Challenge No. 1 – The S.A.C. Songwriting & Blogging Challenge

We are excited to announce this year’s challenge is being launched by a REAL PITCH REQUEST!  As such, you will have 6 weeks to submit a demo for this first challenge.  Although you will not be submitting a song in 7 days, you will be required to submit a blog about your experience of the challenge thus far, the progress you have made, any collaborations you may have initiated, and challenges you have encountered in working towards this challenge.

We would like to thank Barb Sedun and SOCAN for helping us to issue this challenge.

Matt Dusk is an established Canadian artist who has a challenge for you.  Take a look…

Good luck everyone!

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Cultivating a Local Songwriters’ Stage

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.

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

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

It’s never too late! Retired 9 to 5-er launches new career as singer/songwriter

Jim Dorie
Jim Dorie

For many years Jim Dorie was busy raising three children working a full time job in the oil and gas industry in Alberta.  Life was busy.  Although he grew up in Nova Scotia surrounded by music as many do on the East Coast, he barely touched his guitar outside of the occasional kitchen party or jamming with a friend.  With three kids to raise, time was mostly spent between work and chauffeuring his kids to extra curricular activities.  As he approached the opportunity to retire, Jim was advised by a friend to find something to do with the extra 40 to 60 hours he would have every week.  He looked to music as a retirement hobby, a way that he could reconnect with his East Coast roots.

Four years after releasing his first CD, Jim is in the midst of releasing his third album, Drop Forge.  He received an ECMA nomination on his second album, and has a busy touring schedule.  His hobby has turned into a career.

At 64 years old Jim admits he is still learning about the business aspect of the music industry.  Social media doesn’t come naturally to him.  He has also witnessed the rapid evolution of the business.  Four years ago he was able to place his album in local records stores that have now vanished.  Jim recognizes that live performance is now the bread and butter for performing songwriters who want to make a living.

There’s a lot of freedom in his new career.  He is financially secure and could quit at any given moment.  As a result, the only person he is trying to satisfy is himself.  He also has realistic expectations for his career.  He doesn’t expect big time fame or accolades.  Instead, he chooses to focus on what he’s good at – writing songs filled with stories that resonate with his audience.  Songs like “Living in Alberta” about the cost of moving away from home to make a living.

Jim credits Dave Gunning as begin a pivotal figure in the development of his career.  He previously attended Dave’s performances during visits back to Nova Scotia and purchased his CDs.  After retiring, Jim approached Dave for some pointers and thus began an important relationship.  Dave produced Jim’s first and most recent album.  Although Jim writes primarily by himself, Jim has also found a writing partner in producer/songwriter Dave Gunning.  He has two tracks, including “Living in Alberta,” on Dave’s 2014 ECMA Record of the Year – No More Pennies.

Jim may not have a large corporation or millions of dollars behind him, but he has stricken a wonderful partnership with his wife, Jeanne Dorie, who has come onboard as a graphics designer and website manager.  He has received great feedback on all the tour posters, CD graphics and shirts that she makes for Jim’s stage wear.  More recently, Jim has started working with booking agent/publicist Jenny MacDonald – a talented artist in her own right.  This helps him get more time to do what he loves doing – which is songwriting and performing.  In fact, he already has enough material for his next three albums.

All of this is a great reprieve as Jim faced a cancer scare and surgery last year that could have meant a long hiatus from his burgeoning career.  Prior to his surgery, he rushed to finish this latest album for fear it might never get recorded.  He wanted to make sure these songs could be passed on to his kids.  Luckily his oncologist gave him the “all-clear” and he went back to finish the album.

Jim’s success story is sure to be an inspiration to any songwriter stuck behind a cubicle wondering if they will ever find time to pursue their dreams.  Jim’s only advice is to do it for yourself and not for fame or fortune.  As for his own aspirations?  He looks to Willie Nelson and Gordon Lightfoot who are still touring in their 80s.  Jim figures he still has at least 20 years in his new career.

Click Here to visit Jim Dorie’s Songwriter Profile and hear some of his tunes.

