2009 Big, fun, scary

Happy Holidays from my family to yours!! LOL.

I was just asked.... "So what do you want to do next year, in 2009? Think hard, and make it good! Some BIG goals, some FUN goals, and some downright SCARY goals"

- compose/rewrite, record, produce, master, & do artwork for an album to be released in Sept 2009
- compose & produce a minimum of 52 broadcast quality tracks for film/tv
- sign more tracks with music publishers/libraries
- get my paperwork/house totally organized
- successfully do 'FAWM' 2009
- successfully do '50 songs in 90 days' 2009
- pay off two debts
- learn to play the flute again
- get a ukelele & have fun with it
- be awake & aware and take joy in every day
- share what I've learned along the way

Wishing you a fantastic and creative 2009!!!

on writer's block

Phillip Pullman's thoughts on writer's block:

"I don't believe in it. All writing is difficult. The most you can hope for is a day when it goes reasonably easily. Plumbers don't get plumber's block, and doctors don't get doctor's block; why should writers be the only profession that gives a special name to the difficulty of working, and then expects sympathy for it?" http://www.philip-pullman.com/

IMO the antidote to writer's block is... to write.

I think I should write something pretty much every day, even if it’s just a line or a verse or a scrap of melody. I do a lot of writing challenges because they push me to create (50 songs in 90 days, February is Album Writing Month, for example). Not that everything you write every day will be gold, but me writing every day is part of the practice of being a writer. I also read literature & books & newspapers & magazines, watch movies & television because… as songwriters, we are story tellers, therefore we need to feed the storyteller within us with ideas.

what's your plan?

My 5 year business plan consists of:

- acquiring the tools to create & produce broadcast quality music;

- learning how to use those tools effectively

- work consistently to grow my knowledge of composition;

- create 200 well-composed, broadcast quality instrumental cues over a two year period, and get them signed;

- understand that (for example), the solicited submission of today is the deal of tomorrow... and is the income of the day after that

- continue to pay it forward by sharing what I've learned with others on the path.

My mission statement might be something along the lines of: "To live the most creative life I can, to be 'in' the music, to figure out what I need to have & do do in order to achieve my goals & then get it, learn it and achieve it. To rise above my programming and become more than I ever dreamed I could be. To share my journey with good friends."


December morning

I have always been inspired by, and drawn to, the ocean and the earth.

I find inspiration in great stories

I keep thinking about how much I want create music inspired by the stories I've known and loved since I was a child.

I've been working on becoming a decent producer over the last 3 years or so, I must be getting somewhere because I have some signed deals now with music libraries and publishers who will hopefully place the signed tracks in film/tv. I've also been working on understanding how film scoring works.... I've written a few cues, and even tried my hand at composing for a short film.

What this means is that my skills as a composer and producer have hopefully been growing to the point where I can take my sketches of music inspired by Tolkien, Morte D'Arthur, Robin Hood, etc.... and develop them into albums. Whether one knows the story or not, the music will speak. It will be restful, playful, intense & dramatic, melancholy, scary... and everything in between. That's my dream, anyway. A dream I wake up to every day.

Red Knight of Brittany

you WERE born with "it"

I was just saying to a student yesterday... I have this friend who is in awe of all these great writers, and is fond of saying things like, "I'll never write like Herman Hesse, or Sylvia Plath. They were so great."

And I say, "Yes, they are in your eyes now. But when they were sitting down, writing, they weren't trying to be 'great', or trying to be a 'genius'. They were simply doing what they were driven to do. And I'll bet you they thought what they were doing was crap, and they struggled with doubts just as much as we do."

History is full of a legion of writers and artists, etc., who were unappreciated in the time they lived, but were revered afterwards. In our own lifetime, we have amazing writers whose novels were turned down countless times before finally being published and then topping the bestsellers list.

I'm a firm disbeliever in the old adage that you 'have to be born with it.' My challenge to anyone who says that is... how do you know if you are born with it, if you don't do the work to find out? And you do that work because it lights you up inside to do that thing. Your passion becomes your motivation to work, and to practice, and to become. Not so you can be seen by the external world to be 'great' or a 'genius', but because you can't imagine your life without that thing you do that makes you feel alive. And you want to get good at it, and through that process of growth & healing you become more than you ever thought possible for you.

As you walk your path, struggling with your own doubts and trying to learn what you need to know... you become compassionate about the people who are around you, in front of you, behind you, on the same path... because you realize there is no difference between you and them. Yet each of us is special and unique, and has the potential to achieve almost anything we dream of doing. As we are mentored by our more experienced friends, we pass along our knowledge to those less experienced, and it becomes a chain of support & understanding from our extended family of creative souls. No one is an island.

As long as we are born & remain relatively healthy, and have the capacity to listen and learn, then anything is possible. If we are willing to do the work.

I see this in my own studio all the time. I work with singers who cannot sing. They are 'tonedeaf'. They cannot sing on key. Even if you offered them a million bucks, they couldn't do it. You'd say, very adamantly, they are not born with it at all, that they should give up and go do something else. Come back a year or two later. And you'd say... 'this can't be the same person.' You'd be amazed at the stunning voice coming from that supposedly tonedeaf person who couldn't sing on key to save their life.

As long as you are born with the capacity to learn and perservere, have compassion for yourself & others, and grow your conscious awareness so you can balance strength with humility, you have "it".

I'm back!

16Nov08: Home from 2-week trip to California, which included a music conference. Next up: catch up with my vocal students, get my to-do list together, and read the books on music marketing I picked up (by Bob Baker & Ariel Hyatt). Have lots of ideas for the Tolkien-inspired album I plan to release Sep 09... and many music projects to get working on too for potential film/tv opportunities. I missed my computer, guitar, and studio! Thanks for all the notes of encouragement and support :)


PS - have to figure out how to upload all my photos from the new digital camera to the computer. I'll be posting them on Ficker as soon as I have it organized!

PSS - I will also be posting my notes from the music conference panels & classes I attended in the next few days.

It Takes as Long as It Takes

You know, many times over the past 5 years of songwriting, I asked myself why I was even bothering to keep trying... after yet another rejection, needs work, no thanks, no way. But I wasn't willing to give up on myself. Maybe I needed to learn more about composing and producing, maybe I needed to get better tools & learn how to use them effectively... but I firmly believed I had the seed of something good that just needed to be supported by learning, listening, and perserverance.

I often tell my students... think of your voice (or songwriting, or composing/producing), like a seed you've planted. You water it, you weed it, you make sure it has sun, and protect it from the frost... and it begins to grow. But you can't dictate to it when it will flower.

Tend your musical garden with patience.


From Rejection to Signed Deal

May 2007. A listing comes out on Taxi.com (a company that lists opportunities for artists, song pitches & film/tv, only members may submit) for Armenian songs/instrumentals for a cop show. They want it to sound very contemporary, but distinctly Armenian. Like usual, I say “what the heck”, go listen to some Armenian music… and start cooking up a track. I google Armenian history, and find out that Anahit is the goddess of fertility and birth (analog to Aphrodite), beauty and water in Armenian mythology.

First draft – Anahit’s Throne http://vikkiflawith.com/audio/VIKKI_FLAWITH-1_Anahits_Thro.m3u

May 2007 (con’t). Keep working on the track to try to get it into a better shape. I’ve only had my new audio computer for 2 or 3 months. I bought it to drive EWQLSO Silver (an orchestra program). The rest of my plug-ins are mostly free downloads. I don’t realize how much those less-than-stellar sounds are holding me back. I post the track for feedback from my peers on my favourite songwriting forum. A few suggestions are made, including that it should be shortened.

June 8/2007. Having made the suggested edits, I submit the track to the Armenian songs/instrumentals listing. It is rejected. This particular opp was a 'no critique' listing, so I get no feedback.

July 11/2007. Try submitting Anahit’s Dance to a world/ethnic listing. It is rejected. This particular opp was a 'no critique' listing, so I get no feedback.

Sep 11/2007. Try submitting Anahit’s Dance to an Electronica instrumentals listing. “All styles, variations, and sub-genres of Electronica are OK,” it says. I figure I’m in with a chance, and if nothing else, I'll get a critique. The track is returned. The screener says I’m on target for the listing (yeah!), but marks me low in production & engineering :(

Third draft - Anahit's Dance: http://vikkiflawith.com/audio/VIKKI_FLAWITH-3_Anahits_Danc.m3u

“The eastern flavored parts and instrumentation are layered well to form a colorful mix of cultures in this piece. The rhythmic elements and various small but interesting sounds peppered across this piece meld into an engaging soundscape. The clarinet patch does sound a tad synthetic and doesn't quite fit with the style and quality of the other parts, to my ears. The eastern influences and sounds are cool, but the clarinet sticks out a little as being a touch unrealistic or maybe just not sitting in the mix. The drum tracks could be brought up in level and made more solid in general, with some better sounds and more well balanced mixing in general.”

