F - A - B flat. These three little chords were destined to become the building blocks of my first-ever real song, written by me, for me, and about me.
But I didn’t know that yet when I was just starting to do a little bit of singing here and there in no-audition-necessary community choirs and at home with the new keyboard I bought on Gumtree and drove across the city to pick up on a quiet Sunday morning.
Music had been my significant source of joy for much of my youth, but as an adult I’d stopped thinking it was something I was permitted to do. The arts seemed to be seen by so many as whimsical self-indulgence, a surefire way to ensure you can never afford health insurance, and a pursuit that only the most talented are worthy to pursue. I’m not the most talented. I’m not even the most hardworking! But oh, the deepest parts of me have longed to make music since the moment I learnt to pound out “Heart and Soul” on the church piano when I was eight years old.
I don’t know who convinced me that I wasn’t good enough, talented enough or motivated enough to make music as an adult. It felt silly, this thing that I wasn’t even particularly good at; this thing that you only had a chance of succeeding at if you were really good (which I’d already established I wasn’t); this thing that if anyone heard it would probably be super embarrassing for me. But something happened last year. The thief that stole my confidence just kind of rocked up at my door and dropped it back off to me. I still knew I was a bit shit and I still felt like maybe people would laugh at me but I just wasn’t willing to waste my energy there when I could utilise my energy creating something! So when opportunity knocked, I flung that door open and invited music back in.
I saw a post Francesca had made on Facebook about the I Heart Songwriting Club Choir needing more members for the gig with Mama Kin Spender. I knew I would love to do it, but was ultimately sure it wasn’t really going to happen. I mean, the post was asking for men (which I clearly am not) and let’s not forget – I’m actually not particularly good! It didn’t even really feel like I was taking a risk because I was obviously the wrong person for the job, but by some miracle I got this spectacular email saying Mishell, YOU’RE IN THE CHOIR.
The joy was back. Most of the choir members are in the club and the discussions about themes and guidelines and shared frustrations and small celebrations really inspired me. What a creative bunch of humans they all were! What good musicians they must be! Songwriting to me is like next level when it comes to that musical elitism that I’d maybe experienced/maybe invented, so I totally balked at the suggestion that I could join. I mean, I’m not good, remember? I mean I’m not that good at singing or piano but far more than all that - I had never written a song. I was so scared. Scared that I had nothing of value to say; scared that I’d be pitied or laughed at; scared that I wouldn’t be able to do it. And yet, none of it outweighed the desire to create something that would bring me that joy I’d been missing for so many years.
F – A – B flat. I wrote my first song, called "Empty", in the club a few months ago. The theme was Litmus Test. The support and feedback I received from my group made me feel like I actually did have something of value to say. I felt like they really got what I was trying to do with the lyrics and melody. I felt like I had unlocked something in me that had been missing my entire life. I was so proud of this song! I mean I totally acknowledge that it definitely might have been a bit shit but somehow I didn’t care! It meant something to me and it meant something to the people who heard it. So I wrote nine more. The feedback was always encouraging and thought-provoking. I had new ideas every week and the stories and songs of the other songwriters in my group inspired me to keep going. I signed up for another term.
I can’t see any version of my future where I don’t write songs. The club has me hooked on songwriting! There’s a desire in me to express and share stories through music and I hope at some point I’ll be able to share with people outside of the club! I don’t see the time constraint as a ‘limit’ as such. The one hour timeframe allows me the freedom to just write something. The weekly tasks help me to keep the momentum and just write something. I really want to keep on writing something every week. Even if it’s not good. Even if it’s a bit shit. Even if it’s just three chords. F – A – B flat.
Tribe: A social division in a traditional society consisting of families or communities linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties, with a common culture and dialect, typically having a recognised leader.
What a weekend in Brisbane I just had, and what a tribe in the I Heart Songwriting Club I just found. Whilst I’ve been a member of the IHSC online community since May 2017, I had been living between London and Sydney and had not experienced the face-to-face IHSC community in Brisbane - the city where the club was born four years ago. This community exists solely because that’s where the founder of the club and the lifeblood of the whole operation lives, Francesca de Valence.
Francesca had told me what an amazing community they had up in Brisbane, and I thought, well, that’s nice, but I’m pretty happy with how I’m going just being in the online community. But she felt that seeing was believing, and invited me to see things for myself over a long weekend packed to the brim with IHSC events. During this weekend I would debut my new electronic-pop project alongside two other emerging singer-songwriters, attend an all-day workshop on being a singer-songwriter led by Sam Buckingham, take part in the famous Brisbane PARK JAM, co-write a song in 15 minutes(!) with whomever was in the park at the end of the jam session, and last, but not least, attend a concert at the Brisbane Powerhouse, featuring three Australian ‘powerhouse singers’, Tash Parker, Francesca de Valence and Sam Buckingham. Did that interest me? Um. Yes. So I booked my flight to Brisbane!
What was I expecting? Well, I was pretty excited about my first public performance of my own music to be honest. I had been working as a classical mezzo-soprano in Sydney and in London, and worked hard to build that career up for several years prior. I kind of discovered songwriting by accident whilst still living in London. Once I became a member of IHSC and had to submit a song every single week and get feedback on it by the group, well it was kind of hard to stop writing! The encouragement and experience I found in this first group led me to invest in some technology, initially at the advice of Tash Parker. A year later I was ready to release “Back Of You” my debut self-produced track, which had its premiere performance in Brisbane and was beautifully reviewed by another IHSC member, Aussie music legend Jackie Marshall.
Fri 27 - City Sounds Showcase
The IHSC showcase was on the Queen Street Mall in Brisbane - a beautiful backdrop and space for the concert as part of City Sounds. Sam Buckingham, who had also come to Brisbane for the long weekend of events, hosted the event featuring myself, Brodie and Laudy also making their debut. At one point in the night, we realised that everyone involved, including the photographer, sound tech, performers and our compare, was female - it was a night produced entirely by females! A little win for gender inequality in the music industry.
After my soundcheck, a guy in the audience came up and asked me if I was Karmel Jäger. He had already heard my track which had just been released and said he was really looking forward to seeing how I would perform 'live'. No pressure or anything! It was actually pretty cool to have someone already familiar with my music at my first gig. And I felt really encouraged to meet someone who wasn't a family member or a friend who had listened to my music, and who went out of their way to tell me they liked it and had then come to see me play live. I thought that I could definitely get used to this..
It was pretty amazing to do my first live show. I had a couple of technical difficulties at first, this being my first live electronic gig, but they were quickly fixed with a lot of help from my sister and the sound technician. It was a strange combination for me of nerves and calm. I am, after all, quite a seasoned performer but just not at singing my own songs or using electronic equipment! I was, as I told the audience, 'pushing a lot of buttons'! I found this a really cool challenge though, and I especially enjoyed changing the chord progression of one of my songs towards the end to mix it up. That isn't the sort of choice one gets to make when singing classical music!
Sat 28 - IHSC Workshop
The following morning I was up early for the workshop on "How to be a Singer-Songwriter and Not Lose Your Mind", facilitated by Sam Buckingham. Aptly named. I had the joy of meeting Jackie, who had just reviewed my single, and Carla who had been in my online group the previous term. Laudy was there also. There was around ten of us in total, having travelled from all over – Sydney, Kingaroy, Sunshine Coast, Gold Coast, Byron Bay. We sat on yoga mats and oversized pillows and together we learned, discussed and shared our stories. We were provided with strategies for going about this music business without losing our authenticity and purpose. We also did a 12-minute meditation that totally changed my life. I will now be incorporating this into my daily routine, alongside a recommitting of myself to get to my yoga class more often…
After the 7-hour workshop that seemed to fly by, it was time to part ways. Of course, I would actually be seeing Laura, Carla and Francesca the following morning at PARK JAM. Jackie kindly gave me a lift back to my sister’s place and we got to know each other a bit in the car ride. She said I could get in touch if I wanted to chat more, and she also said to say hi to my sister for her. This was beginning to feel like something more than an online community by this point…
Sun 28 - PARK JAM and Brisbane Powerhouse Showcase
On Sunday morning I arrived at PARK JAM and the session was already in full swing with Francesca and her partner in crime, Gabby, leading the way with their fun song "We're gonna sing a song today". In the chorus of this song everyone sings in harmony along with several guitars accompanying, while the verses are improvised on the spot by whomever Francesca chooses to surprise by calling out their name! Somehow this is done in a completely non-threatening way, and it was actually a great ice breaker. There would have been at least 15 people jamming and the vibe was wonderfully inclusive. People shared their songs and, if they were easy enough to follow, anyone with a guitar was welcome to join in. Several voices would pipe up in chorus making for some great backing vocals. I got to sing one of my songs with my sister accompanying me on guitar and back-up vocals whilst overlooking the Brisbane River. It was pretty sweet.
Towards the end of the session it was time to co-write a song on a random theme, and in 15 minutes we had achieved the impossible. It was so freeing and non-judgemental and reminded me that this is what we’re supposed to be doing as a species. Every community has always had some form of communal music making, and it’s something in our culture that seems to be left to chanting at a soccer match or singing along at a Beyoncé concert!
It was now time to say goodbye, to pop back to my lodgings to pack my bags for the journey home. But not before I met one of my favourite singer songwriters, Tash Parker, and got to hear her live for the first time along with Francesca de Valence and Sam Buckingham. Two of these girls I got to meet for the first time, all three I heard perform live for the first time, and yet I had actually been in online song writing groups with each of them for at least one term! I had already discovered them as artists and become fans of their music, and had the honour of receiving their feedback on my music over several weeks. Each of these women performed amazingly and the fact that all of their songs performed were written as part of a one-hour songwriting exercise was so inspiring. The performances were all breathtaking, and once again it was fantastic to see an all-female concert of singer-songwriters. The audience was very appreciative and some were IHSC members whom I’d met already over the weekend. I was also introduced to a number of other musicians at the end of the show. All too soon it was over and time to head back to Sydney.
I’m pretty excited about thinking how I could bring some of this goodness to my hometown. We have quite a number of Sydney members in the I Heart Songwriting Club. We don’t have Francesca at the helm here of course, but I’m hopeful that I could grow something along the lines of what I witnessed this past weekend in Brisbane. To find like-minded people and have support for your craft online is invaluable. But meeting up in person and sharing the music and friendship in person is 100 times more so. I’m confident that this sort of thing is needed here in Sydney and I feel really lucky to have met all these wonderful people and to be gathering so many wonderful artists around me as I grow my tribe.
