Monday, January 18, 2010

My answer to your question: "Will you listen to my CD and tell me which song to enter in [Song Contest]?

I get asked this question a LOT - presumably because I have been a winner, a loser, a finalist, a non-starter, a judge, and a contest coordinator. I have gathered some wisdom along the way - particularly the wisdom to know that I cannot and will not answer this question in the way that you want me to. Unless you choose the song, you are always going to question the advice you were given by someone else. I decided, finally, to create the following advice to help you make that decision:


Write great songs. Hone your craft. Learn. Take workshops. Seek out and be open to honest criticism from fans and fellow writers. Be willing to rewrite and change things to honor the core of your song. Understand that being married to a particular lyric is pointless if that lyric doesn't make someone FEEL something.

Make good, quality recordings. This doesn't mean you have to spend a ton of money on full-production demos. To the contrary, I think that the most important thing is that a judge can hear YOU and what you do, which means good signal-to-noise ratio, and simple production. (Signal-to-noise ratio is a fancy way to say if you are buried in "tape hiss" or white noise, it suggests that you don't care much about how you present your music.)

****Please resist the temptation to use drum machines! The music placement service, Taxi, has on their standard critique sheet, the following short list of Sound Quality issues to check off:

Well Recorded
Too much distortion
Drums/percussion sound mechanical
Instrumentation sounds synthetic

Two of the 4 issues that they use to disqualify a song from being forwarded relate to the use of "canned" drums. Don't use them.

Are you at this point with your writing and recording? Okay, now you can enter contests.

Criteria for choosing the "right" song:

- Which song(s) is most often requested by your fans? Which song(s) is most likely to cause people that you don't know to come up after a show and tell you that you really "hit the mark" with that one?

-Is there a song that made you cry as you were writing it, and maybe it's even hard to get through without crying while you're singing it? A song that is that deeply personal is the most likely to connect with a listener. Please note that "personal" does not mean "navel-gazing" and does not forget to be universal and accessible.

-What kind of contest is it? Who are the judges? Is the prize a performance slot at a festival, a single-song publishing contract? (If the former, you'd choose something that comes off as a great performance...probably uptempo? If the latter, you'd choose your most commercially-viable song...broad, hooky.)

- What kinds of songs have won this contest in the past? What do they have in common? What do the winners have in common?

- Will the submission include lyric sheets? Are they allowing you to include a bio? (If you are including a bio, you would want to include any personal info that connects you with your song. For example, if your song is about weathering a storm, and you are a Katrina survivor, that info is important. It carries more weight and will be likely to stick with them. )

These contests are all about CONNECTING with whoever is listening. Generally, your most moving, but most broadly accessible or universal songs will fare best.

The other part of this is that even if you have hooked and connected with the first person that is screening songs, and even if, to them, you are "NUMERO UNO, this songwriter RULES and is definitely going to win this contest!" - most likely there is a line of other listeners, and ultimately a Panel of Final Judges, and every one of them is going to feel a connection to different songs for different reasons on different days depending on barometric pressure, the quality of the coffee they're drinking, and whether or not they have to tinkle really badly...among other things. It is truly a "crap shoot", and not getting into a contest does not mean your song isn't good.

Other things to consider when entering song contests:

-SHORT INTRO! Judges and screeners have a lot of songs to listen to. Save the long, instrumental intro for your live gigs. Get right into the song - a couple bars, TOPS, to establish feel is all you need before getting into your lyric. The person listening will be delighted, and you will score good will points immediately.

-GOOD CD! Make sure your CD is not defective before you send it in! Don't just burn it and put it in the envelope - listen to it. Seems so simple and obvious, but... you'd be surprised.

-FOLLOW CONTEST INSTRUCTIONS! Every contest is different - and all of them have rules in place for a reason. Ignoring them is a quick way to get filed in the "pass" bin. These rules can vary from how many submissions you are allowed, to whether they accept cassettes, to including biographical info (If they don't ask for it, DON'T include it - it will go straight into the trash).