Feb 8/2008. Okay, I’m looking through my files, do I have any World style tracks for a new listing? I listen to Anahit’s Dance, read the critique from last time, work on the percussion. I now have the EWQLSO Gold Bundle with more articulations - more good quality Virtual Instrumentation. I revise, rework, and submit. [“Style-wise, they are open to any style that falls under "World Music." They don't want tracks that sound like they were obviously MIDI generated - authenticity and great performances are the keys. Both instrumentals with lead melody lines and basic backing tracks that serve as "soundbeds" are OK - they want both.”]

This time, the screener says I’m on target for the listing (yeah!), that it’s a “good World music style.” But I'm “lacking the 'authenticity and great performances' requested. You might try playing some of the parts on real instruments, as opposed to synth/ sample/ sequences. The percussion samples are OK, though they would be more effective if they were countered by live musicians.” Rejected. :(

Spring 2008. I finally manage to get another piece of software that’s been on my wish list for awhile – Stylus RMX. As I play with it and try to learn how it works and what sounds are available, etc… I fool around with Anahit’s Dance, reworking it as the screeners suggested. I’ve got good sounds now, I have to learn how to use them effectively so that they not only sound authentic, but ‘play’ authentic. I'm finding out more about controllers and velocities and things like that.

July 9/2008. I’m on a push to submit as many good tracks as possible to opportunities before I go away for a month. I see a listing for “Quirky and Fun Instrumentals in a variety of styles.” As I go through my catalogue to see what I might have, I play my updated version of Anahit’s Dance. It occurs to me that, while it might have World elements and Electronica elements… it could be considered to be quirky, too. I submit it.

When I get home from summer holidays, I find that Anahit’s Dance has been forwarded, along with 7 other tracks for this & other listings! The screener says “cool line with character... loop is fun... the arrangement moves along and easy to follow...; thanks for sending in the music. The track opens with a solid line that creates an intense motif. the vibe is quirky with the sorted shapes and colors throughout - nice job. The breakdown is wild-very cool. The call and response is very affective, creating the right musical dialogue easy for the ears to follow- a solid way to start your presentation. You've created the right impact going into the other tracks-that's the way to do it! keep writing and good luck!” My tracks have been forwarded to a prominent East Coast Music Library/Publisher for further consideration.

Fifth & Final – Anahit’s Dance http://vikkiflawith.com/audio/VIKKI_FLAWITH-4_Anahits_Danc.m3u

Oct 2008. After this process of rewriting, reworking and remixing, and finally being forwarded, I’m feeling secure that this track has finally made the grade. When I see an opp to submit directly to a music library, I submit 3 quirky/comedy tracks – including Anahit’s Dance - for consideration. The next afternoon… I receive an email and a contract from that library, they are interested in the tracks I submitted and are also interested in hearing more. I sign the contract and return it to them and deliver the tracks to them in the format requested.

Then I go back to work. More tracks to write, more opportunities to target, more to learn :)

Don't Do's for Songwriting

My "Don't Do" List for Success in Songwriting, learned by experience...

- If you want to be successful, don't presume you have nothing to learn & do not ignore the feedback of the screeners / gatekeepers.

- If you want to learn what makes the grade, don't be emotionally attached to your work, be willing to listen & re-write, or listen & carry forward into your next piece.

- Don't send in a song submission without reading the details of what they want closely, listening to the a la's, reading the lyrics of the a la's, listening to the production elements of the a la's.

- Don't write lyrics that don't answer the basic questions of songwriting. Do read books like Jason Blume's "6 Steps to Songwriting Success" & Pat Pattison's "Writing Better Lyrics".

- Don't write lyrics without good form - contrast between sections, strong hook, interesting rhyme scheme, that tells a unique story in a universally relatable way, singable lyrics that are meant to be understood when sung.

- Don't write melodies without good form - contrast between sections, strong hook, catchy chorus. Don't write too many ballads - there are fewer calls for them.

- Don't ignore words like "contemporary" or "classic" or "modern", research them and find out what they mean

- Don't send in badly recorded worktapes of songs, even for song pitches. Do submit clean recordings.

- Don't sing your own demos unless you can sing, and can sing in the style of the a la's. On any song pitch, the vocals sell the song. Use the best 'a la' singer you can find.

- Don't send in a male vocal for a female song pitch & vice versea.

- Don't sent in any demo that has any out of tune instrument.

- Don't use excessive reverb on vocals.

- Don't assume you have to have full production on a demo, but do presume that you need to have the best vocal and the best playing of piano or guitar.

- Don't pay for full production on a song without professional evaluation (Taxi custom critique, NSAI, John Braheny, Jason Blume, Pete & Pat Luboff, etc), it's a waste of money.

- Don't use out of date or cheap plug-ins.

- Don't copy & paste one sequence of midi notes to another section. Play it again, so it's human.

- Don't ignore controllers when sequencing a piece. Edit velocities.

- Don't make an instrument play something with midi that it wouldn't play if played by a real person.

- Don't use drum loops unless you edit them so they sound like they are live / played by a real person.

- Don't not go to music conferences.

- Don't assume the screener, or the industry, is the one holding you back from success. They set the standard, because their jobs are on the line. They need your music and they want you to be successful. Give them every opportunity to give you a deal.

- Don't presume that attitude doesn't count. Be professional in all your dealings with the industry, even when your music is being rejected. It happens to the best of us.

- Don't give up. Keep an open mind, be willing to learn, take your lumps. Other people are successful, they had to go through the same learning process as you in order to be successful.

- Don't presume this list is exhaustive :)

Commercial vs Creative

Let’s face it, it takes a lot of courage to dig deep and find out who you are, underneath all the programming and external forces that we integrate over our lifetimes. It’s easier to play the roles the world has prescribed for us, and be the meek girl who works overtime or the easy-going guy who helps everyone move cause he owns a truck or the cool chick who’s always the life of the party, or the fab guy who’ll make his first million soon.

Our society seems to worship the external and the instant. All around us there exists a profound lack of appreciation for the process of becoming. All around us emphasis on how we look, what we do, what we are seen to be, what we where, what we say in our glib way… but little is said about the internal life of dealing with our own consciousness, the spirit within each of us, our creative voice, our individual and unique inspiration.

It took me years and years of work and healing to be able to hear my own voice. I still struggle sometimes to find it in the cacophony of sound around me, in the harsh morphings of the negative thinkers who permeate the world with their bad vibes. But even though I’ve found my voice and released it and hopefully support it in its blossoming, I am still aware that I have much to learn about refining it.

Therefore I see no contradiction if I, on the one hand, aspire to be fully authentic and organic and real while, on the other hand, also wish to be more skilled, more refined, do things better than I have before. In fact I consider it a challenge to be myself to also rise above myself at the same time, lol. Otherwise I will think I have arrived. Otherwise I will stagnate. Otherwise, life would be boring.

If one says, ‘I cannot be creative if given specific guidelines to follow, and following those guidelines is a selling out of personal creativity,’ then one is really saying that we must ignore craft and embrace organic inspiration at all cost. In that case, let us cease teaching our children to read & write, all music lessons should stop, all universities should close, and all apprentices should leave their masters.

If one has that point of view, then one should believe that teaching Leonardo di Vinci how to mix colours was a crime against his individual creativity and the fact that he learned how to mix colours, to sketch perspective, to choose media & effective tools was a ‘selling out’ on his part, and therefore his work became as homogenized as all the other work done with the same skills and tools. Bland.

Michelangelo was asked to paint the Sistine Chapel. Well, really – what a limit to his ability to create a work that expresses his artistry, right?

Really? If someone asks me to write a song ‘a la’ someone… how does that limit me as an artist? It’s simply providing the canvas. I still choose the colours, the shapes, the shadows, the light, the brushes, the expression; the instruments, the melody, the words, the arrangement.

I prefer to get excited by the idea that I can paint my own masterpiece within the frame provided. I know my creativity is up to the task. In fact, I think the fact that I can express myself within the ‘confines’ of an ‘a la’ makes the ‘me’ in me stronger and more resilient ~

rising to the challenge

Been feeling some frustration the last couple of days, trying to write this film score into shape. I know this place well. It's a place I get to often with writing, painting, or composing... where it feels like what I have done is going nowhere, isn't jelling, isn't good enough. The mad editor inside starts running around screaming 'this isn't going to work and you are making a fool out of yourself!!!'

I've been thinking about it a lot today, and I know that part of this place is old programming, from the years I thought I was a worthless human being, hopeless at everything and there was no point in trying.

The other part is the creative process at work. We call it 'writer's block', reaching a dead end. I talk to my students about this place too... I tell them... you will go along for awhile, learning, and feeling the changes in you as you learn... and then you will plateau... and it's that place that separates the determined from the not. If you stay on the path, if you fill in the form, if you let yourself be in the same place day after day... if you keep going, something will shift, and you will make it through.

A good example is a runner. Every time they run, they run a 5 min mile. They can't seem to go any faster or cut any time. But they keep running, over and over. And one day, after many more runs... suddenly they realise they've run a 4.5 min mile. And the key is... the only way they would have got there, was to do all the runs before.

So I sit here, listening to yet another playback of the same section of the same score... and I tell myself to trust my inspiration to lead me. Trust my ear to hear what is needed. Trust my heart to know what needs to be expressed, and trust my instincts to choose the instruments to express it.

