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.

And the winner is…(Songwriting Course and Blogging Challenge)

northeastonSeveral weeks ago over 50 S.A.C. members signed on, not only to complete Berklee Professor Pat Pattison‘s online songwriting course offered by Coursera, but also to blog about their experience in the 2013 S.A.C. Songwriting Course & Blogging Challenge.  From the get go, the private Facebook group was a flurry of activity as people shared song snippets, inspiration and things they had learned from Pat.

Fast forward several weeks later, and not everyone made it to the finish line.  The course proved more intense than many people anticipated.  But everyone benefited from participating.  Unbeknownst to participants, a winner was selected to receive a FREE ONE YEAR S.A.C. MEMBERSHIP to be added to their existing membership.

It was difficult to choose because, those who did make it to the end, really put their heart and soul into the process.  In the end, North Easton was selected for his display of inventiveness, creativity, and personality.

Over the next few weeks we will be posting highlight blogs from each week, to give you an example of what people were learning along the way.

In the mean time, CONGRATULATIONS to North Easton.  And congratulations to all who took part and walked away with a new set of songwriting tools and skills.  Here is North Easton’s final song submission:

Special thanks to Debra Alexander for helping us to blog about the course along with facilitating the online discussion.  And here are some tracks from other participants that made it to the finish line. ENJOY!

Ember Swift

https://soundcloud.com/emberswift/stars-are-many-revised

Anastace

Ross Douglas

Michael Holland

Dawn Schumilas

Jennifer Potter

A New Challenge Begins

challengeLast year the S.A.C. launched the Canadian Songwriters Social Media Challenge.  It sent dozens of songwriters into an online frenzy as participants blogged, tweeted and Facebooked their way to a more focused social media strategy.  This year, we are encouraging songwriters to focus on our raison d’être – songwriting.  Over the next 6 weeks, S.A.C. members from across the country are taking part in a free online songwriting course provided by esteemed Songwriting teacher from Berklee, Pat Pattison.  We call it the S.A.C. Songwriting and Blogging Challenge 2013…or Challenge 2013.

So,where does the challenge part fit into this?  Like last year, participants are asked to check in on a weekly basis with a blog that encapsulates what they have learned or wrestled with.  We hope that even those in the sidelines will benefit from this discourse.

So, for those of you who have signed up here:  http://www.songwriters.ca/events/446/challenge2013.aspx please do the following:

1.  Please make sure you are part of the exclusive Facebook group:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/506631312722262/
2.  Write your first blog answering the following questions:  Where are you in your songwriting journey?  What do you hope to gain from participating in this challenge?

3.  Post the link to your blog below.  If you do not have a blog, you can also choose to post it as a note in Facebook and share the respective link.  (Type “Notes” in the search area of Facebook to find the appropriate place to post).

NOTE:  This initiative is not officially related to the Coursera Songwriting Course.  Participants are responsible for their own course material.

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.

 

One Last Song – The last day of SongWorks Vancouver 2012 proves to be just as productive

SongWorks Vancouver 2012 Participants: (from top left) Mario Vaira, John Pippus, Jeff Dawson, Laurell Barker, Dave Gaudet, Kate Morgan , Kaylee Johnston, Rachel SuterOmar Khan
SongWorks Vancouver 2012 Participants: (from top left) Mario Vaira, John Pippus, Jeff Dawson, Laurell Barker, Dave Gaudet, Kate Morgan , Kaylee Johnston, Rachel Suter, Omar Khan

Songwriting camps are an opportunity to tune out the world and get intense about songwriting – often with a group of strangers.  John Pippus embarked on this journey courtesy of SongWorks, an S.A.C. sponsored professional songwriting camp that brings together 9 professional songwriters.  Thanks to John’s play-by-play reports, we’ve gotten a taste of the pace and intensity of these kinds of camps, that are often held around the world to create the best environment for some of the best songwriters to write their best songs.  Here is John’s recap of his third and final day at SongWorks Vancouver 2012.