Life-long dreams are something not many of us ever get the courage or opportunity to realise. So many put their dreams on the back-burner in favour of more practical or attainable goals such as a stable income (which is fair enough - we’ve all got to eat!). Another common inhibitor is self-doubt - an oppressive and soul-destroying creature that I am all too familiar with. Whilst I still strung with self-doubt from time-to-time, life has recently taken me on a journey that has transformed and empowered me to realise my dream. Let me tell you how.
Music has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories are of playing around on my mother’s organ, which she used to play in her family’s dance band. This eventually led to me starting piano lessons at age 7 and then starting to write and perform original music at age 13. When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up I said “a singer/songwriter”. I was a total music nerd at high-school and went on to study music at QUT. It seemed like my life was on track. I was following my destiny, working on turning my passion into a career.
Something happened to me at uni, however. That dreaded self-doubt sunk its claws into me and did not let go. I dropped out of uni whilst almost at the end of my degree. I stopped writing. I even stopped playing. For around 7 or 8 years, my relationship with music did not extend past that of an avid music fan. The musician part of me had seemingly floated beyond the stratosphere, never to return.
During this “period of non-music”, as it shall be known, I was also in a relationship that was very toxic for me (which later provided a lot of fodder for songwriting, at least) and it took me a long time to come to this realisation. I was living life as some half-genuine shadow version of myself that I did not even like. My soul was suffocating and was on the brink of a slow and painful death if something did not change. I was entirely lost.
Thankfully, what you are born to do has a way of seeking you out eventually. I managed to find the strength to reach out to some of my closest friends for help. I had an epiphany that music had been an integral part of my life. If I was to find myself again, I would need to find music again. My best friend sent me a link to this new thing she’d heard of called "I Heart Songwriting Club". It sounded good and I decided to sign up for a term and give it a go. Little did I know, this was the catalyst for a major life overhaul.
As I signed up for term after term with I Heart Songwriting Club, I felt a huge shift in my personal universe. Through the act of getting back into songwriting, the supportive and encouraging community I suddenly found myself, the encouragement to let go of self-doubt and open my eyes to the act of songwriting as a process that can be practiced and improved (I could go on for hours here).
I. Found. Myself. I found purpose and confidence and hope. I eventually summoned the courage to leave that toxic relationship and my life is now better than I could have thought possible just 2 1/2 years ago.
Through I Heart Songwriting Club's weekly songwriting practice, the encouraging feedback I received from my group and my participation in several of the workshops the club has facilitated over the past 12 months (including topics such as music videos and recording and producing), I am now in the midst of self-promoting my debut single, which was written in one hour as part of the club. I met producer/mixer, Nick O’Donnell of "Make Music Not War", through the production workshops who worked with me on this single and we are now in the process of recording my debut EP which will be released later this year. The help and support the I Heart Songwriting Club has gifted me in preparing for this release is something I will be eternally grateful for.
I may never get to play for sold out stadiums as I imagined as a child (or maybe I will?). My single may not reach number one and it may not even chart. But I am here - I am doing it! I am living my dream. I can confidently call myself a singer/songwriter and a recording artist. And if this single doesn’t take off? Self-doubt will no longer stand in my way. I will keep going. And for that, I Heart Songwriting Club, I am forever grateful.
If you are reading this and have been considering joining the club, I hope my story has convinced you to try it out. Just do it - sign up. Who knows where it will lead you.
Laudy’s debut single, “Lioness’, was digitally released on 29 June 2018. She will be launching the single at the City Sounds Showcase, hosted by I Heart Songwriting Club, on 27 July 2018 at the Queen Street Mall main stage.
I'm from Sydney but live in Cologne now. It's only a 3 hour train ride to Paris, so when I heard Francesca (founder of IHSC) was there, I hopped on a train to meet her. This was one of, if not the most fun I've had ever writing a song.
It wasn't just about writing the song under the Eiffel Tower on a sparkling 28 degree summers day.
It wasn't just about finally meeting Francesca for the first time.
And it wasn't just about hanging out all day getting to know each other and hearing each other stories and songs in the Champ de Mars which is the park in front of the tower.
But sitting down to play songs for each other we found ourselves very quickly surrounded by a group of people.
In particular 4 or 5 little kids came and sat next to us and listened to Francesca playing her own songs as well as Edith Piaf's La Vie En Rose. So cliché, but so perfect. I'm pretty sure Piaf herself probably sat in the same spot once upon a time.
We hadn't started writing yet. We were just taking it in. Plus we still had to do lunch with a couple of glasses of cold 'chardy' to wash it down.
The day went so quickly and and we really didn't have much time to do the song. But yes we had and hour, which is the 'rules' of I Heart Songwriting Club. I'm in week 35 of the club now, so after 35 songs I can say that after noodling around with ideas for anywhere from 5 minutes to 5 days, once I get my idea which is the first melody line, I can then usually pump out the rest in about an hour. Sometimes less, sometimes more.
So Francesca got out her pen and I picked up the guitar. The first thing she said was "at 9 o'clock, I stepped on the bus" as 'Bus Route' was this weeks theme and at 9 o'clock she did step on the bus to meet me. All we really did was document what we did right there and then. We didn't think too hard about it.
Then all we had to do was make our story rhyme either perfectly or imperfectly. The total song was done in about 20- 30 mins. We then pulled out the cameras and recorded it.
The line "We were strangers then, but we're not strangers now", was relating to all the people in the park that were smiling and watching us. I really felt this amazing connection of how music just brings people together. It also relates to Francesca as this was the first time we'd met. And we're not strangers now!!
If I was writing this alone it may have taken longer as i may have spent more time tweaking here and there. But writing with FdV, there's no BS. Just write it get it down and it's done. OK. NEXT!
I cannot express how much I Heart Songwriting Club has changed my life. I've been writing songs most of my life, but some years I'd write maybe 10 - 20 songs and then I'd go 2 or 3 years without writing anything. But having my group to send send songs to gives me a real buzz every week. And I love hearing and commenting on everyone else's songs too. I don't think I've missed reviewing anyone's song yet. I know how much it means to me to get feedback on my songs, so I always make sure I do the same.
When I was in my German class, one time we had to talk about what is our superpower. I said that I could teach anyone to write a song. No matter who or what they already know. Everyone thinks it's too hard, which I reply, if you can talk, you can write. Keep it simple.
WATCH OUR VIDEO WE MADE UNDER THE EIFFEL TOWER:
Tracey Hammell, Brisbane, Australia
Once upon a time there was a little girl with golden curls who sat cross-legged amongst the spring clover under two pine trees in front of the family home. The girl made up story tales and told them to an audience of bees contentedly buzzing to and fro the delicate white flowers. That little girl was me. Looking back, the scene reminds me of the girl with flaxen hair Leconte de Lisle wrote about in his poem that was later composed into Charles Debussy’s musical in the 1900s. A simple two and a half minute piece of tinkling piano keys that drew her imagination to wander into some far off place in her dreams. Such is the power of music.
I reminisced when I Heart Songwriting Club prompted us to write a song to the theme Swings and Roundabouts. The idea was to bring ourselves out of our usual 'grown up' environment and recall the fun we had as kids. I thought back to a time when life was simpler. I was always drawing, painting, writing stories, playing music and yes, singing into a hairbrush! There were escapades through bush tracks with my horse as the wind blew through our pony tails, and the smell of baking wafting from the kitchen as my mother proudly set down a tray of cupcakes shaped like butterflies with sugar coated wings for afternoon tea. I thought about building sand castles in the sunshine and playing board games in the caravan during thundery summer lightning storms on our annual holidays to the beach. We felt so safe inside. At school I learned piano and my Dad taught me to play a shiny red tortoiseshell accordion. One day a new teacher arrived carrying a nylon stringed guitar. It had a shoulder strap embroidered with red and green flowers and I was so transfixed when she played the gleaming wooden instrument that I immediately asked my Dad if I could learn to play. I have had a love affair with the guitar ever since.
Recently, with those images in mind, I started writing longhand onto a paper notebook. That in itself was nostalgic. I thought about the journey I’ve taken that little girl on through life. She trusted me to guide her and has become the image of my inner child that I can still see and hear so clearly. At the end of the song I wrote, “Sometimes I still think about the choices that I made. Each decision takes me somewhere else, or lets me stay.” Stay where? Well, in the moment; the moment that reminds me that even though I’m here now, my inner child is still with me, and I’m with her, wherever we go.
In songwriting I have found the freedom to express all those things I might have wanted to say and didn’t, or couldn’t. Writing a song can be like saving little pieces of memorabilia or bringing back magical feelings into something tangible and real that I get to relive all over again by describing how I felt at the time. It can help to bring closure to things that have taught me lessons, to let go and move on. I can write about anything that I see, hear, taste, smell, touch and feel. I can still talk to my parents and my sister who have passed on, or write words of passion, appreciation, comfort and encouragement to those closest to me. I can say what I always wanted to say to past loves or find healing for a broken heart. I can write about cherished pets, about bosses, jobs or teachers, or an article I’ve read that has stirred me, or something completely abstract. I can write about the times when I felt so elated that I wanted to preserve the feeling forever, or the anticipation of trying and trying and trying to do something and learning that, well, you can’t always get what you want, you get what you need! Time can’t do that because it marches on. Words and music can. Once created, a song lives forever.
I joined I Heart Songwriting Club because after singing other people’s songs I felt that I had something to say and had begun writing a few songs for myself. I didn’t feel comfortable sharing my fledgling songs with people I knew straight away because those songs were often conceptual or experimental, very personal or cathartic in and of themselves. I found it easier to share that part of myself with strangers who did not know me so I could feel the freedom to be whatever I wanted to be without expectations.
I remember once meeting a very successful songwriter who said to me, “Write what you know. Open up and let people see you. Tell your stories, listen to their stories, find shared experiences to identify with. Connect. That’s what it’s about.” Sometimes I feel stumped by the weekly theme and I remember her words. A short while ago we were given a theme and nothing was inspiring me. I went for a walk to the local farmer’s market in a state of procrastination and watched an old man with a rusty stringed red guitar and croaky voice busking under the trees. I listened to him; really listened. I watched the sincere joy on his craggy bearded face as he did what he loved. At the end of his set he turned to me and said, “Child, you’ve just got to play.” That was it. I walked home and picked up my guitar and just played. I wrote a song about going to the market and what I saw, thought and felt as I watched and listened to him. My song was really about my own internal riot wrangling with the theme and turning it into something that had meaning. My group loved it and commented on how they could envision the whole scene at the market. When I let resistance go and just wrote, the song came forth with ease. It may not be a song I would perform as is. I may return to it and reshape it or re-write some of the lyrics, just keep working on it in the background, or not. The magic is in having a collection of songs that are like little ‘strawmen’ and can be fleshed out at any time.
The club is just as much about the friendships I have made with songwriters from all over the world who are daring to show their vulnerability and dig deep for self-expression and story-telling. Some members have been in every group with me since I started and there are often new people each term that add different points of view and inspiration. One thing we all have in common is that we are here to support each other. Each of us has different skills we have been able to help one another with. Some people are combining their songwriting with working on their vocal skills, musicianship, learning sound recording, releasing an album or trying new styles they aren’t ready to roll out in public. Some songs have been sung into a phone in the bathroom for the ‘acoustics’ and some have been recorded on high quality production equipment. Writing a song in one hour every week is a guide. We all make of it what we want to.
Initially it was a new feeling for me to provide an opinion on styles of songs I might not normally listen to or play, and to feel more or less accomplished than people of different levels of musicianship and songwriting, and I sometimes questioned myself. Now after months of seeing how differently people in the group respond to each song I don’t think about that any more. I have learned not to compare. I just tell it how it is for me and as we do that for each other it makes for a great cross-section of views that helps us all. Meaning can be expressed through words, an arrangement, a progression, emphasizing a chord or even a sustained note! Sometimes no music is necessary. An acapella version pulls the focus to the message in the lyrics in their nakedness. This allows the other members to suggest arrangements. Sometimes what I hear in my own songs is completely different to what others hear and when my inner critic is judgemental they always find something beautiful in what I’ve created to raise me out of self-doubt and encourage me on my path. We have created a safe space and welcome honesty as peers.
I am always fascinated how groups of people in the club can receive a one word prompt and come up with so many different ways of drawing on that theme as an idea for a song. That in itself is gold as it expands the mind. It is also a reminder that we all experience things very differently and learning to stand in someone else’s shoes and appreciate what they see, hear and feel is a valuable lesson to learn in life. Pablo Picasso once said, ‘Some painters transform the sun into a yellow spot, others transform a yellow spot into the sun.’ I feel like songwriting is a bit like that.
So often these days we hear terms like ‘self-love’ and ‘never lose the spontaneity of a child.’ Yet many of us wonder just how we are meant to do this? One way is to take an hour in the week and just write. The theme is always strong enough to get me thinking and loose enough to unhitch me from constraints. What has unfolded for me is that songs can’t be forced out, they flow out. Songwriting is about tapping into the senses to express something that longs to be said. In that mindset, the song often tells me what needs to be written. The weekly theme gives me somewhere to start, other than a blank sheet of paper staring back at me. Each week I know that no matter what else has happened, writing a song with the club and giving and receiving the gift of attention to each other’s songs means I will have achieved something I care about! And that’s a wonderful feeling that fills me up!
And so the child with golden curls is happy that I am still telling stories to the bees. She smiles at me, and I smile back.
I released my first record in August last year, a five track EP entitled The Start. This was a pretty momentous occasion for me, something that I had been working towards for so many years, and it should have felt really incredible.
It did, at first anyway. It was special to share my music with more people, and I was proud of the record I created with the help of so many wonderful people.
Not long after though, the joy & excitement of the release wore off, and recently, I realised why I didn’t feel quite right. My EP was filled with songs I was really proud of, and songs that I had been fine-tuning for literally years. 4 of the 5 tracks on the EP had been written at least 2 years prior to the release, and only one of the tunes (the title track) had been written more recently, in my first term in I Heart Songwriting Club in 2016.
It became something incredibly ironic - my EP was titled The Start but as it turned out, it felt more like the end of a chapter.
For a little bit of back story, I worked on cruise ships out of the US for about 11 months, from November 2016 to October 2017. Just before I left was when I joined I Heart Songwriting Club for the first time, and I will admit that I don’t think I was the greatest group member back then. I didn’t stay on top of the tasks, and I let every excuse under the sun get in the way of just creating.
I spent one full term in the club before I left for my cruise ship contracts. For 4 hours a night, 6 days a week, my band and I were playing music in nearly every style imaginable - and occasionally we snuck in an original or two. Getting to be full time musicians and travel the world at the same time, probably should have been enough inspiration for any songwriter.
Not this one though. I can count on less than one hand how many songs I wrote during those 11 months.
I was doing a lot of recycling though! I was playing the same old songs over and over and over again, refining them within an inch of their little song lives, until the joy of the creation was nearly completely gone.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for recycling, and it’s great sometimes. Coming back to old songs with ‘new’ ears can be wonderful, and really refining a song and putting all those finishing touches on it is so satisfying. But, in my experience, if recycling becomes your only creative outlet - if you are only playing or perfecting the same songs all the time - it gets frustrating.
I wrote Francesca a message not long ago, to thank her for creating this wonderful I Heart Songwriting Club community, because it had gotten me back to creating. As someone who can get a bit lost in all of the options, being given a theme to write to has been so freeing. I’m so strangely happy with my music right now - and this is not a place that I have been in for a long time. In simply creating, I found the joy in writing again.
If you are sitting there just like I was, sick of recycling the same old songs (even if they’re great songs), I so encourage you to just create something.
And if you’ve used up all of the excuses in the book, do something different.
Join the club! Just create, something, sometime, somewhere.
As Ernest Barbaric puts it:
“Create. Not for the money. Not for the fame. Not for the recognition. But for the pure joy of creating something and sharing it.”
Laura Mulcahy in concert with support from I Heart Songwriting Club member Brooke Austen:
Thurs 14 June, 7-10pm
The Green Owl, Brisbane
I’ve been writing songs since I was 14 years old, and was in a band for 10 years in my 20’s… but I never called myself a songwriter. I can say it with confidence today, but getting here involved a 23-year scenic route. In this blog entry I will share a snapshot of this journey starting from when I made my biggest life decision to date: to move to Australia and pursue a life of music.
The dates above can be found on the pages of my latest songbook, each date representing a day I got my act together to write. You’ll notice some pretty big gaps in the first 6 years, then a prolific burst starting in 2017. This is when I joined I Heart Songwriting Club. Below are lyrical excerpts from this songbook, followed by posthumous journal entries to set the scene for how these songs came into being.
16 MAY 2010
“What could be better?
Than to walk the road to wherever it leads me
No holds barred until I’m queasy
To unearth a haven, then keep it secret
And find someone to share the night with
… but no, it’ll be just you and me tonight”
I bailed on some friends and stayed home rather than venturing out into the night. You see, I had just moved to Brisbane. Everything about this place felt foreign at the time. And because I was back in school at the age of 29, all of my new friends were a lot younger than me. This made the idea of dressing up for a night out on the town feel more like gearing up for Mortal Kombat. I was nonetheless upset with myself for not being brave enough to just go have fun. For being such a boring old lady.
So what do I do? I write a love song… to my guitar. How sad am I?!
But that’s ok. This is my process. I work myself into a tormented mess then I write about it.
This is what all the greats do, right?
31 DECEMBER 2013
“Through a semi-borrowed Mraz melody
I’d like to pick up where I left off so long ago
It’s been a while but here goes nothing
Here I go…”
My first (and last) time to spend New Year’s Eve alone. I had just Skyped with my family and was starting to feel a twinge of regret for not travelling home that year. I opened a bottle of wine with full intention of consuming it in its entirety while my cat watched me from across the room. It was the perfect setting for a classic Gabby angst fest… and for making New Year’s resolutions.
I was going to start writing again. Consistently. Starting with this song. And to get the ball rolling I borrowed a chord progression from a Jason Mraz tune. That eased the way for it to be brought to life. It was simple and melancholy. I was glum but hopeful.
I did not keep that resolution.
24 APRIL 2014
“Maybe if I morph into
The animal you want me to become
I will be whole again”
A song about a boy. From a long, long time ago. Why am I writing about this now?!
Oh, that’s right. I needed a trigger. I didn’t have anything to be angsty about, living a comfortable life in sunny Queensland, Australia. So, I dug deep into my treasure trove of teenage misadventures, selected one of my more infamous hormone-induced bad decisions, and away I went.
This strategy has worked well for me in the past, and it still results in some pretty decent song outcomes.
But these songs are very few. And so very far between.
26 OCTOBER 2015
“I’ve become quite adept
At taking a first hopeful step
And gearing up for the offence
Then turning back
Only to start again”
This song was an epiphany that took over 20 years for me to realise: I am so awesome at starting a creative endeavour… but I suck at following through. Excuses like, “I’m busy with work”, “I’m not inspired”, “I can’t play the guitar well enough”, or “I’m too old to start over” spring to mind.
And so there it was. I knew what was wrong with me and that I had to make some changes.
27 APRIL 2017 (& BEYOND)
“Here I am, rewriting it all over
A fresh new spiral notebook to fill with musical fodder
Because I am still her, she’s still there
If I let her wake up she might still dare
To play the part of lone bard
With a pen and an hour to kill”
I Heart Songwriting Club petrified me. Could I really do this? Write a song every week?
The answer is yes, and I have been for the most part. I don’t like all of the songs I’ve written in the club, but I am proud of the effort I put into each of them. The club gave me the discipline I needed to keep moving forward and develop a creative practice. It taught me that creativity is a muscle that needs exercise, and that with consistency songwriting workouts become easier and much more enjoyable.
I am performing again. Solo. Accompanying myself on guitar. And I’ve started a Facebook page with the word “Musician” written under my name. (I can hear 2010 Gabby gasping in disbelief.)
I have also made a lot of wonderful new friends. Songwriter friends. They are a different breed of human – and I am one of them. I discovered that being in this club also meant being part of a community; a tribe of likeminded, musically inclined, and creatively starved people like myself. I was not alone. Hearing their stories and their music gives me as much life as writing my own does.
I always knew in my heart that music could change lives. But I think I only truly started to believe that when I immersed myself in the club. This experience has me wanting to share the spiritual nourishment I get from songwriting with other people, and I’ve started to do just that through music workshops at homeless shelters (I’ll save that story for later, if Francesca will allow me, as I think that warrants a whole other blog post).
