In the spirit of collaboration – A story from the S.A.C. Songwriting/Blogging Challenge 2014

Rosanneby Rosanne Baker Thornley

Every song is a journey. At the middle of which is a compelling statement, an engaging story, an emotion. It’s your perception, your belief, what you struggle with, or towards, it’s your aspirations – set to a melody. And whether the song reveals your deepest corners or is a story captured and told through your eyes – whether it’s your song to sing or for someone else to sing – at the heart of the song, is you.

I began songwriting at the age of 8. Embedded in the folk scene at 14, I crossed the ocean at 16 to perform in Europe, spent many years as lead singer and songwriter / co-writer with various rock bands touring North America and then went on my own, focused on writing and releasing my album. I’ve written an extensive catalogue of songs over ‘a few’ decades – and through the years I have struggled with and established a personal relationship and process with my songwriting.

In February I received an SAC email about the 2014 Songwriting & Blogging Challenge hosted by Christopher Ward. Six songs in six weeks. A new song written each week based on Chris’s suggested approaches with decipherable versions to be uploaded by the end
of each week for critique and comment by the participating writers. More so than usual, I was a live wire – every image, thought or conversation guised as a song. The regimented writing with a deadline was intense, but once my brain shifted gears, I ramped up, held on, and wrote and wrote and wrote as songs came to me. And while many participants fell to the wayside exhausted, overwhelmed or, just simply short on time – those who hung in were the better for it.

I listened to what was almost a hundred writers at the beginning of the challenge and
was exposed to all levels and experience of songwriting. The final weeks’ challenge – to collaborate with another writer in the group. Although I’m no stranger to co-writing, I have become pretty entrenched in my solitary writing ‘space’. So collaborating with someone
I didn’t know and anticipating that it was likely going to take place over Skype, I thought was going to be completely out of my comfort zone. However, determined to successfully complete the challenge, I reached out to singer/songwriter North Easton from Ottawa.
I had been quite intrigued with North’s talent, his level of writing and the songs he had been posting throughout the challenge. I also very much admired the intensity, emotion and tone in his voice. Genuinely talented. Well, I thought, this ‘might’ work.

And so, the challenge was on. One song in one week with very little time to spend –
North and I were literally thrown together with our individual styles, rhyming patterns
and thoughts on how to convey an idea into virtual space. Initially emailing North a list
of possible song concepts, we both agreed that a photography exhibit I had come across by Boston, Massachusetts photographer Trent Bell was of interest. Bell had created a series of powerful portrait images that showed what a group of prison inmates would tell their past selves if they could turn back the hands of time. Each inmate was asked to pen a letter to

their past selves. Bell then took their portraits and edited their letters into the background, serving as powerful testaments to their regrets, their mistakes and their new-found wisdom. I was truly inspired by this body of work, as was North.

Now … North works on an ongoing basis with writers of all levels who look to him for his songwriting experience, expertise and guidance. He too has amassed a considerable catalogue of songs over his career and of course established his own methodology for writing songs. After our initial conversation on Skype about our ideas and intention for the song, we both set off on our own to write. Feeling confident in North’s ability to drive the music, I focused my energy on building the story and lyric. Reading and rereading the prisoners letters, I felt their angst as I emotionally transported myself into the cold dark cell to sit on the cot and stare out the window. Meanwhile, North, excited with the potential in the song, quickly grabbed his guitar, climbed into his studio and sent me back an almost completed song – excited and confident that he had captured the ideas we had discussed. However, I had also written a lyric that I felt was strong and I was pretty sure that my lyric better captured what we needed to portray. Feeling rather awkward, but at the same time not willing to settle for less than what I thought the song could be, I hesitantly responded to North’s email with “Hey North … um … I like the first line in the pre-chorus”.

