Ideas

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.

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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.

To Loop Or Not To Loop?

Hello… I need your help. And please be honest! 🙂

As some of you know, I have a looper – a Boss Loop Station RC50 for the more tech-minded of you out there.

I do love my looper but I am also scared of it… a little. It’s like learning a whole new instrument and then some. However, I do feel the need to master it!

My quandary is, do I use it at important gigs… like the showcase I am about to do at Pacific Contact or when I go the Knoxville for We R Indie, or NY? Does it add or take away from the performance?

I am really interested to hear from others that use a looper and from those who have an opinion my own looping abilities. When I play without it I can just relax and sing. But the looper does add texture and variety, however, is it too much of a distraction?

I have put together a looper video from a concert I did last night with the lovely Hayley Sales. I need to know, does it add enough to put the extra work in to really make it work?

The video is at this LINK.

Paper or Plastic?

I was talking to someone about writing the other day and they just assumed that all writing these days was done on computers and other devices. She was surprised to hear that all my writing is done by hand and it made me wonder how other songwriters write.

Everything I write is on the back of discarded letter sized paper. The words, the music, everything. I only type them up on the computer when I really have to! (I’m a 2 finger typist)

The reason I handwrite everything is because if I delete something, it is never really deleted and I may come back to it later. If I were to do that on a computer it would be gone forever.

So the question is… do you write by hand or keyboard?

My friend suggested I decoupage my walls with my writings… only if I come back as Martha Stewart in a different life! Great idea though!

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!! 🙂

Reverbnation Widget Revelation

I signed up on Reverbnation ages ago and uploaded lots of music, acquired new fans, added old ones and then thought “now what?”. Then I just let it sit there and received my weekly stats and watched my popularity remain static in a declining wort of way.

I knew that Reverbnation was a useful thing but I knew I hadn’t worked out how to use it properly yet. I saw so many tweets about how great it was – although I am not a fan of automatically getting a website to tweet something generic like “Check out ……… on ……….”, which I see a lot of (although I think that is more a misunderstanding of how to make use of site, rather than problem with the site itself).

After a lot of thought and a few emails to the support people, I finally figured out how to get people to listen to me using Reverbnation while at the same time coming to my website, which is ultimately what I want.

I decided to use the customizable, embedable widget to play all my albums on my site. And I have to say they have the best music widgets. The choice of themes is tasteful but the best thing is that you can truly customize the size, which is great for me as I have some full length albums and a lot of EPS.

The reason for this blog is that after finally figuring how to use such a well thought of website, I got to meet the founder, Lou Plaia, this evening at the Dewey Beach Music Conference. I spoke to him about my issues and revelation and had a good conversation about the misconception of sites like Reverbnation. They are not fan sites but they really do serve a great purpose if you dig deep enough to make it work for you.

I am so happy with my new widgets and I hope that people visiting my site now find it easier to listen to my music.

www.helenaustin.com/music.html

I am going to try their gig widget next. So many widgets, so little time…

NEW Website is done!

So, after not too much bugging the husband… I have a new website and I love it!

www.helenaustin.com

Between the lovely photos (McKinnon Photography) and my very clever husband, I have a colourful website where the pics re size with the window. It is such a nice way to show off Karen’s skills and my ability to look broody…

I hope I have made it easier to listen/buy/look around etc and hope there aren’t any errors, although that is doubtful after my typo fiasco!

I hope you like it and thanks again Karen!