Here’s A Pretty Ribbon On That Blogging Challenge Wrap!

Image of Two Bathing Beauties With Prize CupI logged in to Facebook early last week to discover the little earth icon in the navigation bar all lit up and a roll of “congratulations” in my newsfeed from fellow bloggers. And that, my friends, is how I found out I won the Canadian Social Media Blogging Challenge that I took part in this winter. Woo hoo! Social media in action.

I Never Was a Prom Queen, But…

Imagine the trophy is a dozen roses and the hat is a tiara.

Given my love of all things shiny and my diva-esque nature, I immediatelypictured myself among Pageant Queens accepting a bouquet of nailpolish-red roses in my arms, grinning cheek-to-cheek. Less Courtney Love, but still mascara running down my face** as I tearfully accept my sparkling tiara and sash ~ blowing kisses to the countless readers who have made my blog what it is today!! **This from the fact that the challenge was based on the book:Music Success In Nine Weeks!Hahaha! But seriously, I am super glad I took part in the challenge, and I am honoured to be selected as its winner… thanks Songwriter’s Association of Canada (SAC) and thanks Ariel Hyatt for putting on this first ever Canadian version of the Music Success In Nine Weeks Blogging Challenge. A most excellent way to spend the start of 2012. And as it turns out I didn’t even have to wear a bathing suit to win the fabulous prizes.

Queen For a Day, But This is No “Royal We” Here

I’d like to send warm fuzzies out to my fellow participants for doing the challenge with me (with a special shout out going to Lily Cheng, who not only blogged with us but also facilitated the challenge. Thanks Lily!) We spent a concentrated nine weeks tackling topics and tasks related to social media. Collectively we set up a pretty substantial Canadian corner of new Facebook & twitter music accounts. We got comfy with Youtube and rss feeds – and then we blogged about it so that our fans could join us on the journey too.

PS Speaking of Youtube, you should totally subscribe to my channel! I started a “Homemade Music Video Project” during the challenge: my goal is to make homemade, no budget videos for all of my songs. Me editing them and everything! (There are three so far and more on the way.) Other fun stuff you can do: sign up for my mailing list,follow me on Twitter and like me on Facebook. Hurray! Phew… is that… it?

Sixty of us started back in January. Out of that emerged a core group of about twenty singer-songwriters who stayed in to the end, supporting each other through the weekly to-do list. We had (and in fact still have) an active Facebook group where people shared their successes and their challenges of the business and posted information and support for each other. Several genuine friendships started through this challenge that have extended beyond the end date. I still pop into the group quite regularly to see what everyone’s up to and to soak up some extra love when I’m feeling out of sorts with my workload. The DIY model says we are autonomous in exercising creative and administrative control over our work, yes. It is also clear that the “social” in social media truly drives us humans. We need connection and community to thrive.

Maybe that is one of the reasons blogging is so perfect in this day and age of friends & fans spread out across the globe. An artist’s blog is personal and self-directed and, yet it can be highly interactive too. Online connections are sometimes maligned as shallow, and for sure there can be a Pollyanna-ish-ness that can drive me nuts sometimes. However it seems to me that online relationships when properly nurtured can be pretty darn real too.

The Take Away

As songwriters, we are all-the-time creating narratives for ourselves and others to sing. But when it comes time to write ourselves into the world… that same creative glean can get muddied. (Okay, this might be a “royal we”.) One of the biggest take-aways for me from doing this blogging challenge was the shifting away from an emotional space of passive want: hoping someone will “discover” me [my music] and moving to that of an active space. Blogging is active. It is constructive. It is also relatively inexpensive to do. As a bonus, blogging is creative. You don’t need a record label or Billboard approval to share your thoughts and your work. You just need to trust in the strength of your creativity and your ability to connect. That, and a bit of time to jot it all down.

