Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Hiatt - Lifetime Songwriting Achievement Award

John Hiatt will receive the Americana Music Association's lifetime achievement award for songwriting. You can read more about here on the organization website, but in the words of Jed Hilly, the Executive Director of the organization:
“It’s a privilege to honor John Hiatt,” says Hilly. “He is the essence of what the Americana Songwriter award is all about; a true artist, a performer and songwriter whose work is steeped with integrity.”
Enough said...

Nick Cave on Songwriting

Here's part of an interview by Russell Hall, staff writer for the Independent Mail in Anderson, South Carolina, on the songwriting discipline as seen through the eyes of Nick Cave talking about his new album "Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!" (full article here):
Russell Hall: I understand that you go to an office every day to write songs, the way a businessman might do. That flies in the face of the image of the tortured artist, waiting for inspiration to strike.

Nick Cave: Oh, I’m tortured. I’m tortured in my office, between nine and six.

RH: How exactly does a song tend to unfold for you?

NC: I’m happy if I’m writing a song — lyrics and music — once a week. I’m very happy if I get two, and I’m distressed if I don’t get any. The way a song comes about ... (pauses); It happens in so many ways it’s difficult to say. But it’s very much about a couple of words, and slowly sort of adding to those words. It starts off with a very small germ of an idea, which then blossoms in some way.

RH: Is there something that tells you when you’re onto something promising?

NC: Yes. It’s a physical thing. I start getting kind of shivery and excited, and my heart beats faster. And then suddenly I’m just there, in it, and it’s off. That feeling is great, but then you can lose that, too. Suddenly it’s gone — it’s not there any more — and that’s not so good.

RH: Have you ever experienced a serious case of writer’s block?

NC: No. Actually I’m horrified at the thought. I’m very superstitious about the whole thing, and horrified of being jinxed. One of the things I do is just never stop writing. If for one reason or another I’m forced to take a holiday, or something like that, I begin to get very anxious, and fearful that it will all go away.

RH: Which is more difficult, writing prose fiction or writing songs?

NC: Writing songs is the most difficult thing of all, for me. The problem is that you always have to start again, after each song. You’re always back at square one, very quickly. It’s like, “What do I do now? What do I write about now? What am I concerned with now?” With a novel or a piece of prose, or a film script, or these other things that I’ve done, you’ve got an idea and you run with it and tell a story. Each line suggests the next line. I find that very easy, actually.
Always back at square one... doing it all over again... oh, that crazy Muse... may she stick by us all...

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

New Blog: Get My Songs in a Movie

Tom St. Louis, a songwriter who "oozes music" and is an "obnoxious blowhard" (hey, those are his self-deprecating words, not mine - though they do show his good-naturedness and I'm sure I won't be sued for slander... I think), has recently started a blog entitled: Get My Songs in a Movie

The blog is insightful, entertaining and links to Tom's songs... Best of Luck on your endeavour Tom (as I continue on mine) and may the Muse be with you...

Jam-Write with Adriel

I had a productive evening last night with a co-writer that I met at the Songwriting class I took last fall. Adriel is a multi-talented guitar player, singer, songwriter and production wiz. We laid down the basic tracks to a song we wrote in class (Love Is Just A Breath Away). As soon as we finish the track, I'll post it up here... Check out Adriel's link and let him know that I sent you... some great tunes there...

Keep the faith!

MusesMuse and ISC 2007

Here's a "good news" press release I'd thought I'd share with you, and a great example of why you should participate in the MusesMuse forums:
ISC 2007 Grand Prize Winners Collaborated on to Write Their Winning Song
Collaborating online made it possible for two songwriters living across the world from one another to win the grand prize in the International Songwriting Competition, one of the most prestigious songwriting competitions in the world.

Toronto, ON (PRWEB) April 15, 2008 -- Collaborating online made it possible for two songwriters living across the world from one another to win the grand prize in the International Songwriting Competition ( One of the most prestigious songwriting competitions in the world, ISC is renowned for its high-profile judges, who have included Tom Waits, Robert Smith (The Cure), Loretta Lynn, Brian Wilson, B.B. King, Ray Davies (The Kinks), Rob Thomas (Matchbox 20), Neil Finn (Crowded House), Chaka Khan, Charlie Walk (President, Epic Records), Monte Lipman (President, Universal Records), and many more. The Grand Prize winner receives a whopping $25,000 in cash and over $30,000 in merchandise and services, all geared toward helping further a songwriter's career.

