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Challenge #2: Lyrics and Storytelling

July 11, 2016

Week #2: July 10-16, 2016
Challenge #2: Lyrics and Storytelling
By: Bryan Potvin

Bryan Potvin photo

1. Write a song that tells a story

It can be in any genre. This is a very lyrically driven song that heavily relies on a story arc and timeline with characters, conflict and resolution.

I’d like to cite the following tunes as examples for the “Story Songs” challenge:

“Cats In The Cradle” – Harry Chapin
“Taxi” – Harry Chapin

“Operator” – Jim Croce

“She Ain’t Pretty” – The Northern Pikes

“She Didn’t Have Time” – Terri Clark

“Ain’t Life A Brook” – Ferron

“Downbound Train” – Bruce Springsteen

“The Gentleman Soldier” – The Pogues

“I Will Take Care Of You” – Amy Sky

This challenge is aimed at writing a great ’story song’. The music should not be a simple accompaniment to the story, like background music. It should be a song with memorable melody, chord structure and rhythm that speaks to the ideas within the story. This is a story driven tune so sitting down and writing lyrics first might not be a bad idea. Or at least get a concept or outline down lyrically, perhaps a chorus or lyric refrain, something which will hopefully give you clues to finding the feel for the rest of the song. A good story arc has characters we care about, conflict and resolution. And you’ve usually got somewhere between two and a half to four minutes to do it in.

Hopefully your story drives your song, not only lyrically but musically as well!


Bryan Potvin

In order to successfully complete the first challenge you are required to:
1) Write and record a song following the description of the week #2 Challenge
2) Write a blog post about your experience and post this on your own blog
3) Upload your song to SoundCloud or any other MP3 hosting site
4) Post the link to your blog post and the link to your song as a comment on this blog post by 11:59pm EST on Saturday July 16, 2016. (Click on “Leave A Reply” at the bottom of the Challenge post for that week, please put your full name and your email address in the appropriate fields). *
*Please note that the weekly Challenge will always be posted on our blog the Monday following, so if you complete your song before that, please hold on to your submissions until we notify you of the blog post.

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Challenge #1: The Mechanics of Songwriting

July 4, 2016

Challenge by: Murray Daigle

Murray Daigle photo

1. Write a song using no more than 2 chords
2. Write a song that has a single repeating riff (1-bar in length)

This challenge is designed to make writers focus on fundamental “hooks” to create a great song. Also to underline the “catchiness” of the melody, vocal rhythm and lyric will be very important. This limitation takes away the writer’s ability to simply use a chord pattern change and define the musical space. You will actually have to write verses, choruses and bridges that define themselves and “speak” as they should in the context of the song.  There is a list of huge hit songs below that cross genres and eras that meet this criteria… so it can be done!

Tips and suggestions:
I would approach this by focusing on the chorus hook first. Find something simple and catchy, even if it’s just based in the rhythm of the vocal, to drive the song. Then I would figure out how the verses take the journey to get me back around to the hook.

2 examples:
“Born in the USA” by Bruce Springsteen uses the same notes in the verse and the chorus melodies (same harmonic structure), just changing the rhythm structure of the lines to define the difference. Also, note that the “weight” of the chorus lyric is essential to the song’s success and power.

“Closer” by Ne-yo is very dependent on the rhythm structures of the vocals to define the parts. Also, the chorus melodies are higher than the verses. In fact the first note of the chorus is the highest note he hits up to that point in the song.  Note that the repeating lyrics and “call-backs” in the chorus are very catchy. He repeats “come closer” 14 times in the song and “I just can’t stop” 29 times!

“Moves Like Jagger” – Maroon 5
“Blurred Lines” – Pharrell/Thicke
“Born In the USA” – Bruce Springsteen
“Jane Says” – Jane’s Addiction
“Elenor Rigby” – Beatles
“Don’t Let Me Down” – Beatles
“Horse With No Name” – America
“Dreams” – Fleetwood Mac
“Fallin'” – Alecia Keys
“505” – Artic Monkeys
“Give Peace A Chance” – John Lennon
“Closer” – Ne-yo
“When Love Comes to Town” – U2

Good Luck! 🙂

Murray Daigle

In order to successfully complete the first challenge you are required to: 
1) Write and record a song following the description of the week #1 Challenge 
2) Write a blog post about your experience writing this week
3) Upload your song to SoundCloud or any other MP3 hosting site
4) Post the link to your blog post and the link to your song by 11:59pm EST on Saturday July 9, 2016. (Click on “Leave A Reply” at the bottom of this Challenge post, please put your full name and your email address in the appropriate fields).


Your comment will not appear until they are cleared by our website editor please allow upto 48hours.

Co-Writing Carnival was a Roller-Coaster Ride

June 30, 2016

Article by S.A.C. Member and Challenge Participant, Mikalyn Hay


Up, down, spinning around
I don’t know which way to turn
High, low, where’d you go
Lost in a carnival

I recently got a taste of modern songwriting and landed a third-place finish in the Indie International Songwriting Contest (IISC) in the singer-songwriter category with a song that started as a simple chorus about how dating and life can be a roller coaster – pretty cool at 13 to be competing with adult songwriters.

But, I didn’t get there all by myself—I had the best support team. My dad Michael acted as agent, glue and chief bottle washer (CBW). We used four co-writers and a few professional DAW experts. And, we got a lot of great advice from all corners of this continent—generously given and graciously accepted.

My dad met Paul Tarvydas at the 2014 SAC Challenge and liked his passion for lyric theory. So, he asked Paul to look over my lyrics for a new song “Carnival” in the winter of 2014, and offer his comments.

When the 2015 SAC Challenge began, work on the song went into overdrive. We focused on pitching it to Matt Dusk, who was asking for something young-sounding.

I sang and re-sang the song over and over. My dad ‘shipped’ (well, emailed) revisions to Paul who always had something he wanted to tweak. In the end, his worksheet clocked in at more than 1,000 lines—lines were repeated, but tweaked and kept improving.

In February (and during one of the worst winter snowstorms that season) Canadian singer-songwriter Emm Gryner taught a songwriting weekend at Seneca’s Oakville campus. Paul braved the weather (and Toronto traffic) to share our song and his excitement with Emm’s class. Literally, that weekend, I was laying down tracks for the song in Allister Bradley’s studio. Everyone in Emm’s class was thrilled to see and hear a work in progress.

Well, the SAC Challenge ended and we hadn’t heard back from the Dusk camp. Carnival fell between the cracks. Ah, rejection. The first thing to learn when going into the music business. But, we also learned a lot during the Challenge—songs that were strongly produced were forwarded.

At that point, we all still believed in the song. We wanted to push the envelope and go through the full learning curve. If we produced it more heavily, where could it go?

My dad called in another favour and approached Shawn Brady who heads up a U2 tribute band, and whose recent album Northern Sons is a favourite in our house.

Shawn had a strong vision for the intro and chorus of the song and made it alternative rock while keeping the verses simple—just me at my piano.

I took a couple afternoons off school and drove to Toronto. We went into a practice room for a few hours, where Shawn sketched out his vision for the song arrangement.

Then, we went to Lincoln County Social Club to lay down the bed tracks, using ancient, real pianos, an old MOOG synth, an acoustic drum kit and a $14,000-microphone (on loan).

Shawn changed one line in the studio: “This masquerade is beautiful” became “This masquerade brings a beautiful fear.” Paul was in the studio and nagged me about a phrasing issue because he wanted to ensure that I was not saying an important word in the verse on a half beat instead of the downbeat   A purposeful pause later, I had it. Maybe it is the little things that make songs better?

We worked with those tracks for a while, over a few months. Something wasn’t clicking and Shawn knew it could be better.

So, Shawn suggested we send the tracks to Cory Tetford in Halifax.

Connections, connections.

