A Day At SongStudio

A Typical Day at SongStudio

Starring Ted, songwriter and coffee lover…

8:30am Ted wakes up in the bed in his Ryerson residence room. (He stayed up too late last night, jamming in the lounge with seven other songwriters. They shared songs they had written, and sang together their favourite hit songs.) After a shower and breakfast, he’ll feel more awake…

9:15am Ted meets Sara and Mike in the cafeteria for breakfast and the ever-important morning coffee. Ted liked these new friends the instant he met them, that first day at SongStudio registration. Sara has recorded two full albums and plays live shows about once a week around her home base of Ottawa. Mike had never written a song before coming to SongStudio, but knew that he wanted to learn how to get the songs out. He lives 45 minutes away from the Ryerson campus, but is staying in the residence because he knows he’d be missing out on the late night activities if he slept at home each night. This is Mike’s third year at SongStudio, and he’s always telling stories about the great times he had last year.

9:45am Ted, Sara and Mike head over to the main workshop room to gather with the other songwriters before starting the first session of the day. This morning, Ted will be in a workshop room with Rik Emmett, one of the founders of SongStudio. Rik is not only famous and incredibly talented, but he is passionate about sharing that with others. Sara and Mike are going to workshop with Andy Kim, the guy who wrote ‘Sugar, Sugar’ and ‘Rock Me Gently’. Talk about classic hit songs!

10:00am Ted’s in the workshop room with Rik Emmett and six other SongStudio writers. First, Rik talks about writing songs and about knowing when your song is finished, and takes a few questions from the writers in the room. Then he asks for a volunteer to play an original song for the group. Ted’s hand is up immediately. He plays a song he wrote last year, a song about the ‘Flood of the Century’ back home in Winnipeg in 1997. After he strums the final chord, Rik and the other writers applaud, then Rik starts delving into the song and how it is constructed. Ted learns that he’s taken an unusual step in writing the song as a Verse song, a form of song not typically heard anymore – one without a Chorus or ‘B section’ (think ‘House of the Rising Sun’). However, the song form is a good choice here, because it has traditionally been used to pass on stories from generation to generation, stories like the one Ted has written about the flood. Rik studies the printed lyric sheet that Ted brought, and suggests changing not only the order of the verses, but the language used in the lyric, to make the story develop more naturally and to make the lyric more conversational. Next, Rik points out that the melody is matching the rise and fall of the highest note in each chord, and suggests ways to re-write the melody to allow it to flow around the chords in a more interesting and more singable way. Last of all, Rik explores alternate chord possibilities, demonstrating the use of the chords to alter the mood and to better support the tone of the lyrics. It’s a mind-blowing experience for Ted, who has been to other songwriting workshops but has never had this level of personal attention.

Rik’s workshop continues until shortly after 1:00pm, with each writer getting a handful of new ideas on how to work with the songs they’ve brought. Between the seven writers in the workshop, Ted hears an incredible variety of songs, not only from wildly different genres, but also ranging from songs that are only partially written to great songs which seem ready for a massive audience. With each one, Rik excitedly dives into different aspects of the song, to help bring each one up to a higher level, along the way sharing relevant stories from his own career as songwriter and musician.

1:15pm Ted grabs a sandwich from Subway, just down the street, with Karen and Thomas from the morning workshop group. Karen (who is here from Montreal) writes children’s songs. Thomas, a hard-rock singer and guitarist, came to SongStudio from Australia, making him the longest-distance traveller to attend this year’s workshop.

2:15pm All of the SongStudio writers gather in the main hall for a session with guest songwriter Dan Hill. Blair Packham (SongStudio founder and another great songwriter) interviews Dan, and the conversation flows through stories of Dan’s childhood, how he became a songwriter, and how his career developed into becoming a songwriter for top 40 artists. Along the way, Dan performs a handful of his songs for the group, and talks about how each one was written. Ted listens while drinking another coffee – he really should have gotten more sleep last night…

4:00pm After a short break, another guest is introduced. This time it’s Stephen Page, famous for his lead role in super-group Barenaked Ladies and now pursuing his solo career. Blair delicately asks Page a few questions about his departure from the band, then the two get down into discussions about writing songs, with Page sharing live versions of several Barenaked Ladies hits plus new songs that he’s working on.

5:30pm It’s the end of the workshop day. Ted finds Sara and the two of them take the opportunity to write together before grabbing dinner. They are both supercharged with inspiration, being surrounded by writers and having heard stories from the pro’s. Within an hour, they’ve finished the song they started writing together yesterday, and they practice it a few times – they’re going to perform it at tonight’s SongStudio open mic at The Rivoli.

8:00pm The Rivoli is filled with writers from the SongStudio workshop. There are a few people missing – they must be working on new songs or recording song demos with the SongStudio engineers – but most of the group is here. There’s a long sign-up list for the open mic, even longer than last night at The Gladstone Hotel open mic, and Ted and Sara are playing ninth on the list. As one after another SongStudio writer hits the stage and shares a song, Ted gets the feeling that he’s picked up dozens of new friends who write songs.

Ted and Sara’s new song gets huge applause, and the open mic lasts until about 11:00. The writers all share cars and taxis to head back to Ryerson for the night.

11:45pm Another after-hours lounge jam begins down the hall from Ted’s room. Although he knows he’ll regret it when his alarm rings in the morning, Ted grabs his guitar and spends the next two hours singing and jamming with a dozen new friends.

At least he can grab more coffee in the morning…

(Editor’s Note: If you think you can guess the real identity of Ted and our other SongStudio writers, be sure to let us know. The diary above is actually an amalgamation of the experiences of several past SongStudio participants, but truly does represent a typical day at SongStudio.)