I saw one of my friends today and she asked how I was doing on the 'write 1,000 songs in 2 days challenge' ha ha. Since she asked, I'm on song #30 of the 50 songs in 90 days challenge. She said, 'I don't know how you do it, I write a song a year.' And I thought about that, and my answer is... I do it by... allowing myself to write whatever comes to mind, however silly, or bad, or convoluted or misshapen. And I write every day. That's the secret. Write every day. Not a hit song, not an award winning musical... just simply write something every day.

The experience of writing, like the runner running, will make a difference to your skill level and ability in the future. Pushing through the malaise & doubt is a kind of 'honing' of your creativity. Without doubt, there is no struggle. Without struggle, there is no change.

To me, rising to the challenge isn't that moment of stardom when Rocky won the big fight... it's every morning when he got up, drank raw eggs, and ran through the city. Sweat. Tears. Sweat again. That's the foundation of success.


on imperfection

If someone asked me the secret to my success, I'd say.... being absolutely willing to be not very good at all... on the road to being very good indeed.

If we can be where we are, assess where we are, and see where we want to go... then there is a strength in being 'not so good'. If we are passionate about learning what we need to learn & getting what we need to get, then we will walk the path from 'not so good' to 'better'. Along with that is the understanding that even when we reach our Nirvana of 'pretty good at this', we are still going to stumble and fall, write bad songs, paint poor pictures. But good or bad, they are a necessary part of our experience and growth. Enjoying the journey means accepting the little detours you make along the way :)

I've changed. I think.

I've noticed something new in my behavior. I'm not sure if I like it or not. It feels so different. I've become aware that I speak less, but more strongly. I express opinions. I speak up. I don't dilly-dally with long explanations anymore.

Let me put the above statement in context.

Not so many years ago, I was so nervous around people I stammered all the time. I'd go into the coffee room at work and someone would ask how my weekend had been, and I'd say, 'p-p-p-p-pret-t-ty g-g-gud, h-h-h you?' My eyes would kinda roll up to the ceiling at the same time I was 'p-p-p-ing', and I would feel like a total idiot.

I would hesitantly and softly express my thoughts on something, and if the person I was talking to disagreed, I would immediately find some way to wiggle out of what I said and come around to agreeing with them.

Besides the stammer, I'd also punctuate my sentences with soft giggles. "Hi, heh heh, I'm Vikki, heh heh, nice d-d-day, heh heh".

So now, today, when I watch myself jump into a discussion and say "I disagree. The fact is that..." a part of me raises its eyebrows in surprise.

However, I do still get into trouble. If several people have different opinions on what should be done, I try to find the common ground between them and make suggestions that would resolve the majority of concerns. Always a peacemaker. While this might be very diplomatic, I often find myself ending up holding the bag for actually doing the 'common ground' thing. At which point, I say, 'heh heh, w-well, that's not, heh heh, what I had in m-m-mind."

alive & kicking

Played a two-hour gig today (Tuesday) with my trio. We also played a two-hour gig on Sunday. I find my hands, and voice are a little tired. It was cool because the place has a full sound system, and today they even had the monitors set up, so my usually-play-acoustic group got a chance to hear themselves amplified. It's a bit scarey cause you know everyone's going to hear your mistakes... but it's fun because you can really hear how you blend with each other.

I can't type a lot now - my carpel tunnel is acting up. Have 3 collaborations to work on this week, and several tracks to work on for film/tv. And, the "50 songs in 90 days" challenge starts Friday. Fun!

song/writing challenges

50/90 - I did 50 songs in 90 days in 2006 and 2007. Both times I think I wrote maybe a max of 10 songs. However, I thought taking part in it was good as it motivated me to write and I definitely wrote songs I wouldn't have written if I hadn't done 50/90. Which is the whole point, really. They can be lyrics, instrumentals, or complete songs. They can be sketches. They don't have to have all the bells and whistles.

How do you do a song challenge? You grab ideas and write them down. Anything. You wake up everyday with a notebook at your side, write down your dreams. You tinker with words and with melodies.

NaNoWriMo - I signed up for NaNo in 2004, 2006, 2007... have yet to write 50,000 combined. But it prompts me to keep writing and keep trying

FAWM - My first FAWM (write 14 songs in 28 days) was in 2007 and I found it very difficult. I managed to write 8 songs and then I didn't write anything for 3 or 4 days, I was absolutely certain there was nothing left in there to create another song. Then I got three more. Then I knew I was done. But I managed to write 4 more before the end of the month and ended with 15. This year, 2008, I wrote 25 pieces (some instrumental, some lyric, some complete songs).

All these challenges have helped me get to the point where I work on music everyday. Yesterday, for example, I finished the rewrite of a lyric for a song that's about to be demo'd. Sent it off to Pat Luboff for review, she thinks it's great. I began to work on tweaking the music for it. I also started a new electronica piece. I also started to rework an orchestral instrumental. And yes, I worked as well. So you see, for me, the challenges have helped grow my creative muscle to the point that I write almost every day anyway. I try not to let the sun go down without at least starting something, or work on a sketch that I started the day before, etc etc.

50 songs in 90 days challenge

"This is a group whose purpose is to challenge members to write 50 songs in 90 days. Between July 4 and October 1 of any year, in the company of others, you can engage in some harmless songwriting mayhem. The prize is the pride in writing songs that may never have been written otherwise."

Info - http://5090.fawm.org/about/help.php

change = struggle

I was thinking today about change. Not change that happens from external events over which we have no control. But change that occurs because we actively choose it.

Change is the result of the inspiration from within to move forward from where we are. It often requires a significant amount of work to achieve. And besides doing the leg work – of perhaps, learning a new skill, achieving a new level of knowledge, or growing into a new habit – the biggest struggle of all may come from within, from that part of us that has a vested interest in us staying the same. You can call this the “ego”, which feeds on negative energy, which takes great glee in pointing out our failures and our laziness and our tripping ups and our falling downs.

The “ego” wants us to stay the same so it can yell at us about our stuckness. The “ego” wants us to stay the same so it has evidence that we are useless, lazy, too old, too dumb, too ‘fill in the blank’. The “ego” knows that if we continue to work towards our goals, and continue to work to be more than we are, that its existence is threatened. Therefore, when we feel the deepest struggle (‘this is too hard’), the deepest frustration (I’m getting nowhere’), the deepest sadness (‘who am I kidding anyway’) and reluctance (‘what’s the point’)… that is when a major shift in consciousness is about to take place.

I know this because I have seen it time and time again in my own creative process. I know this because in the face of utter despair at ever becoming who I dreamed of being, in the profound angst of despondency, I would just keep putting one foot in front of the other. I’d cry, I’d wail, and ask “what’s the point,” and then I’d get up from the couch and do what needed to be done, my face still wet with salty tears.

I think one of the major issues with this kind of thing is that we don’t know, if we put in the effort, if we will achieve anything at all. We want someone to tell us that yes, if we do the work, we will get ‘there’. But I think the truth is that no one can really tell you that. Even the experts can’t tell you if you have ‘what it takes’ to ‘fill in the blank’. They can’t because that judgment denies process. How can you tell, from looking at a stem growing from a bulb, whether it will flower?

If you come to me today for a first voice lesson, and can’t sing on key to save your life, shall I then pronounce my judgment, and Simon Cowell-like, tell you there is no hope, and that you should study accounting? Or shall I say, ‘thanks for sharing where you are. Now, let’s work on breathing.’ Shall I say, “I, as mentor, hear you as you are in this moment. I, as mentor, see a path for you to experience things differently, if you will try this, and that, and also this.” Shall I say, “this is beginning of your singing path. Allow it to be what it is, without judgment. It is what is. Trust that if you do this work, you will move forward. You will find your voice and release it.” Further, I might add, “and when your voice is released, and truly present in the moment with you, it will be beautiful.”

I can say what I say because I have been there, and I have done that work, and I have moved forward because of it. All that I am today comes from mentors and friends and my own spirit pushing and prodding me to move through the morass of despondency and disappointment and ‘lostness’ that I embodied years ago. And I firmly believe that if I can do it, anyone can do it, because there is no difference between me and anyone else.

In the final analysis, I believe it is the act of doing, the act of pushing through the reluctance, the act of picking up the pen, or the brush, or the guitar and doing something with it -- even if you feel it is the lousiest thing you’ve ever done… it is that act that works to defeat the ego. That’s the internal struggle to become more than you were at the start.

As if that isn’t enough, we may find an external resistance to our progress. Friends, relatives, acquaintances and colleagues may question us, or even turn away from us as we walk our path of creative growth. Julia Cameron talks about this in ‘The Artist’s Way’. Some of our harshest critics may well be those who are stuck themselves. They are critical of our attempts to grow and change because they are blocked. They, like our internal “ego,” have a vested interest in us staying stuck too. Therefore, as we take our first steps down this path of creative consciousness and skill building, we need to guard our fledgling selves. We need to protect the newly budding growth of our artist flower.

