It's been a yin and yang 24 hours.
I had a great hair cut, and walked out of the salon to find my car dead. Because I left the lights on. And the doors had frozen shut.
This morning I had a lovely breakfast and then found out that my Bubbi was taken to the hospital. She's fine now, which is great, but it was worrying.
It's balancing out now though... I had a great dinner with my folks and my BH, which always cheers me up. I also took Morty to the park and watched him get sexed up by his boyfriend Norman the Saint Bernard.
So that was funny.
And now I'm going to fold laundry.
It's been a yin and yang 24 hours.
When I was thirteen, I begged my parents to sign me up for a songwriting workshop taking place at the U of O campus.
I had read about it in the newspaper, and I figured that if I could learn the one and only magic songwriting formula, I'd be able to craft perfect tunes all by myself. I had been writing music in some shape or form for years already, although nothing was really coming out as the stuff I heard on the radio. This workshop would change that, I was sure.
They signed me up after some discussion (it wasn't cheap), and I headed over with no doubt in my mind that I would learn the "trick," as it were, to songwriting.
I'll leave the names out, but this is what I found when I arrived.
Young music types were packed into an auditorium. We all had our notebooks out, ready to learn. I knew these sorts of kids... I had been competing against them in music festivals for a good chunk of my childhood. They were driven, talented, and often slightly deranged. They had always been told that they were the best at what they did, and they believed it. Spoiled, you could say, with spoiled parents. Spoiled STAGE parents. The worst of the worst.
I did not have spoiled parents. My parents were theatre and costume geeks who had lived their lives surrounded with creativity and art. Not a lot of music there, but when they saw my interest in singing, they were happy to indulge me. I'm glad they did.
Anyway, the workshop. A commercially successful Canadian songwriter came on stage, and handouts were circulated in the crowd. These contained the magic song formula, I imagine.
The songwriter went on to explain that to create a successful pop song, you only needed to follow some very simple lyric and structure rules. Keep the language simple, write about love, and always follow the verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus formula. DO NOT STRAY. She also included helpful tips on when to repeat lines from your chorus, what chord progressions to use, when to say "baby, baby," how to ooooh and aaaah like the best of them.... You get the picture.
I may have only been thirteen, but I was not an idiot. I was horrified by this so-called winning formula, not only because it stifled creativity, but also because it taught people to pump out songs that all sounded the same. It was based on the misguided assumption that pop for dummies is the only kind of music worth writing. It excluded nearly every other genre, and even really great pop music didn't fit in there.
I was crestfallen and angry. This was not music. It was clear to me that this workshop was nothing but a money grab for people who have been told that they need to "make it" in the industry. These people were not artists, and they weren't going to write anything I would want to listen to.
Thankfully, the workshop also managed to teach me what I didn't want in my own musical career: fake music and fake people. I would not become a commercial pop artist, it was clear.
Apparently I needn't have worried about learning to write songs. When I started playing guitar a year later, all the music inside of me suddenly had a way out. I was writing songs within a month of starting guitar lessons, and I haven't stopped since.
My songwriting formula is no more a winning, magical solution than the shit they taught me at that workshop. It does, however, work for me.
STEP ONE: Get inspired. If I am not doing anything interesting with my time, I am also not writing songs. To stay inspired, I take walks, day trips out of town, explore new neighbourhoods, listen to great music, surround myself with art, and keep notes on my experiences. Heartache is a creative goldmine... Another reason why I'm not writing much these days. :) My notes are usually in the form of phrases, themes or single words that I like. I go back to these lists years after making them to get material for my songs.
STEP TWO: Find a place where you can write. I'm having trouble with that now, since I write best in an empty house, and I rarely find myself in that situation these days. Still, if you just need a comfy chair, or a back porch, or a basement, make that space yours and use it. I think that if I ever have the cash, I will take "songwriting weekends" in Montreal or Toronto where I book a hotel room and I lock down to write for a few days. I would be Ms. Prolific.
STEP THREE: Surround yourself with your inspiration, either your lists or whatever's kicking around in your head, sit down in your songwriting space, and just start to play. I often keep a chord book nearby in case I have trouble getting started. I basically strum and hum until I stumble across a chord progression or a melody I really like, and I build it up until I have a good base to work from.
STEP FOUR: Take those chords and that melody and let them tell you what the lyrics will be. This part REALLY doesn't work for some people, especially songwriters who have their lyrics fully pre-written and fit them into their music. For me, the shape the song takes without words completely dictates how my lyrics end up. That works best for me.
STEP FIVE: Keep fiddling with your chords, melody and lyrics until your song starts to fill out and sound like a song. You will be able to hear it coming together. I try to record this process on a little handheld thingy so I don't forget anything the next day. Keep it up until you are done - your definition of "done" will evolve as your writing evolves.
