2015 S.A.C. Blogging & Songwriting Challenge Wrap Up

Creative Commons License.  Photo by Andrew Hurley
Creative Commons License. Photo by Andrew Hurley

The 2015 S.A.C. Blogging and Songwriting Challenge was the first of its kind.  Every week industry professionals issued challenges that allowed our 121 participants a taste of life as a professional songwriter.  Those who committed themselves 100% to the task found that songwriting took over their lives, consuming their thoughts and time.  For many it was a taste of the life they aspire to live.

We are grateful to each of our professional mentors, Rob Wells, Heather Gardner, Ron Irving, Jordan Howard, Vincent Degiorgio and Cara Heath, who not only issued challenges but also provided personal feedback to a handful of submissions vetted by our songwriting coaches.  The response from the industry was so positive we were able to give participants a choice of taking on two challenges in the final week.  It is generous of them to have taken the time to nurture the next generation of songwriters.

We are also grateful to our songwriting coaches, Debra Alexander and James Linderman who lived in the trenches with our songwriters.  Our coaches shared advice on lyrics, chord structures and collaboration, going far above and beyond what was expected, fuelled by their genuine desire to see our participants succeed.  For many of our songwriters, the help these coaches provided defined their experience of this challenge, opening up new tools and techniques to apply to their craft.

We would also like to thank Barb Sedun for arranging a real life pitch to Matt Dusk (to be posted below), along with Matt himself and his management team for their willingness to give our emerging songwriters a chance to present him songs that would expand his sound for his next album.  Having a real opportunity like this has been a game-changer, increasing the intensity in a way no other challenge could.

Lastly, we must thank all of our passionate participants.  Everyday the Facebook group was full of positive feedback and constructive criticism as many songwriters shared their work in progress, often times in genres far outside their comfort zones.  So much zeal. So much love.  By the end of the first week, the group began to feel like a summer camp of sorts, with new friendships forming that we hope will continue long after this challenge is history.

So, we end with where we began.  It is time to submit your song for Challenge No. 1 issued by Matt Dusk. Please post the following below by Tuesday, March 24 at 11:59pm:

1.  Your Name
2.  What was the hardest challenge or hardest part of the challenge for you and why?
3.  What did you enjoy most about participating in this experience?
4.  What is something significant that you learned from taking on this challenge? (It can be about yourself or about the challenge)
5.  Would you do this type of challenge again?  Why or why not?
6.  Your link to your Matt Dusk submission.  Please include lyrics on your SoundCloud page.  If one of your collaborating partners is submitting the link to your song, you can refer to their posting (ie. See link from ____________).

Advertisements

Writing for a childlike ad spot – Week 3 Challenge – Feedback from Heather Gardner

Image used with Creative Commons license by Lisa M Photography.
Image used with Creative Commons license by Lisa M Photography.

by Heather Gardner

Thank you all for your fantastic songs that you wrote for our “Writing for Advertising” Childlike challenge! The songs submitted captured a wide range of styles and emotions and show how subjective the act of trying to describe a song through words and a brief can be. The eight finalists all wrote great songs, and all have potential in the world of advertising.

For the real-life version of this particular brief, we ended up choosing a (then) unreleased song by singer/songwriter Anya Marina called “Apple of My Eye”. You can see the finished spot here (if you didn’t see it on TV back in the fall!): http://www.vapormusic.com/licensing#wind-mobile-backseat-browser

This song was a favourite for the client because it was simultaneously sweet but a little bit sassy, it was quirky without feeling forced, and captured the spirit of a young girl having fun being a kid.

I’ve provided some feedback on the eight finalist songs below. I can nearly guarantee that after reading my comments, you will be tempted to think “well, if I had *seen* the spot I would have done X, Y or Z differently,” and I agree. In advertising, often we’re given a brief and a musical direction before seeing footage, or even before reading a script or seeing a storyboard. You may think that something written or selected will be absolutely perfect — until you see the rough footage. For that reason, I didn’t want to give too much information from the get go, as a large part of the challenge is working with very little knowledge of the final product.

That being said, huge congrats to all songwriters involved in this challenge!

“Shooting Star” – by Scott MacKay
https://soundcloud.com/scottmackay/scott-mackay-shooting-star/s-GygZ1

Instrumentation and feel is great – upbeat without being too fast or poppy. The simplicity of the acoustic guitar and added whistle works well to capture a childhood essence. I love the lyrics and the non-worded vocal hook, which is always helpful in creating different edits and providing a vocal element even if lyrics end up being too distracting.

For this particular spot, I think the feel may be slightly too relaxed, and a cleaner production on the vocals would help them pop in a busy ad mix. However, the song has definite potential for use in advertising and beyond.

“Oh I Love You” – by Gordon Wong & Kathryn Berry

I really like the instrumentation and vocals in the track – the sweet female vocals works really well to capture childhood, and the instrumentation feels both quirky but modern at the same time, which is a hard thing to achieve.

A few of the lyric lines are a bit wordy for advertising with lots of syllables, but the “Oh I love you / Yes I really do” and the “oh oh oh oh oh” sections do enough to contrast that nicely so there would be lots of options to choose from in a mix.

I would love to see the track build somewhat more as it works its way through – whether it’s a contrasting bridge or something to use alongside the “Oh I love you” lyric. I would expect that to happen in the “oh oh oh oh oh” section, but the instrumentation actually simplifies there instead of builds, and so there’s no real musical difference between that and the “Oh I love you” section, which would be nice to hear.