In John’s Words…

9:30AM I arrive with a dozen bagels and cream cheese from Siegel’s Bakery. Best bagels you can get, this side of Montreal. It’s the third and final day of SAC’s three-day songwriter camp. I’m tired but looking forward to see if we can make musical magic one more time. I’m assigned to write with Kate Morgan and David Gaudet. Kate is a 19 year-old writer, with a talent that belies her age. She’s spending a lot of time in Los Angeles these days working with well-known producer Brian Howes. Dave, our producer du jour is a skilled writer, guitarist, and singer, and knows his way around the recording gear. While we wait to get started, Kate plays me a song on her iPhone by Bruno Mars. She would like to try writing something along similar lines. His name is only vaguely familiar to me, but I like what I hear. Acoustic R ‘n B is the vibe I get with some pop ear candy. Right up my alley. And Dave’s too, as it turns out.

10:00AM By now it’s a familiar routine. We play around with a few chord sequences and within a few tries, we come up with something that we all like. The chorded riff evoke a sad or wistful mood, and Kate suggests a theme of knowing when it’s time to let go. Nothing stays the same. Kate and Dave get on a roll, I feel more like a third wheel for much of the writing process today. I come up with a few lines here and there, but they seem to have a flow going between them. I mostly play the riff over and over while they tease out the words, first for the chorus and then the verses. That’s OK with me. The ego has to be kept in check, the song is king. In other sessions, I’ll contribute more than my share, so it all comes out even in the end.

11:00AM We settle on a tempo, record a simple piano motif, and build the song from the chorus out. Dave lays down the acoustic guitar part. The tune slowly grows and we all like the direction it’s going in. While Dave loops and layers the sounds, I fill out my song camp evaluation questionnaire. Full marks from this happy camper.

1:00PM Pizza for lunch. Everyone is either bleary-eyed or giddy from lack of sleep and three days of intense creative work. We pose for a group picture. By now, we know the broad strokes of each others’ personalities and quirks. There is a lot of laughing and goofing around.

3:00PM Kate records her vocals. She has a warm, engaging voice. Dave adds some low harmonies. Then it’s time to build up the tracks with keyboards, drum sounds, hand claps, and a backwards guitar whoosh to kick off the first verse.

5:00PM Kate has to leave early, so Dave and I spend the last hour or so fine tuning what we have. The song is called “Ashes and Dust”. Vince comes in and has a listen and declares it ‘”great”. Music to my ears.

6:45PM SongWorks IV is over. It’s been a genuine thrill and an honour to be here with all these talented people. I’m exhausted but feeling satisfied. I’ve helped give birth to three songs, all solid, all in different genres, over three long days. Not only did we collaboratively write them from start to finish but we recorded them too. Each demo still has a few things that need doing – a guitar solo here, additional harmonies there, some extra whooshes and swirls to lift a chorus or make a breakdown more interesting. But they are, basically, done. And like any good song, they don’t need the extra bits to make them complete, it’s just nice to have. It’s exciting to know we’ve got songs that are going to see some serious pitch time!

A Sneak Peek Behind a Professional Songwriting Camp

For the past 3 days 9 professional songwriters have locked themselves into Deep Cove Studios in North Vancouver to come out with their best tunes at SongWorks, a professional songwriting camp hosted by the Songwriters Association of Canada and produced by Vincent Degiorgio of Chapter 2 Productions Inc..  Laurell Barker, Jeff Dawson, Kate Morgan, Rachel Suter, Dave Gaudet, Mario Vaira, Omar Khan, and Kaylee Johnston were joined by S.A.C. member John Pippus who won the SongPitch contest for a highly coveted spot on the camp.  While we got a few tweets from participants on the first day of the camp, it is clear that they burrowed deep into the creative process and disappeared from all things social media for the remainder of the camp.

Thankfully we planted a spy to give us a sneak peek into the workings of this prestigious songwriting camp.  Below, we have a breakdown of the first day of action from John.

In the words of John Pippus…

Day 1
I had trouble sleeping last night. Anxious dreams of going to summer camp were interspersed with lying awake thinking of random words and melodies that I could bring to the writing session. And as a result I ended up sleeping in! Packed up the guitar, notebook, and tuner, and flew out the door wearing my lucky socks with sparkly treble clefs on ’em.

