Write a country song for a young man – no mention of wife, kids, or “bro country”- yet another character stretch for my writing mind. I tried to stay away from the moonlight-trucks-drinking-sugar shaker themes but I do have one reference to a country road. The hero of my song knows he’s more than the brand he drives or drinks. I’d kind of like to meet him…
This week the pressure of the songwriting challenge got to me. How can I possibly create a new song, in a genre new to me, polish it enough so that it is performance ready and somehow record a decent version fit for public consumption in one week? My answer for this week: apparently I can’t. I got the song written by Saturday night, practised and recorded a rough version on Sunday. But a rough version is all I can do this time around. A full workday coupled with technology stumbling blocks means there is no time left to improve on it. So – I offer it for feedback from my fellow songwriters, shelve it for later consideration, take a deep breath and get ready for Monday’s new challenge.
Another challenge that was totally out of my usual experience of music: Write a song for advertising that is “childlike, light and playful”.
Yay for co-writers! The songwriting part of this challenge was a breeze – thanks to Todd Wandio (the most fun I’ve had on Skype in while). Todd & I bounced ideas off each other, divided up the parts we worked on and came up with the 60 second song we were looking for. The real challenge for me became the logistics and technology – recording our ideas separately over 3000 km apart and across three time zones, updating software so it was compatible, figuring out how to share such large files. But we did it!
One big thing I’ve realized about this songwriting challenge is that the challenge doesn’t all lie in the songwriting itself. I’m learning a lot about tools I can us to facilitate writing, collaboration and recording. I am actively listening for specific musical characteristics that makes a song work (or not). This week’s learning curve successfully climbed – ready for the next challenge!
I love how one of my fellow song challengers, David Keeble, describes the musical mood swing: from “a real visit from the song fairy” to “Nice music – but it’s a mystery to me why I thought it was so great last night.” I’ve certainly had those moments.
Maybe this is one role of the co-write: the initial enthusiasm and seed of an idea is expressed and then – just as you start to doubt its value – the baton is passed to a co-writer to add their layer of creativity and keep the songwriting momentum going. I was starting to get discouraged by the collaboration piece (or lack thereof) – it’s hard to know how to navigate a virtual room of over 100 individuals and guess who would be a good musical match. I forged ahead, writing on my own and (very bravely, I thought) posted a rough draft of a song for Challenge #1. Well, that helped. Suddenly, I feel less invisible, I got great feedback, and maybe there’s a co-write in my not-so-distant future. I even took the song out for a spin at an open mic in Toronto this weekend.
As for the Week Two Challenge – Write a Top 40 Pop Song for Rob Wells: “Think Selena Gomez. Think Demi Lovato. Think big. Think hits.” These singers are so outside my usual listening and playing spheres that it took a good deal of effort to steer my imagination in that direction. I did some listening but found I didn’t relate to the messages or the musicality of these songs. I had to think of pop artists I enjoy for inspiration (Katy Perry, Pink) for inspiration. What can I pull from the genre that I could use in my own song? My conclusion: Simple chord structure, catchy chorus, and a melody that showcases the singer’s skills. Oh yes, and remember to have fun!
What better way to spend a snowy, slushy, Saturday afternoon than in a cozy pub sharing music! Although it has been running for over half a dozen years, I had never heard of the open mic at Mackenzie’s, just across from High Park, until I saw the post on Open Mic Jamming.
There are several rotating hosts for this weekly open mic. This is something I have noticed more and more – sharing the position of host. Musicians who have gigs or other competing obligations might find it hard to commit to a weekly event and this is a solution that allows the music to continue. This week’s host was Michael Menegon who doubled as soundman – and also perfomer. Covers, originals and collaborations all came to the stage.
My companions on this adventure (thanks G, N & L) sampled the menu and gave it the stamp of approval: delicious hot chocolate, poutine, flatbread with goat cheese, as well as many offerings on tap.
Since there were no other ukuleles in evidence I made sure to play mine, declaring that no open mic was complete without a ukulele. I even got to debut a new song written for the SAC Songwriting Challenge so that was extra fun.
[Mackenzie’s, 1982 Bloor Street West, Toronto; Saturdays 2-6pm; no cover]
The first challenge – before even thinking about song structure, lyrics, or harmonies: picture who will be singing the song and create from there. Now – pitch a song to Matt Dusk. It certainly takes it from an exercise, a mere limbering up and flexing of our musical muscles, to something very real!
I tend to write songs that stem from personal experience or sentiments I just have to express, a sort of catharsis. When I took an on-line songwriting course presented by Pat Pattison I was introduced to techniques to help me create a song instead of just singing the ones that were bubbling out of me. It was a very interesting creative process that felt more like a game than therapy.
It is only the first week of the S.A.C. Song Challenge and I’m already being pulled from my well-worn patterns. First – I am writing a song for someone else’s voice, in someone else’s chosen style instead of my own. I tend to do subdued better than groove. But it feels good to stretch. Second – I am encouraged to collaborate, to co-write a song – with musicians I have never met! I have taken my first tentative steps forward by drafting a playful, jazzy song (lyrics & melody) and inviting instrumental and rhythmic input from others. I am excited to see how it will turn out – and also overwhelmed that in less than 4 days we will be into a new challenge demanding a new focus, a new feel, and another song.