SAW Notes

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  • 04/10/2018 9:34 PM | Kelly Diamond (Administrator)

    The SAW AV Club has not forgotten about those of you who signed up for video shoots a few months ago. It’s taken longer than expected to organize this project, but we’re almost ready to start booking recording sessions.

    We are working to line up venues in Maryland, Northern Virginia and DC and will be contacting those who’ve already submitted requests to arrange a schedule. In the meantime, we welcome suggestions for small, quiet rooms that can accommodate bands and solo artists on weeknights or weekend days.

    SAW is offering this service for members because we believe videos are the best way – other than performing in person – to introduce yourself to new fans and bookers locally and nationally. The better the video looks and sounds, the better impression you make. Instead of your friend’s shaky iPhone footage shot from the back of a murky club, we want you to have professionally recorded, multi-camera HD videos for an affordable price.

    The AV Club has spent the last few months testing a system that lets us do live switching of video from four or more cameras, plus additional audio feeds, for recording and/or online streaming. We worked out the kinks while livestreaming the MASC Awards from Jammin Java in January and the SAW Showcase featuring Scott Thorn from the Epicure Café last month. Here are some examples from the MASC show by Director’s Award winner Heather Aubrey Lloyd, Gold Award winner Laura Baron, and Silver Award winner Susan Rowe with Tiffany Shanta. These were done early in our testing, so the videos we make now will be even better.   

    Please fill out this form to request a video shoot of you or your band performing two songs. The cost is $100 for individuals and $150 for bands. If you have any questions about the SAW AV club, contact Steve Pendlebury.


  • 02/28/2018 1:12 PM | Kelly Diamond (Administrator)

    The most painful songwriting I ever did was thanks to a toothbrush.

    Generally, I think of myself as a “craft” songwriter, an academic. Which means I spend a month researching a central idea, create a word bank and then hack into my carefully curated collection with an editing machete. But forget all that … Sometimes you just have to get something out, even though you don’t want to do it, even though you’ll feel better afterward. Writing autobiographical songs is a lot like throwing up. And if you make a living from your songs, it’s a lot like hanging your vomit in a gallery and hoping the critics appreciate the color composition of the carrots and corn.

    A fan once told me sad songs appeal to everyone because, though there are happy people, even the happiest person among us has been sad. That weepy playlist is an answer to our pain-drenched need: Tell me I am not alone. As listeners, they are our first map out of despair. As writers, they are a way to process and distribute the pain onto a community of shoulders, who ease the burden and witness our trauma. Until, one day, it’s just a song.

    It took months for me to trash his abandoned toothbrush. Then, still months later nursing my heartbreak, I walked into my bathroom to find a guest’s toothbrush sitting on the sink. Such a painful, simple symbol of all the company and intimacy that had been missing.

    I wanted somebody’s toothbrush
    On the sink next to mine
    I left yours there
    A long time

    Figuring out what is really bothering you brings you back to the craft of songwriting. How do I solidify all these emotions into the elevator pitch of my pain? What did all these symbols mean to me? Do I want another relationship? Do I want the one I had back? No, none of that was it. In fact, it was all summed up more accurately by: “I don’t know what I want.”

    Now there’s a universal feeling I could build on. Don’t we always want … something? It’s kind of terrifying. And I also thought … maybe I hadn’t heard that break-up song before.

    You broke my heart and my favorite dream
    Now I can’t promise anyone anything
    I used to want so much … now I don’t …
    I don’t know what I want …
    I don’t know what I want …

    That visceral gut reaction can be honed, edited, processed once it’s out of you and onto paper, at a more objective distance. I handwrite all my lyrics, and when I finally think I’ve done all the writing I’m going to do (whether I plan to use it all or not), I type them and treat them from there on out as an editor. In journalism they taught us: it’s easier to kill your babies when they are not staring back at you with your own hand. It was obvious some of it was dead weight. I was still too close to it to see what, so I asked another songwriter to look at it. He suggested eliminating a verse and a heavy-handed closing line about just “wanting to be happy.” It made the ending of the song a fragment, even more unresolved and even more in keeping with the theme of uncertainty. I could begin to appreciate it as art. It was one step further removed from me, becoming “the song” instead of “the pain.”

