Protecting your Creative Voice: Tools to staying focused, motivated and optimistic while creating.

Image by John Liu courtesy of Creative Commons licence.
Image by John Liu courtesy of Creative Commons licence.

by Gail Packwood

One of the challenges of a career in the creative arts is that there’s no right or wrong. There’s no definitive road map or method of determining success. Keep this in mind on days when creating feels more difficult than others, when the inner critic is loud and persistently gnawing away at your self-esteem. The songwriter’s creative voice is just as important to nurture and support as is the physical voice. It takes the same focus, time and commitment.

Check your physicality

A singer would not consider performing without a vocal warm-up. The physical and mental demands of performing are similar to those
of a songwriter’s off-stage creative period. It’s therefore important to regularly ‘check in’ with yourself. How do you feel physically? If you don’t ask yourself this question, you may overlook something that’s inhibiting your work simply because you haven’t acknowledged it. Physical aches can affect concentration as much as loud noises can distract you. Take a moment to stop and just breathe before turning back to your work. Have you created a physical environment that enhances your creative process?

Visualize, declutter and breathe

Visualization is one way to help manage thoughts and emotions. It can help calm you, and declutter the to-do lists and the life pressures that interrupt the creative process. For the brain, imagining something and actually doing it have the same positive effect. By taking a moment to pause, breathe and mentally take yourself through your next creative steps, you can receive the same mental benefits as you do from actually completing the task. This should help you feel more focused and confi- dent. Taking a walk can have an equally positive effect by removing your- self from the work at hand but not spending that time ‘doing’ something else.

Be kind to yourself

We are all our own worst critic. Silencing negative inner-voices is a key step in maintaining healthy creativity. A slight change in how we ac- knowledge an event can make a huge difference. Recognize and replace self-defeating thoughts by analyzing how the event made you feel. What was your initial response? What would be the reasonable response (imagining that it involved someone else and not yourself )? Give your- self the same kindness that you’d give others. You’re worth it!

Gail Packwood was previously the Executive Director of the Artists’ Health Centre Foundation (

Originally published in the 2011/12 edition of Songwriters Magazine.


200 shows and counting…

Amanda CottreauBy Amanda Cottreau

I’m no expert on the matter but, after having playing over 200 shows in the last four years, there are a number of things I have learned:

My voice is a most precious and delicate instrument; it took nearly losing it to come to that realization. Investing in vocal lessons literally saved my voice. Now, before any show, I take the time to warm up and stretch my vocal muscles with the guidance of one of my mentors and industry go-to-girls, Cari Cole.  I also learned to practice finger exercises that minimize the repetitive strain brought on by guitar playing for hours on end each day.  Of course, exercising your whole body, keeping hydrated and taking time to rest are super important too!

In the beginning, I played just about anywhere I could get a gig.  That said, as great as bars are for well paying cover gigs, they are not well suited for sharing intimate moments with the audience, which is very important to me.  I now veer toward cafes, galleries, and private homes, venues that better facilitate one-on-one connections with my listeners.

Getting people to want to come out to your shows requires more than just putting up posters and having an online presence.  Connecting one-on-one with people in a genuine and meaning full way is the most effective advertising in the world; it takes time and boundless energy but is priceless.  Whether it is in person or online, it is important to build sustainable relationships and engage community.  As a single mother of one, with a full time day job, in addition to managing a music career, I have found the use of social media tools like Twitter, Facebook and Reverbnation to be invaluable assets.  They have allowed me to establish and cultivate relationships with a diverse range of people in both my local and global communities.

As much as I love sharing music, and would continue to create it whether or not I was paid, I have come to realize that my time and skills are valuable and gear costs money!  All of the peripheral things required to make my music accessible – rentals, gas, guitar strings, rehearsal time, business cards, posters, website costs, membership fees, etc. – really add up.  I quickly learned that it was necessary and warranted to ask for payment.  Be mindful of what you ask for, though; if you ask for change, you’ll most likely get just that. I always make a point, now, to ask for listeners’ gratitude in the form of attention AND dollar bills.