The Other Take-Aways

… are pretty awesome too! I look forward to talking with Ariel about the eight-week Cyber PR campaign. Can’t wait to find out what’s in store once my music goes out directly to her network of bloggers and podcasters. Will my work connect on that scale too? Thanks,Reverbnation, for their contribution to the amazing prize list, too. And I’ve already had a skype meeting with Dave Cool of Bandzoogle to discuss building a second website for my little indie record label, since I’ve already got www.karynellis.com (come visit!) I’ll let you folks know when the new one is up and running too.

Okay. Now… THAT’S a wrap of the blogging challenge. But, folks, you can be sure my musings will continue on. If you’re reading this somewhere other than on my blog — Letters To My Editor — do pop by for more posts. You can also subscribe while you’re there to get my upcoming posts directly in your inbox.

Till next time!
Karyn

And the winner is….(The Canadian Songwriters Social Media Challenge)

At the beginning of the year, over 60 people registered to take part in The Canadian Songwriters Social Media Challenge, also known as the Music Success in Nine Weeks Blog Challenge.

The Songwriters Association of Canada was thrilled to partner with Cyber PR® to provide the tools and the community necessary for success in undertaking the challenge.

The 9 weeks of the challenge resulted in a flurry of blogging frenzy as songwriters across Canada helped each other set courageous goals that led to incredible breakthroughs.  In total 22 songwriters made it to the finish line, many of whom are now friends and fans of each other.  Click here to see who completed the challenge (scroll to comments):  http://wp.me/pJKhK-eh

Picking a winner was extremely difficult considering the talent and dedication reflected in this fine group of participants.  Ultimately, the team felt there was one participant who took the challenge to another level.  She also engaged her fellow participants by interviewing them for her own blog.

We would like to congratulate Karyn Ellis on winning the 3rd edition of the blogging challenge!

Her prize includes….

*A VIP 2 month Cyber PR® Campaign from Ariel Publicity
*2 Years of sponsor Bandzoogle’s Pro-Plan
*A Custom website design from a Bandzoogle designer
*$200 credit to run a PROMOTE IT ad Campaign from Reverbnation to expand their Facebook fan page likes.

Karyn's Week 8 Blog Entry

We chose Karyn Ellis as this contest winner for several reasons. Each weekly entry started with a catchy title and only increased in quality from there, with incredibly well-thought and fleshed out narrative-style blog posts.

Each post was broken into several sections using attractive headers and was complemented with high-res images (all of which were properly cited) to effectively illustrate and break up the text.

After all, blogging is more than just text. It is understanding your readers and knowing how to properly format each article so that it is interesting, easily readable and ultimately engaging. Regularly, Karen’s blog posts attracted several comments, all of which were promptly responded to by Karen herself!

We are so proud of the efforts that Karen put into this blog challenge – her blog is incredibly worthy and we can’t wait to see her blog, and her blog community, grow over the next coming months! Congrats Karen!

Originally posted here:  http://musicsuccessinnineweeks.com/blogger-challenge/

Getting Yourself Out There – The Challenge: Finish Line & Beyond

Who will make it to the finish line?

9 weeks ago, over 60 songwriters across Canada signed up for the Canadian Songwriters Social Media Challenge.  The purpose of the challenge was to help songwriters put on their business hats to develop and implement a strategy towards marketing themselves online, as laid out in Ariel Hyatt’s book “Music Success in 9 Weeks.”  There was a significant amount of excitement generated as can be seen by the posts and commenting from Week 1.  However, as with most artists on their path to pursuing their dreams, life happened along the way, and we lost a few participants.

How many will officially complete this challenge?  Scroll down to the comments of this article at midnight on March 12, 2012, and you will see the answer.   Even though there will only be one winner selected from the challenge, the entire process has been worthwhile on so many levels (you have only to read a few of the blogs to see what has been accomplished).

As someone who has witnessed the birth of new blogs, new videos, new websites, and new friendships, while also trying to stay in the race, myself, I have been amazed at what people (including myself) can do when there is community for encouragement and accountability to give the necessary external pressure.   All of this paired with a guide book that has been both easy to use and informative helped many neophytes to take the plunge into unchartered online territory.

