One Last Song – The last day of SongWorks Vancouver 2012 proves to be just as productive

SongWorks Vancouver 2012 Participants: (from top left) Mario Vaira, John Pippus, Jeff Dawson, Laurell Barker, Dave Gaudet, Kate Morgan , Kaylee Johnston, Rachel SuterOmar Khan
SongWorks Vancouver 2012 Participants: (from top left) Mario Vaira, John Pippus, Jeff Dawson, Laurell Barker, Dave Gaudet, Kate Morgan , Kaylee Johnston, Rachel Suter, Omar Khan

Songwriting camps are an opportunity to tune out the world and get intense about songwriting – often with a group of strangers.  John Pippus embarked on this journey courtesy of SongWorks, an S.A.C. sponsored professional songwriting camp that brings together 9 professional songwriters.  Thanks to John’s play-by-play reports, we’ve gotten a taste of the pace and intensity of these kinds of camps, that are often held around the world to create the best environment for some of the best songwriters to write their best songs.  Here is John’s recap of his third and final day at SongWorks Vancouver 2012.

In John’s Words…

9:30AM I arrive with a dozen bagels and cream cheese from Siegel’s Bakery. Best bagels you can get, this side of Montreal. It’s the third and final day of SAC’s three-day songwriter camp. I’m tired but looking forward to see if we can make musical magic one more time. I’m assigned to write with Kate Morgan and David Gaudet. Kate is a 19 year-old writer, with a talent that belies her age. She’s spending a lot of time in Los Angeles these days working with well-known producer Brian Howes. Dave, our producer du jour is a skilled writer, guitarist, and singer, and knows his way around the recording gear. While we wait to get started, Kate plays me a song on her iPhone by Bruno Mars. She would like to try writing something along similar lines. His name is only vaguely familiar to me, but I like what I hear. Acoustic R ‘n B is the vibe I get with some pop ear candy. Right up my alley. And Dave’s too, as it turns out.

10:00AM By now it’s a familiar routine. We play around with a few chord sequences and within a few tries, we come up with something that we all like. The chorded riff evoke a sad or wistful mood, and Kate suggests a theme of knowing when it’s time to let go. Nothing stays the same. Kate and Dave get on a roll, I feel more like a third wheel for much of the writing process today. I come up with a few lines here and there, but they seem to have a flow going between them. I mostly play the riff over and over while they tease out the words, first for the chorus and then the verses. That’s OK with me. The ego has to be kept in check, the song is king. In other sessions, I’ll contribute more than my share, so it all comes out even in the end.

11:00AM We settle on a tempo, record a simple piano motif, and build the song from the chorus out. Dave lays down the acoustic guitar part. The tune slowly grows and we all like the direction it’s going in. While Dave loops and layers the sounds, I fill out my song camp evaluation questionnaire. Full marks from this happy camper.

1:00PM Pizza for lunch. Everyone is either bleary-eyed or giddy from lack of sleep and three days of intense creative work. We pose for a group picture. By now, we know the broad strokes of each others’ personalities and quirks. There is a lot of laughing and goofing around.

3:00PM Kate records her vocals. She has a warm, engaging voice. Dave adds some low harmonies. Then it’s time to build up the tracks with keyboards, drum sounds, hand claps, and a backwards guitar whoosh to kick off the first verse.

5:00PM Kate has to leave early, so Dave and I spend the last hour or so fine tuning what we have. The song is called “Ashes and Dust”. Vince comes in and has a listen and declares it ‘”great”. Music to my ears.

6:45PM SongWorks IV is over. It’s been a genuine thrill and an honour to be here with all these talented people. I’m exhausted but feeling satisfied. I’ve helped give birth to three songs, all solid, all in different genres, over three long days. Not only did we collaboratively write them from start to finish but we recorded them too. Each demo still has a few things that need doing – a guitar solo here, additional harmonies there, some extra whooshes and swirls to lift a chorus or make a breakdown more interesting. But they are, basically, done. And like any good song, they don’t need the extra bits to make them complete, it’s just nice to have. It’s exciting to know we’ve got songs that are going to see some serious pitch time!

