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 (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!

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.

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.

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.


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.

Click Here to visit Sarah’s Songwriters Profile.

Getting Your Hands Dirty With Social Media – The Challenge Week 4

Are these hands raised in victory or surrender? Photographer: Saint Huck (under Creative Commons via Flickr)

Last week participants in The Canadian Songwriters Social Media Challenge, hosted by The Songwriters Association of Canada, and sponsored by Bandzoogle, Reverbnation & CyberPR, took a giant leap in their online branding by looking at their websites – the home base of their online presence.  Based on the book, “Music Success in 9 Weeks,” by Ariel Hyatt, songwriters across Canada have been carving out time from their creative pursuits, to tackle the business aspect of their craft.  As a result, domain names were purchased, new websites were launched and existing websites were tweaked.  To visit our websites or view our blog entries CLICK HERE.

With websites established as a foundation, participants are now ready to tackle Week 4 – setting up social media.  For those who are not social media savvy, the book proves to be a great primer.  And for those who are already engaged online, the challenge is to develop an overarching strategy while choosing to use the right tools in an integrated way that a) won’t take up your entire life and b) will support the goals set out in Week 1.  Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Flickr, Reverbnation, Hootsuite, TweetDeck, Instagram…well, the list goes on!  Good luck to all our participants as we get our hands dirty in the trenches of all things social media.

If you’ve been tracking with the challenge, you will notice that the number of comments from Week 1 to Week 3 have already decreased significantly.  Some have been distracted by life, while others have continued to mull over their pitches as instructed in Week 2.  But we’re not counting anyone out until Week 9!  How many of 61 registrants will make it to the finish line?

Okay participants, please post the following:

1.  Link to this week’s blog entry.
2.  A list of any social media assets you started this week! (i.e. anything that didn’t exist before this week)

Building Your Website – The Challenge – Week 3

Things are about to get intense with the Canadian Songwriters Social Media Challenge.  The past 2 weeks have been a warm-up with goal-setting and crafting a pitch.  Now, participants will be getting their hands dirty as they work towards crafting a website.  Once upon a time, artists without label distribution were pretty much non-existent to the listening population.  But now, with online tools, every songwriter can create their own cozy corner of the world wide web.

The build-up to this task has been perfect, as songwriters will want to align their online entities with their goals and pitch.  What do you want people to know about you?  A visit to your URL should be the gateway to engaging with you and your music.

If you’re still in the process of crafting your pitch.  Perhaps watching these videos may inspire you:

Now, fellow challenge participants, please post the following:

1.  Your URL.
2.  Link to your Week 3 Blog entry (again, please post the unique URL to the entry and not the general website address).

Are You Ready to Pitch? The Challenge – Week 2

Photo courtesy of Official U.S. Navy Imagery (Creative Commons)

Our blog has been abuzz with activity as songwriting bloggers from across Canada have been busy embracing the Canadian Songwriters Social Media Challenge outlined by Ariel Hyatt‘s “Music Success in 9 Weeks.”  Click Here for details.  If you’ve been tracking with everyone, you will appreciate that the level of experience and the goals of each songwriter are all over the map.  Such is the beauty of this challenge.  It meets each person wherever they are in their respective journey.

Week 2 promises to show even more diversity as it focuses on creating your pitch.  What I have found as a challenge participant is that each stage of this challenge requires you to “Know Thyself.”  After all, how can you put yourself out there in a clear and concise way if you don’t know what you’re putting out there.  Take a look at the pitcher.  He is focused and determined.  He is not just randomly throwing the baseball to anyone (which many musicians are prone to doing).   Let’s hear those pitches challenge participants!

Please post the following:

1.  Your elevator pitch.
2.  The URL to your Week 2 blog. (NOTE:  please post the exact URL to the entry and not just the general URL to your blog)