THE FLOW OF SONG

Cowriting (F)-1-2.jpg

Recently I was asked to share my thoughts on my songwriting process. Not sure if my insight helped or hindered the group, lol, but it was interesting to step back and articulate how I write songs. Here's what I sent - 

From strumming a few chords that inspire, to the rhythm of my feet walking along the street or the beat of a door banging in the wind, to lines that rise up in an overwhelming pull of emotion inspired by a moment, a conversation, a look, a feeling and hastily jotting thoughts down on paper or in my phone. It can be mapping out a concept like the outline of a script, or the empathetic seeing through someone else’s eyes - letting yourself disappear into their story, their moment, their feelings. It all differs as to how a song comes to life. Some songs show up suddenly and know where they want to go, some are more conscious than subliminal and are intellectually formed on a spark, while others grow painfully slow line by line by line over weeks, months, years and yet other songs are found when you step away from them.

I find that many of my songs are built in a repetitive process of playing, singing, listening and slipping into a space and flow. And then editing. I love editing. The crafting of a song. The calm resolve of having the pieces with the freedom of exploring those pieces to make it stronger, deeper. To make it whatever it calls to be. 

And on co-writing. It really depends on who you’re writing with. I've found that co-writing is usually a conscious in the moment doing, working back and forth, leaning into the energy of the person with you, feeling their flow and the collaborative building of what you both hear and what jumps in front or carries you away. And sometimes, if you're extremely lucky, you may find a cowriter who you have pure chemistry and knowing with. And when the chemistry of two writers aligns, there is 100% trust. Inspiration peaks and you intuitively surrender yourself into the song in a tireless dance, bending with the same wind. While not the norm, I can assure you it's pure magic when you find it. 

Truly, there is no one way to write a song. RBT

 

What's New : Summer / Fall 2016

It's been busy -

RBT | NE Monthly Mania  : Where do I start? So much on the go for North and I that he will now be in Toronto every three weeks starting September so we can endeavour to keep up. Highlights (I can talk about) :) JUNE GARBER : We had the opportunity to have Ms. Garber walk us through the South African landscape resulting in "Underneath the Jacaranda Tree" which just might be her signature song. We also wrote a heartfelt and personal song based on some challenging times in her life -  "Unbroken" which had the audience crying right along with her at the packed house of her "This I Know" CD release at Lula Lounge. Big smiles here with these songs being the two original songs on her album. CARLOS MORGAN : A super talented singer / songwriter, we recently completed writing, production and video for "Have A Little Faith" a song that will be a single from Carlos' upcoming album "C.A.R.L.O.S.". We've got a few more singles in the works as well;  Been greatly enjoying working with singer / songwriter ANDREW ALLEN, Andrew who is riding the charts north and south of the border; had a great writin' and learn'in session with the very humble and hugely talented Canadian turned Nashville music ambassador RALPH MURPHY writing "The Devil Next Door with him that is currently knocking on doors in Nashville. We're looking forward to getting together with Ralph again in Nashville this fall; and MIKALYN HAY, such a talented young woman, who just released "Anyway" a song we co-wrote with Mikalyn as well as the video which was filmed and directed by North.

SCOTT MACKAY
I've been writing with Scott MacKay for just over two years now via Skype. We've finished songs for his album, and have a great many song starts underway. No doubt, Skype is 'efficient' in meeting need, with an emphasis on accommodating, rather than maximizing. So it was truly a pleasure to pick Scott up at the train station and have him' in the house', 'in the room' and in my creative space for 8 days. There was much to talk about, much to write about and happily we wrote, finished, produced and recorded "Nothing But Blood". As usual Scott's killer (killer) vocals added an element of texture and mood that transformed the space of the song. With more inspired thoughts fired up - we're once again back to Skype to find the finish.

AMBER McLEAN : Fellow Collabor8tor, Amber and I had a great writing session that found us "Don't Think Tonight".  I'm so excited to soon be sharing more about this great group of Canadian writers which includes : Patrick BallantyneDavid LeaskNorth EastonAmber McLeanKen YatesBlair PackhamDayna Manning and me :)  

THE ACOUSTIC GUITAR PROJECT : While there's barely enough time in a day as it is, I just couldn't resist the offer to be the Toronto curator for this amazing global music initiative. With so much more to share - let me simply say that I'm stoked to have the amazing talents of Suzy VinnickJulian TaylorBlair Packham and Keith McKie along with me on this very cool music venture. 

SAC 4x4 SONGWRITING CHALLENGE : Again, couldn't say no to The Songwriter's Association of Canada and mentoring 80 songwriters. 80 songwriters and a song a week over 4 weeks. A blur of late nights listening and commenting, from a transatlantic flight to the UK, to the back seat of a car from Manchester to London to the Chunnel train to Paris. Our own challenge was North's fleeting WIFI in the mountains of BC with him on tour, and trying to locate each other in time zones and 7,000 miles between us. But overall, happy to have had the opportunity to give back and help out.

What's New : Spring 2016

FINALIST IN THE ISC    So happy to announce that I am a finalist in the International  Songwriting Competition with "Love Like That" an RBT | NE song written with my writing partner North Easton. Starting with the 18,500 songs that were submitted by songwriters internationally, our song made it through to being one of 200 songs,  1 of 16 in our category, and the only Canadian songwriters. 

CO-WRITING WITH COLIN MACDONALD    I had an awesome co-writing session with Colin MacDonald. We found a new song "HOLES", a lyrically twisting rootsy, rockin' tune that we had fun working back and forth. Definitely a pleasure writing with Colin :) 

RBT | NE MONTHLY MANIA : April    Another productive, inspired and energized 84 hours of writing, recording and meetings with North Easton in Toronto. We had a great session with the very lovely and talented Mikalyn Hay landing a new tune for her "Anyway". Also found the beginnings of a new song with amazing singer Amir Brandon. Squeezing as much as we possibly can into a weekend, North and I headed into the studio with producer Johnny Simmen to record our new duet "Didn't I" - written in the early hours the night before when the song we had planned to record just wasn't finding its legs. But we will finish that one as well ... next time.

CO-WRITING WITH SCOTT MACKAY    Scott and I are back into the swing of writing again now that his schedule has opened up a bit. An intriguing new song underway "Liquor Is Thicker". As always, loving Scott's voice on it. Seriously, he could sing the telephone book and the audience would swoon ... lol. 

FOR AND AGAINST SONGWRITING COLLABORATIONS

An interesting article I came across by Gary Ewer that’s worth sharing -

Songwriting partnerships should not exclude the demonstration of healthy egos

“I am a believer in good songwriting collaborations if those collaborators had a reason to hitch their horses to the same wagon. As a composer of music, if you find another writer who shares some of your own basic philosophies of why you write music in the first place, and can fill voids you have in your songwriting technique, you’ve got the makings of a powerfully effective collaboration. But I find myself rolling my eyes at the scenario where 5 or 6 or more musicians, all sitting in a studio, attempt to hammer out a new tune for some high-profile singer to present to the world. I don’t like those kinds of collaborations, at least most of the time. And I dislike them mainly because the music usually lacks an initial vision, and the lack of vision comes from a skewed underlying philosophy behind music.

Any one songwriter’s philosophy is usually hard to define, but it’s something you sense. Bob Dylan, for example, may be quite interested in the money he makes from music, but you don’t get the sense that it’s the main underlying philosophy. He’s usually trying to get a message out there. It’s too simplistic, I believe, to suggest that having 9 musicians getting a writing credit on a song (Beyoncé’s “Drunk in Love”) automatically means that it lacks vision. In fact, it may simply be the way a lot of music is being written today: “We just kinda had a party. It was so great, because it wasn’t about any ego, we weren’t trying to make a hit record [...] we were just having fun…and I think you can hear that in the record.” -Beyoncé

It’s also a reflection of how songwriting credits are doled out these days. It seems that anyone in the room while a song is being put together gets a writing credit. And to be truthful, it may be unfair to suggest that having 9 songwriters in the credits automatically means that the song lacks an initial vision, or isn’t supported by a sophisticated philosophy. Having said that, I question whether the best music anyone can write will come from musicians who “… just kinda had a party.”

I still believe that today’s best music is being written by one or two songwriters who practice the art of songwriting, and who do so with a disciplined, positively critical mind.

Regarding Beyoncé’s statement that “… it wasn’t about any ego,” I actually want ego when I listen to music. I want to hear ego loud and clear, and so should you. Ego is only ever bad when it’s overbearing and loud for no good reason. A healthy ego does not arrogantly silence other voices in the room. And maybe that’s the best part of healthy songwriting collaborations: two egos in a room, confident to acknowledge each other’s talents, and producing music that’s really worth listening to.

