Living and Dying Through the Act of Creation

Sora

by:  Sora

Creation is an act of continual death and rebirth.  Songwriters are quick to talk about the spark, that effervescent moment of inspiration but I think we are sometimes negligent in our recognition of the importance of dissolution and decay within the processes of art.   The idea, that’s the easy part, and though ideas often feel as though they alight upon us unexpectedly and precocial, the truth is, ideas are a proverbial phoenix rising from the burnt out ashes of all our little deaths.

Energy always has to come from somewhere; it transforms from one medium into another, an infinite spiral unfurling.  Words and notes are energy, so every time a new lilt of phrase, a fresh melody opens wet wings, it came from the pyre of all the words, all the echoing notes played before. Your words, my words, your notes, my notes, thousands of years of gestating substance, all waiting to be sifted through and germinated anew.

Sounds grand doesn’t it?  On a personal level, this plays out every day in every conscious act of creation.  I have thought about this a lot over the last four months as I recorded and released my fourth CD, Scorpion Moon.    At every stage of this journey, I have had to let things go in order to clear a pathway for the possibility of growth.  Something as simple as finalizing an arrangement is a type of death; the tying of ideas into static form, corralling them, severing all the branching edges to create something concrete to share with the world.  There are many little deaths and I think it’s important  to acknowledge that within the tremendous gain that comes from manifesting a project into reality that inherent within that process is also loss;  more eminently this loss is as important to our development as artists as the gain.    I know I discard as much as I keep, perhaps more, while I condense thought and meaning into a singular form that gathers momentum beyond the edges of my influence.   And far from seeing these exiled notes and words as orphans, lost to the world, I see them as the bones forming beneath the surface of every song to come.

As if to drive this point home, as I ushered into being this long awaited and immensely satisfying piece of art, many aspects of my personal life literally fell to pieces.   Far from this being a creative impetuous, in fact it has often felt the opposite and I am struck by the notion of allowing the forest to burn to the ground before renewal can begin.  Sometimes you just have to let things burn.

Through it all, I am reminded over and over that this is what growth feels like, the sudden shifting of an axis, the painful extension of self.  My dad wrote me an email in the midst of the spiraling chaos of mixes, graphics and dissolving certitudes.  His words, “The longer I live, the less I seem to know with certainty.  An exception is this.  I know that when life presents you with pain and difficulty, the universe is asking you to grow”.  If I may extend this outwards, pain within the process of art is a harbinger for creative evolution only if we allow ourselves to truly experience the passage fully, every little birth, every little death.  True art requires a commitment to destruction as much as to creation.  We have to be willing to deconstruct ourselves and our art over and over for there to be the possibility of rebirth.  Remember, on the other side of those smouldering ruins of beliefs – of perspectives – of spectacular failure is a glorious phoenix just waiting to be reborn.

Click Here to visit Sora’s Songwriters’ Profile.

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Can you co-write and record a song a day for 3 days in a row? Ed Oakley and his SongWorks Adventure.

Left to right:  Dennis Ellsworth, Adam Williamson, Ed Oakley, Don Levandier, Shawn Chaisson, Ryan G. Hillier, Katrine Noel and Julie AubeNot in photo: Vivianne Roy
SongWorks Moncton 2013 Participants.  Left to right: Dennis Ellsworth, Adam Williamson, Ed Oakley, Don Levandier, Shawn Chaisson, Ryan G. Hillier, Katrine Noël and Julie Aubé.  Not in photo: Vivianne Roy

Ed Oakley is the most recent winner of the SongPitch.ca Open Chair opportunity for the Songwriters Association of Canada’s sponsored SongWorks professional songwriting camp.  He got to kick off 2013 with an intense cowriting experience.  Here are his takeaways from the experience.  Stay tuned for more Open Chair opportunities on the horizon.

In Ed’s Words…

Vince DeGiorgio has a weak stomach when it comes to tequila….the Laundromat Bar on St. George Street has a phenomenal selection of beers….do not park your car on the streets of Moncton when the winter parking ban is on and when QSC front of house speakers burn they make one hell of a stink. All this learned while attending the S.A.C SongWorks camp this past week in Moncton, New Brunswick.

For those of you not familiar with SongWorks, a little explanation is in order. SongWorks is a three day songwriting camp hosted by S.A.C. It involves taking nine writers, dividing them into groups of three, putting each group into separate rooms with recording equipment and tasking them with writing and recording a song a day for three days. Groups are rearranged daily so that you write with different artists every session. There is no topic or genre dictated.

