When I was 17, the idea of getting paid to write about music was absolutely absurd. I don’t even know if I knew that was a potential career choice as I struggled to figure out what I wanted to go to university for. I liked music, that was clear, but everyone likes music, no?
As I began to think about post-secondary school options, I started thinking about writing and journalism. I created a music magazine in high school for an English course, I attempted to make zines, I wrote for the school newspaper and I eventually started up a dinky little blog to gush over my favourite new discoveries like Feist, Woodhands, and Final Fantasy. The common thread with my writing became apparent: I wanted to write about music.
The Singing Lamb, and its previous blog incarnations, was a place for me to dump all of my enthusiastic feelings about music, both local and beyond. I didn’t think I was the best writer, but I didn’t care. I just wanted you to pay attention to these artists I loved and back in the day, there was definitely nothing eloquent about the way I wrote. Posts read like diary entries to an invisible music fan friend I had. No one ever commented on my posts, but I kept writing, talking to the vast, empty world of the internet.
Someone saw potential in my writing and growing music knowledge, though, and he decided to help me create a bigger and better blog. Graham Robertson was not only an important part of building The Singing Lamb, but he was (and still is) a very important person in my life. His faith and website-building skills helped launch this site. But still, it remained a fansite of sorts, hosting my nerdy feelings towards my favourite acts. Thanks to sites like Chromewaves, The Music Slut and You Ain’t No Picasso, I began to formulate a blog structure, though; ways to divide up my writing and become more informative and critical as opposed to just flat out fangirling. I wanted to be one of them. I wanted to be a blogger.
When we re-launched the website, I suddenly had a handful of friends willing to write for me and help me produce content. It was endearing to see people begin to notice and care about the blog. It began to form a voice beyond my own and I was excited at its potential to grow into a collective, showcasing other people’s works and their interests. This was becoming something and as an 18-year-old student, this was terrifying and amazing.
I didn’t know how to be a proper editor or writer at the time. I had no clue what I was doing and had to learn very quickly when I suddenly got bands and publicists approaching me with music. I no longer had to dig; I was being presented with music. What the fuck? I remember saying yes to everything because I was so flattered to be approached by anyone who had heard of my blog. I was an unknown in high school – just ask anyone I went to school with, not even teachers remember me – so the sudden attention to me and my blog was overwhelming (not to mention the attention I finally got from a boy who cared about me enough to make me a blog, that’s gotta be the modern day equivalent of, like, ten dozen roses).
But with school, it was becoming too much. I didn’t know how to handle it all and less than a year after the launch of the site, Graham and I were no longer speaking to each other. Although I had my friends to support me, I felt abandoned and alone with my site and a pile of promo CDs.
Somewhere in the site’s second year, I received an offer to freelance for Chartattack and AUX TV. Chart Magazine was a favourite of mine growing up and the opportunity to write for them – and get paid! – was a dream come true. And naturally, paid work took priority over unpaid work. I lost money keeping up my blog with the domain costs and events I invested time and money into. It was all worth it, but come on, people wanted to pay me for once! I wasn’t going to say no! And to work in an environment and with people who respected my writing and enforced deadlines – having friends write for me was great, but attempting to enforce rules with them was nearly impossible; again, unpaid work doesn’t motivate timeliness – I began growing and finally improving as a writer.
With Graham gone, I gave off responsibilities for the site to a number of generous people willing to help. Two years ago, I even gave complete ownership to Aviva Cohen and Wini Lo to run editorial and photo content and they’ve done nothing but try their hardest to continue producing great things for The Singing Lamb. I chose to pursue and focus on freelance writing and in turn, I gave up on this blog. This site was never going to sustain me financially the way freelance writing did (though, let’s be real, freelancing alone doesn’t support me either, but at least I was making and not losing money). I could’ve spent a lot more time and effort into making this site a financially viable thing. It’s not like I haven’t had countless meetings and thoughts about putting in advertisements, working on campaign deals and eventually paying contributors. For the love of God, I would pay every single one of my contributors if I could, but I couldn’t even afford lunch for myself some days. The idea of pulling in revenue was always there, but my heart followed freelancing instead and building a name for myself outside of the site. I will never forget the opportunities this site had given me, and how it helped me get my first freelancing gigs ever, but I wanted to move on and stop hiding behind my Lamb pseudonym. I wanted to be Melody Lau, music journalist.
But, as a friend pointed out, this site is still tied to my name and its recent lack of content and other factors (not getting posts up on time, etc. etc. – again, this isn’t anyone’s full-time gig, no one’s getting paid to do this and I’m not going to force this upon them) have contributed to a bit of a negative image. I don’t want this site to be a running joke. I don’t want people to think of The Singing Lamb negatively. It truly is my child and I am very protective over the Lamb and its reputation.
And, long story short – 1000 words later – I’ve decided to end all production on The Singing Lamb. This has nothing to do with its current contributors because they are all very important and extremely talented people, but I want people to remember this site for its heart and effort. If I could gain an extra 24 hours in each day, I’d commit all that time to this site, but alas, I can no longer support it.
This site will forever and always mean the world to me and is five years of my life that I will never forget. I don’t have a comprehensive list of people who have contributed, but each and every one of them are incredible human beings who believed in me enough to help pitch in whether with photos, writing or tech support. To that, I do want to specifically thank Graham Robertson, Matthew Braga, Jeff Jewiss, Genny Lui, Tom Lowery, Aviva Cohen and Wini Lo for their extra support and help on everything throughout the years. If any of you ever want a drink, you can totally have one or five on me. (Graham and I have since reconnected and have been great friends for over a year now and you best believe we will never start a site together again. It’s totally for the best!) I also want to thank all the bands, publicists, readers and friends who have been involved in any form. You continue to help support me and I am grateful every day for knowing every one of you.
The Singing Lamb will continue to be up in its present state, but will discontinue all content indefinitely.
For more from me (wow, shameless promotion time), you can follow me at @melodylamb on Twitter and read my work at a number of places including Exclaim! Magazine, MUCH, Nylon Magazine, MySpace and Huffington Post Canada.
Please give Aviva (@suckingalemon) and Wini (@winiw) a follow, too!
Happy listening and always your Lamb,
Top 10 Albums
2012 was a big year for me. I finally moved to Toronto, full-time – which meant I was finally a real adult with responsibilities and a mortgage! Um, yay? I also turned 30 this year… and I’m just going to leave that there.
Moving to Toronto meant attending lots of shows, which made me feel like a kid again, when music and attending shows were all that mattered. Music-wise, it was all about throwbacks and flashbacks for me – so many bands and musicians I loved in my younger years – Fiona Apple, Aimee Mann, Garbage, Ben GIbbard of Death Cab for Cutie, to name a few – returned with albums and tours. I can safely say that the highlight of my year – concert-wise – was seeing Ben Gibbard (who I’ve never seen before, solo or with Death Cab) doing a solo acoustic rendition of “Such Great Heights” and “Passenger Seat” on piano. Oh, and Fiona Apple (who I’ve also never seen before) singing “Paper Bag” (even though the show was at the Suck, er… Sound Academy).
I also discovered a couple cool new bands too. I guess Divine Fits qualifies as a new band (even though I’ve always been a big Spoon fan and a Wolf Parade fan, so it’s pretty much by default, right?). Father John Misty was probably my favourite new discovery of 2012. This was my first year attending NXNE, which allowed me to witness so many great bands and nervously interview Eternal Summers in their van!
So, for the part where I get sentimental – the best part of my year (aside from the things I already mentioned above) was joining The Singing Lamb team and writing on a regular basis again. I hope we keep doing it and I hope you keep reading. Now, how about some lists, yeah?
If you’ve watched any of the big-scale music documentaries of the past few years, or at least seen a commercial for one (and we’ve all witnessed Katy Perry’s media onslaught for Part of Me), you’ll probably have noticed that most of them follow a similar format. The artist/band is shown at the peak of their fame and success, and then tactfully broken down into ‘normal person’ status before again being elevated into an icon. Their modest qualities are brought forth to equate them with the audience, but are contrasted by their extraordinary talents. (Yes, you may have also grown up in a small town in Ontario, but could you play four different instruments before you turned six?). We can’t say this format doesn’t work – because let’s face it, we all loved Never Say Never – but what about the band or artist that has yet to sell out Madison Square Garden or land the cover of the Rolling Stone? Is their story any less compelling because our typical measures of success haven’t been met yet?
Brendan McCarney’s new documentary, Ages & Stages, inadvertently provides insight to these questions and many more as he profiles one of Toronto’s most overlooked groups, the Meligrove Band. We spoke with McCarney around the time of the film’s premiere at NXNE, to hear why he wanted to create this film, what his goal was, and how he hopes it might change things for the band.