Therefore, seek out others who are on the same path, offer support and encouragement. Learn to listen as well as speak. Above all, be present in the moment whenever you can, breathe consciously, and treat yourself with respect and love. You deserve to be all that you wish to be. Anyone who truly loves the spirit in you, will love to watch as you blossom. And that, my friend, is the honest truth :)


On another note, you may enjoy my most recent video, “Truth & Relativity”:

who designs your life?

“It takes as long as it takes,” my singing teacher used to tell me in his supportively annoying fashion. “There is no substitute for time and experience.”

Yeah, well, it is hard to think that the skill you are attempting to integrate, the new habits you are attempting to establish, the new way of thinking you are struggling to adopt… will take time. Lots of time, lots of practice. Day after day, month after month, year after year.

We can feel oppressed about the nature of human learning and the process of becoming more than who we were, or we can see it as a journey we are meant to take. As the old cliché goes… “what do you mean it will take me 10 years to be pretty good at (insert goal here)? Do you know how old I will be??” Answer: “And how old will you be if you don’t?”

Today, my knees have scars from all the times I have fallen flat on my face, not even knowing why I staggered, so asleep, so wounded that, in a sense, falling seemed right. Seemed like all I could do well. You don’t know the hours I have spent in the dark night of the soul, despairing. Even now I can’t tell you why we are here, or why we hurt each other, or why we can’t seem to get things right. All I know is that the gift of this life is a precious thing and I’m damned if I’m going to lose a moment of it.

So I struggle to get things right. Every day is a journey with bumps and turns and challenges. Sometimes I feel a light glowing inside, and I’m able to be grateful for the work at hand and questions I am able to answer. It’s funny how time seems to ebb and flow over the course of the day. One minute, you are thinking, “OMG, 3 hours more…” and the next minute you are thinking how much you are enjoying what you’re doing. As long as it isn’t the dishes.

I’m reading David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” right now, and got out a notebook & filled up a page with all the things in my brain that I think I have to get done sometime. I tried to just write it down and get it out of me and put it on the page, haphazardly, without giving anything priority. He’s right in one thing he says – half the stress I feel is getting this brain drain from knowing there are things to be done, and being terrified I’ll forget them. To do lists and calendars help, but it’s not everything. I like the idea of getting every single thing you need to do out of you and down somewhere where you can trust you will see it. Next, ask ‘why’ you need to do it. And then figure out what the next step should be.

I’m thinking I’ll start some sort of project based sheet system, where I take a sheet of paper, head it up with an item – like “groceries” – and then add all the things that go around the grocery thing. Like, cleaning the fridge, and ordering organics, getting out to the store, and maybe even the grocery list itself. Or “music” with a list of the projects I’m working on (and who with), and exactly where I am in the process – waiting for the other person to get me some music, or needing to research styles, or what.

My problem is what to do with those sheets once I’ve got them going. I wish I could paste them all up on a wall so they’d be visible, but I think that’s impossible. So maybe I’ll create a work binder.

One thing that I still have difficulty with is the personal items. When I was on a coaching call a while back, they were talking about independent artists and time management. One thing they pointed out is that you need to include the personal stuff on your task list. I’d never thought of that. Prior to that, I had been feeling very guilty about thinking that it would be nice if I could afford a housecleaning service or had someone to pick up my groceries. I still struggle with that idea, but I know that housework, laundry, groceries, are like anvils around my neck, pulling me down. Just not my favorite things to do and yet, without them, the ship doesn’t really sail very well. But I’m working on trying to get these things into my schedule. And actually do them, too.

I included on my big brainstorming list everything from figuring out when & how to do laundry (Tuesday, get a ride to the Laundromat from my band-mate after rehearsal, take the bus home) to organizing stuff for my summer holiday (call sis & make an appointment for a shopping trip, get to Zellers, buy the totes & tarps), to the book I want to write (find all the notes I already have and put them in one place).

As a self-employed artist/teacher/mentor/writer/etc, I am the architect of my own days. I may take on projects, or mentor students, but I am the one structuring my time and my tasks. It was not an easy transition, going from years of school or working in an office, with structure that was imposed, to being the one responsible for creating what happens and when. Especially when you are a creative person who likes to “play”. Although I have achieved a fair bit, I am aware that I often flounder.

So I’m trying to overcome my sense of drowning in the details, and get very clear. Why? Because I want to live as fully as possible and grow beyond my programming and become more than I could have ever dreamed.

I just don’t want to wake up one day and be 92, lying in my bed, stroking the cat, looking through the window at a hill I never had the courage to climb. I want to be the day dreamer who realized her dreams. If that means getting someone else to do the laundry, count me in.

going where you need to go

You know how you have ups and downs in your life? I’m sure you do. Sometimes I question everything. So much time gone by. So many mistakes made. I’m just a human being, doing the best I can. I’m not perfect, I have flaws. I have regrets. There are things I wish I’d done differently and things I wish I did better. Sometimes I wonder if I have anything to offer. Sometimes I wonder if I know anything at all. Sometimes I wonder where I am going. I feel my way along, tentatively and trembling, trusting my inspiration to lead me. Sometimes in my search for meaning and for connection, I choose the wrong words.

The peril of being a writer of sorts is to feel more comfortable with the written word than speech. Reading, and re-reading, until you comprehend. Writing, and editing, until the words seem to fit what you are trying to say. Even as I write this I have no idea where I am going. Like many things I do, I just start.

I have a general plan – “let’s go this way” I point vaguely, encouraging myself. I figure if I keep putting one foot in front of the other – or one word after another – somewhere along the line, things will make sense.

Like when I paint. Other people might draw a scene over and over, even planning the perspective, drawing the horizon out, mapping the whole thing, before they pick up a brush to transfer their image to canvas. Me? I get out a big brush, choose a colour, dab at it, and attack the canvas. I have no idea what I’m going to paint. I just start. I ‘follow the brush’.

Really my whole life these past dozen years or so has been like that. I just start. I just pick up a pack of watercolours & some watercolour paper, and paint a first picture. I just start writing music, for fun, with a friend… I just start writing a script as a personal challenge. I just throw on a costume, turn on the web cam, and start improvising. I just start writing a blog, not knowing what I will be saying at all.

People often say to me, “Vikki, you do so much.” “You do so many things.” They seem to envy my productivity. It doesn’t feel extraordinary to me, it’s just what I do. But, when I think about what I just wrote, I see the key. Do you?

I just start.

Thinking Long Term

....The Truth about the Music Industry

When I started voice training back in the early 90s, I was pretty shattered by life. I'd spent years striving to be everything I envisioned everyone else wanted me to be. I was terrified of disapproval and anger. I was a chameleon who changed according to whoever she was with. Nothing wrong with hard work, but when you work hard to stay one step ahead of everyone else so they won't be angry with you and so they will like you or love you, you are focused on living to satisfy the external, the 'others'.

The sad thing is, as much as you might morph yourself into someone who agrees with and likes the same things as everyone around you... even if they do like you, you don't believe it. You don't believe it because you don't feel worthy, which is why you are doing what you are doing. You don't believe it, as well, because you know that the 'you' they like is not the true you. You hide the true you, because you know it isn't good enough. It's very exhausting to live like that. Every time someone is unhappy with you, for whatever reason, it's a major crisis. You spend every waking moment either putting out the fire or dancing around trying to make sure one doesn't start.

I had an epiphany one night after an argument with my husband. We were moving, he went out with his friends all day, while I packed our belongings & cleaned our little bachelor suite. He came home to shining floors and packed boxes. Ignoring the obvious fact that he'd left me to do all the work myself, he tore a strip off me for 'packing wrong'. I lay awake all night. I came to the conclusion that if I took one more step down the "pleasing" path, I would lose myself forever. I took what I had packed for myself and left. I can't tell you how afraid I was to do that, I don't know where I found the strength. But I credit that moment as the beginning of the first day of the rest of my life.

So I came 'home', back to the west coast, back to where I was brought up. My sister kindly put me up for awhile. I started to see how terrified I had been, because I had nightmares. I was like a frightened deer in the headlights, frozen, not knowing what to do.

I looked deep in my soul, and asked myself what I wanted. Since I had never really listened to my own voice, I searched for a while. I realized that I desired to have more creativity in my life. I saw a newspaper ad for an information session on something called 'desktop publishing and graphic design.' I really had no idea what that was. But it sounded creative, so I went to the info session. It was a creative art form. Of course, now we have web design as well, but then it was about designing magazines, newspapers, books, advertisements, forms, etc etc. I managed to get some funding for the 7-month course. I knew I needed something to focus on and something that might help me grow a little confidence in myself as well. It turned out to be a good thing. It was hard, there was lots of homework, but I began to master using the computer as a tool to create designs using text & images. I had two practicums and I did them with the same company, and ended up getting hired by them with the course was over.

Then I was able to begin working on part II of my creative goal. Take singing lessons. I'd wanted to be a singer since I was 6 years old, but had let that dream die. Although it had been years since I sang, or even played my guitar, somewhere deep inside of me I was sure it would only take a few months for me to take the singing world by storm. A funny thought from someone so sure of her own unworthiness. I worked very hard at my lessons and practice, waiting for my teacher to say how wonderfully talented I was. "Give me six months," I told myself. Well, at the end of six months, I was more confused than ever.