9:30AM Got there just in time to schmooze with the other eight writers, a few straggling in after me, to my relief. Bagels and coffee, a quick orientation and pep talk from Vince, our fearless leader and then we were divided off into three groups of three. I was tagged to spend the next nine hours with Jeff Dawson (producer of Daniel Powter’s worldwide hit, “Bad Day”) and Kaylee Johnston (a young pop singer who I’ve met before on the Vancouver music scene).

10:00AM Down to business. We’ve all done this before, co-writing, but the pressure to write and record a tune in one day made us not want to waste any time. A brief go round to see where we were at, and who had what, and then we settled on a style (pop) and a first line suggested by Kaylee (“I called you up to let you down”). And off we went. Ideas, lines, and rhymes were offered, some accepted, some rejected. The melody suggested chords, and chords suggested where the melody could go next.  A few blind alleys, some low points where we were all out of ideas, followed by a word or a melodic phrase that got us fired up again.

1:OOPM  As lunch was called we were feeling pretty good. We had two verses, a pre-chorus and the almighty chorus mapped out. Thai food was on the menu. We reconvened with the others in the crowded office/reception area at Deep Cove Music where our three day writing marathon was being held. Outside the rain poured down. Soon Vince called out “five more minutes” and that was lunch. We headed back to our cramped production studio with the control board, couch, chairs, keyboard and a couple of guitars filling the space. The break had rejuvenated us. In no time, we had a third verse written and the chords for the bridge locked in. We agreed we would find some bridge words as we were building the tracks so we moved on to laying down the beds and finding a drum beat.

4:00PM Jeff’s skill with ProTools had us in good shape. Kaylee laid down a scratch vocal and I recorded the acoustic guitar. We decided to celebrate with a bottle of Malbec from the beer and wine store next door.

5:00PM Following a donut break (and I have to say these donuts were amazing) we listened to “Unbreakable”, the song the trio of writers next door to us had come up with. And what a song! Kelly Clarkson if you’re listening, this one has your name all over it.

5:30PM Technical glitch. Just as were recording Kaylee’s harmonies, the computer crashed! We lost 40 minutes trying to get the system up and running again. About the time the wine ran out, and after a couple of re-boots, we were back to where we needed to be to land our newly hatched epic, proudly titled “Let’s Fall Apart”.

6:50PM No time to add bass, or even harmonies (see technical glitch above). The day was wrapping up and rides were leaving. The day had flown by. Reflection would have to wait. There was just enough time for quick goodbyes, before dashing out into the rain. Tomorrow comes early. I wonder who I’ll be writing with, and what sort of song will emerge?

How and When to Find a Music Publisher

The 2012/13 issue of Songwriters Magazine is about to hit the stands.  In celebration of our 2nd edition of this annual reference publication, we’re sharing some of the great articles from last year’s issue on our blog.  First off is a frank conversation with Barbara Sedun, formerly the Senior Vice-President of EMI Music Publishing Canada, now off charting new musical adventures.  Read on if working with a music publisher is one of your goals.

Barbara Sedun is a busy woman.  So busy, that this interview almost never happened.  You will usually find Barbara attending showcases across the country, scouting out talent in secret venues, sharing her knowledge on panels at music industry events, and anything else music related.  She eats and breathes music, hence, has some invaluable insight from her former position as Senior Vice-President of EMI Music Publishing Canada.  BEFORE you go knocking on her, or any music publisher’s door, best be prepared by reading her answers to the following questions!

At what point should a songwriter approach a publisher? (What should they have prepared?)  In an ideal world, a songwriter would not approach a publisher. They would have generated enough activity on their catalogue that the publisher would contact them. However, if the publishers aren’t lining up as quickly as you like, you would approach the publisher in the same way that you would approach anyone else in the business. Know what you are looking for in a publishing deal and do your research on the publishing companies to determine which ones would best suit your needs. Know if you are looking for a co-publishing deal or an administration deal. Know which publishers work best with the style of music you are writing. Do your research and find out which member of the staff deals with the style of music as well. You should have had some activity on your music. Know that if you are approaching a major music publishing, they may have different requirements than an indie publisher. There is a lot of work you can do on your own before ever getting involved with a publisher.