    For “I Don’t Know What I Want,” off my 2017 CD, “A Message in the Mess,” I used suspended, unresolved chords for obvious reasons – I, too, was in a state of suspension. I also wanted this thing to sound like the last dance at the prom. The end of the movie soundtrack. We got that feel with a gentle, driving percussion and a Leslie on the electric guitar. And I recorded vocal take after take, working to capture a vulnerability I don’t always get out of my famously big voice. I prevented the mixing engineer from pitch correcting two blue notes. I put the pain, removed as I got deeper into the editing process, back into the performance.

    The song ends on borrowed line from one of my best songwriting tools: the Eavesdropping Notebook. For years on tour, I’ve kept an ear out for the most unintentionally profound bits of wisdom and the human condition, caught in coffeeshops or side conversations. I collect them and save them for my songs. The rule is: I have to use them out of their original context. I feel like this keeps your writing fresh and gets you out of engrained patterns of  language. In this case, a visual artist friend, Amy Law, actually said it about her cat, falling off a table: “She hasn’t ever been graceful, but she recovers well.”

    Hopefully, I thought … so do I.

    It’s proven that people who share their pain suffer less and are healthier. And sometimes just talking about it isn’t enough. Sometimes it requires surgery. So too is it with our heartbreak songs. And here’s one way to look at it: Once you can stop judging an experience as bad … it’s all just good material. 

     (excerpted/edited from Heather’s 11-episode songwriting podcast series, available for free at her website: http://www.heatheraubreylloyd.com. “I Don’t Know What I Want” and the rest of “A Message in the Mess” is also available there, as well as Spotify and iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/a-message-in-the-mess/1210573590)

  • 02/01/2018 4:18 PM | Kelly Diamond (Administrator)

    Crys Matthews is one of the most exciting things to happen to local music recently. She was the grand prize winner for this year’s New Song contest, performing at Lincoln Center in NYC, won several MASC awards, and recently performed at the Sundance Film Festival. And she’s been winning the hearts of listeners locally and regionally. We asked Crys if she would be willing to share the story behind one of her songs with SAW members: 

    “Battle Hymn for an Army of Lovers” has been very good to me this past year, so I thought it would be nice to share a bit of the story behind it.

    It was inspired by six very specific muses — my mom, Michelle Obama, Nelson Mandela, Rita Mae Brown, Julia Ward Howe, and Eva Cassidy (via Curtis Mayfield.)

    After the outcome of the 2016 election, I was floored. I am an out, black, lesbian woman living in the south. I was terrified, which made me angry. My mom reminded me that she has seen many presidents come and go in her lifetime and is still standing. Love and faith guide her and that, she reminded me, should guide me. 

    "An army of lovers shall not fail" is a Rita Mae Brown quote that has come to mean a great deal to me. It's really just an amazingly beautiful sentiment that doesn't really need much context beyond that. 

    "When they go low, we go high" — as was famously spoken by former First Lady Michelle Obama — was my mantra going in to 2017 and will be something I will try every day to embody during the next four years. 

    Nelson Mandela very eloquently said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” 

    The meaning of the 1965 song “People Get Ready” (written by Curtis Mayfield) was amplified by the climate in America during the civil rights movement. Eva Cassidy's cover of it has always resonated with me.

    And last, but not least, which leads me to the title of the song... Julia Ward Howe is the woman who wrote the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” (aka “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory”). Later she was a suffragette. She wrote, "let us live to make men free". 

    I thought if these few principles could guide our government and our citizens we might all make it to 2020 in one piece (and maybe even in peace). And so, out of those ideas, “Battle Hymn for an Army of Lovers” was born.

    Visit Crys’s website and see her at the Pearl Street Warehouse on March 10.

  • 12/28/2017 2:12 PM | Kelly Diamond (Administrator)
    Ok, so you have survived the holidays, (so far) and are bracing for the new year.  Work, family,friends, loved ones all require your attention. So does songwriting, the loneliest struggle for mass attention ever invented.

    So where do I get off trying to tell you to volunteer?  For SAW? With other songwriters?

    There is a not so secret truth about songwriters. We are, put kindly, a solitary lot.  The best of us are often painfully shy and self-absorbed. It helps to whittle your way to the whip smart words if you have a rich interior life. Hyper social loners are a tough breed to herd and very hard but fun group to know.

    But there are stories, meaning and self-knowledge to be found in the simple act of volunteering. Ask anyone who does. To help run a show, to arrange a song circle,to serve a meal at SAW serves (Sat Jan 13th in Reston we serve dinner and sing…read about it here) to write with another songwriter, fundraise for SAW. To just show up at an open mic, toolbox or other event and participate well. All these things make you better at being a songwriter and understanding how to reach people with your words and music.

    Our goal for this year is to do more for, be more useful to and learn better from….you. Each of you collectively and individually have things to share and give.  More than you know. Less than your fear. SAW needs you to be a working part of things. And SAW plans on being a better part of your process, access and insight.

    So make this the year you give more than you take. Help SAW become the volunteer powerhouse that brings light and attention to the idea of songwriters, the reality of creativity in our midst as a way to make ourselves and our creative work…better.

    To find out how to volunteer and where, write to president@saw.org.
  • 12/20/2017 9:59 AM | Kelly Diamond (Administrator)
     Every songwriter has a different process for translating ideas into songs. In my case, I approach a song the way a director or a screen writer might approach a movie. Like a movie, I see my songs as vehicles to tell stories, and like all stories there should be a main character and a conflict to be resolved. As a songwriter, the challenge is to do in 4 minutes what a movie director does in 2 hours: to set the scene, develop the characters, and resolve the story…all while using words that rhyme. When I work in this mode, I use the first verse like a movie’s “establishing shot” by describing the setting as vividly as possible. For example, my song Fais Do Do (A Cajun Lullaby) opens with the lines: “An old shotgun cabin sits on concrete blocks where the cypress trees are thick with Spanish moss, and the black bayou water shines in the bright Cajun moon…” My goal with the first verse is to have the listener “feel” the setting versus simply having them follow the storyline.

    As far as subject matter, I tend to gravitate toward ideas or phrases that I think I can make a compelling story. I try to write about subjects I am passionate about—ones that will touch people’s emotions in a meaningful way. From a technique standpoint, I’m trying more these days to use single line “hooks” at the end of verses rather than writing long, drawn out choruses. I’ve become a big believer in brevity in songwriting—as such, I work very hard fine tuning my lyrics to say what I want to say in as few words as possible. The “less is more” approach creates “space” in the song and allows the listener to better process the lyrics. Finally, interaction with other songwriters is crucial to my creative processes. As such, I’m incredibly thankful to be member of SAW. Whether I’m teaching a Toolbox session, playing at a SAW showcase, or listening to my fellow SAW members perform, I always learn something from my peers that helps me mature and grow as a songwriter.   

    For more info about Mike Ryan, visit his website or facebook page.

  • 12/13/2017 12:01 PM | Kelly Diamond (Administrator)

    StreamCatcher the sequel: At SAW, we are always looking for ways to give you the tools you need to promote your songs. And for selling yourself to venues, there is no better tool than great video.

    The all-new SAW AV Club, headed by Steve Pendlebury and Jay Keating, is offering to help you take your visual presentation layer to the next level with a high quality, switched camera shoot. We will provide the place, the sound, the lights and cameras, and video your live performance of two songs.  Musicians will get a finished copy for streaming, showcasing or auditioning purposes that belongs to them for only $100 (plus $50 extra for bands, generally).

    Sign up HERE to be guaranteed one of the early slots.  It’s first come first serve so reserve your space for no money down.

    If you know someone who loves music who would like to be part of our AV Club (sound, lights, camera, switching) tell them to write to president@saw.org.


  • 11/22/2017 9:08 AM | Jay Keating (Administrator)

    The first time I listened to Gaelynn Lea, it was with my eyes closed. I was letting videos cycle on the computer while I took a break and noticed this unique sound coming out of my speakers. A violin that seemed different. A voice unique, emotional and affecting. And the words struck me, “Our love’s a complex vintage wine, all rotted leaves and lemon rinds…”.  The effect on me was a mournful joy that Celtic music seems to convey so effortlessly.