Cory re-did some of the drum tracks and mixed it down. [Side note: Cory is now touring with Alan Doyle (GBS) and opening for Bare Naked Ladies]. One day, Shawn phoned and wanted us to a sing a harmony on one line in the song, so I ran downstairs and recorded that one line in the DAW and sent Shawn who sent it to Cory.

That final mix is what my dad submitted to IISC. He didn’t bother to tell me or the other co-writers about this contest entry, so when the results came in, we were all so happy and delightfully surprised. It also did very well in this years CBC Searchlight and was highlighted as a top 20 song from Artists under 20. As well it made the finals of the teen category for the ISC but had to be removed because my dad hadn’t read the fine print, which states that all writers on the song had to be under 18.

During this process, a large number of songwriters heard the demos and commented on them. First, the two coordinators of the SAC Challenge—Debra Alexander and James Linderman—gave us invaluable advice. Any number of SAC members (also in the Challenge) contributed. Emm Gryner and her class contributed. Paul flew Carnival down to Austin and had one of the top songwriting instructors in the world—Pat Pattison—critique it, including everyone in his Austin class. This is the reason we switched the order of the verses. Allister Bradley, Cory Tetford. Wow. As a young writer, I really rely on the advice of more experienced writers—I wouldn’t be here without their collaboration and am so grateful for everything I’ve learned through the SAC.

Not just that, but I got to work on my first Youube video, released just last week.  I didn’t plan to make the video for it –but Aaron Soch who is a talented filmmaker listened to the song and said –‘make the video”. So we did and I am so glad he convinced us to do it. The video and the song marks a starting point for me.

The song is on iTunes and on YouTube

I’m in awe about where this journey and carnival took me. Thanks so much SAC and can’t wait for this year’s challenge, with more to come.

PS – since releasing Carnival I have written a couple more songs with Murray Daigle and Bobby John (Free as Bird) and with Tyler Simmons (Save Yourself).   Both are available on iTunes and you can see the video on my YouTube channel

Roveena lets her love light the way

October 1, 2015

RoveenaAfter her father was diagnosed with stage 4 lymphoma cancer, Roveena set out on a mission to raise awareness by becoming the brand ambassador for Lymphoma Canada.  Roveena recently released Love Will Light The Way (2015) – Lymphoma Cancer edition proceeds of which will be helping individuals who have been diagnosed and/or living with Lymphoma. Net proceeds from the sale and streaming of Love Will Light The Way will be donated to Lymphoma Canada! The songwriters,Andrea England, Luke McMaster and Liz Rodrigues, are 100% supportive of this initiative!   We asked Roveena a few questions about this project and her recent journey.

1.  How has your father’s cancer diagnosis impacted your craft and path as an artist?
I was in the middle writing and recording my 2nd album when my dad was diagnosed with Stage 4 Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. I was left feeling heartbroken and speechless. While in the studio, my producer James Bryan, formerly from The Philosopher Kings, told me to really harvest those emotions and put them into songs. In doing so, it was a great release for me – I was feeling empowered and my skill of songwriting had improved. I slowly started to see that my path as an artist became a lot more clearer.

2.  What should people know about lymphoma?
Lymphoma is the 5th most common cancer is Canada. It can really impact any age, race, gender but more importantly it can go undiagnosed/misdiagnosed for years. Many people have never heard of Lymphoma and my plan is to change that and really bring awareness to the forefront.

3.  How did your partnership with Lymphoma Canada come to be?
When we received my dad’s diagnosis, I had no idea what was Lymphoma was. Lymphoma Canada is a non-profit organization that provides tons of information along with support groups for anyone newly diagnosed. I decided to reach out to them because I wanted to help anyone else going through the same situation my family was experiencing. My goal is to raise awareness about this type of cancer. I didn’t want anyone else to be blindsided by a diagnosis of Lymphoma, but more importantly I wanted people to be informed about this type of cancer. Information is power and the more you know the more control you will have when you fight this disease.

4.  Who chose the song “Love Will Light The Way” for the campaign? 
Lymphoma Canada heard this song and instantly fell in love with the message. Lymphoma doesn’t just affect the individuals that have been diagnosed – it also affects their loved ones just as much. This song provides hope and knowing that the affected are not alone and they have full support surrounding them.

5.  The song is written by Andrea England, Luke McMaster and Liz Rodrigues.  How did this song land on your album Perfect World?
I have had the pleasure of working and knowing Andrea for a few years now! As a veteran songwriter and artist, I am blessed that she has been a mentor to me. She pitched the song to me when I first started recording my debut EP and I fell in love with it. It just fit well with the campaign we have for Lymphoma Canada. We decided to release this version of the song as Love Will Light The Way (2015) – Lymphoma Cancer Edition. All net proceeds from the sale and streaming of this single will be donated to Lymphoma Canada.

6.  What are you goals as a songwriter and as an artist in 2016?
I have been working with James Bryan (The Philosopher Kings) for the better part of 2015. We have written 5 new songs and they will all be featured in a new EP set to be released in the new year! My goal for 2016 is to have these songs placed as syncs and as a artist to be able to tour and open for other like-minded artists!

Visit Roveena’s Songwriters’ Profile.


“Shine As One” S.A.C. SongWorks Writes Pan Am/Parapan Am Medal Song

August 7, 2015
Pan Am 2015 Men's Bantam Weight 56Kg Medal Round. Photo by Harvey K. Creative Commons License.

Pan Am 2015 Men’s Bantam Weight 56Kg Medal Round. Photo by Harvey K. Creative Commons License.

As the sound of cheering crowds from the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games fade and the largest ever Parapan Am Games begin, there is a song that will continue to play until the games are finished, that is “Shine As One.” Written at a 3-day S.A.C. SongWorks songwriting camp, It’s the song that was chosen to be played while athletes receive their medals.  Originally written in 15 and 45 second parts, the song was later extended to versions up to 10 minutes long to make sure it could cover up to 20 athletes walking to the podium.  We interviewed Montreal songstress/songwriter Sally Folk, PEI Singer/Songwriter Dennis Ellsworth and Toronto based producer/songwriter Karen Kosowski about their experience writing this anthemic song.

1.  What is a highlight moment for you in writing the song?
Sally:  The first 5 minutes!  I think that meeting and greeting with new collaborators is always an awkward moment because, being used to write and compose alone, you really want to be easy going for this “one” time J  It’s like starting a new relationship, you want to stay yourself but also make sure the others are meeting their own standards. 
Dennis:  The collaboration was really fun. we worked really hard to be on point and it paid off.

2.  Have you attended any medal ceremonies to hear your song fill the stadium?
Sally:  Sad but no.  I’ve been touring out here in Québec.
Dennis:  Sadly, no.
Karen:  I attended one of the medal ceremonies at Sugar Beach, for an outdoor sailing event.  It was really cool to see.  I also checked out a lot of videos on Youtube and got to see the big stadium ceremonies… made me do a little ugly cry!

3.  What was the inspiration in writing this song at SongWorks?
Sally:  We were asked to write specifically for the PANAM Games so the song had to be very cheerful and bring everybody together.  Karen, who also produced the song, suggested a great beat and we started from there.
Dennis:  Sports. weird for me, but true. all the emotions that go hand in hand with competitive sports, but most importantly, that we are all winners.
Karen:  As the producer/writer in the room I like to come in with some possible starter material, so the song started from a track I had started the day before the camp.  I knew what we were going to be going for (loosely) so from a production standpoint I started out wanting to do something that had a multicultural flavor, and also something with high energy.  I started out with some big drums and some latin-american percussion and guitars.  Then writing the song with Dennis and Sophia was easy because we had a direction already.

