Thursday, October 30, 2014

That backyard of mine

The funny thing is, "This Backyard's Rockin'" was written after a completely tame, somewhat lame yet spontaneous get-together in my neighbor's backyard. The song is a total fabrication. But it just won again, this time the Dallas Songwriters' Association Lyric Contest, so that's plenty of reason to drink more wine. In the back yard.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

It might be done


Another "teenager song." My favorite songs to write. I should be saying "age-appropriate pop" or "age-appropriate country / pop" but whatever.

What's Her Name


Thursday, September 18, 2014

"Recommended"

It's been about a year that I have been trying to write commercial songs. I am ambivalent about it. Writing is personal. Trying to turn a personal product into a commercial product is, I don't know, anti-personal. Letting a lot of people evaluate my work for its commercial "viability" can be soul-killing. But, yeah, I'm doing it.

So I joined Nashville Songwriters' Association International, NSAI, last year. They provide services like song evaluations, more about that in a minute, and they have local chapters. So I have a local monthly meeting to go to where I can play my songs for others, meet other writers, hear their stuff, learn how to receive and give feedback, and learn about the industry.

NSAI has an evaluation "system," in which I can send my songs in, someone will evaluate them based on the usual criteria - structure, lyric, music, commercial viability, etc. I can ask them to go easy or "lay it on me - I can take it!" I always choose the "lay it on me." One one hand, what does one person's opinion really mean, even an industry person? I should just listen to my heart and write, right? But on the other hand, having a song on the radio is one of my goals, so what the industry thinks of my work is crucial.

Part of the challenge for me is learning the game. You want zippy hooks and relatable stories and catchy music and you want me to get it done in about 3 minutes? That's hard, but I am good at it, I think, and I like the challenge. But I crave industry feedback because there are so many people in this world who think they are amazing at things like writing and singing, but you and I both know they're not good at those things at all. They live in a bubble and opinions don't penetrate unless they're positive.

The Bubble. I'm obsessed by it, because sometimes I'm terrified I'm in one - out of touch with reality, being laughed at, overestimating my gifts in a laughable way. On the other hand, a little bit of bubble might be helpful since I doubt myself so much.

The top of the evaluation system is being "recommended" for a quarterly liuncheon that NSAI holds. They play the top 9 songs out of probably several thousand for publishers and Industry People. Because I was an awful mix of arrogance and naivete this time last year, I hoped I'd get recommended oh, on my first try maybe. Seriously I hoped that, and that's kind of good and kind of awful of me. Obviously that didn't happen, and along the way I have had about 12 songs evaluated, some several times. Sometimes the evaluations hurt, even though they were right. Once the evaluator was dead wrong and not very nice about it ("For unto us a child is born?" he asked. "Is that really from Scripture?" I kid you not). There were a few times where unjust wrinkles in the evaluation system robbed me of my chance to be "recommended", or maybe my song just didn't knock socks off in that perfect way.

But I have learned so much, and after all those evaluations I can look at a new song and just imagine what they will say about it, and fix it as I'm writing instead of later, and so my songs are getting whipped into shape more quickly. The challenge is getting the great idea, and I get my share of them which is to say not that many. But I decided to get behind a couple of my songs, and this one came back with the magic words: "Congratulations! This song has been recommended for consideration at our next "Pitch to Publisher" luncheon!"

This, like the contest certificates on my wall, is anti-bubble insurance. It tells me that if someone in the industry agrees with me about my song, about what's likable and well-crafted about it, then I can give myself permission to trust myself a bit more and know that I'm on the right track. And yes I hope that song goes all the way, wherever that might be. It also tells a story that is familiar, and puts a happy ending on an interpersonal situation that has happened to most of us at one time or other. So it's a story that needed to be told, I think.

So, yay. I hope for more, but I'm not drinking that much champagne next time.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Smoky Mountain Songwriters' Festival

Day 1 was about this:


This was a songwriter round that I sang with Don Gilbert and Mary Hartman. A round is many things: an informal songwriter performance where we each take a turn, play a song, maybe talk about it a little bit. Often it is also a songwriter blind date; I had never met either these two before. What does one call them? Roundies? Corounders?

I love this picture more than I can say. For some funny reasons. 1) the stage, at Sugarlands Distilling Company in Gatlinburg, was in a beautiful roofed back porch. The "Be Authentic" is such a great thing to have on the wall behind my head. 2) The round was my first, and it was kind of a wild ride. My guitar playing slipped considerably because I was nervous, but I learned from it. 3) This picture is taken from the WLVT news story that I ended up in, because there was also this

This is hilarious for so many reasons. For no good reason the news crew was at the round where I was playing, and when they are talking about famous songwriters who wrote all the big hits, I'm in the background. I am so nonfamous and I just end up in this clip from sheer blind luck, it makes me giggle. Then while one of the Famous Guys is being interviewed, I'm singing in the background, and the song I'm singing is this:


This was my finalist entry in the competition and it won. I'd love to go into great detail about how they called my name and I wasn't expecting it but let's just skip all that and say I WON and I'M THRILLED.

There is so much more that happened. I had a consult with an Industry Person who gave me a lot of good advice, feedback, encouragement, and some "get out of your own way," and I know some stuff that I didn't know. About licensing my songs to those who want to record them, and about how to make my songs "better" according to Nashville Rules for Commercial Success, so that this year's Honorable Mentions turn into next year's winners.