 

Country Music Star and Songwriter Deric Ruttan on Living The Nashville Dream

Deric Ruttan
Deric Ruttan

Grammy and Juno Nominee Deric Ruttan has accumulated quite a list of achievements both as a performing artist and as a songwriter.  He’s one of a stellar roster of performers set to take over Markham Theatre for the Performing Arts on Monday, May 26, 2014 for the Second Annual CMAO Awards Show.  The star studded event will celebrate the ever growing country music scene in Ontario.  Ruttan is nominated for several awards including Single of the Year, Album of the Year, Songwriter of the Year, Male Artist of the Year, and record producer of the year.  He opened up to us about the path to his success and how he maintains his creativity.

1.  What country music influences did you have growing up in Ontario that inspired you to pursue music in the first place?  
My parents record collection was really my first influence.  Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Beatles, the Beach boys, the kinks, Johnny Cash, The Springfields.  Growing up I got a hold of Gordon Lightfoot’s Sundown record, and knowing he grew up just down the road from me in Orillia was pretty cool. Also, in high school, a friend lent me Steve Earle’s Copperhead Road record, and that was it. That was the doorway through which I walked into country music.

2.  What obstacles did you encounter that led you to choose to move to Nashville?
I didn’t really encounter any obstacles in Ontario. I just knew that the people who wrote most of the country songs I loved and was hearing on the radio were based in Nashville – and that  almost all those songs were coming out of Nashville.  It seemed to follow that I needed to be here.  I wanted to learn from The people who were creating that music and knew that immersing myself in the culture was the way to do that.

3.  Was there a Canadian contingency in Nashville that helped with your career development?
Not really…it seems to me there weren’t as many Canadians living here then as there are now.  I did meet people after I moved here who happened to be Canadian, people like Tim Taylor and Duane Steele, who became my friends and co-writers.

4.  You had persevered for several years before experiencing your first breakthrough.  What allowed you to persist and what obstacles did you have to overcome?
It may sound trite, but I never really viewed failure as an option. I decided when I moved here that I would either make it, or years from now they would bury me here and I would’ve been another unsuccessful songwriter, but either way I wasn’t leaving.  Plus, after a few years of being here I had a wife and family to support, and all joking aside, poverty is a wonderful motivator.  All the obstacles I faced are obstacles all songwriters face in Nashville. The odds are so stacked against you, it’s staggering. I guess I did have the additional obstacle of not being an American citizen, so I couldn’t “legally” work anywhere to support myself while I was trying to make it.  I had to be creative.

5.  What are the challenges and benefits of juggling a career as an artist and as a songwriter who writes for others?  
The only challenge really is time management. Learning to balance how much time to spend in each area.  While there is overlap, they truly are two clear and separate careers as I view them. The benefits are that I get to do both things that I love for a living, and just the right amount of each.  I also think being a performer makes me a better songwriter when I’m cowriting with another artist, because I understand what it’s like to stand on a stage and sing to a crowd — to have a specific message you want to relate to an audience in that live setting, that will also work at radio.

6.  What advice would you give someone who has a Nashville dream of writing country hits?  What first steps should they take?
Listen to commercial country radio.  Study the hits.  Try to emulate what you hear.  Be honest about your work.  With every song you write, try to get better.  Make every line of lyric count. There’s no such thing as a throwaway line — they all serve a purpose.  Also, If you want to write Nashville hits, you have to spend some time in Nashville. If you can’t or don’t want to move here, you need to spend a LOT of time here learning, crafting, and networking.

7.  What do you usually bring with you in terms of equipment and ideas when you attend a co-writing session?
I always try to show up with at least two or three titles that I think are pretty good, or some melodic fragments that i like (I have a running list on my phone of probably over 50 titles at any one time).  I like to have my laptop to write on, and an instrument – usually my acoustic guitar.  In my office I have a guitar and mandolin and a banjo that I like to pick around on.  I also would be a little out of sorts in a co-write if I didn’t have my iPhone with me, since that’s where I have melodic ideas and song titles stored.

