Unlocking Songwriting with Kate Valentine

Part Two: Open The Window And Welcome In The Breeze

A continuation of the blog series which follows Kate Valentine, Founder and Director of Singing Mamas, on a very personal journey to ‘Unlocking Songwriting’. Enabled by a grant from the Arts Council called ‘Developing Your Creative Practice’. Follow Kate’s journey here and through her series of VLOGs.

Kate Valentine, Unlocking Songwriting

So Kate, we find you more than half way through your journey to ‘Unlocking Songwriting’, are you still enjoying the ride? 

Very much so, it’s such a privilege to be doing this work.  I have been inspired to think that anything is possible and it now feels very comfortable to try something new.  Even when the official bit of the project comes to an end, I’m confident that I’ll keep on going.  My experiences and learning on this songwriting journey have been life changing in so much as its become a hobby, and a support to being a mum, parent and woman in the world. 

In blog one, “Telling Your Inner Critic To Get Lost!” you talked about your inner critic getting in the way of the creative process, has this changed in any way? 

I’m pleased to say that it’s such a different story how I hear and notice my inner critic now versus how it was in the beginning.  I’ve gotten to know the voice and although it’s sometimes there in the background, its power over me during my creative process has dramatically decreased. 

It’s taken practice though – For example, I did an exercise where I videoed myself conversing with my inner critic.  When my inner critic was speaking, I filmed the left side of my face and when I spoke back to it, I filmed the right side of my face.   After I watched it back, I felt a huge sense of compassion for myself in the face of the inner critic’s comments; it was like looking at a friend and saying “no, please don’t do treat yourself like that”.  I noticed that when my inner critic was speaking, they were harsh and defensive, and my face was tense but when I spoke back to it, my face and voice softened and I came up with numerous reasons why my inner critic was wrong.  Exercises like this have trained me out of sitting in that inner critic space, to literally talk back to it reasonably and calmly, and quieten it’s hold over me – It has been so freeing. 

A walk in nature to get the creative juices flowing

Have you developed any new skills on this journey?

Oh yes, many skills! Practically, I’m so much more at home with the tech side of things now. The big box of equipment that daunted me at the beginning is all set up, always switched on and ready to go, and must have about ninety-nine noodles and little tunes saved to the Looper memory bank, and three hundred and ninety-nine tiny voice notes on my phone! I can also find harmonies quicker than I used to.

My confidence in my voice as an instrument and my absolute faith in my listening ear has been a massive leap forward and helped me edge towards calling myself a musician. I have all the skills I need in my singing voice to write songs and my need to cling to or rely on music theory has all but disappeared.

The biggest skill or breakthrough though has come from my ability to carve out the space needed to allow the creative process to happen…and I’d like to caveat this with ‘most of the time’ because there are times of course when despite having the perfect conditions, the creativity just doesn’t flow or my inner critic might get in the way.

In the early days, I would experience quite random, organic song writing moments which I can only describe as opening the window, and in on the breeze came a song. If I was lucky, I would be in my studio to capture the moment on the loop station or as was quite often the case, dash from the kitchen where I’m cooking dinner, leaving the odd burned meal in my wake!

Now, I’ve worked out that if the conditions are right and for me that includes an empty or quiet house, I can create the space intentionally, I can invite the opening of the window (…most of the time) and up will bubble the things that want to be sung about in the world! However, I still enjoy the spontaneity of a song coming to me when I’m out for a walk, or driving, totally unplanned and full of mystery!

Has any particular skill eluded you so far?

Not if I’ve got anything to do with it! The quietening of my inner critic has really helped me to feel like a lot more is possible. For example, I’m very close to selecting which songs I would like to record as MP3’s and score onto paper, eventually becoming a songbook of my work, eek! I have never scored a piece of music before and although the task is daunting me slightly, I am determined to learn how to do it.

Songwriting is soooo uplifting!

You talk about discovering a creative process for songwriting in Vlog 6: An Emotional Journey. This came about when you wrote a song about your grandmother, Shirley, can you tell us more about this?

The first time few times I wrote a song as part of this journey there was no planning or forethought, I just opened the microphone and out it came, or so I thought. It was only when I retraced my steps that I realized I could see a bit of a process emerging and some ideal conditions for my songwriting.

My songwriting process can include all or some of the following steps:

  • Take myself somewhere calm and quiet, like a nature walk.
  • Get out of my head and into my heart space.
  • Allow myself to be inspired by what surrounds me: sights, sounds and smells.
  • Return home to my studio, make sure the tech is turned on and allow myself time to be still and meditative.
  • Open my notebook and begin to write down all the things that stood out to me on my walk, and the thoughts and feelings that were with me.
  • Sing into the microphone with a feeling, a phrase or make a sound.
  • Have fun playing in the improvising space, noodling around with harmony, I call this the ‘Inspiration Stage’.
  • Next day, or next few days, if I am moved to do so, the hard work begins and I’ll start to refine it, and rejig, imagine a whole group singing it perhaps, and I call it the ‘Perspiration Stage’.

So far, I’ve written about ninety-nine little noodles, some as a result of when I’ve followed a process and some when I’ve just been spontaneous. Out of the ninety-nine, I’ve taken ten onto the hard work stage, and I’ve taught four of these to a group.

I really love the ‘Inspiration Stage’ and is when the I open the window to let the breeze carry in the idea, sound or tune. It is a time when I let myself be free of judgement and pressure to be perfect. Nurturing this creative impulse has helped me grow.

Kate sharing songs with a Singing Mamas Group

Your songwriting journey has been quite a personal one and thank you for sharing how that has felt. Has this come with any challenges?

Yes, definitely. The themes which tend to bubble up during my songwriting process are mainly to do with my family history, childhood tragedy and parenting journey. I actually took a bit of time off from my live VLogs recently as I continued to work behind the scenes because I was experiencing some deeply personal, vulnerable and tender moments. The impulse in me to write about these themes is strong and I didn’t want to switch this off, instead I could feel better by processing these feelings through songwriting and channeling the emotional responses into the formation of the song.

This was true of my song ‘Mother’s Prayer’ which I wrote in response to the conflict in Ukraine. When I shared my song in my singing groups and online, people were genuinely moved and said it had helped them process their own feelings about how troubling it had been for them too. Sharing my emotional responses through my songs have value.

I’ve also been writing from a place I would describe as a ‘body response’. When I’m feeling the big feels and its raw and its heavy, I burn to sing from that place of body response, crying out into the microphone and just allowing the sounds to come out of me. They are words and sounds that come from feelings which perfectly transmit the message and sentiment, and which become the foundation of the song.

Which songs will make it into the songbook?

What next Kate?

I’m really open to speaking to people tempted to have a go at this themselves – I strongly believe that this is for everyone and I would love to take people on this journey in the future. At the beginning, I was so full of self-doubt and like this was an impossible task but it really isn’t. The journey is grounding and the feedback that I’ve received has been invaluable.

I’m going to knuckle down now for the final stretch of this journey and aim to produce upwards of 10 finished songs which I’ll record and commit to paper and then share with you all. I can’t wait to see my name in print and that’s when I’ll finally call myself a songwriter too.

How can people follow your progress?

Please keep in touch with me personally by emailing: info@singingmamaschoir.com, and watch my VLOG series where I talk in depth about what’s happening for me in the moment, and I share my arrangements and songs:

1. Unlocking Songwriting: First step on the journey...

2. Unlocking Songwriting: I opened the box!

3. Unlocking Songwriting: The eternal quest to find songs…

4. Unlocking Songwriting: Fresh out of the pan… 

5. Unlocking Songwriting: Rough cuts of songs…

6. Unlocking Songwriting: An emotional journey…

7. Unlocking Songwriting: Deep dive into emotional territory…

8. Unlocking Songwriting: 2% Inspiration vs 98% Perspiration

9. Unlocking Songwriting: Ukraine, A Mother’s Prayer…