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Scotland: Haggis, Bagpipes and Musical Adventures

By:Lily C | Published:11/24/2011

Does leaving home make you more creative?  While some of you may have been inspired by our last blog about Ryan Nolan‘s adventure off the beaten path, those of you who had any reservations may be convinced that leaving home is exactly what you need to do after reading the following guest blog by Signe (rhymes with Xena), the singer behind our recently Featured Video.

Signe has experienced a level of success that many would envy.  Previously signed to a label with the band Minervah, her songs have achieved national TV and commercial radio airplay.  She’s also performed hundreds of shows, including the CMT stage at the Calgary Stampede.  After embracing a year of unemployment while abroad, Signe recently released her newest song, “What Have You Done To Me?” and video .  The song has already been featured in Sound on Sound Magazine.  While we’re certain Signe was already creative before leaving Canada, it becomes apparent in her blog that going abroad forced her to be both courageous and resourceful, attributes we could all benefit from having.

In Signe’s Words…

I initially left Canada in 2008 to teach in Denmark. Somewhere between hacking my way through science classes with my inferior Danish speaking skills and holing myself up in my rented townhouse with Protools, I ran into a yummy Swedish guy. Mutually thirsty for adventure, we eloped in 2009 and ran off to Edinburgh, Scotland, where my new hubby had landed a job. This is the story of what has happened since in the land of kilts, haggis and other inspirations.

Our first months were spent in a dingy apartment in Edinburgh’s New Town. Every day, I would look out the window to see tourists –“the suitcase people”—  wearily bouncing their belongings along our cobbled street. While my husband was at work, I took nonchalant walks past the famous Scott monument and the Prince’s Street Gardens; I’m certain that I’ve appeared (clad in track pants), in the background of countless photos taken by visitors to this gorgeous, gothic city. The bagpipe music blasting from tourist shops lost its novelty quite quickly, and being jobless, I came to feel isolated, despite being surrounded by people.

It turned out that we lived right across the street from a music studio. I could see the sound engineer at work on the board while an artist sang behind him. I wanted so much to reach out, to introduce myself… but I couldn’t muster the courage in this new place.

After two months, we moved to a little house in Edinburgh’s seaside community of Portobello. We’re still mesmerised by our 2km sandy beach where stuff’s always happening: organized busking, sailing, festivals and concerts. This friendly community is full of artists, musicians and the kind of down-to-earth people I love to mingle with. It’s great. But early on, it felt inaccessible.

I faced huge frustration with not being able to get a teaching job – or any job for that matter. But I seized my year of unemployment as an opportunity to further develop my music. I produced many songs, but struggled with getting the mix right. I took private lessons in mix engineering, and after wrestling with the compression knob and watching my instructor’s eyes roll for the twentieth time, I decided it wasn’t wise to do this by myself. I needed outside help so I could stay focused on writing and arranging.

At that point I contacted Mike Senior, a mix engineer I idolise because of the Mix Rescues he’s done for Sound On Sound magazine. Expecting no reply, I emailed him to ask if I could employ him to mix some songs. He did reply, and he was so receptive to my music. I was so happy when he offered to mix my song free of charge for  SOS’s Mix Rescue. This moment set my Scottish music adventure in motion.

With new confidence, I decided to get live instruments put on my track, so I put up an ad and found great session players to work with. A friend pointed me in the direction of Heartbeat Studios – the place where owner Dave Valentine and Ed Logan first recorded Susan Boyle. This studio, situated on sheep-dotted rolling farmland south of Edinburgh, is now my second home. It’s a supportive, inspirational place.  During one of my sessions, I even ran into Grammy award winning songwriter Bob Heatlie there. That was cool.

Knowing I was getting Mike Senior’s mix of “What Have You Done To Me” featured in SOS, I put up an ad seeking videographers interested in making a video for my song. Again, I expected no replies. But I sure got them. The one that stood out was Naomi McDonald. We met in New Town over coffee and chocolate and we realized quickly that we’ve got a lot in common when it comes to being obsessed with our respective art. She was abuzz with ideas, and I gave her free reign. I had no idea what to expect, and only saw glimpses of the storyboard a couple of months ago. Imagine how delighted I was when I saw the final product! We’re now throwing around ideas about staging a unique video release event in the fall.

I’ve gone from feeling isolated to embraced in Edinburgh, Scotland. I think no matter where we are in the world, our vulnerability follows us when it comes to our music. If you can just find one friendly face – or receive one positive email for that matter – it gives us all the courage we need to not only pursue our dreams… but to put up ads and send those emails to which we expect no reply.

Visit Signe’s Songwriter’s Profile to hear her music.