“Rainbows & Butterflies” – by Tea Petrovic

I think the lyrics for this are great. It captures the essence of childhood wonder without being explicitly “kiddie”, where a lot of songs that try and capture childhood often sound more like nursery rhymes. This song still appeals to an adult audience, who are the ones buying products and the ones that the spot is targeted towards!

For this particular use, I don’t think the instrumentation on the song is quite quirky enough — it’s slightly too large of a sound to feel child-like in this particular context.

“One Two Three Four” – by Judy Marshak and Gordon Wong

I love the tempo and movement of this song. It moves forward without rushing and has a great energy. The lyrics are also wonderful.

Contrastingly to “Rainbows and Butterflies”, “One Two Three Four” is slightly too quirky – the use of the tuba and kazoo definitely ups the comedy factor, which works in one aspect, but it takes away from the sincerity slightly.

“Home For Dinner” – by Allister Bradley and Sean Bertram

I love the “whole world at my fingertips” sentiment of this song – it works really well for advertising as brands love the idea of their product opening up new possibilities for the user. I think the “gotta be home for dinner” sentiment would be better suited for a food product than this particular commercial, but this song has great potential for an advertising use. The whistling hook is a great contrast from the verses, and would allow an editor plenty of opportunities to work to picture.

“Incredible Places” – by Heather Meori

I absolutely love the lyrics on this song – they’re spot on and mixed with the “Yai dai dai dai” and whistled sections, capture childhood beautifully. The slower tempo of the song makes it not quite as playful as we would need in this particular spot — speeding it up a bit may be enough to counteract that. The guitar tone doesn’t feel quite as clean in production as we would need to go to air.

“Long Long Way” – by DC James

This song also works perfectly lyrically, I love the “long long way to go” sentiment. It’s playful and kid-like without feeling forcefully quirky. I like the piano riff between verses as well – it’s a great contrast with the acoustic guitar. The biggest challenge this song would face in advertising is its country vibe — country is one of the few divisive genres in music, and generally does not do well in advertising as it still alienates a large audience that does not listen to the genre. I think the instrumentation for the most part feels more folk than country, but with the vocals it definitely has a bit of a country feel. Toning that down would certainly give the song a more mainstream appeal for advertising and licensing purposes.

“Fine With Wasting Time” – by North Easton

Overall, the song feels a bit too dense for this light-hearted advertisement — there’s a lot of depth to the vocals, and mixed with the warm guitar tone and the slightly slower tempo, the song loses the playfulness that we’re looking for on this particular brief. However, those elements could also be exactly what someone is looking for on another spot, so I wouldn’t consider them detriments to the song, they just create a slightly more nostalgic or “tugging on the heart strings” feel to the song that is just a bit much for this particular spot.

In Conclusion
If I were the client and choosing between these eight songs for this particular spot, my pick would be “Oh I Love You”. It captures that bit of sassiness that the young girl in the spot exudes, is playful, and has lyrics that speak to both the “relationship status” joke at the end of the spot and the kid having fun with her dad’s phone. It’s a fun song and has a great overall vibe that works with the ad.

S.A.C. Challenge – Week 3 – Issued by Heather Gardner – Writing for Advertising

Heather Gardner
Writing a song specifically for advertising is a unique beast — a songwriter needs to find the delicate balance between being authentic, but yet appealing to a variety of demographics, musical tastes and, ultimately, products to sell. Additionally, songs written for advertising need to be more than great songs — they also need to be cleanly produced and quickly ready to be heard on air at a high production value (in most cases, there is simply not enough time to allow for re-recording a song, or making major changes before the ad’s audio mix!).
My challenge to you is to write a song based on the below advertising brief (a real brief that we did late last year) — it includes musical and lyrical references, but (as is often the case in the ad world), without seeing a rough edit of the specific commercial. I’m looking forward to hearing what you come up with!
Creative Brief:
The spot features a child so we’re looking for something child-like, light and playful, fun, capturing the moment and that captures the spirit of a child. However, we don’t want to be emotional or heart-stringy — we’re looking for something that’s purely fun. You can definitely be somewhat quirky, while appealing to a mainstream TV audience.
A few references they’ve given us in terms of tone are The White Stripes’ “We Are Gonna Be Friends”, “On The Radio” by Regina Spektor, Sheryl Crow’s cover of “Sweet Child O Mine”, “Big Yellow Taxi” or “Mushaboom” by Feist. We also like something along the lines of Karen O’s tunes for ‘Where The Wild Things Are’. We’re open to different instrumentations.
Lyrics don’t have to be perfectly on spot on thematically, but speaking to childhood (in a fun way, not in a nostalgic or longing way) is great. Female or male vocals are A-OK.
The spot is 60 seconds in length, with 30 and 15 second cutdowns, so your submissions need to be at least 60 seconds long, but be able to capture the same sentiment even if only 15 seconds was being used. Including the full length track is always best as it allows the editor the maximum flexibility in hitting the right points in an ad with specific lyrics or musical moments.
Instructions to participants:
Post a link to your song and blog in the comments section below by midnight (11:59pm EST), March 2, 2015.
Music Supervisors always need the right music yesterday.  This is your chance to show Heather you can respond to a creative brief and turnover something quickly that meets the request.  Good luck!