Music…I Mean…Condo Row

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A few months ago, I got lost on the way to the office. I’ve been driving through the same tree-lined entrance to Music Row for over 15 years now, along the shaded street of hundred-year-old brick buildings filled with studios and publishing companies. But I found myself sitting at a red light at the corner of Division and 17th Avenue, completely disoriented and at a loss for which direction to turn.

The row of mature oak trees and the line of brick houses were gone. In their place was a blank space…a massive hole in the ground walled off by a temporary barricade…with a shockingly bare view of the buildings a few blocks away.

One of the brick buildings that met with the wrecking ball was South Street Studio. I must have sat on the couch in the living room of that little old house dozens of times, holding the talk-back button in my hand and coaching demo singers on how to deliver the vocals on my songs. Those walls must have absorbed hours of my music while Eric Legg painstakingly EQ’ed instrument levels and tweaked mixes. I cried tears in that room listening to Pam Tillis add her voice to my “City of Dreams” flood relief song…and again when Eric played me his final mix of the 100+ tracks recorded by musicians and artists donating their time to the cause to help Music City get back on its feet again.

Today the Tennessean newspaper published a drawing of the 16-storey, twin glass peaked hotel that is going to be built in the spot where that building once stood. And you can call me old-fashioned, but as one of the working musicians that creates the music that brings tourism to Music City, I can’t help but feel sad; overlooked and underappreciated by the powers-that-be here in Nashville that would allow a development like this to happen.

Music Row is low-key for a reason, and that’s exactly what makes it special. It requires a level of privacy and quiet to create and record music. Sure, there’s the odd bus tour that runs up and down the streets…there are cars that ride the brake lights while their passengers point out the few recognizably important buildings among the humble, nondescript ones where the magic really happens…but overall, there’s really not that much to see. There are some fancy new 4- and 5-story buildings mixed in with the old ones along 16th & 17th Avenues, but they contain record labels, radio stations, and royalty-collection agencies…they are each a part of what makes the wheels go around for the people that work here. Putting a 16-story hotel right smack in the middle of Music Row is basically tantamount to putting a hotel in the middle of the Titans’ practice field so fans can see what goes on behind the scenes.

I know you can’t stop progress. In fact, I think it’s exciting that Nashville has become an “it” city. I just wish that everyone could feel the reverence that I feel when I walk along 17th Avenue. I wish there was a little more sensitivity to the history that made this town the kind of place that visitors want to come and see in the first place.

Ah well…life will go on…we’ll keep making music…and when Music Row loses its charm, a new place will become the creative haven for people like me. I’m just really going to miss the Music Row that I know and love.

 

{The entrance to Music Row…before:}

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{The demolishing of the 100-year old Victorian on the corner, and its surrounding brick buildings and trees:}

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{Today’s view from the corner of 17th and Division:}

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{The new Virgin hotel scheduled to be built on the site by 2016:}

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*****

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Hi, I’m Victoria.

If you’ve discovered some of my music and want to learn more about who I am, this video pretty much sums it up.  Hope you enjoy it!  Once you’ve had a chance to watch, I hope you’ll take the time to comment, or introduce yourself via the social media links at the top of the page…

…and if you’re interested in more behind-the-scenes musings about songwriting, creativity, the Nashville music business and life in general, along with some free songs, you can sign up for my email newsletter here.

 

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Thank you, Garth.

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“Dear Miss Victoria, First of all, let me say that I am a HUGE fan of your work….”

I got an email from Garth Brooks, and that’s how it started.

It’s a surreal thing to get an email like that from an iconic, legendary artist. It’s even more surreal to be graciously asked by that artist – out of the blue – if he can record one of my songs. (Really, was I gonna say NO!?)

What ensued was a back-and-forth email dialogue with one of the classiest, kindest artists in country music. He sent me updates on how the song was sounding. He told me how much he hoped I was going to like it. He even sent me photos of his studio crammed to the gills with a huge orchestra he had flown to Nashville from L.A. to play on it.

Then one day I answered my phone to hear his voice on the other end, inviting me to the studio to hear how the tracks sounded so far.

I guess you could call the experience bittersweet. After all, Garth couldn’t finish the song in time to release it on his current CD. He told me it will find a home on a future project…and he’s been known to hold onto songs like that so I wouldn’t be surprised if it did…but still, there’s no big moment of resolution here and there may never be.