So, I’m going to keep doing it. I’m going to keep showing up to the task. Every week. It only takes an hour but the side effects are long lasting and life changing.
I have spent a lot of time naked in the last year - at least in a figurative sense. It’s been a personal and private process, as the things we do when naked often are, but I have discovered such profound gifts that it only seems fair to share. I have come to believe getting naked is key to uncovering one’s true essence.
“Art can never exist without naked beauty displayed” - William Blake
I have always known that vulnerability and authenticity is what makes good art. But in my life and my music, there was something subconsciously blocking my expression. I covered myself with fig leaves, afraid to expose my “shame”.
Then life fell apart. My marriage broke down. I left Australia after living there for ten years. Residual depression knocked on my door. Life wasn’t turning out the way I thought it would.
In these sort of circumstances it’s easy to layer on more leaves. With each wound, we wrap ourselves in another and hide, hoping they contain some sort of salve to ease the pain.
I knew doing this would slowly kill my spirit. I needed to peel away the leaves and see what was under them. The pain of life was only one layer - what lay deeper were the parts of me I had kept hidden for so long. I was living my life with a narrative of being the “good girl” liked by everyone. I didn’t realize the story I was living amounted to creative suicide. People-pleasing in music creates watered-down, weak art.
So I got naked.
It started with the first song I wrote after rejoining the I Heart Songwriting Club. I recorded an idea on GarageBand and decided to send it to a producer friend just for a little show and tell. The next morning I woke up to an email. He had mixed it properly and tracked some “sex guitar”, turning my raw idea into something that felt soooo good.
Another song emerged after a night alone with a bottle of wine and a bassline. What came back was a new kind of magic. A downtempo, sexy groove. A primal quality to my voice. Lyrics that made my face flush.
This felt exciting. Real. Scary.
These songs became a “secret” project in my mind no one would hear. I worked on them alone at night in the quiet of my bedroom. As long as I felt safe I could get naked and explore myself creatively. This was my playground. I found parts of myself I had buried so deep that I forgot they were there.
Little did I know the songs no one would hear would be the key to everything they WILL.
Writing songs with no boundaries helped me to break the “good girl” narrative that had crippled my true expression. It helped me find my voice. I found a safe space to let myself explore and do the things I thought were “bad” and realize they weren’t bad at all. In fact, they are very good as they are parts that make up my authentic self.
The day I shot my first music video was the most creatively free I have EVER felt. I expressed myself fully and did everything that felt good to me in that moment. I created a work of art I’m proud of. Cruel explores the dichotomy of dark and light that was my story over the last year. I have come to realize I embody both - dark and light, masculine and feminine, yin and yang. Now my narrative is no longer about being “bad” or “good”. It’s about being WHOLE.
I Heart Songwriting Club has become a contained space where I can continue to explore the different parts of who I am as an artist. The weekly songwriting tasks push me to try new things, and the community of writers in my group encourage me to keep growing. The exciting thing is now that I’ve got comfortable with my nakedness, a true voice is starting to emerge - a sound and a style that feels authentically ME.
I have come to personally embrace the term “emerging artist”. I believe that the emergence goes beyond breaking into the music scene - it’s about emerging out of hiding and becoming who we are, like butterflies coming out of the chrysalis. There is a revealing that occurs. As I fully reveal myself to the world and spread my wings, I want to first be comfortable with my naked self.
Note: My story aligns well with the naked metaphor, but the process you take in uncovering your inner artist is completely unique to you. Ultimately, “getting naked” is about exploring the parts of ourselves we might be a little scared to look at, so we can overcome shame and develop a better understanding, acceptance, and love for who we truly are.
What is something you can do to encourage yourself towards greater creative authenticity? Are there parts of yourself waiting to be uncovered?
A month in Paris is really as dreamy as it sounds - strolling along the boulevards; and as the French say, licking the windows of boulangeries and more than occasionally walking in for a flaky, heavenly croissant. And, then there’s the bread. I can’t eat bread in Australia now. I’ve been too spoiled in Paris.
I chatted with someone on the plane who said the French President is trying to get UNESCO World Heritage status for the French baguette! Vraiment! Really there is nothing quite like it in this world.
Before I boarded the plane from Brisbane to Paris, I took the initiative to book a concert that I would play two weeks after I returned: a show that I entitled “Songs de Paris”; a show that had none of its songs written yet. Not one.
The inspired month started with conversations and movies on the plane. It’s as if every move I made was an opportunity to learn something, to see the world differently. One particular foreign film I watched on the plane was about a Polish painter and teacher, which I can only name after an extensive 2-hour Google search and reaching out to Emirates who found the film for me! The title of the film is “Afterimage”. What I learnt about this film is that art is not meant to be decoration, it’s a discovery. This was my conscious permission to discover.
This Polish artist also taught me, “in art, you can only give what you have”. My interpretation of this is that you can only give of yourself, so make sure you have enough so you can give and don’t expect to create art about something you know nothing about. As everything that you experience will affect the art you make, fill yourself with the goodies and write about what you know - whatever that is. So ask yourself, what do you know? Now write about that.
I bought a little travelling guitar to take with me to Paris. I had envisaged spending days sitting on the grass of the Jardin du Luxembourg, my local park, writing songs in the winter sunlight. But when I got there, firstly I learnt you can’t sit on the grass, my bare hands were too cold in four degrees, and that there were only a few moments of sunlight over the month. So instead, I spent my days breathing in the December air along the Seine River, taking in as many exhibitions as I could and walking in the shoes of artists who had already started leading the way. And so I wrote from the warmth of my apartment at night.
One day I was quite sick and spent the day in bed reading from e-cover to e-cover Hemingway’s "Moveable Feast", a memoir of his youthful years in Paris, with each turning page uncovering the city I was growing to love. One chapter talked in detail about where he lived, 113 Rue-Notre-Dame-des-Champs. Hemingway was much closer than I realised. He quite literally lived on the street where I was living. Upon further investigation i.e. Wiki, a number of well-practised artists including Renoir, Rodin, Pound and Victor Hugo also lived on this street at some point in history and just around the corner was Gertrude Stein’s atelier.
One of my secret tips to learning about artists and their art as discovery or another word for it – practice - was to rent the audio guide at each gallery for added insights by art historians. It was heartening to see the discoveries of such famous artists who often stuck at their craft and practiced for their entire lifetimes. Each masterpiece seems to have had thousands of practices before it. And nor were they all created as masterpieces.
As a songwriter, it is useful to see the tangible results of their practice, because the practice of songwriting isn’t tangible. The concept of throwing away an initial idea because it doesn’t sound good is an oft-heard comment in the songwriting world. But what if every painter threw away the canvas when they didn’t like the initial idea? From the exhibitions I saw, they would try and work with it, adding paint, moving it around, taking it away, starting again using the original idea but taking it somewhere different. There is an actual cost associated with painting materials used in painting practice, but not so for musical ideas created by a songwriter. What if we saw each idea as some cost to ourselves as songwriters? Maybe we would learn to follow through with ideas more often than discard them.
I saw many different versions of the same art pieces around Paris, for example, Renoir’s “Young Girls at the Piano”. He painted six versions of this theme. The first version I saw in Musée de l’Orangerie and the ‘finished’ version at Musée d’Orsay. The finished version, “whilst rich in details, has none of the freshness and spontaneity of the first version” according to the audio guide. Interestingly, I could totally appreciate that. In my songwriting practice, and that of many members in my I Heart Songwriting Club group, I can hear a freshness in the energy of a new song, and sometimes after recording it, it sounds like it tried too hard to be good. I really love hearing brand new work – unrehearsed, brand new work - because the spirit of it is refreshing compared to our usual mode of presenting only fully realised and polished work.
It was in Musée national Picasso-Paris, I first heard Picasso’s famous statement from 1932 that “the art we make is a way of holding our newspaper”. Painting was his way of keeping a diary. In the ‘Picasso Exhibition 1932’ I saw his diary through dates of 1932 - practices and fully realised art pieces - his discovery of art in 1932. It made me see another side of art as discovery. Is art the final piece or the practice?
Here I saw how everything that you experience affects the art you make. Picasso was painting beach scenes for a number of weeks in 1932 before he had to go to Switzerland for a time. He visited a gothic cathedral on his travels and played around with crucifixion paintings. By the time he returned to his beach paintings, they were highly influenced by this. Rather than forcing the former beach idea, he allowed himself and his art to be changed by his experiences. Never force anything, let the art say what it wants to say.
I couldn’t help but follow in Picasso’s footsteps and document and ‘diarise’ my time in Paris through song. But this diary of songs doesn’t use just words to convey memory and emotion. There is harmony and melody and rhythm and nuance and so much more. This is the most incredible and thorough diary I’ve ever kept and every time I hear one of these songs, I’m walking through the streets of Paris again. I am able to hold parts of Paris within me in these songs and when I share them, I share a part of Paris with the listener.
I wrote the “Songs de Paris” show documenting my one-month living in Paris. It was really raw, unpolished work with some French language. I thought I’d only show it once to complete the experiment, but as it turns out the first show sold out and so I’m doing it again six weeks later. That concert too is already almost sold out. This has never happened in my lifetime before. It’s often been such a slog to get people to a show. But there is something refreshing in presenting new work and telling a real story sharing the discovery of something - people want to connect with it.
It was sober (but very bright) reality to arrive back in Australia. So on my third day back I booked another return flight to Paris for a month in June. And like any discovery, who knows what I’ll find, but I’ll be ready to explore it all the same.
Francesca de Valence
Songs de Paris
March 24 Brisbane
I’m an Australian musician living in Berlin. I’m here because I wanted to live somewhere else (having always lived in Australia) and to have an adventure.
When I arrived, I stayed in temporary accommodation before finding an apartment, navigated the bureaucracy, found work, set out making new friends, and settled in for winter. I soaked up the city and its music. I also spent a lot of time isolated, homesick, and scared of speaking the language (or more the point, the fear of rejection).
I played a few open stages to get out a bit, and discovered this is one of the best ways to get into the music scene and to meet people.
But I was still a beginner in a new town.
Was this the source of inspiration I had hoped for? I don’t know. I had no idea what I was doing. And I had even less of an idea each time someone asked how my travels were faring.
I found myself asking: “why am I here again?” Moving to a new city is exciting and daunting, and you can’t have one without the other. It becomes difficult to distinguish between “good” and “bad” experiences, but ultimately, I’m a firm believer that hard experiences (good or bad) are what one needs in one’s life.
With technology such as Messenger, email, and Skype, it’s easy to stay in contact with people back home.
It’s also not the same. You can’t just drop by for a coffee. The connections are there, but they are different and strange. You learn quickly what times are best to contact people -- usually the start or the end of the day (the time difference being roughly 10 hours).
I slowly got to know people in Berlin, and made connections through meetup groups, friends of friends, and musicians. Our little community in a big city.
These things take time.
I Heart Songwriting Club
I don’t exactly remember how I came about joining I Heart Songwriting Club, but it was probably chatting to founder, Francesca, at a gig party house concert back in Hobart, Tasmania. When I met her, I was happy with how my rock band was going – we were getting’ gigs, rocking songs, and dreaming about throwing TVs out of hotel rooms. OK, maybe not the last one.
When I joined the club, I was pretty much out of ideas, jaded, flat, exhausted after throwing all those imaginary TVs, and generally not really interested in writing or music. I’m not sure why I joined the club, to be honest, but I did and it’s kept me connected to songwriting whilst I’ve been in Berlin.
The atmosphere and space that the club creates really helped me break the logjam in my songwriting. I think, for me it made it easier not thinking up topics (as these were determined each week), and it was a little like writing someone else’s song. That was interesting to me.
I am a “guerrilla” recorder, that is I like to record quickly, and in unusual spaces as far as recording studios are concerned. Studio engineers would be horrified. It doesn’t bother me. I would set up my mic in whatever room I’m in, get sufficiently close to it and sing a few quick lines. The first take is often the best, unless I decide to do 20 more to “get it right”.
I favoured this technique for a number of reasons: a) it’s cheap, b) it’s quick -- I can jot down an idea right now, and c) I can do this with my knowledge of the recording process and software.
A lot of my album’s initial vocals made it through to the final product. I would love to say I had intended this all along – I didn’t. It just happened! Maybe I didn’t feel like doing those 20 takes to improve it. Maybe it just suited the way it was. It is possible to over-analyse – a listener might like or dislike something, no one’s going to say that the 7th take isn’t the right one.
The recording started mainly with I Heart Songwriting Club songs. I’d go through every week, submitting my songs and listening to other peoples’ songs (we’re all in this together!!!). As time went on my demos were rougher and rougher. I figured I’d polish up some of them later on.
The demo songs, or songs recorded for the club, were often done quickly and therefore a lot of creative “madness” made its way into the song. As is with the first vocal take, it’s often the best, and captures that moment which is 100 times harder to re-create artificially later on. It’s hard to describe, but I did find that I lost a lot of that madness when I tried to do “proper” re-takes. I think this is somewhat of a black art.
Sometimes I’d start off with a drumbeat loop, sometimes I’d tinkle on the piano. Occasionally, with the topic in mind I’d come up with a chorus melody and work around that. Or perhaps a lyric idea. It was a curious experience. Often I’d record the lyrics while making up the tune as I went – something that worked probably 50% of the time!
Some songs I did for the club were barely half-formed. They didn’t make it to the album. With time though, they may go somewhere. Some songs I didn’t like, but that’s all part of the process – I had the chance to go in different directions anyway.
Technology provided to be incredibly helpful here – not only could I record and share my IHSC songs, but I also had friends record for me (David McEldowney on guitar, Jacqui Smialek on backing vocals). I would send them mp3s and they would send back studio recordings via your favourite cloud storage solution. This made it easy to collaborate with others, and we also used these methods to get feedback on the songs (“perhaps record that line again”, and so on).
The recording was done in Berlin, Prague, Switzerland, and Hobart, and completed in December 2017.
What Have I Done?
That’s the name of the new album that I have coming out on 3rd January 2018.
It’ll be supported by a big album launch at the Peacock Theatre in Hobart (a beautiful theatre!). The show consists of 12 musicians, and all our Hobart friends and family coming together to hear songs about lost connectivity, isolation, love, adventures, and my experiences over the last 12 months.
It’s the result of me grappling with isolation, anxiety, and solitude, and finding the joy in the little things. It’s introspective and contemplative on what artistic work I have completed, but also looking at my life as a whole.
I have no regrets for making the move, as it has changed me. A cliché, perhaps, but clichés are often true anyway. It has made me appreciate my hometown, and even made me appreciate Berlin a lot more.
When I was younger, my dream was to become ‘a famous pop star’. To be honest, I didn’t really know what it meant to be a ‘pop star’ or what that job description entailed exactly. All I knew was that if people around the world knew my name and could sing along to my songs, surely this meant that I would be ok and whole and loved, and that all my problems would magically disappear?
How wrong I was!
The first thirty years of my life were primarily spent figuring out that all the things I thought were true about being a ‘pop star’, were mostly completely false, and that to have a life goal such as ‘becoming a famous pop star’ was actually going to grate against every grain in my little body.
I’m shy; I’m the worst schmoozer you’ve ever met; I prefer a quiet night in, listening to music and eating vegan food with close friends over a late night out at a rock venue; and the big one - when it comes to my music, I don’t really want to be told what to do in order to sell records.
Making the art I want to make is more important to me than making money (or making money for someone else)…
Now don’t get me wrong – constructive criticism is the BEST, especially when it comes from people you admire and trust. But the motive must be right. For me, trying to make a song ‘radio friendly’ is just ONE of many musical challenges a songwriter might face, and if this is the only goal, there is simply no room for growth.
When I returned from living briefly in New York on the eve of my 30th birthday, I realised I had to find a way to thrive as a musician but not rely on my original music to be my primary income. I had tried for so long to make this my path, but the universe wouldn’t have a bar of it! So, instead of quitting altogether (which probably would have made me feel bitter and angry), I set out to rediscover why I became a musician in the first place. What was it about playing music that my soul needed so badly and how could I get reacquainted with these values?
The answer? COMMUNITY and CONNECTION!
So, on a whim, I started a community choir called Cheep Trill. The thing that had been missing in my life as I strived and failed to become a ‘famous popstar’ and to get my own music heard, was the ability to live out my belief that music was BIGGER than I could ever be, and that my purpose was to bring people together, using music as my platform, and help to create community and connection.
Around the same time, my dear friend Francesca de Valence started a songwriting club. After feeling down and out, isolated, and disconnected, and feeling a lack of camaraderie in our own lives we had both discovered a shared passion – creating supportive musical communities. Just as I was trying to encourage people to find their own unique voice through group singing, Francesca was encouraging I Heart Songwriting Club members to find their own unique voice through the songwriting process.
And I am proud to say that I am one of the songwriters who has benefited greatly from I Heart Songwriting Club.
Cheep Trill and I Heart Songwriting Club have grown exponentially since their inception.
My goal is not to be the best singer in the world.
My goal is not to sell millions of copies of your song and reach number 1 on the charts.
My goal is to keep growing, to be challenged, to think outside the box, to try new things, and to do all of this in a supportive, non-competitive, nurturing community.
I Heart Songwriting Club gives songwriters permission to try new things, week in, week out. Sometimes these new ideas work, sometimes they don’t, but the point is TO TRY. To make things a bit easier, Francesca even sets a theme each week as well as a musical challenge to keep us on our toes!
I am thrilled to say that three of the original songs that feature in my new show Broken Romantics: A Vicious Song Cycle were written as part of the club, including the title track which is also on my upcoming EP – ‘Broken Romantics Unite’! I’m also thrilled to say that one of the songs I wrote as part of the club, Love Is Love, became a song for my choir which we filmed as a live music video in response to the recent marriage equality survey.
Broken Romantics Unite was a song I wrote when ‘endurance’ was the theme of the week. The musical challenge was to incorporate a concrete image or a place into the lyrics. I used my own street name. The opening verse goes like this:
Just keep moving, one foot then the other
Shuffle to the door, my Somerset St dancer
He might never know the beautiful mess
That’s between your ears - the Somerset St best
White Bits is a comedy song about wild fetishes that emerged from the theme ‘temptations’.
And the song Love Is Love was born from the theme ‘vows’ and the musical challenge was to write a ‘protest song’.
Even though these songs are my little ‘song success stories’, there are so many songs that I have written as part of the club that will never see the light of day. Speaking of The Light of Day this is another song written as part of the club, that is featured on the upcoming EP. But, I digress, these songs that you'll never hear are my ‘little song failures’, and do you know what? I’m just as proud of those songs because they were an important part of my growth as a songwriter!
Failing is an IMPORTANT part of life. If we were all paralysed with fear at the thought of failing at something, no one would ever try anything new. And how BORING would it be if we stopped learning and growing?
Let’s never stop.
So, I might not have succeeded at living out my childhood dream of becoming a ‘famous pop star’, but my love for music, for connection and for community was far bigger than that dream could ever be. And it was only through trying and failing, that this beautiful discovery was eventually realised!
So if you want to try your hand at something new, don’t be afraid! Jump in and don’t worry too much about where you might land.
Just enjoy the ride.
Broken Romantics: A Vicious Song Cycle premieres at the Brisbane Powerhouse as part of Wonderland Festival on Nov 30, 2017 and tours around Australia in 2018. We will be sure to share with you when the Broken Romantics Unite EP comes out on Dec 1.
Last month, two I Heart Songwriting Club members met up in Nashville, USA for a co-writing session. I Heart Songwriting Club set up an email introduction and then they were on their own.
Both experienced artists and songwriters but with very different experiences in co-writing, Sam Buckingham (Byron Bay, AUS) and Riva Taylor (London, UK) met for the first time to write a song.
We loved that we could help facilitate a co-writing session for them and we are so grateful they were willing to share their insight into the daunting but exciting process of co-writing and letting us hear the actual DEMO SONG!
What are your experiences with co-writing?
Sam: I’ve had a confusing relationship with co-writing. I love it when I’m doing it (99% of the time) but I’ve often walked away feeling dejected, empty and at a loss for what to do next - even when the song is GREAT. It’s different to writing with and for yourself, as there can be a lot of grey area, some added steps and challenges when writing with others. I actually quit co-writing a couple of years back when I was in New York City, even though I was working with some really wonderful writers there. There was one song in particular that I remember was solid gold. Heart-grabbing, hooky, authentic, melodically interesting…. But within a week I had forgotten how it went. I didn’t have a demo from that session and when I tried to contact my co-writer to organise making a quality demo, as we’d discussed in the session, crickets chirped. So I let it go and it’s now a forgotten song from a forgotten afternoon. After a fair while writing only for and with myself, I recently took myself out of co-writing retirement to take a trip to Nashville. On this trip, I wrote with Riva Taylor and many other songwriters from all over the world.