-BE A PROFESSIONAL! As the field narrows and the judges are trying to choose between several equally wonderful songs, they may visit websites for more information or to hear other songs. There are several things that they will look at:

• your bio...make it factual and compelling without using a lot of flowery adjectives. Writing a good bio is like writing a good song - show 'em, don't tell 'em, and have an interesting point of view.

• your concert schedule...someone who is out there working all the time is going get the edge over someone whose calendar is empty. If, for some reason, you have nothing upcoming - show past dates, so it is clear that you have experience.

• your really should have a REAL website "" Most judges/industry pros will not take you seriously if your primary web presence is a MySpace page. Sorry, it's just the reality. Domains can be purchased for around 10.00 a year, and hosts like GoDaddy have VERY cheap hosting packages with templates to build your site. is the hosting company of choice for musicians - a little pricier (25.00/month) but they have loads of beautiful website templates and musician-specific features. (you can also host a self-produced website with them - you don't have to use their templates - I don't)

Also, keep your website current - don't make it obvious via blog posts or "news" items that you haven't updated your website since 2005. : )

• If you have entered via Sonicbids, make sure your EPK is freshened up, current, and full of information!


It's about persistence. It is a numbers game, much like anything in this business. 99% of the time you are going to hear "No"...whether you are pitching songs, trying to get gigs, attempting to score a deal with a label, or entering song contests. If your goal is to win or place in these contests, enter them all, and enter them repeatedly. If you let one "No" stop you, you might as well call it hobby, stay at home and play for the cat.

©2007 Kathy Hussey, all right reserved

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

I walked right by someone...

I walked right by someone the other day. At the grocery store...I was kind of in a hurry. I saw her and realized that she hadn’t seen me, and made a conscious decision to let the moment pass instead of taking a few minutes to say hello and catch up. I’ve done that before, with the optimistic attitude that we’d have another chance soon, maybe a quieter place, maybe a more intentional social situation, where we could really talk. That all seemed so logical and simple and inconsequential, several days ago at the Harris Teeter on 21st Ave.

And I wouldn’t have given it another thought, except that my phone just rang, and a stranger told me that he was holding her address book and calling everyone in it to let them know that she was found dead on Monday in a reservoir near Tullahoma. The horror of that, and the sadness of losing her, were only amplified by the knowledge that I CHOSE to pass up the chance to be in the presence of her sweet and gentle spirit, for, as it turned out, the last time.

So if I see you in the grocery store, I don’t care how busy I am, or how busy you look - I AM going to stop you and say hello, because the alternative no longer seems like such an okay idea.

Monday, February 02, 2009

New Website!

Isn't it purty?

Yes, it's a couple days after my original deadline, but's not a WEEK after my original deadline!

Please leave comments here on the blog - you like the site/you don't like the site. Maybe you have found issues. I would love to hear about it!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

New website coming!

I designed my current website about 10 years ago, and at the time I loved it.  Much like the teal countertops in my kitchen that I thought were "the shizzle" in 1994 that I ripped out with great glee just over a year ago.  Tastes change, and we get tired of looking at the same old stuff.  The new site will be (hopefully) elegant, informative and relevant.  Working hard on it now and have come up with an overall design that I really like. 

My plan is to have the new site up by the end of January, and also to use this blog as a place for news and observations.  I really haven't kept it current, and I want to be better about that!

The plan for February?  A new CD. Yup, I said it outloud.  A new acoustic CD ... very stripped-down, just me and my guitar.  That's the plan for now.   

Looks like I have a lot of work to do, so I better get back to it!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Why I Don't Hate Music

I had dinner the other night with a couple hundred high school and middle school teachers...I had just written and performed a song with about 25 of them about their role as yearbook supervisors. Yes, really.

