full circle

. . .from an upward battle of struggles and emotions to a journey of healing, growth, and laughter. . .

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between a rock and a heartache

I spent the afternoon at a workshop called WritersConnect put on by Songwriters Association of Canada, as part of Culture Days (an arts and culture event series across Canada). The session was supposed to focus on mentorship and collaboration in songwriting—“a professional works with two emerging writers on new and current material with help from the audience”—but in the end, it was a two-hour discussion on co-writing and tri-writing (I learned a new word today), and the panelists gave us a tonne of useful, practical tips for songwriting. [One of the panelists was Ron Irving, a veteran Canadian singer/songwriter and a connected musician in Nashville (the epicentre of country music).]

My favorite part was hearing their sources for song ideas. Being more lyrically (not musically) inclined, I write lyrics first and only when I need to release my feelings about a particular experience. And then I write the music. Most musicians will write a melody or a hook on their instrument first and then write the lyrics around that musical element. As a creative writer, I have always found this odd and backwards. But maybe, after I finish all the songs in progress, I’ll try it their way.

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music education

i knew the workshop was going to start with a session called “what’s in a song”, and i thought it would be about song structure. instead, it was dan hill talking to us about his personal experiences and how his songs came to be. (shame on you if you don’t know who he is – canadian singer/songwriter who wrote a couple of hits in the 80s and has written songs for celine dion, britney spears, 98 degrees, backstreet boys, rod stewart, donny osmond, michael bolton, tina turner, tammy wynette, reba, alan jackson, etc.)

his first sentiment resonated with me immediately. he acknowledged that people don’t start writing songs to make money. he said we write songs because of something that has happened to us in our lives, such as tragedy, and sometimes it’s only after something like that when we write songs. i reflected how i, too, only started writing songs after a very emotional personal experience.

mr. hill was quite entertaining with his humour and charm. he told us many stories behind his songs, but two stand out. he said he was married to a woman who was very conservative and different from he was. one time, he had to make a music video that involved a love scene, but for anyone who knows about production, the room was full of cameramen, crew, etc., so it was far from reality. regardless, his wife had been upset about it and complained about it to all of her friends and family. this experience consequently upset dan, so he wrote a song about it. and as he was writing the song, he heard his wife talking on the phone to someone about the music video again. that turned into a lyric in the song: “i hear you on the telephone with god knows who, spilling out your heart for free.” and then he went on to play the song for us…

another was about a song he wrote when he was 22 about an older woman he was dating. he played the song to her over the phone, and she told him he was really intense. he played us the song on guitar, but i didn’t recognize it. he said the song never went anywhere until years later when he was given the opportunity to collaborate with barry mann. he gave barry his lyrics, and barry wrote the music

the main point i took away from dan was that songwriting is a fluid process, and what you start with may turn into something else. he said he read ‘the book of negroes’ (his brother is novelist lawrence hill) when it was first written, but when it was published, it was a completely different story.

during the break, i bought his own novel, “i am my father’s son” about his complex relationship with his father (human-rights activist), who passed away in 2003. he autographed it, and we chatted for a minute (he told me he liked my name… i didn’t think guys used that line anymore {chuckle}).

the workshop continued with the business side of things… revenue streams by terry o’brien from socan and music publishing by (mr) jodie ferneyhough, formerly of universal music. it was good to get the background on these topics {a better explanation than the one i got from M, lol}, even if i won’t need it.

the best part was the last session, when we listened to excerpts of over 30 of the 80+ songs submitted by workshop participants, and then the panellists gave feedback. the panellists included dan hill and andrew allen for the musician perspective and jeff winskell (virgin radio music director) and jodie ferneyhough for the commercial perspective.

i was really impressed with a lot of the songs i heard. in fact, there were a few female singer/songwriters whom i wish i had followed up with afterwards, as they were totally the type of vocalist i love and would want for my songs. about two or three songs were simply crap, but i suppose you could say that’s just my opinion, lol.

the recurring comments from the panellists were shorter intros, get to the chorus quickly, and non-abstract lyrics. so after everything i heard them say, i’m going back to the drawing board with my song to adjust it with some additional ideas {i can hear M think ‘i told you so’}.

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i’ll be recording vocals soon… well, not i really, but justine… my dear friend who’s doing my song asked me yesterday when we were going to record the vocals, and i wasn’t actually expecting to work on that part so soon, which means i’m not ready to sing, so i’m sticking with my original plan of having justine sing. this means i have to finish the edits to the song i started on saturday, so she knows what to sing! 🙂

just before i fell asleep last night, i finished off the lyrics to my third song and discovered that it’s actually my fourth song because i found the lyrics and music for something i started in may. but i don’t think i’m going to develop it further. i’ll probably leave it as a muscial idea, an emotional moment… something to end my cd with.

my cd. sounds funny. what started off as one song is slowly turning into a small portfolio. and by the end of the process, i will have something to represent the difficult time i’ve been going through over the last year… and how i coped.

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in stereo

i actually got up early yesterday, lol. i went to brunch with a friend/mentor and then ended up working on my song for eight hours. a new song, you ask? no, not a new song. the song i recorded last week. i was going to work on condensing the two verses but discovered that we recorded a couple of the parts out of order, so following along was a task in mending the out-of-sync. so, i ended up re-recording (for follow along purposes only) the entire song, complete with strings. and i taught myself how to use the fader, yeah! and then i edited out some of the extra parts the song could do without. but i really struggled with condensing the verses, because increasing the tempo made it sound funny and i didn’t want to cut out any lyrics (although, i am still considering whether i can tell the original story in four fewer lines). i worked on the song at my computer and piano continuously until i realized that i was running late for the stereophonics show, i hadn’t eaten dinner, and i would probably miss the opening band. so, i grudging left my song and got ready for the show.

i figured i would get to the commodore just in time to see stereophonics go on, which would be perfect because then i wouldn’t have to stand around by myself (i’m getting tired of going to bar shows alone). i didn’t care about the opening band this time. . . kinda hard to care when they don’t tell you who it is. . . i was even debating whether to go at all, because i was so tired. well, i got to the commodore, and the opening band was still playing. that sucked for waiting around time, but the band was pretty good. . . people in planes from wales. . . in fact, so good that i’ll be getting their cd. . . yup, that good. . .

i’m glad i went. stereophonics kept the energy level high at all times, kicking off the show with ‘the bartender and the thief’, an old fave i had forgotten about [the black crowes could take lessons]. they actually played a lot of old songs [the black crowes could take lessons]. my only complaint wasn’t even about the show… it was that there was an unusually high number of tall people there… and with my flats [i took a lesson from the black crowes show], i was just too short, from every angle of the commodore (yes, i moved around A LOT). i finally decided to go back up to the front and managed to find the perfect niche for the rest of the show. i must admit, despite being a fan, i was pleasantly surprised with their performance. and their fans adore them. that was great, to see so many people so excited to see them play, singing along. i’ll forgive the tall ones this time.