Basically, write what you feel and keep it up until it becomes second nature. It will get easier, and you will get better. Besides, playing your own songs start to finish is incredibly rewarding, and you won't regret a thing.
(Not even the fact that you may never become a commercially successful pop star. Banjo is the new black. Indie is the new pop. Anything goes.)
Does anyone have anything to add about their creative process? How do you make art?
So. That video about songwriting.
I've tried to upload it three times, and it's simply not working. Last time I left it for three hours before it finally shut my computer down.
Since it is causing me immense frustration, I'm going to tell the video to suck it and I'll make a proper songwriting list instead. I'm good at lists. Video? Not so much.
I'm glad so many of you enjoyed seeing Morty wrapped up in Snuggie goodness. He was adorable and grunty the whole time. I should clarify a few things, however:
1. The Snuggie is not mine. It belongs to my dear friend Heather, who brought it over after we had dim sum yesterday. We have decided to do a series of Snuggie-related projects, some of which involve wearing the Snuggie in public and taking photos to preserve the moment. Her father has an extra Snuggie, so we can do these stunts together, as nature intended.
2. I find the Snuggie, in reality, completely and utterly ridiculous. Besides the fact that it is nothing but a giant blanket with arms, I also far prefer the comfort of a good blanket when I'm trying to stay warm. Heather's Snuggie was so big that it trailed about a meter on the floor behind me (granted, I'm short). The sleeves were about the lenth of my entire body. How is that practical? And how do the kids in the commercial even manage that awkward high-five??
3. Morty was actually a bit perturbed by the Snuggie, but then he tried to love it up, so I think he's changing his mind. DOMINATE THE SNUGGIE.
Not that you could tell, but I was gone all day Saturday. My BH and I drove to Toronto on a whim, going there and back in one day. It would have actually been great if we hadn't hit a storm on the way home, right around the same time we realized that our borrowed car did not have winter tires. It was a very nervous ride, and a couple of times we were sure we wouldn't be able to stop. We made it home at 3am, and I'm still feeling worse for wear.
Why would we drive to Toronto if we can only go for one day, you ask? A few reasons.
If we had our own car, we would have stayed overnight. We don't, and given our time restraints, we thought we'd rather go for a day than not at all. We also have a few things we love to do in Toronto, and they don't take a whole lot of time. They are mostly within walking distance of our parking garage, and then we always finish the day by having dinner in Little India. This is conveniently around the corner from the highway.
We were also going stir crazy, and a quick jaunt out of town was all we needed. We got some kick-ass chocolate, a bunch of new music, some great books, and we ate at two of our favourite restaurants. We even got to visit Shawna! It was excellent quality time.
I'm already planning another trip back, but this time we'll stay overnight. That way we can fit in more eating and poking around on King St. E. I love that area.
Perhaps the greatest part of our trip was the time we got to spend together. When we're at home, we're often doing chores or watching a movie or playing with Morty. This doesn't leave a lot of time for good conversation. Sure enough, when we really got talking over spicy dosas and tea on Gerrard St, we made an entire plan (plus financing!) for my next album.
That alone was worth the drive.
That, and the fact that I bought a book called "On Bullshit" that is literally a book about the art of bullshitting. Yes please.
He samples the Snuggie and decides that it makes a suitable snack. Drool ensues.
I've had a rough time with mornings lately. I've been going to bed far too late, predictably missing my alarm when it goes off in the wee small hours.
Yesterday was especially bad. I jolted awake with twenty minutes before I had to leave the house. Throwing on whatever clothes I could find in the half light, I stumbled over to the bathroom the make myself look presentable. I flicked on the light. It was dead, and instead of taking the time to change the bulb, I put on makeup in the dark (when I got to work, I realized what a mistake that was).
I also noticed later in the day that the pants I had chosen to wear had dog food on them.
Plus, when I was leaving the house, I glanced into the front room to see that our daffodil plant had thrown itself off the shelf. There was dirt everywhere, but since I had one foot out the door, I had to leave it and call my BH in transit to tell him about the mess.
The solution to these terrible mornings is simply to prepare better the night before and get to bed early. I don't know why I can't just put that into practice.
But in more cheerful news, last night I had So! Much! Fun!
Milan and Emily invited my BH and I over for some grub. Milan said it was to thank us for teaching him how to make crispy tofu, but I think it was just a plot to one-up me. They made this elaborate arugula pesto linguine with roasted veggies, a big salad, and garlic bread. Dude, that is FAR MORE IMPRESSIVE than crispy tofu. Now we're going to have to invite them back and cook a ten-course meal to thank them properly.
I was fed a lot of wine so I *may* have done inappropriate things with avocados. Luckily Emily was all into it and we snuck off to the kitchen to carve faces into fruits and veggies. I'm... Not even kidding. Photos to come.
There's a chance I'll be out of town for a large chunk of this weekend. I will try and post that songwriting video before I leave, should I leave, so you can see one of the many reasons I stay up so late.
Who wants to sleep when you can make shaky videos on your camera?
Dears. Some good news.
I've got an idea for my next album percolating in the back of my brain. Realistically, it will be at least two or three years before I can put it into motion, but I swear it will come sooner if I win the lottery.
I learned a lot from releasing my last record. I'm thankful that I didn't get hit with any particularly gruelling lessons; after all, I had released albums before and had already worked out the major kinks. I'd say my biggest problem with this last CD was the cost, since it was self-financed and as professional as I could make it without resorting to a diet of rice and lentils. It was my choice to go with the best manufacturing, mastering, recording and advertising that I could manage, and I'm still paying that off. Not to mention a costly CD release, which eventually paid for itself, THANK GOD, because otherwise I'd be in deep shit.
At the same time, I don't regret it. The album took off without me having to lift a finger, and I'm hoping that's because the product was solid. I'm glad I made the effort at the start so that I could relax a little more later on. Relax, burn out, whatever.
Next time will be different, I imagine. I'll be applying for grants, although I'm not holding my breath considering how many talented people compete for those things. I'll be doing all my pre-production at home, and hopefully my studio time will be spent laying down tracks I've already figured out months in advance (I can see myself laughing at this sentence later on). Manufacturing will be tough, because I actually don't like to cut corners on the quality of the CD, digipack, pictures etc. So that has yet to be determined.
And I'd like to make a music video for the next album too. Ouch.
It's okay though. I've got a couple of years to think it through. But for the first time in a while, I can see the album in my mind. It's a nice feeling. Or, it doesn't feel like panic... Yet.
I have made a shitty video for y'all about how I write songs. Not that I set out to make the video shitty, it's just that I recorded it on my digital camera at 12:30 am last night in my pajamas. Quietly. Because everyone else was asleep. And I may have uttered the phrase "pulled it out of my ass" while gesturing wildly at nothing in particular.
Anyway. It will be posted here as soon as I have a chance to upload the dang thing. Promise.
My posting lately has been a little half-hearted. Mid-February does this to me, mostly because I am trying to do as little as possible in a twisted concession to let winter win.
Still, the weather has been mild, and I'm happy that as each day passes, I am that much closer to seeing a crocus or two. Morty, however, has been mourning the lack of fresh snow. He's a bit of a diva about where he pees.
I still owe y'all a post about songwriting, but my computer has been holding me back. I'd like to make a video about the process, but since my laptop died in November, the driver for my web cam has been missing. So. Hummm. Excuses.
I am becoming consumed by lists. I have never had more plans for the future than I do now. The most immediate? Buy an electric guitar. With... All that money I have. HAH.
Until then, I'll be burning through my stash of chocolate chip cookie dough at record speed. Because it's mid-February, and I can.
I heard my song on the radio and it was highly exciting!!
It came on just as I was walking home from work. The reception on my MP3 player was atrocious, but I heard my name and picked up the first few lines of Sleeper before the static took over.
Moments like that make me feel okay about having album-related debt. Debt is temporary. Music is not. I can deal.
It's also nice to see that people are actually looking me up because of the broadcast - my stat counter has picked up folks from all over the country finding my music site by typing in various badly-spelled versions of my name. Happy!
I would like to chat more, but there are complications:
- the screen on my BH's computer is on the fritz and I can barely see what I'm typing
- my nose collided with Morty's tooth a minute ago and I'm bleeding (it's nobody's fault... we headbutted trying to get comfy on the couch) (he has a sizable head) (and giant teeth)
- my BH has fallen asleep beside me and Morty is cradling his ass with his paws.... I must get a picture before it ends!
- the bleeding nose thing
Yay! Yay! Yay!
I just got an e-mail from a producer friend at CBC Radio... And word on the street is that my song I am a Sleeper will be played on Rich Tefry's show today at EDIT: I HAVE NO IDEA WHEN Ottawa time (Maybe 5:05pm?). Is that a national show? I think it might be.
It's been a while since my stuff was played on CBC. Last winter there was a crazy rush and I lost count of where it was played, but then, radio silence. Har. It's very nice to know the radio peeps are still listening. Maybe one day I'll even pay the album off! Imagine!
Hey, that reminds me... I promised a post about songwriting, didn't I? Sorry TS, it's coming.
I'm just so dang excited about this CBC thing that I can't think of anything else to write.
Done and done.
DISCLAIMER: There's always a chance the playlist will change, so my apologies if I'm getting all crazy about nothing. Hopefully that's not the case. :)
I had a lovely weekend, threatened only by the fact that I had two very short and very bad sleeps.