Anyway, my nearest (and most talkative) dining companion was a woman from Michigan who teaches journalism at the high school level. Someone recently donated a turntable to her classroom, and records have started pouring in from parents and other teachers. Her after-school yearbook meetings have turned into dance parties/history of popular music classes. The kids' favorites are Queen's Greatest Hits, and Michael Jackson's "Thriller". It's pretty easy for me to picture that scene, having lived it the first time around.

When she mentioned that several of her former students still stay in close touch with her, I wasn't a bit surprised - she is definitely the type that would be remembered as a favorite...young, cool, supportive...

One of these past students is a painter - dedicated and passionate and commited to making a living as an artist. In an email to her former teacher, this young woman revealed that she no longer took any pleasure in viewing the works of other painters. She rarely found joy anymore in what used to be the primary source of meaning in her life. She was confused, and she was upset, and she was looking for some answers.

This is where I enter the story, and why I'm relating it at all. Here is an artist, working in a completely different medium from my own, but likewise struggling with a universal conundrum. I suppose I knew that this particular angst wasn't exclusive to the music business, but I had never thought much about it, outside my own box. I did, however, feel uniquely qualified to weigh in...thusly:

I hate music. Okay, that's a little strong, but I have uttered that phrase, more than once. What I really hate is how often it lets me frequently I am just left cold when I start with high expectations. All good things are still possible right before the performer in question hits the first note, or while the CD is still sliding into the player...but more often then not, something falls short. I just know too much. I am too close to it. I go straight into critique mode. If you are an artist, you know exactly what I mean. We routinely pick apart everything in our medium to gain a better understanding of what is effective and what isn't. It's as though cynicism is essential to our process, not to mention our progress. Without it we become stagnant; anti-growth equals anti-art. So, in the interest of preserving our sanity, we unconsciously criticize other artists at least as harshly as we critcize ourselves. It's hard to give someone else a break when we're not able to extend ourselves that same courtesy.

But, lest you think that all I do is wallow in a state of artless misery, and that I recommend our Dismayed Young Artist do the same, my real point begins here:

Every now and then something breaks through. It might be a unique voice that commands without effort, or a turn of phrase that makes you cry. It might be an inspired and unexpected use of color, or a look on the face of a child in a mural...and you're left standing there with your heart wide open and every nerve tingling...with that sweet, old, familiar, "Here. Yes. This is it!" feeling filling up all the empty places carved by your pesky objectivity. There is more joy and relief in that moment than any "lay person" could ever experience. And it is BECAUSE of our cynicism, and not in spite of our cynicism, that we have such a heightened appreciation for sporadic magnificence. Oh, we KNOW what's good...and when it's good it's like manna from heaven.

So the final word to Dismayed Young Artist is: Embrace your cynicism but leave your heart open. The artists and the works that inspire you will be fewer and farther between, but when you ARE moved it will be with greater power and authenticity.

So if you ever hear me say that I hate music, what I really mean is that I'm currently getting in my own way, and I have temporarily forgotten what joy I will find in something that I don't even know about yet.

I don't really hate music. Not all the time...25 adults loving every minute of writing a song about yearbook deadlines and then hamming it up onstage for their colleagues, complete with conga line...a roomful of high school kids dancing around to Michael Jackson's "Wanna Be Startin' Something", 20+ years after I did exactly the same's practically enough restore my faith in humanity, not to mention, in music.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

What's for dinner?

I have been doing so much fun stuff recently – Colorado in May to teach at Creede High School...Kerrville, TX last week for the annual pilgrimage to the folk festival...and I return to Colorado in 2 days to go play in Telluride, and then Steamboat for 2 weeks teaching. Wow – life is good.

I thought I’d share a “recipe” with you today. I don’t use them myself...I love to cook, and generally take whatever I happen to have around, and/or whatever looked extra good at the produce market and create something deeee-licious. This means that I never make the same thing twice. My husband loves this, but is also tormented by the fact that he can’t get me to write any of it down so I can do it again. He doesn’t seem to understand that the reason I can’t “do it again” is because of the random nature of the found ingredients.

