Feature: SongStudio

It has been said that some of the best musical talent in the world is coming out of Toronto right now, and at SongStudio, an annual songwriting workshop held at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, a huge percentage of this talent is brought forth and showcased openly.

As an aspiring songwriter, I was privileged enough to be able to attend for the first time this past July. I had never previously attended anything in this vein, and was completely in the dark about what to expect; I was even feeling mildly daunted, particularly after looking at the jam-packed schedule that was e-mailed to me upon registration. In the end I was more than pleasantly surprised. What I found was a creatively stimulating, inspiring, and motivating atmosphere full of songwriters ranging in age from fifteen to sixty-five and beyond who wished to see one another reach their full potential, and to share their own unique gifts with the world. It was an entirely inclusive, supportive environment which I found conducive to my own artistic growth and I would highly recommend it for anyone in the area who is an aspiring or professional songwriter. Whatever your skill level, you will find a place to feel welcome at SongStudio. In my experience, there was absolutely no ego to be found here, only support and encouragement.

SongStudio staff did their best to ensure the excitement never ended, or even slowed, during the short week. Each day began at ten o’clock in the morning, when songwriters would split off into separate groups led by the various professional musicians on staff to share original songs that were complete or nearing completion. Staff and fellow SongStudio participants would offer their advice and constructive criticism. It was always tremendously rewarding to be able to hear many beautiful songs first thing in the morning and to be able to build my own confidence in performing in front of others.

Later in the day, panels were held in the main conservatory theatre by guests such as former teen singer-songwriter Liam Titcomb and CRIA Applause award-winning Amy Sky, who shared personal and poignant anecdotes about their rise to fame in the Canadian music industry, offered suggestions on what to do and what not to do as a songwriter, and kept us laughing the entire time. It was incredibly surreal to have the opportunity to speak with such great Canadian songwriters as equals and hear their inspiring stories of success.

After sundown the workshop didn’t end, either. In the evening, participants were encouraged to attend open mics at various well-known Toronto venues; songwriters who had never taken the stage before had the chance during the week to perform to audiences at the intimate and artsy C’est What?, the famous Rivoli, and the Gladstone Hotel’s luxurious Melody Bar. On the final night of the workshop, participants selected by majority vote played a closing showcase for friends and family amidst a candlelit dinner at Hugh’s Room, known particularly for its reputation for very close, personal, and quiet musical performances in a classy and elegant setting. I enjoyed a delicious meal and got the chance to witness a series of wonderful, high-quality performances from musicians I had come to know personally throughout the week. What could be better? The Hugh’s Room showcase was certainly one of the many highlights of SongStudio. It was a wonderful conclusion that far surpassed my expectations, both in the quality of the selected performers and the ambience of the room.

Exciting performances and question-and-answer panels aside, the truly beneficial aspect to SongStudio for myself personally were the networking and visibility opportunities. I attended as a completely naive aspiring songwriter with little experience. I had not previously worked with other serious songwriters and was mildly intimidated at the onset, but the beauty of this workshop is that each participant is at a different technical skill level, from bedroom hobbyist to professional musician. Beginners who had never co-written before or performed in front of a large crowd instantly felt welcomed by the immensely supportive community and left with encouraging words and motivation buzzing in our minds. I was surrounded by talent on all sides and yet never felt remotely intimidated.

During the week of SongStudio I had the chance to speak to, network with, and form long-lasting connections with dozens of incredibly talented individuals, each of which had something significant to bring to the table. I learned that many SongStudio participants were veterans who had been coming for many years, claiming that the environment was so powerfully helpful in the creative process that they felt drawn back each year. Some participants came from other provinces and even overseas. By the end of the week I fully understood why. The workshop was put together incredibly professionally and with our best interests in mind: each moment was seemingly carefully organized to ensure maximum creative benefit. The experience was well worth every cent and I would highly recommend it to any aspiring songwriters in the GTA who may not be aware of the workshop. Members of the Society of Composers, Authors, and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN) are given a discounted fee. Also notable is the Musical Instruments Prize, which is donated by Long & McQuade and given to one selected participant on the final day of the workshop to encourage them in their musical endeavours.

Words: Carly Bush

Photo: Roger Beckett Photography