Throughout the duration of this challenge, there has been a closed Facebook group for participants where people have celebrated, debated, and shared immensely while rooting for each other.   Many people have remarked that the most incredible gift of taking on this challenge has been the resulting community of people who are all passionate, not only to share their music, but to help each other along the way.  If you have been tracking with us and felt like you wished you had taken part, I am happy to say that this challenge has received such positive feedback, that the Songwriters Association of Canada will likely launch it again in the future, so stay tuned…

In the mean time, here is a virtual toast to all of you who have taken part, and to all of you who have been sharing the journey with us.  It is my hope that experiencing or seeing what the power of community can do, would persuade you to get out and find your own tribe, that we can all celebrate when we cross our respective finish lines.

How can you connect into community through the Songwriters Association of Canada?

1.  S.A.C. members can join the closed S.A.C. Community Facebook Group – S.A.C. Connect  (Once you have requested to join, you will be approved upon verification of your membership).
2.  Meet in person with songwriters in your neighbourhood through an S.A.C. Regional Writers Group.  If you don’t have one nearby, we would happy to discuss how we could help you start one.  Click for details.
3.  Take part in the next edition of the Canadian Songwriters Social Media Challenge!

NOTE TO CHALLENGE TAKERS:

Okay, dear challengers,  it’s a bit of work, but here is what we ask you to post in this FINAL WEEK!:

1.   What action steps did you take or will you be taking based on Ariel’s suggestions in Week 9.
2.  What is the biggest breakthrough you have experienced through participating in this challenge? (we want to celebrate with you)
3.   What was the most significant week for you, and why?
4.  Lastly, please post ALL 9 WEEKs, labelled:  Week 1 – link, Week 2 – link, etc.,
5.  Break out some bubbly!

The winner will be announced in one month’s time.  The winner will receive a free one year membership to the S.A.C. (to be added onto existing membership), VIP 2 month Cyber PR® Campaign from Ariel Publicity that will place their music in the hands of bloggers, podcasters and online radio DJs around the world, 2 years of sponsor Bandzoogle’s Pro-plan plus a custom website design from a Bandzoogle designer, and ReverbNation is offering a $200 credit to run a PROMOTE IT ad Campaign to expand their Facebook Fanpage likes.

Congratulations to all for making it to the finish line!

To Bait Or Not To Bait Your Fans – The Challenge Week 8

Most artists encounter at least some level of discomfort when their craft and business intersect. Even though the first 7 weeks of the Canadian Songwriters Social Media Challenge were business oriented, there was still an artistic spirit behind coming up with a branding statement, creating dialogue with fans via blogging and tweeting, creating YouTube videos, etc., Week 8 takes participants on a significant leap, out of our respective creative comfort zones, into the foreign land of talking money.  How else can artists be sustainable ?

This past week, artists have begun mulling over the task of building a “continuum plan,” which is fancy marketing terminology for the question, “What kind of carrots do I need to use as bait to lure my fans into spending money on my music?”  Some songwriters have already protested to this method and are choosing to opt out of building a strategy for their fans to opt in.

Like every other aspect of this challenge, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to creating a social media plan to develop your career as a songwriter.  Every person has different goals which require different tools and strategies.  However, the important thing is to have a plan.  Music is not like the movie, “Field of Dreams.”  If you build it, the fans won’t necessarily come.

So, even if you decide not to come up with a continuum plan, it is still advisable to have a concrete plan to entice your fans into deeper engagement.

Okay Challengers, please post the following:

1.  URL to the corresponding blog entry.
2.  Please let us know if you will be building a continuum plan in the next 3 months.

Social Media For Songwriters: Diligence Required!