Anyway...after declaring the following Crawfish Stuffed Zucchini “The Best Meal He Ever Had” he insisted that I write it down. And he took a here it is: (you’ll notice that there aren’t many measurements included...I don’t measure much, I just add however much of something it needs. Good luck : )

Crawfish Stuffed Zucchini


crawfish tails (cooked and peeled)
Aged Gouda (NOT the nasty smoked crap – try Old Amsterdam or Rembrandt)
2 large zucchini
seasoned bread crumbs
stalk o’ celery
2 sm ears fresh corn on the cob
grape tomatoes
1 egg
fresh basil
olive oil
and other random things that will come up that I forgot to list

First, thaw, separate, rinse and then brine the crawfish tails in water with equal parts sugar and salt – put in fridge for the approximately 1.5 hours it will take you to do the rest of this stuff. (the crawfish tails that I used were purchased pre-cooked and frozen on my trip to the Gulf for the Frank Brown Songwriters Festival last November – these are DELICIOUS)

Pour your first glass of Chianti (I recommend Banfi Reserva) or a nice Pinot Grigio (how about Kris?)….drink some of this intermittently throughout the following process.

Now, make the bread crumbs – cut what’s left of the baguette you bought a couple days ago into thin slices . Slather each side with olive oil. Toast on a cookie sheet at about 300 deg until dried and nearly brown…but not actually brown…you know, like shortbread. Spin them up in a small food processor with garlic powder and salt and other delicious things of your choice – realize you need more and throw in the remains of a box of multi-grain and seed crackers that you got for your birthday from Yum.

Now prepare the filling for the zucchini:

Slice the kernels off the two ears of corn into a bowl…into a separate bowl, drag the knife across the cobs to pull out the “milk” and the soft, yummy remaining stuff.

Chop a few cloves of garlic and and a medium-ish celery stalk and add to the corn kernels. (Chop the celery very small because large pieces are NASTY)

Chop some grape tomatoes (6-8 or so) and add to the corn “milk”.

Grate about a cup of Gouda and set aside.

You’ll need another glass of wine about now. Have some Gouda with it. Turn on Kathy Griffin’s “Strong Black Woman” on Bravo. Laugh. Enhance your mirth by preheating oven to about 400deg.

Okay, zucchini time.

Put on a large, wide pot of salted water, cover and bring to a boil.

Slice zucchini lengthwise – remove stem end and little hard nub at the other end. You’re going to make a little canoe out of each of the halves, so, using a spoon, draw a guideline for the part you will remove…about ¼ in from the edge. Now scoop it out, being careful to keep all the canoe sides even thickness and not punch through…otherwise…you will take on water, and all your gear will get wet. (this is a canoe reference, not a food reference, don’t worry about it).

Reserve about ½ the pulp – chop it up – put it in a kitchen towel, some cheesecloth, or a double thickness of paper towel and wring it out over the sink to remove most of the water.

Heat some olive oil in a large skillet – add corn kernels, celery, garlic mixture. Saute until you’re happy – then add zucchinni pulp – saute until you’re giddy. Remove from heat into a mixing bowl.

Momentary diversion to allow above to cool a bit:

Put zucchini canoes into boiling (hopefully, by now) water, and set a timer for 2 min. Have a bowl of cold water and ice cubes ready nearby.

Back to stuffing:

Toss in the corn milk and tomatoes…add bread crumbs (1/2 cup? I don’t know…look at it) and toss some more. Stir in grated cheese (leave some out for topping) and beaten egg. Season with cumin, salt and pepper (don’t be shy with the cumin – all these flavors are subtle and they will pop with the cumin). Dry and dice a handful of the brined crawfish tails and toss these in too.

Open another bottle of wine. ( you HAVE been consuming as instructed?)