As an independent artist, touring can be a really expensive and overwhelming venture.  I wish I had done more research and planning before hitting the road!  I made sure to registered all my songs with SOCAN and submitted for all my live performances but I wish I had read these two articles first: How to make the best of a Canadian Tour & Booking Your Canadian Tour – Tips by Ann Vriend.   Did you know that there’s even funding available for touring through FACTOR!?  Like I said, do your research.

Honestly, of everything I’ve learned, success really isn’t about money, it’s about people.  For me, taking things to the next level has always been more about achieving greater depth with my audience rather than higher ranks on the charts.  Music has always been a way to centre myself, allowing me to become aware and fully grounded in the moment.  It has been a way for me to communicate my experiences, build relationships, and engage like-minded individuals in my community. If I were to measure success by the quality of my relationships, well then, I think I’m one of the most successful people I know!

Click Here to visit Amanda’s Songwriters’ Profile.

Taking Your Music to Live Theatre

Kat Leonard launched her first solo show at the Toronto Fringe Festival this year garnering critical acclaim and an invitation to remount the show.  It’s one thing to write and record your own album (which is already a remarkable achievement to most), it’s quite another to mount an entire live theatre show with synced video that showcases your music.  The only other person I’ve seen dancing alongside videotaped dancers is Beyonce!  Kat generously offered to pull back the curtain to give us a speak peak at the process of taking on a project of this scale.  Thanks Kat!

In Kat’s Words…

Being a performer is to constantly strive to express what’s in your heart in an accessible manner.  As a live performer, the challenge is to navigate your artistic vision within the practical conventions of time, space and technology.  And in a live performance, you only get one shot.  You are in a moment that you cannot take back.  There are no edits or second-takes.  In a perfect world, our performance goes off without a hitch and the message is translated as intended.  In a perfect world, no speakers or light bulbs blow, the power doesn’t go out, we don’t forget our own lyrics, we don’t lose our breath, and we don’t slip in our own sweat.  Unfortunately, it’s not a perfect world.  In the end, it is up to the performer under that faulty light, on that slippery stage, in that moment, to make the most of the moment– whatever it may bring.

November 2010 I got into The Toronto Fringe Festival for July 2011.  It was a dream came true and A Depper Kind Of Love (my multimedia one-woman musical comedy extravaganza) was fueled.  For 7 months I toiled in preparation.  I released a CD of 10 original songs along with a 52-minute video to run alongside the live performance.  I started regular cardio exercise so I’d be in shape to deliver the spectacle.  7 months of planning, writing, recording, editing, choreographing, promoting, rehearsing, laughing, doubting, sweating and fretting, tantrumming and computer boxing.  (Computer boxing: the act of punching the lights out of your computer for inexplicably and insensitively losing your masterpiece and/or refusing to follow straightforward commands.) And finally THE MOMENT had come.

Show #1: We opened to a glorious and enthusiastic audience… and halfway through, the video zonked out.

Show #2: We were received by an exuberant sing-along audience… and halfway through, I strained my hamstring jumping into un-choreographed splits I curiously found necessary at the time.

Shows #3-7: I struggled physically with pain and exhaustion and a forced change in choreography.  I struggled emotionally to put my ego aside and accept the fact that I was unable to present the show as I had designed and rehearsed for 7 months.

Due to technical breakdown and injury, I never performed the second part of the show as planned.  The execution of the show had changed, but I realized that it was still a string of moments that I as the performer was responsible to make the most of.  At the end of the day, even in a big-budget exhibition, a live show always comes down to the performer.  The performer is the show.  I keep this in mind as I prepare for the remount of Depper Love this November.  And I extend this lesson to my life.  I try to remember to always live in the moment and make the most of that moment, ‘cause you only get one shot, you ARE the show, and the show must go on.

Visit Kat Leonard’s Songwriters’ Profile.

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