songwriting

Silly/Serious turns Serious

Well… I made it to 15 weeks of my songwriting challenge of 2 songs a week and then could be neither silly nor serious anymore. Also, during that time I put more silly songs onto Soundcloud than serious ones and there is a good reason for that.

Mid songwriting challenge I started sending my serious ones (well the ones that weren’t ridiculously jolly) over to Paul Otten to produce and co -write unaware that it would turn into anything. I met Paul at a Taxi Road Rally a couple of years back and we became facebook friends along with a whole bunch of other really supportive Taxi people. Musicians need this kind of support group to keep going… and cosmopolitans 😉

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Myself with the 2 Pauls – Paul Otten is on the right, the other is Paul Cufflin, another very talented singer/songwriter.

Paul had produced a commercial song called Colour It for me previously and I really liked what he did. But when I sent him my serious songs it turned out that we shared a common love of an indie/folk/rock sound and our voices sounded really good together.

After sending the first song to my publisher they LOVED it but wanted a rewrite of the lyrics and so I entered into my first collaboration for many years. I wasn’t a fan of songwriting collaboration (I know,I know… collaboration is essential to songwriting… blah blah blah) so I was a little cautious. But it was really cool. The beauty of it is that if you get stuck you can ask the other person, but egos must be left at the door. You can’t fall in love with an idea/line/melody if the other person isn’t into it. The power of veto. It works in my marriage and seems to work in collaboration. And Paul is very easy to work with. We put our first song up on soundcloud which you can still listen to here.

So we tried another song which, again, everyone at my publishers office were gushing over so we figured we were onto something. Watching my 15 year old teenage daughter break out into a weird dance every time I played it in the car was also a reassuring sign 🙂

Six songs later and we are going to be releasing an EP under the project name of Big Little Lions. The name came about because he is really tall and I am… well… a little on the short side!

If you want to know more info as I get it you can either sign up to my email list by sending me an email at helen@helenaustin.com or by following me on twitter and Facebook.

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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

Desserts

Yesterday I did something I rarely do… I confessed to feeling stressed on Facebook. It was only when I got comments asking why, because my life looks great, that I realized that I keep the irritating times in my life to myself. At least in terms of social networking.

I have had an amazing 3 or 4 years, both musically and personally and I feel very blessed. I have a wonderful family, friends and career for which I am very grateful.

But this doesn’t mean that life doesn’t infuriate me sometimes. It doesn’t mean I don’t go a little crazy sometimes… I am an ‘artist’ after all 🙂 And now that my official job is a songwriter, there is a pressure to write really good songs. I know that the pressure comes from me, but with this new album I feel like I have stepped into a different league. One where people are writing hit songs all the time and getting ‘cuts’.

In the past I have just written for me and hoped that others would like it. Now I am writing for a publisher. Don’t get me wrong… I have a great publisher, but they are betting on me to come up with the goods and I want to make them proud but I have been feeling like I should be writing and sounding like other, more successful artists.

So last night when I put on Facebook “Stressssed” someone mentioned that it was just ‘desserts’ backwards. After drooling at the thought, something relaxed in me and a very loud thought came into my head.

It is better to be the best version of me than a poor imitation of someone else.

With that in mind, I took a day off writing and tomorrow I am going to do what I do best and write like me.

Timing

Most things in life need good timing, whether it be love, investing or, in my case at this point, music.

And it was time to get back to saying yes to things… I recently said yes to my publisher, pigFactory when asked to work exclusively with them, said yes to working with a producer on my new album and then yes to making a more serious album and moving away from my jolly songs.

When my publisher suggested getting a producer on my new album it was a no brainer. I was already feeling like I had reached my limit (or at least a plateau) on my producing skills and was thinking of maybe finding a producer, so it was great timing.

We looked at several producers who were all very skilled but one stood out and when I spoke to him I knew that he would be able to produce what I heard in my head… and then some. His name is Bleu and has a huge body of work both as a singer/songwriter and a producer. (click for discography) Luckily he had time available to start recording with me in early 2012.

Then it was time to start looking at songs. Everyone knows I have a lot of upbeat, jolly songs, but I had just started writing more serious stuff as a bit of a backlash to writing about sunshine and loveliness. My timing couldn’t have been better and it is time for a more grown-up album.

So I started writing (I never really stopped, but you know what I mean) and it was really great to be writing about deeper things. I obviously have a dark side 🙂

With everything in place I am off to LA in Feb to start recording this new album. I am so excited and am really looking forward to handing over some of the creative reigns to Bleu. After being a one stop shop for so long it’s really nice to have the company of a great producer and a fantastic publisher.

This isn’t the end of happy songs… I will also be putting out a kid’s album that will have no end of jolliness 🙂

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.

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!

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/