“This is not going to be easy” – a sentiment shared by us both. In fact, after our 2nd Skype session, with me standing my ground and North his – I was pretty sure I was going to end
up writing my collaborative song all by myself. Clearly he was inflexible and this wasn’t going to work. And North, well, he was thinking pretty much the same thing about me. However, with the song at the center, we started talking and, listening to each other. In opening up, we both agreed that my lyric served the song better. Time ticking, we battled back and forth while we worked nose-to-nose, each of us bringing the strength of our writing styles to the table. Our mantra “in the spirit of collaboration” was repeatedly mentioned (muttered) to underline changes we wanted, or would agree to. And finally, barriers down, we experienced the magic, the rush, the pure energy of the song unfolding and taking on its own life. Each line, each note, getting stronger as we analyzed it – together.

“Turn”, is a song with passion and purpose. A song we both agree is some of the best work either of us have ever written. In fact, I sent it to the photographer with a note about the songwriting challenge, letting him know how far his reach had been with his “Reflect” project. His reply to hearing the song “I have not words. I could only cry as I listened”. Trent has since informed us of his plan to create a documentary around the “Reflect” project and has asked to use “Turn” in his soundtrack.

If not for the SAC Challenge, and leveraging the technology of Skype, this collaboration would never have happened. It was truly an insightful and rewarding experience working with North. And as fate would have it – we continue to work together with focused intention and scheduled writing sessions. There’s an underlying magic in what North and I have working together – I’ve been writing long enough to recognize it when I see it. And although we continue to be two alphas in a virtual room – most importantly, we greatly value what each of us brings to a song. And because of that, we’re smiling more.

Have a listen to the song:

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Songwriting Duo credits S.A.C. membership for recent Factor demo grant

Campbell-Green-promo-shot-1200We’re, Campbell + Green, a husband and wife duo who got serious about writing our own songs just a few years ago. Since then we have been actively educating ourselves on the craft of writing using whatever tools we can find. We’ve recorded a few CDs and are working on another.  We are excited to say we just received word of our first FACTOR demo grant to assist in our work!

We became SAC members (Click Here to view our Songwriters Profile.) in 2010 when we were living in BC. We started out visiting SAC events, SAC Songstage nights and ‘self-medicating’ by learning online, hosting songwriter workshops in our home (Shari Ulrich, Bruce Coughlan, Gregory Hoskins) and from books.

A life changing move occurred in May 2010 when, enticed by wanderlust and music and house prices, we pulled up roots and moved to Nova Scotia. It was a real learning situation getting in to the local community and fixing up our house as a small concert venue and, writing songs! Our writing culminated in our most recent CD ‘East’ which was completed June 2013 featuring 9 original tunes and has some great local players – Jamie Robinson – producer/guitar, Adam Dowling – Drums and Jamie Gatti – bass.

We have, very gratefully, made good use of other SAC resources by attending online seminars, one-on-one mentoring sessions and participating in the “6 songs in 6 weeks” 2014 blogging challenge with Christopher Ward. Part of this challenge included co-writing. We are both novices at co-writing and I, Robert, decided, ‘Why not connect with a proven winner’ and contacted North Easton, (the 2013 blogging champ who was back at it in 2014!). Using Skype and email we wrote an up tempo pop song, “A Simple Life”. North is a real gem and he quickly and skillfully crafted a scratch demo. We really like the tune and I sing it live now at gigs, albeit a tone lower and with a few small changes. We used that initial scratch track as part of a FACTOR application for our ‘demo’ grant and we were  successful in the process and are now eager to get in to the studio to record!

We can honestly say the cost of our SAC membership has been paid back many times over by the ideas, mentoring and education received.

Applying for grants and filling out forms and doing the business side of songwriting can be a real pain and can consume a lot of time however it is actually quite useful in a few ways. It has helped us:

  • take stock of what we do, who we are and where we are going and why. – It is easy to lose sight of this when dealing with day to day minutiae in our lives.
  • build a portfolio of documents, links and promo. – We now repurpose these for festival, grant and gig submissions. It pays to have at least some level of professionalism in our presentations and even if you don’t have a million dollar video there are lots of low / no cost ways to make things look good.
  • develop patience. – You don’t ‘win’ at the ‘submission game’ on the first or even 4th round. Keep trying.
  • gain more self confidence. –  Are we on the right track? As new writers one never really knows and has doubts that what you are doing is good, bad or indifferent. We have to find honest and useful critique (not criticism!) and a positive response on a grant or a good SAC songwriting seminar can not only be educational but also be really uplifting.

