The Challenge – Week 6 – Collaboration

Congratulations you’ve made it to the sixth challenge.   Most of you know that no songwriter is an island.  Collaboration is not just a buzzword.  You would have a hard time finding any top 10 songs with only one songwriter.  In fact, some songs have over 10 names attached to its creation.  Furthermore, collaborating is also an important part of building your network.  Please watch the video below to find out the collaboration story behind a song that was eventually recorded by the Backstreet Boys.

This week’s challenge:
By now you’ve gotten the opportunity to listen to songs from the other participants in the challenge.  Connect with those whom you feel compliment your skills and style.  In groups of 2 or more, collaborate on a song.   You can decide if you will do it in real time via Skype or by sending tracks and lyrics to each other via email.  Please blog about your experience, the highlights and the challenges.
Deadline:  April 1st (it’s not a joke).
Please post the following:
1.  The names of the people with whom you collaborated.
2.  A link to a blog about your experience.
3.  SoundCloud link to your song.

SongWorks Edmonton: Classic country meets euro-dance

SongWorks Edmonton 2013 Participants.  Clockwise from Top Left:  Cecil Frena, Bryan Finlay, Rachel Woznow, Olivia Wik, Sophie Serafino, Jimmy Whiffen, Ari Rhodes,Dan Davidson, Rob Wells
SongWorks Edmonton 2013 Participants. Clockwise from Top Left: Cecil Frena, Bryan Finlay, Rachel Woznow, Olivia Wik, Sophie Serafino, Jimmy Whiffen, Ari Rhodes,Dan Davidson, Rob Wells

Seasoned country singer/songwriter Jimmy Whiffen found himself in a brand new songwriting situation when he landed in the recent SongWorks Edmonton, his first ever songwriting camp experience.  Although the first moments of meeting with co-writers he’d never worked with before were somewhat challenging, he overcame any awkwardness and found new synergy beyond his usual writing styles.

Whiffen believes SongWorks is an important part of the creative landscape of Canadian songwriting because it brings songwriters together and the resulting collaborations makes everyone a better writer, while also improving the chances of writing a hit song.  While others may dismiss writing a hit as a goal, Whiffen acknowledges that “getting a hit would be very cool.”

We asked Whiffen to share his SongWorks experience with us in a mini-journal entry.  Here is what he shared.

In Jimmy Whiffen’s Words…

Jimmy Whiffen jamming out a song at SongWorks Edmonton.
Jimmy Whiffen jamming out a song at SongWorks Edmonton.

The writing experiences all three days totally stretched my imagination as a writer. The group of writers varying in styles and genres that were invited to this camp made it very exciting for me and opened my mind to further possibilities as a writer.

Day 1, I wrote with Dan Davidson, lead singer from Tupelo Honey, an Edmonton based rock band and a concert violinist named Sophie Seraphino. We wrote what I believe to be a modern day, radio ready, pop rock song, with a powerful melody and great lyric.  This song screams and I can’t get the hook out of my head. Dan’s great vocals and an added touch of class from Sophie really brought it home.

Day 2, Things started to warm up for me as I got to be the lyric guy with Rob Wells a very established hit songwriter with an impressive resume and a 17 year old artist/ songwriter from Edmonton with a powerful vocal range named Rachel Woznow.  We wrote a very melodically and lyrically catchy pop song. I love this song!  Rob was very quick bringing this piece together; making it sound like I could be listening to this on the radio as we speak and Rachel nailed the vocal on the demo. Very Cool!

Day 3, As mostly a country writer I didn’t know what to expect going in to write with Ari Rhodes who writes all forms of dance and electronica. Although my friend and co-writer Olivia Wik was on this session, also an Edmonton country singer song writer, I felt this was going to be an experience and it certainly was. What a blast!!!  It was like classic country meets euro-dance. Yippie!!  I think we got a hit, at least for me anyway.

This whole experience was a hit!
I would do this again anytime.

I was so happy to be invited to participate in the Edmonton song writing camp hosted by the Songwriters Association of Canada. Thank you Vince Degiorgio for hosting a great camp, it was top-notch!

