Bootcamp for Songwriters?

For the past 7 years songwriters from around the world have been coming to Toronto for a week of jamming, writing, rewriting and building friendships that last a lifetime. Songstudio (formerly the Humber Summer Songwriting Workshop) is an intensive week-long workshop that includes mentoring classes, co-writing opportunities, star guest speakers, late night jam sessions and open-mics held at prestigious venues across the city.  The only complaint many participants have is the lack of sleep that is bound to happen when there is so much to do!  We sat down with Songstudio founder and organizer, Blair Packham to find out more about the program that happens July 21-27 this year.  Click for details.

1. What made you decide to launch Songstudio (formerly the Humber Summer Songwriting Workshop)?
Rik Emmett and I felt there was a need for a songwriter-oriented workshop, something that dealt with the art and craft of actually writing great songs rather than focussing on the music industry, which was rapidly changing even then (2005). We both felt that if people are able to communicate better with their songs, the “industry part” would start to take care of itself.

2. Who are some of the exciting people who have come into the classroom as part of the SongStudio experience?
We have had so many great people: Ron Sexsmith, Andy Kim, Bruce Cockburn, Steven Page, Ed Robertson, Emm Gryner, Jules Shear, Shirley Eikhard…Lots of lesser-known people have contributed greatly, too. Terence Gowan was a great addition to the workshop, bringing his vast knowledge of pop music theory and deep enthusiasm for the genre. Lindy told us about writing songs that become well-known in commercials, and Terry Brown told us about producing Rush, and being the assistant engineer on The Who‘s “Substitute”. Greig Nori, of treble charger and Sum41 fame, brings his songwriting-for-the-contemporary-marketplace perspective, and Fergus Hambleton showed us how to look to the classics for contemporary inspiration. We’ve been blessed with excellent teachers, mentors and guests.

3. What is your favourite Songstudio memory?
That’s a tough one. Each year, after I have the greatest week of my life, I can’t imagine the next year being any better, but it always is, consistently. That said, I think the very first year, when we presented the Ed Robertson Award and I realized “We did it! We pulled it off!”—THAT was a great moment for me.

4. What are the most important skills you think participants walk away with?
The things we try to emphasize are concepts like there are NO sure-fire “rules” to songwriting success. It’s all about having tools in your toolbox, ideas and strategies you can call upon when the Muse strikes. It’s about getting out of your melodic, harmonic and lyrical ruts and trying new things. It’s the realization that re-writing is often—but not always—essential to writing a great song. And after re-writing, if you still like your original draft best, that’s okay, too.

5. What level of songwriter is this experience catered to?
We try to offer something for everybody at every level. We have lots of pro and semi-pro writers, but just as many beginners. Amongst the beginners are often several who don’t sing or play at all, but write lyrics.

6. What do people rave the most about after taking part in SongStudio?
Easy question with a simple answer: the community that they discover. This isn’t something we can take direct credit for; it’s more a measure of the great participants we seem to attract. It is THEY who continue to get together regularly after the workshop has long ended, who continue to communicate by email and Facebook and telephone, who visit each other in other cities. It’s humbling, actually, to see the connections that have been made because of SongStudio, but it would be incorrect for me or Rik to take credit for this phenomenon. (Maybe credit could go to the dynamic duo of Bill McKetrick and Allister Bradley, who really do foster connections between participants)

7. Songstudio is moving to the Royal Conservatory of Music this year. What can students look forward to in the new facilities?
The RCM is a beautiful, modern facility, with a great history in Toronto. We loved our time at Ryerson, and at Humber, too, but we expect the RCM experience to be even better: air-conditioned, silent practice rooms with pianos, a gorgeous meeting space (the Conservatory Theatre), excellent catering, and a great location right at Bloor and University in Toronto, just a half-block from the Royal Ontario Museum. It also feels appropriate that our songwriting workshop be located in a building that is dedicated to music and nothing but.

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Highlights from the ALL-STAR Bluebird North

The much anticipated ALL-STAR Bluebird North took place last week at Koerner Hall, where the acoustics of the room took as much of a center stage as the artists that filled the place with magic.  Rarely do we get to hear songwriters with such acoustic clarity and intimacy.

Suzie McNeil, Melanie Doane, Blair Packham, and Marc Jordan

The line-up was truly stellar, featuring Melanie Doane, Suzie McNeil, and Marc Jordan in the first set, along with host, Blair Packham.  Melanie filled the hall with her delicate voice and intimate songs.  She also proudly shared that her daughter also had a gig in a choral performance that night.  Suzie took over with her powerful vocals and stories of healing a broken heart that inspired her latest album.  Marc Jordan unashamedly stated that much money was made from his Rod Stewart Hit, “Rhythm of My Heart,” as he proceeded to enthrall the audience with his own rendition, ending the first round.

Dan Hill, Jane Siberry, Blair Packham and Ann Vriend

To many attendees, the night already felt complete after hearing such inspirational talent.  But the second half continued to raise the bar on the evening with Jane Siberry, Ann Vriend, and Dan Hill.  Each had a distinct voice and story to bring to the table.  Jane Siberry sang songs with a message for the soul.  She also took the audience on a songwriting adventure as she enacted the process of songwriting with a song about vampires.  Ann Vriend brought a fresh sound to the stage with her lively piano playing and lyrical singing style.  Dan Hill shared and sang powerfully about the loss of his father and the reflection that resulted in his grief.  He also sang a song about redemption while sharing about the tragic and violent life of a young person he had watched grow up, who was later shot to death.  Dan ended the evening with a much-anticipated rendition of his famous hit, “Sometimes When We Touch.”  Special thanks to Blair Packham who wove the evening together with his clever banter and songs that ranged from witty to heart-felt.

The evening passed far too quickly.  We could have stayed all night.  We’ll have to stay tuned for the next season of Bluebirth North in the fall…

If you were there, we’d love to hear your feedback.  Please fill out a quick survey – Click Here.