8.  As a professional songwriter, what disciplines or skills do you think are important to maintain your creativity?  What works for me, and what I feel makes me more productive, is to have a regular place in which to be creative. For me, that’s my office – a dedicated space I have where I go to write songs. Also, having a regular time of day that you work is helpful. For me that’s about 10:30 or 11 in the morning.  Also, to maintain creativity On a daily, monthly, and yearly basis, knowing when to stop is helpful.  Taking a break after 4 or 5 or 6 hours of writing…getting away from it for a while, Then reconvening with yourself or with your cowriter and putting fresh eyes and ears on the song – that’s always a good idea, and helps you to not get burned out.

9.  Congratulations on your recent Grammy nomination.  How has the nomination changed or not changed your career?  
Thank you!  The daily goings on of my career remain the same. Artists who are looking to record songs don’t give a damn whether the writer has a Grammy nomination or not (It would be nice if they did!)  In Nashville, at the end of the day, the best song wins, regardless of the songwriter’s various accolades.  I think where the Grammy nomination is nice, is that it gives those who represent my catalog (my publisher), some ammo for building the “Deric Ruttan songwriter” brand.  It’s a really nice feather in the cap.

Rising to the Challenge: North Easton Lets Go of the Lap Bar

Some rights reserved by flatluigi (Flickr) under Creative Commons license.
Some rights reserved by flatluigi (Flickr) under Creative Commons license.

Throughout our Songwriting & Blogging Challenge 2013 – one of our participants really stood out from the crowd.  He was able to turn out well written fully produced recordings week after week as the assignments from Pat Pattison seemed to pile higher and faster.  North Easton is not only the winner of this year’s challenge, but also our current Featured Member.  We asked him to blog about his experience participating in this year’s challenge.  Here’s what he had to say…

In His Words…

My feet ache as I shift my weight from one leg to the other. I patiently stand there in the hot summer sun, staring at the backs of people heads who are staring at the backs of peoples heads. A lineup, a waiting game for the next ride that will send me soaring up and down, left and right, over and over as my heart battles my voicebox for room in my throat. 60 minutes traded for 2. Seems fair! The climb up the clickety clack tracks, the rush in the final seconds before we inch over the top and scream down the other side. My hands clenching the bar at first, mind racing against the thoughts of peril vs pure adrenaline bliss. Stomach tightens as it swirls back and forth against the force of gravity, eyes watering, cheeks pressed back and a smile carved into my face like words in stone…and then in the blur of peripheral vision, my tightly clenched fingers begin to relax…my eyes open wide as I lift my arms to the sky and truly soak in the roller coaster ride before me. I become one with the speeding cart across the rails and the adventure truly is one I own…forever.

According to Albert, the only source of knowledge is experience. So when I took on the great journey into the mind of Mr. Pat Pattison, (the songwriting guru who walked 63,000 songwriters through the 6 week course offered through Coursera)…I was completely captivated. As a father of 6, a music teacher, and the husband of a wife finishing up law school, I was slightly intimidated by not only the course, but the idea of a weekly blog inspired by the Songwriters Association of Canada. But why not…let the roller-coaster ride begin.

Rusty fingers and tongue tied words fought to keep up with the concepts dangled before us all. The simplicity of Box thinking and the new revelations of all the parts of your song intensifying and strengthening the chorus. A bunch of new friends we made, all asking the questions that help bring the point of the song to the surface.

Diving into the unstable waters of week 2, I happily held my breath and tried to stay under as long as possible. Gathering new tricks of the trade before coming up for air. As an avid movie watcher, I often pull emotions, camera angles, intense situations into my songs, and with Pat holding a cheat sheet up at the spelling Bee…it became so much easier to bridge these two mediums together.

Like most songwriters, I thrive on rhyming. The dance of the language and sound that twists and turns as it burns a picture in the listeners mind. The rhymes they link the words, make us think that what we heard is not only important but real, phrases that make us feel resolve as we solve the story line, the state of mind, the point of view or just something new that no one else has said. I fed on week 3, and got caught up in the free thought of perfect vs family, additive, subtractive, assonance, and consonance and will probably never again write a lyric without the chance to hear it in another way.