Songwriting for Survival – Inviting Your Audience to “Follow the Lion”

by Debra Alexander

The Final, Sixth Week of the SAC Songwriting & Blogging Challenge 2013 is upon us. Our relatively small (50/65,000) but extremely dedicated and talented group of Coursera Songwriting Class Participants has braved jungle-like entanglements of song form, plot development, point of view, number of lines, lengths of lines, rhyme schemes, rhyme types, melodic and harmonic rhythms, and song structure. In short, we’ve been asked to climb the highest tree in the forest and have a look around in order to make decisions on how to support our lyrics with prosodic choices for every syllable, word, phrase, line, and section contained in our songs. And we have emerged from the jungle a new and upright-walking species of survivors.

Berklee College Professor of Songwriting Pat Pattison brings us full circle in the last lesson and reminds us that the reason we set out on this journey was because we, as songwriters, have ideas that we want to express. Our ability to translate to an audience how we feel about our subject will either bring our audience closer and intensify the feeling, or distance our audience and dissipate the feeling. The tools we have developed during this course are now at our disposal to aid us in our endeavour to create emotional resonance.

Over the past few weeks, we have witnessed the development of one of Pat’s songs, starting from the initial idea to a fully realized lyric and melody. The final decisions required in writing the song concern phrasing, which Pat calls the “body language” of communication. In every day communication, it turns out that our actual words account for much less meaning than our tone of voice and our body language. So phrasing, in songwriting, is an extremely important skill to cultivate. We learn how to write front heavy vs. back heavy, and strong bar vs. weak bar phrasing to create stability or instability. Additionally, tone of voice can be equated to certain melodic intervals, and our awareness of these relationships can help us intensify the feelings we’re trying to express.

One of the most fascinating segments of Lesson Six was, for this writer, the part where Pat describes the work done by ethno/evolutionary musicologist by Joseph Jordania in his book, Why Do People Sing? Music In Evolution. Jordania posits that our tree-dwelling hominid ancestors, over the millennia, learned how to drive lions off their kill by making noise together, and that this skill fed the entire tribe. For 2.5 million years, we were scavengers who followed the lion; we were coming down from the trees, learning to raise our voices together, “singing” to get our supper! Singing is actually linked to survival, and predates language. So remember, Pat says, “when you write a song…invite your audience in, let them sing with you, let them bond with you. Let them be your tribe.” He goes on to say that songwriting “is really a lifetime of fun, a lifetime of exploration, a lifetime of growth…”

I’d like to express my heartfelt thanks to the Songwriters Association of Canada for inviting me to participate in the SAC Blogging Challenge 2013 as mentor and guest blogger. And now, I have to go after a few of those lions I’ve been trailing.

All ye hunters, please post:

1. How you feel you have used front heavy, back heavy, and/or weak bar phrasing tools to assist the expression of your stable and unstable ideas.

2. The URL to your Week 6 blog. (NOTE:  please post the exact URL to the entry and not just the general URL to your blog)

Can you co-write and record a song a day for 3 days in a row? Ed Oakley and his SongWorks Adventure.

Left to right:  Dennis Ellsworth, Adam Williamson, Ed Oakley, Don Levandier, Shawn Chaisson, Ryan G. Hillier, Katrine Noel and Julie AubeNot in photo: Vivianne Roy
SongWorks Moncton 2013 Participants.  Left to right: Dennis Ellsworth, Adam Williamson, Ed Oakley, Don Levandier, Shawn Chaisson, Ryan G. Hillier, Katrine Noël and Julie Aubé.  Not in photo: Vivianne Roy

Ed Oakley is the most recent winner of the Open Chair opportunity for the Songwriters Association of Canada’s sponsored SongWorks professional songwriting camp.  He got to kick off 2013 with an intense cowriting experience.  Here are his takeaways from the experience.  Stay tuned for more Open Chair opportunities on the horizon.

In Ed’s Words…

Vince DeGiorgio has a weak stomach when it comes to tequila….the Laundromat Bar on St. George Street has a phenomenal selection of beers….do not park your car on the streets of Moncton when the winter parking ban is on and when QSC front of house speakers burn they make one hell of a stink. All this learned while attending the S.A.C SongWorks camp this past week in Moncton, New Brunswick.