You just have to keep plugging away….

Cailin and I are now writing, and rewriting and rewriting and rewriting, our songs and will be in the studio soon. Well, that plus hosting the likes of Valdy & Gary Fjellgaard, “Tillers Folly” and Charlie A’Court In our 70 seat house venue in Dartmouth www.rocamusic.ca

Oh, ya, we are also touring some venues and festivals in New Brunswick, PEI and Nova Scotia this summer  www.CampbellAndGreen.ca, We love meeting other songwriters and invite you to come say hello, connect up and share stories about songwriting and maybe even do some co-writing.

This songwriting thing is a muscle that needs exercise. And co-writing is like having an ‘exercise buddy’. It may even grant you some other rewards… like a FACTOR grant!

Great Experience from a Great Experience – S.A.C. CHALLENGE 2014 Wrap up

by North Easton

Finding a clear spot on a desk filled with scraps of paper and coffee cups is no easy task. Like the mind, the desk is jumbled, messy, begging for simplicity but the rain of chaos keeps crashing down upon it. Anxious eyes scan words on a screen searching for the inspiration that will make a hand reach for that old guitar hanging on the wall and rise to the challenge set before him.

Six songs in six weeks.

When the email came in, I got excited. Hell, I felt like a kid standing in the cereal aisle with the green light to grab whatever I wanted. And each week, like many of my fellow songwriters, I pushed the clock, searched my mind and heart, and managed to come out the other side of the challenge…not only a better songwriter, but I made some friends, found some co-writers and added a few new songs to my existing catalogue.

The challenge within the challenge was finding the time each week to complete a full song to a level that would leave me smiling at the end of the day.

With Christopher Ward steering the ship, and a whole crew of Canadian songwriters aboard, I knew I was in for a pretty cool ride.

Week # 1 had us creating 5 opening lines, song titles and themes that truly inspired us. I draw your attention now to Mr. Matt Gerber. Title: “A perfect world.” An interesting melody gliding over unique chord changes reminiscent of great Beatles songs.

 

In week # 2, our challenge was to grow our antennae. Have a look at the outside world and pull a song from something we saw or witnessed.

The tragedy of loss is one of the hardest things we as human beings can ever go through. Knowing that we won’t see that familiar smile from someone we knew and loved is haunting, and it follows us for our entire lives. Sharing the pain of that experience is something that some people never have the ability to do. When I heard Lynn Mantles week #2 song, I stopped. My heart slowed down. I felt the pain in her voice and the memories in her lyrics. This is songwriting in its truest form…emotional and impossible to contain. Thank you for sharing Lynn.

 

Week #3 had us thinking outside of the box. Switching it all up for us. “Just Go With It” by Jesse Weeks…is a great example of a song not following all the rules of songwriting. Not only does it have some extremely unique instrument choices, the chord progression and lyrics leave me hanging on every corner of it waiting to see what comes by next.

 

In Week #4 we were challenged with spinning a cliche in a different direction. Taking the obvious and making it much less so. In all the blogs I read and songs I listened to that week, it was Allister Bradley who caught my attention. Not only for his song…or his brilliant voice…or the way he tickles the ivories, but his blog captured what the challenge was all about. A great job. I am providing a link here to his blog and you can play his song “It’s a Thin Line” from there.

allisterbradley

 

Week # 5 and the world is spinning. Some of us were not only charged, excited and slightly overwhelmed by the challenge, but this was a week where we were able to let go of what was building up inside our heads. The subconscious.

From the first week when I heard Scott’s introduction song up on the SAC Facebook site, I knew this guy had something pretty cool. Great voice, some great guitar skills, good feel and some interesting perspective on songwriting.

 

We closed everything out in a collaborative effort in Week #6. In that experience, my limits were tested, I opened my mind to others ways of working and learned more than I thought I would in this challenge. Thanks to my co-writers, Robert Campbell, Kristine St. Pierre and most certainly Rosanne Baker Thornley. Rosanne truly pushed me the hardest to expand my horizons…and after our sessions over skype, we had a song that would carry itself further than this challenge and into the eyes and lives of many more people.