Building a social media foundation can seem daunting for many songwriters.  Most creative people don’t want to spend hours building their email lists, when we could be songwriting or performing.   The accountability and community built into the Canadian Songwriters Social Media Challenge, hosted by the Songwriters Association of Canada, have been key for many songwriters in pushing through with the “not so fun” stuff.  Aynsley Saxe is one of the songwriters who has benefitted from taking on the challenge.

Here are Aynsley’s reflections on pushing through week 7.  May her diligence inspire us all!

In Aynsley’s words…

Week 7 is upon us, or maybe slightly behind some of the more active songwriters who are on top of the blogging game (Tom Shea & Siouxberry, congrats!) during the Songwriters Association of Canada’s Social Media Challenge based on Ariel Hyatt‘s book Music Success in Nine Weeks.

I’m pleased to say I’m still here. I’m pushing the social media snowball up the hill, gathering tons of advice, pondering brave ideas and even soaking up a few friendships as I go. It’s been an incredible journey and A LOT to digest so far. I feel a little saturated. But I guess that’s the point?

Week 7 is all about the (dreaded) newsletter. Okay, kidding about dreaded, at least in the “knotty hair” sense of the word. But I must admit I feel a little intimidated about the newsletter chapter.

The questions I’ve been pondering this week are:

What do I have to say that is entertaining, meaningful, creative, interesting and worth sharing?

How do I market myself without seeming to market myself (at least most of the time!)?

How often should I contact fans on my newsletter list?

How can I develop a community around myself and my music?

What questions should I ask fans when I send them a short survey about what they would like from me?

And this, the ultimate question….

How can I reach people in a way that is not, I hesitate to even say the word….(a hush fell over the crowd): S P A M.

I know how much I like getting emails that are all promotional – NOT. That’s the last thing I want to do to the people who like my music and who are giving me their precious time by opening my emails. I want my newsletters to be based on respect, love and genuine connection. And I want to also throw in a little bit of amusing fun in there too! Nobody wants to read a boring email right? No brussel sprouts emails please! Yuck! ;)

Reaching out to my mailing list about once a month sounds about right to me. I want to be around often, but not too often.

To date, I’ve personally contacted approximately 475 people with personal, individual emails asking them if it would be okay to keep them posted on my music. I’m not kidding. FOUR HUNDRED AND SEVENTY FIVE (give or take a few). I’ve got 150 people to go on my personal email list, that doesn’t count Facebook friends and all those business cards I’ve accumulated through the years. Phew, what a snowball!!

The really great thing about this whole process of reaching out is that I’ve been in touch with people I haven’t spoken to in years. It’s been awesome reconnecting and thinking about them and hearing what they’re up to. I received two warm & fuzzy responses this morning that are soooo nice I had to share:

Congratulations. Let me know how I can support you.

…and to answer your quick question, I appreciate learning about your musical journey. Please keep me posted and it would be a pleasure if I could be of any help.

The personal touch isn’t overrated. The golden rule never grows old. If someone took the time to actually sit down and think about me and write me a quick email, and not treat me like one of the masses, I would likely be eating their emails out of the palm of their hand.

The challenging part has been it’s been incredibly time consuming. I average about 2 hours of email writing for every 50 contacts. Even though I’m using a form email for part of the email as suggested, I’m also making the email personal to each person. This means going back through my emails and seeing where/when we connected last and writing a little about that. And that doesn’t count the time spent when I respond (because I always try to email them back right away to thank them for letting me keep them on my list if that’s what they’ve chosen to do). The actual act of writing and responding isn’t so bad – it’s actually been pretty fun. It’s just thinking about the snowball that I resist. Kind of like going to the gym. Once you’re actually lifting weights it usually feels pretty good.

I have 3 pages left (6 hours) and 150 people to contact personally (if you’re curious, it’s people with names starting with ‘P’ to ‘T’). I did the last page this morning just to change things up (Letters ‘V’ to ‘Z’). What category are you in? Did I miss you??