For those of you not familiar with SongWorks, a little explanation is in order. SongWorks is a three day songwriting camp hosted by S.A.C. It involves taking nine writers, dividing them into groups of three, putting each group into separate rooms with recording equipment and tasking them with writing and recording a song a day for three days. Groups are rearranged daily so that you write with different artists every session. There is no topic or genre dictated.

Having never been involved in collaborative song writing I hope to carry the torch for this practice and give some insight into the concerns I had going into the camp. I will then address these concerns post-Songworks and shed light on the dark world of uncertainty that surrounds co-writing (I know, a little deep but I am feeling extra creative right now). Hence, the goal of this blog will be to persuade any timid songwriter into giving co-writing at least one try before dismissing it. Co-writing can have a profound positive effect on your creativity. Fresh from one of the premier songwriting camps in Canada, here we go…

Before Songworks: I am not good enough to write with other artists.

After Songworks: The genetic makeup of a songwriter is someone who wants to share, learn, experience and live in a supportive environment. These things are the essence of creativity. A writer who shuts themselves off from experience will have nothing to write about. For me, that meant that any weakness I had as a writer was overlooked for the strength I brought. Even if that strength only accounted for a small part in the song. Songwriters in these camps are nice people. They are too poor to be mean!

Before Songworks: I only write one type of music. I can’t write other genres.

After Songworks: You are blessed, and sometimes cursed, with being creative. Your artistic door does not close when it comes to writing other genres. You may prefer one type of music but as a creative person you cannot stop composing music. I can assure you that, no matter what type of song you collaborate on, nature will kick in and you will be throwing out ideas and coming up with structure and progressions before you even realize it.      

Before Songworks: It is too hard to write and record a song a day for three days.

After Songworks: There lies the magic of a songwriting camp. Yes, there is subtle pressure in knowing that you have one day to write a song, rehearse it and then record a demo quality version. But, how many times do we write a song…re-write it… change it…speed it up…slow it down…only to realize that the best version was within the original idea. Writing within a constrained timeframe results in the essence of the song being captured and completed before it becomes over analyzed. You will be surprised at how enjoyable this is. Stress brings out the humour in people and makes for some very funny moments. When I go back and listen to the songs we did I can hear an energy that sometimes gets lost when trying to make things too perfect.    

Before Songworks: What if I don’t contribute the same amount as everyone else.

After Songworks: You won’t. Sometimes you’ll contribute less and sometimes you will contribute more. There were moments in every day that I sat back and enjoyed the ideas of my other team members without feeling that I had to contribute. There were times when my ideas took center stage and became the driving energy behind the song. It was a beautiful thing. Every artist understood it. You will lead and you will follow. Feel the force Luke….

I am not a world renowned songwriter. Publishers are not beating a path to my door to get their hands on my songs. My skill as a guitar player is adequate but not noteworthy. Thankfully, Songworks is not a competition. By opening up to this process and letting go of my traditional way of writing, I have absolutely become a better composer. I would not have written three songs in three days sitting at my house last week. I surely would not have written the types of songs that I ended up co-writing. And most importantly, I would not have met the wonderful, creative people that I did nor established the professional connections that may carry me forward to future songwriting opportunities. Would I do Songworks again? Where do I sign up…..

Click Here to visit Ed Oakley’s Songwriters’ Profile.


Social Media For Songwriters: Diligence Required!

Building a social media foundation can seem daunting for many songwriters.  Most creative people don’t want to spend hours building their email lists, when we could be songwriting or performing.   The accountability and community built into the Canadian Songwriters Social Media Challenge, hosted by the Songwriters Association of Canada, have been key for many songwriters in pushing through with the “not so fun” stuff.  Aynsley Saxe is one of the songwriters who has benefitted from taking on the challenge.

Here are Aynsley’s reflections on pushing through week 7.  May her diligence inspire us all!

In Aynsley’s words…

Week 7 is upon us, or maybe slightly behind some of the more active songwriters who are on top of the blogging game (Tom Shea & Siouxberry, congrats!) during the Songwriters Association of Canada’s Social Media Challenge based on Ariel Hyatt‘s book Music Success in Nine Weeks.

I’m pleased to say I’m still here. I’m pushing the social media snowball up the hill, gathering tons of advice, pondering brave ideas and even soaking up a few friendships as I go. It’s been an incredible journey and A LOT to digest so far. I feel a little saturated. But I guess that’s the point?

Week 7 is all about the (dreaded) newsletter. Okay, kidding about dreaded, at least in the “knotty hair” sense of the word. But I must admit I feel a little intimidated about the newsletter chapter.

The questions I’ve been pondering this week are:

What do I have to say that is entertaining, meaningful, creative, interesting and worth sharing?

How do I market myself without seeming to market myself (at least most of the time!)?

How often should I contact fans on my newsletter list?

How can I develop a community around myself and my music?

What questions should I ask fans when I send them a short survey about what they would like from me?

And this, the ultimate question….

How can I reach people in a way that is not, I hesitate to even say the word….(a hush fell over the crowd): S P A M.

I know how much I like getting emails that are all promotional – NOT. That’s the last thing I want to do to the people who like my music and who are giving me their precious time by opening my emails. I want my newsletters to be based on respect, love and genuine connection. And I want to also throw in a little bit of amusing fun in there too! Nobody wants to read a boring email right? No brussel sprouts emails please! Yuck! ;)

Reaching out to my mailing list about once a month sounds about right to me. I want to be around often, but not too often.

To date, I’ve personally contacted approximately 475 people with personal, individual emails asking them if it would be okay to keep them posted on my music. I’m not kidding. FOUR HUNDRED AND SEVENTY FIVE (give or take a few). I’ve got 150 people to go on my personal email list, that doesn’t count Facebook friends and all those business cards I’ve accumulated through the years. Phew, what a snowball!!

The really great thing about this whole process of reaching out is that I’ve been in touch with people I haven’t spoken to in years. It’s been awesome reconnecting and thinking about them and hearing what they’re up to. I received two warm & fuzzy responses this morning that are soooo nice I had to share:

Congratulations. Let me know how I can support you.

…and to answer your quick question, I appreciate learning about your musical journey. Please keep me posted and it would be a pleasure if I could be of any help.

The personal touch isn’t overrated. The golden rule never grows old. If someone took the time to actually sit down and think about me and write me a quick email, and not treat me like one of the masses, I would likely be eating their emails out of the palm of their hand.

The challenging part has been it’s been incredibly time consuming. I average about 2 hours of email writing for every 50 contacts. Even though I’m using a form email for part of the email as suggested, I’m also making the email personal to each person. This means going back through my emails and seeing where/when we connected last and writing a little about that. And that doesn’t count the time spent when I respond (because I always try to email them back right away to thank them for letting me keep them on my list if that’s what they’ve chosen to do). The actual act of writing and responding isn’t so bad – it’s actually been pretty fun. It’s just thinking about the snowball that I resist. Kind of like going to the gym. Once you’re actually lifting weights it usually feels pretty good.

I have 3 pages left (6 hours) and 150 people to contact personally (if you’re curious, it’s people with names starting with ‘P’ to ‘T’). I did the last page this morning just to change things up (Letters ‘V’ to ‘Z’). What category are you in? Did I miss you??

6 hours doesn’t seem like a long time really. But it feels like it’s really snowing on my snowball. And this last part of the hill feels daunting. Especially since I know winter never ends and it will always be snowing. Which is a very good thing because that will mean that I will be able to continually connect with people who might enjoy my music and want to be kept updated.

One of my goals during Week 1 was to keep up an ever-growing fantastic email list… And yes, to provide great newsletters too. So cheers to cold days and big snowballs!!!

One more thing, I think co-promoting with other artists (whom my fan base might like) is a fantastic idea. Once I get my album released I will definitely be reaching out to other songwriters about this idea. If you are an artist, do let me know if you’re interested in this idea too and you think our music might be enjoyed by a similar audience. I would love to announce you to my list in a beautiful way!

And finally, dear Blog Reader (that’s you!!!), I’d love to keep you up to speed on what I’m up to musically. If you sign up for my music updates I will also give you a free MP3 when my album is released. All Love – No Spam. Promise.

Honk and Sign up here because you Rock!

This blog was originally posted under the title, “Saturated Snowballs” here:

Click Here to visit Aynsley’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).