Riva: I’ve been lucky enough to co-write with two I Heart Songwriting Club members in the past few weeks and would fully encourage anyone to do the same if they get the chance. Both times have been fantastic experiences and the songs written were very different. Everyone has their own writing style and co-writing for me is all about taking the very best elements of those things, combining them with your own ideas and strengths and moulding them into something original. It’s also a learning exercise in that it throws up different ways to approach songwriting that could help your own method.
How do you approach co-writing?
Riva: Co-writing is really fun! It doesn't have to be daunting. Diplomacy is sometimes needed to get the best result, which goes for any environment working alongside others. But I'd say even more so here where creating music is a subjective art form and everyone will have their own opinions of what works based on taste and ear. The most important thing is honesty, trial and error, and creating something you both want.
Sam: I’ve been taking it slow and being mindful about the co-writing process to make sure I’m best using my skills, time and energy. And ultimately, I’ve discovered, co-writing is just like dating. You want to be discerning in your choices, communicating clearly, maintaining your integrity and covering all the legalities like a real adult. Before I step into the co-writing space:
Know your own goals first - Why do you want to co-write? Is it to expand your creativity, write songs for a new project, generate new income streams, reach specific career goals?
Choose your partners carefully - Don’t waste yours’ and other peoples’ time working together when your goals or values don’t align. There’s a fine line between being open and wasting away hours of your life writing with people that just aren’t suited to you. Do your due diligence before you commit. Google them and see what they’ve written in the past, take recommendations from friends and be clear about why you want to write with them.
So you’ve just met… what next?
Riva and Sam: First thing, sit down; have a bit of chitchat. It’s important to understand your co-writing partner a little, even if you've just met, and establish a rapport. Talk about music, relationship status, phase of life, how you’re feeling - happy, sad, in-love, broken hearted, lonely - whatever feels natural. The more personal the material, whether it’s in the form of confetti or plaster falling from a ceiling, the better! We have found that the best songs come out of a common thread that’s found with each writer. We didn’t know each other but after we opened up it turned out we were experiencing similar feelings in life and our song was borne out of something that related to us both!
Talk us through the process after the ‘getting to know you’?
Sam and Riva:
Start by agreeing on a royalty split. As a general rule a co-write will be split evenly between the writers (50/50), unless otherwise discussed and agreed on.
Identify who you're writing the song for e.g. them, you, someone else, for the world?
Set boundaries, e.g. can it be explicit?
Leave your ego at the door
Dive in, jam together, you don’t need to start with the verse, or the chorus... see what words flow and what melodies work, let it evolve together. I Heart Songwriting Club has taught us how to uncover our creative ideas and just follow it.
Listen and Share: It’s possible that your co-writer has a brilliant idea that you would have never considered on your own. Offer your ideas up as options and let your co-writer do the same. When something clicks, you’ll both feel it.
Drink lots of coffee and eat lots of biscuits
Put in some effort.
Pause for reflection.
Get the bare bones down and make a rough recording (your phone is a great tool for this)
Don’t be afraid to put the pen down and revisit another day.
Before you finish, keep control of your assets. Each writer should make a voice memo of the song once it’s written, and each take a copy of the lyrics.
So you’ve bonded, written a song and said goodbye…. what happens next?
Sam and Riva:
If you think the song has potential, put in the effort to see where it can go. You might feel you need to digest it all and make alterations (be it over email, Skype, or get together again). We did just this and recorded the song properly in demo form the second time.
Organise a space to keep your songs - Make a space online where you keep all your finished songs and then make a backup.
Register the song ASAP with your preferred songwriters association (there’s only APRA in Australia but a few options in most other countries) and let your co-writer know you’ve done it. If you legitimately feel like you wrote 90% of the song while the other person sat and looked at baby goat videos on YouTube, be upfront about what you think is fair before you go ahead and register the song. Don’t be a dick though - if you think wrote three out of the four lines in the chorus and 15 out of the 28 lines in the verses this does NOT entitle you to a bigger songwriting split. Like in any relationship, it takes two, and if you were both co-writing well then you both deserve the same credit.
So we want to try co-writing… what else should I know?
Sam: More than anything else, be willing to learn. Aside from ending up with a swag of great songs, I have learnt incredible things from each co-writing partner I’ve had. Like any good relationship, a creative partnership is about expansion, collaboration and bringing people together, each have something valuable and unique to offer, and to create something magical. We will never run out of things to learn in life, and we will never be ‘the best songwriters we’ll ever be’. Be willing to learn and watch the gems come rolling in.
Riva: I’d encourage anyone to co-write! In effect it’s what I Heart Songwriting Club is all about, a collaborative space for songwriters to test their ideas in the early stages of writing a song. This is just jumping in a stage before and having someone inspire and add to your initial creative thought processes. Enjoy!
LISTEN TO THEIR DEMO
Riva will be recording this song soon. But they both have given us permission to share their demo. This is their song, entitled I Surrender.
ABOUT OUR SONGWRITERS
Sam Buckinghamis one of Australia’s most inspiring troubadours taking her creative songwriting to all corners of the world, from writing for 18 months throughout Latin America, all around Australia (and is currently on tour with Australian country darling Kasey Chambers), to co-writing in New York and Nashville with songwriters. An advocate for animal conservation, yoga, and creativity, Sam Buckingham has been an active member of I Heart Songwriting Club since it’s inception in 2014, submitting songs from everywhere including hotel rooms and traipsing through jungles to get to an Internet café.
As 12-year-old Becky Taylor she became the youngest artist ever signed to EMI, and sold records around the world, playing arenas and promoting alongside Carreras and Usher. Now reborn as Riva Taylor, she has recorded a lush contemporary album which showcases her voice on a collection of modern soon-to-be-classics, pulling together a team of co-writers, producers and collaborators including: Jamie Hartman (Rag N Bone Man), Graham Archer (Ed Sheeran, Lana Del Rey), Brad Spence (James Arthur) and Julian Hinton (Rumer, Seal). Now on her second term with I Heart Songwriting Club, we are thrilled to be able to connect Riva with our incredible songwriting members around the world.
Working With Mama Kin Spender
Claudia Allard (Jabberwocky Down), Brisbane (AUS)
I Heart Songwriting Club has been such an amazing community to be apart of. It has opened my perspective on how to write music, helped me create lots of new songs, shown me how to connect with a large songwriting community from all over the world and given me some of the most exciting musical experiences yet...including singing with Mama Kin Spender.
Mid-2016, I started a band in Brisbane, Jabberwocky Down. I’d written songs before but only for fun and to let out some emotions. Francesca was my singing teacher at the Qld Conservatorium of Music at the time and I knew that she had started this awesome club so I thought I’d give it a go. Sure enough, I became obsessed with songwriting. The themes that are given each week are fun and I could really connect with them through my writing.
In my first term, I was fortunate enough to share 10-weeks of writing with WA songwriter Danielle Caruana (Mama Kin) and Tommy Spender (Vic). Giving and receiving feedback with these incredibly talented musicians really encouraged and inspired me to keep writing. More on Mama Kin and Spender later…
I took a break from the club and started working on my songs in more depth with my band mates. We pretty much used all the songs I had written in the club and started playing them at the all the venues we were booked to play at. One of the songs we recorded and has became our first single “Attached”.
Back to Mama Kin and Spender. Well, they joined forces after two terms using their collection of songs written in the club to record a new album under the band name of “Mama Kin Spender”. This album is due for release in Feb 2018. I know all this because I finally got to meet them.
Francesca was asked by Mama Kin Spender to put together a choir for their BIGSOUND festival showcase. I was so fortunate to be invited to join the very first I Heart Songwriting Club choir, made up of members and friends from Brisbane. I was over the moon to meet Danielle and Tommy and have the opportunity to sing on the songs that we had shared together in our group and connect with even more members through the choir.
Moving forward, I re-subscribed to the club to write more songs. This time I was with a different group of songwriters. What a great place to go to make connections with new songwriters.
I Heart Songwriting Club has opened up so many doors for me this past 12 months. I’ve grown so much as a musician and my band is in the process of recording our first EP and music video, of course with songs from the club. I can’t wait to share them with you all.
P.S. I'll be playing some of these songs at the upcoming I Heart Songwriting Club Halloween House Concert in Brisbane.
Jonathan Chambers, Perth (AUS)
When I first started playing music I almost immediately started writing songs. I would write songs drawing inspiration from events in my life or a deep emotion like being in love or someone close to me dying. Waiting for things to move me meant I didn’t write many songs over many years of trying to write songs. On the surface, there was an endless list of things to write about, but the songs did not flow that way. I did not feel strongly enough about everything around me to write songs consistently.
I was involved for a few years with the Australian Songwriters Association. Every week there was an open mic night for new songs to be heard and so I tried to write a song for every week. That process and their workshops, albeit sporadic, taught me about songwriting diversity but not about consistency.
Life got busier as I got older, then the drain of life sucked out the inspiration for songwriting...or so I thought. Now at some of the busiest times of my life I have been writing songs, lots of songs.
I heard about I Heart Songwriting Club through Facebook while searching for songwriting clubs and joined. The tenets of the club teach that restrictions and peer feedback are useful for nurturing creativity. In my experience over the past 9 months of consistently participating in I Heart Songwriting Club, the restricted time limit of 1-hour each week to write a song has become a really reasonable timeframe to write and the feedback from other members of the group helps and motivates you to keep writing.
For me the songwriting process works better with restrictions, as my brain just go to work without much fuss. So what often comes to me is a flow of conscience and I just write until something falls into place. With the focus, theme and a limited time, like I get each week with my I Heart Songwriting Club tasks, the flow of conscience works even faster over time. Sometimes there is something I am already thinking about that can fit in with the theme of the week, other times a style of music seems to fit the theme better, other times it is only words and I work on the music second. Having only 1-hour makes me end the song and not keep changing it.
So back to consistency and creativity, most of us wait for inspiration and don’t create a time or a schedule for it. But we can - we can do creativity in a scheduled way, to bring about skill development, practice and output. If we rely on inspiration, it may be years between songs.
I Heart Songwriting Club has helped make songwriting easy, has created consistency, a rhythm, a pace for my songwriting and as a result I have written the majority of my songs since being part of the club.
