Be Your Own Guru ;)

Let’s talk about love for a minute. Of course Valentine’s Day is upon us, but I’m not going be discussing romantic love. Rather, a deep and abiding appreciation for the most important person in your life – you.

Recently I’ve been telling my students that when they go home and practice, that they need to be their own ‘good teacher’, and look for what is good in what they are doing, as well as what needs work.

Often the first thing we do while performing an exercise or song is criticize ourselves. We pick out all the things we feel we are not doing right, and we proceed to beat ourselves up in the moment because we aren’t doing them. We make a face. Our body language says we’re frustrated or disappointed. We tell ourselves – and any audience – “this isn’t any good” or “sorry this isn’t working” or “what’s the point?” or “who am I kidding.” Our voice and body then responds to those thoughts, and the voice feels tighter, the breath feels shorter, the throat feels more closed, the heart is less likely to want to express.

Well guess what? That’s EXACTLY how I felt going into social situations for many years! I’d be thinking “I can’t think of anything to say,” and “they’re going to think I’m stupid,” and “why did I EVER say I would come to this thing,” and (worst of all), “they are going to think I am BORING.” And guess what happened? Since all I could think about was how boring I was and how awkward I felt, I looked and sounded awkward, like I didn’t want to be there, like I didn’t want to be talking to whoever I was talking to. Bet that helped them feel good about talking to me, huh?

But I don’t blame myself for feeling that way. I want to be my own good teacher so I can look at that and say… ‘well, wait a minute. I did have friends. I did have great conversations. I read the newspaper and books, and discussed new trends in science or shared stories I thought were interesting. I was a good cook, and people appreciated my meals or my potluck dish. Yes, I often felt awkward and shy. That’s okay. I’ve got the awareness now to see how I was thinking then, how my own thoughts and fears created that dynamic. And I can work to be more conscious of how I talk to myself in social situations.’

Another thing I talk about with my students is confidence. People will often tell a shy singer, ‘well, just get up there and be confident, then you’ll be okay.’ But a shy person doesn’t know HOW to ‘be’ confident. They can’t just turn on the ‘confidence’ switch. They may understand the concept, but they can’t see how they will ever, ever do it.

I remember working with this wonderful vocal coach (Bliss Johnston) who had been assistant conductor at the Metropolitan Opera and who had worked with all kinds of big names, including Pavarotti, Domingo and others. I was very nervous, even though she was very modest, sweet and encouraging. I was absolutely terrified with all my extraordinary teachers, and she was no exception. I was standing next to the grand piano, looking at her, after singing something. Bliss said to me, “Vikki, you must sing from a calm centre.” I heard what she said. I understood what she meant. But having a ‘calm centre’ seemed totally impossible to me. I’d never had one and I couldn’t imagine getting one, not ever. Never. Can’t be done.

But I own a calm centre now. That calm centre gives me confidence. It tells me, ‘whatever happens, you can handle it. You’ll figure it out.’ How did I get it?

I’ll tell you. When I started singing lessons, I had no idea I was going to learn how to live in a more conscious way. But slowly, over time, I learned that I had to observe my thoughts in the moment, while I was singing. I learned that one cannot erase negative thoughts, but one can replace them with more effective thoughts. So day by day, as I practiced my singing, I observed how I talked to myself. I practiced thinking specific, positive thoughts that instantly transformed into positive action. When I was able to think effectively, I felt and sounded better. Hmmm.

Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way, calls our negative thoughts ‘blurts.’ She says we should listen for them, and write them down. I think that’s a good exercise. Follow that up answering them back, or replacing them with new thoughts. Every time the voice in my head tells me, "you're SO lazy," I start listing off all the things I did today (taught my students, went to the bank, got groceries, updated my weekly schedule, worked on that new song, wrote my blog).

I remember going to my very first ‘tweet-up’ (a meet-up of local twitterers) last year. I’d been invited a couple of times, but felt my usual reluctance in going to a social event, especially when I didn’t know anyone. The first time I went, it was a bit awkward, I didn’t know what to say, I felt a little out of place. But I went back again, and sure enough, there I was chatting with other people and really enjoying myself. Pretty soon I was the one making someone new feel comfortable. Hmmmm.

