Recently I was a mentor at Toronto’s SongStudio 2017, a week-long intensive workshop for aspiring songwriters where I critiqued original material in 3 hour sessions, four days in a row. That's a lot of songs.
I’m still writing after all these years, but I spend a good amount of time giving back and helping hopefuls hone their songwriting chops.
At the beginning of my journey, it was me on the other side of the room, wide eyed and all ears, looking for guidance from experienced professionals. The SongStudio event brought back a memory of my very first song critique and how vulnerable I felt. Thing is, you have to put it out there, or you don’t get what you need.
I submitted one song “Never Anybody Else,” (along with a hard copy lyric sheet) to a ‘listening committee’ hoping to get accepted into an ASCAP workshop which was being moderated by Rupert Holmes (famous for “Escape (Piña Colada Song”)). Then I waited with baited breath for a reply.
When my song was chosen I jumped up and down like I had gotten into the college of my choice. In the back of my mind I knew this experience would change my life.
Holly Greene, who worked as a publisher for Jobete Music at the time, was the mentor who said something that resonated with me. (A song critiquer's opinion by the way, is not a fact—I still find that for anyone who loves one of my songs, someone else just doesn't get it at all.) She said she thought the chorus would be more interesting if there were more than just the one line repeating over and over. Fair enough. I didn’t argue, explain or make excuses. I went home, slept on it (always sleep on it!) and when I woke up her suggestion felt right. I came up with another line.
A year later, producer George Tobin, to whom I sent the song (I had his contact information from a monthly Who’s Looking list), called to say he wanted to record it (God bless him—wait until you hear it), with Tiffany (remember her?) But foolish me would not relinquish my publishing so the deal went south. The song remains unrecorded. But that’s another blog called “I Can Sleep at Night But I’m Broke.”
The workshop did change my life. Being taken seriously gave me confidence and confirmed what I suspected: I had something. I wasn't sure what it was but it wasn't my imagination.
Back to the future…one of the participants at the SongStudio asked what it would take for her to get in a room with me. She was adorbs. Still, I explained that we all have to work with writers of our own level and one day, something might happen out of the blue…an A&R might give her a favorable recommendation (like Jay Landers did for me with Albert Hammond), or a hit writer might love a song she wrote and voila, she’ll get her session with a more experienced songsmith and she’ll be…”writing up."
Another way to get in that room is to have an idea that a mentor recognizes hasn’t been executed effectively. For instance, “Peter” handed out a lyric for his song, “Unlovable.” Before he even started playing it I thought to myself, this better have tempo and humor or else it's going to be a real downer. Indeed it did not have tempo. I knew if I were to take that tune on, I could make it work. I knew what it needed. Peter and I re-wrote it over a beer. All of a sudden the "Unlovable" guy in the song was...lovable! Peter got his opportunity to write up. (Helloooo, Adele, I have an idea!)
I know what you’re thinking and no, you can’t send me material. I receive so much and I've had to establish boundaries or I would never take my ear buds out of my ears!
If you want a professional song critique from someone who will make you a better songwriter, contact Suzan Koc. She’s a song whisperer on steroids. I promise you won't regret it.
Anyway, get ready to hear the song of mine that Holly critiqued so long ago. I almost chickened out. It's HORRIBLE. (Poor Holly must have bent over backwards trying to find something nice to say about it.) I sound ridiculous. Somewhere along the line it got sped up. We didn’t have Pro Tools or Logic or AutoTune. But what I did have a real live (and very young) broken heart because of a paranoid boyfriend who wouldn’t believe I didn’t cheat on him. Idiot.
If it makes you laugh, so be it. Laughing is good. I don’t mind being responsible for laughter. And…like I said, it’s all about putting yourself out there, right? When it comes to art, it’s always about that. Shut up already, Shelly. Here we go. (Beware of modulation.)
Thanks for reading! Did I mention that Confessions of a Serial Songwriter is now an audio book, narrated by me? And that if you sign up for Audible you get your first book for free? It's all true...and also...feel free to Sign up for this Blog! Please give a like to my Serial Songwriter Facebook Page, Follow me on Twitter and Instagram. Check out my whole website. I'm so needy.