Bear in mind, although I had had an epiphany about being on the wrong path, I had only taken a couple of faltering steps down the right path, and was still, in a every major way, asleep. I kept working on voice. I shared an apartment so that I could afford to take two lessons a week with my maestro & also have a coaching session with a pianist. I was often frustrated with my lack of progress, but every time I thought of giving up, the memory of the black place without music & creativity, helped motivate me to stay on course. And also, anytime I seriously thought of quitting, I would feel such a sense of despair in my soul, I just couldn't go there. In the midst of my voice training, I read Luciano Pavarotti's biography and it said it took him seven years to train his voice. I said, well, likely it will take Vikki Flawith seven years plus.

I had many ups and downs... but after about eight years of weekly private training and daily practice, I woke up. I began to see that the things that held me back in singing were also the things that held me back in life. As I woke up to the limitations that I placed on myself in voice, I woke up to the limitations that I placed on myself in life. The armor that I had built to protect myself had been hemming me in. The work that I did with my teacher twice a week slowly helped me chip away at that armor. It took time for it to disappear. And rightly so. It simply can't be immediate or instant, if it was, you would be like a turtle without a shell. My teacher often (very annoyingly) would say "there is no substitute for time and experience," and "it takes as long as it takes."

So when was I finally able to sing without fear, without protection, open, authentic? Twelve years after that first lesson. Strangely enough, I see correlations with this in the journey of other artists. I note, for example, that hit songwriter Dianne Warren took about 12 years to make the big time. And hit songwriter, author & motivational speaker Jason Blume? Also 12 years.

Which brings me to the topic of music, songwriting, and success in the music industry. Perhaps because I am a trained singer, I understand the dichotomy of, being a student during the day, and performing for an audience at night. In one place, you are being coached & getting critique, in the other place, you are the expert. As a student, you have to be able to emotionally detach from your work, examine it with awareness (not judgment), and be willing to listen, and learn. As a performer, you have to be able to trust in yourself and know what you do is good.

I began writing songs about 5 years ago. At the beginning, I was excited about everything I wrote and was absolutely sure everything I wrote was new, fresh, amazing, and all the world needed to do was listen and I'd be on my way. I was shocked and angry when I got critiques back from different places that pretty much ripped my songs to shreds. I posted instrumental pieces I had designed with free plug-ins I had downloaded and was upset when other musicians pointed out the flaws. Slowly, I began to awaken to the idea that there was a craft involved in songwriting. But I thought that making my songs commercially viable meant selling out my artistry and creativity.

I couldn't see that there was a correlation between technique in singing, and craft in songwriting. The purpose of technique in singing, is to practice it until it becomes integrated and is natural... thereby freeing you to express the song beautifully. It took me a couple of years to wake up to the fact that craft in songwriting is just the same. It's a frame, a support, for the creativity and artistry. It makes the music sing effectively.

So here I am now, walking my path as a songwriter, starting to have little successes like... at least getting a listen from music publishers and music libraries, and having some signed deals for several pieces of music. However, I have come to know that financial success as a songwriter requires 3 things. One, craft. Two, volume. Three, time. Craft good songs/instrumentals, get them placed, repeat, repeat, repeat. Let's add number Four: thinking long term.

Understand that, getting a listen is always our first goal. If a listen leads to a deal, that's awesome. The time between the listen and the deal could be anything up to 2 years. Once the deal is signed, then that music publisher or music library pitches your music to opportunities. Meaning, they are trying to get you a listen. If a listen leads to a placement, that's awesome. The time between that listen and the placement could be anything... 2 years... I even heard 5 years in one case. Once the music is placed, you will get your share of licencing (if any), and a cheque in the mail. After placement, when the song is played, then royalties will be payable to you. And the PROs usually pay out 6 to 9 months after the play.

So calculate that out. After submitting a solicited demo to a music publisher, it could take up to two years for them to contact you for a deal. It could take another year or two for them to place the piece. That's why volume is important. If you have 100 or 200 piece signed, then you have 100 or 200 pieces being pitched to appropriate opportunities over the course of a year, and chances are you are going to get some placements. In addition, that's why long term thinking is important. If it could take up to 4 years for one piece of music to pay off for you, then you need to be crafting & submitting good pieces for 4 to 8 years before you start to see a steady stream of income from music. If you also spend that time learning as much as you can about the craft of songwriting/composing/producing, and if you also spend that time building relationships within the industry, and enjoying the journey, then your investment in time and perseverance will pay off.


my first music video

for fun, I created this video with stills I took and music I composed/produced.

The Dangers of Procrastination

Making a difference

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the dysfunction in the world. I feel the only way we can make a difference is to become consciously aware in our own lives and work to remove ego & negativity from what we do and say. If we treat the people we meet with respect, if we have integrity to look & and work on ourselves from the inside out, then we are part of a movement to become more consciously aware of life and living. If we treat each moment as precious, then the light within us is like the ripples in a pond… spreading out to others. If we work to develop our own creativity, then we are open to the flow of inspiration and that might inspire others as well. If each of us does this in our own lives, then gradually this positive energy will grow. This is what I believe.

I can’t change what my government is doing, I can’t change what is happening overseas. But I can make an effort to be a good mentor to my students and others, I can make an effort to see the good, and appreciate the gifts I have been given, I can work to be consciously aware in the present moment, I can try to let go of the pain of the past and the worry about tomorrow. In my own small way, living from the inside out, I hope to lift and lighten those around me.

my little studio

Picture #1- is the view out my window in spring.
Picture #2- the two keyboards I spend a lot of time with. Nice cup of tea there, too. Oh, the blankets behind the mandolin are part of my vocal booth.
Picture #3- some of the instruments I play (not necessarily well). Note the kazoo on the keyboard. I practice that a lot. Getting better at it, too.

I wonder where my mind is

I sit down to write this blog and I can’t think of a thing to say. Funny, cause if someone was here with me I’d probably have a million things to pontificate upon. Really. But sometimes writing a blog is difficult because, while you hope you are perhaps talking to someone out there… it’s kinda sort of a one way conversation with yourself.

But what’s new about that? I talk to myself, don’t you? I have to, because I don’t listen. I have things to do, to do lists, things to remember, things to encourage myself to do… if I don’t mention it to myself, who will? (Note to self – mail that letter you’ve been carrying around for 3 days.)

Sometimes I wonder where my mind is. I don’t think of myself as perpetually foggy of brain. No, I think I am just lost in a morass of details. I will be happily doing one thing and doing it well when suddenly another thing that needs to get done materializes in my mind and I quickly switch to that. Like walking in the bedroom to get your purse so you can mail that check off and while you’re in there you start organizing the top drawer in your dresser because the checkbook was mixed in with all this other junk and it took you 15 minutes to find it. Meanwhile you were dumping things on your bed, hoping you hadn’t lost the damn thing and pictures of having to go to the bank and change your account number or something created a nice little horror movie in your head. (Why go to movies, I can create enough drama on my own for free. And the price of popcorn?)

As I type this I have little pieces of paper hugging my keyboard, each with a note or a list of things I need to remember to do. Invariably I don’t remember that I’m supposed to do them until I see the person I was supposed to do it for. 'Sorry,' I say sheepishly. Perhaps they should send me a photo every couple of days, that might help me. See Jane’s picture, see Vikki do the thing she was supposed to do last week but forgot.

I do try. I attempt to be proactive. For example, someone wanted me to email them a list of starter ideas for recording musical ideas at home. I asked, “please, if you don’t hear from me over the weekend, please email me and remind me.” I’m sure I’ve said that to several people over the past month. But I haven’t heard anything. Hey, maybe that means I actually did it and can forget about trying to remember that I haven’t done something. But it’s more likely that those folks forgot to remind me about the to-do's.

So I go to bed worrying that I should have done something, but I can’t remember what it is. There’s something hovering in my brain, but it won’t come into focus. Then I lie there going through the ‘most important things to do’ list, like: ‘did I pay the rent, yes.’ ‘Did I pay that creditor on time, yes.’ ‘Did I email my students the new schedule, yes.’ ‘Ohmigod. Jane needed that thingy!’ ‘Dick has been waiting for that whoosit for days!’ It’s amazing one sleeps at all, really. Must take pen and paper to bed and write down all these things or they will keep one awake for hours, jumping around creating crisiseses. Sheesh.

Hey, this is good. As I wrote this, I remembered three things I need to do. Cool. Mind you, that means that I might actually have to do them.

Perhaps I can lose the list for awhile.

dealing with the schedule

Is it Saturday again, so soon? How quickly the days seem to fly, yet how long it can seem if you are in the middle of doing something you don’t want to do, like organize your files. When I’m writing music, I often feel like time is suspended. I’ll look at the clock at 8:30 and say, ‘I have time before I got to bed to work on this’ and I will get so focused on what I am doing that when I look at the clock again, and see that it’s after 11, I am shocked.