Winners ! Win! Competition! Yes, as you can tell right now I'm very pro-contest since it's a thrill. I keep telling myself that song competitions are a cheap high and can be a debilitating low, and are song contests really keeping my eye on the ball? But then I think, which ball? Because there are quite a few and they are bouncing all over the place.

The best area of the weekend was the people. The Industry Person was someone I am pleased to know better, not because she can help me, but because she is an interesting and likeable human who is honest about her baggage and her joys. My dear friend and singing friend Margaret was my rock, my chauffeur, the other half of my harmonies, and a big chunk of my singing history. And I have solidified my friendship and soon-to-be working relationship with a young, beautiful, abundantly gifted singer and her family. More about that later.

Oh and the guitar thing. I keep having guitar debuts and then deciding that they were so tragic they didn't count. Friday morning, under the "Be Authentic" sign, boy was I. Nervous, skipping chords, fumbling, playing too fast. While performing I concocted the narrative of the awful guitar player who made everyone uncomfortable, and humiliated herself, but with Margaret's help I decided it wasn't quite that bad.

But then Saturday I played with Margaret and my young friend Emily, and it was gorgeous with the mountains and an actual cool breeze and I actually kept my head and my tempos, and my playing was as good as it can be right now. Not very impressive but mostly solid. I am really glad about that.

I am the luckiest and most blessed woman, and I don't deserve most of the good things that happened to me this weekend.

Monday, July 28, 2014

July

I've written about 12 songs since I last posted. My approach is all about volume - write it, get it at least sort of done, get it evaluated, play it out, revise it, throw it away or revise it some more or put it in a mental drawer until I decide to take it out again. Unfortunately I bob like a sad little balloon on the opinions of others, and if the evaluators hate a song I get all Stockholm syndrome and hate it too for a while. Bad song! Bad! 

I had a minor crisis in April, when I had a chance to play a few songs out and realized I didn't have a single song I felt like singing. That was partly because my guitar playing was both sucky and unsatisfying. What's the difference, you ask? I don't know, except I guess it's like when you can finally ride a two-wheeler and you might be wobbly but you are moving forward and not falling over. My playing is less wobbly and I can grab most every chord I know, pretty much sorta when I need it, so I can have fun playing. Is there still suckitude, yes, why yes there is, but I'm having more fun and caring less about what people will say.

Anyway, I realized I needed to write some things for me, and tell myself they aren't commercial. So I have those, but I entered them into a contest and they didn't do well. This is not fair to the songs. I am not a good mother to my songs. I need to stand by the ones that speak from my heart and not subject them to contests.

Contests are stupid. Contests are great when my songs get recognized. "Get recognized" is my way of saying "come in less than absolutely grand prize first." I've been fortunate with the recognition, which is some actual placements and a blizzard of honorable mentions. I am most honorably mentioned, and that's not so bad. Contests are a bad habit, a vice that I need to give up. Except I love certificates. I'm like those characters who went to see the Wizard of Oz. He didn't really give them anything but a bunch of things that represented the things that they wanted. That he could not give.

I really, really want to find co-writers. I have had some co-writing experiences where I steamrollered the other writer, mostly because I could not live with what they wanted to do lyrically. I have been turned down, or blown off, a couple of times by local people I know. It's so much like dating except I have to do the asking. Men, you have my sympathy. Anyway, I wish I could find a co-writer who writes lyrics the way I do, so that I don't hate everything they write. I need more practice so I can learn to go with what someone else writes, even if it seems weak. It's probably like dating in that I need to become the right person along with trying to find the other right person. 

Oh and I'm writing a play. That's a thing. It's a relief, since everyone says my songs sound like they're show tunes anyway. Might as well just write some show tunes. I have tried hard not to have eighth-note chords on 2s and 9s and mighty waves of dotted quarter notes and quarter note triplets, my go-to showtuney musical things. But it's nice to be in a genre where it would be okay if I broke down and used those. It's fun writing a play and also really scary. I can't believe I sat down and wrote plays when I was 19 years old and never stopped to think about whether I knew what I was doing. At least it brings balance to my life - I have songs that no one in Nashville wants to hear, and I have other songs that people in Virginia are very impatient to hear. 

Other than that there isn't much going on.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Preparations

It's almost Saturday night! I want to be all ho-hum, it's-just-a-gig about it, but this time there will be several firsts. First time with guitar, first time playing about 10 new songs. First time with the new girl group. First time at Vienna Coffeehouse, and first time for almost all of my E. TN friends to see me doing my singer/songwriter thing. I'm so happy with my new collaborators; Vicki, my new friend who can play anything and sing anything and is giving me much-needed guitar support. And Margaret, who I have sung with for 20 years. New friends and old. Plus several Maryville Songwriters' Association friends sitting in, and the great Jim Horenburg coming out to play too.

I'm trying out some new gear, too, and so far it works simply and if it doesn't work it's nonessential. Had to have a tech rehearsal today just to get it all up and running. I don't know how long it will be before I feel like an ordinary person who plays guitar in an ordinary way, instead of a beginner who is trying to fool everyone into thinking I can play. I can tell you right now that there will be some missed chords, and that's going to have to be okay.

I hope I have video, audio, pictures... They usually video at Vienna which presents a few sticky copyright problems but I'll hope to work them out.

Hope to see you there!

Friday, December 20, 2013