Eduard Glumov from Aktobe, Kazakhstan & Z. Mulls from Swarthmore, PA, wrote their award winning song after finding one another online in the message boards at The Muse's Muse Songwriting Resource (

According to Mulls, it was a Creative Competition in one of the Muse's Muse forums that inspired him to write the lyrics. "I wrote a lyric about a guy who really likes a girl, but has to hang out with her and her (bad) boyfriend," he says. "I used a lot of short phrases, echoes and repetition, and those qualities -- the short lines, the repetition, the 'bad boyfriend' storyline -- all fed into a good rock song."

When the lyrics were completed, Mulls put it up on his website. Some time later, Glumov visited the message boards in search of a collaborator and the two connected there, soon taking their discussion to email. When Glumov visited Mulls' site, he picked out a few of the lyrics there that he was interested in putting music to. "I'm Not Your Friend" was one of them and the moody, driving music Glumov wrote for the piece along with his haunting melody and passionate singing, helped give the song what it needed to make it into something the ISC judges couldn't help but recognize. Their song has also won First Prize in the Rock/Alt Division of the Great American Song Contest (

According to the ISC website, "The collaboration between Eduard Glumov and Z. Mulls -- from Kazakhstan to the USA, from one side of the globe to the other -- perfectly reflects the International Songwriting Competition's mission of nurturing songwriting throughout the world." The Muse's Muse Songwriting Resource promotes that same nurturing mission.

The Muse's Muse message boards have been around since 1997 and currently have a membership of over 7,000. Lyric and song competitions are held regularly for the members there on an informal basis. Many great songs have been written as a result. It's likely that the amount of global collaborations in the arts will only increase as the Internet makes the process far easier than it has ever been in the past.

Congrats to these two songwriters, Glumov and Mulls, for finding their muse through online collaboration... and may the Muse be with us all...

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Paul Zollo Interviews David Crosby in Aspen

Paul Zollo, author of many books on songwriting and a songwriter himself, interviewed David Crosby live on stage in Aspen on April 8, 2008, as part of the Lyrically Speaking series put on by the Aspen Writers' Foundation.

The Interview was covered in the Aspen Times by Stewart Oksenhorn. It's an enjoyable read (especially when the reporter recounts Paul Zollo prying a bit too deep into Crosby's feelings about Stephen Stills) and it offers the following thoughts on songwriting:
The famed rocker responded that writing songs is a shadowy process, and noted that songs tend to come to him in moments between wakefulness and sleep, when the mind is slipping into the unguarded realm of dreams.

So Crosby, notable for membership in two landmark groups, the Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash, could shed little light by speaking on the songwriting process. Even his own songwriting, which has yielded such gems as "Wooden Ships," "Long Time Coming" and "Déjà Vu," is a mystery to him: Songs come to him every which way; any sense of methodology is foreign to him; inspiration comes from a place that he cannot locate.

But when Crosby finally, after a bit of a tease, picked up an acoustic guitar and started playing those off-kilter licks from "Déjà Vu," illumination came at last. There are some things that defy words, and while songwriting on the whole may not be one of them, the way that Crosby writes seems to be. It was noted repeatedly by Zollo that a David Crosby tune doesn't follow the standard structures of a song - not even close, in fact. So the best way to gain an understanding of Crosby's writing was to see and hear the results, and when Crosby picked his way through "Déjà Vu" - and later, parts of "Long Time Coming" and "Triad" - they were instances of clarity: "So that's the essence of his songwriting."

Enough said...

Jason Collett - Papercut Hearts and Songwriting

Jason Collett, Canadian singer/songwriter and perennial Broken Social Scene member, can be found in the Song of the Week feature of by Chris Parker.

The featured song (available as a free download) is "Papercut Hearts" from his recent "Here's To Being Here" release. There's some interesting insight on the production of musical recordings, The Rolling Stones and conducting interviews over cell phones - which you should definitely read - I've included just a couple of quotes:
You said you wrote "Papercut Hearts" fairly quickly, in like 20 minutes. Is that unusual?