But I’m inclined to call it amazing. I got to sit face-to-face with one of the most iconic artists in history, discussing songwriting and recording techniques. I got to sit at his studio sound board and listen – with tears in my eyes – to the voice I recognized so well singing over an entire orchestra playing the notes I had written, while he waited to see what my reaction would be. I got him to autograph the old, worn out guitar that I wrote the song on. He turned it around in his hands and strummed a few chords on it before signing his name on it with a black Sharpie pen.

Garth was still in sweats and a wool cap, and he was due to walk the red carpet at the CMA awards in 20 minutes (“my wife has been in the hairstylist’s chair for 3 hours, and look at me – I’m a mess!” he joked). But he still took the time to walk me out through the front door, stand in the pouring rain, shake my hand, and tell me again that he was a huge fan of my writing.

“LIKEWISE!”, I said. I mean, what can you say to that?

When you start your career as a songwriter, you imagine the big moments in your life. You picture having massive hits coming through the radio dial…standing on stage holding trophies…but in the end, those aren’t the biggest moments. The biggest moments aren’t that glamorous at all. Sometimes, they’re just moments that come and go, in a nondescript building on Music Row. Those are the moments that matter.

Thank you, Garth.

*****

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For the Love, Not the Money…

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I spend my life as a songwriter with my head and my heart immersed in music. For the past 17 years, it’s been not only my 5-days-a-week, go-to-the-office career…it’s also been my 24/7/365 obsession. I love it.

And it’s a good thing I love it.

Because if I were doing this for the money, if I were doing it for the fame, if I were doing it for the adrenaline rush of hearing my songs on the radio, I would have quit. I would have left long ago, like 90% of the incredibly talented musicians I have seen come and go from this heartbreak town.

The music business – like any business – is geared towards a public perception of “success”. Of massive, sing-along radio hits. Of stretch limos, #1 parties and overflowing bank accounts. And for a very few songwriters, that’s how life goes. The stars line up, and they experience that kind of success. But here’s the thing: you can aim for that…you can work tirelessly for it…you can have enough talent to deserve it…but that doesn’t mean it will happen. And even if it does happen, it won’t be enough to sustain your creativity if that’s the only thing that’s driving you.

There is, however, one thing you CAN count on in this business. It’s disappointment. For every success, there will be 100 disappointments – probably more.  You’ll spend years collaborating with artists who end up getting dropped from their record labels without ever releasing anything. You’ll think your years of struggle are over when you get a song recorded on a massive artist’s CD, then you’ll go to buy it in Walmart and find it missing from the track list. You’ll daydream about paying off your credit cards when your song is sent to radio as a single for a chart-topping artist, and then you’ll turn on the radio to find the artist has released a different song. You will experience so many “almosts” that you will start to feel like the universe is laughing at you. And you will begin to wonder if maybe the blind faith that’s driving you to do this for a living is really just misguided stubbornness.

A music career is almost certainly NOT an overnight, lightning-strike success. Many of us won’t experience “success” at all…at least not the kind of success the outside world recognizes. But as musicians, we need to be able to keep picking our guitars back up, even when we’ve been told “no” for the 1000th time. Even when our hearts have been crushed by the 100th “almost”. Because being a musician is not about money…or fame…or success. It’s about doing what you love. It’s about opening your heart and pouring it into something.

Once you’ve done something with passion and given it as much life as you can, all you can do is release it into the world, hope for the best, and let go of it. If you can do that – if the process is what drives you – you will go to bed at night and sleep the sweet sleep of someone whose heart’s desire is truly satisfied, even if you’re sleeping on a Goodwill mattress. And if the fates allow, you will wake up tomorrow and get to do it again for one more day.

*****

Interested in more behind-the-scenes musings about songwriting, creativity, the Nashville music biz and life in general, along with some free songs? Sign up for my email newsletter here.

 

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“Ruined” at Radio and “Indigo” iTunes Pre-Sale!

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What an exciting week!  My brand new single, “Ruined”, has been sent out to country radio across Canada.  Check out the lyric video for it here:

Also, my new record “Indigo” is up on iTunes Canada for pre-sale starting this week.  If you pre-order the album, which comes out October 7th, you’ll get it for a discounted price of $7.99 AND you’ll be able to download a copy of “Ruined” right away as an instant gratification track.  Here’s the link for that:

https://itunes.apple.com/ca/album/indigo/id911603123

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How to Hurt a Suicide Survivor

Victoria with Mom

In the wake of Robin Williams’ death, there has been a lot of media dialogue about suicide. That’s a good thing, because it’s a topic that’s not discussed enough in our society. But it’s also a very difficult thing for those of us who have lost loved ones to suicide. (So if you know someone who has, maybe give them an extra hug this week.)

