I had previously met at the CCMAs last year.   Here is her take on the evening’s discussions. (Don Quarles)

On March 1st, 2011, the Alberta Music Industry Association treated its Edmonton members to a session on Copyrights & Royalties lead by Wayne Saunders, Industry Relations Executive of SOCAN (Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada), and Don Quarles, Executive Director of the Songwriters Association of Canada.

While most of the musicians in the crowd were already members of SOCAN, the evening proved to be a great information piece, and introduction for many on the benefits provided by the SAC.

Once you put music to lyrics, you are a songwriter…whether you play an instrument or record a rough vocal line into your phone. As a songwriter, protecting your creation, and getting proper compensation for your art is important. Don told the story of an artist who finished a gig at a club and was asked to pay the bill for the food he ate that night. The artist retaliated that he wouldn’t pay anything until he was compensated for his music, which spurred on the movement to support songwriters in getting due royalties for their work.

While most independent artists would struggle to pay their bills through radio royalties, the majority of our efforts lie in live performances.  Many are unaware that we can claim performance royalties through SOCAN for every live show we do at a licensed facility. Membership to SOCAN is free, and a minimum of $100 in royalties is given out for every show with tickets over $6 each. Make sure to keep your posters or proofs of performance and fill your royalty forms out online. You could be missing out on some extra funding available to you. Wayne’s advice was to submit for all the shows that you play and let SOCAN investigate the venue for licensing on your behalf in order to keep the relationships you have in these venues as strong as possible.  The same goes for performances on television or radio, as stations do not always send in their cue sheets.

What about making sure your music is copyrighted? Technically the minute you have a record of something, written or recorded, the piece is yours. To make things more official, most of us have been mailing the song to ourselves through dated registered mail and not opening it.  However, Don advised against this technique and using online vaults, as both may have troubles standing up in court. The SAC has a Song Vault service, which seals and copyrights your songs with a barcode and proof of registration certificate. While SAC membership runs at about $60 a year, it also includes opportunities for song assessment by industry professionals, chances to pitch your music to Film/ TV, an online member community, regional writer groups, workshops, and more. Looking for ways to provide the most service to their members, the SAC does their best to find ways to compensate you for creating your songs.

Though every musician has their career struggles and triumphs, it’s always good to be reminded that there are agencies passionate about helping us along our way!

Erica Viegas, a singer/songwriter from Edmonton, AB, released her first EP, Where My Heart Goes, last year. She has been performing at festivals, theatres, and venues across western Canada and continues to enjoy the feeling of connection that comes from sharing her music. www.ericaviegas.com