6 hours doesn’t seem like a long time really. But it feels like it’s really snowing on my snowball. And this last part of the hill feels daunting. Especially since I know winter never ends and it will always be snowing. Which is a very good thing because that will mean that I will be able to continually connect with people who might enjoy my music and want to be kept updated.

One of my goals during Week 1 was to keep up an ever-growing fantastic email list… And yes, to provide great newsletters too. So cheers to cold days and big snowballs!!!

One more thing, I think co-promoting with other artists (whom my fan base might like) is a fantastic idea. Once I get my album released I will definitely be reaching out to other songwriters about this idea. If you are an artist, do let me know if you’re interested in this idea too and you think our music might be enjoyed by a similar audience. I would love to announce you to my list in a beautiful way!

And finally, dear Blog Reader (that’s you!!!), I’d love to keep you up to speed on what I’m up to musically. If you sign up for my music updates I will also give you a free MP3 when my album is released. All Love – No Spam. Promise.

Honk and Sign up here because you Rock!

www.AynsleySaxe.com

This blog was originally posted under the title, “Saturated Snowballs” here:  http://aynsleysaxe.wordpress.com/2012/02/28/saturated-snowballs/

Click Here to visit Aynsley’s Songwriters Profile.

Connecting to Fans in their Inbox – The Challenge Week 7

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons license by derschlosi

Every week, hours are spent putting together the Songwriters Association of Canada‘s “Songwriters Update,” our weekly email newsletter.  We want to stay connected, and we know that even though we are constantly updating Twitter, Facebook, and our website, landing in someone’s email inbox is still the most powerful call to action.  This is the same thinking behind Chapter 7 of Ariel Hyatt‘s “Music Success in 9 Weeks,” the book that is guiding participants in the Canadian Songwriters Social Media Challenge.

Let’s recap what we’ve done thus far:

Week 1:  Setting Goals – We defined personal goals, which in turn personalized each person’s experience of this challenge.
Week 2:  The Pitch – We came up with branding statements to define who we are.  These statements were then sprinkled throughout all our online communication tools.
Week 3:  The Website – We built online home fronts for ourselves.
Week 4:  Social Media – We extended our online homes to social media platforms to connect with even more people.
Week 5:  YouTube – We built YouTube channels.
Week 6:  Blogging – We built our own blogs and reached out into the blogosphere to connect with other bloggers.

And now, we’re at week 7.  Whereas all the previous weeks were about reaching out to the masses and hopefully acquiring fans, the newsletter is about engaging and keeping your fans interested.  Building the infrastructure to email newsletters is not necessarily a creative or fun process.  But once you have an established system, you will have an outlet in which to pour your creativity…keeping in mind that ending with a call to action is key.

Some people may struggle to find a call to action, especially if you do not have a product to sell yet.  Herein is the beauty of this challenge and the social media ecosystem that is built in the process.  If you are regularly creating new content, on your blog, YouTube channel, or Facebook fan page, you will also be creating new calls-to-action to place in your email newsletter.  No matter where you are in your creative journey, you will have something to share because you are already regularly sharing!

On that note, we look forward to sharing the progress of our Challenge participants this week. (With only 2 more weeks to go!)

Okay Challengers, please post the following:
1.  Link to this week’s blog post.
2.  Name of Newsletter Provider you have chosen (eg.  FanBridge, Reverbnation, Vertical Response, Mail Chimp, etc.,) and why you chose it.
3.  Link where people can register for your Email newsletter.

Get Your Blog On!…The Challenge – Week 6

Funny that the chapter on blogging for a blogging challenge actually comes in Week 6.  While previous weeks of the S.A.C.’s Canadian Songwriters Social Media Challenge have been focused on mutterings on the process of goal-setting, setting up social media and personal websites, it’s all been a warm up to getting tools in place to build real connection with potential fans.  And now that time has come.  Even though the sheer volume of new content published online everyday can seem overwhelming, it is also exciting to see so much connection and engagement happening.

You may have heard the phrase, “Content is King.”  A songwriter’s blog is like the heartbeat of your online presence, fueling all your web entities with original content targeted at creating conversation and providing your fans with a backstage look at who you are.   And here’s my favourite sentence in this chapter of “Music Success in 9 Weeks” by Ariel Hyatt, “Just get posting, don’t stress about it, and tweak it to death.”  Blogging, unlike songwriting, does not require hundreds of edits and revisions.  The point is to create a voice and a presence, NOT a literary masterpiece!

Similarly, this blog was launched one and a half years ago with the hope of connecting songwriters across Canada by sharing information and inspiration through individual stories and experiences.  During this time, we’ve been amazed at the incredible submissions we have received.  We are grateful to all our contributors for helping us to create this wonderful dialogue and platform.  Truly, the magic of a blog is in the sharing and commenting that happens!

Speaking of sharing…here are some highlight videos from Week 5:

Karyn Ellis, one of our participants, has challenged herself to make homemade videos for all the songs on her album:

And here’s the response video made by Sue NewBerry, also a Challenge participant.

Okay, Challenge participants, please post the following:

1.  The URL of your blog entry for this week.
2.  5 blogs you are targeting.

Getting Out Of The Gate…Saying Good-Bye to Perfectionism!

Creative Commons License: The Hackers Way

It’s been incredible to witness the frenzy across the blogosphere since the launch of the S.A.C.’s Canadian Songwriters Social Media Challenge.  It has been a privilege to witness the community that has formed between participants and the power of accountability towards getting things done.  At the same time, some of us (including myself), have fallen behind.  We understand, life gets in the way!  But, there is something else that gets in the way for many artists I know…PERFECTIONISM!  So, here is my blog entry on breaking through…

Getting Out of The Gate

I want to do things perfectly.  I want every song, every performance, every picture, every blog entry, every breath I take, to be awesome.  Unfortunately, I am human.  This gets in the way of my pursuit of perfection.  I get pimples, I forget things, sometimes, when I’m nervous, I strum the wrong chord.  I wish there was some sort of photoshop for life that could edit out all my blunders and imperfections.  Maybe if I lived via a holographic projection that would be possible, but until then…I must wrestle down my desire for perfection and make it a goal for myself to GET OUT OF THE GATE!

Last night I watched Taylor Swift‘s incredible performance at the 2012 Grammy Awards that proved without a doubt that she can sing.  Rewind to the 2010 Grammy Awards and her vocal performance in a duet with Stevie Nicks garnered a backlash of harsh criticism for being pitchy (especially from music industry critic Bob Lefsetz!).   Why has this redemption inspired me so much?  I think it’s because I’m inspired to keep moving forward and not allow myself to be crippled by everything that is less than perfect.  This applies to my music, my performances…and my website!  This does not mean I will not continue tweaking and improving upon what I’ve done.  It only means that I will not allow a lack of perfection to stop me from moving forward.  If Taylor Swift can release Grammy worthy music without having nailed down her ability to sing on pitch under pressure, why can’t I allow the same room for growth in my own journey as an artist?

http://www.lilyc.com

Diving into Chapter 3 of “Music Success in 9 Weeks,” I had this grandiose vision, I will REDESIGN my website, it will be epic, it will sing, it will dance, there will be fireworks!  And then, life came knocking on my door.  Work deadlines, hosting gigs, and family commitments to name a few of the many distractions that took away from the vision of losing myself in WordPress for a week.  And then I took a look at my existing website.  I already have google analytics set up, and I already have a player embedded to hear a sample of my music.  Why fix what isn’t broken?

So, instead of investing 5 days of programming time I spent 5 hours tweaking.  I added a few snazzier looking social media icons, included my newest personal pitch and rejigged things, along with changing the homepage photo.

Am I completely satisfied?  Of course not.  But I accept that insatiable perfection monster that lives in my artist heart and will allow it to prompt me towards future growth in development.  In fact, I just registered for a class on HTML and CSS from the fantastic non-profit, Ladies Learning Code.  I will keep improving upon where I am at.  One day, my website may be able to brew a cup of coffee for my fans, but until then, I am happy to let myself GET OUT OF THE GATE!

