by carl wilson

Tin Pan Idol:
Echo's Songs Rock and SOCAN You

Vedahille2.jpg sandro.jpg

I've got an idea for a reality show: Tin Pan Idol. It would be like the cultural-work-honouring Project Runway but with songwriting instead of fashion design - show us how the material is chosen, how it is cut to fit the frame, when someone is just chasing a trend or when they are just bucking it and when they are doing something beyond either. Tell the contestants that they need a bridge. Tell 'em they've got too many bridges. Show us what it's like to craft an arrangement and make a demo. At each stage narrow down the field, until at the end some bright spark of a compulsive hook-throwing tunesmith emerges glistening into the light of a publishing contract and a handful o' guesting real-life stars agree to cut a few of his or her songs. (I'm making that an idea an exception from the Creative Commons license at the foot of this site: All rights reserved!)

weakerthans2.jpg wintersleep2.jpg

Until then the closest thing we've got is the SOCAN (Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada) Echo Songwriting Prize, which annually since 2006 offers $5,000 to the writer(s) of a song released in the past year as voted on by the point-and-click public, "to identify what's next and what's best in current Canadian independent music." (Eligibility is determined by being below gold-record status, which in Canada is 50,000 copies sold.)

For the third year running, I've been part of the 10-person panel that selects the nominees - last year the winner was Toronto rapper Abdominal for his urban-cyclist anthem "Pedal Pusher"; in year one, it was Winnipeg's Propagandhi ("the soundtrack for the voluntary human extinction movement") for their song "A Speculative Fiction."

This year it's an extremely strong field, if a little lacking in cultural diversity (except for the final pick, a Jewish-cowboy-hip-hop blend) but robust in geographical diversity. In the order of artists pictured (left to right and top to bottom) in this post:

"Lucklucky", written and performed by Veda Hille (Vancouver)

"Double Suicide", written and performed by Sandro Perri (Toronto)

"Night Windows", written by Stephen Carroll, John Samson, Greg Smith & Jason Tait, performed by The Weakerthans (Winnipeg)

"Weighty Ghost", written by Loel Campbell, Tim D'eon, Paul Murphy and Jud Haynes, performed by Wintersleep (Halifax)

"You Are Never Alone", written by Josh Dolgin, Doris Glaspie, Katie Moore and Waleed Shabazz, performed by Socalled (Montreal)


You'll be able to vote here (one vote per ISP address daily) starting on Sept. 1 and through Sept. 29 to determine who emerges as the Echo Songwriting Idol. Get your clicking finger warmed up.

I will make no secret of it here and now that I'm'a'gonna do my part to see that this is Veda Hille's year: After her recent masterfuckingpiece album This Riot Life was woefully neglected in the Polaris Prize nominations, this is the least we can do. That said, I'd be nearly as pleased to see Sandro Perri or Socalled take the prize (two more should-have-been Polaris nominees), and not at all sad to see the Weakerthans or Wintersleep have a few grand rained down upon their nappy heads.

I'll make a fuller case for the merits of "Lucklucky" next week when voting is open. There'll also be a video online for "Lucklucky" soon, I hear. Meanwhile, here is a charming live, lo-fi rendition of a track from This Riot that's just as deserving. "Ace of the Nazarene" on the record flirts with heavy metal, but in the version shown below, shot by Playgrrround in a courtyard in Vienna, it's more like a cultish campfire ritual. (VH sez on her site: "i love how we finish the song and all sit up straight like we are in kindergarten.")


Quick full-disclosure: Over the years, as often occurs between writer and their subjects, Veda and I have developed some personal connections; but it's the kind of relationship in which I had no trouble airing my misgivings about her last disc, Return of the Kildeer, and I'm confident I'd feel just as blown away by This Riot Life without ever having shared a sip of bourbon with Ms. Hille. (Go back)

General | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, August 28 at 4:26 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (6)



I wouldn't talk about the work of someone who once, say, threatened to punch my lights out without mentioning the fact. The general idea is that you shouldn't be bringing non-musical/extraneous/personal biases in. My counterargument is twofold, one being that there are pretty much always such biases, except in blind listening tests where you know nothing about who made it (said biases being broadly produced by being a member of society) and the other that you deprive the reader of some valuable perspectives when you make it all so dry and removed.

I would draw the line at opining on the work of someone on whom I had some financial dependency or reason to gain by the success of their work, but you could easily argue that social capital is not different in importance from financial capital, just different in kind.

But I've certainly been criticized for that position - so yeah, the standard is more stringent, at least in theory - even if it is very shabbily policed, leading to a lot of hypocrisy in the system. That's the part I'm trying to avoid.

Posted by zoilus on September 1, 2008 12:40 AM



oh wait. I guess you answered that one.
still, I'd be curious about what the publications are that have a problem with it. Your standards in that regard seem higher than almost any publication I've ever seen.

Posted by Dixon on August 31, 2008 10:35 PM



What then if a critic hates a musician? So much that it feels personal? Should she back away from trying to crush them?

Posted by Dixon on August 31, 2008 10:18 PM



I was a fan before meeting and knowing the guy, so I don't think I'll have any scruples trying my best to become a one-man mouse-clicking Sandro P. street team next month. "Double Suicide" is one of my absolute favourites of his, especially lyrically, so I'm really excited for him about this.

Posted by Craig D. on August 29, 2008 10:01 AM



We became friends not so much because I was a fan but because I was a critic who championed her and got to know her doing interviews or in correspondence after articles appeared etc. There are people who would say that even with artists a critic admires, you should maintain a distance in order to preserve your objectivity, or else stop writing about that artist. (And in fact I am careful about writing about people with whom I have those kinds of relationships for publications that would have a problem with it.)

Personally I'm with you - if the friendship grows out of an aesthetic affinity and the critic is self-aware enough to know whether or not s/he's still capable of voicing negative criticism of their acquaintance or friend, I think that's actually healthier than to overprofessionalize the conduct of culture.

But I think I should also be up-front about it, especially in a case where I'm advocating she be voted an award. I wanted to explain the dynamic so nobody turned around and said, "aw you just want your friend to get the money" or whatever.

Posted by zoilus on August 28, 2008 10:11 PM



wait a second, re veda. you became friends because you became a fan. where's the conflict of interest in that?

Posted by Dixon on August 28, 2008 8:24 PM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson