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July 6, 2016

Australian Songwriting Conference - song feedback

Well!! A while ago I wrote about the idea of taking my songs and pitching some of them to publishers at the Australian Songwriting Conference. Will write a full review about that experience later (short version: awaesome!) ... but wanted to get on the record the feedback I got specifically about the writing of the songs I pitched. I took down CDs with Forever Mine, Simplicity, Whiskey and History, Home Free, and Red Hot on them.

So, here's the pitch list. I was fortunate to be drawn out of a hat to get a fourth (sort of) pitch in one of Alan Roy Scott's Song Surgery sessions:

  1. I pitched "Angels" to Hillsong Publishing.
  2. I pitched "Whiskey and History" to Diana Torossian.
  3. I pitched "Whiskey and History" to Matthew Donlevy from Frankston Music - mainly because he specifically wanted songs for his young band, Brothers 3.
  4. I played "Somebody Else's Skin" to a Song Surgery session featuring Alan Roy Scott and lots of other songwriters.

So what did I learn? Well, overall, I learned that little things matter. The differences between good songs and songs that make the grade is the little things. Small tweaks in arrangement, prosody, etc. It's also about matching the right song to the right performer, and never dismissing the obvious. Here's each pitch in detail:

The Hillsong guy, Nathan Eshman, made it clear that Hillsong Publishing wants more than just Christian music. They have an ear for good music and want to work with non-Christian musicians, songwriters, and artists, too. Nonetheless, I chose Angels for them because I figured it was likely to be the best fit. Nathan played the CD of my workbook dump through a small "ghetto blaster" player to a group of about a dozen of us. Here's his feedback:

  • He likes the idea and basic hook
  • The six-line verse doesn't work. It needs some variety on the final two lines
  • Some of the imagery doesn't hang together well. revist this and aim for consistency.

Pretty cool, but only one opinion. I will re-work ...

Diana Torossian caught the bus from Sydney to Ettalong Beach with us (so did a bunch of the other speakers, but that's a story for another time). Incredible woman. I played her Whiskey and History because I figured she might get it. Here's her take:

  • Basic idea is great, but not gong to be a pop hit. Find an older, crustier, bluesier act.
  • Not sure why the first chorus is shorter than the other choruses - be consistent
  • Should arrange this to suit Russell Morris and pitch to him - in fact, If I get her that version, she'll pitch it for me.

So, WOW! Most encouraging thing I've heard for a long time. I will have to listen a lot to Russell's latest stuff and try to produce a demo tht sounds like him, then send it to Diana ...

Matt Donlevy really liked Whiskey and History ... but said there was no way a bunch of kids was going to sing a song like that. Totally the wrong act for it. This, of course, is important feedback and a very handy professional tip ... see above encouragement about Russell Morris.

Finally, I had the incidental experience of having my name drawn from a hat to have a song critiqued and worked on during a Song Surgery session. This was entirely random and I was not prepared for it. On the spur of the moment I chose to play Somebody Else's Skin, which I have been stuck on for a bit (it's so new I haven't posted it here yet). It was a 12-bar in A, but I felt that the choruses lacked any kind of punch ... just couldn't figure out where to take them ...

So, After I played the existing version, Alan asked me what I wanted help with. I said "the chorus lacks punch" and he said "Oh, that's easy ... play the verse again, which is great, and when you get to the chorus, stop singing and keep playing the guitar". Then he turned to the assembled songwriters, and said "when he gets to the end of the verse, you just sing the first thing you can think of that sounds like a chorus."

So I did, and they did, and it was obvious that all I needed to do was take the chorus to a different note on teh chord ... preferrably higher ... so that the energy lifed. I also figured that repeating the 12-bar verse pattern is not necessary in the chorus. Al's whole approach in these workshops was "Contrast" - changing and evolving songs to keep the listener interested. I guess all I had to do was use this approach. I'll post this songs as soon as I have a version I'm happy with.

So, that's the lessons learned. I'm actually annoyed that I wasted the opportunity t have more songs played in front of these wonderful people ... but it's a learning experience, right? Lots of re-writing and re-working for me from this experience ... on with the show ...

Posted by Hughie at July 6, 2016 11:25 AM

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