Taking a stand against schoolyard bullying

Published on FAME Canada: June 16, 2014

Country singer-songwriter Ryan Laird wants to use his music to end bullying once and for all. But he knows that won’t be an easy feat. To get the word out there that bullying is not cool, Ryan has toured several elementary schools since October 2013.  He has visited over 70 schools across Eastern Canadian provinces and Alberta. As part of this campaign, Ryan teamed up with hit songwriter Steve Bogard to pen an anti-bullying song called “Hey Ashley.”

Canadian country singer/songwriter Ryan Laird.

“This song is based on an experience I had back in grade seven,” said Ryan. “It has become the theme song of the anti-bullying education concerts. The kids are really connecting to the positive message in the song.”

Ryan believes music is a great way to influence people, especially youth, because it brings out emotions and memories. He also wants his campaign to intermingle with the anti-bullying movement going on in Canadian schools today.

“No child should ever have to complain about not wanting to go to school because of a bully,” he said. “I’m hoping to motivate as many kids as I can to never stop chasing their dreams and never let a bully stand in the way of happiness.”

Ryan Laird first garnered media attention across North America in December 2008 after putting up a billboard on Nashville’s famed music row asking Taylor Swift to produce his album. The billboard displayed Ryan standing in a classroom holding a note reading, “Hey Taylor – I LOVE your music. Will you produce my album?”

Once Taylor Swift got word of this, she said she “listened to one of his songs and absolutely fell in love with it” and would like to meet him.

Ryan was blown away by this and broke down when he got wind of this.

“I was just ecstatic, tears came to my eyes,” he said.

At age 10, Ryan toured England and Wales as part of the Cambridge Kiwanis Boys Choir. He sang in the group for three years, starting out as a soprano and leaving as a tenor.

He then began performing around his home town of Fergus, singing at karaoke contests, festivals, fairs, and also started writing songs.

Ryan’s great grandmother influences his early singing. When he was a year old, she would hold him in a rocking chair and sing “Jesus Loves Me” to him, while he hummed the melody back. Although she was a professional opera singer, his tastes always ran more toward country and pop music.

He credits the Dixie Chicks, Shania Twain, Keith Urban and Taylor Swift for demonstrating how much impact can be made by “stretching boundaries.”

At 18-years-old, Ryan made his first trip to Nashville and fell in love with it. That year, he wrote 200 songs which led to meetings with publishers on music row. From there, he went on to sign his first publishing deal with Cherry Lane Music Publishing.

Over the past few years, Ryan has co-written many songs with artists such as Nick Carter, Aaron Carter, Alli Sims, Intern Adam, Eric Silver, and Jason McCoy.

Most recently, he released a new single entitled “Love’s Long Gone,” which will appear on his sophomore album Light Me Up, due for release in the third quarter of 2014.

The opportunity to grow in a new country

Published on FAME Canada: June 16, 2014

Celia Palli has accomplished quite a lot from the time she moved to Canada in 2003.  She’s been Nelly Furtado’s back-up vocalist at many of her shows, has performed at many large venues around Canada (most recently in Montreal, Quebec), and even organized a successful crowdfunding campaign to benefit the Canadian Cancer Society.

Singer-songwriter Celia Palli.

“I moved to Canada because I wanted to study music and become known in the industry,” said Celia. “I told myself right from the beginning that if I wanted to make it, I had to become involved in every possible project in the province.” And so she did.

For the first few years she joined numerous independent bands and performed as much as she could, and in 2009, was offered the opportunity of possibly performing with Nelly Furtado.

“A good friend of mine from university saw how quickly I went from an amateur to a professional singer and performer,” said Celia. “A friend of his from Miami was looking for a bilingual singer and when the time came, I got asked to go audition for Nelly Furtado.”

“As you can imagine, I dropped everything to be there and over prepared myself. These kinds of opportunities come once in a lifetime and just “being prepared” doesn’t cut it.”

Celia believes that being the best at what you do is what gets you noticed, especially in a competitive industry such as music.

Her most powerful learning experience was watching her mother battle cancer.

“She showed me what courage and determination is all about,” she said. “Her strength and positivism always astounded people, even before the disease. Even though she wasn’t a musician, her advice has been some of the best I’ve ever gotten, ‘Focus on writing songs. That’s what will make you stand out.’”

Celia’s mother passed away in 2008, and in 2013, she started a crowdfunding campaign in her honour. She wanted to benefit the Canadian Cancer Society and support her then-upcoming album. “Mamma,” a single from the album, was written in memory of her mother.

“Crowdfunding campaigns have the advantage of getting your project funded quickly and debt free,” said Celia. “This means the dream album you’ve been saving for becomes a reality. A disadvantage would be that even if there are a lot of followers, it takes a lot for people to go online and contribute.”

One of Celia’s greatest challenges has been getting noticed by important people in the Canadian music industry. However, she thanks Nelly Furtado for her break in music.

“She was the first influential person to believe in me and give me a huge opportunity without thinking about it twice,” she said. “She gave me the chance to open for her during 2013 European tour and doors have been opening ever since.”

Celia’s advice to aspiring musicians is to remember that even though what you may offer is good, it’s difficult to get the attention of high-profile industry professionals. Music is a very difficult industry to break into, and some people wait years just to have their voices heard.

She’s been planning out what type of artist she wants to be, and how she wants people to remember. In 10 years’ time, she wants to have released a few albums and played at many concerts around Canada.

“I love making music and transferring my emotion to a crowd,” said Celia. “Having an audience sing back your song is an incredible feeling.”

PR as taught by “Imaginaerum”

Of all the films I’ve ever seen, there’s something about Finnish-Canadian film “Imaginaerum” (written by the band Nightwish) I’m enamored by. Sure, there have been some movies that have been spectacular and have stuck with me, but “Imaginaerum” was a masterpiece. It had deep themes, emotion, a small dose of comedy, and an extravagantly composed musical score. Everything I seek in a film and more. It was released in Finland on Nov. 23, 2012, and the rest of Europe on Dec. 2 that same year.

http://www.festivallica.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/imaginaerum.jpg

It follows the story of an elderly composer, Tom Whitman, who suffers from severe dementia. As he has had the disease for years and has regressed into childhood, he remembers practically nothing from his adult life. His music, friends, all his past including the memory of his daughter are a blur in his fragile mind. All he has left is the imagination of a 10-year-old boy.

The film is a journey between two different dimensions. Tom travels through his imaginary world seeking answers and finding memories, while his daughter, Gem, tries to recover the bond she had once shared with her father in the real world. She’s consoled by Ann, her father’s former band partner, who tries to convince her that Tom cared about her.

As there are greater obstacles separating them now, Gem’s project feels doomed to failure. However, through Toms darkest secrets, Gem discovers the path she must follow in order to find her father again.

I won’t reveal any more of the story as not to spoil anything, but the film’s climax was heart wrenching and bittersweet.

As a person studying public relations, I re-watched “Imaginaerum” not only because it’s now No. 1 on my “greatest films” list, but because it epitomizes three key elements of public relations, teaching us their importance.

1. Consider your personal reputation. Public relations is the “reputation management business.” Whether it’s an individual or a company, taking your reputation or “personal brand” into consideration is vital for success.

In “Imaginaerum,” Tom Whitman wasn’t “famous for caring about people,” as stated by his daughter Gem. Through his regression back into childhood, he had unknowingly pushed away all his family friends, including his own daughter. Tom wasn’t aware of his reputation or what he had caused, so he continued on being “selfish and rude,” as Ann put it.

If Tom had thought about how his actions (or lack thereof) were making people feel, he could have done something to rectify it. Not necessarily alter his personality, but change some traits that weren’t garnering much respect.

2. Communication is everything. Tom pushed away his daughter because he feared he was going down the same path as his father. However, this was never communicated to Gem, who thought he completely disregarded her because of sheer selfishness. Tom was “good at a lot of things, but dealing with real world wasn’t one of them,” according to Ann. He kept everything to himself, and wrote his feelings out as monologues that could be found in a safe. If Tom had revealed to his daughter about his father’s dark moods and nastiness, Gem would be given the opportunity to understand Tom’s viewpoint. This would likely have made their relationship different.

Communication is public relations. Having a conversation with people, rather than talking at them or hiding things. If you look at Gem, she had no other way to feel because of the lack of two-way communication between her and Tom.

3. In a crisis, allow your stakeholders to have a voice. At first, Gem tried to convince Ann that she had no unresolved issues with her father. Upon admitting that she did, she expressed how her father made her feel, and explained why their relationship was non-existent. Ann did an extravagant job at handling this crisis. She expressed sadness and sorrow where necessary, allowed Gem to express her inner feelings (anger, resentment and sadness), and always kept her cool. She remained patient and elegant even when Gem would become difficult and not want to hear any part of what she had to say. At no time did she interrupt, get defensive or argumentative.

Eventually, Ann convinced Gem that her father did in fact care about her, and he expressed it the only way he knew how.

This should be taken into account by any public relations practitioners in the time of a crisis. Have a plan in mind, but also maintain a sense of calmness and listen to what your publics have to say. After all, an issue or crisis involves a gap between what you’re offering and the needs of stakeholders. In this case, Gem went most of her life believing her father never cared for her, but through Ann’s effective communication skills during this crisis, she was able to extinguish Gem’s deep-seeded issues.

I’m thankful I discovered this film. It’s one that will stick with me for a long time to come, and has unknowingly taught me so much about my field.

Great Britain witnesses the magic of Canada

Published on FAME Canada: May 16, 2014

Series eight of “Britain’s Got Talent” was off to a rough beginning. In the second audition show on April 19, over five magicians accepted the challenge of winning 500,000 pounds and performing at the 2014 Royal Variety Performance in the presence of Queen Elizabeth.

Backstage, Canadian magician and illusionist Darcy Oake was mortified.

Canadian illusionist Darcy Oake took Great Britain by storm.

Canadian illusionist Darcy Oake took Great Britain by storm.

The sound of the red rejection buzzers (which the judges use to discontinue an act from progressing forward in the competition) and the discouraging comments from the judging panel created a sense of worry and uncertainty.

Even so, Darcy didn’t let any of that get the better of him. When hosts Ant and Dec announced it was his turn, he marched out onto the stage and took a deep breath.

Within moments, Darcy wowed the entire judging panel and audience. His illusion involved making doves appear out of thin air, and transforming the dove’s birdcage into a young woman.

Head judge and show creator Simon Cowell, whose notorious for his snarky and frank comments, commended Darcy for taking the chance to audition for “Britain’s Got Talent.”

“You are definitely a star,” said Cowell. “Without question, you’re the best magician we’ve ever had on the show.”

Darcy was given four “yes” votes by the judging panel, qualifying him for the live semifinals, which are expected to take place the week of May 26.

What happened next gave Darcy the biggest boost of confidence he needed.

Two days after his corresponding episode aired, his audition garnered over 23 million YouTube hits. To date, his audition has been seen by approximately 20 million people from around the world.

His appearance on “Britain’s Got Talent” was also subject to controversy around the U.K., mainly because Darcy is Canadian, and is considered a “professional” entertainer.

“That doesn’t get to me in the slightest,” says Darcy of the controversy. “Canada is part of the Commonwealth after all, so I don’t know what these people are talking about.”

Interestingly enough, Attraction, a shadow-dancing act from Hungary, won the contest last year.

Oake described the overall response to the viral video as “absolutely crazy.”

“At this point it seems like I’ve got some options, it’s really nice,” said Darcy. “I don’t have to knock on doors to get gigs anymore.”

At age 18 Darcy has headlining the world famous Magic Castle in Hollywood California.
Not even old enough to legally enter the building, Darcy was asked to headline the
famous showroom located in the Hollywood hills.

Throughout his magic, Darcy has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the People’s Choice medal by the Pacific Coast Association of Magicians, the stage magic gold medal, and the incentive award in stage magic by the Society of American Magicians.

A career ignited through the support of fans

Published on FAME Canada: May 16, 2014

If you would have told Erin Saoirse Adair (pronounced Erin “SEER-SHUH” Adair) two years ago that she would be a national finalist in CBC’s “Searchlight” contest, she might not have believed you.

Canadian musician Erin Saoirse Adair

Canadian musician Erin Saoirse Adair

Hailing from Ottawa, Ontario, Erin started an Indiegogo campaign to help fund her debut CD.

“The songs were recorded and mixed, and the CD release party had been booked,” she said. “I just needed money for pressing, mastering, and artwork.”

After the assistance of Dean Watson from the Gallery Studios in Ottawa, Erin managed to get her full album released in October 2012. Mastering, artwork, promotion and all.

And now here she is in 2014, being chosen as a finalist in the online “Searchlight” contest to find the “next greatest Canadian artist.”

Erin is a songwriter and multi-instrumental folk musician. On stage, she goes by the name Erin Saoirse Adair which reflects her Irish and Scottish heritage and the influence of these folkloric traditions in her music.

“I’ve also found inspiration from my extensive travels in Celtic Western Europe,” she said. “My music and lyrics are therefore an extension of not only my ancestry but also my life experiences.”

As an artist, Erin likes to see the beauty in even the ugliest of situations. Her music mainly focuses on polyphony through the complexity of experience in a Canadian urban setting.

In terms of lyrical narratives, Erin interprets the notions of brokenness, loss of place (and rediscovering a sense of it) and despairs, especially through tropes such as urban decay, youthful alienation, addiction, and poverty. Her goal is to eliminate the stigma that’s associated with these issues.

In essence, Erin tells the story of different times in her life, both joyous and tumultuous.

“I offer many of my own experiences: having been at times homeless, suicidal, abused and abusive,” she said. “I’m inspired by the suffering and redemption described by poets such as Seamus Heaney, Leonard Cohen, and Sylvia Plath.

With these guides, Erin pursues her art in order to lend, without shame, her stories to the polyphony surrounding her.

Throughout the past year, she has received an extensive amount of assistance with blossoming in the Canadian music industry. With the help of a creation grant from the Canada Council for the Arts, Erin has been earnestly writing, polishing, and performing new songs. She’s also been funded by the Ontario Arts Council and City of Ottawa.

“Because of that, I’ve been able to record my songs, hire session musicians, and finish the mixing process,” she said. “Without everyone’s help, my music would be held hostage by my computer and would never be free in the physical world.”

For more information about Erin Saoirse Adair, visit her CBC Music Searchlight page.

Stepping out of your comfort zone

Published on FAME Canada: April 17, 2014

Kendal Thompson doesn’t just want to perform a song for the sake of it. She wants to feel truly connected with the meaning of it, singing something that really hits home to her.

Originally from Alliston, Ontario and now living in Toronto, Thompson strives to be an artist that’s “out of the ordinary,” someone who will make people want to listen to and talk about after the performance is done.

“I really like to bring out the feeling of those songs,” said Thompson. “It kind of lets me reflect on how they make me feel.”

At one point in her life, there was only one thing that held her back from being able to deliver a wondrous performance: stage fright.

Some artists may seek help from their family or friends in order to overcome the fear that comes over them when they see a thousand eyes staring at them, but Thompson had a different way of looking at this.

Instead of developing a phobia of performing which would have hindered her chances of becoming a successful artist, she did what a lot of other artists might not think of doing – she forced herself to get onto the stage, sing and play the guitar, and not care about who was looking at her.

“I was like, ‘I gotta do it; it’s part of the job. So, if you want this, you’re going to have to put yourself out there and get it.”

Her stage fright began after her first performance at a coffee shop in her hometown of Alliston, which she still reflects on to this day.