I think it’s got to be good for us to be that engrossed in our creative endeavors. Nothings worse than watching the clock wishing recess would come. While I think it’s good to organize time into things like hours and days, I also think we spend too much time worrying about time, and we need to let that go. But I’m not sure how we can do that in such a busy life as most people have.

I try to have at least one, preferably two, mornings a week without an alarm being set… so I can just wake up when my body is ready to wake up. I also try to have one or two mornings a week with no urgent things to be done right away. Most particularly, I try to have one day a week that is just for me, where I book nothing but me-time. Me time to sleep in, to have coffee in bed with the newspaper, to walk, to read, to be.

I’ve also fallen into a kind of organization of time that I guess you could call time management. I update my schedule and email my students and answer emails from prospective students on Friday or Saturday. I also write weekly emails to friends and family on Friday or Saturday. Saturday or Sunday I write and post my blogs. In the mornings, when I get up, I do yesterday’s dishes. Sunday nights, when the weekend composing or writing is over, I back-up my data. If I can, I try to pay all my bills and rent at one time, at the beginning of the month. I try to shop once a week and get everything major I need for the week’s meals and supplies.

Every night, I ask myself to write at least a page of script before I go to bed. That’s this month’s goal. If it was songwriting, then I’d ask myself to write a verse or a chorus, or try to finish something I started. None of this is a hard and fast rule, it’s a routine I favor that helps me deal with the stress of having a million things to do, and sometimes looking at the calendar and feeling overwhelmed.

The biggest thing I need to work on is sleep. I’ll just get myself organized and with it and something will happen – like a late night out at a show – and suddenly my sleep pattern is thrown off and I find myself going to bed later and later and later. So I have to get into a routine of a rather firm bedtime so that I get sufficient sleep. Lack of sleep isn’t good for creativity, or health, or living stress free.

Sleep, breathe... repeat :)

writing, composing, sleeping

Ah, time to blog. What will I say. I don’t know. I’m actually kinda tired at the moment, but I’m uploading some vocal tracks for a collaborator so now is a good time to think about writing a few words. It has been an interesting week – very busy but less stressful than normal. I have really tried to take the teachings of Eckhart Tolle and apply them to my daily life. I’m trying to remember to breathe, and be conscious of my breath, from time to time over the course of the day, I’m trying to get enough sleep, and eat fairly well, get out in the air, and do lots of music & writing because that’s what lifts me up inside. My teaching studio is getting busier, and I love working with adults who are on a conscious journey of their own to live authentically & release their voices. As well as working on some collaborations, the next big job is to do the books so I can do the income tax. Time is pressing, so can’t procrastinate anymore. Just don’t want the bad news, that’s all.

Besides that I’ve been trying to write my screenplay, I got the beginning done but then I felt like I’d run out of story, but, when I was in the bath on Wednesday (why do you always get your best ideas in the shower), I got a whole lot of ideas and I’ve written them down in prose, so I just need to get some time and try to construct the scenes. It’s my first script, but I like the story, it’s a romantic comedy but I think it has elements of drama and it’s different enough that it would hopefully be interesting. In my opinion, as well, you have to have strong characters with depth and history in order to make a film, and particularly in comedy. I don’t like surface stuff that just goes for a laugh. I like things like the scene in “As Good as It Gets” when Jack Nicholson is playing the piano and weeping because the little dog he was forced to look after & used to hate has gone home, and he says angrily “over a dog!”.

This week I am also going to the opera, and going to a master class for mezzo sopranos put on by the opera company, so that should be very interesting.

Someone was asking today what to do about writer’s block, and here’s what I do. I keep whatever I’m working on, on my keyboard (piano or computer) and look at it over the course of the day, read it out loud, or sing it if it’s a song, to the point that I’ve gotten to, and then I go do the dishes or go for a walk to lay down for a power nap and bam I usually get something. Sometimes I can’t get anything at all so I just keep looking at it, reading it, singing it… maybe I get 4 more words, maybe I get a whole verse or scene. I’ve learned to carry notepaper and a pen everywhere I go cause nothing’s worse than getting an idea and having nothing to write it down with… and you can bet you’ll forget it, too.

If someone was here with me when I am composing they would go ape, I think, because I play whatever I have, over and over again… and add a note here or there and then play it again. Last weekend I kinda forgot my Dad was in my bedroom and off I went playing something I’d been working on to see where I was with it and to see if I had any inspiration of something to add… and he came out and said ‘what’s going on?’ oops. Sorry Dad, forgot I had company there for a mo.

Anyway, I gotta go to bed. Getting up early is for the birds, it makes you want to go to bed before midnight. That ain’t no fun!

Forgetting to be Limited

What does it mean to be limited? That’s not an easy question, but let me try. It’s seeing yourself as being capable of doing only ‘this much’. It’s having a picture in your mind that says ‘this is who I am, this is what I do, this is all there is.’ It’s buying into the labels and definitions of the world around you.

I have more than one friend or relative who I look at and see as talented, having so much to offer. I can see their desire to explore something, or go deeper into something, and I can see their doubts holding them back. It’s hard to watch someone you care about tread water because they are too scared to take a step forward, take the risk, maybe even fall, but get up and try again. I’m no paragon either, there’s many times in my life when I know I haven’t run with the ball the way I could have.

However, we have to forgive ourselves for our past ways of being. After all, it’s difficult to think outside the box when you aren’t even aware there is a box. So having the conscious awareness to see how you might hem yourself in is the first step to change.

So here’s my plan of action for getting past a limitation:

-be aware. Be awake. Try to figure out what it is you say to yourself at the moment of making the choice ‘not to go there’. Can you figure out how you talk to yourself at that moment? Once you are aware of the thought, the next action is to talk yourself through it.

-start small. Let go of expectation. Let go of the need for drama. If you need to walk a better path, don’t plan to climb a mountain the first day. Just walk around the block. Or down the steps. Or open the door. Or put on your shoes.

-don’t expect perfection. If one is, say, for example, shy… then carrying on small talk at lunch one day might be a great goal… but if you can’t do it the next day, it’s okay. Allow yourself to grow into it.

-get help. Many of my students come to me because they need a mentor to encourage and support their journey. I try to help them become aware of their programming, move past the limitations, free themselves from the fetters of baggage and discover their true voice. It doesn’t need to be professional help – there are many support groups on the internet, forums, chat groups, your friends, etc.

-know the purpose of life is to live. Say that again. You are here to Live. To be Alive. You don’t want to wake up one day and be 80, and filled with regrets. At the same time, know that the present moment is all we have. Make sure you stop and see the flowers grow, hear the birds sing, breath the air, feel the aliveness inside of you. Be still and content for a moment, for one breath. One breath at a time.

That’s my Friday thought for this week :)

lazy April Sunday

Yeah, it's been a lazy day. Got my Dad here visiting, he slept in and then had a long bath in my old fashioned tub and we had a late breakfast. Then we went on a huge walk through the neighbourhood with his little dog, looking at the lovely old houses and the budding gardens. Ended up at this little coffee place on the harbour that has an outdoor heater, and we had a hot drink. Then we walked on the docks, looking at the boats & houseboats. Came back to read the paper & now he's asleep on the couch while I'm catching up with things on line.

Didn't do much music at all this week (out of town for a bit), 'cept I have a date to call a music publisher next week and discuss signing more of my cataloque. Was going to do it on Friday but everything was topsy turvy and figured it was best to wait until my brain was actually working.

I have a couple of deadlines coming up in the next two or three days, going to see if I can write some Dramatic Instrumentals with Contemporary Tones and some Contemporary Light Comedic Instrumentals. Also have a couple of Collaborations to work on.

And... there is Script Frenzy. I had done nothing at all but just before I went to bed last night I figured I'd at least try to write a page of my screenplay just to get started. I wrote nearly 2 pages. It feels rather uninspired but at least I got it started.

The next push is to organize my paperwork, do my books, do my taxes, and get that out of the way. And then in May & June I'll be painting, making cards and making jewelry for the summer gallery I do with my sister. I got some cool ideas for paintings on the little trip across the line I just took. I'm anxious to see if I can transfer the visions in my brain onto canvas. Don't know if I can. I tend to be an unplanned painter. I just start, with a colour... and see where it takes me. I have to go down to the art supply store as there are a couple of colours I'd like to add to my kit, and I think I need some new brushes. I'll have to check on my supply of watercolour cards. And I might need some small canvasses.

This week will be a short week - I'm only teaching 4 days - because my Dad will be coming back to stay another couple of days with me. I have 5 new students starting this month, plus one who just started before I went away. I don't have any space left at all and in fact I am a little over my quota, but I figured I'd get people in and started because I always lose one or two through attrition, because they are leaving town, get other jobs, etc. My old teacher in Vancouver taught 50 students a week, I don't know how he did it. If I go much over 25 I feel like it becomes a strain, and that's not what I want. I want to be energetic, awake, alive, fun & thoughtful. Can't do that if you are watching the clock or feel dragged out because you've given so much already.

Still reading Eckhart Tolle's new book, "The New Earth". A lot of it resonates with me and helps me see my own programming a little clearer.