Music that starts with a vision, a message, and results in a song that honours that initial vision – that’s what good songwriting has always been.

If you can get that with a team of 9 songwriters, more power to you.”

BABY I WAS MADE FOR YOU

SAC Songwriting Challenge | Week 1 Part 2 | Matt Dusk Pitch | Co-write with North Easton and Scott MacKay

And here it is, the last song of the challenge. 6 weeks that quite honestly sped by.

I had 6 weeks to mull over the possibilities and brew on the song for Matt Dusk. But other than checking out the music references that Matt provided and exploring a few possible lines and concepts – really my thoughts had me pondering  Matts “brand”. And while I listened to his music, my bigger thinking was that Matt has an established audience  and I expect he would endeavour to bring his audience with him as he reaches out to expand his demographic. This suggested to me a song that would transition where Matt had been – into the new he was moving towards. First step – decision made to work with North Easton and Scott MacKay. I met both North and Scott in the SAC 6 in 6 Challenge last year and I have been working with them since then. I’m sure the three of us would agree that our lives have been enriched by knowing and working with each other. And somehow it seems kismet that the three of us have co-written this song together. Very cool. Initially Scott and I discussed titles and thoughts in one of our lunchtime text chats. And with that we were off via all methods of technology, Skype, text, email. “Baby I was made for You” magically came together in a rush of inspiration in a 3 hour writing session – it appeared without a second of struggling or pause.  “Baby I was made for you” was just waiting for us to find it and to have Scott put his amazing voice on it. This song is truly a wonderful way to close a great SAC 6 in 6 week challenge.  Cheers everyone. it’s been nice hanging in virtual space with you for a bit.

https://soundcloud.com/rosannebakerthornley/baby-i-was-made-for-you/s-z9zCu

- rbt

Here’s my view  …

INVISIBLE STAINS

SAC Songwriting Challenge | Week 6 | Radio Pop | Co-write

Monday, March 23 2:30 am

North Easton and I write together quite a bit. We had recently started a song entitled “No Visible Stains” - negotiated to become “Invisible Stains”. That’s how it rolls in the rbt | ne world. In view of an intensely busy week for both of us, that included writing and producing our Week 1 song for Matt Dusk (more on that in the next post), we thought that we would finish up this song because, not only would it be efficient given our familiarity with writing together making the weight of the week lighter, but we felt the song truly answered the Radio Pop challenge. Lyrics and music complete, North ventured into his studio with his inspired producer brain to put together the beginnings of the song. However, after many listens it wasn’t working – for either of us. So here we are, Monday 1:30 am, with hours and much energy invested in this song with the clock ticking closer to the deadline. And sadly, neither of us like where the song is going. lol. So, the choices. Live with it and settle? Or, ditch the approach and start over? Two ‘A’ type personalities. Do the math. Really no choice but to rethink, rework, re-record. Simplify. Go back to the song at its core because it truly worked there and embrace the soul of the song. And so, 2:30 am and I’m writing this knowing that North is on this in the morning and I’m in the studio this evening to final mix wherever and whatever we land on as we run towards another Monday midnight deadline. But happily I’m off to sleep knowing we’re on the same page and agreed on where the song should go from here.

Monday, March 23 11:59 pm - And here’s where we landed tonight – and both happier. But, still a work in progress. Enjoy.

https://soundcloud.com/rosannebakerthornley/invisible-stains/s-4YN11

-       rbt

EYES CLOSED SHUT

SAC Songwriting Challenge | Week 5 | TV Series

“I am the blood, I am the bones”.  An intriguing line that has been floating in my brain for some time. And what better time to follow that line into a song than for a tune intended to evoke darkness.

While I originally started writing this from the perspective of an anti-hero (which was the ask) and her being the blood and bones of her conquests lust – the story seemed to be calling me elsewhere. Rather, what spoke to me was a woman wrongly accused of a crime and awaiting her demise while her accusers turned a blind eye. Admittedly, it’s unlikely that “Eyes Closed Shut” meets the criteria of this particular challenge, but it is what inspired me to chase it. And although this song also focused on a tree (re: my recent song “Beneath the Tree”) – I just went with it and chalked it up to spring in my bones. I have to thank my good friend Pat Rush who lent his amazing slide playing to this track.

It’s always intriguing to see how a group of songwriters tasked with the same information will each have their own unique perception and song approach. Hearing the outcome of the songwriters in each of the five challenges has kept this initiative interesting to watch, and hear.

