Tag Archives: Stringband

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!

 

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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!

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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

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.

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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

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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!

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 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

Writing Beyond My Means

Some people live beyond their means. I write beyond my means. What I’m saying is that I write songs that are sometimes too complicated for me to easily perform.

I recently went into the studio with a really accomplished pianist, Marilyn Lerner. She was my first-ever piano player, just a kid fresh out of music school, but who’d been taking piano lessons since she was tiny. She moved on into jazz and improvisational music and new music, but her playing is always full of heart and emotion. (Listen at http://www.marilynlerner.com)

But me, well, I’m not a schooled musician. I had three years of violin as a kid, which I begged for, because my parents were both tone deaf and music wasn’t a big deal in our home. And that was it for my formal musical education.

In my early 20s, having learned some chords on guitar, I ended up in a folky band called Stringband (http://is.gd/YKqX0M). A few years later I took a summer course at the Royal Conservatory for grades 1 & 2 theory – I figured it might improve my songwriting. But in the band we mostly worked things out by ear, and all that theory ended up out the window. So a few years later I took some piano lessons. I wrote some pretty cool songs on the piano, but I couldn’t really play the thing because I’m about as coordinated as a jellyfish.

Now for me, it’s all about the lyrics, and I often write complex songs with irregular structures and throw in extra bars and odd chords — whatever the words and story dictate. But then when it comes time to perform them, well, I can’t count beats worth a damn, especially while I’m singing.

So recording with someone like Marilyn who can sight read and who’s got a chart (written out by my producer, definitely not by this musical illiterate!), while I have only a lyric sheet with little chicken tracks in pen on it, the tracks representing the number of beats between lines or places where the words are actually a pickup, or need to be stressed – well, it can get embarrassing when I screw up. Which I did fairly often the night we recorded together, in part because the song is also very new, so it’s not burned into my brain yet.

So that’s what I mean by writing beyond my means. The only thing that saves me is that Marilyn and other schooled musicians I’ve worked with really like those complicated, quirky songs of mine, and seem to find the patience to deal with my musical ignorance.

And for that, like others who live beyond their means, I owe them a huge debt!

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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

 

 

 

 

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A Concert in Your Living Room?

Marie-Lynn Hammond

By Marie-Lynn Hammond

This past Sunday I and two musician friends played a concert, had a fabulous time, and even made a bit of money – all without tickets, posters, hall rental, noisy bar patrons, or big, complicated sound equipment. How’d we manage that?

It’s a House Concert!
Because the show took place in a private home – it’s called a house concert. In the last few years the media have discovered them; I’ve seen articles in major newspapers and heard a radio doc about the phenomenon. But they’ve been around much longer than that. I played my first house concert with my old band, Stringband, in Thunder Bay, around 1981 or 1982.

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Research for a Song?

Marie-Lynn Hammond

By: Marie-Lynn Hammond

Yes, I’m doing research for a song. Because not all songs are about the writer’s navel-gazing feelings, or about love, that bottomless pit of inspiration (and too often cliché) for songwriters.

I love writing songs on unusual topics and songs that tell stories. If they tell a Canadian story, even better. So I’m now writing one about the Sharon Temple (www.sharontemple.ca), a unique heritage site in the north of York Region.

The temple, completed in 1832, was built by a fascinating sect called the Children of Peace. You could say they were the first hippies: they valued peace, social justice and equality; they lived together cooperatively in one village; they held feasts where everyone shared food; they wore colourful clothing when they marched in processions; and music and song were a big part of their worship.

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