    When I turned to the screen, I was greeted by the image of this amazing woman playing violin like a cello. The winner of NPR Tiny Desk Concert 2016 was the You Tube headline. She was small and in a wheelchair and I would be lying if I said that didn’t affect me. I watched with equal measures of respect and curiosity. She finished her song and began to talk. Her presence, the solid joy and confidence in her voice taught me some silent lessons that I am still trying to fathom. Her music, her infectious upbeat grateful presence. The way she sang with her eyes closed and her head lifted.  I became a fan. 

    Then I forgot about her until SAW luminary Michael Roth brought her to my attention.  Could SAW’s new president help her find a gig?  I jumped at the chance and she graciously agreed to do a SAW Serves fundraiser where we split the money. The concert we put together was a frenetic jumble of tasks, decisions, negotiations and deadlines. Some great folks in SAW and at Bethesda United Methodist Church did a lot of the heavy lifting to make things happen. I was my usual frenetic nervous wreck until that moment when she started to play for the small crowd we assembled.

    It happened again. Her music, her words, her presence all conspired to make me listen, let go, relax and as she says in one of her new pieces, just breathe. It was the best beginning to a thanksgiving Week I have had in a while. If you missed it, we will post a video or two but know that the 50 or so folks who were there were the lucky ones. Bob Boilen of NPR’s All Songs Considered came and stayed for the show and afterwards.  He thanked SAW for finding her a place to play.  

    Songwriters come from every and all places. And in that crowd, Gaelynn Lea sticks out for me. As Ron Goad opined, “More talent per pound than any other performer!” Thanksgiving can be a stress eating jumble of a holiday. This Thanksgiving I am better aware of my own gratitude and will hold that closely if I get into any political arguments with Uncle Ned.

    SAW will have her back again in May.  I would encourage you to find the time to see her then

  • 11/02/2017 6:09 PM | Kelly Diamond (Administrator)

    SAW is partnering with the City of Gaithersburg and Domenic Cicala to present a music business workshop with Charlie Faye & Concert with her group, Charlie Faye & the Fayettes on November 18.

    Charlie Faye is known for having an innovative way of doing things. She put herself on the map back in 2010 when she did a 10-month residency tour living in a different city each month, putting together a new band of local musicians, and recording a new song in each city. Charlie Faye & The Fayettes
    (YouTube video) has garnered major media attention and critical praise, rising into the top 20 on the Americana Radio Chart and getting songs placed in major network television shows. 

    Charlie often does consulting for other independent artists, using her knowledge to help other musicians get their projects off the ground. She works with newbies who are releasing a record for the first time, and experienced artists who have been in the business for decades. Charlie will answer questions about recording and releasing an album, marketing, publicity, radio promo, sync licensing, self-management, and efficient touring, among other topics. 

    SAW president, Jay Keating will interview Charlie as part of this workshop. There will be a Q&A session following the interview, and participants. Sign up for both the workshop and concert and receive a 20% discount (use code "SAW20" to get the discount). See Facebook event.

  • 11/02/2017 6:07 PM | Kelly Diamond (Administrator)
    Last week, students at Magruder (Gaithersburg, MD) and Centreville (VA) High Schools were treated to a special presentation (sponsored by SAW and Focus Music) from Rick Udler, an amazing Brazilian guitarist who played several other local gigs while he was in town. Rick shared some of his music to packed rooms and answered questions about his experience as a musician and songwriter. Thanks to Ron Goad and Jay Keating for setting up this great outreach program, and to Ron, who also acted as Rick’s agent, host, chauffeur, and percussionist during his visit. 
  • 10/20/2017 12:15 PM | Kelly Diamond (Administrator)

    2016 NPR Tiny Desk Contest Winner, Gaelynn Lea, is a unique and transformative folk musician. Steeped in a Celtic sensibility, she creates a world of music like no other. Along with Dave Mehling she will perform a concert in support of SAW Serves & in partnership with Focus Music (focusmusic.org) on Monday, November 20 at Bethesda United Methodist Church. See Gaelynn Lea's website and watch her performance for the Tiny Desk Concert here.

    Tickets are $15 advance; $18 at the door. Purchase tickets here.

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