Puttin' One Foot in Front of the Other

"When you know who you truly are, there is an abiding alive sense of peace. You could call it joy because that's what joy is: vibrantly alive peace. It is the joy of knowing yourself as the very life essence before life takes on form. That is the joy of Being -- of being who you truly are."
~ Eckhart Tolle, 'Stillness Speaks'

Dec 2006: "I definitely want to get a new computer - a faster, bigger model with lots of RAM - to run the little orchestra programme I bought myself for Christmas."

I did a big graphic design project which paid me… strangely enough… exactly the amount of money I needed to buy a custom built audio computer. I suppose I should have put that money towards my debts... but I'd been wanting an audio computer for so long! So I got it.

Dec 2006: "I really want to take some of the songs I've written and develop them for a new age/ classical folk a la Enya kind of feel for a mystical, magical, fantasy-based electronic folk album with dreamy, ethereal vocals and great harmonies.. I have so many sketches and drafts of songs, and worktapes of songs, and ideas for songs!!"

I signed up for 'February is Album Writing Month' (FAWM) 2007. The challenge was to draft songs for an album in the month of February – 14 songs in 28 days. I wrote 15! Some songs, some instrumentals. In looking for a theme, I remembered I had already written 4 or 5 pieces inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien's 'The Lord of the Rings'. So I decided to focus on LOTR during FAWM.

Dec 2006: "I also have some instrumentals I've written I'd like to develop further."

With the addition of the orchestra program (and later, an upgrade to a more expanded model), I began producing instrumentals in earnest. With better sounds, I was able to create more acceptable tracks. The first instrumental I created with the new audio system & orchestra program was signed by an LA music library, which proved the investment was worthwhile!

Dec 2006: "I'd like to write a little more... I have a couple of ideas of novels I've been mulling over in my mind, and I also would like to write something on the subject of creativity & healing through the creative process - something very close to my heart."

I started the year aspiring to write 700 words a day on the novel I began during 'November is Novel Writing Month' (NaNoWriMo) in 2004. With the audio computer, my interest turned more to music and I wrote fiction less and less often. I developed some sketchy ideas for the non-fiction book about healing through the creative process, though.

Dec 2006: "I also would like to improve my skills on various instruments - guitar, harmonica, mandolin, pennywhistle."

Again, with the interest in working with midi, recording, working with virtual instruments, and engineering, I spent most of the year working on my composition and production skills. But playing with my trio has certainly strengthed my guitar playing skills, in particular, my ability to keep a steady rythm (at last, lol)!

Dec 2006: "I want to spend more time with my Dad, and my Mom, which isn't as easy as it sounds as they are long divorced and live in different places."

Got to see my Dad several times over the year, in particular, I stayed with him & my step-mom for 5 weeks over the summer, got to have Thanksgiving dinner with them when they were down in my area housesitting, and stayed with them for a week over Christmas, plus a few shorter visits. I have lunch with my mom pretty much every week, and we took our second annual trip to California in November… this year, LA & Santa Barbara.

Dec 2006: "I hope to continue the trend of doing more performing locally & perhaps also spreading that a little, to Seattle and Vancouver."

I definitely performed in Victoria, and on Savary Island. And LA.

Dec 2006: "I want to travel a little more... maybe Nashville, certainly California again... continue to learn all I can about this music industry, the business of songwriting, and indie artistry."

Made it to LA.

Dec 2006: I concluded by saying "I want to pay down debts, eat healthy, exercise daily, write prose more often, play with music a lot, be a good teacher, write a creatively inspired album."

I think I did a little of each of these things.

Dec 2007:

Well, I just bought another upgrade for my orchestra programme - I now literally do have all the bells and whistles. Next I need to upgrade my recording software and get a good percussion program. A lot of the feedback I get says I don't have a good low end, especially drums. At some point I also need to buy a decent vocal mic. I've been renting different ones to try them out. Think I've settled on a Shure SM7b.

I signed up in September 07 for vocal coaching from a very well respected local opera singer. This will continue next semester. In addition, I've scheduled twice-monthly mandolin lessons… and I also met someone who has a mandolin jam every week. I also want to see if I can take a class or get some private lessons in Irish flute & penny whistle. In prep for this I picked up a recorder & have been playing it a little – and a great friend just brought me a collection of penny whistles & recorders.

Financially, I've almost paid off one debt!!! ...and I plan to take the money I was remitting to them & put it towards the next highest interest creditor I have. I would love to be out of debt in a couple years but I don't know if that's possible. I've invested a lot of money in audio equipment & software… I'm hoping I will start to see more results from this in the next 2 to 4 years.

I definitely plan to do FAWM again this February, continuing with the same theme as last year… working towards producing an LOTR-inspired album. Love to be releasing it September 2008, but don't know if I can manage that.

I want to continue to collect notes & ideas for a non-fiction book about what I've learned about life and creativity and healing.

I want to make time to see my Dad often, and hang with my Mom on a weekly basis.

Definitely go to LA again in November 2008. Hopefully with Mom. Every year the music conference is better & better, and I'm meeting lots of really great people. Have plans to collaborate with 2 or 3 of the professional songwriters that I have met through Taxi's Road Rally.

I belong to 5 or 6 songwriting forums, and I've tried to let most of them slide & just pop in now and then… I love being on forums and giving/getting reviews, chatting about the music industry in general, etc… but they can be habit forming. I've cut down a lot. I'll have to continue to do that. And try to write short posts when I am there. Ha!

What else… let's see…. I want to pay down debts, eat healthy, exercise daily, write prose more often, play with music a lot, be a great teacher, be a good friend, finish a creatively inspired album.