Try to place songs with artists if you are not an artist yourself. Or write with artists. Work your songs at radio. Pitch your songs to tv and movies. Or commercials. Or Video games. If this seems like a lot of work, it is. But you are competing with the person down the street who has been doing all of this for the last 2 years and is just now knocking on the publisher’s door. AS well, once your catalogue of work starts earning money, you will need a publisher to administer your earnings.

What are publishers looking for?  What is your ideal candidate of someone you would like to work with?  I am a workaholic yet it seldom feels like I am working because I love what I do so much. I want to work with people who work equally hard on their songwriting careers as I will once you are signed. Basically you should become your own publisher, and do everything a publisher will eventually team up with you to do. I look for talented, hard workers who are not afraid to think outside the box and will do anything to move ahead. I want you to want to be “rich and famous” – one of my pet peeves is when a writer tells me “I just want people to hear my music”.  Put your Canadian humility aside and reach for the stars!! I also want to know that if you have a team around you they are strong and bring something to partnership. Leave your dependencies at the door too, please.

What to bring when you land a meeting with a publisher (and what not to bring)?  Be prepared – bring your best music, make sure everything is labeled very well and you have extra copies in case one of them doesn’t work. bring lyric sheets even if they are not used. Bring your best, most positive attitude – and know your stuff. Have a playlist ready of what you feel is your strongest work – don’t go searching for it. And remember that even though we are sitting on the other side of the desk, we are just people like you.  I see how nervous people are sometimes and I understand it and do my best to help you relax.

What types of songwriters are offered contracts and what kinds of different contracts are there?  The main publishing agreements are co-publishing deal (where we become a co-owner of the song with you); an administration agreement (where our percentage is slightly lower generally but there is little or no creative input) once in a very long while we do single-song agreements. An indie publisher may need sub-publishing agreements (where another publisher in another territory will collect your royalties, etc for them because they do not have an office there) but EMI is a worldwide company and has offices in most territories and therefore seldom have need for sub-pub deals.

What does a publishing contract usually look like (term, exclusivity, commitment)?  Every publishing deal is different and the final result depends on what your focus is. Different points to negotiate include: Term (ie how long the contract is – usually the initial term plus options); Songs that are included; the minimum delivery commitment (how many songs you are required to hand in to the publisher during the contract period); how long the publisher retains the songs after the contract is over; the territory; the advances; Royalty percentages (mechanical, performance, synchronization, other income); administration fee.

Should artists contact publishers as well, or only songwriters?   If you are working to place your songs, you should contact everyone!  There are legendary stories out there of how hard people like Dianne Warren and Chad Kroeger have worked on their careers before they had any interest from the music industry. Look them up. Check out their stories. When you are willing to work as hard as they have (and still do), then come see me!  I’ve heard stories of Ms.Warren sitting outside recording studios in the early days, pouncing on artists when they arrived or left, giving them her demos and asking for them to record her songs. And Chad is notorious for how hard he pushed radio stations to play Nickelback’s music before they got a deal.  I saw approach everyone. When I am pitching a song I approach everyone involved in the project – if I know someone who knows the artist, I go to them. I send copies to producers, engineers, labels, management – anyone who may be able to get the song recorded. And follow up is so important.

What are common mistakes made by artists and songwriters when approaching music publishers?  The most common mistake is approaching the music publisher (or anyone in the industry) too early. If you have written 10 songs and your mom tells you they are great, it’s probably too early to approach the industry. If you have written 500 songs and work full time and have never had any activity on any of your songs (except playing them once a year at family gatherings) you are probably not ready to approach the industry. You really need to be able to make it a full time job. Not everyone is made to be a fulltime songwriter and there have been cases where we have signed single song agreements with writers, but I think in my 20 years at EMI, there have been maybe 2 or 3 cases of that.

To get the new edition of Songwriters Magazine, why not join the Songwriters Association of Canada today.  www.songwriters.ca