Category Archives: Marie-Lynn Hammond

Marie-Lynn Hammond is a co-founder of Stringband, a seminal Canadian folk group, and a critically acclaimed songwriter living in York Region. In past lives she’s written plays and magazine articles and hosted national CBC radio shows. In between working on two new CDs, she freelances as an editor of both fiction and nonfiction. www.marielynnhammond.com

Are We Musicians or Digital Slaves?

Nowadays if you’re a musician, it’s not enough to write songs or sing or play an instrument. You have to be a digital marketer and in some cases a digital wizard.

 Digital presence

You’re expected, first, to have a website and to keep refreshing it. Then you have to appear on social media sites such as YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Tumblr, Wynken, Blynken, or NOD. (Okay, I made the last three up, but trust me, if they don’t exist right now, they will within the next 4 microseconds.)

You also have to get your music up on sites so it can be bought (you hope) and downloaded from the Net. And you have to video your latest gig so that it too can go up on YouTube, because the one you put there of last week’s gig is, well, so last week.

And then of course, you’d better blog about the gig and tweet about it, both before and after—and preferably even during!

 Cyber smarts

And you must also learn how to DO all of the above. Some of it’s easy, some of it’s harder, especially if, like me, you weren’t born with a digital device in your hand.

So recently, and belatedly, I learned how to use Windows Movie Maker. While a couple of other people have done videos for YouTube for songs of mine, I’ve been told my YouTube presence is sorely lacking, so it was time to try my hand at one myself.

Now I could have just put the credits up with the audio track and no images at all, but I wanted something that would stand out a bit more (on the Web we’re all competing for eyeballs and earballs, after all), especially since this song honours the memory of one of my sisters.

Sourcing images

But it wasn’t easy, in part because I didn’t want to steal images from other people’s websites or Flickr streams, etc. (which I’m sure millions of others do). And contacting them to ask permission would have been time consuming. I was finally able to find a few images I could use because they’re licensed with Creative Commons, and then I added images of my own.

So here’s my first original video, of a song from my 2003 CD Pegasus. I kept it simple in order not to distract from the story.

Digital slaves?

Movie Maker 7 isn’t that complicated, but I still spent many hours fine-tuning this little video—hours I should have spent trying to get gigs, practising new chords, or working out harmonies for the CD I’m recording. But this is 2012, and this is the current reality.

Or is it? If you’re a musician, how much time do you spend on your Web presence? Is it helping? Do we have to be digital slaves? Please share!

……..

Marie-Lynn Hammond is a co-founder of Stringband, a seminal Canadian folk group, and a critically acclaimed songwriter living in York Region. In past lives she’s written plays and magazine articles and hosted national CBC radio shows. In between working on two new CDs, she freelances as an editor of both fiction and nonfiction. http://www.marielynnhammond.com/

Advertisements

You Can Be a Record Producer!

It’s true. You can even by MY record producer, or at least an honorary one. All it takes is some money. But before you label me a total mercenary, read on…

You may have noticed these days the indie record/music scene is almost as big as the non-indie scene – if not in terms of dollars, then certainly in terms of the number of artists. In fact, there are probably more independents than there are acts signed to major labels.

Sharing isn’t caring

The Internet played a large part in this, of course. Suddenly everyone was illegally sharing and no one was buying, and labels would only sign sure moneymakers, so artists began making albums independently – i.e., paying to do it themselves.

But the indie scene has actually been around a heck of a lot longer than the Internet. I like to say, jokingly, or semi-jokingly, that at one time, it used to be called the folk scene.

Folk pioneers

That’s where my musical roots are. My old band Stringband has been called a pioneer of the indie record scene. What that means is we just couldn’t get any label to sign us all those eons ago. Most of the majors in Canada then were US subsidiaries, aiming at the big commercial US market, and they all told us we were too folky and too Canadian. So we started our own label.

 A generous fan funded our first album, but we didn’t want to ask him for help for the next one, so we borrowed an idea that was floating around but hadn’t become that common: we asked fans to send us $5 upfront, and we’d use the funds to make the album and then mail them a copy. It worked! We did our next two albums that way. A number of other folk acts followed suit, and that model of doing things has become commonplace in the indie music scene.

