Article by S.A.C. Member and Challenge Participant, Mikalyn Hay
Up, down, spinning around
I don’t know which way to turn
High, low, where’d you go
Lost in a carnival
I recently got a taste of modern songwriting and landed a third-place finish in the Indie International Songwriting Contest (IISC) in the singer-songwriter category with a song that started as a simple chorus about how dating and life can be a roller coaster – pretty cool at 13 to be competing with adult songwriters.
But, I didn’t get there all by myself—I had the best support team. My dad Michael acted as agent, glue and chief bottle washer (CBW). We used four co-writers and a few professional DAW experts. And, we got a lot of great advice from all corners of this continent—generously given and graciously accepted.
My dad met Paul Tarvydas at the 2014 SAC Challenge and liked his passion for lyric theory. So, he asked Paul to look over my lyrics for a new song “Carnival” in the winter of 2014, and offer his comments.
When the 2015 SAC Challenge began, work on the song went into overdrive. We focused on pitching it to Matt Dusk, who was asking for something young-sounding.
I sang and re-sang the song over and over. My dad ‘shipped’ (well, emailed) revisions to Paul who always had something he wanted to tweak. In the end, his worksheet clocked in at more than 1,000 lines—lines were repeated, but tweaked and kept improving.
In February (and during one of the worst winter snowstorms that season) Canadian singer-songwriter Emm Gryner taught a songwriting weekend at Seneca’s Oakville campus. Paul braved the weather (and Toronto traffic) to share our song and his excitement with Emm’s class. Literally, that weekend, I was laying down tracks for the song in Allister Bradley’s studio. Everyone in Emm’s class was thrilled to see and hear a work in progress.
Well, the SAC Challenge ended and we hadn’t heard back from the Dusk camp. Carnival fell between the cracks. Ah, rejection. The first thing to learn when going into the music business. But, we also learned a lot during the Challenge—songs that were strongly produced were forwarded.
At that point, we all still believed in the song. We wanted to push the envelope and go through the full learning curve. If we produced it more heavily, where could it go?
My dad called in another favour and approached Shawn Brady who heads up a U2 tribute band, and whose recent album Northern Sons is a favourite in our house.
Shawn had a strong vision for the intro and chorus of the song and made it alternative rock while keeping the verses simple—just me at my piano.
I took a couple afternoons off school and drove to Toronto. We went into a practice room for a few hours, where Shawn sketched out his vision for the song arrangement.
Then, we went to Lincoln County Social Club to lay down the bed tracks, using ancient, real pianos, an old MOOG synth, an acoustic drum kit and a $14,000-microphone (on loan).
Shawn changed one line in the studio: “This masquerade is beautiful” became “This masquerade brings a beautiful fear.” Paul was in the studio and nagged me about a phrasing issue because he wanted to ensure that I was not saying an important word in the verse on a half beat instead of the downbeat A purposeful pause later, I had it. Maybe it is the little things that make songs better?
We worked with those tracks for a while, over a few months. Something wasn’t clicking and Shawn knew it could be better.
So, Shawn suggested we send the tracks to Cory Tetford in Halifax.
Cory re-did some of the drum tracks and mixed it down. [Side note: Cory is now touring with Alan Doyle (GBS) and opening for Bare Naked Ladies]. One day, Shawn phoned and wanted us to a sing a harmony on one line in the song, so I ran downstairs and recorded that one line in the DAW and sent Shawn who sent it to Cory.
That final mix is what my dad submitted to IISC. He didn’t bother to tell me or the other co-writers about this contest entry, so when the results came in, we were all so happy and delightfully surprised. It also did very well in this years CBC Searchlight and was highlighted as a top 20 song from Artists under 20. As well it made the finals of the teen category for the ISC but had to be removed because my dad hadn’t read the fine print, which states that all writers on the song had to be under 18.
During this process, a large number of songwriters heard the demos and commented on them. First, the two coordinators of the SAC Challenge—Debra Alexander and James Linderman—gave us invaluable advice. Any number of SAC members (also in the Challenge) contributed. Emm Gryner and her class contributed. Paul flew Carnival down to Austin and had one of the top songwriting instructors in the world—Pat Pattison—critique it, including everyone in his Austin class. This is the reason we switched the order of the verses. Allister Bradley, Cory Tetford. Wow. As a young writer, I really rely on the advice of more experienced writers—I wouldn’t be here without their collaboration and am so grateful for everything I’ve learned through the SAC.
Not just that, but I got to work on my first Youube video, released just last week. I didn’t plan to make the video for it –but Aaron Soch who is a talented filmmaker listened to the song and said –‘make the video”. So we did and I am so glad he convinced us to do it. The video and the song marks a starting point for me.
The song is on iTunes https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/carnival-feat.-shawn-brady/id1015077464 and on YouTube https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/carnival-feat.-shawn-brady/id1015077464
I’m in awe about where this journey and carnival took me. Thanks so much SAC and can’t wait for this year’s challenge, with more to come.
PS – since releasing Carnival I have written a couple more songs with Murray Daigle and Bobby John (Free as Bird) and with Tyler Simmons (Save Yourself). Both are available on iTunes and you can see the video on my YouTube channel http://www.youtube.com/user/67mhay