It’s a Youtube Universe! – The Challenge Week 5

Get your YouTube face on! Photo Courtesy of Creative Commons License by Yu-Ta Lee

Once upon a time, people had to travel somewhere to see you play music live.  Although one could argue that YouTube is still distinctly different from watching a show in person, gone are the days when a shroud of mystery enveloped artists until you were able to see them on television or at a show.  These days, having a presence on YouTube is a given and not a bonus part of your social media marketing plan.

Here are some interesting stats (provided by YouTube):

  • 48 hours of video are uploaded every minute, resulting in nearly 8 years of content uploaded every day
  • Over 3 billion videos are viewed a day
  • Users upload the equivalent of 240,000 full-length films every week
  • More video is uploaded to YouTube in one month than the 3 major US networks created in 60 years
  • 70% of YouTube traffic comes from outside the US
  • YouTube is localized in 25 countries across 43 languages
  • YouTube’s demographic is broad: 18-54 years old
  • YouTube reached over 700 billion playbacks in 2010
  • 800M unique users visit YouTube each month

Clearly, anyone who wants to connect with people through their music wants to be a part of this explosive kinetic activity.  While some may passively view YouTube videos, like any another TV channel, in fact, YouTube is very social.  Much of the traffic on YouTube is driven by sharing.  In addition, rating and commenting have become an integral part of the YouTube experience.

So, this week, participants of the Songwriters Association of Canada’s Canadian Songwriters Social Media Challenge (based on the book, “Music Success in 9 Weeks,” by Ariel Hyatt), are putting their best YouTube face forward by building or tweaking their YouTube Channels.

We’ll see YOU on YouTube!

Here are some highlight videos from our participants!

Instructions for Challenge Takers living on the edge:

1.  Link to your blog entry for the week. (exact URL)
2.  Link to your YouTube Channel.
3.  Link to a YouTube video created specifically for this week.

Eat, pray, songwriting…keeping it simple.

Sarah Calvert is a mult-talented singer/songwriter, and also a participant in the S.A.C. Canadian Songwriters Social Media Challenge.  She recently released “Other Side,” an album that features Canadian talents like Suzie Vinnick, Brian MacMillan, Andrew Collins, and Tim Bovaconti.  As many artists can resonate with, Sarah encountered strife and turmoil while touring her album, leading her to strip away everything familiar, including her primary instrument.  She jettisoned to Hawaii and India where she developed a deep appreciation of keeping things simple that has been reflected in her new approach to songwriting.  Not unlike the author of “Eat, Pray, Love,”  Sarah’s journey crystallized things she couldn’t see as clearly while caught up in the busyness of modern day living and touring.   May her story serve as a reminder of the inspiration that comes from leaving our respective comfort zones, as well as the value of keeping things simple in songwriting.

In Her Words…

Music. Glamour. Travel. Frostbite. I didn’t anticipate on the latter aspect of touring a new album. Last winter I toured my latest record, “Other Side” to the other side of Canada: B.C. and Alberta. Many of my friends were perplexed, “Why would you go now, with all of the snow?”  I responded that it was perfect timing because of the record-breaking amounts of snow. As a former professional ski bum, a tour through the mountains was idyllic. And it was, to a certain extent. I sang, I skied, I cried.

What I did not know, was that a vigorous musical/teaching tour (I taught songwriting and yoga to pay for lift tickets and gas) coupled with a rigorous ski regime would leave me both burnt out and freezing.

It was a month and a half into the tour, and minus 35 in Kelowna when I pulled up to the Bike Café for a show. As I fumbled with near-frostbitten hands to unload my piano, my ski poles became entangled in the mic stand. The buckle of my snowshoe had trapped the cord to my amp, and as I gave a yank on the ski pole, nearly everything in the car fell out with a thud onto the icy road. I did what any other tired musician who had slept on a myriad of couches over the past few months would do: I cried my eyes out. Then I wrote about it.