When zucch have blanched for 2 min, remove them quickly and shock them in the cold water until chilled through – remove to towel to drain.

Prepare some couscous (Near East Parmesan flavor is a personal fave)

Run out to the garden for some fresh basil leaves.

Make a chiffonade* of said herb. Put aside.
*stack basil leaves one atop the other – roll the whole wad into a cigar – with a SHARP knife cut thin slices off the cigar from one end to the other

Rub zucchini all over with olive oil and align on cookie sheet – salt inside of canoes (and pepper if you happen to like black pepper, which I don’t). Divide filling equally into wee boaties. Sprinkle with grated gouda and put in oven – bake for approximately until they are done. Okay, maybe, 12-15 min.

MEANWHILE (right before the zucch is done):

Strain remaining crawfish tails – don’t pat them dry – a little brine is good here.

Put a couple tablespoons (okay, a half a stick) of butter in large skillet – heat to bubbling and then add tails and basil chiffonade. Remove from heat immediately and toss around to warm though and wilt the herbs.

Plate a zucchini and some couscous next to each other in an attractive and appetizing way. Spoon crawfish tails over both and then pour buttery pan juices over all.

Holy crap, this is delicious. I never said it was quick or easy.

And the picture doesn’t do it justice – the little salad is mesculun and baby bibb lettuce from my garden with shredded carrot and homemade blue cheese dressing. Perfect.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The hot bath as a tribute...

I have been taking an awful lot of hot baths recently. At least one a day.Not because I need to relax, although I do enjoy a good blissful soak...and not for the purpose of getting clean - I prefer to get clean in the shower - not that you asked. It's because of my best friend - my little feline sidekick, my constant companion for 18 years. It's her absolutely favorite thing to do in the whole world. She doesn't get all the way in the bath with me, of course. No self-respecting cat would get all wet on purpose. She lays on the shelf in the corner of the tub on her folded-up towel, swirls her tail in the water, and occasionally leans in for a few sips of "hot tea". And she purrrrrrs...

She has been a fixture in my life since my senior year in college when she and her 2 brothers were brought to me by one of my apartment-mates. These three squirming little kitties were newborn and, according to him, I hand-raised them. Bottle feedings every 2 hours, several baths and blow-dryings a day...if you've ever done this, you know what I'm talking about.

So, I have been responsible for this sweet little creature for most of my adult life. Her comfort, her health, her safety, her nourishment...and now, I find myself making the choice of whether she will live or die. An almost year-long battle with a very aggressive cancer put me in this position, and I've had a long time to think about it. None of which prepared me for the reality of making the final decision, though. For weeks I have been agonizing about whether it is "time". People kept telling me that I would know...and today, I knew. So, I have exactly 13 1/2 hours left with my precious little girl. I am emotionally all over the map - mostly just heart-broken, a little angry that at one point I had to make a decision about her treatment based solely on my ability to pay for it, content in knowing that my schedule worked out that I was able to spend the last couple weeks as her nurse, tending to her every need, appreciative of her gentle spirit and the preternatural connection between us.

I am no longer wishing for her to hang on a little more...that time has passed. What I'm wishing for now is the ability to filter through and CHOOSE what to feel. I have often told people that we (warning: cliché ahead!) create our own's not what happens to us, but how we react to those things that shape our experiences. In this moment, I truly know how much easier it is to say that than it is to practice it. However, in the interest of not being a hypocrite, today I will do my best to focus on the following emotions:

I choose gratitude for having been given 18 years with her. I choose relief, knowing that I don't have to worry about her condition, how much pain she is in, and whether I'm doing enough. I choose awe, because through the power of modern medecine, I have the ability to gently and lovingly put an end to her suffering. I think mostly I choose to be thankful that I have had the time, over the last several weeks, to honor her by making sure that she has everything she needs, and is as comfortable as she can possibly be. So I've been taking an awful lot of hot baths recently. At least one a day.

In Memory Of:
Cantina aka "Toonies"