I think the best songs are the ones that come quickly and relatively intact because you don't have any time to second-guess anything. And that's where the trouble begins, when you start to think about what you're doing or intellectualize it in any way. I would say the whole process of songwriting is a real mystery to me. I do subscribe to the Townes Van Zandt view of songwriting: He said it was as if the songs had all already been written, and that a good songwriter just happens to be present in the room when one floats by.

Do you have to deal with different expectations about your songwriting because of Broken Social Scene?

Mostly I don't care. Inspiration comes and I'm kind of beholden to it, whatever it's going to be. If it falls into some sort of mid '70s feel good groove, so be it. I often write in a very simple 2-3 chord structure just as a way of jostling out the inspiration. It's almost a childlike way of doing it, a nursery rhyme sort of melody, something that puts me into a rhythm that allows for the song itself to come out lyrically. And then I can take that and change the melody. The whole sort of craft thing comes later. But the crucial moment is just that moment of inspiration. I find that if you take the time to adjust the melodies and the structure and start thinking about how this all should be, you can often lose that moment, you know what I mean? It will slip through your hands.
I agree whole-heartedly... the "craft thing comes later" - get inspired and write first! Think later! And may the Muse be with you...

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

More Measure for Measure - Rosanne Cash

Rosanne Cash has added her first blog post to the Measure For Measure blog at NY Times entitled "Well, Actually It Is Brain Surgery".

She eloquently remembers her songwriting mentor, John Stewart, who recently passed away, and gives him full credit for inspiring and challenging her to become a better songwriter.

I include just a couple of paragraphs of Rosanne's post on the infernal/eternal question: what comes first the music or the lyrics:
People always ask me, "What comes first, the music or the lyrics?" I don't know why people are so fascinated with the answer to that question, and the question always makes me slightly nervous, as if I should have an expert opinion or a backlog of statistics on my own songwriting to give a definitive answer. I can't.

Often, it's true for me that the lyrics come first. I seldom find just melodies on the guitar that come out fully fleshed, and add the lyrics afterward. If I start on the piano, it often happens that the melody will come first, of a piece. The instrument has a lot to do with the order of inspiration. Sometimes. And sometimes the fragment of a conversation, the color of the sky, the image in a dream, has everything to do with where the song begins. My song "Seven Year Ache" began as a long poem, several pages of rambling, and I distilled it down into a lyric. The melody came last.

There's lots of different ways to get to the same end result - the SONG - the music and lyrics... May the Muse be with you on your journey there...

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Dylan Feted with the Pulitzer!

Well, a first for popular songwriters (as opposed to classical or jazz). Bob Dylan's lyrics and music were always meant to be honoured, and there's no better way to do that than with a Pulitzer Prize.

The category for the 2008 prize in his honour is listed as a "Special Citation" for "his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power."

Here, here!
May the Muse continue to be with Mr. Zimmerman and with us all...

Juno Songwriters Circle on CBC Canada Live Podcast - THIS WEEK ONLY!

If you missed the Juno Songwriters Circle event on Sunday, April 6 (see my post here), then you can catch up this week with the Canada Live podcast on CBC Radio 2 on the web. Here is the link to the site where you can stream the show or download the MP3. It was a fantastic show and I hope you give it a listen...

May the Muse be with you...

Monday, April 07, 2008

Sonar Workflow & Music Production Masterclass - FREE!

Roland is putting on a free Cakewalk/Edirol seminar at the Versailles Convention Centre (6721 Edwards Blvd in Mississauga) at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, April 8, 2008 (6:00 p.m. is the new product launch). See below for more info and a link to the PDF flyer:

Sonar Workflow & Music Production Masterclass

Take your music production to the next level with Robin Kelly from Cakewalk at the Sonar Workflow & Music Production Masterclass. If you are a music production software user, attending the class will teach you valuable workflow enhancements to Cakewalk’s acclaimed SONAR audio production software, including hardware interfacing with EDIROL’s M-16DX Digital Mixer.

Door prizes!

Click here for more information.

1-2-3-4... 5 Junos for Feist!

And, from the perspective of this songwriter, all well-deserved and earned, especially the Juno for Songwriter of the Year! You can read about the accomplishment here on JAM! Music, but I thought I'd include a few quotes from Feist to mark the occasion:
"I wrote a whole bunch of stuff down on my arm," Feist said as she took the stage to accept the first trophy of the night, for best single. "Should I try to chip through it?" she asked, going on to thank a slew of friends and bandmates.

"What I really meant to say before is I'm so grateful, I'm very, very grateful," said Feist, who got teary during her second trip to the podium after embracing her mother in their seats. "And I meant to say thank you, I forgot to say that before, and then the nylon-string guitar came in and cut me off. It was terrible."

But the night belonged to 32-year-old Feist, a delicate-voiced crooner born in Amherst, N.S., who started out shouting with a Calgary punk band as a teen. She later became known as an indie-rock poster girl with Toronto bands By Divine Right and Broken Social Scene, then as a Parisian ex-pat with sultry jazz leanings that earned her a best new artist Juno in 2005.

But it was an iPod TV commercial - featuring her song "1 2 3 4" and an accompanying video - that catapulted her to mainstream success last year. Record sales soon followed and her eclectic disc "The Reminder" garnered four Grammy nominations in February and a Brit Award nomination for best international female.

Feist, who has managed to achieve a rare combination of mainstream appeal and street cred, boasted Saturday that the pinnacle of her newfound fame has been an appearance on the children's show "Sesame Street."

Backstage on Sunday, she noted that for the children's show, "1 2 3 4" was retooled to be followed by the lyric: "Monsters crawling across the floor."

"They rewrote the lyrics and it was so cathartic," explained Feist, who was accompanied to the ceremony by her mother and her father, brother and sister from Toronto.

"I've sung that song so many times on TV but never with furry creatures peering up at me and chickens in bikinis. It was everything you've ever dreamed of about the Muppets."

Hmmm, maybe I can work "furry creatures" or "chickens in bikinis" into a song... Muppets, hold production! I'm working on it...

Kudos and congratulations to Feist, who has proven once again that the Muse is with her...

Songwriter Advisor

Orlando Gutierrez, former Warner/Chappell staff songwriter, is offering assistance (free the press release says) to songwriters, beginners to advanced, on his website: Songwriter Advisor. Here's the press release:
Just like a conscientious, grateful entertainer or professional athlete who stays and signs every autograph, songwriting expert Orlando Gutierrez has adopted the same mentality in his website approach by vowing to answer each and every songwriting-related question as promptly as possible using his "Ask The Songwriter Advisor" section.

Songwriter Advisor offers free pro songwriting tips and techniques by reviewing basics and by using a little-known, innovative approach that takes advantage of web technology. “The songwriting marketplace has never been more competitive and the time has come for songwriters to think outside the box in order to gain a competitive edge,” says, Gutierrez.

To take the mystery out of songwriting for beginners and to quickly review basics for intermediate and advanced songwriters, the website begins with an easy-to-follow, seven-step songwriting guide using an original song example to accelerate any songwriter’s progress. Writers’ block becomes a thing of the past by learning how to use the "Rhymezone" website to spawn songwriting ideas, and by using songwriting tools such as "Lyricist."

Songwriter Advisor also advocates great songwriting as being within anyone’s reach regardless of musical experience because people have been listening to their favorite music all their lives and music is an imitation art form. There’s no such thing as a songwriter who wasn’t influenced by another musician. As Gutierrez states in his website, ”Songwriting is not meant to be complicated and once it’s broken down and simplified, a natural and effective songwriting progression follows.”
I'm not sure if I agree with the premise that anyone can be a great songwriter, but I do agree that the craft shouldn't be "complicated" - meaning you shouldn't over-think what you're writing, but keep writing... and may the Muse be with you...

Friday, April 04, 2008

Bob Snider - On Songwriting (Book Review)

This is the folk musician's two-part look inside songwriting. He gives us a glimpse of the songwriter's inner workings, creative process, techniques and some of the hiding places of good ideas.

In a loosely organized, highly engaging style, Snider shimmies through matters of song structure, rhyme, diction, revision, repetition, audience response, titles and more. Taking readers from the first germination of an idea, through to test-driving a song on stage or sidewalk, he provides valuable tips for writing words to be sung. Combining his favourite tricks of the trade, nods to influential songwriters, and joking around common pitfalls in rhyme and rhythm, Snider shows how intuitive and how challenging songwriting can be. Along the way, readers get a glimpse of the life and work of one of Canada's folk music legends.


The second half of the book provides the lyrics for, and the stories behind, ten songs, including audience favourites like Tonight, Darn Folksinger and Sittin in the Kitchen. The beginnings come in the form of witticisms, unlikely pairings, propositions and slow ruminations. Some of these songs take their cue from overheard conversations, others from chance encounters and wrong numbers. Snider recounts verses that seemed to write themselves, others that were honed over weeks and months, and one he remembers having to coax out a syllable at a time.

Delighting in his own foibles and the odd streak of luck, Snider reveals the draft stages of some of his finest lyrics, and the patience and trickery involved in teasing memorable songs out of those first couple of chords. With each song we are introduced to the friends and strangers who have sparked his creativity, and a personal philosophy built on a love of entertaining and an avid pursuit of happy accidents.

It's well worth the read for someone interested in reviewing another's creative process... May the Muse stay with you...

Event Alert: Juno Songwriters Circle (April 6)

The Juno Awards (Canadian Recording Industry Awards) take place on April 6, 2008, in Calgary, Alberta. The list of nominees is impressive and, what is particularly of note with the Junos over something like the Grammys is the inclusion of a "Songwriter of the Year" category (though I'm not included this year for some reason). Look for the Junos on CTV on Sunday night.

The weekend also brings with it other events, with the most interesting one from the songwriter's perspective being the 2008 June Songwriters' Circle on Sunday at 2 p.m. EST (live on CBC Radio). One of the Songwriter of the Year nominees will be participating (Joel Plaskett) along with a few other Canadian singer/songwriters. Click the link for all the info/bios... and here's the blurb about the event itself from the website:

The intimate afternoon concert will be hosted by one of today’s most exciting songwriters, Joel Plaskett, the front man of Joel Plaskett Emergency and 2008 JUNO Award nominee for Songwriter of the Year. Plaskett will join fellow esteemed Canadian songwriters and JUNO Award nominees AlexCuba, Jeremy Fisher, Serena Ryder and Tegan and Sara.

The writers will share with fans some of their unique creative processes, challenges and songwriting successes, all the while telling personal anecdotes behind their favourite songs. More artists will be announced to join Songwriters’ Circle in the coming weeks.

This year’s CBC broadcast will be hosted by Jian Ghomeshi, host of Q, CBC Radio One’s daily dose of arts, culture and entertainment. Although he is best known as a national on-air personality, Ghomeshi is also a musician, singer and songwriter at heart.

May the Muse be Canadian this weekend!

More Measure for Measure

Well, I thought I'd update you on the two posts this week by the other songwriter-bloggers, Suzanne Vega and Darrell Brown (which just leaves Rosanne Cash).

Suzanne wrote on the "Profane and Divine". She scratches the surface of her "creative process" and describes her feelings about sharing that process on her blog as follows:

You should know that I am usually wary of sharing ideas in progress. I go over and over the lyrics until they feel just right to me, and this can be a very irritating process. I am also a little superstitious — if you talk too much or reveal too much, the spell could fall flat and the song won’t work. However, I have also shared songs, gone back and redone them, had them turn out much better and then forgotten about the earlier drafts. So it happens all different ways.

But listen, readers, don’t steal my ideas, please. I will track you down.

Darrell wrote on the "3 H's". He briefly shares his history as a professional songsmith and then takes us to his thoughts on the fundamental H's in songwriting:
These many years later I usually find myself in in Nashville, Los Angeles, New York, London or some other city, sitting at a piano with my laptop computer, No. 2 pencil and pad with another songwriter or artist. We then proceed to vent and hash out our thoughts and feelings, our anger and frustrations, our longings and hopes and try to gently coax them into the shape of a song. And that song must have the three H’s in it: Honesty. Humanity. And hooks.