Above all, I am grateful for the gift of music, family and friends in my life. Miracles do happen. Treasure every day, and count your blessings.

Best wishes for 2008!!

The Process of Growth as a Songwriter

Well, I was talking to a good friend of mine this week about songwriting, producing, and being a member of Taxi. I talked about how much I've learned in the past 3.5 years of Taxi membership. I talked about how I cringe when I listen to the CD I made 3 years ago, how far I've come in my understanding of where the bar is and how far away from it I was at the beginning of this journey.

We talked about "instantness" & "fast food" mentality of society nowadays and how people expect that someone is going to come along and lift them out of obscurity and make something happen. I say this with the honest knowledge that I thought like that too.

Way back, 17 years ago, when I started taking voice lessons, I sincerely thought to myself, 'give me six months, they'll be down on their knees begging me to do concerts with them.' Well 6 months went by and I felt totally lost. Six years went by and I got a small glimmer of an idea about what the issues might be. Nine years went by (of two singing lessons a week + coaching) and I finally woke up to the fact that the armor I had grown to protect me as a child was still deeply programmed into my psyche and was still holding me back... that as I much as I wanted to sing/be a singer, I was not opening up. I spent all my life up to then hiding from people, avoiding social situations, stammering when I talked, terrified. It took me twelve years of training & practicing & working to be able to stand in front of an audience and sing without fear. Even today sometimes I'll come home from singing somewhere, and I'll think 'hey, I wasn't scared!' - I'm still surprised and grateful.

I joined Taxi 3.5 years ago with the same thinking - 'wait til they hear these songs, I'll have a deal within 6 months'. Ha haa. I used to get sooo mad when I got a return, I'd have to put it in a drawer for a couple of days before I could read the critique with any kind of acceptance. Slowly, through getting the critiques, and reading/posting on songwriting boards... I started to see a glimmer of what the issues might be. I started to realize that my membership in Taxi was one way I could get an education in songwriting. I take classes on-line and go to seminars and the Taxi music conference, and read the books... but getting specific feedback on my songs/music from the people screening for the industry is very valuable.

I try to write or produce something every day, because it is very very clear to me... that I sing better this week because I sang last week... and so ergo, it makes sense that if I write this week, I will write better next week because of that experience, because my muscles are toned, because I'm open to it, because I can consistently, with practice & good feedback, improve any skill. Deals or no deals, gigs or no gigs, I write, I sing, I produce, because that's what makes me feel alive.

If, anywhere along my singing or songwriting journey, I had given up on myself... I would not be who I am today. And I was reminded of the process of 'becoming' when one of my peers showed me his list of credits at the Taxi Road Rally. He only had 3 or 4 credits for each of the first 3 or 4 years of his Taxi membership... and then it took off, doubled & tripled as the years rolled on. I remarked that, if he had given up anytime in those first 3 years, he wouldn't be the success he is today....

I guess I'm trying to say... I don't expect Taxi, or a record label, or a music publisher, or a singing teacher, to do my job for me. Success is never instant. It comes about because you've doggedly put one foot in front of the other in the face of all the odds, because it means something to you to make that journey. It's the journey that is your process to becoming who you dream of being, doing what you dream of doing.

When a student stands in my studio and sings a note they never could sing before in a way they never dreamed they could... after we both wipe our eyes, I say... "you could never have found that, had you not been willing to take the journey, do the work, and trust that it was leading you somewhere."

I think I can, I think I can....

Wow, it's been a whole lot of lows the past couple weeks. I came home from my California trip exhausted from travel and lack of sleep. I'd left the Road Rally in LA (music conference) inspired and full of useful information... but when I got home, the winter dullness hit me & I struggled to get back into my usual creative mode. I felt overwhelmed by my lack of skill in producing... I mean, I do produce some decent stuff but it's always hit and miss & I never know if I'm going to make the grade. Some people just seem to have ears that hear stuff I can't seem to hear.

It all kinda started when I saw that someone was looking for a capella Christmas Carols for film/tv placement. Well, I can do that, right? I'm good at leads & harmony. So I recorded a couple of carols & posted them on the board I frequent... and got some great feedback on what I needed to do... use reverb, EQ & compression more effectively, etc etc. because the vocals sounded 'dry'. I tried, but it's really hard to know what to do. So I felt pretty down that I couldn't "get" it. But my friends are so great, they encouraged me to stay determined. One even sent me screen shots of his DAW with the reverb settings and mp3 examples of my lead with the reverb on it.

I was determined to try to figure this out, I began to read all my back copies of Recording Magazine, and I did some research on the internet, plus one of my other friends told me about some reverb plug-ins that would be better than the one I have... and they are free, so I downloaded that, and printed off articles from the net and read through all the material.

This week, Sunday and Monday, I worked on a new piece - it's a cover of an old rock song, but I did it in a unique way, using vocals for percussion and layering lead & harmony vocal tracks. I worked with all the notes I had made about EQ & reverb & compression and more than once I felt like I was just making a mess of it, but I kept going anyway. When I was done, I asked my friends to listen to the final result -- and they were very impressed. They had a couple of suggestions to tweak it a little... but they loved my voice & my arrangement, and after I made a couple of small adjustments, they felt it was ready to pitch!!

So last Monday I was totally depressed and felt like I would never get it. This Monday I was able to produce something with my own hands, eyes, voice & ears that meets the grade. My grasp of these fundementals of production still feels slippery. But hopefully through experience I will grow in my skill levels over the next two or three years.