The SMIM and the underrated value of silence.

November 14, 2011


I spent the last week-end in Montreal at the SMIM conference (an organization for independent musicians) The whole two days were filled with conferences, demo critique session, music showcases, music industry related booths offering their services and enlightening us with what they do and of course all the indie musicians who would be attracted by such an event.  They even gave us a cotton re-useable bag, a recycled paper notebook with the cardboard pen-highlighter and a download card allowing one to download music from the acts doing showcases throughout the week-end.  And to top this, there was a small espresso machine available for you to make your own drink, fresh Montreal bagels, fruits and meats and creamed cheese to nibble on between events. Wow All this for $15!!


My first event was a “stage presence” workshop at the Gesu, a magnificent venue just south of Ste Catherine Street, a cathedral that was transformed into an art mecca with multiple conference rooms, a large concert room and lecture rooms. Pierrette was our teacher. She has worked for years within the acting world at the Quebec theater school and is now working as a stage presence coach with the Cirque du Soleil artists.


Via play and games, we explored our relationship with space, with our fears and with each other.  The main goal was to get out of our heads and thinking to be into the now with full capacities and awareness.   For me revelations came right away, appearing in front of my eyes with each exercise. It was tremendously exciting to see so clearly. What was also tremendous was to witness the seven of us going from a somewhat introverted, self conscious stance to a fully expressive and curious attitude.  The shoulders loosened, the heads came up, the stares became confident, we were suddenly all game to try anything, to laugh and to open to the moment. It was simply brilliant.


the ceiling at the Gesu

Then I was off to the Place Des Arts where the other half of the events were taking place.  Alice and the Intellects a quartet of musicians delving into a mix of jazz-chanson-experimental sound were showcased, the guitarist was particularly brilliant.

Alice & the Intellects at the PDA

Then it was time for the Demo Critique session. We had to submit one song to a panel of 4 industry people who would then listen to one minute of the song and give a critique of what they heard.

I have seen this type of thing before and usually it consists of discussing the form, architecture and lyrics of a song and sometimes a few words about production. This was a bit different. For some songs one minute of listening was not quite enough to understand the whole process or structure or even quality of the work so it turned into a more personalized session between the artists and the panels about career, industry, sound, mixing or production issues.  Whatever came up was tackled.

My song came up third to last. Sitting there I was starting to hope my song would not be picked.  I had chosen a song from my French album which was released in 2005. I felt I had to bring a French song since I was in Montreal… but I soon realized a lot of artists in Montreal were presenting English material… So I could have presented a song from the upcoming album…


They called my name, I walked up to the microphone. They played the excerpt.


“So when was this released?” a panel member asked.


“ 2005”


“You haven’t done anything since then???”


“No, no, I have composed music for plays … I am finishing up an album now…” There was no way, in a few minutes to explain the process that brought me to today and to bring this specific song..   As I stood there it hit me that insecurity was actually part of what had dictated my choice of song.  Revealing.   There were some comments about my evolution as an artist and how I should have brought something more current… I explained :


“I have been on the West Coast for the last 22 years, I am new here and I am trying to figure out how to approach the industry. I thought that I had to present something in French since I was in Montreal…. at this point my main concert is that I am trying to figure out what to do to restart my career in a whole new world and I’m not sure what to do.”


Then one of the panelists offered : “ Find someone to help you package what you have accomplished to date into something fresh, use what you already have along with the new materials and present it in a new updated form.”


He went on with more suggestions that totally made sense.  Funny how sometimes you can’t see what’s right in front of you.  The panel went on to compliment my voice, the originality of the music, the sound and production.

What this made me aware of for the second time in the same day was how one has to assume at all times what they are and what they do. My head was so full of apprehensions, of fear of not being accepted for what I am or what I do.   I have been the one closing doors. The fear of rejection made me reject myself.  There is a great sense of liberation once awareness occurs.

Turkish coffee at the end of the day

The next day, more events. I headed back down to the Gesu and had a wonderful conversation with a fellow artist I had met the previous day.


Gesu at night

“It’s about silence” he said. “We don’t have silence anymore, we are bombarded by sound everywhere, in the elevators, in the malls, on the street, with the I Pods, the radio, TVs. Sound has been completely devalued because there is too much of it.”


As I listened to him, a memory came back to me.


Oregon. I had been on the road for 4 days. Camping, riding all by myself. No TV, radio, computer. Just the road, the engine sound and my thoughts. At the end of a long day of riding I had pulled into the town of Bend. I rolled downtown and saw what seemed to be a promising place with good food and free Wi Fi.

I parked the bike, grabbed my bag and my laptop, crossed the street and walked in. There it suddenly was. Music. Sound. Artfully organized sound vibrations reaching my ears, my brain. Ecstasy. Aural joy. It took my whole being, my brain fired up as if it was powered by endorphin based fuel. Totally blissful.  The music was like a life saving food.  It nourished me.  It was absolutely amazing.  I could not recall ever feeling so electrified, fed or uplifted by music in this way ever before in my life.  

Yes, he is right. Not enough silence to actually appreciate sound, music. If we turned everything off for a even just a day then went to any quality concert, we would be converts for life. We would likely worship that music and its makers. He compared today’s over-saturation of sound with eating non-stop. At some point nothing tastes good.





His idea totally moved me for I know it to be true.


The rest of the day was filled with other special moments. Now I have much to mull over and organize in terms of where and how to progress with my music.  The business, the new album, the live show, who to work with and how to find them.  Integrity with my ideas, processes and artistry.   Thanks to this event I have a better sense of the present music scene and what I need to do next and I feel invigorated.

the how not to introduce your next song with "my next song is" workshop


This music industry is in a deep process of re-iterating itself. Many of the panelists, being adepts of independent music and artists conceded that the indie world and the mainstream music industry are two different worlds, that most of the old business paradigms are collapsing with the advent of the computer and internet based technologies.

A new era. Democracy in music. As any democratic process it’s messy, complicated and time consuming but in the end it’s all up to you. At the event one of the most comforting statement that kept coming up was : “Keep writing, working on your craft, get better because in the end the most important factor in this equation is the quality of the song, the depth of the artist.  The cream still and always rises to the top.”

As for the cream, my spirits rose.

So I’ll take a moment of silence to hear, to focus and to feel the muse before I get back to my guitar.




driving by Parc Lafontaine








2 Responses to “The SMIM and the underrated value of silence.”

  1. Danielle Liard Says:

    oh good! People in the same business who can show you wehre to go, and remind you to be yourself. Wonderful! Nice place for it too, I was at the Gésu for a concert in September (Sylvie Tremblay, Monique Fauteux, and 2 guests, including Geneviève Paris, who is coming back to the stage after a ten year absence).

    As far as silence goes, well, my case is probably a bit particular. Or peculiar. Take your pick. I choose what I listen to mostly, or else if I have the radio on, I can tune it out of my awareness if I’m concentrating on something. Otherwise I would have too much of silence.

  2. David Walker Says:

    Yes, the silence between the sounds or notes defines them as does the space occupied by or surrounding a sculpture. John O’Donahugh (? Sp) goes on at length about such things in his little book ‘Beauty’ (not pretty). To bad you are so far away dear Danielle but what a fine conference! I had an ‘Oh shit’ day at the studio today but I have hope that I can salvage things. It has been more than a year with this piece. It sounds like you are well. I got good news on the cancer shit last Thrusday.

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