They would have been long and pleasant sleeps, but Morty was snoring so loudly that the mattress shook. I lay awake between 4am and 7am both nights, occasionally tilting Morty's head this way and that, trying to stop the sound. When it finally stopped (at 6:45 am), my BH spread out his limbs like a starfish and sighed happily in his slumber. I was pushed off the bed.
Like I said. Bad sleep. (And another shining example of why I need a king-sized bed!)
Everything else was great.
I had a tasty breakfast with Robin, Zoom and the GC, while XUP tended to her daughter's broken bones.
Later that evening, my BH and I showed Milan how to make Fresh's always-amazing crispy tofu recipe. I insisted on the tofu lesson after Milan revealed that he doesn't cook very often, and as a result, eats mostly beans. "Unacceptable!" I screeched. Poor soul. Luckily, he brought wine, and I got kinda stupid after that. He and my BH talked at length about web comics while I sat drunkenly on the couch, rubbing Morty's tummy.
I also seem to remember Milan re-explaining his elephant penis theory, which I have requested he blog about since I can't seem to wrap my brain around it. But it does involve length approximation and pee.
Sunday I lived up to my promise to help Tiana organize her kitchen cupboards. I love to organize, and she prepared a giant fruit platter, so it was a fair trade. Since we had never met in person, we made a pact that we wouldn't break each other's knees should one of us turn out to be in the mob. It worked; we are both still walking today. Tiana also has shiny new cupboards with sexy labels and proper spice containers. Joy!
My only weekend disappointment was my attempt to make bread using the wrong kind of flour. Did you know whole wheat doesn't rise the same way as white all-purpose? I knew that too, but I grabbed the wrong container and mixed it (and baked it!) before I noticed. LAME.
Thanks to everyone for your nice comments about Andi's TV spot.
I should have mentioned that I find her performance especially impressive because BNN pulled the rug out from under her - she was told she would be talking about the Energy Day of Action, and instead she was used as an example of beaver-loving environmentalists everywhere. They also slapped the mic on her and then put her on air without so much as a word, like "Oh, you should look at the camera when responding to our douche of an interviewer" or "You're going on air NOW." Nope, it was a complete farce of proper broadcasting etiquette.
Anyways. Good on you, gal.
Now for some exciting news that I'm putting out there to make sure I actually get it done... My BH and I are going to try and visit Japan next year! (Adele! You're not planning on moving just yet... Right?! :)) I'm having visions of bento supplies and fancy fabric. And I guess we'll also have to see if the money comes together. Heh.
This weekend is all about bloggers. I'm seeing more of y'all in two days than I've seen since the last breakfast meetup! Most excellent! Details to come.... Possibly with pictures.
Look! It's my best friend tearing into this dickwad, one-sided, poor excuse of an interviewer.
She kicks ass.
Hey Andi... I wanna hug your beaver.
I've developed a very "office job" sort of injury.... Stabbing pains in my arm and hand because of MOUSE OVERUSE. Can you believe that? Lame-o. I'd rather have pulled a muscle climbing a mountain, but there you have it. Funny thing is that it's not even the first time this has happened.
My BH and I had discussed taking a trip in March to see a great concert and spend some time in another city. I booked a B&B and held off buying show tickets until I could confirm it all with him. Then he said it would be too expensive and that we shouldn't go.
At first I was sad, but now I've sorta decided to go anyways. What can I say? I'd really like a weekend away after the Montreal thing fell through. Solo vacation on the cheap. Not as much fun without my boy, but fuck it, I want a mid-winter break. Last winter was rough and I don't think I took a single trip outside Ottawa. Besides, visiting other cities is my number one source for new songwriting material, and I'm running thin.
So, yeah. Two more months until things get melty. I can do this!
I've cancelled the B&B and I don't think I'm going to bother going anywhere. The whole point was to hang out with my BH, and I guess we're going to be hanging out at home instead.
Thank you, Shawna, for cheering me up with this. Snuggies are everywhere!
I've got a point-form post about all the things I keep meaning to tell you. Then I have to go clean my house in preparation for a girls' night that will not include obsessing over the Superbowl.
- Remember my confusion over the snuggie, aka the backwards housecoat? Heather got one! As a gift! And it wasn't a joke! I CAN'T WAIT TO SEE IT IN ACTION. Pictures will hopefully follow our future snuggie session (Heather, can we have a snuggie session? Pretty please?).
- The gig today was awesome, and I sold an unexpectedly high number of CDs. I also managed to stab myself in the hand with an errant banjo string while on stage and was therefore unable to react the way I wanted to (ie, screaming). It still hurts.
- My BH and I met some friends at Pub Italia last night. While we were waiting for a table, my BH caught a glimpse of what the hostess had written beside my name, and burst into laughter. I leaned over to take a look at the description they had used for us: "Girl with green hat, and brown guy with brown hat." Brown guy? Seriously? I guess that's an accurate description, but still. We giggled about it all night.