songs

Silly & Serious – A New Challenge.

Since finishing my Song of the Week challenge over 2 years ago I have felt there has been a hole in my songwriting process. Unless I was writing for an album I found I was starting so many songs but not finishing most. I thought about doing song of the week again but it felt like I would be going backwards a little.

Then, while writing some upbeat tunes with a view to ad placements for my publisher a few weeks ago, I found the urge to counteract the jolliness with something sad and depressing. I really enjoyed the juxtaposition (and I like the word juxtaposition!). So after quietly setting myself a goal of writing and recording one of each a week I found that I was being way more productive because I really do love a deadline. I thrive on it and every day I wake up excited that I have a purpose.

Now I am on week 4 and, while I am not posting all the songs I write (2 a week is a little bit of overload) I am posting some of them exclusively on my Facebook Music page via SoundCloud. I was originally going to call it Happy & Sad but the got a little confusing when some jolly songs are in minor keys etc. So ‘Silly & Serious’ it is.

Unlike Song of the Week, I am not committing to do this religiously every week for a year, but I will keep going (likely with holiday breaks) until I find something else to distract me… ooh look… squirrel! :)

Click on the image below to go to the new tunes…

Screen shot 2012-12-11 at 10.42.40 AM

Search for the Unicorn

Part 1 – Finding the photo

One day I came across a photo being used by a friend as her Facebook profile pic and I knew I had to use it as an album cover. There was something about this cute little fella that I just couldn’t put my finger on, something about the snow and the colour, and I knew that no other unicorn would do. When I find what I like I can’t let it go.

I set about trying to find the owner of the picture so that I could ask permission to use it. I asked my friend where she got the photo but all she could remember was that it was from some site with ‘fuckyeahunicorn’ in the url. I lost many hours searching this and so many other variations of the unicorn and expletives. But nothing…. not even close.

I was starting to get obsessed and knew it was time for a different strategy. Someone must have made that unicorn so I started searching for knitted unicorns (oh how I LOVE the internet). I searched Etsy and bay and a whole load of home-made sites. But nothing. I started searching random unicorn images and scrolled through thousands of pictures of, mostly, unicorns… although there are some very suspect images under the heading ‘unicorn’… hmmm. Weird.

Finally I found a tiny image of a green unicorn that had very similar flowers which HAD to be made by the same person. The title under it was cozycoleman.com. I had found it it… woohooo. Feeling very excited (I lead a sheltered life) I clicked on the link and in the flash of a screen I got this

But Cozy Coleman HAD to exist. I had to find them. I revisited Etsy… the home of the knitted items and other home-made treasures. I typed the name into the search bar and… it gave me TWO Cozy Colemans. None sold knitted unicorns so I messaged the first and got a lovely message back telling me ‘sorry… I have never knitted unicorns… good luck’.

The second Cozy Coleman had to be the one or I knew that this was going to be the end of the line. So I emailed and crossed my fingers.

Part 2 – Finding the unicorn

Within minutes I got an email telling me that ‘YES’ she was indeed the Cozy Coleman that knitted the unicorns and we started a dialogue where I asked her if she knew who took the photo that I had found. She was great and asked all the people that she had sold the unicorns to. After a few days of possible leads the trail went cold.

Cozy Coleman turned out to be Sharon Coleman and I asked her if she still had any of the unicorns that she could sell me so I could try to re-create the photo (did I mention that I am obsessive?). She did but only in green and pink. Something was telling me that it had to be the blue.

Then she suggested that if I found a 100% pure wool sweater in the colour I wanted and sent it to her, she could felt the sweater and make one for me. Yay!!!

So I hit the thrift stores and found 2 sweaters that I thought would work and sent them to her. Did I mention that Sharon Coleman is the greatest? :)

A few weeks later I had 2 beautiful unicorns and just before all the snow on our local mountain had melted.