I joined I Heart Songwriting Club in September 2016, I’d found myself in a bit of a creative energy slump and was determined not to keep going in parallel to my musical goals. I wanted to make songwriting and creativity the centre of my life again and to spend more time in spaces with like-minded people where I felt challenged and supported.
Songwriters have a certain dialog with themselves and the world around them, the ability to have perspective on situations and to feel emotions very strongly. Sometimes songs can act like a commentary on your own life, the people around you, the things happening in the wider community or globally.
When you write it’s a distilled version of all the things you’ve experienced up to that moment viewed through the headspace you’re in at the time. I find more clarity when I write regularly and it helps me to better understand myself.
It’s so interesting listening to all the songs created from the weekly I Heart Songwriting Club members, the different ways themes are interpreted and, I find more interesting, the similarities. Sometimes there are such similar interpretations and shared understandings of the themes that if feels like we are part of a collective consciousness. I guess we only have so many emotions we experience as humans which helps us to connect and empathize with one another.
While working towards finishing the recording of my EP I was writing regularly and ended up including songs I’d written between recording sessions.They felt fresh and relevant socially and personally.
Three of the four songs on my EP Scrapbook came from one hour songs. The title track The Scrapbook Song from the theme “Scrapbook”, Lost from the theme “Fractals” -that one came out as a love some about connecting on multiple levels with someone, and Back to Zero was from “Social Media”, a reflection on how disconnected with ourselves, each other and the present moment social media encourages us to be. I reshaped them a little but essentially I wrote over 90% of each song within the hour designated for IHSC.
It’s crazy to think I wouldn’t have these songs I love so much now if I hadn’t had that theme, in that week and been in that headspace. It’s exciting not knowing what I will come up with each time and that’s what I love most!
You know that meme image thing that’s gone around Facebook about a million times that has, written in bold, “Badly explain your profession”? And everyone comments with, basically, how what they do may be perceived by an alien from outer space? This is mine: “I move my hands around a piece of wood with metal tied to it and tell people about my feelings”.
In March 2014 I packed up my life in Australia and hopped on a plane to Central America. No, that’s not the middle of the USA, Central America is a region all in itself - a culturally rich, heavenly jungly, rice and beans eating, stunningly beautiful part on the world.
I had no agenda for my time away - which ended up stretching to living in 7 countries (i think) over 19 months - all I knew was that I wanted to open my eyes and open my heart. My rule was if there was somewhere I could practice yoga, somewhere I could write songs and if water was close by then I’d go.
It was a month or so into the trip that I joined up and wrote my first song with I heart Songwriting Club which, at that point, was just a handful of friends emailing each other songs from wherever we were in the world. I was in Nicaragua, taking Spanish classes, walking the streets of a tiny town called San Juan Del Sur and although I was quite literally having the time of my life I felt heartbreakingly isolated from my musical community back home. Not only that but I was still wondering what the f*^k I had been thinking hopping on a plane to the other side of the world when I’d released a new album less than 12 months ago and should have been touring that and making music videos and trying to progress in my career or something.
The answer, over time, became blindingly clear…. To write another album of course.
Because, as a songwriter, my work will never be done. I’ll never have seen everything there is to see, I’l never know everything there is to know, I’ll never have expressed everything there is to express.
Ok, yes, this really is just being human. But as songwriters we get to live in that perpetual looking, that perpetual asking and that perpetual expressing - and somehow turn it into music. We dance in that space of confusion and knowing, of seeing and searching, of keeping it all in and letting it all out.
When I first started writing and playing gigs I suffocated in my self absorbedness. I wrote songs about my life, my experience, my feelings. I stood on stage and moved my hands around a piece of wood with metal tied to it and told people about my feelings. I have always loved telling stories but I started getting pretty sick of just telling mine.
So, of course, mine are the eyes I see through, mine is the heart that feels and it’s my words that come tumbling out onto the page. But, over time, I have learned to open my eyes wider, open my heart deeper and choose my words to not only tell my story but, just maybe, somebody else's as well.
Writing with I Heart Songwriting Club supports me in this. It helps me stay out of my own head and out of my own arse and let go of the need to be perfect. Hearing other writers songs fresh out of the gates is inspiring and reminds me that we are all the same. No, that’s not just a cliche line I decided to throw in there to make you all feel warm and fuzzy. We really are all the same. The more I observe myself and write about what I see and feel, the more I see myself in others and them in me.
The very first song I wrote for the club, in that tiny hotel room in San Juan Del Sur, was a song called Hope. Three years later it sits somewhere in the middle of my new album, The Water, which tells the story of the places I went, the people I met, the things I learned and the things I still don’t know.
It’s a privilege to tell these stories, to stand in a studio and create the perfect bass line or banjo part, and to sing until the song feels as gorgeous in your ears as it does in your heart. It’s a privilege to stand on a stage, moving your hands over a pice of wood with with metal tied to it and tell people about your feelings. Because whatever I’m feeling, struggling with, learning, hoping - I can guarantee everyone else is too.
This year I premiered a theatre piece at Perth Fringe World called My Greatest Period Ever. It is a synopsis of how I used the principles of the book The Optimised Woman to make music and just live life in general. It was half stories and some theory/facts and half songs that all reflected one of the 4 phases associated with the menstrual cycle. Menstruating people have 4 phases in a month. As a cyclical creature, you can do whatever you want whenever you want but you have 4 opportunities to make the most of. I do, and I make music much better! As well as life decisions, commitments, relationships etc.
The show sold out and was nominated for several awards but took out the Martin Sims Award, quoted by Fringe World to be "the top prize of the Festival, recognising the best new Western Australian work in the Festival that is destined to succeed on the world's stage." Wahhoo! Still dining out on that. We will either go to the UK or South Africa next year.
One of the songs from the show is ‘Kali’s Lament’ a song I wrote as part of I Heart Songwriting Club. This song has become a proclamation in honour of destruction and the good it can bring. The song is my experience of the pre-menstrual week and how this actually the best time to be creative. Lots of people experience this time with difficulty and feel like they've become a psycho cow. I feel sure that if people were nice to themselves, and stopped trying to be all things to all people and gave themselves time to be creative (in the garden or anywhere), then they wouldn't feel as grumpy! (I've scheduled a writing week during my creative/pms week in Bright, Victoria and have written 3.5 songs yay!)
We can't be blooming all month and when you consider what we're doing on the inside (preparing to tear down the proverbial walls) - I think it marks an opportunity to find some congruence and to express that creatively feels good.
“My Greatest Period Ever is straight up empowering” - Amnplify
One Song At A Time
How I Heart Songwriting Club Was Instrumental In Helping Us Launch Our First Show
A last minute decision, a leap of faith and four months of preparation led us to May 7, 2017 — Opening Night of Music & Lyrics with Naomi & Hannah.
The journey leading up to our first performance as part of Brisbane’s Anywhere Theatre Festival 2017 was anything but smooth. We both had to jump hurdles, battle our fears, and learn to work together rather than against each other.
Although we only met in October 2016, we quickly found common ground in our love for music and songwriting. Together we started sharing work, exploring
opportunities, and visiting events in Brisbane. Our first collaboration was a song called Run Away (Lyrics by Naomi, Music by Hannah),
which made the title for our show Music & Lyrics rather fitting.
We had heard of I Heart Songwriting Club and the timing to join was perfect after we registered for the Anywhere Theatre Festival.
We were both excited to have the challenge of writing a song a week — plus to be part of a growing community that allowed for regular feedback.
What we didn’t expect was that more than half of our final set list was going to be direct results of the club!
We both have been writing music for as long as we can remember. However, we found that the club challenged our skills and allowed us to explore new
ideas in a community that nurtures and supports our creativity. It gave us the opportunity to experiment with our individual sound and style, which
in turn raised our confidence one song at a time. During this creative process we decided to add a new element to our music - the guitar. Primarily
being pianists, we upped our game of exploring the next level of songwriting by not only writing a new song every week, but including a new instrument.
This has presented us with incredible improvement in our songwriting, and being able to share this growth with an audience has been extremely rewarding.
The culmination of writing weekly as part of the I Heart Songwriting Club, and our relentless pursuit of putting on an original
show that could authentically display our artistry, both as individuals and as a duo, resulted in producing two sold out shows at the festival.
Being given a new theme every week with the time constraint of 60 minutes allowed us to think outside the box and experience the endless nature
of our creativity.
What an amazing journey!
Click on Our Songs to watch video footage of Naomi and Hannah's performance at Anywhere Theatre Festival 2017.
For the last two years, since the end of March, 2015, I have been part of I Heart Songwriting Club, writing a song a week, surrounded
by fantastic musicians and songwriters with so much talent, passion and heart. This diverse group of people have held me safely and securely while
I've explored the deep dark crevices of my own soul, pushing my own boundaries and challenging my own limits. I've done my best to encourage them to
keep writing every week, because I want us all to be growing together, and because selfishly I want to keep feeling inspired by them.
As we approach the end of March, 2017, I am now celebrating the writing of 100 songs. I've learnt a lot about songwriting, about community, about others
in the club, but mostly about myself over the past two years. I'm so grateful for I Heart Songwriting Club
and am looking forward to it continuing to push me and others to create and commune in ways we never thought possible.
As part of my 100 club songs milestone, I'd like to share some lessons (50 of them!) I've learnt through the process of writing and giving feedback
for 100 weeks.
What I Learnt:
1. The hardest thing is starting.
2. If I have been given a theme, the song is already started for me. All I have to do is sit down at my piano.
3. I don't even need to sit at my piano. I can now open my ukulele case and write.
4. I don't even need an instrument at all. I can simply open a blank document on my iPad, write words and sing them.
5. If I've started, and finished, 100 songs, then I know I've got another one in me.
6. I don't need to be inspired to write a song.
7. I don't need to be inspired to write a good song.
8. I don't need to be inspired to write an amazing song that will be an ear worm for all those who hear it.
9. I just need to write a song in an hour every week.
10. I can do the thing.
11. Being held accountable will encourage me to keep doing the thing.
12. The community will hold me accountable.
13. The community will also hold me if I fall apart.
14. The community is full of beautiful hearts who actually care about each other.
15. I never thought I'd find so many people in the one (virtual) place who get me.
16. Trust is easy to build when everyone is cracking open either their heart or their skull and sharing the contents every week.
17. The more I write, the easier it gets.
18. It doesn't have to be perfect, or even good, it just has to get done.
19. It's okay to experiment.
20. It's okay to write in styles that I wouldn't usually write or perform.
21. It's okay to write songs that I would never conceivably record or play live.
22. The most bizarre and discomfort-inducing themes can result in the most amazing songs if you allow them to emerge without judgement.
23. But if it sucks, there's always next week.
24. And if it's brilliant, there's always next week. My ego never has a chance to get too big.
25. With that said, the more I write, the better the songs get in general. Even the ones that I think suck now are better than some songs I used to
play in my live set before I joined the club.
26. Perspective is a funny thing. Now that I know I can do better, my standards have gotten higher.
27. Luckily, I have also grown kinder to myself when I don't live up to my own high standards. That's what happens when there's no longer any attachment
to the outcome.
28. Songwriting may not be a panacea, but it's definitely good for my health.
29. No matter how messed up I am, no matter how exhausted or how depressed, writing a song always makes me feel better, even just for the hour that
I spend writing it.
30. Writing about joy increases joy.
31. Writing about pain relieves pain.
32. Writing songs feeds my soul.
33. Writing every week keeps feeding my soul.
34. Don't write when hangry. It's a very bad idea. Eat first. Then write. Writing feeds soul, not belly.
35. A good recording app that automatically uploads to the cloud is essential lest you want to lose any of your song snippets in the event of a technology
36. The judgemental beast comes out to play when other people can hear the creative process. Set aside time to write when there is nobody else home.
37. Faffing with a riff is never wasted time.
38. When I'm low, maybe I should try and write twice a week instead of curling up on the floor.
39. Songwriting time is productive time.
40. Listening back to past songs I've written for the club makes me realise how much I've achieved.
41. Having concrete evidence for achievement makes it harder for my brain to tell me I'm useless. I clearly am a capable songwriter and I have 100
songs written to prove it.
42. My priorities have changed: it's more important to find time to write a song than it is to watch a TV show or go on social media.
43. Getting feedback on a different song each week is more useful than getting lots of feedback over time on just one song. I can look for trends
in my writing, see what is connecting and what isn't, then aim to keep what works in my toolbox.
44. Listening to 6-10 other songwriters' songs every week is just as valuable for learning and developing songwriting tools as writing myself.
45. Even if I don't connect with someone else's song, I can probably learn something from it, even if that something is identifying what I want to
avoid doing myself.
46. It's more fun doing this with other people than in isolation.
47. I want to collaborate more!
48. Having someone else in the club write a song that feels like it's telling my truth is just as cathartic as writing my own truth.
49. In the club, I have found my tribe: the place where I fit, unconditionally; the place where I am appreciated and respected unconditionally; the
place where I am loved unconditionally.
50. I Heart Songwriting Club is my home.
How Writing a 1-hour Song Every Week for a Year Changed Me
Apparently there are two types of people. People who believe that intelligence is a fixed thing, and people who think it’s changeable. I believed
that my intelligence was finite. I think I learnt that because other people always said to me when I was a kid how ‘talented’ and ‘clever’
I was, especially with reference to being a musician. Practising for hours daily on piano and violin was seemingly overlooked as the reason I was actually
a really good musician.
I also believed what others thought of me as fact about me. For example, I was often told I was impatient and moody. Well, I believed it, so I gave
myself an excuse to be these things. I have learnt over the past few years that this is just an opinion of the way others see me, and more often
about them. It’s not who I believe I am. Who I truly am is an incredibly tolerant person with a great deal of tenacity (possibly an acquired
skill through tens of thousands of hours of practice), impassioned and focused.
But back to my childhood, I believed what others told me and I was told I was talented, so I was talented! I would be fine in life, things would come
easily, I wouldn’t have to struggle, etc. So after school and uni and leaving home and the guided support that goes along with that, I believed
I’d be fine and all my dreams would come true…because I was talented!
I didn’t consciously continue skill building. Yes, I still worked hard and successfully as a gigging musician, but I fundamentally didn’t
believe my skill could be improved…because I was talented!
Over the years, I started teaching singing and it was through teaching others I began to witness that others needed to practise in order to be good
– they had to do their 10,000 hours of practice to make their new skills automated and second-nature. They weren’t talented –
they were skill-building. I struggled to make the connection to myself that my 10,000 hours had been completed as a kid and not consciously or
recently. Why? Because I believed I was talented!
You can guess what happens next. You can only get so far on talent alone. Because once the other kids/adults have caught up to your level of skill,
you really don’t have much to depend upon. So whilst I’d honed my skills under the age of 18 and have continued using these skills,
others have continued skill-building throughout their adult lives.
12 months ago, I came to a crossroads – career, life, health. I was calling myself a songwriter and yet I hadn’t written a song in 6 months.
I had a chronic 4-year shoulder injury from playing piano, which was seriously affecting my ability to function as a musician and teacher, that
I was just keeping at bay by remedies such as massage and physio and pain killers. I wasn’t being active in learning new skills in order
to further myself, improve myself and live the life I want to live. It was here and in my thirties, I realise I have to consciously cultivate the
life I want and the person I want to be and the things I want to be good at.
Last September, I attended an enlightening workshop by Jo Lawry at the Queensland
Conservatorium of Music, where I teach. Jo, who is backing vocalist singer to Sting, shared
her journey as a songwriter as part of her presentation. She spoke about a New York City songwriting club she had joined and how they had set goals
to be as childlike as possible in the writing process and that they put restrictions on the writing process in order to help. Whilst the workshop
was aimed at the students, I feel I took away the biggest prize.
Two days later a student expressed frustration and self-loathing about not feeling inspired enough to write songs. I knew exactly how she felt. I had
a solution for her – I always have a solution for others – but I was sick of not practising what I preached. In my desperation, I,
too, wanted help. That day I formed my songwriting club.
I asked this student to join my songwriting club, and we could each invite another member to the group that week. The task was to set aside 1-hour
in the week individually to write our “child-like” songs and then send to each other via email. We would then all listen to each other’s
songs and share some constructive feedback. The 1-hour is intended as a support framework for the creative ideas to be developed.
The process was set and all I had to do was adhere to the process – 1-hour a week, write to a set theme, go with the creative flow and minimise
the editing, and share the song with the club. Initially I didn’t try to write a good song. Just to follow the process. This worked well
for me. Occasionally, I felt the old habits creep in - the need to write a good song, or even worse, the pressure to write a ‘hit’
song, even when what that is, is completely out of my hands.
I was truly surprised when the club reached 10 weeks old. By then, we were a club of healthy numbers and we were all writing songs weekly. We had members
from all around Australia and the world. But it wasn’t always smooth sailing. It was two steps forward, one step back with the writing. Over
time the judgment and self-loathing lessened, and the wanting, love and desire to write songs grew. Basically, I had learnt the skill of not judging
but, instead, being open. This changed me as a person. It allowed me the freedom to get rid of rules in my life. Rules I had forgotten or even
didn’t know I lived by, played by, and created by.
I starting attending a weekly 1-on-1 exercise physio session in order to foundationally fix my shoulder injury. The progress was very slow. But it
was progress. I stuck at it. It was 1-hour a week – just like the songwriting club. 1-hour a week is doable.
My 2015 New Year’s resolution was to learn guitar, something I had intended on doing 8 years ago, when I first bought a guitar. In May
this year, I decided to actually do something about it. In my 1-hour of sacred, non-judgmental space, I taught myself guitar as I wrote a song.
I could practically do anything and I would be ok with it. There were no rules, mainly because I didn’t know any, and because of that I played
sounds, not theoretically correct chords. So I wrote my first song on a guitar. I listen back to this song as write this these reflective words
and the chorus lyrics finally make sense to me:
“You can last the distance take it slow, don’t forget nothing stays the same forever, you’ll be fine”
In 3 months, since May, I have written 9 songs on guitar and even performed one of these songs on at a gig. Yes, this perfectionist played guitar at
a gig, imperfectly. And I loved every minute of it.
50 weeks later, the club has becoming a nurturing, safe place to share new ideas musically and personally. Within the club, we have all had different
experiences. Some people left, some returned, some didn’t write for weeks or months. But we have all had one thing in common. We have
all been confronted with personal challenges in having only 1-hour to be work with whatever creative ideas we have rather than judge or edit.
Writing a song in an hour each week. Fixing my body so it works again. Learning guitar. Performing guitar live. Not judging myself and how this feels.
This has all blown my mind. I have spent my adult life berating myself for not being enough. For not living up to my talent. I had put it down
to not being good enough. And reconciling the belief that I was talented and that I’d be fine in life versus the fact that I was not good
enough in my mind was really tough.
But I actually just hadn’t acknowledged the 10,000 of hours I had applied to learning music and piano and theory and hadn’t allowed myself
to continue learning as an adult.
I had failed to praise and acknowledge the process.
I thank all my friends, family, students, random people in the streets, for inspiring songwriting club themes each week. Some challenging themes have
included 'Drilling Holes' and 'Hotdogs', some challenging musical guidelines have been to write minimally, using only 2 chords, and others to write
I thank these songs. They have been on tour, are being recorded and will feature on my forthcoming album later in 2015. I thank the generous and open-hearted
members of I Heart Songwriting Club.
What I Learnt:
That if I stick with something, I will actually get better at it.
Skill is a changeable thing – ‘don’t forget that nothing stays the same forever’
I can actually play the guitar and after about a week the finger pads being sore was a positive reminder I was on the path to doing something
I wanted to do
Songwriting is on a spectrum. I don’t have to write a good song. I just want to write a song. Same with guitar playing. Good guitar playing,
and learning guitar playing is on the spectrum of guitar playing.
I do things I love and want
Creating and editing aren’t the same thing and shouldn’t be confused with each other
I remind people that use the word ‘talented’ that really it’s just a lot of hard work and dedication.
To not judge – mainly myself.
Connecting with other musicians in a safe and supportive environment
Helping others to connect with their creativity
Changing my life in a way I hadn’t imagined. Sounds too good to be true for just 1 hour’s worth of work a week. It’s true
If you'd like to join I Heart Songwriting Club, please click the link below.
“ I Heart Songwriting Club has been instrumental in helping me become a better songwriter through expanded creativity, defining my style and identity as an artist, and has provided me with an abundance of opportunities to get my original music out to the world. I'm grateful for both the platform and people I have met as a member of this wonderful club. ”