SAC Challenge week 2: Frustration = Education

Give me a guitar and a quiet space, and I’ll play with some chord progressions until something moves me. Often times, it will coincide with a mental image, and I’ll absorb myself in the feelings I attach to that mental image. Sometimes, I don’t even know what it means. When the words start to form, I’m often mystified as to where they are taking me, but gradually they lead me to the big picture…the theme or the story. I let the words just flow freely, without questioning or editing, but trusting that something interesting has been unlocked in my subconscious. If I come to a block, I return to the mental image…who am I in this image? What can I see? What do I feel? Where am I? What is happening? As I mentally explore the image, something new will emerge, and, once again, I’ll just let it flow, freely. Song structure happens very naturally for me, so I don’t need to be thinking about this…it will just happen. Somehow, the verses, chorus and, sometimes, bridge, will just all fill in without a lot of intention on my part. All conscious construction is a retrofit, after the flow of inspiration has passed and once I’m evaluating what has been written.

When songwriting is really working for me, it happens just as easily as what I’ve described. Often times, I only get little pieces that don’t develop beyond that. Or I’ll write a verse and a chorus, get stuck, and not be able to get unstuck. Or when I try to finish a song that is stuck, everything that comes feels wrong or forced. Songwriting is both the easiest and the hardest thing in the world for me. Often times, it is hard until I “break through” and then it becomes easy. Or it starts out really easy and becomes really hard. Regardless of how I get there, a finished song always satisfies like nothing else.

Normally when I write, there is no recording. There are only words on paper with some chords, and a melody in my brain. Usually, once I read the lyrics, the melody easily reemerges from memory, but sometimes I’ll make a very rough recording into something like the voice memo on my phone or a rough, live recording on my computer, just so I don’t forget the melody. I may have additional music in my head…how I imagine the song being arranged, but they stay there, in my head. There is no demo. This songwriting challenge turns all of this on its head, and I’m struggling.

I’ve had a mix of song writing experiences the past couple of weeks. On paper, I have one complete song, one almost complete song, a few snippets of songs. On Garage Band, I have three partial demos….unfortunately, they don’t fit any of the songs on paper. When I’ve gone onto Garage Band to begin making demos for my songs, the process of trying to find the right drums, the right bass, the right sounds, etc, ends up taking me on tangents, as I struggle to find drum beats and sounds that fit, and they end up not working with what I’ve been writing on paper. The result is that I have no finished demos. I’m frustrated and disappointed, but trying to turn this into a lesson.

At least while I’m learning my way around Garage Band, it may need to be my starting point instead of my finishing point. If I can finish the demos I’ve started…write the lyrics and melodies to them, instead of trying to do it the other way around…I might actually be able to complete a song! In the process, I will become more familiar with the program, so that when I do go to add music to my lyrics and melodies, I won’t be experimenting so much with sounds that I get off track, I’ll go in knowing what I’m looking for.

Right now, I’m so frustrated that I was tempted today to throw in the towel. I hate it that at the end of week 2, I have nothing complete. I feel like I’m failing, but the truth is, I’m not. I have accomplished a lot, just nothing that I can put up to be heard. I will still finish this song, even though it will not be eligible for feedback. The good news is, I have four songs to choose from: two of them on paper, needing music and two on Garage Band, needing lyrics and melody. This has been a huge learning curve for me. I feel like a first grader who has been bumped up to junior high, but I’ll figure this out. I am learning, just not quickly enough to keep up.

I also need to be more proactive in setting myself up to be able to focus on music. My small but busy household, with everyone on varying work and school schedules, means that it has been really difficult to consistently find the solitude I need to focus. Something needs to change with this. I don’t have time to wait for ideal moments to arise, I’m on a deadline!

Maybe it would be easier if my first year doing this challenge was one of the previous years, because I get the impression that the demos did not have to be as well done. On the other hand, maybe this is the best way to make me learn. Frustration = Education.

SAC Challenge – Week 1 Progress

Week one of the SAC challenge has come to a close, and, yes, it has indeed been a challenge, but a fun one. This is something I will be puttering away at over time (it is not due until the end of the six weeks, thank goodness), since not only is this song requiring me to learn some new things, but I also think it is best served by altering my approach to song writing. I’m very much a lyrics and melody sort of songwriter, and the song assignment is very much about a certain groove and feel. I’ve been playing with my daughter’s keyboards and some of the preprogrammed sounds and drums, when, usually, I write on acoustic guitar. I’ve also been playing a bit with my husband’s bass guitar. The things I’ve been coming up with are very different for me. That is definitely a good thing.

I am actually enjoying this different approach. I have a pretty good idea as to the general feel and structure of the song, but it has no set lyrics yet. The bits of lyrics I have come up with have mostly been just that…bits…and I’m keeping those aside to go back to and build on. I’m actually not worrying too much about finishing the lyrics at this point because I think it is important to make sure the song feels right to sing, and, unfortunately, that is something I cannot test at the moment with the lingering cough from my recent flu. Unfortunately, when I try to sing, the coughing starts, but maybe this has been okay (temporarily….it can end any time now!!)…maybe it has forced me to focus on the music.