 

As a songwriter who thrives on the heart and the honesty of a great song, this experience has not only made me a better writer, but has given me a new outlook on the landscape of Canadian Songwriters. Thank you Songwriters Association of Canada, and Lily Cheng for doing what you do.

Till next time
North Easton

The Challenge – Week 6 – Collaboration

Congratulations you’ve made it to the sixth challenge.   Most of you know that no songwriter is an island.  Collaboration is not just a buzzword.  You would have a hard time finding any top 10 songs with only one songwriter.  In fact, some songs have over 10 names attached to its creation.  Furthermore, collaborating is also an important part of building your network.  Please watch the video below to find out the collaboration story behind a song that was eventually recorded by the Backstreet Boys.

This week’s challenge:
By now you’ve gotten the opportunity to listen to songs from the other participants in the challenge.  Connect with those whom you feel compliment your skills and style.  In groups of 2 or more, collaborate on a song.   You can decide if you will do it in real time via Skype or by sending tracks and lyrics to each other via email.  Please blog about your experience, the highlights and the challenges.
Deadline:  April 1st (it’s not a joke).
Please post the following:
1.  The names of the people with whom you collaborated.
2.  A link to a blog about your experience.
3.  SoundCloud link to your song.

The Challenge – Week 5 – Trusting the subconscious

Are you ready for Week 5?  Only 2 more challenges to go.  This week we will explore trusting the subconscious.

Every writer has had the experience of coming up with a good idea and having no idea where it came from. We might try to recapture the magic by wearing the lucky t-shirt or using the magic pen, but is there a way to tap into that vast reservoir of ideas that live below the surface of the conscious? You can try stream-of-consciousness writing where you write, without stopping, judging or editing until you run out of ideas or your hand gets tired.

This week’s challenge:
Watch the video below.  Then, for the next five days, spend at least 10 minutes (or until your hands get tired) writing from your stream of consciousness.  At the end of the week, review what you have written and look for at least 5 ideas that could become songs.  Choose one to bring to fruition.

Deadline:  Tuesday, March 25
Please post the following:
1.  The theme you chose to write about.
2.  Your blog link.
3.  Your SoundCloud Link.

The Challenge – Week 4 – Rock The Cliché

How did it feel to leave your familiar structures and move your songwriting to uncharted territory?  Hopefully last week’s challenge broadened your approach.  This week we’re going to look inside the box by examining how to Rock The Cliché.

Songwriters are a restless lot. We get bored easily and sometimes abandon things too quickly, perhaps leaving behind some good ideas. We also have a love/hate relationship with clichés. They can sound tired and shopworn or tried and true, depending on the circumstances and how lazy we feel. In this segment, one of the best-loved songwriters of all time weighs in on not avoiding the obvious.
Watch the following video, then pick 10 cliches and brainstorm ways each could be interpreted from a different perspective.

Pick one to expand into a song.

Deadline: March 17
Please post the following:
1. Which cliche you chose to use.
2. A link to your blog.
3. A link to your song.

The Challenge – Week 3 – Time to experiment!

By Christopher Ward

We’re almost halfway through the challenge!  It’s been great to see all the songwriting and networking that has been happening on Facebook and on our blog.  Hope you will enjoy this week’s assignment.

It’s easy to get caught up in using the age-old forms when writing a song – Verse/Chorus/Verse/Chorus/Bridge/Chorus. Yes, it works, but sometimes you can freshen up your writing and find yourself going down new pathways if you mix it up a bit. Something as simple as starting with the chorus like so many Beatle songs did (‘Cant Buy Me Love’, ‘Please Please Me’) and like Maroon 5 do in ‘Payphone’, can pull a listener in very quickly because they don’t have to wait for the big hook.

Using odd line lengths or unexpected rhyme schemes can get you out of a rut too. Remember – you can always get back in the box and colour inside the lines another time!

Deadline is March 10
Take a look at the video below and do the following assignment, posting in the comment section below:
1.  Identify your common songwriting ruts.  Why are these structures/forms comfortable for you?
2.  Write a song that breaks 1 or more of these “rules.”
3.  Have fun writing outside the box!