Having never been involved in collaborative song writing I hope to carry the torch for this practice and give some insight into the concerns I had going into the camp. I will then address these concerns post-Songworks and shed light on the dark world of uncertainty that surrounds co-writing (I know, a little deep but I am feeling extra creative right now). Hence, the goal of this blog will be to persuade any timid songwriter into giving co-writing at least one try before dismissing it. Co-writing can have a profound positive effect on your creativity. Fresh from one of the premier songwriting camps in Canada, here we go…

Before Songworks: I am not good enough to write with other artists.

After Songworks: The genetic makeup of a songwriter is someone who wants to share, learn, experience and live in a supportive environment. These things are the essence of creativity. A writer who shuts themselves off from experience will have nothing to write about. For me, that meant that any weakness I had as a writer was overlooked for the strength I brought. Even if that strength only accounted for a small part in the song. Songwriters in these camps are nice people. They are too poor to be mean!

Before Songworks: I only write one type of music. I can’t write other genres.

After Songworks: You are blessed, and sometimes cursed, with being creative. Your artistic door does not close when it comes to writing other genres. You may prefer one type of music but as a creative person you cannot stop composing music. I can assure you that, no matter what type of song you collaborate on, nature will kick in and you will be throwing out ideas and coming up with structure and progressions before you even realize it.      

Before Songworks: It is too hard to write and record a song a day for three days.

After Songworks: There lies the magic of a songwriting camp. Yes, there is subtle pressure in knowing that you have one day to write a song, rehearse it and then record a demo quality version. But, how many times do we write a song…re-write it… change it…speed it up…slow it down…only to realize that the best version was within the original idea. Writing within a constrained timeframe results in the essence of the song being captured and completed before it becomes over analyzed. You will be surprised at how enjoyable this is. Stress brings out the humour in people and makes for some very funny moments. When I go back and listen to the songs we did I can hear an energy that sometimes gets lost when trying to make things too perfect.    

Before Songworks: What if I don’t contribute the same amount as everyone else.

After Songworks: You won’t. Sometimes you’ll contribute less and sometimes you will contribute more. There were moments in every day that I sat back and enjoyed the ideas of my other team members without feeling that I had to contribute. There were times when my ideas took center stage and became the driving energy behind the song. It was a beautiful thing. Every artist understood it. You will lead and you will follow. Feel the force Luke….

I am not a world renowned songwriter. Publishers are not beating a path to my door to get their hands on my songs. My skill as a guitar player is adequate but not noteworthy. Thankfully, Songworks is not a competition. By opening up to this process and letting go of my traditional way of writing, I have absolutely become a better composer. I would not have written three songs in three days sitting at my house last week. I surely would not have written the types of songs that I ended up co-writing. And most importantly, I would not have met the wonderful, creative people that I did nor established the professional connections that may carry me forward to future songwriting opportunities. Would I do Songworks again? Where do I sign up…..

Click Here to visit Ed Oakley’s Songwriters’ Profile.

 

When Two Muses Meet – Thoughts on Co-writing

LucyAnd JP2
Lucy LeBlanc and John Pippus working on a new song.

My last three blogs were about the experience of co-writing a song a day for three days AND recording the demos each day at the Songwriters Association of Canada‘s SongWorks songwriting camp. This is a “pressure’s on” situation that is as intense as it is fun, and in my case, ultimately rewarding with three excellent songs to show for it at the end of the process.

Usually when I co-write the approach is much more relaxed. If I’m going to write with someone, typically we’ve written together before, we know we might not strike pay dirt (and are fine with that), and we won’t be doing more than using a guitar, a pen and paper, and a hand held recorder. We may or may not finish what we start after a three or so hour session. If we decide to demo what we’ve done, it might not happen until days, weeks, or months later.

A case in point is the co-write session I did with Lucy LeBlanc a couple of months ago. At the end of it, to my delight and joy, (I am always amazed every time I complete a new song) we came up with a heartfelt and tuneful song we call “Half A World Away”. Here is Lucy:

John and I have written eight songs together. You’d think that we would have the process down now; but every session is different.  Sometimes we labour over the song (one song took us months to write).  Each of us has our own opinion on the value of the words….at times we argue over them…. but if it doesn’t spark a similar emotional reaction in both of us, we scrap it.

Lucy was coming over in the afternoon, so that morning I was idly picking out some chords on my guitar, hoping to come up with a musical phrase or two that we might be able to start with. Lucy is a lyricist only, so when we write together I’m the one who comes up with the melody and chords. Luckily (because it doesn’t always happen ‘on demand’) I found a three-chord pattern that sounded good and I played it for Lucy as soon as settled down to write. It caught her attention immediately:
 
John starts strumming on his guitar, and singing vowels and snatches of words. I start getting pictures and ideas in my head about the lyrics, and then we both start tossing words and lines out. I have to have a quick sharp pen to capture the lyrical flow on paper. I have learned to relax when writing with John. I’m no longer scared to throw out ideas that might be considered silly. Everything is fair game. A silly thought might provoke a new and interesting idea.

As I played the three-chord pattern over and over and mumbled syllables and phrases, Lucy said it sounded like someone was travelling, or far away. Somehow the words “half a world away” tumbled out early on in the brainstorming phase. We got the first verse down and moved on. The second verse was teased out after we came up with the opening line “Romeo ain’t got nothing on the way I feel”.

We kept going (talking, mumbling, reminiscing about similar situations we had personally experienced, singing words, trying phrases) with various ideas coming up.  Some were working, others were tried and tossed aside. We looked at the rhyme scheme and decided what had to rhyme and what didn’t. The simple bridge (“too simple?”, my inner critic whispered) worked musically, and we decided to go with it, and the words for that came quickly. We decided to repeat the first line of the song at the end as a coda. I’ve used this “book ending” idea before, and it can be very effective. Again, here’s Lucy:

On “Half A World Away” from start to finish, we had it done it within two hours. John had this incredible melody, and the lyrics just started flowing between us. I love it when it works like that.

Two details on this song. We finished the song at 5PM and coincidentally that night was the monthly SAC Songwriters’ Workshop. I wasn’t planning on going because I didn’t have anything new to play for the group. But now I did, and so I went along with Lucy. A very good suggestion was made from someone in the group to change the second line in the bridge from a statement to a question, to make it more wistful.  (“When you come back home / We can start again” became, “When you come back home / Can we start again?”). The improvement tugs at the heartstrings and is more in keeping with the mood of the rest of the song.

Second detail. The home video was recorded a couple of weeks after the song was written. I was driving with a friend  down to Los Angeles and late one night he video taped me in the hotel room doing the song. Like I say it was well past midnight, and I managed to forget the lyrics to much of the last verse. I made something up on the spot (as you can see). We did a few more takes, each one getting more polished. But there is something very honest about this first take, mistakes and all, so we decided to go with it.

Click Here to visit John’s Songwriters’ Profile.
Click Here to visit Lucy’s Songwriters’ Profile.

From Dancer to Songwriter – Samantha Hinds Takes The Leap

Samantha “Sam I Am” Hinds

 

 

 

By:  Samantha Hinds

How does one get inspired? Where do the creative juices flow from? Whatever the answer is, everyone has their own approach and it’s never predictable. From the perspective of a dancer, I have my ways on creating and making a song which I would like to share.

First of all, there is no wrong way in creating. There are infinite directions you can take.  Through my eyes, or should I say through my feet, groove and emotion are important to me so these are the few key things I try to remember when writing but being a dancer shouldn’t force me to see things only in that way. These are things that I hold dear in general and it’s natural for me to want to create that. Sometimes, I write with a melody implanted in my head or I might have the instrumental first, I get a sense of what the beat is and then I write with that vibe in mind. When I first started singing and songwriting, I tried to keep my dancer side separate just because I didn’t want to devalue one by playing out the other in my creations. I wanted to be equally strong in each without relying on the other. In the beginning it made sense, and maybe still does but now I think when you use all of YOU and your skills to create, you approach your project from more than one angle and you can relate to a bigger audience; not only to the general public but to dancers alike for example.

With groove and emotion aside, I try to also look through the eyes of a music lover, (R&B, Hip Hop, Funk…), and if I didn’t know me would I listen to my stuff.  Which I believe is a given but this is an incentive for trying to do my best and what is authentic to me.  You want the words to come from a sincere place wither there is a banging bass line or not. Being open to constructive criticism is needed. Assuming the person is a positive human being, remembering that they are an audience too, helps you structure your song differently from a place you would have never seen otherwise. Assuming it doesn’t override your artistic integrity.

As much as dance and songwriting are two different activities, they have a lot in common. Both rely on the one source which is Music. They both are creative forms of expression. They both can share stories, sentiments and can paint pictures in your mind when seen or heard and you can either structure them through time or it can all be improvisation and freestyle where it is created on the spot.  Stripped down to nothing but an idea, the question lies more with how do you want to convey your idea? Though I do think that songwriting can be more personal just for the simple fact that words are self-explanatory. Where I get my creative juices from are the same for dance and singing. I can even say that being a singer/songwriter has improved my dancing!

Before this comes to a close, I would like to thank the S.A.C. for asking me to be a part of this blog. And thank YOU for taking the time to read this. Again, there is no wrong way to create. What us, street dancers, would say, “Crash and create”, which means there is no such thing as a mistake in the process of creation. Whether you were to do that dance move or not, it was meant to happen. SO WORK IT!

Click Here to visit Samantha’s Songwriters’ Profile.