5 years ago, my Mom took her own life. She did it after 6 months of sudden-onset, undiagnosed, inexplicable mental illness at age 68…manic highs and depressed lows that forced our family to commit her involuntarily to psychiatric hospitals over and over again. Since her death, I have learned how to live with the reality of being a suicide survivor. I have managed to heal over the gaping wound in my spirit. But over the last 2 days, I have found that wound opening again. I guess it’s because much of the language society uses to try and prevent people from committing suicide is extremely painful to those of us who have lost someone to it, and it’s very difficult for anyone who hasn’t experienced this kind of loss first-hand to put themselves in the place of someone who has.

These are some of the things that are most hurtful for a suicide survivor to hear:

1) Suicide is weak and cowardly.

There is nothing more painful in the wake of having lost someone you love than to hear someone insult their character. Not only does this lack compassion, it’s ignorant. My mother was NOT a coward. She was one of the strongest women I know, and she fought like hell to protect the people she loved. In the end, she lost her battle with mental illness, like a gladiator losing a fight with the lions. She was beaten by it…but she was not a coward.

2) Suicide is a choice.

I don’t pretend to understand what drives people to commit suicide. But I do know that my mother spent about 60 years of her life putting everyone else’s needs in front of her own. She was compassionate, nurturing, funny, and kind. She was the kind of person my friends went to for advice, or confided in when they were suffering in a way that nobody else would understand.

My mother would NEVER hurt me. She would NEVER hurt the people she loved. Not if it was a choice. And yet, her suicide hurt me more than anything else in my entire life. So IF suicide is a choice, it is one that’s made in a place of such delusion, such desperation and darkness that you can’t think straight. Is that still a choice? I guess so. But maybe we need a different word for it.

3) Suicide leads to damnation.

This is a lovely little stumbling block for the suicide survivor to try and navigate. I’m not a particularly religious person, but I have to admit that I spent my share of tears on this one. Let me just say that if there is one person in my life who deserved “salvation”…who deserved “heaven”…who deserved “eternal peace”, it was my Mom. I would have said that about her before she died, and I believe it even more now. So if someone tries to claim that suicide is an unforgivable, go-directly-to-hell act, I don’t buy it. Not for a minute. Where’s the compassion in that? Where’s the understanding? And I just can’t bring myself to believe in a God that isn’t compassionate and understanding.

4) Here’s another thing you can do…

Here’s something else you can do to hurt a suicide survivor: let the way their loved one died completely overshadow the way they lived. Let the darkness steal the joy that person brought to the people around them. Let their suicide outweigh everything good in their memory.

I’m not saying there isn’t a time to discuss it…as painful as it is, the dialogue is terribly important, and it’s natural to grieve. But we have to let it go. Eventually, we’ll need to watch a Robin Williams movie and laugh with pure joy again. We’ll need to laugh, so we don’t let his death matter more than how he lived.

I still struggle with this. I still find myself looking at pictures of my Mom holding me in her arms as a child – pictures that should make me happy – and sometimes I cry thinking about the kind of end her life was headed towards.

But here’s the thing: WE ALL DIE. For some of us, it’s a cancer cell that multiplies in our body. For some, it’s a heart attack. For some, it’s turning our car onto a specific street at a specific moment. For some, it will happen in old age; for others, it will seem to happen before our time. We are ALL ticking clocks.

So how do we deal with that? We laugh. We love. We live. We shine our light out into the darkness for as long as we can, as brightly as we can. And we celebrate the light in others, every chance we get. Even after they’re gone.

*****

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Mom’s Bike

Mom's bike

Last week I had a rare and precious visit with my Dad. He lives in the house I grew up in, north of Toronto in Muskoka, Ontario. Mom passed away 5 years ago now, but he’s still holding down the fort by himself, working as an antique marine mechanic in summers and battling the extreme snow load in winters to keep the -40 temperatures from creeping into the wood-heated house.

While I was there, I started poking around amid the piles of treasures – believe me, Dad has piles of treasures EVERYWHERE – and I came across Mom’s old British Raleigh bicycle in the garage, buried underneath random boxes of antique tools and extra brake lines for cars we don’t own anymore. It had been parked there for over 30 years, since my parents left their careers in Toronto to move north and “live off the land” at the end of a hilly Muskoka dirt road that wasn’t suited at all for bikes (especially smooth-tired bikes with only 3 speeds on the Sturmey-Archer gearshift).

