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 lived 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 club’s founder and the lifeblood of the whole operation live, Francesca de Valence.
Francesca had told me what a fantastic community they had up in Brisbane. 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 whoever was in the park at the end of the jam session,
- 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 music. 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 from 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.
I felt really encouraged to meet someone who wasn’t a family member or a friend who had listened to my music.
Someone 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. After all, I’m 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,’ and I found this a really cool challenge. 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, and 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 from all over – Sydney, Kingaroy, Sunshine Coast, Gold Coast, Byron Bay. We sat on yoga mats and oversized pillows. 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. Along with this, 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. Francesca and her partner in crime, Gabby, lead 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. 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. 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. 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 songwriting groups with each of them for at least one term! I had already discovered them as artists and become fans of their music. I had the honour of receiving their feedback on my music over several weeks.
Each of these women performed amazingly. 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. 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 about 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.