The glamour of being in new places almost everyday had faded as quickly as Jessica Simpson’s singing career and I longed for my own space, my own bed, and warmth. Yes, the name “Sarah” does mean Hebrew Princess, of which I am both, so I blame it on my name. The next day I contacted an old friend in Nelson; she had a house vacant in Hawaii and asked if I wanted to stay there for a week to recharge my batteries. I thought long and hard about it for 3.2 seconds and was on the phone booking my flight.

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Fast-forward three days to Vancouver where I boarded a plane to Kauai aboard United Airlines. After the infamous and unfortunate “incident” with Dave Carrol and his broken guitar, I decided to leave my precious Larivee at a friend’s and would buy a cheap ukulele when I got there. As soon as I got off the plane, picked up my rental car and headed north, I stopped into the first music store I saw and bought a uke for 60 bucks from Mike, the charismatic owner of the store. It was a torrential downpour, so he showed me a few chords as we waited for the rain to subside. During that week I sat on various porches, verandas, and beaches, strumming and plunking away. I didn’t know what chords I was playing, with the exception of C F and G7 that I had learned from Mike. I began writing songs that comprised of three or four chords: harmonically uncomplicated, yet lyrically rich. I was keeping it simple.

After my  Hawaii trip,  I remained in Vancouver to do a few shows when I got an email from a fellow yoga teacher in Toronto asking if any Toronto Kundalini Yoga teachers could go to India to teach for a few weeks, beginning next week. Again I agonized over the idea of going for the tried and tested 3.2 seconds and booked a flight to Delhi for the next week. Just one bag, one uke, and me. No ski poles, amps, loop pedals and snowshoes. Simplicity.

Once I arrived in Delhi, I was told my bags did not make it with me, and were held up in Amsterdam; all I had was my purse, a small carry on and my uke. I traveled north to Chandigarh by bus, which was an 8-hour affair, and arrived early morning. For the first few days, I didn’t have classes as the regular instructor was still there, so I sat out on my porch overlooking a quiet street, a plethora of dahlias and marigolds, and strummed my uke and the four chords I now had mastered. As a jazz trained pianist, I found it liberating to ditch the sometimes-intricate chords I integrated into my music: the diminished sevens, the augmented F#. I focused more on the lyrics and images I wanted to create with words and phrases. As it turned out, I was not able to get my bag for five days, and so, day after day, I sat in the same shirt and pants and continued to strum the same 4 chords and write songs. I remembered seeing Emmylou Harris at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival years ago during a songwriting workshop where she agreed that there is power in “three chords and the truth”. Indeed. I was one-upping that with my four.

I had just started reading Diane Ackerman’s A Natural History of the Senses, and in Hawaii had read Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver, whereby the female protagonist finally finds love late in life, only to find it is fleeting and ends up alone. I used the themes and images from both of these books to write a song called, Swept Away, where I imagined myself the female protagonist. Nobody warned me of the power of manifestation in sacred India, and I too found love that was fleeting and resulted in heartache and an arranged marriage: not mine. That however, that is another story.

India is the perfect place for artists to tune into our senses; I have never visited such a sensual country. The vibrant colours of flowers, silk cloths and nature, the smells of incense, the noise in Delhi, the silence of the Himalayas, and the touch of a beloved’s hand upon skin. Sense profoundly influenced my songwriting over the 3 months I was there. I encourage all songwriters, no matter where we are, to tap into the senses whenever we can. To connect to ourselves and each other is why we write, and we all can relate to each other through the simplicity of a sight, a sound, a taste or a touch. Three chords may be all you need to speak your truth. Some of my fave tunes employ three chords: Neil Young’s Helpless, John Prine’s Angel of Montgomery. Just remember that inspiration is abound; in books, art and our lives. It’s simple.

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