I also know this from experience: Not all of the songs I write will be good ones. Actually, a lot of them will be ridiculously bad (experience has also taught me not to show those songs to anyone for obvious reasons). But when an honest, four-dimensional, hook-filled piece of humanity is finally born, there is a clue to recognizing its timelessness. There is a peaceful, non-judgmental appreciation that falls over me when I hear it, a feeling — or even a knowledge — that we songwriters really had nothing to do with its creation in the first place. It’s as if we were archaeologists at a dig and all we had to do was chip away the stone and brush away the sand that hid it from view. We were just lucky enough to be in the room that day when it showed up to sing to us.
That's some timeless talk from both songwriters. I share Suzanne's superstitions and don't like to share an unfinished song. And on Darrell's H's, well that's something I hope I subconsciously do when I write. If you had to think about the first two H's too much anyway, you may screw them up... now that 3rd H, the "hook" - that's where the craftsmanship can come...

May the Muse be with you...

Ruminations on this cruel art by Rick Koster

Rick Koster is a (former, it appears) songwriter who is now performing an online reporters gig for The Day in Connecticut covering music, books and dining. He's written a wonderful article that I've comment on the site (see if that gets posted) and you can find the online article here.

I just wanted to add a couple of poignant excerpts (from my non-published, yet still artistic, perspective):

I long ago reconciled myself to the fact that, in the music biz, talent is just not that often rewarded whereas some estimably not-gifted cheese-bags end up with platinum sales and renown. Go figure.

I say this quite without bitterness because I never considered myself a special songwriter. I do think I was in a band that deserved to “make it” (whatever that means), and I was fortunate enough to play with two guys, Nick Shannon and Ernie Myers, who by all rights should be rich and successful songwriters — and aren’t.


I think most of the generally acknowledged great songwriters — or even the songwriters you yourself might particularly enjoy that maybe aren’t as famous as you think they should be — would all tell you the same thing: that, yes, a great deal of the process is hard work but there is also that magical creative spark that some folks have and some folks don’t. And if you’re a conduit to such things, well … it’s just something you can’t teach or learn. You either have the gift or you don’t.

I didn’t — though, again, in my opinion, my pals Ernie Myers and Nick Shannon are that good. One of these days, I’ll put some of their tunes up here and let you hear some of their stuff and you can tell me if you like any of it.

What, you ask, is with all this seemingly self-indulgent stuff about songwriting? And why would you care?

Well, probably because a lot of you are songwriters — or would like to be. As I said, it’s a fun thing to do and all it requires is a guitar or a piano or whatever and the willingness to sit down and give it hell. This town is full of songwriters, some better than others, but it underscores that it’s a great and therapeutic pastime.

I hope we all keep up that "therapeutic pastime", so may the Muse be with us all...

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Elvis Costello with...

I'm looking forward to the following Elvis Costello series as he's one of my favourite songwriters and I'm sure he'll be engaging and selective with is guests... I haven't been a fan of Elton John's latest music (though I like his early stuff with Bernie Taupin), but he Sir Elton is right about his statement that Elvis knows his popular music... Original CTV article here.

Elvis Costello, Elton John collaborate in music show

Updated Wed. Apr. 2 2008 9:25 AM ET

The Canadian Press

TORONTO -- Renowned British musicians Elvis Costello and Elton John are collaborating for a new show airing on CTV that was conceived and developed in Canada.

"Spectacle: Elvis Costello With ...'' will be hosted by its namesake and is executive-produced by Elton John's company, Rocket Pictures. The series aims to raise money and awareness about AIDS in Africa.

The 13-part series, a Canada-U.K. co-production, will feature performances and in-depth discussions between Costello and some of the world's most influential artists and personalities.

"I'm not interested in extracting some dark secret,'' Costello said in a news release Wednesday.

"I'd rather hear about a bright secret, a deep love or a curiosity that might be otherwise obscured by fame. This is a wonderful opportunity to talk in complete thoughts about music, movies, art or even vaudeville, then frame it with unique and illustrative performances.''

Elton John described Costello as "the foremost expert on popular music.''

"I thought it would be sensational to use his knowledge and intelligence to explore the artistry of musicians and other fascinating people involved in making great music, as well as true music aficionados.''

The series, which will likely debut in the fall on CTV, will also be broadcast on the Sundance Channel in the U.S. and Channel 4 in the U.K.

The series is co-produced by Toronto's Reinvention Entertainment, SpyBox Pictures and Prospero Pictures, along with the London-based Rocket Pictures.

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