Crowd pleaser

Now they call it crowdsourcing; we just called it asking fans to help. In fact, for our third album, I got the bright idea to call it Thanks to the Following, and we printed all the supporters’ names in tiny font starting on the front cover and almost completely covering the back.

If you’re a musician and decide to go this route, there are websites that can help you, such as http://www.kickstarter.com/, http://www.gofundme.com/and others. Or you can do what I and many musicians do: contact your mailing list, and tell the fans you’re making a new CD.

Full support

Create multiple levels of support – e.g., see my fundraising page – and offer various perks. For example, my top level is $1000, for which a patron gets 10 signed CDs, 2 free tickets to the CD launch, a free house concert in their home, and – yes – an honorary producer credit on any song of their choice.

So “honorary producer” may not be quite like twiddling the dials or telling the drummer to go easy on the high hat, but some fans are tickled to become record producers this way. And you can always invite them to watch a recording session, which they may find fascinating – or boring, depending on how many takes you end up doing!

 

From Tweet to Song?

These days I’m experimenting with Twitter, because I was told by young, savvy marketing types that if I want to promote my music, I need to tweet.

So far, I’m not convinced. Maybe it’s a bit of a generational thing: the young like to tweet while us more, ahem, mature types tend to think Twitter would be better renamed Fritter.

As in, who’s got that kinda time to fritter away, to try to whittle meaningful messages – because frankly, I have no interest in reading or tweeting stuff like “Had 2 fried eggs 4 brkfast – yum!” — down to 140 characters, and to follow all the links in your fellow tweeters’ tweets, not to mention wade through endless cryptic messages full of mysterious symbols like #FF and @AddThis that I don’t have time to figure out?

But I digress. So far Twitter has been useful for one thing. One of my first experimental tweets was this: “Horses are the music of the animal world. Curves like melodies, muscles like chords. So am writing songs about horses. Seems fitting.”

And then it occurred to me that maybe those ideas and lines could fit into a song. Because I’ve written nine songs so far for a CD I’m planning that’s all horse songs. I figured I needed a tenth to make it a nice round number. And the one thing I was lacking was a song about big, beautiful draft horses, like the Clydesdales that pull the Budweiser beer wagons, or Belgians, Percherons, or Shires – the biggest of all the draft breeds.

Now it turns out the British band Jethro Tull may well have written the definitive song on the subject, appropriately titled “Heavy Horses,” but it’s a long, loud, progressive rock epic, so I decided there was room for another, more modest tune about these gentle giants of the equine world. And those lovely beasts DO have curves like melodies (those necks, those hindquarters!) and muscles like big power chords…

So I have in fact just finished a song called “The Heavy Horse Song,” and I’m in the studio these days recording it and other new songs. Here’s the chorus:

Curves like melodies, muscles like chords

And the heavy horse rhythms are steady and strong

Curves like melodies, muscles like chords

And the jingle of the harness is the heavy horse song  [© M.L. Hammond 2011]

 So stay tuned for the complete version of the song, which I’ll post somewhere when it’s done.  Meanwhile, if you insist, follow me on Twitter at @chevalgal!

……………………

Marie-Lynn Hammond is a co-founder of Stringband, a seminal Canadian folk group, and a critically acclaimed songwriter living in York Region. In past lives she’s written plays and magazine articles and hosted national CBC radio shows. In between working on two new CDs, she freelances as an editor of both fiction and nonfiction. www.marielynnhammond.com

Music and Horses

Sometimes, as a musician, your music life spills over into other areas of your life – and vice versa. Lately, for me, that’s happening in a big way: my music and my passion for horses are trotting along together in tandem.

And no, I haven’t run off to join the Mounties and their Musical Ride. J But for the last year I’ve been writing some horse-themed songs – enough, in fact, that along with five I’ve already recorded, I’ll soon be able to release an all-horse song CD. (See www.marielynnhammond for more info.)

A special barn concert                                                                               Not only that, on Saturday September 17, I’ll be playing my very first-ever BARN concert. That’s right, I’ll be playing some of those horse songs, and others, at a fundraising event at the stable where I ride in Whitchurch-Stouffville.  (A while back in this blog I wrote about house concerts – concerts that take place in someone’s home. Well, this is a spin on that concept!)