Funny…when we were given the sample songs to give us an idea as to the sort of song Matt Dusk was looking for, I thought I would be inclined to write something with a feel similar to Pumped Up Kicks, because I really like that song, but I think it will have more of a Big Bang feel. I want to write something fun to sing (and I want to be able to sing it…go away nagging cough!!).

If the cough continues throughout  this week, I’ll just have to sing really softly on the demo for the song for week 2. Interestingly, I’ve had to do this once before for something SAC related. I brought a demo to the first songwriting conference I attended in Calgary several years ago, when we had the opportunity to have demos heard and critiqued. Anyway, I had this nagging cough that just wouldn’t go away, and it was already the day before the conference. I spent the day figuring out how to record just a lead vocal and acoustic guitar on Garage Band and threw together the demo pretty much in the nick of time. I had to sing extremely softly to avoid coughing, so my voice sounded really weak and airy on the recording, but the demo was still well received. Weak and airy won’t work for a Matt Dusk song, but maybe it will for a song for week 2. Somehow, I’ll make it work.


Well, today I received assignment #1 of the SAC song writing challenge, and I have to say…I called it! Last week, as I wondered what the first challenge would be, knowing that it was an actual song pitch to a known Canadian artist, I actually said that I bet it will be outside the genres I’m familiar with….I bet it will be jazz! Well, guess what? I’m pitching a song to a jazz singer! I should point out, though, that he does want something a little more contemporary than what he typically sings, and gave a list of some contemporary songs that he likes, to help guide us.

Now don’t get me wrong about my feelings on this assignment; this is not a bad thing. I joined this challenge to be…well…challenged, and I’m really looking forward to it. My head is actually full of ideas. Also, whereas all other challenges are due at the end of their respective weeks, this challenge is not due until the end of the sixth week, so I have lots of time to figure it out. I can do this!

Meanwhile, things are going really well with my other music. My very newly formed Facebook page is really growing in its number of followers, and the demo I posted is being well received. Things are going really well, and I could not be happier about all of it. I am so lucky and so grateful for the supportive people in my life. Thank you, all.

New Blog and SAC challenge

I am participating in a challenge by the Songwriter’s Association of Canada (SAC), where I am to write a song per week for six weeks, blog about it, and pitch one of the songs to a well known-artist (I don’t know who yet) who is looking for material for a new album. It is an opportunity to be introduced to the world of professional song writing, while connecting with other songwriters for collaboration and feedback, and to be coached by industry professionals. I expect it to be a great learning experience, and look forward to the challenge, which begins next week!

Since part of the project is to blog about my experience, I have started this blog. My first entry (I write songs because…) is something I had already been, coincidentally, writing on my own recently, and which I decided to submit. The blog page itself is still a work in progress and will likely transform over the coming weeks.

I will continue to use this blog after the challenge is complete, but the domain, that currently reroutes to this blog site, will eventually take you to my music website. Please stop by to see what’s new!

I write songs because…

I write songs because I like to write songs. The end. But that is not the end of this blog.

The thing with song writing is that when you write a song…well, now you have this song on your hands. That may sound obvious, but hear me out. Writing a song, wanting to share that song and actually being the one who is the vessel of sharing that song….the performer….are three separate things. As I stated before, I write songs because I like writing songs…that is what motivates me in the first place. I am not thinking, I should write something for people to hear or I should write something because I want to perform it in front of people, I write it because I enjoy the process of writing. It feels great to create something. But hold on…that doesn’t mean that the other two elements don’t matter to me. They do, but at least for me, they are separate from that initial writing process.

So, I’ve written a song and now I have this song on my hands. On one hand, it is scary to share with other people, but on the other, it would be really reaffirming to have someone else like my song. So, yeah, that other element is enticing. Who doesn’t like a little affirmation now and then? Plus, since I put so much feeling into writing that song, and since it means so much to me, maybe it will mean something to someone else. I think about songs that are meaningful to me, and how much I value those. I love the idea that something I’ve written might mean something to someone else, so now the idea of sharing it sounds even more enticing, but scary too…what if it falls flat and moves no one? I decide to take that risk because, in the end, I did write these songs simply for the joy of writing songs, and I will still always have that. So, okay, the risk is deemed worth taking.

But now there’s that performance thing. I love to sing. I love to play guitar. I love jamming with other people, even though I’m a little shy about it. But I’m even more shy about performing, especially performing solo. I feel as though I’m under a microscope. But there have been moments when, somehow, the anxiety that typically weighs on me has been lifted, and performing felt fantastic….fleeting and infrequent, yes, but if it has happened sometimes, surely it can become the norm. Surely I merely need to overcome some performance anxiety, and performing will become everything it should be. Maybe my songs deserve that much…maybe they deserve for me to come to a place where performing is something I want to do, not something I feel obligated to do. Surely my songs can only benefit from that kind of performance, since presentation is everything. If I’m feeling the song as opposed to only the anxiety of performance, I am presenting the song in the best light possible. I choose to learn to love performing. (2015 resolution? Perhaps…)

And so begins my journey…. I take the songs I have enjoyed writing just for the sake of writing, and I put them out there to be heard, and I nominate myself as their vessel of presentation. It doesn’t have to end with me though. How wonderful would it be for someone else to take these songs, connect with them, and perform them to a wider audience? My three steps….writing, choosing to share, and choosing to be the vessel of that sharing…need only be the beginning.

Bring on the journey.