4.  Have you ever collaborated with these writers before?
Sally:  No, that’s the fun about it.  You never know what to expect working with new collaborators as well as the final product.  It can totally bring you out of your comfort zone and that is why it is so important to do these kinds of works.  You grow as an artist.  I would definitely work with Karen and Dennis again.
Dennis:  No. I definitely hope so. It’s always nice to write with great writers, especially if we already have a rapport and a successful track record.
Karen:  That camp was our first time, but hopefully we will again soon!

5.  Any plans for the song after the games?
Sally:  You can purchase the original version of “SHINE AS ONE” on ITunes!
Dennis:  Not sure. I’d love to see it gets some more love.
Karen:  Nothing at the moment, although I suppose it could work for a lot of other similar types of events.

6.  How would you describe your experience of SongWorks to another songwriter considering participating in a future camp?
Sally:  Just do the work.  Be open to new ideas and have fun!
Dennis:  I adore the songworks camps. i meet great writers and have a blast. i’m always treated like gold and i always learn something that adds to my own skill set….something that i can bring to future writing camps or sessions. i’ve had nothing but gold from the camps i’ve attended.
Karen:  Writing camps like SongWorks are very much like a new blind date every day… it’s intense, fun, and it’s a great opportunity to meet other writers and producers. Try to get a lot of sleep to keep your energy up!!

7. What’s your favourite lyric in “Shine As One”?
Sally:  I love the pre-chorus:
     “Love and hope
     Hear our call
     All for one
     and one for all
     Everybody feel it now
     Sing  – it –  loud!”
I had a lot of fun singing it and I think it fits the purpose of the song perfectly.
Dennis:  Either – We love, we fight, we shine as one. OR we may look different, but we’re all the same
Karen:  “Let’s shine together bright as stars”

Christmas in July – Feedback on Submissions for The S.A.C. Songwriting & Blogging Challenge from Vince Degiorgio

July 7, 2015

Thanks to all who submitted to Vincent Degiorgio’s challenge to write a classic Christmas hit.
He was impressed with the quality and quantity of submissions.  He apologized profusely for the delay in responding.  We are grateful he took the time to do this.  In many ways, the delay provides a true-to-life experience for songwriters wanting replies from the industry.  You need to be persistent and have patience.  So, let’s celebrate Christmas in July.  Have a listen to these songs and see what Vince had to say…

“It’s Funny How Christmas Makes Me Cry” – Allister Bradley & Judy Marshak
-Love the traditional approach and the clean instrumentation
-I would have used, “It’s funny, how Christmas makes me cry” at the end of the second ‘verse’
By establishing this as the title, and it being able to make lyrical sense, so don’t throw that away !
-you’ve used a laundry list method to list all of the elements which is very good
-I think that since the song is basically a style in which the chorus sings as the verse, and the and chorus does likewise as a refrain, I would have inserted an instrumental passage, perhaps a guitar leading the first half and the piano doing the second half of your verse passage to give the singer a break.
-It’s extremely wordy at this point.
-Played this a number of times.
-With the lyric itself, it’s a wonderful exercise in editing and expression in some ways. For example: the 2nd line is using phrases like “oh, so warm”, which is great, but usually rests of expression are used later in a song.
-Another point is the lyricist has to completely personalize the song, otherwise it feels like poetry. Try re-framing the song with the vocalist being the complete narrator. It gets confusing because there is the thought of it the singer with this lyric referring to “I”, “we’ve” and “we are all still children” in three different sections. Choose your ultimate direction. If it’s you, it might work better and stronger to say “I’ve seen so many seasons” -etc.
-There is a lot here to continue to edit and tighten the story. Personalizing it is the key. Good effort.
-With a bit of work, this song could possibly work in a made for TV movie.

“Our First Christmas Eve” – by Michael Nowak
-The vocal performance is clear and clean
-Lyrically, I feel that it’s trying to saying too much in the space that the music provides
-the staccato movement of the end of the verse segments is very clever
-To recall, the references of a bona fide, texas size downpour, and a 40 proof egg nog paint a picture, however it might suit a holiday comedy musical more than in this traditional setting.
-I honestly would suggest trying to say less and be more concise.
-The arrangement here and the vocal are both terrific, but I feel that the lyric lets down the song. 

