taxi music songwriting

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/

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!

From BC to LA with Taxi.

This year has been the year of conferences for me and last weekend was the biggest I have been to so far.

In case you don’t know – Taxi is an independent A&R company and as a member you can submit your songs to be screened and then possibly forwarded to publishers, producers, music supervisors and ad agencies.

As a member you also get to attend their annual Road Rally for FREE… that’s right… no money!

So, as a 3 year member I thought it was time I took advantage of this, so I booked my ticket and hotel and flew off to hot, sunny LA for 4 days. Leaving BC in 5 degrees and arriving in LA at 90 degrees in Uggs and a wool coat was not the best decision, but thankfully I never left the air conditioned hotel.

I knew that around 2000 people usually attend the Road Rally. The other conferences I had attended I had some friends or points of contact so this time I knew that I was going to be entering a sea of musicians where I knew no one. This was daunting but I just told myself to breathe and relax and smile.

I needn’t have worried. Within hours of arriving and wandering aimlessly I suddenly hear “Hey, it’s Helen Austin, we love your stuff”. I look around a guy is introducing himself to me as Michael Laskow… only the owner and founder of Taxi. How cool was that! Then a few minutes later, the same thing happened again and it was Craig and Carl, a couple of lovely Taxi staff members. I had forgotten that they have the advantage of knowing what I look like from my Taxi profile and it turns out that, thanks to Karen McKinnon, I look a lot like my photos! This served me well at the mentor lunches where the Taxi screeners easily remembered me and my music.

Hooray! I have new friends. It just snowballed from there, meeting all sorts of new people, but somehow I always end up hanging out with sound guys and techies… must be something to do with the husband techie thing!

Next, I sign up for the open mic and play When We Were Young and got a lovely response, but before I could leave the stage, Carl, the MC, grabbed me and started telling the audience about my high ratio of Taxi forwards and how they were doing a class because of that the next day called ‘How to get more Taxi forwards’ (I found out later that they played my music in the panel as examples). Now I am just grinning from ear to ear thinking “I love this rally’!

I get an early night because Friday is a big day. The week before I had gotten selected to be one of the 4 songwriters to play a tune to be ‘Pimped’ by ASCAP’s Ralph Murphy, a man with hundreds of hits under his belt!

Friday morning was the start of the panels and it was opened with a Lifetime Achievement Award for Michael Lloyd, a guy who has done it all for 6 decades. This guy looks like he’s still in his 20’s and has the most amazing amount generosity and humility. It was an inspiration to hear him speak about the business!

After attending many of the very informative panels it was time to get pimped!

I chose When We Were Young and arrogantly went in thinking that this is my best song, what could he possibly change. Well, quite a lot, as it turns out. I think it was hard for all 4 of us to be told that our ‘babies’ weren’t up to scratch but with a little change here and a big change there they would be good. I decided to do as I was told, not resist and went away to make the changes. We had until Sunday morning to rewrite and it was already late Friday afternoon.

I made some more friends and got to say hi to Ariel Hyatt and Carla Lynn Hall from CyberPR. What lovely ladies they are!! And very smart!

Friday evening I finally got to meet one of my publishers, Keatly Halderman, co founder of pigFactory publishing. We had a great dinner and very interesting talk about my career and they are very interested in having my whole catalogue of songs which left my head spinning for the rest of the evening.

Saturday was packed with more amazing panels and lots of chances to get my music played in front of some really big guns, but hundreds of musicians put their CDs into the drop boxes and it’s just luck if you get picked. I didn’t get picked, but felt I had already had plenty of luck so far so that was okay. Saturday evening I finally got to meet up with Hans DeKline, who does all my mastering. I made him stand in line for an hour so I could get a spot in the final open mic, which he very graciously did. We had a great time chatting and it’s always nice to finally put a face to a name and a facebook conversation!

Sunday morning it was time to present my new version of When We Were Young. While making the changes I kept thinking that it was all wrong and that those changes were taking away the heart and pathos of the song. But when I performed it, the new changes came to life and it was worth it just to see Ralph Murphy beaming when I had finished. We were both very happy with the results.

One of the Sunday panels had Tanvi Patel from Crucial Publishing. Crucial is my other publisher, which has gotten me placements but has thousands of songs and many artists, so I didn’t have the same personal relationship with them as I did with pigFactory. Well that’s changed. When I met Tanvi she was immediately enthusiastic about my music. We ended up having lunch and discussing my career and she hated the idea of losing any of my songs. I told her it would have been much easier if she had been stand-offish and dismissive, but she wasn’t. I asked her lots of hard questions and we had a lovely lunch. I can’t tell you how wanted I feel by both my publishers. I really am a lucky girl!