In all my shy years, when I was at a social event, I can’t remember ever thinking about what I could do for someone else. In fact, I imagined that everyone else felt perfectly comfortable, that they knew what to say, and how to be. I was the odd one, I figured. The Alien. The one who bushed uncomfortably if anyone spoke to her. The one who sat in a corner next to the potted plant, nursing a drink with a smile pasted on her face, wishing someone would talk to her but equally terrified that someone might talk to her. Cause then she’d have to make conversation.

Now I actually enjoy talking to people! They are interesting. They are vibrant. They are just like me, but not like me. I am alright when they are with me. If I can’t think of anything to say, I ask them something about themselves. If I stumble over my words, they’ll understand. If I express an opinion that differs from theirs, that’s okay. Variety is the spice of life. If I notice myself telling myself I’m boring, I replace that thought with something else. If I notice myself feeling nervous, I acknowledge it, and breathe. If I reach the end of my coping strength, then I gracefully leave, knowing I need some space to regroup. And that’s okay. As my own best friend, I need to support myself in whatever I am doing, and acknowledge when it is time to rest, or when I’ve had enough.

Singing taught me to be aware. To observe my thoughts. Singing taught me I could change how I thought, and therefore change the results.

I still have old programming and ways of thinking that I struggle with. That’s my journey, and likely always will be, to grow in further awareness and try to move beyond the deeply embedded ways in which I look at myself. Yet I am grateful for the consciousness that allows me to see the many steps I have taken in the right direction, while acknowledging much of the path is still in front of me. I strive to treat myself with respect and love.

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FAWMing – this month I’m participating in “February is Album Writing Month” – a personal songwriting challenge to write at least 14 songs in 28 days []. I’m posting my worktapes and rough sketches on my website as I work, you can check them out @

practicing practicing

Am I special? Of course I am. I’m unique. But I’m human. I often tell a student, “If I can do it, you can do it. Because there’s no difference between you and me. The secret is to do the work.”

One of the writers I read is “Copyblogger” and today his email was particularly attention grabbing because he was asking something really important. He was asking… do you do more than read? He was saying, if you read an article and then start thinking about twittering or balancing your budget or getting your website organized, and you start – that’s great. But he pointed out that most of us do not follow through. A couple of weeks go by and there are no tweets, we've not organized the receipts, our website has nothing new to offer.

The reason I am having success now as a composer is that I’ve followed through. It’s been a long uphill climb, it’s taken years of effort in understanding, in practice, in trying. I was telling someone yesterday, that yes, I landed two deals in two weeks… but inbox is littered with rejections as well. Perhaps the music didn’t fit the bill, perhaps the music needs work, perhaps I have more to learn, and more skill to gain. So even if I sign that contract today, I still have to work at creating more music that I am proud to call my own, and still try to learn new skills even though it seems impossible that I will ever ‘get’ it, and I also have to earn enough money to pay my rent, hydro and internet hosting at the same time.

I talk to my students about practice. Not just practicing singing, which is of course valuable. But more importantly, practicing practicing. Because it’s our daily walk on the path, it’s our daily filling in the form, it’s our sitting down and planning the week, sorting out where we will put our energy and when. With lots of time left over to sit and dream.

How will you begin. How will you stay the course, in spite of doubts and all the curve balls that come your way? Will you still be on that path a few weeks from now?

Being prepared pays off! Recently, because I was working through Ariel Hyatt’s book (Music Success in Nine Weeks), I revamped my film/tv website, added my newly developed ‘pitch statement’, made sure my samples were up to date, and had some composer friends check it over. Today I got an email from a music library I signed with a couple months ago… they wanted a bio and information on what kind of music I write… because there is an opportunity coming up for Canadian composers. I was able, within minutes, to send them my newly minted bio and a link to my site. They've forwarded my information to the person handling the opp. I’m SO GLAD I was ready!

taking stock

Money. Yeah. Well, they are having a marathon of this Canadian show called “Til Debt to Us Part.” Gail Vaz-Oxlade helps couples who are overspending and deep in debt to sort themselves out. I like this show a lot. I’ve watched it before and made budgets etc., but today something clicked and I realized… if I want to pay my debt off in 3 years, then I need to take the total I owe, and divide it by 36 months, and get “X”. Then, I need to make minimum payments on everything. Then, I need to take that “X” amount and use it to pay down something.

This is a huge realization to me. I have been trying to pay things down, but I put a little bit extra on everything every month. I try not to use credit but some business expenses have to go on the cards – and I need to pay those off right away.

She said something else on a show that resonated with me. She said, when you call to check the balance on your credit card, you likely aren’t calling to see how much you need to pay off. You’re calling to see how much money you can spend. Guilty as charged.

It’s funny how I’ve been thinking about this and I plan a budget every month but never really thought about simply dividing my debt by 36 months and then making that my extra payment. Things will be tight if I do that… but I know I will feel so much better when I can get this debt off my plate. It’s left over from the time I thought ‘oh, I’ll pay this later when I have more money.’ Well, guess what, you don’t have the money later cause you’ve already spent it. Duh.

As mentioned before in this blog, I’ve been working my way through Ariel Hyatt’s “Music Success in Nine Weeks.”

I’m still a little stuck on Chapter 8 (Creating a Continuing Program) though. Somewhat. As a composer, I have to think differently about marketing myself. I need a short, to-the-point bio. I asked composer friends to check out the text on my film/tv site and give me their feedback on how I’ve set it up. I took their suggestions and made some adjustments, I think it reads well now. This past week I contacted a music library to ask for permission to submit, but included my website address in my signature. They liked what they heard and offered me a deal. Whoop!

Over the past few days, several more people have signed up for my newsletter, and I continue to enjoy interaction with those who comment on my blog.

Branching out beyond blogging or a monthly newsletter? I try to think what I have to offer, how I can help. What I have that’s special, I think, is my experience as a mentor to aspiring singers, and what I’ve learned from my own journey as a shy person, and as a evolving artist. I want to write more about these things. I might try writing an ebook. I have the skills to do that. I worked for a life coach a while ago, and assisted her in designing an ebook.

Still, Ariel should be proud of me. She discusses ‘Traditional PR’ in Chapter 9. This weekend I wrote and submitted a press release to local newspaper regarding participating in FAWM (February is Album Writing Month/write 14 songs in 28 days). Beyond that, I thought the information about publicity in this chapter was very thorough. I liked her advice to be patient and persevere, and remember to follow-up! It says that in the Indie Bible too – don’t just send your CD to radio stations, but follow-up in a timely manner. At the same time, be gracious and understand that people on the other end are busy trying to do their jobs. I will return to this chapter again when I have an event to publicize – like the visual art show I’ll be part of at the end of August.

At the end of “Music Success in Nine Weeks,” Ariel lists 20 critical web sites for musicians. I’ve signed up for several. She also has included a ‘dictionary’ of terms for musicians, new words we need to know, like “blogosphere”. This blog is part of that universe.

Since you read my blog… I wonder, what information could I put in an ebook that would be fun or inspiring to read about? What obstacles do you face in pursuing your vision? (Do you have a vision?)

I continue to write tracks for FAWM []. With this latest deal, I have run out of unsigned tracks, so writing 14 songs (or more) songs in 28 days came at just the right time to boot me in the arse and get me going to create more!

What have you been up to?

3 down, 11 to go

Ah, well I think I should mention that it’s February. I love February, cause February means “FAWM”. And what is FAWM? FAWM is “February is Album Writing Month” which sounds very spooky and scary. It’s not really writing an “album” (although some do), it’s writing ‘an album’s worth’ of songs. Fourteen to be precise. Fourteen songs in 28 days is the goal.

The first time I tried this, I think I managed about two songs in the month, lol. The next year, I wrote about 6 or 7, and then I felt… there’s no way I can write anything else. And then I managed to get to 11. And then I thought, very seriously, there’s nothing left. No ideas, no thoughts, nothing. Hopeless. But somehow I got to the end of the month and had 15 song ideas or instruments sketched out and posted on my FAWM page. If it hadn’t been for the challenge, I never would have tried to push against that block.

Not everything I write is earth shatteringly good either. And that’s kinda the point. A whole boatload of creative types collectively join in the madness known as FAWM and write songs about all manner of things. I find that community to be tremendously inspiring and fun. I go to look at what other people are coming up with, and I marvel at their unique perspective, their individual turn of phrase, the creative way they use voice, instrument, odd sounds, effects, etc when recording their worktapes.

As I go to bed today, Feb 3rd, I’ve completed two spooky instrumentals and one song. I have the lyrics and melody for another that I’ll record tomorrow. It’s funny cause before Feb 1st I felt very uninspired and wasn’t sure how I would fair as the month began. What changed? Maybe just jumping in the deep end with everyone else made it feel like fun. Or maybe I just pushed through that ‘no ideas’ block again. Thanks FAWM.

If you want to join in:

And my first track is here: