If I review this year through the lens of what I have achieved, then I would say that these new skills could result in a new nickname for myself “Tenacious A”! Tenacious A has learnt all sorts of new skills and “person/soul” qualities yet practically achieved very little when it comes to the songwriting journey. Tenacious A has tried this and that and ended up a few steps behind! Oh, life!
Up till now, my working life and my private life of raising a family have resulted in the honing of several qualities- nurturing, enabling and encouraging the best growth in others, interior soft skills, you could say. I have also worked a lot from home so I have not developed many external and worldly skills. So, this year has been something of an eye opener in the skills that I am having to learn. Perhaps they are all necessary for my onward growth as a songwriter- time will tell.
This time last year I decided that if I could not go to venues or find a promotor to put on concerts then I would do a few of my own. I put on two concerts which I shared with my guitarist who is also a songwriter in his own right. They were great fun and the first one had the atmosphere of a village fete. Despite having an article in a couple of local newspapers, announcing it on F.B and putting up flyers in local shops, the only people who came were the children and parents that I teach and people I have worked with at the Steiner school. The children’s mums had baked cakes and my students offered to be waiters and hand round refreshments. At the end we raffled off my homemade jam, my husband’s homemade wine and Jerry’s chutneys, managing to raise some money for both charities we were supporting. I was lovingly and loudly supported but all these dear folks and my son- who is a budding photographer- finally managed to take some performance pictures of me with his new camera.
The second concert only had about 8 people- my loyal supporters had all come to the one before. It was Bonfire night- so I clashed with the local fireworks display. My attendants this time were several older ladies who did not want to listen to “all those horrid bangs and pops” and would rather stay warm and listen to a nice tune! This time, I also had a lady who makes local community films come and review it. She wrote a lovely review and the older ladies enjoyed their tunes and firmly told me that the ones about “The Seasons” were their favourites as they could really feel they were in the seasons I was singing about. I think they found some of my other songs a little unusual, but they said I had a lovely voice and I was original!
Overall, I learnt that – you need promotors to help build an audience and that I could not financially keep on putting on my own gigs. I definitely got some performance experience, got a good review and some decent photos and raised money for two charities. But, I realised I could not sustain this as an ongoing experience.
In the new year I began what became a year of stumbling through and learning in a piecemeal way a whole load of external skills; how to build a website, how to navigate to even a small degree- the world of technology and computer skills. How to fill in grant forms and squash myself into their linear logical boxes of assessment criteria and accountability. How to look for and not find a new guitarist when you have no money, and finally how to speak up to authority to try and get my needs met. How, most importantly, to keep going when everything keeps unravelling. A lonely year of trying. If it had not been for the kind encouragement of my extended family and the cheering on of the kind and helpful MickGlossop, the producer who has been mentoring me, then I think I would have given up at different points.
I started by making my ep into a physical product and a digital download- paying for itself by selling it to family and friends. Alex Smith, Xponorth, asked how my digital promotional campaign was going – to which I replied in puzzlement- “what campaign?” The whole world of online promotion and campaigns was not in my sphere of knowledge. He suggested that I find a company who could do it for me and try and get grant money to pay for it, I had thought, that once something was just out there- that it would start to sell! After a month I had a handful of miserable download sales. I realised I had a lot to learn!! Not, about singing but the external world. I found a music pr company called “Wildkat” who thought that what I produce musically is exciting and they said they would be delighted to do a debut ep campaign for me- providing it was quickly taken off the market, but they cost something in the region of £4000 . That stumped me for a bit.
So, first step in being visible. Mick encouraged me to make a website, which is a good sensible suggestion….which he said was not rocket science. Well, maybe not rocket science for most- but for me it was a stressful online learning curve! I managed to somehow make 5 homepages and lose them all on the site before it was published! My boys would come home from college to find mum weeping or seething at the computer! My brother in law thankfully – with much humour on his part- managed to find all those homepages and delete four of them, before we published it! Writing the text was no problem, it was navigating the site and how the site worked logically that befuddled me. But, I did it and it works! Computer skills continued to be a learning curve. Mick again encouraged me to use Twitter- which previously I had thought was something suspect politicians from America did and I was very suspicious of it. I think I have got the hang of it enough to use it simplistically- it is useful for seeing what is going on in the big wide world. But, I don’t think it will get me noticed really as a songwriter- I think if I was a bit further along it would help me. But, as a complete nobody it is so full and busy that it seems difficult to be noticed. Perhaps if I was savvy or I joined one of the social media marketing firms- but that would require money. But, I keep trying.
