writing 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

LA – Day 3 – Hitting things.

After a debriefing and delicious breakfast with Keatly from my publishers, pigFactory, Bleu picked me up and we went over to the studio and we “f***ing did some f***ing s***”. This is a technical term for laying down some percussion tracks. And Joe Seiders did a sterling job!

There were weird tambourines, a strange cone with a spring on the end and some home-made shakers which, by the way, I am SO going to be making when I get home. My favourite was the Ramen shaker. I guess I will have to drink some beer to have the cans available to be used 🙂

So far I am really loving how the songs are sounding. So different to any production I could ever do. The first songs we did Bleu had already done work on so it took a while to get used to the new sound.

The main song we worked on today is the first that we built from the bottom. It is so interesting to see how he adds elements from seemingly simple parts and turn them into something very cool.

Now, not only do we have the pleasure of recording at Taylor Locke’s beautiful studio, but Taylor walked in at 7pm with a bottle of whiskey and 4 glasses… and you can’t say no can you?

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/

A Practising Songwriter

I read a post today that got me thinking about being a practising songwriter. Here’s the Mic Control link about how to write even when you don’t want to. There are some great tips!

I have been writing songs since I knew what a song was. It’s just something I love to do. Every heartbreak was captured in song as a teen and every aggregation and grievance was penned through my 20s and 30s. And now that I am lucky enough to write songs as my job I have stopped writing about myself and write about everything and anything.

3 years ago I decided that I wanted to make songwriting my career after finishing up a 20 year career as a musical stand-up comedian. As a comedian I was not prolific and relied on the huge turnover of audience in the UK to get away with doing the same songs for many years. I was very successful but not proud of my work, which really hit home after a bitter sweet review saying I was talented, but was trotting out the same material year after year. They were right about the latter and I was grateful for the former.

When I made the decision to become a full time songwriter and recording artist I knew I had to view writing a a job, not just something I loved to do as a hobby.

A lot of people ask me where I get my inspiration and the answer is that I don’t… not really. Sounds weird, I know. I am rarely inspired to write a song. I don’t get an idea in my head and think “I MUST write about that”. I just sit down and write… a lot. I play some chords and see what comes out of my mouth. Often I am surprised by what I am thinking about. When you write a lot, some of it is going to be bad but with time the ratio of good to bad errs on the good side… I hope!

People talk about doctors, lawyers, dentists etc as being ‘practising’. As songwriters, we should be practising too, all the time. We can’t expect a great song to just come to us or to write one great song a year. We need to treat it like a job and work really hard at it. You wouldn’t want to see a dentist who only had a few patients a year so you should’t get mad at yourself when the couple of songs you wrote in a year were not ‘great’. We need to practice songwriting and for every bad song we learn something that we can take to the next song.

Now that I write a lot, I am proud of what I produce and release to the public. The others are locked away in the ‘bad song’ file on my computer!