In July a week-long workshop for songwriters will take place in Toronto. SongStudio is the creation of Rik Emmett and Blair Packham two of Toronto’s best songwriters.
During the week students will be spending one-on-one time with faculty and having the chance to meet with some of the industry’s top names. The event will be held on the campus of Ryerson University. The workshop is for anyone who wishes to improve their songs and is for songwriters of all levels.
Blair Packham is the program director. He is in charge of designing and implementing content of the workshop. Packham has been writing songs since he was 17. He was part of Toronto’s The Jitters and recorded two albums for Capitol-EMI Music of Canada with the band. Since that time Packham has spent his time in the industry working behind the scenes with themes and scores for broadcasters such as TSN, Global Television, Discovery Channel, CBC Newsworld, TVO, CTV and others.
Since the 1990’s Packham has been involved with the Songwriters Association of Canada. An advocate for the rights and privileges of songwriters Packham has worked to foster more education for songwriters. He currently teaches songwriting at Humber College and Seneca College. He is also a co-host for the weekly Toronto music radio show ‘Rock Talk.’
Emmett and Packham have been running the event since 2005. Some of the alumni have gone on to release their own recordings, perform and tour. One special stand out is Justin Nozuka who was a nominee for Best New Artist at the 2007 Juno Awards.
The cost for the week is $750.
I had the opportunity to interview Blair about the workshop.
KJ: Why did you want to do SongStudio in the beginning?
Blair: Rik Emmett was teaching courses in the music business industry at Humber in 2005 and the facility approached him about doing a summer program. He asked me to work on it. It has run for the past four summers but the school wasn’t making money at it. This summer with the school’s blessing we’re running it ourselves as an independent program.
KJ:How many students are you planning on having this year?
Blair: We’re hoping to have roughly 50 students. That has been in the number range the past years. With 50 to 55 students we have the staff. If we get more students we will increase the staff and have to get more classroom space from Ryerson. Spots are open until the day before but after June 1 the cost does increase to $850. We’re expecting many returns. One of those who has been in the workshop for years saw me last night and said “I just go to hang out with so many friends and talented people.” And that is how we feel also, many of those who have been in the workshop in the past are now friends.
Even in spite of the economy the workshop is the deal of the century. The amount of talent that students have a chance to be with is just incredible.
KJ: Have you had a ‘wow’ moment during past workshops?
Blair: Oh my goodness! Over and over! One is when Justin Nozuka first attended the first year. We just were wowed by his voice and musical ability. His songwriting was okay but needed some work. The wow effect was even stronger though when he came back to visit and performed. He was and is just amazing.
Another wow moment was with a student named Christian Caldeira. He has an incredible voice. I haven’t seen him since but he was definitely a wow moment.
KJ: With everything that you are involved with how do you find the time to plan out the workshops?
Blair: We have a rough template of how the workshop will be. The first year was the most difficult because there was no template in place. But it is very time consuming. It’s hard for me to even find time to talk on the phone or watch TV. What’s the hardest for me is the lack of time to compose songs. That really hits me when I play a gig. I have though managed to steal some time and have written three new songs. I find that I have to steal time to do everything.
KJ: What is your advice to budding songwriters?
Blair: There is only one right reason to be a songwriter and that is because you love it. An artist is asked to do music they don’t like or write something they don’t want.
You need to remember why you write. It’s an act of communication not just for yourself but also for your audience. They are who come to hear you play, hopefully. You want to be able to connect your feelings to them. Simple things to remember are not to make your songs too long and have a memorable melody. But the most important is to remember that communication factor. You want people to listen so you have to give your audience a song that they can feel and connect with. Your song has to be responsive and be interesting.