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A Sneak Peek Behind a Professional Songwriting Camp

For the past 3 days 9 professional songwriters have locked themselves into Deep Cove Studios in North Vancouver to come out with their best tunes at SongWorks, a professional songwriting camp hosted by the Songwriters Association of Canada and produced by Vincent Degiorgio of Chapter 2 Productions Inc..  Laurell Barker, Jeff Dawson, Kate Morgan, Rachel Suter, Dave Gaudet, Mario Vaira, Omar Khan, and Kaylee Johnston were joined by S.A.C. member John Pippus who won the SongPitch contest for a highly coveted spot on the camp.  While we got a few tweets from participants on the first day of the camp, it is clear that they burrowed deep into the creative process and disappeared from all things social media for the remainder of the camp.

Thankfully we planted a spy to give us a sneak peek into the workings of this prestigious songwriting camp.  Below, we have a breakdown of the first day of action from John.

In the words of John Pippus…

Day 1
I had trouble sleeping last night. Anxious dreams of going to summer camp were interspersed with lying awake thinking of random words and melodies that I could bring to the writing session. And as a result I ended up sleeping in! Packed up the guitar, notebook, and tuner, and flew out the door wearing my lucky socks with sparkly treble clefs on ’em.

9:30AM Got there just in time to schmooze with the other eight writers, a few straggling in after me, to my relief. Bagels and coffee, a quick orientation and pep talk from Vince, our fearless leader and then we were divided off into three groups of three. I was tagged to spend the next nine hours with Jeff Dawson (producer of Daniel Powter’s worldwide hit, “Bad Day”) and Kaylee Johnston (a young pop singer who I’ve met before on the Vancouver music scene).

10:00AM Down to business. We’ve all done this before, co-writing, but the pressure to write and record a tune in one day made us not want to waste any time. A brief go round to see where we were at, and who had what, and then we settled on a style (pop) and a first line suggested by Kaylee (“I called you up to let you down”). And off we went. Ideas, lines, and rhymes were offered, some accepted, some rejected. The melody suggested chords, and chords suggested where the melody could go next.  A few blind alleys, some low points where we were all out of ideas, followed by a word or a melodic phrase that got us fired up again.

1:OOPM  As lunch was called we were feeling pretty good. We had two verses, a pre-chorus and the almighty chorus mapped out. Thai food was on the menu. We reconvened with the others in the crowded office/reception area at Deep Cove Music where our three day writing marathon was being held. Outside the rain poured down. Soon Vince called out “five more minutes” and that was lunch. We headed back to our cramped production studio with the control board, couch, chairs, keyboard and a couple of guitars filling the space. The break had rejuvenated us. In no time, we had a third verse written and the chords for the bridge locked in. We agreed we would find some bridge words as we were building the tracks so we moved on to laying down the beds and finding a drum beat.

4:00PM Jeff’s skill with ProTools had us in good shape. Kaylee laid down a scratch vocal and I recorded the acoustic guitar. We decided to celebrate with a bottle of Malbec from the beer and wine store next door.

5:00PM Following a donut break (and I have to say these donuts were amazing) we listened to “Unbreakable”, the song the trio of writers next door to us had come up with. And what a song! Kelly Clarkson if you’re listening, this one has your name all over it.

5:30PM Technical glitch. Just as were recording Kaylee’s harmonies, the computer crashed! We lost 40 minutes trying to get the system up and running again. About the time the wine ran out, and after a couple of re-boots, we were back to where we needed to be to land our newly hatched epic, proudly titled “Let’s Fall Apart”.

6:50PM No time to add bass, or even harmonies (see technical glitch above). The day was wrapping up and rides were leaving. The day had flown by. Reflection would have to wait. There was just enough time for quick goodbyes, before dashing out into the rain. Tomorrow comes early. I wonder who I’ll be writing with, and what sort of song will emerge?