The stable is a special place, called Horses of Course, which accommodates riders with a range of disabilities as well as able-bodied riders. One of them, Krystianna L., was a plucky little girl diagnosed with neuroblastoma when she was very small. Krystianna spent huge amounts of time at Sick Kids’ Hospital, but whenever she was well enough, she’d take riding lessons at Horses of Course. Her favourite horse was a little chestnut Quarter Horse mare named Meg.

Sadly, Krystianna died in 2009 at the age of 13 – but not before the folks at the barn put Meg on a trailer and took her to Sick Kids so Krystianna could see her one more time just days before she died.

Canter for a Cure                                                                                          So this Saturday her friends and family are organizing a day called Krystianna’s Canter for a Cure, full of horsey demonstrations, and activities to raise money for neuroblastoma research, and also for a bursary for young riders with disabilities who need financial help with riding lessons. And that’s why I’ll be singing my horse songs there. If you’re a horse lover AND a music lover, then this is the event for you. Not to mention you’ll be supporting two worthy causes.

It’s a benefit!                                                                                               And that’s something we musicians do a lot of: I don’t know a single musician who hasn’t played benefits and fundraisers, and we’re always happy to do it, because we rarely have much money in our pockets to donate, but we can usually find the time to sing for a great cause. In fact I’ve played so many I’ve even written a tongue-in-cheek song called “Not Another Benefit.”

But as well as singing about chestnut mares, naughty ponies, and other equines, I’ll be more than happy to play that song this Saturday with the sound of horses nickering around me.

……………………………………….

Marie-Lynn Hammond is a co-founder of Stringband, a seminal Canadian folk group, and a critically acclaimed songwriter living in York Region. In past lives she’s written plays and magazine articles and hosted national CBC radio shows. In between working on two new CDs, she freelances as an editor of both fiction and nonfiction. www.marielynnhammond.com

Share

Research for a Song—Full Circle

A while back I wrote about composing a song that tells the story of the beautiful Sharon Temple, a national historic site in York Region. In the first post I explained what inspired me to write it (a visit to the Temple last summer) and how I found my way into the narrative. In the second I detailed some of my writing challenges—and serendipitous surprises—in telling the fascinating story of the sect, the Children of Peace, that built the temple.

In those posts I talked primarily about crafting the lyrics. But I also had to figure out what kind of music I should set those lyrics to.

Music played a key role in worship for the Children of Peace. Luckily the temple has published a booklet containing invaluable information on the sect’s music, plus the notation for all 20 tunes from the temple’s original barrel organ. So I started with one of the hymn tunes coded into the organ called “Egypt,” which has a suitably haunting, minor-key quality. It became my inspiration for the verses (I even used the same key, G minor), but I wrote a more joyous, major-key, hymn-like tune for my chorus, since the chorus begins:

“Oh we made a joyful sound, and we dressed in colours gay

We were neighbour helping neighbour in the truest Christian way…”

According to the booklet, the Children of Peace also put together “one of the earliest, if not the first, civilian band in Canada” that included instruments ranging from cellos to flutes to French horn. I’ll be going into the studio soon to record the song, and my piano player can’t wait to arrange some parts for these instruments.

And now my story of the writing of the song has come full circle: I’ll be revisiting the temple to perform the song there on Friday September 9. Every year the Sharon Temple holds an “Illumination,” when the building is lit up with only candles and lanterns. The program includes music, a speaker, and something called “our traditional Illumination cake,” served at the end of the evening. This year I’m honoured to be providing the music. Cost is $25 and it goes toward helping restore this historical gem (the building, not me).

Hope you can make it and hear the official premiere of my new song—it will be a truly moving experience for me to sing it in the very place whose history it recounts and whose music it echoes.

………………..

Marie-Lynn Hammond is a co-founder of Stringband, a seminal Canadian folk group, and a critically acclaimed songwriter living in York Region. In past lives she’s written plays and magazine articles and hosted national CBC radio shows. In between working on two new CDs, she freelances as an editor of both fiction and nonfiction. www.marielynnhammond.com

Share

Where Do Songs Come From?