“I don’t know what happened, it was just so scary when I started singing,” she said. “I’m glad I did it, but I didn’t want to do it. I definitely had to push myself.”

Kendal Thompson began singing at just the age of three, and began taking singing lessons at age twelve. She didn’t start performing until she was 17. She also writes her own music and has released several singles since 2010, such as Providing, Be Mine and It’s Time.

She has also has performed at numerous venues around Ontario, including Clinton’s Tavern, Randolph Theatre, the Piston and Augusta House.

When it comes to song-writing, Thompson either does it by herself or with a group of people. When with a group, she usually has to “plan” out the song in her head before transcribing it to paper, but when she does it on her own, it’s usually a “spur of the moment.”

It can either be a few lines on a sheet, or even a tune that randomly starts playing in her head that she’ll add imaginary lyrics to. She’ll then attempt to play the tune on her guitar, similar to what she “heard.”

If she’s completely stumped when it comes to developing a song, she’ll sometimes seek out assistance from other like-minded musicians or her producers. They’ll almost always come up with something and provide useful tips.

“I’ll write whatever comes to mind at first, and if a producer doesn’t like it, we’ll switch it around,” said Thompson. “I can get kind of abstract so he has to reel me in to be like, ‘Okay, that doesn’t make any sense. People won’t understand it. Here’s a different way of writing it.’”

Although Thompson’s musical roots are mainly rock, she has tried to branch out and test new sounds. Once she hired her first producer, her genre of choice changed from to rock to soul, R&B, and pop.

To her, that’s what success in the music business is all about. She encourages young, aspiring artists to step out of their comfort zone every chance they get, and not stay stagnant in just one genre. “Explore around a bit and see what rings with you.”

As for conquering fears, Thompson’s best advice would be to try performing in a local pub during an open mic night if the stage seems too daunting to begin with. See how it goes. “The only way you’ll climb the ladder of musical success is if you stick with it.”

 

The power of persistence

Published on FAME Canada: April 17, 2014

Even if your plans are shot down for the millionth time, it’s the hardest workers who have the greatest successes.

That’s what YouTube sensation Shawna Howson (A.K.A. “Nanalew”) of Cambridge, Ontario has learned throughout her seven years of writing and filming her own YouTube videos.

YouTube sensation Shawna Howson, also known as “Nanalew”

“Challenges are everywhere, both internally and externally,” said Shawna. “It’s hard to not get disheartened from time to time, but this is the nature of the business.”

Shawna started creating videos herself when she was only seventeen; in her final year of high school. She attended a small, private school that didn’t offer many arts classes, except for the mandatory English courses throughout grades 9 to 12.

She describes these classes as “exceptional” and “on-par” with university level classes, which really developed her writing skills.

“I started making videos because I needed an artistic outlet and wanted to connect with people like I’d seen a lot of YouTubers doing,” said Shawna. “It’s definitely been a journey filled with hands on learning and peer motivation. My friends online have been there to inspire and challenge me to grow, and I’m very lucky for that.”

In terms of motivation, it’s all about seeing an idea realized in actuality instead of just being in your head. Shawna strives to get ideas from inside her head to a computer or television screen.

Many of her videos (which can be seen on her YouTube channel) have garnered over 600,000 views worldwide. “Twinkle Lightly,” posted in September 2012, has had 632,875 views to date, and is about a girl’s idyllic last night with her friends, as she attempts to cope with their lives moving in different directions post-graduation. 

Puppy’s First Christmas,” posted on Dec. 24, 2012, is about a shih poo puppy named Sadie, who is now owned by Shawna’s family. It has had 6,190,109 views to date.

In the future, Shawna plans on moving forward with her YouTube projects, eventually moving on to traditional mediums such as film and television.

A piece of advice she would give to aspiring actors and filmmakers is to work as much as you can with the goal of bettering yourself.

“Treat people well and pay them when you can,” said Shawna. “Try to keep a good attitude and remember why you love what you do.”

For more information about Shawna Howson and her work, visit her Tumblr page. You can also follow her on Twitter and like her Facebook page.

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