"...whenever there is negativity in you, if you can be aware at that moment that there is something in you that takes pleasure in it or believes it has a useful purpose, you are becoming aware of the ego directly. The moment this happens, your identity has shifted from ego to awareness.... it means awareness is growing."

not too inspired at the moment

Yeah, not too inspired right now, for no particular reason, just spent the day trying to make some sense out of all the stuff in my bedroom, finish a song, get organized for a trip, catch up on emails & phone calls, and tidy up the kitchen which was difficult because the kitchen sink decided quite firmly it was going to be plugged up (and no, Drano didn't help). Arggh. Gotta call the landlord in the morning but there's no time tomorrow for a plumber visit. Plus I had a somewhat irritating telephone conversation with an exboyfriend who is a good friend but just kinda rubbed me the wrong way. That's about the third irritating conversation I've had with different people over the last week. Makes me wonder. Why am I now irritated with stuff that normally washes over me. I kept breathing, concentrating on my breath, trying to bring myself into this moment, right now... and let go. I'm a little down, like I said in my last post. Having a clean bedroom helps a little, though, ha ha. Looking forward to this little trip with my mom, should be fun. And then my Dad is coming for a visit, and for that I am very grateful... the gift of time with him is something I cherish.

up and down

Sunday morning... I felt, with the good reactions to my music over the last few weeks, that my goal of composing and producing to the level required by film & televsion is becoming closer. So I decided to take the plunge and contact a music publisher who signed one of my instrumentals last year. Up to now I've always submitted through an organization like Taxi or SongU or Sonicbids, etc. I've never approached a publisher on my own. I knew I had one chance to make a good impression, that's why, even though I made the deal last June, I didn't use that connection to try to market anything else. I had to wait until I had the skills, and the tools, to consistently produce effectively for film & tv. In February, I cracked it. I got several forwards to publishers/libraries thru Taxi, a little composing job with a internet tv show which also wants to use a couple of my existing pieces, and great feedback. I knew that I had stepped up a rung. So I composed the email, included links to the 3 best pieces I have in my cataloque (but also said I'd be happy to send MP3s or a CD if they preferred), and pressed "send". I knew it could take weeks or months to hear back from any submission, if at all. An hour later, I got an email - they want to sign all 3. Got the contract, mailing it shortly.

Monday morning... had coffee with a former student who I worked with for the last couple of years. He had to stop lessons a few weeks ago. He had not felt that great in his last couple of sessions. Went to the doctor, he has cancer. Very bad. His last test gives him perhaps 4 or 5 months. He might not see summer. We had a good long chat, came out to find he'd been given a parking ticket. He laughed. Friday, my trio and I are going to go over to his place & jam. He says when he's playing music, he's in the now and the future is the future. The now is all any of us have. Yesterday is gone, we can't go back, even if we wish we could. Tomorrow is tomorrow, and we can't say what will happen, for any of us. All we have is today. Live for today, this moment, for in this moment, life is in you, and you are life.

Tuesday morning... I finally finished drafting a lyric I'd been working on for the last few days. A producer in Europe had been looking for country lyrics for an artist he's producing. I, along with some other lyricists, were given the music for the song & asked to write a lyric to fit. I sent in my lyric. A couple of hours later, I got an email back. Several lyrics had been considered, and the two best were going to be made into demos to present to the artist next week, and she will pick one. Mine is one of the two to be demo'd.

As for spring cleaning... didn't get nearly as far as I wanted. Better knuckle down, eh?

walking slowly towards spring

Sometimes songwriting is like pulling teeth. I have this fun music track composed by a new collaborator, and I’m trying to write lyrics for it. I have come up with what I think is a real jumpin’ chorus, and I have a couple of half verses… and I swear, I got two lines last night and a couple today… but it’s so slow and painful. It seems to be more natural to me to write words first, and then add music -- although in past I have improvised my way through a new song, both lyrically & melodically.

As I learned more about songwriting I realized that (as the feedback kept saying) my melodies ‘meandered’ and lacked structure. So I began to write the lyrics first, looking for good form, contrast between sections, interesting rhyme schemes, stuff like that. And that’s become my way of doing things. Because if the lyrics have good structure, then the music tends to follow.

So here I am trying to write lyrics to someone else’s already existing music. I don’t know if it’s just a creative down time or whether it’s doing it ‘backwards’ that’s holding me up. But I’ll just keep reading & singing what I have over the next few days and hope that inspiration will strike.

I did a fair bit of music writing this week too – came up with a couple of :30 action instrumentals to pitch to an opportunity. Also heard a short dramatic indie film was looking for a composer, so I sent in a couple of pieces for consideration. And a tv show was looking for some exotic electronica & I submitted to that as well. I have another piece ready to submit tomorrow… ambient electronica for a compilation album – just want to listen to it with ‘fresh ears’ before I submit it. And I heard about a neat musical event that is looking for 60 sec long electroacoustic pieces for the event, radio play, etc. You have to write the piece specifically for the show. So I started one tonight. I will try to write at least two, I have a week to get them in.

I also have been working on my idea for the “Script Frenzy” challenge in April. I’ve got an idea for a screenplay that’s kinda a cross between ‘As Good as It Gets’ and ‘The Goodbye Girl’. I’ve been reading a book on screenwriting that I had in my library from a while ago. I even found a place I could submit the thing to… if it’s any good in the end. I don’t know how it will turn out – I’ve never done anything like it before. In preparation for your script writing, you are supposed to write the “two minute movie” – meaning you have to summarize the beginning, middle & end of your story on exactly two pages. Well, my beginning (which is supposed to be about 10 minutes of film (that means 10 pages of script & about 1/2 a page of the 'two minute movie' outline)), took all the first page. I think I put in too much detail. And afterwards I realized a lot of the ‘action’ takes place in the character’s ‘heads’. Which doesn’t translate well to film, ha ha.

This is the third week I’ve had organic fruits & vegetables delivered. I believe it is making a difference in how and what I eat. I had a great dinner tonight with carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, mushrooms, celery, green pepper, garlic. I got some lovely mangos, pears, bananas & oranges in the box this week. There have been too many days in the past where I got tied up with work and neglected to get groceries and ended up eating sandwiches or porridge for meals. Just walking into the kitchen and seeing a big bowl of fruit, or opening the fridge and seeing lots of veg, makes me feel good.

The other thing I’ve been doing is reading Eckhart Tolle’s most recent book, “The New Earth”. I have one of his other books, “Stillness Speaks”, my girlfriend gave it to me a while ago. The same girlfriend said I should pick up the newest book. Oprah is also doing an on-line thing with Eckhart every Monday night, I’ve managed to catch some of it a couple of times.

A lot of the book resonates with me, but I feel like I’d have to read it ten more times to really get it, ha ha. But some of the things he talks about, I’ve talked about with my students in my own small way. About being aware of our programming when we can, and observing our reactions to things. It seems to me that the first thing that has to happen for anything to change, is that we become aware of it. This is very true in voice. Part of the job of the mentoring teacher is to encourage the student to become aware of how they do things in the moment, and then gently suggest new thoughts and have them try again. Hopefully, if what you said made sense, they feel a difference. And it’s those little differences between before and after that, over time, show them ‘how it should be’. Anyway, the whole Eckhart thing is pretty deep. I will keep trying to get my brain around it.

Something unexpected happened in my life a few days ago, and this past week has been like a cherry tree, blossoming in spring. Something you hope for during the cold winter, bowed down by your memories. Suddenly there is a little warmth, a little sun. And your spirits rise. You move forward, a little hesitant, your feet unsure, hoping you will not trip and fall, hoping you will do things right.

Just a block away from me there is a street lined with cherry trees in full bloom. I will go stand beneath them, lifting my face to the scented canopy, my heart glad :)

of March drawers and April frenzy

CALL ME CRAZY but I’ve decided to sign up for yet another challenge. This one is called “Script Frenzy” and it happens during the month of April. You challenge yourself to write 100 pages of a script or screenplay. Now, before you confirm with a shake of your head that I am indeed crazy… this is something I’ve thought about doing more than once.

I’ve done just about everything you can do on a stage show in my time… I’ve been the props manager, the stage manager, in charge of lights & sound, I’ve acted, I’ve produced and I’ve even directed. One of the original plays I directed won an award a while back. If you’ve been reading my blog you know that I’ve got some half-finished novel manuscripts around too.

I heard about Script Frenzy through NaNoWriMo (November is Novel Writing Month), another challenge I’ve done 3 times now… never finished it, but definitely wrote more than I would have without the challenge.

It’s good Script Frenzy doesn’t start til April because I’ve got that spring cleaning I’m supposed to be doing over the long weekend in March. It will be good to get things sorted so there is room for creative flow. I also have to do my taxes in April… well, doing my taxes is the easy part, it’s doing the books that’s the hard part. But if I collect all the receipts into one place when I’m spring cleaning then the job will be sorting through them & adding them up & getting the totals into spreadsheets & exciting stuff like that.

Confession: I’m a funny sort of person. Funnier than you think. I have this thing with drawers. I discovered this a while ago when I did a trade with someone who was starting a business doing feng shui decorating. I helped with her website, and she was to give me some pointers on organizing my stuff. After talking to her for awhile and visualizing my place, I realized that my drawers do not function correctly.

See, drawers are supposed to be tools that you use to put stuff in and get stuff out of. But in my house, they just end up being depositories for stuff. Stuff gets in my drawers and stays there. Forever and ever. So I got this bright idea that I would buy a big cupboard for the bedroom. The idea was I could put my bits in little baskets on the shelves, or fold things up and put them on the shelves, so that they would visible to my eyes when I opened the door. Drawers close, and what’s in them is hidden. Open a cupboard, and your stuff is visible. Easy to organize. That was my logic.

So I got this nice big cupboard on sale at Zellers, had a friend help me put it together. I carefully put some stuff in it… and now there are totes piled in front of it, and a coat hanger in front of it, and an old TV tray with my old TV in front of it. What do I live out of? The laundry basket, of course!

Anyway, I have no idea what I will write about for the Script Frenzy challenge. I’m reading a book on screenwriting and thinking about it. I’m thinking I’d like to try to write something like ‘Notting Hill’ or ‘When Harry Met Sally’ or ‘Pretty Woman’ or something like that. A romantic comedy. That would be fun. We’ll see. Maybe there’s an idea buried in my cupboard somewhere, lol. We’ll find out next week… when spring cleaning officially begins. Hum Beethoven’s 5th….

I'm not struck with stars

I admit it. Sometimes I discriminate and that’s not right.

Sometimes I look at the rich & famous and shrug my shoulders. The incessant news about every little thing they do and every relationship… even who they had sex with… it all seems so shallow. Not their lives, necessarily, but our hunger to be flies on the wall as they struggle like any other human being to find some peace and meaning in their lives.

Angelina Jolie, Christina Aguilera, poor Britney Spears, strange Michael Jackson, etc. etc. Sometimes their lives are like those car crashes you see on the highway. Some people slow down to look, I avert my eyes and say a prayer hoping no one was seriously hurt. And yet I watch the Oscars and the Grammy’s and the Juno’s. American Idol, Canadian Idol. What can I say, I’m a contradiction.

Still I often feel that this unhealthy obsession with stars affects us more than we realize. Our news is plastered with items on who did what today, who is pregnant, who got arrested for speeding, who stubbed their toe. We compare ourselves to them, and usually find ourselves wanting. Or our children aspire to be just like them, and forget to find themselves. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery? No, it’s a lack of identity.

I see nothing wrong with deeply respecting any artist in any medium for the work, the training, the accomplishments, the dedication. But I don’t see why their broken marriages, or struggles with addiction, or holiday photos are any of our business – unless they care to share their experiences and the knowledge they have gained. But hiding in the bushes taking pictures of someone’s private life is just what it sounds like. An invasion. Distasteful. Slightly creepy, even.

All this attention on superstars IMHO breeds a dissatisfaction with our own lives and a deep seated wish to win the lottery, or be discovered, or wake up and be someone else. We forget to turn off the TV and radio and iPod and computer and walk in the sunshine listening to the birds. We forget that we too have talent and skill. That we too are beautiful. That it’s our job not to imitate others, but look quietly within and discover our own self, see our own programming, and strive to move beyond it. We need to take the risk to see ourselves clearly as rightfully deserving life, and time, and joy, and music. Otherwise we are breeding unhappiness and discontent. And surely we have more than enough of that in this word.

I think many of us feel powerless to do much about the state of the world today, and so the stars and their doings offer a distraction from our sometimes mundane lives.

But I have this belief that if each one of us worked to discover what lies within us and worked to grow our personal potential… to examine what we think and why we think it, question our programming, re-write our operating system… that we would each send a ripple effect into the world. If we looked around and encouraged our friends, spouse, children, parents, to write, sing, play, create… participate in music and in art… we would each be lifted. Not because we are dictating belief systems to each other, but because we are loving each other, plain and simple, without condition. But the whole thing has to start with each of us looking within, becoming aware of our own potential, and working to water our own creative souls.

So whatever it is that you wish you had time for… whatever it is that you began and then stopped… how about starting? Draft that book you keep talking about. Gather the songs for the album. Go buy some paints & canvas at the art store. Allow yourself to play. In playing, you are childlike… doing with joy… being in the moment… lifting your spirit.

Me? I’m going to work on appreciating the journey of stars like Angelina Jolie, for how far she’s come, and for what she gives back to the world. But I don’t want to be a voyeur peeping over the window sill of her life. Yuck. I’ll try to learn from the wisdom she & others like her willingly share…. But other than that, I need to focus on my own growth, my own journey.

okayyyy… but can I still watch AI?


There is risk here, in our creative world. We sing with our mouths half-closed for hear someone might hear us. We walk towards a goal, but our body language says part of us is unengaged in the journey. We think about writing the book and suddenly cleaning the closet seems urgently important. We write songs that we feel no one hears, and it seems like the doors to the music industry (or whatever other entity we are trying to infiltrate) are firmly closed.

But there are people who are Making It. Yes, of course, the ones you hear on the radio, and see on tv, the ones getting the grammys and the junos and the book awards. But there are many more who are actually Making It by going outside the lines. Thinking outside the box. Forgetting what is "traditional" and stepping out. They take a huge risk. They might fall, they might fail. They sacrifice financially for a time. Often their lives are an open book. Like me, writing my blog, they share their journey & their struggle to Become with an audience of thousands.

Here are people whose stories have inspired me recently:

Jonathan Coulton

Leo Babauta

John Taglieri

Each of these people take chances. They invest time & ongoing, daily effort into their vision. And it's paying off. I'll bet there are times, when the bills are due & creativity seems unreachable, when they think of quitting. I'll bet there have been times when their friends and family thought they are crazy. But they continue to put it out there, and learn, and listen, and work on their skills.

And perhaps they also take joy in the journey. Because the aim of life is not to get 'there', but to be 'here'.

Are You Too Old for this?

Oh, let's talk about age and the myth that you lose your creativity or ability to experiment or think outside the box when you have lived more than a certain number of years. Many people will tell you that you have to be under 30 to get signed, or to start a music career. Well, I'm here to tell you that's hogwash. I started in my 30s and I'm still going strong, working hard at growing my skills and doing my thing and maybe even, in my own little corner of the world making an impact. And it ain't just me. I was just reading the story of a mid-50s Indie Artist who got signed to a label less than 10 years ago -- meaning he was on the high side of 40. Now, he said, you have to be great to be signed by a label. But great isn't defined by age.

I'm not saying that there aren't terrifically talented people under 30 doing great & exciting things. But I am saying there are terrifically talented people over 30 doing great & exciting things.

I haven't seen The Bucket List yet, but I heard an interview this morning. Before writing the screenplay for that movie they interviewed a large number of people aged between 65 and 100+, and asked them what they regret. One of the top things was... they wish they hadn't wasted time on things that didn't matter.

When I began my music journey 17 years ago, one of my prime motivators was ... not wanting to wake up one day at 80 years of age, saying to myself 'now, why didn't I try harder to....'
I've wanted to be a singer since I was 5 or 6 years old, and I let societal & familial ideas of what you should do for a living and how you should live your life dictate what I did. I lost far too many years and was far too unhappy to ever go back there again. I do music now full-time and I am endlessy grateful that somehow I found the way to do that. It didn't happen overnight but the last 17 years have been a slow growth to who I am today. And I have miles to go, and tons to learn, and much more to experience. Who cares how old I am? I'm still alive, and I want to Live, not just take up space.

"We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing."
– George Bernard Shaw

Do you ever feel doubtful?

How often do you fall down the self doubt gap in the floorboards...and how do you get back up and out again?

Quite often. This past week, almost every day. Probably be the same next week.

The more I explore my artistic/creative side the more I wonder about my song ideas... compared to all other artists I see.

Ah, but that's the little editor in you that likes to whisper things like 'see, you''ll never be like (insert artist)'; 'who are you kidding'; 'why don't you just give up & spend your time knitting'.

My work is original, yet at the same time relatively simple. I don't know if I'm ready to be 'heard'.

Your style of writing right now is your style of writing right now. Simple is often good. Believe me, for I am 'she who has too many ideas in one piece'.

I know what you're saying - you want it to be really really really good before you put it out there. And I'm like that too. But I also know that if I get too attached to it that I will not be able to listen to the feedback of my peers and learn something valuable about how to make my music more accessible or better composed.

All I can do is be where I am and allow that this artform is a process like any other, and I cannot judge myself for knowing what I know and not knowing what I don't know yet. All I know is that I am better writer today than I was last month. And part of the reason I am, is the continued support and thoughtful feedback that I get from my friends.

Why do we struggle with so many doubts? Aren't we creative & passionate & focussed on the lives of our creations while riding on a sea of doubt? I think doubts are part of the creative process. The trick is to recognize it is your active activity in spite of doubts that moves you forward.

When in doubt.... write.

"In a sense, as we are creative beings, our lives become our work of art." ~Julia Cameron (The Artist's Way)