“Where’s The Elf” – by Scott MacKay and Judy Marshak
-This is wonderfully performed, but I have a problem.
-If the song is called “Where’s That Elf”, and in the first line of the song, you declare “I’m A Christmas Elf”, then it contradicts everything in the presentation of the title
-I actually would take the lines that say the word “Elf” in this throughout the song and re-write them, saving the impact of the Christmas elf to the very end of the song.
-The narrator is to my eyes, takes a step out of “Toy Story” at Christmas time.
-There are tons of lyrical gems here that can be maximized by holding back the impact of the “elf” until the end.
-This has a ton of potential. It may need an instrumental passage, and if done acoustically, should provide some space by taking a verse and whistling through it.
-Do these fixes and I think people, especially indie film supervisors will come looking for this song.

“All I Want Is You” by Bernadette Saquibal
-Very close to an early 90’s R&B soul treatment
-I’d suggest saving the title for the chorus
-A lot of stylistic phrasing and liberty with words, feels like more of an artist presentation of a song
-Chorus is disjointed for me
-I like the song, but wanted to love it. May be a bit to stylistic, and oversung to be placed.

“The Perfect Gift” – by Heather Meori
-Quirky inventive rhythm, immediately caught my ears
-Disagree with banking the title to the end of the song, which creates a clunky phrasing problem at the end of chorus sections…just use the Perfect Gift and cement your chorus !
-The tempo makes such a difference
-This is truly adorable.
-Wonderfully descriptive lyric, melodically moving, and kept subtle with an honest and true vocal performance
-Very publishable and a great song (just fix that chorus !)

“Christmas Eve” by Mel Farrimond
-This is just terrific. Fantastic lyric, Great delivery and more.
-I’m thinking in my head – oh, what strings could do for this !
-Evokes the voice of Beverly Craven – who happens to be one of my favourite singers
-Got goosebumps when the solo came in because it was crying for it and the double proved it
-Cements the theme – arrangement for a demo is outstanding
-Instrumental interplay towards the end is excellent and it closes strong.
-This is the winner – beautiful

“Christmas For Two” – Joe Stanton
-Really enjoyed listening to this entry
-Would suggest a little bit of editing and structure work to solidify the strength of the song
-I would try using the intro as the ending of your song
-Start the song with your opening verse, then, take a strong look and the melodic flow in the second half of the opening verse – it needs to flow better.
-The pre chorus intro is very pretty and has great movement
-The chorus is short and concise
-This song in particular was a tremendous challenge to the listener because there is so much there.
really enjoyed this song – listened to it ten times. One to watch.

Valdy’s “Play Me a Rock and Roll Song” inducted into Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame

June 3, 2015
Valdy & Justin Rutledge

CSHF Inductee Valdy and Juno Award Winner Justin Rutledge

In celebration of its induction into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame (CHSF) this week, the song “Play Me a Rock and Roll Song,” was covered by Juno Award winner Justin Rutledge as part of the CSHF and CBC/Radio-Canada’s Covered Classics series.  Written by Canadian singer-songwriter Valdy, “Play Me a Rock and Roll Song,” is a 1970s folk classic about his experience getting jeered by an audience for playing his folk music at a rock festival. The song spent 12 weeks on RPM’s Top 40 singles chart for Canada and went gold by 1975.

“It’s a huge honour to have my song ‘Play Me a Rock and Roll Song’ inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame,” says Valdy from his West Coast home. “I’m grateful to all involved, and hugely proud to have one of my songs included as a part of Canada’s musical legacy.”

“Valdy is an iconic songwriter and performer, and one of Canada’s great storytellers,” says Justin. “It’s an honour to perform ‘Play Me a Rock and Roll Song’ as part of the Covered Classics series, and to have the opportunity to celebrate Canada’s great songwriting heritage.”

Click Here for more information on the induction.
Click Here for more information on Covered Classics.