 They’re everywhere, a seemingly infinite variety, proliferating constantly. Songs, songs, and more songs. And like snowflakes, no two completely alike, despite the odd plagiarism lawsuit.

 This never ceases to amaze me. Our musical scale consists of only 12 notes (which repeat in octaves, but still…). And yet Western musicians seem to find endless ways to combine those notes for melodies and chords.

 And then there’s the lyric variety. Not as much of a surprise there, since the English language contains at least 170,000 words currently in use. (Which makes you wonder why so many lyricists still focus obsessively on analyzing their love lives, or lack thereof, and use the same old phrases and rhymes, such as “tonight/all right” to do it – but that’s another story!)

 I write songs, but even I can’t tell you where half my ideas come from. The creative process is part blood, sweat and tears, but it’s also part magic.

 For instance, I just wrote a song for a friend’s wedding. And yet I can’t recall where the idea sprang from, even though I started it just barely 48 hours ago. (No, for better or for worse, I’m not one of those folks who dash songs off in 10 minutes…) The first half of the first line just appeared: “When love comes a-calling…” And then, from some mysterious place, came the idea to repeat that line, completing it each time with a colourful expression or idiom.

 E.g., “When love comes a-calling / you can run but you just can’t hide,” and “When love comes a-calling / all your ducks line up in a row.” Anyway, thank god for Google and sites that list idioms and proverbs and the like, which helped me find more. And then other phrases just appeared in that magical way, seemingly out of thin air, without research.

 Also, the “love comes a-calling” line soon began to create a melody for itself as I repeated it in my head.  By the time I picked up the guitar, the song was half written musically too.

 The song’s now finished, I think it’s pretty good, and I even worked the couple’s names into it. (We’ll see how it goes over at the post-nuptial party.) But I still can’t tell you where it came from!

_________________________________________

 Marie-Lynn Hammond is a co-founder of Stringband, a seminal Canadian folk group, and a critically acclaimed songwriter living in York Region. In past lives she’s written plays and magazine articles and hosted national CBC radio shows. In between working on two new CDs, she freelances as an editor of both fiction and nonfiction. www.marielynnhammond.com

Mariposa Folk Festival

This past weekend I performed at the Mariposa Folk Festival in Orillia. And I had a great time. I heard everything from the Idlers, a Newfoundland band playing ska and reggae, to Adonis Puentes, a fabulous Cuban singer, to Elisapie Isaac, an Inuit from Northern Quebec who sings in French, English, and Inuktitut, to Yeshe, a world traveller who plays instruments from all over the globe.

 Now if you don’t know about folk festivals, or if you think you’re not a folk fan and are therefore put off by the idea, there’s something you need to know. Over the past 20 years or so, these festivals have changed. They’re no longer a series of WASPy folks earnestly strumming acoustic guitars and singing mournful, lengthy ballads about Scottish maidens dying on the moors.

 Now it’s true that Mariposa did feature a fair number of white, North American singer-songwriter types (me included) – though given that this is Canada, at least 4 of the Canadian acts played in French, or in French and English (me included). But there were even more acts that represented or melded all sorts of genres and influences, such as rock, blues, bluegrass, classical, jazz, country, world music, spoken word, and more.

 That’s because the definition of folk music, and folk music itself,  has become pretty elastic. As Louis Armstrong once observed, “All music is folk music; I ain’t never heard no horse sing a song.” Sure, there are still some traditionalists out there who won’t listen to anything that involves a drum kit or an amp or that wasn’t written by Anonymous, but for the rest of us, there’s plenty of variety at these festivals, which is what makes them a delight.

 So next time you hear about a folk festival happening not far from you – and there are lots in Ontario in the summer: see http://www.northernjourney.com/cdnfolk/canfest.html for a list – even if you don’t think of yourself as a folkie, take a chance and check one out!

…………………..

 Marie-Lynn Hammond is a co-founder of Stringband, a seminal Canadian folk group, and a critically acclaimed songwriter living in York Region. In past lives she’s written plays and magazine articles and hosted national CBC radio shows. In between working on two new CDs, she freelances as an editor of both fiction and nonfiction. www.marielynnhammond.com