So what have I come away with from the Rally?

First of all, I have come away with a beautiful new Blue Blueberry microphone courtesy of West L.A. Music.

I have a whole heap of new friends both Taxi staff and Taxi members.

I have more knowledge than I can fit into my brain right now… which is why I have a computer.

But most of all I have come away knowing that I am doing exactly what I should be doing. Knowing that is everything.

Thank you Taxi for providing such a great service and for really caring about your members… and for the FREE Road Rally.

I will be back next year and recommend to anyone who wants to seriously further their music career go too!

And here’s a pic of Michael Laskow at the end of it all still smiling and having time for everyone! Michael, you put on a great event!

Song of the Week thoughts…

A year ago I started writing and producing a song a week. When I began I had no time frame in mind, I just wanted to make myself write and record more. I am not sure what week it was that made me think that it would be a year. Maybe week 12 when I thought “This is fun, I could do this for a while”, or week 23 when I was thinking a lot about mortality and what we leave behind. But I think it was week 37 at New year, when I thought “this has been an amazing experience but I think I will need a break soon”.

So week 52 is here and I have 51 songs (read here why 51) to show for it. Some are keepers, some I never want to hear again but I hope most are of reasonable quality.

So now I am going to chose 12 to remix and master to create a ‘Song of the Week’ CD. I have already been playing with the artwork and here’s what I have so far with a great pic from McKinnon Photography.

I have chosen most of them already but am open to changes and I want to get the CD released by June. I have planned  CD release on 25th Sept at Joe’s Garage in Courtenay, BC.

So what I have a learned?

I have learned that I am not the only person out there doing this. Here are the others I have found so far…

Developer Music
Jonathon Coulton

I have learned to get good ideas down quickly and to follow through and finish them, which has been useful when seeing music placement listings. ‘Happy’ came from a Taxi listing looking for songs with the word ‘Happy’ in them, due the following week. That song ended up in a Royal Caribbean web ad.

I have learned that if you put kids in front of the TV you can get recording done during the summer holidays.

I have learned that I have amazing family and friends who have supported me and haven’t appeared bored at all 😉

Mostly I learned that I love a deadline and I am sad to be finishing this project, but (as is the case with me, ask my husband) I have already moved onto my new thing, the thing being a looper, which should be in the store this week. I can’t wait how to master the Boss Loop Station RC – 50XL and gig with it!

Thank you to all who have stayed or joined my email list, who have listened via twitter, facebook etc and who have passed my music on to others. I appreciate it more than you will know.

So for now, that is it for ‘Song of the Week’ until the next time I get restless….

Taxi!

I joined Taxi just over a year ago. The news of my new membership was met with some disdain from other musicians and words like ‘rip-off’ and ‘wasted money’ were bandied around.

At the time a lot of my friends had decided to go back to school to be nurses/therapists/rocket scientists etc. My youngest was now in school full time and knew that this was time for career decisions – I had already had a 20 year career in comedy and it was time for a change. I just didn’t feel funny anymore, ask my friends!

What caught my attention about Taxi was an email I received from them with the story of an artist who spoke about how hard work and perseverance, along with listening to Taxi’s critiques had brought him success. This really struck a chord with me. I am from the school of “if you work really hard at it you get good at it”. And I wanted to get really good at writing songs.

So I looked at Taxi and decided that it was WAY cheaper than going back to school. I already knew that writing and singing were the two things that I was really passionate about, I got the ok from the bread-winner in the house and I went for it. 

So as soon as the kids left in the morning I worked solidly until I had to pick them up – I LOVED every minute of it. The first critiques I got were nice enough, but very fair and I had lots of work to do. I had started out wanting to write for others but what I quickly gleaned from the critiques was that it was my voice that stood out from the songs. (I discovered that writing Country was SO not my thing!)

The critiques gradually led me to write in a way that I had never written before, simple, quirky pop songs. And what was weird was that I was finally writing the music that I actually listen to. Now I was getting critiques I could be proud of. Here is a recent one from a Taxi forward.

“Helen – Put quite simply, I love your stuff. It sounds extremely distinctive, in part because of the charismatic vocal performances, but also because of the way in which you’ve chosen to illustrate the arrangements. In terms of melody, the songs are simply irresistible. After hearing just one verse and chorus it feels as if I’ve known the songs my entire life. I am more than pleased to forward both of these wonderful songs for this listing, and I look forward to hearing more of your material in the future.”

After gradually getting more and more forwards I have just signed 2 publishing agreements.

The money I have spent on Taxi has been invaluable because it has shown me that I know what I want to do and that I am capable of doing it.