Loosely drawing inspiration from the 1967 Bob Dylan documentary Don’t Look Back, McCarney went into the project with the intent of “finding the story” rather than knowing exactly what the final product would look like. He came out with footage of 40 different bands and musicians sharing their thoughts, stories and love of the Meligrove Band. Some artists respectfully questioned their diligence, while others saw their situation as simply “wrong place, wrong time.” This may be the best explanation of the Meligrove Band’s perpetually underground status, as they have been part of the scene for nearly 15 years, released four albums, gained a devoted following, but have never quite been able to ‘break through.’ And with the number of indie bands that have gone from being Toronto’s best-kept secret to being celebrated across the country or even the world with only a few releases, it’s difficult to see why the Meligrove Band haven’t had the same luck
But while the band’s struggle may be one of the central themes of the film, it is never dwelled on. The personalities of the four guys are always the focus, whether we’re being guided through their cramped tour bus in an MTV Cribs style or brought to the top of the CN Tower for a performance by the band. It’s simply an honest look at four friends who have devoted most of their lives to making a significant impact on the Canadian music scene, one which McCarney poignantly describes as “incestuous.” If the film also shines a light on Toronto’s highly collective musical landscape, McCarney assures us this is merely “something that happened on its own,” but with the unrestrained approach taken with the film, these are the kind of happy accidents that you treasure.
So what exactly does McCarney hope viewers take away from this “no bells, whistles, or bullshit” documentary? Nothing more than a rediscovery of the music these four guys have worked so hard on: “There are so many bands around these days that it’s easy to lose track of a lot of them. The Meli-dudes have had some rough luck with label trouble, touring trouble, van trouble, etc., so it’s easy for someone to forget about their mind-blowing rock abilities.”
And lastly, if you were a singing animal what would you be?
I would be a hippo – baritone.
An album is typically created in a sheltered little world. For us, it went from the basement of our house, to our bunker-like rehearsal space, then into the recording studio.
As soon as a record is complete, the reverse happens. Before it’s shared with the world, it’s shared with your label, management, PR person, directors, photographers, album artists and the list goes on. These people then become the conductors, the channel-ers or amplifiers responsible for getting your music out into the world.
The process of putting your music into other people’s hands, in order for them to represent and share it, requires a lot of trust. It’s great because it increases the odds of having your music heard exponentially, but it also runs the risk of dilution or misrepresentation. In her 2010 documentary “Look at What the Light Did Now” Feist discusses her personal experience with her own ‘amplifiers’ used during and after the release of her 2007 album “The Reminder”. She says “As you realize that you are in a position to amplify yourself, it really becomes all that much more important to have the amplifier be someone who you trust.” Which leads me to my favorite quote from the film, “You play through the wrong amp, you end up sounding like Dire Straights.”
I asked my friend Adaline, an incredible Toronto-based electro alt-pop artist, her thoughts about ‘amplifiers’.
1. Do you feel as though your ‘artistic amplifiers’ help you grow or constrict you? Is it limiting to express your music through a different individual (photographer, director, etc.) then subsequently through a different medium (photos, music video, etc) Or is it always a positive experience?
Yes, it can be daunting making creative decisions in areas where I’m not an expert. I am not a t-shirt designer or a web developer. I’m not a music video director. When you hire these people you are putting your trust into their abilities. Making a video, for example, is something I always find daunting because you have to trust someone else’s vision. I don’t get to see what is being filmed because I’m in front of the camera. I have to completely trust the person filming. That’s why you do your homework and find people that understand what you want to portray.
2. Music is always felt and understood differently between individuals, and also bandmates. How do you reconcile different feelings and outlooks within your band when making decisions about “amplifiers”? How difficult is it to come to a decision about a unified image or representation?
Because I’m a solo artist I have a lot of control over my own image and my decisions on who I work with. I’m lucky in that way. I know some bands don’t agree on which producer they want to work with next. I suppose my label could disagree with who I choose to work with but so far they have given me creative liberties. I write and record the music and they release it – there is very little creative control from them which is what I need. I wouldn’t feel comfortable with someone telling me I need to write or look a certain way.
She concludes with a great point:
“[Amplifiers] are always a good thing…I’ve never had a negative experience when joining creative forces. It’s very important to allow other influences in or things start to feel stale…It opens your world up to thousands more possibilities.”
So choose your amplifiers wisely. Make sure the connections clear, the tubes are warm and your volume’s turned up to 11.
Adaline is an electro alt-pop artist from Toronto. Her record “Modern Romantics” is out now on Light Organ Records and is available on iTunes and in stores. She is currently touring Canada and will be making her introduction to the UK market this fall.
Adam Nanji and Katrina Jones are part of the Vancouver-based indie rock band, The Belle Game. Together, they will provide a bi-weekly column showing their perspective on all things music.