I then applied for and got some social media training – which has been very useful in teaching me how to do URL’s, copy and paste, upload pictures and make little posts . The trainer was very adamant that I should make little posts with quotes from clients about my teaching or from audience members about my songwriting. I have duly done so, but each time I do it, I wince as it feels like I am just becoming part of the narcissism of the world of the selfie…..it is really quite toe- curling. My sons also tell me it looks vain …..so I am not sure whether this form of self advertising does any good. But,I keep trying.
Amongst all this crashing around and learning on I.T, I needed to find a possible grant that would pay for the amazing services offered by Wildkat. What they offered would be a real game changer for me as an artist. I would become properly visible in the music industry as a new emerging artist- I hoped this would then lead to gigs and interest and fans- which so far eludes me living in the wilds of Scotland. I found two different grants- to which I applied in succession. I needed considerable help from Wildkat for the first one and from my honorary stepfather for the second. They are really very dreadful things: one practically needs a degree in music business and administration to fill them in. They bizarrely are there to uphold creative activity and the development of artists. But, their process is so driven by accountability that it leaves no space for individual situation or difference. I did not meet the criteria for either and have spent the better half of a whole year applying for their pots of gold at the end of the rainbow or waiting to hear back. So, no Wildkat or cool debut ep P.R campaign.But, I kept trying and it was very trying! Back to first base again.
Amongst all this my guitarist announced he was leaving to retire to the isle of Iona and that would be the end of working together. Now, this floored me more than all the other stumbles and set backs. A singer is nothing on her own- she needs a band with her. I again, kept trying. I rang up Creative Scotland’s music officer and made adverts and put them in all suggested places. I even sent one to Mick in London in the vague hope that he might know someone who could play with me- a bit far away! The thing is I need a musician who is proficient, creative and imaginative who likes my fusion approach and can translate what I mean into chords. I also have no money to pay anyone. No one manifested or only those who wanted pennies in their pockets, but I kept trying.
In the meantime performance became an intermittent solo experience…..it was not exactly galloping along before….but now it was developing at the pace of a snail moving along a brick. I managed to do some accapella slots for other peoples concerts- which went down well- and some sitting room gigs for my dear friends who had done the performance workshop with me and were happy to be part of my growing experience. These were all very nice and gave me some lovely quotes for the toe curling exercise of promoting myself on social media…..but were far and few between and were not developmental really. But, I kept trying and each time I felt I reached people and touched their hearts and it felt right to be doing it.
After all this I have realised several things. On a practical level- where I live is a disaster for an emerging artist -no gigs. I can’t help that, without moving an entire family…(and we could not afford to move without decent work, rents are too much elsewhere). I realised that I could apply to grants till the cows come home, but without the accountability box being filled for “Public engagment” then I would never receive their magical pot of gold. So…..what to do? I decided to talk to Creative Scotland and my local MP, because artists need opportunities wherever they live – it is not fair if there are just solutions for urban folks. There are various noises that are positive for perhaps creating change. But, bureaucracy moves slowly at the best of times- so I will see. But, I keep trying. I have learnt to stamp my foot just a little.
Last week, Jerry has told me he would like to try distance working with me and gig after Christmas. I was delighted. This week however, he has just received the news that his son- who has some additional needs- is gravely ill and will require some months of serious treatment. Poor Jerry and his son, I will have to leave the gig hope for a while, and allow him the space to just work on my songs as and when he can for now.
So, I am bizarrely no further forward now than at the same time last year, but I have tried . I would say I have learnt perseverance, courage, some increased self belief, how to speak out, how to fill in forms, how to use computers to a very small degree and that the outside world requires a whole different skillset to the one I am comfortable with. It has been a journey through smoke and mirrors with no set path or destination. But, it is still where I feel I must put my energy- it is where I have creativity, ideas and where my soul speaks. I feel I have something to offer for those who would like to listen and singing is where and how I connect. I don’t know where this higgledy piggledy journey will take me- but it is certainly surprising and uncertain. At least, I grow as a person through it, maybe one day it could be become more than the small thing it is. There are a couple of glimmers there which I don’t want to even mention in case I jinx them….but I hope something glimmers into reality with them. I will keep trying!