Part 3 – Shooting the unicorn

Karen McKinnon is a wonderful local photographer who is responsible for most of the photos you see of me so, over a social breakfast one morning, I asked if she would come up to the mountain and photograph my unicorn in the snow. Not her usual sort of job, but she is always up for some fun so we headed up one afternoon to shoot the unicorn…. which was the source of many many jokes… a little sad, I know.

We found a spot on the bunny slopes at Mount Washington where the snow was still good and the trees were far enough in the distance to blur out (or some other photographic technical term). I put the unicorn into position while Karen got comfortable lying in the snow and the shooting (tee hee) began. The unicorn was a little temperamental but we got the shot and headed back down to spruce him (or her, we’re not sure) up a bit.

Part 4 – The cover

Originally this was going to be for my LA album but that all changed when the album was finished and the image didn’t match the sound. But when I decided to release a kid’s album, the unicorn was the perfect photo for the cover.

Stacy from Psoma Design Group was the designer for my LA album (out next year) and she did such an amazing job that I asked her to turn my unicorn into a CD cover for this kid’s album. We had so much fun with all the iterations and I really like the finished product… especially all the extra sparkles :)

When it came down to naming the album I realized that I wanted a title with unicorn in it. It would seem odd not to. But I had no song with that in the title. So a week before sending the songs to be mastered I wrote and recorded a new song called ‘Always Be A Unicorn’, using the sentiment in those Facebook posts going around that say “Always be yourself, but if you can be a unicorn (substitute batmen etc), then always be a unicorn.” It seemed to really suit the cover and the feel of the album in general.

“Always Be A Unicorn” is out on October 24th, when I will a guest on CBC All Points West with Jo-Ann Roberts.

Click here for pre-order special.

Little Buttons

I have never forayed into the world of merch, apart from the obvious CDs I have always have with me at gigs and sell online.

I have seen the t shirts, cup holders, water bottles and other such fun items to take home as a reminder of your favorite band.

As I spend most of my time recording for the purposes of licensing I don’t do a lot of touring so have never seen the need for anything extra. However, this summer I spent a lot of time at festivals and conferences and I suddenly felt like I needed something more than just my CDs. Of course, I didn’t figure this out until my last festival of the season.

So I started thinking… Stickers? Key rings? But it was my teen who came up with buttons. She just loves buttons and has them all over her school bag.

But what should go on them? I didn’t want to just have my website on there, although the purpose was to advertise. I didn’t want my face and I don’t really have a logo.

Again it was my daughter that came up with the idea of the names of some of my songs. I can be a little quirky in my songwriting and some have fun names. After careful thought (about 15 minutes or so) we came up with the following…

Little Strange
Perfect Girl
When We Were Young
Happy
Ordinary Girl
Three’s Company
Love Is
Let The Sun Shine
La De Dah
Take Me Away
5 Little Things
… and the most popular – High Maintenance
My son, who the song was written about, wears his button with pride everyday.

I found a wonderful button making place call Crucial Pins and they had my buttons made and to me within 3 days…. just in time for to play and MC at the Sunshine Musicfest this last weekend, which, by the way, was the most awesome little festival ever.

I decided to make the buttons free giveaways… after all, people would be advertising me (my website is on the button too!)

When I took the buttons to the festival I thought that the odd person would take one, but they were a hit and a saw a very large percentage of festival goers wearing them. And my daughter was correct… the teens loved them!

I need to order more now and after going through the few that were left I have narrowed the song names down to the ones below. It seems that people want buttons that represent who they are… which is mostly a little strange, high maintenance and perfect! :)

These little buttons seem to have hit on something fun that makes people remember my music and are now available at my website on their own or you get a free one when you purchase a CD.

Song of the Week 2

Well, it’s been a while since I blogged but I have been busy, both with music (see news on my site) and healing my injured shoulder, which is taking irritatingly longer than it should. But, as usual, the restrictions have lead to some interesting decisions… but more of that another time.