Beyond the happy arrival of new songs I’m writing under fire in the challenge, I’m also pushing my song writing stamina beyond the edges to find out just how much I can take on. And whether I’m in my studio with my guitar, or laying in bed at night listening and evaluating the work, time evaporates as a half hour disappears to 2, 3, 4 hours. Despite my constant apologies of “sorry I’m late” – “sorry, can you make dinner tonight?” – “sorry, I didn’t leave the house today” – “sorry, I haven’t had a chance” all due to ” I was writing”. Consumed in the writing. Always have been. And I love it.

This weeks marathon is run. And in-between, Matt Dusk’s song found its legs with North Easton and Scott MacKay as we move into finessing the pieces, performance and production.

In the meantime, this week a little darkness with “Eyes Closed Shut”. Enjoy.

https://soundcloud.com/rosannebakerthornley/eyes-closed-shut/s-WrDvI

- rbt

DO NOT DISTURB

SAC Songwriting Challenge | Week 4 | Country Pitch

I often write what many would categorize as country, singer / songwriter. So I thought this country tune would be pretty simple. However the underlying challenge within this challenge for me, is to write a little less above-the-neck, simplify the message while keeping it interesting. Really, this undertaking makes total sense in my head.

I started with revisiting long lists of concepts and lines I scribble and squirrel away. But nothing was jumping off the page at me.

So, ‘writer with a deadline’ position assumed. Close the door. Place head in hands. Blank piece of paper (lined) and pen ready. Blank stare. And, go. I had a guitar riff I was liking so I played that over and over (and over and over). Still anything I was coming up with, though simple, wasn’t speaking to me. Maybe, I thought, I’ll have to revisit one of my old tunes, finish it and post it. Nope. That’s cheatin’.  And cheatin’ mostly me. Hmm, possible country tune title?

Then. This guy shows up. In a hotel room. Hmm – interesting. Why is he alone in this rather shabby room? I started looking through his eyes. For a bit I dabbled with killin’ ‘em off cause I had some great lines that would work for that story – but that just didn’t seem to be the right story here. And so I slowly walked myself through his eyes and found him to be a guy not particularly pleased with himself. Married, but at the mercy of his questionable judgement – and apparently, not so alone in the room.

Slowly I started pulling together the pieces of “Do Not Disturb”. Although I did second guess myself for falling back into somewhat think’y lyrics. And that slowed me down to the point where at 2:00 am Sunday morning I was taking a crack at writing a few other songs. Then during a much needed break, Hosier ‘s “Take me to Church” came on the radio (radio – how quaint). I have a great appreciation for Hosier because he’s different. I like his mood and his non-typical song writing. Simple lyrics? Not-so-much. Visually intriguing? Definitely. Intelligent? For sure. Think’y lyrics justified, I happily picked up and followed my guy back into his room to get the job done.

In a typical turn about, the verse became the chorus and the chorus become a verse and the bridge – well it did what it usually does and became elusive. There’s just simply too much pressure on the bridge. It was there – I just had to dig harder. As a matter of fact I was rewriting the bridge right up to the moment before I recorded the song tonight.

Sometimes I don’t know why a song shows up or where it’s taking me, but I’ve learned to just hang on. And my original guitar riff? Gone, as I followed the lyric to a new melody.

And in what seems to be a bit of an old world country tune – I can hear a lazy, low, Johnny Cash kind of voice. However  all the male singers I work with (and who would have been perfect),  were all too busy with their own fires  so it’s me singing about the woman whose skin I can feel the warmth of  and my waiting-wife at home.

Country pitch. Nailed. Right along with the duality of a “coffin sealed with one more nail”.

- rbt

BENEATH THE TREE

SAC Songwriting Challenge | Week 3 | Advertising Spot

This challenge – challenged.

When I first read the brief, I laid in bed reflecting on the simple world of a child, playgrounds, school yards, hopscotch, handball.

Of course I quickly connected to my feelings as a parent – but that wasn’t what we were asked to deliver on. And being noted as a writer that seems to live much ‘above the neck’ I percolated on this song, but truly struggled with how to keep it from being ‘heart stringy’ but at the same time veering away from frivolous.

I started 4 songs – all of which I liked, but ditched because they were way too think’y. However, I had arrived at a chorus I quite liked “time goes fast beneath the tree, eyes closed tight counting 1, 2, 3, you can’t catch me”.

Still not connecting with any overall concept or lyric, I was stumped and ready to throw in the towel. This has been another intense week of writing outside of the challenge, and I was way too busy to be frustrated and not have time or space to brew on an idea. However, I am determined. And so there I was laying in bed once again thinking about the innocence of childhood. Dig. Think. What is it that stands out about being a child that I could invest my heart into? And there it was. Make believe. Back I headed into my studio with the deadline biting at my heels. However, rather than “you can’t catch me” as the final chorus line I switched it up for the make believe concept with a more aspirational message – with the child proudly saying “if you could see me, oh, if you could see me”.

“Beneath the tree” works for 15, 30 and 60 second segments (although I didn’t plan that, it just happily worked out that way). Luckily simple production of guitar, voice and percussion fit the song perfectly. Thankfully, because beyond that my production wants are left to North (Easton) who I write with quite a bit, my own producer in Toronto, or to the other host of artist’s producers that I work with. Which has me ‘talking about’ what I ‘hear’ and leaving the heavy production lifting for them. But, yes, I am up’ing my recording and production technology. But production is a slippery slope that quickly devours massive amounts of time labouring over every part. Fun, yes. But my time is already stretched and lovingly dedicated to writing. Luckily for me, Michael (my husband) had just recently bought a cajon which was a perfect addition to this song. Could it be produced a 100 different ways? Yes, always.

And the image. No – I didn’t write the song to the photo, although you could completely think I did. I couldn’t believe how perfect this image was when I found it. Dream-like image of a young boy, with a sword, beneath the tree. Couldn’t have thought it any better. Serendipitous.

“Beneath the Tree” https://soundcloud.com/rosannebakerthornley/beneath-the-tree/s-RlaIF

- rbt

PUTTING WORDS IN THEIR HEADS

SAC Songwriting Challenge | Week 2 | POP pitch

My brain is fully engrained in the pop’ular world of music. And I probably devour more radio than my daughter who simply laughs and tells me I play all of my music too loud.

North (Easton) and I have been doing quite a bit of songwriting together since we wrote our first song last year. And it seems more opportunities to write together are finding us. This was a week full of new songs outside of the challenge that we were working on and so decided to co-write this ‘pop’ song as well.

I had started the outline for a song about a young girl who can’t seem to get the eye of a guy she’s enamored with, but invisible to. As always, North quickly had thoughts about the melody and the direction of the lyric. And so began our back and forth of building with the song at the centre. After writing many songs together, the strength of our collaboration is finding its stride. There is much respect and admiration for what each of us brings to the process, but funnily enough North commented that how long it takes us to write a song depends on how long we battle. Our battles are good (mostly) and our battles are about writing the best possible song. Seems the two alphas in a room scenario works for us.

As was the case in writing pop specific song “I Am Words”, once we’ve arrived at what we’re going to write about, we typically develop our chorus lyric and music first with a general mapping out of where our verses could go, as in “So, what’s the situation? Who’s talking? Why? Where are we situated? What’s happened? Where do we want to go from here? What’s the mood?” Our bridges seem to be built last both lyrically and melodically. In this case, leveraging “I am words in your head” from my original lyric, led us to a slightly different song perspective allowing us to empower the girl singing it as opposed to her pining after a guy that was oblivious to her affections. North wasn’t so enamoured with this scenario. He didn’t like the idea of putting the girl in this diminished role, but I explained “hey, most girls have walked in those shoes at some point in time”. Right? Regardless – I lost that battle. I expect we have about 6 hours of hard writing into this song and North likely has 4 – 5 hours of production in.

Available time is one of the biggest challenges in life. And this week the onslaught of writing met with my having laryngitis. Voice gone. Not ideal. But a deadline is a deadline. We had hoped to have someone else sing the song – but that didn’t work out. And knowing that it’s best to have a female sing a song intended for a female voice – well, I jumped in (to the fire apparently) at the 11th hour to sing it. Not my finest hour (just under before my voice caved). However, North had initially recorded his version of what we’d arrived at for style and approach and sent to me for reference to do mine along with the instrumental track. But I’m not posting that.Here’s North’s version of the song where he sings “I’m the girl” which was the original lyric rather than the updated line “I’m the one” – and quite certainly we know that a girl, North is not.

“I Am Words” is finished, but not.

A tough week but a happy result. Listen here – with lyrics in the track info.

- rbt

NE Version | https://soundcloud.com/rosannebakerthornley/i-am-words-v2/s-oQ4pP