Christmas in July – Feedback on Submissions for The S.A.C. Songwriting & Blogging Challenge from Vince Degiorgio

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Thanks to all who submitted to Vincent Degiorgio’s challenge to write a classic Christmas hit.
He was impressed with the quality and quantity of submissions.  He apologized profusely for the delay in responding.  We are grateful he took the time to do this.  In many ways, the delay provides a true-to-life experience for songwriters wanting replies from the industry.  You need to be persistent and have patience.  So, let’s celebrate Christmas in July.  Have a listen to these songs and see what Vince had to say…

“It’s Funny How Christmas Makes Me Cry” – Allister Bradley & Judy Marshak
-Love the traditional approach and the clean instrumentation
-I would have used, “It’s funny, how Christmas makes me cry” at the end of the second ‘verse’
By establishing this as the title, and it being able to make lyrical sense, so don’t throw that away !
-you’ve used a laundry list method to list all of the elements which is very good
-I think that since the song is basically a style in which the chorus sings as the verse, and the and chorus does likewise as a refrain, I would have inserted an instrumental passage, perhaps a guitar leading the first half and the piano doing the second half of your verse passage to give the singer a break.
-It’s extremely wordy at this point.
-Played this a number of times.
-With the lyric itself, it’s a wonderful exercise in editing and expression in some ways. For example: the 2nd line is using phrases like “oh, so warm”, which is great, but usually rests of expression are used later in a song.
-Another point is the lyricist has to completely personalize the song, otherwise it feels like poetry. Try re-framing the song with the vocalist being the complete narrator. It gets confusing because there is the thought of it the singer with this lyric referring to “I”, “we’ve” and “we are all still children” in three different sections. Choose your ultimate direction. If it’s you, it might work better and stronger to say “I’ve seen so many seasons” -etc.
-There is a lot here to continue to edit and tighten the story. Personalizing it is the key. Good effort.
-With a bit of work, this song could possibly work in a made for TV movie.

“Our First Christmas Eve” – by Michael Nowak
-The vocal performance is clear and clean
-Lyrically, I feel that it’s trying to saying too much in the space that the music provides
-the staccato movement of the end of the verse segments is very clever
-To recall, the references of a bona fide, texas size downpour, and a 40 proof egg nog paint a picture, however it might suit a holiday comedy musical more than in this traditional setting.
-I honestly would suggest trying to say less and be more concise.
-The arrangement here and the vocal are both terrific, but I feel that the lyric lets down the song. 

“Where’s The Elf” – by Scott MacKay and Judy Marshak
-This is wonderfully performed, but I have a problem.
-If the song is called “Where’s That Elf”, and in the first line of the song, you declare “I’m A Christmas Elf”, then it contradicts everything in the presentation of the title
-I actually would take the lines that say the word “Elf” in this throughout the song and re-write them, saving the impact of the Christmas elf to the very end of the song.
-The narrator is to my eyes, takes a step out of “Toy Story” at Christmas time.
-There are tons of lyrical gems here that can be maximized by holding back the impact of the “elf” until the end.
-This has a ton of potential. It may need an instrumental passage, and if done acoustically, should provide some space by taking a verse and whistling through it.
-Do these fixes and I think people, especially indie film supervisors will come looking for this song.

“All I Want Is You” by Bernadette Saquibal
-Very close to an early 90’s R&B soul treatment
-I’d suggest saving the title for the chorus
-A lot of stylistic phrasing and liberty with words, feels like more of an artist presentation of a song
-Chorus is disjointed for me
-I like the song, but wanted to love it. May be a bit to stylistic, and oversung to be placed.

“The Perfect Gift” – by Heather Meori
-Quirky inventive rhythm, immediately caught my ears
-Disagree with banking the title to the end of the song, which creates a clunky phrasing problem at the end of chorus sections…just use the Perfect Gift and cement your chorus !
-The tempo makes such a difference
-This is truly adorable.
-Wonderfully descriptive lyric, melodically moving, and kept subtle with an honest and true vocal performance
-Very publishable and a great song (just fix that chorus !)

“Christmas Eve” by Mel Farrimond
-This is just terrific. Fantastic lyric, Great delivery and more.
-I’m thinking in my head – oh, what strings could do for this !
-Evokes the voice of Beverly Craven – who happens to be one of my favourite singers
-Got goosebumps when the solo came in because it was crying for it and the double proved it
-Cements the theme – arrangement for a demo is outstanding
-Instrumental interplay towards the end is excellent and it closes strong.
-This is the winner – beautiful

“Christmas For Two” – Joe Stanton
-Really enjoyed listening to this entry
-Would suggest a little bit of editing and structure work to solidify the strength of the song
-I would try using the intro as the ending of your song
-Start the song with your opening verse, then, take a strong look and the melodic flow in the second half of the opening verse – it needs to flow better.
-The pre chorus intro is very pretty and has great movement
-The chorus is short and concise
-This song in particular was a tremendous challenge to the listener because there is so much there.
really enjoyed this song – listened to it ten times. One to watch.

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 ____________).

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?