This is about releasing Song of the Week 2. I have been asked why specific songs weren’t on Song of the Week and, also, some of the songs that didn’t make the first CD have appeared on various TV shows and… well, I wrote a LOT of songs that year and I still really like some of them ( and some, I would glad never to hear again!)

So I am going to take down EPs Happy, When We Were Young and All The Letters from iTunes as some of those songs are on the first Song of the Week. I am also going to take down the singles. These are all songs of the week. Perfect Girl will stay as that was written and recorded before I started the madness.

I will take some of the songs from the EPs and singles and add to them a bunch of songs that I think warrant being released and make them into Song of the Week 2. And after that Song of the Week will be done. I will be taking down the original project from my website as it is time to move on.

The artwork took a while to figure out until it hit me yesterday that I should be using the photo I took of all my song sheets as I had written them. It just so happens that the song sheet sitting on top is one of the previously unreleased songs from this album. The picture sums up my brain!

So there you have it… I will be releasing Song of the Week 2 in June. I haven’t decided yet about getting physical copies done. Although I know there are die-hard CD purchasers (and I appreciate each one of you) it seems to be getting less and less relevant. Please tell me if you feel differently.

Why do songwriting challenges?

Before I was aware of the songwriting challenges out there on the web I set myself my own challenge – write, produce and upload a new song every week to my website for a year. I did this from April 2009 – 2010.

Now this may sound a little extreme but it was an amazing way to practice my writing skills and it gave me an excuse to keep up the contact with my email list. In fact, it was how I created my email list. When I finished I got a lot of people telling me they missed the weekly new song, which was a relief, because you never know when you’re bugging people! In May I released an album with 13 of the best songs called ‘Song of the Week‘, many of which have been placed on TV and Film.

Shortly after I had released the CD I noticed a songwriting challenge called 50 Songs In 90 Days and I thought, “Don’t be silly, that’s impossible”.But I couldn’t stop myself and started writing a whole bunch of new tunes. But it was the school summer holidays and there just wasn’t time to keep it up, what with travelling to the UK and other kids stuff. Although I didn’t come anywhere near to finishing, I did get the bulk of a new album, ‘Treehouse‘, which I released January this year.

So it’s FAWM time – February Album Writing Month. I had no intentions of doing this at all. I had just put out a new album and had broken my collarbone… and where was the time? Well it turns out that just about the only thing I could do with my injury was play the guitar for short periods of time. Housework was completely out of the question so I had extra time. So I started on Feb 1st and am just over half way through and I swear it is keeping me sane. Some songs take a day or two and others like ‘Lemonade’ took an hour to write and record. I just love writing and recording. It’s a good thing my kids are old enough to get their own food!

So why do these challenges? Here are some great reasons:

1. With this much songwriting you can only improve.
2. It gives you an excuse to keep in contact with fans.
3. You are giving fans something new on a regular basis.
4. You improve your recording skills and discover new ways to produce.
5. You end with a large catalogue to draw from, which is especially useful if you are pitching to TV etc.
6. You really learn how to finish songs and move on.
7. It gives you something to tweet,FB etc.
8. It’s fun!

Some great songwriting challenges to check out (and it isn’t too late for FAWM)

FAWM
50/90
RPM Challenge

I hope to see you in the forums on any of these challenges and if you want to follow my progress, please visit my FAWM page – http://fawm.org/fawmers/helenaustin/

Writing To Order – A Good Thing

I have been asked to write for specific occasions several times and am in the middle of writing two at the moment.

There is something about being given the subject matter that makes it really enjoyable to write songs to order. The limitations bypass the problem of what to write about. It’s already there. This is an area where restrictions can really come in useful!

In my comedy days I would often have to write a funny song for a corporate event and was given specific people and things to make fun of. I didn’t particularly enjoy this type of writing, partly because it was a one off and I never got to play the song again, so my heart was never really in it.

But my first serious writing to order was for the Relay for Life in 2006. This song just seemed to jump from the pen to the page. My brain had nothing to do with it. Maybe it was the fact that I had dealt with cancer in my family but the song really seemed to write itself. It is now played at Relay for Life events all around the world and it is a song I feel very proud to have written (it was also my Mum’s favorite song of mine). Click here to listen.

Then I wrote a song for ‘A Fighting Spirit’ for a group of local photographers who donated their time to photograph critically ill children. Another song that wrote itself in less than 30 minutes. I play this song live each year at the YANA auction alongside an amazing slideshow by the very talented Karen McKinnon.

Now been asked to write for ‘Helping Hearts‘, another group that does the same thing, but country-wide. Having a couple of kids makes it uncomfortably easy to imagine what you might feel if one of them were very sick and so another song is jumping onto the page and will be finished soon.

As a result of these songs I have my first non-charity song commission for photographer Michele Regner. One of my existing songs is already used on another photographer’s website – Jerry Vergel. But this photographer has asked me to write specifically for her site. I have asked her what she wants people to feel when they visit her site or watch a slide show which will help me convey her vision in a song.

So this got me thinking about song writing. Maybe these constraints make it easier for our brains to really delve into the subject without having to think “what am I writing about?”. I tried this out when I wrote a song after reading a book and another which I used the character from a movie. I found it got me out of my own head and into the head of other’s lives and situations.

So next time you are writing and get stuck have a think back to the last book your found interesting or a character from a TV drama. I try to avoid stuff that is happening to friends or people around me as it can get you into trouble!! :)

2010 – an interesting year!

2010 started with a flurry of placements, which continued throughout the year and I was still in full swing writing my Song of the Week. While still reeling from the death of a close friend, a lot of the later Song of the Week songs touched on mortality from different angles, but I ended the project with a song for my amazingly supportive husband!

Song of the week ended in early April and I rewarded myself and family with a trip to Disneyland. While there I got my first network TV placement on Ghost Whisperer.

May 20th I released 13 of the Song of the Week songs on an album and simply called it Song of the Week. I then started the whole marketing thing all over again but it was fun having a whole load of new, beautifully mastered songs to give to my wonderful publishers.

June was a sad month. I lost my Mum while, ironically, while playing the Relay for Life song at our local relay.It was her favourite song of mine and she had been battling cancer for many years.

July is one of my fave months because I get to be mainstage MC with Todd Butler at Vancouver Island Musicfest. We also got to play songs together too, which lead to us doing gig together in November just for the fun of it! July also saw me attempt the 50 songs in 90 days challenge which I failed miserably, but I got a new album out of it (see Dec).

August was New York month. Getting to see a movie my songs were in, playing a gig and lots of shopping and eating with a good friend… what more could a girl want? I was also mid blog challenge for the book Music Success In Nine Weeks, which challenged some of my thoughts on music marketing.

September got me 2 ads and an album release in South Korea. My husband wants me to get a tour there… he loves the food! October I headed south of the border again, this time to Delaware for the DBMC where I made lots of new friends and got to sing lots too! We also started rehearsal for Voices Three, a big concert with Sue Pyper and Judy Wing to raise money for hospice.

November started with the Taxi Road Rally where I learned a ton and finally got to meet both of my lovely publishers who just as wonderful as I had suspected they would be. I also wrote my first serious article about music licensing after being asked so many times about how I got my music onto TV etc. It was a cathartic thing to write, reflecting on the madness of the intense single mindedness that is my life (until kids need feeding and taxiing).

So we’re at the end of December. I have a new album, Treehouse, that I am releasing on Jan 1st 2011 (tomorrow) along with a wonderful video that my talented 13 year old created for the title track. The songs will be on itunes and the vid on YouTube.

After an interesting year I have an interesting story for the end of the year that has nothing to do with music (although may affect my playing anything short term) …

Yesterday while skiing (my fave thing to do with my family) I was taken out by another skier getting some big air on a black run. After being taken down the mountain on a stretcher, had my clothes cut off me and sent to the hospital for xrays, I now have a fractured collar bone and lots of nice drugs to see me into 2011 (so please excuse any typos!).

There are some people I want thank for 2010 – pigFactory and Crucial, my wonderful publishers. Thanks for all the placements. Hans Dekline, the masterful masterer and Brian Hazard for asking me to write the licensing article. I love both of your fb comments and musings… always entertaining! To Jon Ostrow of Mic Control for his support of indie musicians and me! And to everyone who reads anything I write, listens to my songs, comments on my postings and generally makes me feel like I am on the right track. Every little word helps!

Here’s to a fantastic 2011. I hope it brings you great things!

About a Blog… Challenge Week 5

Blogging about blogging while doing a blog challenge feels a little like overkill but here goes.

Week 5 of Music Success In Nine Weeks talks about the importance of blogging (I shall be using that word a lot in this blog!).

I have to admit that I was an anti-blogger. Who wants to read others rambling thoughts? Well, it seem like a lot of people do, so I dipped my toe in the water a while a go and gave it a go. I like that the book says not to over-think blogging. It kind of gave me the permission for the blog not to be perfect and I am NOT a perfectionist (which is great for writing lots of songs but not so great when try to anchor a boat… long story).

So the blogging is going great I now have to concentrate on finding blogs that I want to read, which is time consuming. Can someone please make a list of the blogs that I would like to read and contribute to? No? oh ok… I guess I will get to it. I have found a few that I really like to read that are on my blog roll over on the right there. But 50! There is work to be done!

Another part of that chapter tells you never to self-promote on other people’s blog… hooray!!!

So I have contributed to some blogs, stuff that i find interesting and really think that I have something to say about or experience of (like writing LOTS of songs!). This lead to http://www.songwritingscene.com/ doing a feature on me for which I was very grateful.

So there we have it …a blog about a blog. I have to admit I kind of enjoy blogging now… as long as there are people who want to read what I have to say.

Blog on!

Songs for Q

Week 1 Day 2

So I got some lovely comments on facebook yesterday and one of them suggested I should write a song for Jian and, you know, when someone suggests I write a song… I … can’t… resist. It’s a sickness really.

So I wrote 2!

I started with an original song and got that recorded in the morning but while I was at the pool watching my kid have a lesson I suddenly realized that Jian’s name fit perfectly into the Delilah song. Yes, I know I have parodied that song before, but I couldn’t resist. By the time his swimming lesson was done, so was I!

So I rushed home and recorded that one (my poor kids are getting tired of eating pasta, but it’s quick and I’m on a mission. They’ll understand one day…. or be in therapy!)

So here are my songs as a pathetic bid to get on Q. Am I smacking of desperation yet? Or did that ship sail last week?

1. Q Delilah

2. Be On Q

…and if you can’t open those then here is an mp3 player with them.


Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones

so many sites, so little time…

I want to get my music onto as many sites as possible. I started with a few – Sonicbids, Taxi, Reverbnation – but then more and more sites started appearing and I want to upload to all. So I did – well not all but as many as I could.

But now I get all these messages from really nice people who are listening to my music and I realize that I am not putting as much effort into updating some of the sites as I am into others.

What to do, what to do…. got it!

My first thought was to concentrate on a different site each day and rotate that way… but there are more than 7 sites… so let’s add up all the sites my music is on

Myspace
YouTube
Facebook
Reverbnation
The Sixty One
Uvumi (new one that I am loving!)
Jango
Last fm
Grooveshark
Whotune
Taxi
Sonicbids
Broadjam
IMRadio

That is 14 so far, but I’m sure I’ve missed some out. But 14 is a handy number… update 2 a day. I can do that.

Any input into how you keep track of all the sites that are out there would be very welcome.

The listeners are so very lovely and I want to make sure that they are getting the best of me!

But it’s already lunchtime and there are still songs to upload… time to eat!