Picture a towheaded 2-year old, perched in the baby seat mounted over the rear wheel of that bicycle, flying down the paved streets of Toronto with Mom’s long red hair blowing in the wind, laughing out loud at bumps over curbs and swerves around potholes. That’s my very first memory as a human being on this planet, and it came back to me in living colour the moment I saw that bike.

So with Dad’s help, I extracted the bike from its piles of stuff, and the two of us proceeded to nurse it back into working order. Dad trimmed the rotten rubber off the bike’s air pump hose, re-attached it and we pumped up the flat tires and applauded when they held air. We used Dad’s antique tin long-stemmed oilcans to lubricate the gears, and worked the pedals back and forth until the shifter began to move again. We coaxed the tiny bell handle with lubricant until the bell rang just like it used to. We searched through Dad’s piles of tools to find the perfect sized socket (British Imperial sized! No Metric crap for this bike!) and re-adjusted the wheel-operated headlight and taillight. We found the original instruction book among Dad’s files, and then I was entertained by Dad’s running commentary as he sorted through a tin bucket of random unmarked keys – many of which belonged to old clients’ boathouses which have long since been torn down – to fish out a British Royal family keychain linked to the set of original keys to the Raleigh handlebar hub.

I dismantled the bike enough to somehow fit it into my VW hatchback, drove the 14 hour trip back down to Nashville, and spent the weekend polishing it to a shine with rags, wax, and an antique can of chrome polish Dad had sent with me. And even though it’s 1000 miles from home, when I took the bike out for its first ride around East Nashville, I swear could hear my Mom’s laugh mixed with the wind in my ears.

I’m gonna love riding that bike.

*****

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When You’re in the Groove…

Check out Victoria's new tour dates

Who knows where the heck songs come from. When you’re not plugged in to your creativity, it can seem like an impossible task even to write one line of a song. But when you’re in the groove, you’re invincible.

You listen to everything around you with one side of your brain while the other twists it all into lyrics. You walk aimlessly through the aisles of the grocery store dancing to a band playing deafeningly loud melodies that only you can hear. Your phone voice recorder stays clenched in your hand in the middle of the night because the moment you put it down on the bedside table, you get another idea and you can’t fiddle with the buttons fast enough to capture it. You drift death-defyingly across lanes of traffic on the way home from writing two songs because your brain is in another world dreaming up the perfect chorus for the third one. (I have no idea how I make it anywhere in one piece sometimes.)

You also forget to eat, forget to pee, can’t sleep because ideas keep waking you up, and you drive your family crazy because whenever they try to talk to you, you’re gazing at a distant spot just over their shoulder, mumbling “uhuh, uhuh, yeah”.

It’s the best torture and the worst rapture, and it’s totally unsustainable because at some point the flames on both ends of your candle are gonna meet, and then you’re gonna burn out. But while you’re on fire, let it burn, baby!

*****

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Playing the Keys (Key West, That Is!)

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For a week every spring, the Nashville music business transplants itself to Key West for a big songwriters festival.  It’s such a blast, and it’s actually a really great place to get a lot of business done, even if it’s tinged around the edges with rum.  J I’m very blessed that my publishers at RareSpark Media Group, believe in me enough to invest time, money and energy into bringing me to events like this.  This year, we flew in a few days early and brought along a few co-writers to spend some time writing songs in paradise before the festival kicked off.  Emily Shackelton, Phil Barton, visiting Aussie track-builder Lindsay Rimes and I spent a few days writing a song, getting a pina colada, writing a song, eating some shrimp, writing a song, kayaking the keys at dusk, writing a song, lying in the sun, writing a song, swimming from a boat anchored on a sandbar, writing a song…etc.  What a hardship!

Then the festival started, and what a week it was!  I got to perform several times with my co-writers, but the best part was being an audience member at some really cool shows.  I soaked up music by some of my songwriting heroes (I always LOVE me some Matraca Berg).  I watched Sara Evans play her hits on a stage in the middle of Duvall Street, to an audience of bodies packed as far as the eye could see.  I got to hear the band Loving Mary perform one of my songs in one of their first shows ever (trust me, you’re gonna know their name soon because they’re an INCREDIBLE band – I’m talking FLEETWOOD MAC incredible).

One of the highlights of the week was spending a lazy afternoon jamming around the swimming pool with Loving Mary band members Rebecca Lynn Howard, Marti Frederiksen, and fellow Canadian Suzi McNeill.  First, we got Marti to play his Aerosmith song “Jaded” so we could all sing harmony.  Then Hall-of-Fame writer Even Stevens showed up, so we coaxed him to sing a bunch of his hits, including “I Love a Rainy Night”, “Driving My Life Away”, and “When You’re in Love with a Beautiful Woman”.  It was so surreal to sing along with the songs of my childhood with the guy who wrote them!

It crossed my mind – as I was doing yoga on a paddleboard anchored out among the mangroves on the last day of my trip – that even though this crazy business pays pennies on the dollar these days, it doesn’t matter.  When my bank account is empty, my heart is still full and rich with experiences.  Those are the things that really matter in the end!

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Climbing Mount Everest

Mount-Everest

My new record is being mastered today, after 8 months of work! It’s called “Indigo”, and I’m particularly proud of it because I made it differently from my last 2 CDs. This project was built from scratch: it was layered, one instrument at a time, instead of being recorded in the studio in one fell swoop with a full band. That means that with considerable help from my co-producer Park Chisolm, I was able to paint Indigo with my own brush more than anything else I have ever recorded.

Making a CD is like climbing Mount Everest, and this one was no different. First, I stood at the bottom for a while, craning my neck up at the sky and marveling at the sheer distance I was going to have to travel to get to the top. I knew I couldn’t make it alone, but I had to figure out who I was gonna work with to get there. What did I want to achieve in climbing this mountain? And did I really have it IN me to do this again? It seemed really overwhelming, but I knew it was time. It had been 3 years since my last record came out, and my music had evolved and changed a ton in the meantime. The audience reaction I was getting at shows made me sure that these new songs deserved to be put out into the world.

So I started putting one foot in front of the other. I burned some midnight oil sitting up in the loft, playing my guitar into a microphone hooked up to the ProTools rig on my computer. I hooked the keyboard up via MIDI, spent a few days learning how to operate the software, and started playing with piano sounds. I learned how to program some drum and percussion samples. I started to build something. It wasn’t much, but it was the bones of what I wanted Indigo to be.

Then, I got to a point where I didn’t know where to go next. So I called co-producer and multi-talented instrumentalist Park Chisolm and asked him to help me find my way to the top of the mountain. I brought my bare bones tracks over to his studio, and he began to layer instruments and paint his brushstrokes on Indigo too. We hired a cellist, a percussionist, a guitarist and a B3 player to come over and paint their colours into the picture.

After the tracks were built, it was time to sing the vocal parts. That’s the part of climbing the mountain where it becomes a real struggle, and I think that’s the case for any artist. Each song on Indigo represents about 18 hours of singing, distilled into 3 minutes of music. And because I’m my own worst critic, the vocals are NEVER what I wish they could be.

I talked to a co-writer recently who told me she broke down and cried in the studio when she was trying to edit her vocals together for her own album, because she didn’t think they were good enough, and she wished she could hire someone else to do it! I know how she feels! It’s a tough thing, because you can get all the musicians in the world to play your tracks, but when it comes down to the vocals, it’s just YOU, and those 2 little vocal cords are all you’ve got to work with. It can be very frustrating! So you play with different things: if first thing in the morning vocals don’t give the song the right feeling, you re-sing it late at night just to try and capture it the way you’re hearing it in your head. You sing, sing, and re-sing, and then you start over again with a different microphone (or you get a cold and have to wait for a month before you can finish)! That’s why this part of the process takes so long, and is so exhausting.

After I pushed through a couple months of sleep deprivation, I got to my favourite part of climbing the mountain: the background vocals. I sang a bunch of them myself, but I also called on my best girlfriends to sing (it’s convenient having girlfriends like Canadian legend Lisa Brokop and background singer extraordinaire Tania Hancheroff, whose voice you can hear backing up Sheryl Crow and Carrie Underwood’s records). I am also married to a sweet-voiced tenor, so that’s convenient too when it comes to backgrounds. Thanks Dave. :)

Next, the mixing engineer, Sean Moffitt, mixed and tweaked and re-tweaked each song until everything sounded just right. The instruments were EQ’d, panned left or right, and woven in around each other in volume with the vocals sitting nicely on top. The songs were checked on ten different kinds of speakers, and even played in mono to make sure they’d sound good on AM radio. In the meantime there were photo shoots, website re-designing, song licensing, album graphics and promotional plans to tackle (and throughout this whole experience, I’ve been working full-time as a staff songwriter for other artists, so it’s been a handful)!

Today, I’m standing at the top of the mountain. In a couple of hours, I will have a mastered copy of the songs with the sounds compressed and cleaned up, the volume levels equalized, and the song order sequenced. It’s gonna be a good day. These songs are really special, and I’m so glad you will finally get to hear them.

Stay tuned…Indigo is coming out soon on the Fontana North label!!!

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