The windows into the minds of my fellow songwriters in Canada and beyond was my favourite part of the entire adventure. Reading conversations, reviews, ideas on direction…hearing the doubt shared by others, the hopes, the desire and passion as it came out and seemed to inspire everyone I chatted with. I learned more from you guys, than from Pat himself. I throw my thanks into the ring and if you could see my smile upon reflection of these past weeks…you would know!

I am not the songwriter I was at the beginning of this course. I think most of the other writers would agree with me that we have all changed the way we look at writing, and every day that passes by I personally realize how little I know about everything on this planet…and that kind of excites me for the journey ahead. So let go of the “lapbar” put your hands in the sky and scream.

In closing, and to sum things up with a quote from a very famous Doctor.

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
                                                                                              -Dr. Seuss
Take a listen to some of his songs…

Recording At Home – An Introduction

Michael HollandThe S.A.C. is defined by the passionate members that make up our community.  One of whom has generously offered to let us publish his articles about Recording At Home.  Over the course of the next few months we will sharing his blogs which cover a wide range of important subjects aimed at empowering songwriters to better handle recording tools to support their songwriting.  Michael Holland was a participant in the recent blogging challenge, who is also enthusiastic about recording.  We’ll let him tell you more about himself in this introduction…

By Michael Holland

You love songs.  You write songs.  You want to present your songs in the best possible light with a top-notch recording, but you want to do it at home.

Look no further.  This blog series is for you!

I offer a special welcome to my fellow members of the Songwriters Association of Canada.  Together, we enjoy camaraderie, mutual inspiration and some really great music.   If you are in Canada, and you write songs, I strongly recommend that you join the SAC.   It’s a great organization.  Thanks to the economic realities of our business, songwriters need to stick together now more than ever.

Go to http://www.songwriters.ca/ if you’d like to find out more about the SAC.

I assume that you want great results from your recording set-up, and that you are not made of money.   I also assume that you don’t have a handy recording engineer and don’t know anything much about recording.  If I talk to you like an idiot, I apologize in advance, but I do want to be sure the least informed readers are not left behind.  I am well aware that most songwriters don’t want to be an engineer, but knowing how increases your artistic options and helps you to show your work off – and it can save you a great deal of money over the years!

It may surprise you to realize that there are quite a few really simple (and free or low-cost) things that you can do to bring your work to a new realm of audio quality.

I am talking not only about the technical aspects such as where to put a microphone, or how to make the bass LOUD while not muddying up the mix overall, but also about generating the desired emotional responses in your listeners.

Recording studios certainly have mystique but it’s really not that mysterious once you get a few basics squared away.  If you follow my blog for the next two months you will find yourself gaining an understanding of the process from one end to the other, and adding lots of useful tips and tricks to your arsenal, and, I hope, making the best recordings you have ever made at home.

You’re probably wondering about my own background.  I have been recording in various studios professionally (and at home) since the late 1970’s and I have specialized in mastering records since the 1990’s.  I have worked on consoles of all sizes and shapes, such as SSL, Neve, Sony, Mitsubishi, Soundcraft, and others.

I have written, performed, sung, played, tracked, mixed, mastered and gigged in Canada and the UK and I have had the best and the worst of times in many recording studios, from very large and famous multi-room complexes (places like Abbey Road and Battery Studios and The Strongroom) to very small and smelly studios (places I would rather not name) and they all taught me something valuable.

These days, I am in West Vancouver, BC, Canada, and I work as both a mastering engineer and a performing songwriter, which neatly satisfies my love of music, words and science.

I will be covering a wide range of subjects including pre-production, headphone monitoring, microphone types, tracking various instruments, mixing and mastering.  Next week we will be discussing Songwriter Home Recording Workflows.

Click Here to visit Michael’s Songwriters’ Profile.